Dick Whitney, Curator, Optical Heritage Museum
English 202C or 418 (Advanced Technical Writing and Editing)
The Optical Heritage Museum opened in 1983 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Optical company, the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic products during the first half of the 1900s and the site of invention for many optical devices still in use by eye doctors today. The museum—located in Southbridge, Massachusetts—maintains one of the largest collections of spectacle frames and optical items in the world.
The mission of the Optical Heritage Museum is to preserve the history of ophthalmic research and educate future generations about the history, growth, culture, and contributions of the optical industries from the 19th century to the present. In doing so, the museum must distribute complex technical information to public audiences in accessible and engaging ways.
This commissioned assignment gives students majoring in technical fields the opportunity to take scientific, technical prose and distill it into easily understandable information for public audiences. Three possibilities exist for such work:
- Select an optical device, research it, and create a new way of engaging with that product, either by constructing an interactive handout or rewriting a museum placard to historicize, contextualize, and explain the technical valences of the device.
- Select an optical device (or a theme/room in the museum) and create an audio component—as part of an audio tour—to accompany that device in the museum.
- Contribute a post to the museum’s blog, detailing technical and historical information about unearthed items in the museum archives.
This commissioned assignment may be easily integrated into any technical writing classroom, especially fitting those instructors who emphasize the importance of writing for multiple, non-expert audiences. More specifically, the assignment could meet the needs of a technical definition/description paper or offer students in upper-level technical writing courses with the opportunity to research technical products and publish their work in a public setting.