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Colonial Williamsburg Embraces Technology To Lure New Generations

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A new program at Colonial Williamsburg uses texts and iPhones to involve kids in the history of the American Revolution.
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A new program at Colonial Williamsburg uses texts and iPhones to involve kids in the history of the American Revolution.

In Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg is turning to some very un-Colonial technology in hopes of engaging a new generation of visitors without diminishing its historic appearance and feel.

A new program, called "Revquest: Sign of the Rhinoceros," utilizes cell phones and texting to offer clues and ciphers to young visitors on their mission to help save the American Revolution.

It might seem strange to wed new technology into a historic learning experience, but Jim Horn, Vice-President of Colonial Williamsburg's Historical Area, begs to differ.

"This is the way people communicate," he says. "Kids are wedded to their iPhones. That's the portal through which the world is translated to them, and I think by bringing the iPhones into this experience, it makes more sense for them. It actually connects them to this remote world of the late eighteenth century and the American Revolution."

The emphasis on bringing in new audiences to Colonial Williamsburg is not without cause. Last year's ticketed attendance was about 750,000, which is about 100,000 fewer than ten years ago.

"We are trying to revolutionize the experience at cultural institutions," said Bill Walden, Director of Historic Area Programs. "The whole idea is that we build an environment where they can cast themselves into the middle of an experience."

That's where RevQuest comes in, as the newest part of their plan. It started July 15.

Twelve-year-old Campbell Allen, attending Colonial Williamsburg with his family, approved of the program.

"I thought it was pretty cool, because you're like a detective, trying to figure out a mystery," he said.

His mother Angela Allen agreed.

"The part I liked about it the best was that it was very hands-on," she said. "They had to take the information, process it, and come up with an answer. I thought it made Williamsburg and the time period real for them."

RevQuest reflects a future trend at Williamsburg and other cultural attractions, with the hope that new technology will drum up renewed interest in a new generation.

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