Did I ever tell you the story about how I met Charlotte Corday? How she came to be the narrator for Time Traveler Tours’ first title: Beware Madame la Guillotine?

Did we ever disclose how Mary Hoffman came to choose Michelangelo as her guide for In the Footsteps of Giants when she thought that job would fall to the model that stood for the David?

These stories are core to our burgeoning media company for they form the foundation of our model and Voice. They also both stem from potential failures that – were it not for our tenacious spirit and a willingness to pivot – resulted in twin successes.

First the story of my discovering Charlotte Corday…

It was a rainy day in Paris, 2009. I’d been working on an interactive history of the City of Lights for teens and tweens for more than three years. At that point I had written three sample chapters that took readers to

  1. Versailles in the era of Absolute Monarchy;

  2. Paris in the throes of Revolution; and

  3. Underground Paris in the age of Napoleon.

I had researched the market and competition and crafted a 70-page book proposal expounding on all the reasons why every editor would be crazy NOT to produce my book. That's what you have to do to sell a book of nonfiction. 

My family loved my sample chapters, as did the members of my critique group. But I wanted the validation of my future target readers – youth – before seeking the agent and/or editor of my dreams. As Lily and her friends were then 13 and 14, beta readers were not too hard to find.

“It was great,” they told me, handing the manuscript back just pages after cracking it, well before reaching the end. That, and their body language, betrayed the truth: 

They did not find the story compelling. 

I tried adding more gruesome details. That didn’t work.

I cut the story down to half its original size, making the writing as economical as I possibly could. That didn’t work either.   

Now on my 100th revision, literally, I was on the brink of despair, convinced it was time to put the MS in a locked drawer and throw away the key; certain I’d wasted three years of my life, that it was all a failed experiment and that I should give up writing all together.

I grabbed my umbrella and headed out to one of my favorite Paris places: the Palais Royal, birthplace of the Revolution and where Charlotte Corday bought the knife she used to murder Jean-Paul Marat. I walked to the location of the infamous cutler that sold her weapon and there, on a stone pillar dating to 1784, I found a chalk picture portrait of the murderess herself, just at the point of being washed away by the rain.

As I stood there watching it disappear, it was as if Charlotte reached through the ages and shouted in my ear: “Let me tell the story,” she said. "Let me speak through you as I was never able to speak in life.”

I ran right home, pulled the story out of the proverbial drawer, and dusted it off again. I had not yet thrown away the key, thank goodness, because out of my 3rd person nonfiction tale emerged the 1st person tale of historical fiction you know today: the one that went on to win industry accolades. The one still being discovered by teachers and parents today.

It took me three days to re-write the entire story from Charlotte’s point of view. It was easy, as if the story wrote itself. As if, indeed, Charlotte spoke through me as I wrote.

As it turned out, the problem had not been with the content or the writing. The problem had been with the voice. Like most historians, I'd resorted to the 3rd person, which creates a distant point of view, when I'd needed to get right up close and personal.

This time, when I asked the same teen readers to review the manuscript once more, they refused to give it back until they reached the end. I observed as each and every one of them was hooked and drawn in from the earliest paragraphs. They loved Charlotte, flawed though she may be. Her story resonated with them at last.

“Great!” they said, handing the paper draft back to me. And this time I knew that they meant it.

That’s why we’ve made a commitment to 1st person storytelling voice for our Time Traveler Tours & Tales. We given the job of turning history on to the historical characters themselves.

But Mary’s challenge was a different one. She began her process in the right voice, but she’d picked the wrong narrator. Stay tuned for that story next week as we continue to reveal the foundational pillars of the Time Traveler Tours mission and model.

BIG THANKS to Olivia Muus, Danish marketer and designer, for her fabulous photos of historical figures taking selfies. What a great way to #TurnHistoryOn!

BIG THANKS to Olivia Muus, Danish marketer and designer, for her fabulous photos of historical figures taking selfies. What a great way to #TurnHistoryOn!

At Time Traveler Tours we combine the traditional power of narrative with the magic of the touchscreen to #TurnHistoryOn. We put the story back in history to ensure that no one says, “History is boring!” ever again. 

This is our unique proposition: the value-add we bring to the worlds of museum education and educational tourism. 

Today I'm going to share with you five reasons why presenting the past through historically accurate storytelling is the main ingredient of every book or app we produce...

Everyone loves a good story. 

Story calms the mind. It renders us open to new learning. As the oldest human art form, it’s become part of our DNA. We’re all wired to receive information through story.

Narrative storytelling can explain big, complex themes without being didactic. 

Narrative has the power to transport you from the real to the imagined, especially if the imagined was once real. History told through story doesn’t sink under the weight of chronologies, names, dates, and random facts. And because story is so effortless to access, so easy to “hear"...

Historical tales are capable of informing the present. 

Narrative builds bridges from yesterday to today. It provides answers to the enduring problems faced by humanity, again and again, throughout the course of history.

Stories from the past give voice to the voiceless and articulate universal themes.

Historical tales are thus capable of aiding the understanding of both society and individual. The search for identity, acceptance, belonging, and self-worth: these are common historical narratives that never fail to edify, educate, and inspire.

Stories from the past allow readers to see that societies can change, often for the better; that revolutions can be peaceful; that violence is never justified; that the individual can find hope even in the most hopeless situation; that diversity does enrich life; that conflict can be negotiated positively.

Stories show us who we are and what we share as people, across cultures, time zones, and centuries. They explain the unexplainable. They empower us to question. They encourage us to experience vicariously the pain and power of others. They empower us even as they entertain.

Story makes history accessible. Story turns history on.

That’s why we aim to put the story back in history. Because dates, facts, names, and chronologies are only part of a bigger whole made real through the experience of those who were there. That's why we ask our characters to take us by the hand and show us their world through their eyes. 

That’s the TTT&T Way: 
the unique value we provide as we weave our
stories into the fabric of both time and place.

And I don't mean by watching reruns of the Flintstones.

In my last post, I mentioned that my work for Time Traveler Tours & Tales is only one of my jobs. I also work in collections at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. The site is famous for being one of the only museums in the country that has a live paleontological excavation on site. And here's the thing:

I love paleontology.

The Tar Pits are in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. The attraction boasts the legacy of what happened during the Ice Age (1.8 million years ago to 11,700 years ago): that's when asphalt “seeps” trapped millions of plants, insects, and animals over the years.

Our team excavates chunks of these asphalt seeps to get a unique snapshot of the environment and biodiversity of one place at one time. It’s an immensely important resource to not only paleontologists, but also to climate change biologists.

My colleagues are working on excavating a huge block of tar right now, and it’s unique because they have to dissolve or clean away the tar to get to the bones, rather than chip away at rock like most fossil excavations. The bones aren’t fossilized because the tar preserves them. Some of them look brand new. Even wood preserves here at Rancho La Brea! 

Once my colleagues excavate the material, identify it all, and clean off all the tar, they give the bones to me to process it into the museum’s permanent collection.

The most frequent animals I work with tend to be Dire wolves (Canis dirus), of Game of Thrones fame, and Saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis). I am professionally trained to write numbers on every bone, write (yes! hand write!) the information into a catalog book, and database it.

After that, I use special materials and methods to find each bone a home in our collections space. The large bones usually just get a box, but small animals, such as rabbits or rodents, require foam, vials, and small labels.

My jobs with TTT&T and La Brea aren't a surprise to any of my friends or family. I always felt a strong connection to history. My very first “chapter” books were Laura Ingalls Wilder and any type of historical fiction that I could get from the library. My curiosity was insatiable. I read through the entire dinosaur section of the library, then picked up the first book in the next shelf. It was Lucy, by Dr. Donald Johanson. I was sold: from that point on, I wanted to be a human paleontologist.

I was determined to connect with Dr. J in the pre- social media age. When I was 12, I called information to get his number and talked to his wife. I told her that Dr. J was my hero. A few months later, I received an autographed National Geographic and an invitation to see his lecture at a local university. I walked right up to Dr. J and he remembered me!

“I am honored to shake your hand,” he told me. Even since then, he has always been supportive of me in my journeys with time-travel. I’m sure I’m not the only kid he’s inspired.

My role at TTT&T fulfills a complementary role for me: that of becoming a steward of transmitting information to a new generation. I am confident that a kid is going to use In the Footsteps of Giants during their time exploring Florence, and it’s going to flip the switch in them, too.

Books changed my life in the 80s and 90s. Our mobile apps are going to change lives in the same way now.

What place or time would you like to experience as a
Time Traveler Tour?
Click "comment" to the right and let us know.

Thanks for reading!
Melissa Dusette
Museum Liaison & Community Manager
Time Traveler Tours

We all know the thrill of being involved in a worthwhile project. Even better if it’s groundbreaking. Better still if you’ve got a foot in the door from the beginning. 

I’m talking about my role with Time Traveler Tours and the part I’ve played in the development of our coming Story Tour to Florence: 


It’s now on its way to the app stores (!) and Sarah is on her way to a much-needed vacation. So we thought it a fine time to share the serendipity that brought me to the team, first as Museum Liaison and now Community Manager.

It began with a chance meeting between two strangers on a train.

One of them was Sarah Towle, Founder of Time Traveler Tours & Tales (TTT&T); the other was Rachel Dewan, an archaeologist at Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE), an advocacy group I've been writing and editing for as a volunteer these past several years. The train was bound for Athens and the two strangers just happened to step into the same car. They just happened to sit on the same bench. They just happened to strike up the conversation that would change my life. Both being passionate about culture and committed to turning history on, they totally clicked. Rachel took Sarah’s card and passed it to me. I immediately reached out. 

You see, my passion is museums. It always has been. But in order to pay the bills in such a flooded industry, I’ve been working as well in eLearning using new technologies. I knew I could bring all my skills to use at Time Traveler Tours. Lucky for me, Sarah agreed. And now the favorite of my three jobs is working as her right hand, though she is in London and I’m in LA; though we’ve never actually met except via Skype!

 (Image: Claire Murray for tattie+toppin)

 (Image: Claire Murray for tattie+toppin)

My role with TTT is ever-evolving. It started with my interviewing museum professionals, as TTT Museum Liaison, about the use of audio tours, apps, and other technologies to enhance exhibit spaces and experiences.

I heard over and over about their budget constraints and concerns regarding insufficient technical support. But I also heard over and over confirmation that they need what we are proposing, that we’re on the right track. This was very affirming.

This research led to my lecturing on User Experience Design (UX) to Museum Studies students at the University of Washington – a highlight of my work with Time Traveler Tours. I loved showing off our Story Tour design and discussing the mission and goals of our educational tourism start-up. I loved being able to show future museum curators that there is more than one way to communicate their passion for history, culture, and art. I loved hearing from these young people how we might tweak our design to make it even more effective.

The past several months, I’ve played two additional roles. I rolled up my sleeves to join the rest of the team as we assembled the creative assets – text, audio, illustrations, and high-context games – for our proof-of-concept app and wired them together to form the singular product you will soon be able to hold in your hand. For me personally, this meant copy-editing and beta-testing the app, again and again. 

But more importantly, I’ve recently assumed the role of Community Manager. I now plan our social media strategy with Sarah and execute our outreach on a daily basis.

 (Image: Summer Skyes 11)

 (Image: Summer Skyes 11)

This last has really surprised me. When Sarah first asked me to take it on, I was reticent. As a Gen X/Millennial “in-betweener,” I GET social media, but I never felt the inherent connection to it that younger folks do. But I’ve really started to enjoy it.

I appreciate being able to promote the content of bloggers whose work resonates with ours; to advertise exhibits at worthy museums; and to see our following grow each day. I find myself opening our Twitter account in my spare moments just to see who has come into our space. It’s delightful to watch TTT&T emerge as a leader in the eLearning and edTech spaces and to know that I’ve been a part of making that happen.

Now my role comes full circle again.

Once the stores have approved IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS and we have the finished product in the palm of your hands, I get to go back to my contacts in the museum world to offer our services as “developers of innovative educational programming solutions at an affordable cost.”  I get to take the mission of TTT to the next level and help #TurnHistoryOn!

The success of our Kickstarter led to the development of this app, which is sure to lead to the growth of a creative venture that solves a problem and caters to a need in a fun, groundbreaking way. Whether you’ve contributed to the campaign, read our newsletters, followed us on social media, or are planning to bring IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS with you on your next trip to Florence, you’ve all been a part of this journey. Trust me when I say that your contribution is very much appreciated among all of us here atTime Traveler Tours & Tales! 

Join me in raising a glass... to you!
Melissa Dusette
Museum Liaison & Community Manager
Time Traveler Tours


Are you a museum professional interested in learning more
about how we can help you turn history on?