Paul Revere's spurs on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Paul Revere's spurs on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This post is dedicated to Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Compelled by his challenge – outlined here – to find and “do something” with a set of Paul Revere’s spurs, I became inspired to craft a mini- Time Traveler Tour for the Met.

What follows is a snapshot of my brain in the midst of the digital storytelling process. I hope you enjoy this Case Study Spurred by Paul Revere.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments.

Sree’s Challenge: Locate Paul Revere’s spurs.

His Clue: The spurs can be found in the Met’s Arms and Armor exhibit.

The Hint: As I set off, I found myself chewing over a vibe I'd received from one of my Met hosts that the Arms and Armor exhibit was perhaps an odd place for a set of antique spurs. This sounded like a “pain point” to me: like the museum had these great objects, but didn’t know quite where to put them.

In my worlds as both author and entrepreneur, “pain points” are starting points. So right away, I knew I had to bring some context to Paul Revere’s spurs. I wondered, could this be the basis for a “story?”

But first I needed to find them.

The Hunt: Oddly, the otherwise-gorgeous Met museum app doesn’t include a museum floor map. So I went old school. I grabbed a print map at the information kiosk.

I located the Arms and Armor exhibit (on through Dec 6, 2015) on the first floor, rooms 370-380, to the north of the Met’s Great Hall. When I crossed over the threshold of the nearest door, I stepped directly into medieval Europe. Instantly, I was time traveling, and loving it.

Now I live in Europe, and I’ve seen a lot of cool medieval stuff. But the objects before me were some of the most extraordinary I’d ever witnessed. Examples of armor – both human and equine – shields, chain mail, and weaponry, mainly swords, of all shapes and sizes. The artifacts were bejeweled and stamped, hammered and magnificently tooled. They were all made of metal. Mostly silver.

Dazzled, it took me a moment to remember that I was on a mission. I snapped myself back to 2015 and started searching the memory banks for what I already knew of Paul Revere. I needed a strategy that would spur me on

20th century depiction of Paul Revere's midnight ride.

20th century depiction of Paul Revere's midnight ride.

This is indeed how all humans learn, no matter our age. We construct new knowledge on the foundation of previous understandings in the face of novel contexts. And we do it without thinking. But on the day that Sree set me this challenge, I was very aware that I was in process of constructing new meaning.

Having grown up in the USA, I knew a few things about Mr. Revere, facts that I learned as a child, for Revere is an American cultural icon. His famous “midnight ride” to warn the colonial militia of the advance of British soldiers is the stuff of legend. It is immortalized in our folklore, our poetry, and our song (though, as it turns out, not always correctly). Thanks to this prior knowledge, I knew that

  • Paul Revere was a great American patriot;

  • he was a Revolutionary War hero;

  • he lived in the mid-18th century (1700s) in or around Boston; and

  • he was a very able horseman.

I calculated how many centuries I would have to travel through before reaching his historical era. I proceeded to traverse the countries, a channel, and an ocean, time-traveling from 12th century Europe en route to the American colonies of the 18th century.

Along the way, I took in the various changes in the shape and ornamentation of silver-based weaponry. I noticed how the sword and dagger become smaller and more decorative with the introduction of the gun. I witnessed how armor became less necessary over time, dwindling to almost nothing. I read how the occupation of silversmithing flourished in the medieval era, then carried on into the renaissance period and the modern age beyond through guilds whose craftsmen kept the traditions alive through their apprentices.

I then learned that these guilds, over time, stood in the way of innovation and change. The strong desire to flee the guild system, to strike out and do something new, consequently drove the more entrepreneurial European silversmiths to set out across a vast ocean. They went to the American colonies. They set up shop in a new land, bringing their skills with them.  

As I tell my writing students, every story contains a problem to be solved. And every main character’s journey follows the path to that resolution. The tale of silversmithing looked to me like the underlying story of the Arms and Armor exhibit. Could it be the basis of Revere’s story as well?

As I came to the last room in the exhibit, I freaked. I was now in the 18th century, but still on the wrong side of the Atlantic. I had not yet found any evidence of Mr. Paul Revere. Had my strategy failed me?

Paul Revere's spurs, three hangers, and seven smallswords, all dating to 18th century colonial America.

Paul Revere's spurs, three hangers, and seven smallswords, all dating to 18th century colonial America.

Then, at the exhibit’s end, just as I was passing back into the Met’s great main entry hall once again, I found them. Through the final door and on the left, in a glass case accompanied by several smallswords and hangers dating to America’s colonial era, were two spurs made by Paul Revere’s own hands!

That’s when I learned that long before Revere’s midnight ride, he had already distinguished himself as a fine Boston silversmith, a trade he learned from his father, a silversmith who’d immigrated to Boston from France.

Eureka! The art and craft of silversmithing was indeed the context that explained the placement of Paul Revere’s spurs in the Arms and Armory exhibit. I now understood that not just Paul’s story but also his father’s would provide the basis for my treasure hunt and tale. All I needed to do now was a bit of research to fill in the gaps of my knowledge; to find out what other cultural artifacts relating to Paul Revere might exist at the Met; and to weave both story and treasure hunt together.

Click here to review the resulting storyboard for a Time Traveler Tours mobile Treasure Hunt at the Met I call: Case Study Spurred by Paul Revere

PS: Simulation to come.