Using Archaeological Research to Interpret Your Site?

Archaeological excavations at James Madison's Montpelier in Virginia.

Archaeological excavations at James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia.

If your historic site or history museum is using or would like to use archaeology in your research (even if you’re not conducting archaeology), the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is seeking your suggestions and advice to improve and enhance the “For the Public” section of their website via a survey (open until July 22).

SAA launched For the Public in 2006 as a clearinghouse to share resources, best practices, and general information about the discipline of archaeology with both the professional community and the interested public.  The site has now grown to a complex tangle of over 400 linked pages. Many of the pages need substantive revision in content, function, and aesthetic perspectives. As they continue the process of revision, they would appreciate Continue reading

Hangout with Historians to Discuss the Nation’s Report Card

NAEP History Scores 1994-2014Discuss strategies to improve history education in our schools with people coming at it from different perspectives on Tuesday, July 7 at 12 noon (Eastern) in a Google Hangout co-hosted by the National Assessment Governing Board and the American Historical Association.  It’s in response to the latest results of the Nation’s Report Card, which shows that many students lack a strong understanding of our nation’s history (as seen in the chart, scores have been flat for the past twenty years, and the conversation will explore ways that students can become more engaged and informed.  Hmm, can historic sites and house museums play a role?

Participants include

  • Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association
  • Chasidy White, history and geography teacher at Brookwood (Ala.) Middle School and member of the National Assessment Governing Board
  • Judith Gradwohl, MacMillan associate director for education and public engagement at the National Museum of American History
  • Libby O’Connell, chief historian at the History channel
  • Frank Valadez, executive director of the Chicago Metro History Education Center

and the conversation will be moderated by Jessica Brown, contributing writer at Education Week.

To register or for more information, visit Why History Matters at the National Assessment Governing Board.

So Many Possibilities for Historic Sites at AASLH Annual Meeting

AASLH Louisville 2015The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) just delivered the preliminary program for its annual meeting, which will be held in Louisville, Kentucky from September 16-19, 2015.  Obviously, the conference is centered around history but there are several sessions, workshops, and field trips that focus on historic sites and house museums, including:

  • Heritage Tourism in the 21st Century with James Stevens of ConsultEcon Inc., who recently studied the heritage tourism sector in Philadelphia
  • Restoration and Reconstruction: Fulfilling the Possibilities of a 21st Century Museum, a discussion about the reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in South Carolina (also reviewed in the recent issue of the Public Historian and the Journal of American History; not to be confused with the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home in Georgia)
  • Old House, New Diverse Stories, a brainstorming session led by Ken Turino of Historic New England
  • An Untapped Resource: How to Locate and Use Legal Cases at Historic Sites, a session to learn how to mine legal case files to find compelling narratives for exhibits and programs
  • Interpreting Religion at Historic Sites, a discussion on leveraging “historical truth when interpreting religion” led by the historian of the Navigators.
  • An afternoon tour of the exuberant Second Empire Culbertson Mansion and Farmington, the Federal-style home of Lucy and John Speed.
  • There may be bourbon at the breakfast for historic house museums when Dennis Walsh from Buffalo Trace Distillery discusses the preservation of this historic sites (and it’s pretty cool website, too)
  • An evening at Locust Grove, a National Historic Landmark, with costumed interpreters, live music, and a three-course buffet.
Sam Winburg

Sam Wineburg

With 65 sessions, there is much, much more happening and you’ll be torn about what to do.  There’s certainly enough to appeal to directors, curators, historians, educators, and preservationists.  I’m particularly eager to hear Sam Wineburg, professor of education and history at Stanford University and author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (see “A History of Flawed Teaching“), and the follow-up discussion led by Tim Grove, chief of museum learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  Wineburg is currently developing new forms of assessment to measure historical understanding and undertaking a longitudinal study on the development of historical consciousness among adolescents in three communities.  But I don’t want to neglect the three other outstanding plenary speakers: Wendell Berry, James Klotter, Renee Shaw, and Carol Kammen.

I rarely ever skip the AASLH annual meeting and I plan to be there this year.  Registration is $250 if you jump in before July 24 and there’s the alternative online conference featuring six sessions.

 

What’s the Twack Record for Your Tweets?

Followers Dashboard from Twitter.

Followers Dashboard from Twitter.

The growth of social media has added new layers of complexity to the promotional efforts at museums and historic sites.  Along with mailing newsletters and event announcements and maintaining a website, we feel an increasing need to connect with our supporters through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.  But is all this work having any impact? How can I better use these tools to engage my audiences?

You may have noticed that I’ve been experimenting with Twitter this past year, adding a feed to the sidebar of my blog and sending out about three tweets each morning on news related to museums and historic sites using @maxvanbalgooy (@engagingplaces was already taken) and tagging them with #museum or #preservation.  It’s nice to see the number of Followers grow and merit a Favorite or Retweet occasionally (thanks Bob!), but what’s the impact?  You may find some answers in the Followers dashboard that Twitter recently launched.

The dashboard provides several analytical tools that not only highlights Continue reading

Historic House Museums a Special Focus for the Public Historian

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum by Brandon Bartoszek

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum by Brandon Bartoszek

The May 2015 issue of the Public Historian was just released and provides a dozen articles related to historic house museums.  Lisa Junkin Lopez, associate director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and guest editor of this special issue, provides the criteria that helped her select the articles and her vision of historic house museums:

Though a number of sites have turned to revenue-generating activities like weddings and farmers’ markets to stay afloat, rigorous historical content has not necessarily been quashed in favor of parlor room cocktail hours and heirloom tomato beds. Many sites have recommitted to the project of excavating their own histories, digging deeper to find relevance with contemporary audiences and identifying new methods for engagement along the way.

The individual essays are case studies of various projects at historic house museums, but many question and even break the basic assumptions of museum practices and historic preservation standards.  This shift will need to be watched because Continue reading

AAM Provides Update on the Direct Care Debate, but no Solution

Direct Care“Direct Care” is the most troubling word in the museum lexicon but it doesn’t look like the specially-charged task force at the American Alliance of Museums will be able to resolve it, according to their recent update:

The Direct Care Task Force met during the Alliance annual meeting in Atlanta to discuss the results of the opinion survey conducted in February and to frame the forthcoming White Paper. Their lively and thoughtful discussions covered discipline-specific issues, philosophies and viewpoints, and frequently went back to the topic of financially motivated deaccessioning.

Representatives from New Knowledge, the non-profit think tank and planning group that conducted the survey for AAM, presented their findings and analysis of the data.A very broad range of museum types and job functions were represented by the survey’s 1258 respondents.

• Nearly three quarters of the respondents identified their primary role in the museumindustry as responsible for Collections (74.1%) while a quarter (24.4%) hold executive office. Nearly all the remaining respondents hold primary roles that are either executive or managerial; a handful are in other roles.

• The types of museum participating broke down as: History 32%; Art 28%; Specialized, Multi-disciplinary or visitor center 17%; Natural History 11%; Science/Technology 5%; Arboretum/ Botanical or Public Garden 4%; Children’s / Youth 2%; Aquarium/Zoo 1%.

Before seeing the results, the Task Force hypothesized that a respondent’s position in an organization and the discipline of participating institutions would influence the outcome of the survey. However, the analysis found no statistical differences. In examining both the open-ended responses and general ratings, it appears that respondents were most likely considering their audience, the Alliance, and answering altruistically as professionals in the field rather than as representatives of a particular disciplinary viewpoint.

Survey results showed 1) a few areas of consensus from a statistical perspective and 2) a vast gray area. The most common of the open-ended final comments expressed appreciation for the timeliness of the survey and the need for resolving the parameters for direct care. As a result, the Task Force focused on identifying guiding principles and criteria for decision-making, not creating a definitive yes/no list or a singular definition of “direct care.”

The survey results provided the Task Force with a useful scan of the attitudes on the issue of direct care and acquisition costs, from a wide variety of viewpoints. They will inform the White Paper to be released in the spring of 2016. The Task Force agreed that the White Paper should not be prescriptive but should clarify the ethical issues surrounding the topic of direct care and provide guidance for museums in their decision-making.

Looks like they’re agreeing to disagree and won’t be Continue reading

George McDaniel of Drayton Hall Announces Retirement

For the past 15 years, McDaniel also taught the AASLH Historic House Issues and Operations Workshop with Max van Balgooy, most recently in Charleston, South Carolina.

For the past 15 years, McDaniel also taught the AASLH Historic House Issues and Operations Workshop with Max van Balgooy, most recently in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Drayton Hall Preservation Trust (DHPT), a privately funded nonprofit organization responsible for the operation and administration of Drayton Hall, a National Trust Historic Site, today announced that President and Executive Director George W. McDaniel, Ph.D. would be stepping down on June 30.

“Drayton Hall has been my passion and purpose for more than 25 years,” said McDaniel, “and I can’t imagine a better or more fulfilling vocation. But the time has come to turn over leadership responsibilities so I can focus on family, research, writing and other projects. I thank the Drayton family, whose vision made all of this possible, and the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust board of trustees, our outstanding staff and the thousands of Friends and visitors who have supported us during my tenure.”

Under McDaniel’s leadership, Drayton Hall earned Continue reading

Two Ways to Easily Secure Student Lunches and Backpacks

If your historic site is visited by school groups, no doubt you’ve had to temporarily store dozens of lunches or backpacks while they’re exploring your buildings and grounds.  Perhaps they’re left on the bus or stashed in big boxes in an empty room, but if you’re looking for something more portable or secure, I encountered a couple ideas from museums I recently visited.

Basket trucks at the Asian Museum in San Francisco.

Basket trucks at the Asian Museum in San Francisco.

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco uses “basket trucks” that you typically find in hotels for collecting laundry.  The carts easily roll around and hold lots of stuff, but some versions can collapse for storage and be cleaned by tossing the big cloth bag in the laundry.  The Museum attaches a big plastic sleeve on the frame to slip in a temporary label to identify the school so the cart can be easily retrieved for lunch time.

Security carts at the Dam, the royal palace in Amsterdam.

Security carts at the Dam, the royal palace in Amsterdam.

The Dam, the royal palace in Amsterdam, uses tall carts with steel shelves that are enclosed with steel mesh.  Not only can they be locked for security (nowadays, kids are carrying expensive electronics) but still allow for visibility inside.  They’re designed for moving valuable parts in warehouses and called “security carts”–many versions are available.

If you’ve found other clever way to handle student belongings during field trips, please share them in the comments below.

A Process for Rethinking the Historic House Museum

Mission-Sustainability Matrix Next week I’ll be at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, Georgia leading a workshop with Ken Turino of Historic New England on the rethinking the historic house museum.  We’re not the only ones who are working on this topic, indeed, Michelle Zupan at Hickory Hill  assembled a five-page bibliography of books, articles, and dissertations for the workshop, so long that I’m hesitant to distribute it because it could be discouraging (“what? I have to know all this to rethink my historic house?”).

And if we want to go beyond historic house museums, the list would be even longer. Businesses have been “rethinking” for decades in order to grow in size or increase their profits.  They have the resources to study this topic rigorously and there is a lot we can borrow for our field (and much that doesn’t apply and can Continue reading

Looking to Improve the Deaccessioning Process at Your Site?

collections avalancheThe Active Collections group is developing a new model to streamline the deaccessioning process, but they need information about current practices at house museums and historic sites to figure out how to best go about this.  If you’d like to share what’s happening at your institution as well as your thoughts on the process and impact of decessioning, please take their online survey.  This is part of a field-wide survey, so we really want to be sure historic sites and house museums are well represented.  To learn more, visit ActiveCollections.org.