It’s mid-June and the spring 2013 issue of History News just arrived. If you’re wondering why it’s late, it’s my fault.
Katherine Kane and Bob Beatty invited me to write an article that would highlight this year’s annual meeting theme: “Turning Points: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Change.” I was honored—and challenged. Heroic stories of ordinary Americans changing history would be inspirational but too easy. So I focused on us —the ordinary people who work in history organizations—to explore how we can provoke extraordinary change in our communities and audiences. Nice idea, but it went through a dozen revisions that trampled deadlines in the process. I hope it’s worth the wait. I’ll be posting excerpts from it along with the entire article starting next week (have to give the AASLH members first opportunity!).
But if you don’t find my article satisfying, there are plenty of alternatives in this issue: Continue reading →
For this workshop, they assembled an outstanding team of speakers:
Tom Mayes of the National Trust for Historic Preservation discussing a “shamelessly anecdotal and personal approach” to historic sites that prompted questions about why people visit (or avoid visiting) them
And now for something completely different, a one-minute video promoting the Museum of Architecture in Russia. Created by Saatchi Russia, it’s a humorous spin on the “little old ladies” that guard museums and historic sites. If you understand Russian, could you tell us what’s going on?
Historic cabins are continually updated at Colorado Chautauqua
One of the hiking trails at Colorado Chautauqua.
Having worked on historic preservation issues at the city, county, state, and national levels, I continually encounter requests for demolition because the building isn’t safe or no longer useful. The property owner or developer often assumes it’s the first time I’ve heard that the building is old fashioned, run-down, or an eyesore, or that it’s cheaper to build a new building than bring an old building up to code. Although it can be an uncomfortable conversation, it’s an opportunity to advocate for local history and community heritage. I’ll mention that the situation is often better than it seems and encourage them to get a professional opinion from a preservation architect and consider how tax credits can make a project feasible. But increasingly, I’ve encountered situations where the property owner has consulted with a professional who’s confirmed the opinion that the building needs to be demolished. Although the professionals may have borderline credibility, such as an architect who’s never worked with historic buildings or a salesperson for a window manufacturer, they frequently have the ability to convince commissioners and staff of the veracity of their opinions, alas. I sometimes wonder if it’s worth the struggle and frustrations.
Last week, I stayed at Colorado Chautauqua, a National Historic Landmark in Boulder, Colorado, and was reminded that preserving historic places is a battle worth fighting. If you’re not familiar with Continue reading →
Musician Alan Chadwick of the Chicago Music Exchange plays a history of rock and roll in twelve minutes using one hundred guitar riffs. Rock and roll is broad category of different music styles, so here’s an example of how to explain the diversity quickly to an audience. If it’s possible to interpret a complex history with an intangible collection, can it be adapted for physical sites that cover many centuries and families?
If you’ve ever been involved in researching or interpreting an historic site, you’ve no doubt assembled a timeline to keep track of events and understand connections between the site, region, and nation. After you assemble a lot of data, managing those relationships becomes incredibly complex and you’re continually updating charts and reshuffling cards. Help may be on the way through Aeon Timeline by Scribblecode, a timeline tool for fiction writers which can be easily adapted for historical research and interpretation. It’s currently only available for the Mac for $40, but next year they will introduce a version for PC.
Like any timeline, you can plot dates of events, put them into categories (e.g., local or national), and display them neatly and chronologically. Even better, it can zoom in or out so you can examine the details or see the big picture. That’s nice, and you might be able to figure out how to manipulate a document, spreadsheet, or database to do this for you. But Aeon Timeline goes further by allowing you to tag events and add notes to provide depth, and you can add layers for people or places to visually keep track of what happens to whom or where. If you’re exploring narrative non-fiction or using storytelling techniques in historical interpretation, it will help you construct arcs and identify turning points. Watching the introductory video can explain the features better than I can, but if you’re creating a tour, exhibit, or article, this might help you organize ideas much better than the traditional outline or stack of cards. You can download a 20-day demo version for free but if you want to buy it, Aeon Timeline is available for a 20 percent discount until June 14 at
The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and its cultural partners, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, recently recognized 50 exceptional programs for their work in providing rich arts and humanities learning opportunities for young people. The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of America’s young people, particularly those from underserved communities.
According to the IMLS news release, “From small towns to big cities, the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalists reflect the diversity of disciplines and settings of these wonderful programs that are taking place from coast to coast.” Hmm. The 2013 finalists are overwhelmingly heavy with Continue reading →
Tom Sietsema, the food critic for the Washington Post, provides a rare video review of Mitsitam, the cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian. It is one of the few good places on the Mall to eat (which is a culinary wasteland for the most part) and does an outstanding job of interpreting cultures through food.
I’m always looking for ways to effectively work with groups to generate and organize ideas. My usual tactic is flipcharts and colored pens, but you quickly realize the limitations as you run out of space or illegibility reigns with scribbled words and connecting lines. One answer is to use a huge sheet of paper on the walls, but space isn’t usually available because of pictures hanging on the wall or windows. More and more I rely on a digital projector and a laptop with a program like MindManager or Visio. It’s much more legible, items can be easily moved around, you never run out of space, and you generate a nice clean document at the end. One of the major disadvantages is mind mapping programs force you to start at one point and work your way out (like a hub and spokes) and brainstorming doesn’t usually happen that way. Ideas come in randomly and are not always related, so there are several individual ideas floating around at the same time.
There may be a solution at hand with Scapple, a new application from Literature and Latte. It’s only available for the Mac but it’s simple (once you master a few keystrokes), handles random isolated ideas, can easily reorganize and group ideas, and can be exported to png, pdf, and txt. And for $15, it’s a bargain. I’m working with the free 30-day demo version to try it out on my current projects, but it’s definitely something I’ll consider for my next group meeting. Alternatives for Mac are Curio, MindNode, Tinderbox, and Omnigraffle (but I don’t recommend Shapely) and if you’re in a Windows environment, look at MindManager (which is also available for Mac) and Visio. Each offers different features and fill different needs for brainstorming, writing, presenting, and collaborative meetings. Indeed, you may want a couple different ones for different situations. If you found a program that works for you, share it in the comments below.
Last week’s annual meeting of the American Alliance of Museums was held just 30 miles from my house but I wasn’t able to attend due to other commitments. I missed seeing so many of my friends! Fortunately, Terri Anderson, a colleague working at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, shared her experiences:
I had a great time attending the American Alliance of Museums annual conference this week, held in Baltimore, Maryland. AAM put on an excellent conference, full of interesting sessions. To be completely honest, I haven’t said that about an AAM conference in a while. I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting and informative each session was. Also a first for me was being completely blocked from a session. “How We Did It: The Move of the Barnes Collection” was so full, the AAM volunteer had to close the doors and wouldn’t let in any more people even to stand in the back. All the sessions I attended (in the collections management track) were full or over-full—I hope AAM can get arrange for bigger rooms for its collections sessions next time.