Visiting Annapolis a few weeks ago, I had a chance to see the nearly completed installation ofFreedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake, a year-long exhibit about the resistance to servitude and slavery in the Chesapeake Bay region from the colonial period to the Civil War. Heather Ersts and Ariane Hofstedt of the Historic Annapolis Foundation graciously provided a personal tour of the exhibit, which is installed in several museums and historic sites around the city. It’s an exhibit worth seeing not only for the content, but also the design, and several items jumped out at me:
1. The exhibit looks at the varied experiences of people through nine persons. Seven of these persons were enslaved Africans, but two are white–a convict servant and an indentured servant–which will surprise most visitors. It complicates the usual narrative that only Africans were held in bondage (of course, being owned as a slave is very different from being incarcerated as a convict) and it’s by encountering the unexpected that people are more likely to learn. The typical exhibit about slavery trots out the same 1850 drawing of the slave ship Brooks, a pair of iron shackles, and perhaps a tag from Charleston. Yes, those are all authentic and true, but the constant repeat of these items renders them Continue reading →
Take a break today and be inspired by this video on the Mast Brothers, a small chocolate maker in Brooklyn. It’s a combination of craft, history, and biography in a well produced short film by The Scout. For historic sites that interpret processes past or present, such as food production, building construction, archaeology, or historical research, this might be an engaging approach.
On April 18, I enjoyed a sneak peak of the restoration underway at Clara Barton’s Civil War-era office and warehouse on 7th Street in downtown Washington, DC–where she worked and lived before founding the American Red Cross in 1881. The historic site opens to the public as a museum in fall 2014.
From the street, you’d never imagine that this was a nationally significant historic site. It’s a simple three-story brick building surrounded by restaurants, towering condos and offices, popular museums, and a major sports arena. Indeed, it was overlooked by those who were searching for it because it didn’t fit their image of a warehouse. Its historical significance was forgotten for most of the century until 1997, when a nightwatchman hired to keep vagrants out of the vacant building noticed a document jutting out from the ceiling. It turned out to be part of a cache of artifacts belonging to Clara Barton that had been stored in the Continue reading →
For your Friday break, Shaping History, Shaping Tomorrow is a video commissioned by Kieo University that explores the contrasts in Tokyo between new and traditional, historic and modern, young and old. How would these topics be presented at your site or community?
The Abolitionists. A small group of moral reformers in the 1830s launched one of the most ambitious social movements imaginable: the immediate emancipation of millions of African Americans who were enslaved.
Slavery by Another Name. Even as slavery ended in the south after the Civil War, new forms of forced labor kept thousands of African Americans in bondage until the onset of World War II. Produced and directed by Sam Pollard.
Loving Story. The moving account of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in 1958 for violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage. Their struggle culminated in a landmark Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia (1967).
Freedom Riders. The Freedom Rides of 1961 were a pivotal moment in the long Civil Rights struggle that redefined America. This documentary film offers an inside look at the brave band of activists who challenged segregation in the Deep South.
Up to 500 communities across the nation will receive these four inspiring NEH-funded films, accompanied by programming resources to guide public conversations. Each participating site will receive an award of up to $1,200 to support public programming exploring the themes of the Created Equal project. Applications are due May 1, 2013 and open to museums and historical societies; humanities councils; public, academic, and community college libraries; and nonprofit community organizations.
Historic New England presents the tenth annual Program in New England Studies (PINES), an intensive learning experience with lectures by curators and architectural historians, workshops, and behind-the-scenes tours of Historic New England’s properties and collections, as well as of other museums and private homes in the region. This year’s program begins on June 17 with Cary Carson on the 17th century in the Boardman House and ends on June 22 with Richard Nylander and Nancy Carlisle on the Colonial Revival at Beauport.
PINES examines New England history and material culture from the seventeenth century through the Colonial Revival, and delves into building design and technology, and the wide-ranging lifestyles illustrated by the historic sites on the itinerary. Highlights include private tours of Historic New England properties in Greater Boston; Essex County, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; South Berwick, Maine; and Woodstock, Connecticut; workshops in furniture, ceramics, and textiles at Historic New England’s facility in Haverhill, Massachusetts; and a private tour of Continue reading →
Maymont, a Gilded Age estate that’s now a public park in Richmond, Virginia, has an extensive exhibit on the domestic servants in the first half of the twentieth century. To continue to collect stories about and remember the many people who work in domestic service, the exhibit includes a small area that invites family, friends, and neighbors to share their memories with a label that reads:
In creating this painting–a symbolic tribute to the individuals who worked as domestic employees at Maymont–I felt special gratitude to my own loved ones. My grandmother, mother, two aunts, and three uncles were all once employed on the Dooley staff.
I recently had an opportunity to visit the Occoquan Workhouse Prison, an early 20th century federal prison in northern Virginia, which was transformed by Fairfax County in 2008 into the Workhouse Arts Center, a collection of 100 artist studios and galleries. Once regarded as a model for reform-minded incarceration with open dormitory-style residences accompanied by honest work on the surrounding country farm, its image was soon tarnished by the imprisonment and force-feeding of the women who were picketing the White House for suffrage–which helped turn public opinion against the Wilson Administration. I had long known about this infamous event and wanted to get a better sense of the conditions. At the small museum on site, I learned much about the prison’s history and the struggle for woman’s suffrage, however, I also learned that Continue reading →
Monticello Explorer provides several virtual tours.
Although guided tours of period rooms is the most common form of interpretation at historic sites, audio tours, video tours, and virtual tours are growing in popularity thanks to technologies that are lowering the cost of production and increasing access to new audiences. From a short list of examples, the students in my “historic site interpretation” class at George Washington University developed a list of ten best practices for different types of tours of historic sites. You’ll discover that many of their suggestions emphasize the need for a plan, themes, and a focus–and projects that failed to have these elements were weaker and less effective.
A. Guided Tours of Period Rooms
Reviewed by Johanna Bakmas, Melissa Dagenais, Emma Dailey
“Historic House Furnishings Plans” by Bradley Brooks in Jessica Donnelly’s Interpretation of Historic Sites (2002)
“I Wish You Could Take a Peek at Us” by Nancy Bryk in Donnelly (2002)
Community engagement has become an increasingly important aspect in state and local history as a strategy for increasing impact, gaining support, and becoming relevant. The challenge for most organizations is that engagement can be so daunting and difficult, they don’t know where to begin, how to prioritize among several good ideas, or measure success.
Lorraine McConaghy, Deborah Schwartz, and Max van Balgooy at AASLH 2012.
At the recent AASLH annual meeting, I moderated a session on the experiences of two very different history organizations—the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Museum of History and Industry—whose work in community engagement is not well known in the field yet offer exemplary case studies to examine common strategies, how they should be modified to suit each place’s unique characteristics, and steps to avoid.