This fall I’ll be teaching the historic site and house museum interpretation class in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University. Department Chair Kym Rice graciously offered me this opportunity earlier this summer and I couldn’t resist. I’ve been impressed by the caliber of GW students and I count many of their graduates among my friends and colleagues. Today is the first class and participating are fifteen graduate students, mostly in museum studies with a handful from history and anthropology. We will have some fun discussions!
During the next few months, I’ll share my experiences with you and I thought I’d start by laying out the initial readings for the course, which focus on the opportunities and challenges in interpreting historic sites. It was hard to pick and choose among the literature available, but I wanted to be sure the students had a variety of perspectives, became familiar with the current discussions, and were introduced to some classics–and of course, find something provocative! Everyone will read:
- “Are There Too Many Historic House Museums?” by Richard Moe in Forum Journal (2002)
- “A Call for a National Conversation” by James Vaughan in Forum Journal (Spring 2008)
- “Visiting the Past: History Museums in the United States” by Michael Wallace in Radical History Review (1981), 25: 63-96.
- “Past, Present, and Future” by Patrick Butler in Jessica Donnelly’s Interpreting Historic House Museums (2002)
- Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service by the Organization of American Historians (2011)
They are each assigned two articles from among the following (they’re also reading several chapters in a book, so I don’t want to overwhelm them):
- “Interpreting the Whole House” by Rex Ellis in Donnelly (2002)
- “Making Gender Matter” by Debra Reid in Donnelly (2002)
- “Balancing Our Commitments” by Valerie McAllister in Donnelly (2002)
- “Social History on the Ground”, chapter 5 in The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg by Richard Handler and Eric Gable (Duke University Press, 1997), pp. 102-124.
- “Treasures of Home,” chapter 5 in The Social Work of Museums by Lois Silverman (Routledge, 2010)
- “A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time,” chapter 11 in A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time by John Brinkerhoff Jackson (Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 149-162.
- “Uncovering and Interpreting Women’s History at Historic House Museums” by Patricia West in Restoring Women’s History through Historic Preservation, edited by Gail Dubrow and Jennifer Goodman (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 83-95.
- “Pioneer Museums” by David Lowenthal in History Museums in the United States, edited by Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig, (University of Illinois Press, 1989), pp. 115-127.
- “Why Historical Thinking Matters” at http://historicalthinkingmatters.org/why/
- Trends Watch 2012 by the American Association of Museums.
Along with Jessica Donnelly’s book, the class is reading throughout the semester:
- The Gifts of Interpretation, Third Edition by Larry Beck and Ted Cable (Sagamore Publishing, 2011)
- Interpretive Planning by Lisa Brochu (InterpPress, 2007)
- Invitation to Vernacular Architecture by Thomas Carter and Elizabeth Collins Cromley (University of Tennessee Press, 2005)
Anything I missed? Any articles or books that influenced your thinking and should be included? Please share them in the comments below.