Cleaning Out My Cabinet of Curious Stories

Like all good museologists, I have a small cabinet of curiosities where I collect things of wonder, inspiration, and imagination.  Mine is virtual and sits in Evernote.  It’s time for a year-end clean-up, so here are a few that didn’t develop into full blog posts but even in their unrefined state, seem sufficiently interesting to share:

Google Maps Historical Society 2013

Google is continually looking for ways to get information to us as quickly and easily as possible. The last couple years it’s been creating quick descriptions of places using five keywords–but I’m not sure how they’re derived. A recent search for “historical society near Maryland” in Google Maps associated the American Historical Association with “symbol” and the Historical Society of Washington DC with “celebrities.” Who doesn’t like attention like that? The most surprising, though, is the description of the DAR National Headquarters with “period rooms • two galleries • genealogical research • calvin coolidge • mindless behavior”. They’re getting top reviews, however, so whatever they’re doing, it’s working!  What five keywords would you use to describe your historic site?

"Cry Witch" program at Colonial Williamsburg

“Cry Witch” program at Colonial Williamsburg

The second item may initially seem amusing but turns out to be grim–at least to me.  The September issue of Washingtonian, a regional magazine for DC Metro area, carried a full-page ad for Colonial Williamsburg’s “Cry Witch” program just in time for Halloween.  The headline reads, “After dinner nothing tops off the evening like convicting an innocent woman of witchcraft.”  Lots of things came to mind, starting with the veracity of witch trials in 18th century Virginia.  Secondly, this seems to be saying that sending an innocent person to prison and perhaps execution is good clean fun.  We might be able to dismiss it as a silly advertising ploy, but would we have felt the same if they promoted a tailgate party at the next slave auction?  When I shared this with my museum studies students (most of whom were women), they didn’t seem to be bothered by it.  Perhaps I’m really sensitive because I just finished reading Devil in the Grove, the Pulitzer-prize winning story of four young African American men who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Florida during the 1940s.  If you want to check out “Cry Witch” yourself, it’ll be presented again in March (just in time for Women’s History Month) and be warned–they say it’s not appropriate for young children.

That will conclude the posts for this year.  I’ll be taking the next couple weeks off and intentionally won’t be posting (unless something amazing happens).  Sorry for the unintentional quiet at the beginning of this month.  Several projects and the end of the semester distracted me, but I hope to maintain my pace of a couple posts weekly in the new year.

2 thoughts on “Cleaning Out My Cabinet of Curious Stories

  1. Leslie Kesler

    CW has been doing the Cry Witch program since at least 1990. I remember seeing it in graduate school and being satisfied with the historical grounding in Virginia sources (though one could perhaps argue about whether it leaves people with the impression that witchcraft trials were more common in Virginia than they really were, or causes them to conflate the very early 18th century case with the later period that CW focuses on). But I totally agree with your response to this particular ad campaign. My immediate reaction was “ewww.”


    1. Maria Quinlan Leiby

      I’m glad to know there is some documentation, but “eewww” is right! As the designated feminist of my mid-70s museum studies class, I’m disappointed to hear how current students reacted.


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