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of sites have turned to revenue-generating activities like weddings and farmers’ markets to stay afloat, rigorous historical content has not necessarily been quashed in favor of parlor room cocktail hours and heirloom tomato beds.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 historic house museums represent the largest category of museum in the United States (based on the recent IMLS survey) and houses are the largest category of building type that merit preservation (based on the National Register of Historic Places).  The American Alliance of Museums, National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Association for State and Local History, and National Council on Public History will need to figure out if this is a trend that’s worth supporting or if it threatens to undermine their fundamental values and principles.

This special issue of the Public Historian is free on JStor and includes:

  • Patrick Grossi’s experiences with Funeral for a Home, a public art/public history initiative by Temple Contemporary which intended to oversee the demolition of a vacant Philadelphia row house
  • “Playing House/Museum” by Lisa Stone, curator of the Roger Brown Study Collection, which is part of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • “Dwelling in Possibility: Revisiting Narrative in the Historic House Museum,” an exploration of storytelling in interpretation with a close look at the Emily Dickinson House by Hilary Iris Lowe, an instructor at Temple University.
  • “Safe Containers for Dangerous Memories” by Sarah Pharaon, Sally Roesch Wagner, Barbara Lau, and María José Bolaña Caballero, which examines how “challenging histories and their contemporary legacies” are address by the Centro Cultural y Museo de la Memoria (Uruguay), Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation (New York), and the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice (North Carolina), all members of the Sites of Conscience.
  • “Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-first Century at a Post-Emancipation Site” by Jennifer Scott, a discussion of the Weeksville Heritage Center (New York)
  • “Fusion Cuisine and Bedouin Handcraft: the Transformative Power of Heritage Preservation in Saudi Arabia,” a conversation between by Heather Radke (Jane Addams Hull-House Museum) and Maha Al-Senan (Saudi Heritage Preservation Society).
  • An evaluation of the Morris-Jumel Mansion (New York) and Körner’s Folly (North Carolina) using the methodology in The Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums: by Franklin Vagnone (Historic House Trust of New York City), Deborah Ryan (University of North Carolina), and Olivia Cothren (Historic House Trust of New York City)
  • Review Essay on “The ‘Downton Boom’: Country Houses, Popular Culture, and Curatorial Culture” by Oliver Cox (Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities).
  • Review of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home (South Carolina), reviewed by Lauren Safranek (National Museum of American History)

Bonus!  Related but only available online at Public History Commons are three additional articles:

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