What’s Next for the History Leadership Institute?

Max van Balgooy with Robert Indiana’s Numbers 0-9 at Newfields (Indianapolis Museum of Art)

Seven is the number associated with completeness and perfection, but I’m not perfect and rarely satisfied, so before I complete seven years as director of the History Leadership Institute (HLI), I’m turning the chair over to someone else.

When I was appointed director in 2017, applications had fallen for several years and we held the Seminar with just thirteen people, accepting everyone that applied. If this continued, it would no longer be financially feasible to offer the Seminar. I was puzzled because the program had a terrific reputation in the field and saw its impact on my friends and colleagues.

To develop a new vision for the Seminar for Historical Administration, a wall in the Seminar classroom became a space for exploring ideas.

While we gathered for three weeks in November 2017 for the Seminar at the Indiana Historical Society, I worked on a side project to rethink the program to make it more sustainable and attractive. In the usual HLI fashion, I sketched out ideas on flipcharts spread out on the classroom wall, asking everyone who came into the room for their reactions and ideas. By the end of the Seminar, I had diagrammed a long-range plan with immediate and short-term recommendations that included:

  • Affirming its focus on organizational leadership and personal leadership.
  • Changing the name from the Seminar for Historical Administration to shift the emphasis to leadership.
  • Moving the organizational structure from a partnership among several history organizations to AASLH to better facilitate administration and ensure longterm support.
  • Considering alternatives to the three-week residential format to better serve mid-career history professionals.

Most controversial was the new format, which not only changed from three weeks in person to a four-week hybrid (two weeks online, two weeks in person) and shifted the Seminar from November to June. We also identified ways to serve more mid-career professionals by adding online courses in the future, which we accelerated when the pandemic postponed the Seminar.

The 2018 vision for the History Leadership Institute as a collection of related programs. Existing (green), near future (yellow), and far future programs inform and build on each other.

With the success of the hybrid format and the completion of most of the goals to move HLI into a strong position, I am stepping out of the director’s seat to allow for more time for research and writing. Reimagining Historic House Museums, which I co-edited with Ken Turino in 2019, and its complementary one-day workshops have been incredibly helpful to the field. We’re now working on a second book on interpreting Christmas and other winter holidays (due out next year) and have a couple other books in mind. I’ll continue to teach fulltime in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University as well as work with house museums and historic sites through Engaging Places.

AASLH recently posted an RFP for the director of HLI, It’s not designed as a fulltime position, so it’s ideally suited for a consultant, freelancer, or college professor. If you’re working fulltime, it would be possible if your home institution made it part of your job or provided the release time. The deadline for proposals is Friday, October 14, 2022 (the date has changed from September 30).

1 thought on “What’s Next for the History Leadership Institute?

  1. leewright

    Bravo, Max! And with your new book next year, hope that you and Ken will consider coming to Boston next August for History Camp Boston.


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