Category Archives: Cultural diversity

Don’t Let Money Stop You: Scholarships available for Program in New England Studies

Thanks for several generous donors, Historic New England is providing scholarships for its outstanding Program in New England Studies (PINES). The scholarships are available to mid-career museum professionals and graduate students in the fields of architecture, decorative arts, material culture, preservation or public history. Candidates from diverse cultural backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

The Program in New England Studies is an intensive week-long exploration of New England decorative arts and architecture that runs from Monday, June 19 to Saturday, June 24, 2017. Participants travel throughout New England to hear lectures and presentations by some of the country’s leading experts in regional history, architecture, preservation, and decorative arts. There are workshops, visits to Historic New England properties, other museums, and private homes and collections.

If you’ve always wanted to study the architecture or decorative arts of New England, don’t let money stop you.  This year, PINES offers two generous scholarships: Continue reading

Two National Conferences Coming Up on Interpreting Slavery at Historic Sites

Slave cabin with contemporary sculptures at Whitney Plantation, Louisiana.

Slave cabin with contemporary sculptures at Whitney Plantation, Louisiana.

If you’re interested in interpreting slavery, you’ll have a tough time choosing what to do this fall. At the same time that AASLH is holding its annual meeting in Detroit, Monticello and the Slave Dwelling Project are hosting outstanding national conferences.

On September 17 from 10 am to 12:30 pm, Monticello will host a public summit on race and the legacy of slavery in Charlottesville, Virginia. Historians, descendants of those enslaved at Monticello, cultural leaders, and activists will engage in a far-ranging dialogue on the history of slavery and its meaning in today’s conversations on race, freedom, and equality. Participants include Marian Wright Edelman (Children’s Defense Fund), Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Harvard University), Annette Gordon-Reed (Harvard University), Jon Meacham (Random House), and Bree Newsome (filmmaker and community activist). Registration is free but seating is limited. For more information, visit monticello.org/neh.

On September 19-21 the Third Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference will be held in Columbia, South Carolina. The conference brings together incredibly diverse perspectives, from preservationists and archaeologists to writers and film producers, to understand how these modest homes can change the traditional narrative of American history. Speakers include Mary Battle (Avery Center for African American Research), Lana Burgess (McKissick Museum), Toni Carrier (Lowcountry Africana), Elizabeth Chew (James Madison’s Montpelier), Latoya Devezin (Austin History Center), Regina Faden (Historic St. Mary’s City), Fielding Freed (Historic Columbia), Tammy Gibson (travel historian and blogger), Jennifer Hurst-Wender (Preservation Virginia), Brent Leggs (National Trust), Betsy Newman (South Carolina ETV), David Serxner (Historic Hope Plantation), Rhondda Robinson Thomas (Clemson University), and Robert Weyeneth (University of South Carolina). Full registration (which includes some meals) is $250 with an early registration price of $235 (deadline August 19). More information available at SlaveDwellingProject.org.

 

Interpreting Race: Challenges and Solutions from NCPH

Interpreting African American History and CultureLast year when I was preparing Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites, it seemed that the obvious had been overlooked: race. Although we all advocated for the integration of African American history in interpretation in part to overcome racism, I wondered if instead we are inadvertently promoting the idea that races exist and we simply need to find ways to get along, just like dogs and cats in our homes. We never questioned or uncovered the assumptions about race that visitors may carry with them into museums and historic sites. Our bigger concern was that African American history was sufficiently significant to merit preservation and integration into the interpretation.

We know that races do not exist and it was a theory developed by scientists in the 18th and 19th century as a way to explain human differences.  Race has long been disproven, but certainly race and racism continues, probably in the minds of many of our visitors.  So if more of our visitors could understand that race is socially constructed and artificial, it may go a long way towards Continue reading

Researching the Interpretation of Slavery in Louisiana

Research Trip 2015 MapJames Madison’s Montpelier is in the midst of expanding its interpretation of slavery thanks to a generous gift from David Rubenstein.  To explore potential interpretive techniques and content that could be adopted, we conducted a three-day research trip to visit a wide range of sites in Louisiana. Staff had visited most of the sites in Virginia, and so we sought a location that most of us had not visited but had a large concentration of historic sites that interpreted African American history before emancipation. Because the experience helped us question assumptions, think more deeply about outcomes, and expand our catalog of ideas, I’m sharing our itinerary with you to encourage you to visit. Our research trip started with two days to make a big loop through Baton Rouge and New Iberia to visit several historic sites and finished with a day in New Orleans. In future blog posts, I hope to discuss some of the sites in more detail.

Day 1: Whitney Plantation, Laura Plantation, and Oak Alley.  Our initial plans also included Evergreen Plantation but the timing didn’t work out, even though these sites are within ten miles of each other.

Day 2: West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen (near Baton Rouge) and Continue reading

Openluchtmuseum Requires Mental Gymnastics in Historical Interpretation

Telephone booth, 1933-1965.

Telephone booth, 1933-1965.

The Openluchtmuseum, or Open Air Museum, in Arnhem in the Netherlands is one of the oldest outdoor/living history museums in the world. Opened in 1918, it preserves traditional and folk cultures by collecting vernacular buildings, furnishing them to specific periods, and using them to demonstrate historic crafts and skills.  In the last decade, they’ve expanded these approaches by adding multimedia presentations along with interpreting the post-war period as part of an effort to create a national history museum interpreting the “Canon of the Netherlands” (the canon is a divergent idea worth investigating).  In this post, I’ll examine their interpretation of the post-war period and in a later post discuss various unusual exhibition techniques.

At first glance, the Open Air Museum seems to be comprised of distinct clusters of farm buildings from a distinct region and time, where you can wander through houses and barns and watch someone in costume making brooms or working a plow.  But the layering of history is complex and I found myself continually asking, “what time is it?” and “how are these things related?” to make sense of my visit.  There are lots of historical anomalies, such as a 1960s phone booth in front of a 1910s train depot, but perhaps they’re not anomalies if you mentally reinterpret the scene by finding the overlapping period, such as the 1930s.  These intellectual gymnastics don’t always work, but then again, the entire concept shaping the Open Air Museum allows for the artificial juxtaposition of historical places, times, and objects–which is what often happens in art museums and can also be bewildering (ever visit the Robert Lehman Gallery at the Met?)

The experience caused me to think hard about the role and purpose of interpretation Continue reading

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 Continue reading

If You Visit the Netherlands, Get a MuseumKaart

Museum KaartI’ve just returned from a week-long study trip to the Netherlands, a whirlwind visit that included nearly two dozen museums and historic sites, thanks to the MuseumKaart.  This card provides free (and sometimes discounted) admission at most museums in the Netherlands for a year.  It can be purchased at any participating museum for €55 and although it was a lot of money to pass over on my first day, I received it back quickly because admission fees range from €5 (Edam Museum) to €17.50 (Rijksmuseum).  As a museum geek, they definitely lost money with me. Even better, it’s good for a year, unlike the 1-3 day “I am Amsterdam” card, so there’s no rush.  The card not only saved me money, but encouraged me to see places I wouldn’t ordinarily visit, such as the Museum of Bags and Purses or the Willet-Holthuysen Museum.

My week in the Netherlands was provocative and I’ll be sharing some of the best and most interesting experiences in the coming weeks.  In general, museums and historic sites in the Netherlands seem to:

Continue reading

Knowledge of US History Unchanged Overall for 8th Graders, but Differences Are in the Details

Average score changes between 2010 and 2014 in NEEP at grade 8 by subject.

Average score changes between 2010 and 2014 in NEEP at grade 8 by subject. To view the full report, go to NationsReportCard.gov.

The National Center for Education Statistics, which administers National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card), recently announced that overall academic performance of eighth-graders in U.S. history, geography and civics has remained unchanged since 2010, though Hispanic students have made gains in U.S. history and geography.

NAEP reports performance using average scores and percentages of students performing at or above three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The Basic level denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for grade-appropriate work; Proficient denotes solid academic performance; and Advanced represents superior work. The assessment is based on nationally representative samples of more than 29,000 eighth-graders in total across the country.

The 2014 results for U. S. history show that 18 percent of eighth-grade students performed at or above Proficient, which is basically unchanged from 17 percent in 2010 and 2006. There are significant differences by ethnicity: Continue reading

Museums Responding to Mosul and Nimrud

According to reports received by the New York Times, ISIS has “destroyed parts of two of northern Iraq’s most prized ancient cities, Nimrud and Hatra. On Sunday, residents said militants destroyed parts of Dur Sharrukin, a 2,800-year-old Assyrian site near the village of Khorsabad.”  The extent of the destruction is shown in this video (not for the faint of heart):

It’s a reminder of the important role that museums and historic sites play in preserving heritage and culture–and how easy it is for it to be destroyed and lost. It’s also a reminder that places far away from America can affect us, both politically, economically, and culturally. Some museums have found a way to make this connection through temporary exhibits, including this vacant vitrine at the Field Museum:

Exhibit case at the Field Museum noting destruction at the Mosul Museum in Iraq.

Exhibit case at the Field Museum noting destruction at the Mosul Museum in Iraq.

If your organization is also responding to the destruction of museum collections and historic sites in Iraq, please share your ideas in the comments below.

Tackling Race, Gender, Religion, and Sex in Prison: Oh My!

The big gray brooding mass of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

The big gray brooding mass of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

Despite the winter weather, I’ve been traveling extensively this month around the country.  In Philadelphia I finally had a chance to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary, an enormous prison close the city’s art museums but otherwise oh so far away.  When built in the early 19th century, it was the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but after it closed in 1971, it became a forgotten ruin.  Today, a private non-profit organization preserves and manages this National Historic Landmark with an usual mission statement:

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc. works to preserve and restore the architecture of Eastern State Penitentiary; to make the Penitentiary accessible to the public; to explain and interpret its complex history; to place current issues of corrections and justice in an historical framework; and to provide a public forum where these issues are discussed. While the interpretive program advocates no specific position on the state of the American justice system, the program is built on the belief that the problems facing Eastern State Penitentiary’s architects have not yet been solved, and that the issues these early prison reformers addressed remain of central importance to our nation.

In a way, old prisons are historic houses so I’ve been intrigued by the way these popular tourist destinations are interpreted to the public.  Eastern State is a significant contrast from Alcatraz Island, which Continue reading