Category Archives: Historic preservation

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.

Historic House Museums Gather for AASLH Workshop in Charleston

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For the past fifteen years, George McDaniel and I have taught a two-day workshop on the management of historic house museums for the American Association for State and Local History.  We cover a wide range of topics from fundraising to interpretation to disaster response to collections management–we really need a week, especially if there’s a lot of discussion.  That was certainly our experience last week in Charleston, South Carolina (and thanks to our hosts, the Historic Charleston Foundation!), where our discussions were so rich that I wasn’t able to complete most of my presentations.  That’s okay because the workshop is for the participants and as long as they find a topic that’s worth exploring, I’ll stay with them.  Indeed, George and I often find that we’re not instructors but facilitators, raising ideas and questions to provoke thoughtful discussions to help participants improve the management of their historic sites.

At the core of workshop is each participant’s “burning question.” They share their biggest concern or issue at the start of the class and at the end, they describe how they might address it when they return to their site.  It’s not only a way to make the workshop more relevant to the participants, but it also gives us a glimpse into the issues facing historic house museums around the country.  This year the questions included: Continue reading

Plenty for Historic Sites at 2015 NCPH Meeting

National Council on Public History annual meeting 2015The National Council on Public History will be holding its 2015 conference in Nashville from April 15-18 and there are lots of sessions that will interest house museums and historic sites, including:

  • Best Practices for Interpreting Slavery at Historic Sites and Museums
  • Re-imagining Historic House Museums for the 21st Century with President Lincoln’s Cottage, Roger Brown Study Collection, and others
  • On the Cutting Edge of American Historic Preservation:  The Role of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association
  • Religion, Historic Sites, and Museums with Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum, Ephrata Cloister, and others
  • Historic Sites, Racialized Geographies, and the Responsibilities of Public Historians with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Weeksville Heritage Center
  • The Woodrow Wilson Family Home: Our Story of a Radical Makeover
  • Pulling Back the Curtain: Displaying the History-Making Process in Museums and Sites
  • Hidden Histories:  Cultural Amnesia, Interpretive Challenges, and Educational Opportunities
  • Haunted Histories: Ghost Lore Interpretation at Historical Sites

Nashville also has many historic sites and NCPH will be offering walking tours and field trips on musical heritage, the state capitol, crime, Civil War, civil rights, and Fisk University.  Nearby are several notable historic house museums, including the Hermitage, Belle Meade Plantation, and Belmont Mansion.

Registration is $240 and for members it’s $192.  Sign up before March 4 as a member, and it’s only $167.  For a copy of the preliminary program, visit

At the press: Interpreting African American History and Culture

Cover Interpreting Af Am History smallMy book, Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites is now at the press and will be available in December from Rowman and Littlefield.  I’ve been assembling it for the past two years and just completed the index, so now it’s firmly in the hands of the publisher.  This book is part of a new “interpreting” series launched by Rowman and Littlefield and the American Association for State and Local History.  Also released this year are books on topics that include slavery, Native American history and culture, LGBT history, and the prohibition era.  If you’d like to order a copy of any of these books at a nice 25 percent discount, use the code 4F14MSTD by December 31, 2014.

Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites is another step in a path being laid by many people for nearly 150 years. Although much has been accomplished at museums and historic sites to enhance and improve the interpretation of African American history and culture, we’ve also learned Continue reading

Video: Mapping Historic Sites Through Internships


This 6:38 video describes a partnership between the Etowah Valley Historical Society and the Kennesaw State University to map historic sites throughout Etowah Valley in Georgia using GIS with the aid of college interns.  Jennifer Leifheit-Little directed the project.  You can find some of the results of this project in the interactive historical maps on the historical society’s website, with such topics as African Americans, Native Americans, mining, cemeteries, and Civil War (note: these maps take time to load and most didn’t seem to show any data in my Chrome browser).

Is Historic Preservation Ready to Preserve Culture as well as Architecture?

Sustaining San Francisco's Living History by San Francisco Heritage

Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History by San Francisco Heritage

The fundamental boundaries of historic preservation have been significantly expanded by San Francisco Heritage, one of the country’s leading historic preservation organizations. In Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History: Strategies for Conserving Cultural Heritage Assets, they state that, “Despite their effectiveness in conserving architectural resources, traditional historic preservation protections are often ill-suited to address the challenges facing cultural heritage assets. . . Historic designation is not always feasible or appropriate, nor does it protect against rent increases, evictions, challenges with leadership succession, and other factors that threaten longtime institutions.”   In an effort to conserve San Francisco’s non-architectural heritage, historic preservation must consider “both tangible and intangible [elements] that help define the beliefs, customs, and practices of a particular community.” Did you notice the expanded definition?  Here it is again:  “Tangible elements may include a community’s land, buildings, public spaces, or artwork [the traditional domain of historic preservation], while intangible elements may include organizations and institutions, businesses, cultural activities and events, and even people [the unexplored territory].”

With many historic preservation organizations, it’s all about the architecture so protecting landscapes, public spaces, and artwork is already a stretch.  They’re often not aware that Continue reading

Hot Topics in Collections Management Tackled in St. Paul

The annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History always covers a diverse range of topics, but collections management is certain to be among this.  This year in St. Paul was no exception and three very different projects caught my attention.

"Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction" by the Indiana Historical Society.

“Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction” by the Indiana Historical Society.

In a poster session, Tamara Hemmerlein shared Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction, a publication of the Indiana Historical Society.  Presented as a “living graphic novel,” it informs readers about the various ways to preserve collections from light damage, pests, dust, and mishandling (represented by such villians as Ultra Violet, Mass-O-Frass, and Miss Handler) and includes links for additional information.  I’m not sure of the intended audience, but it’s a lot more fun than reading a collections management policy.

collections avalancheChatting in the hallway, Continue reading

Video: Walkthrough the Mauritshuis ‘Het Gebouw’ exposition

Mauritshuis, the 17th-century house in the Netherlands that has an extraordinary collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings has recently reopened following a two-year renovation.  This 1:45 video shows the new temporary interactive exhibit about the building developed by Haute Technique.

Video: Aurora Indiana Moveable Feast

Indiana Landmarks‘ “Moveable Feasts” are three summer evening events that each feature a different place in Indiana through a multi-course progressive dinner at several historic sites, along with walking tours, presentations, and films.  This 2:00 video provides an overview of the June 13, 2014 Moveable Feast in Aurora, Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River.  Cost is $50; $45 for members.