President Lincoln’s Cottage, the presidential summer retreat just a few miles north of the US Capitol, recently opened an exhibit in their visitor education center the compares immigration issues in the 19th century to the present day. Titled, “American by Belief,” the introductory label reads:
The United States of America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. Abraham Lincoln recognized immigrants as one of America’s greatest resources and its best hope for the future. He believed America, in return, owed immigrants the full realization of its founding promises and a fair chance to succeed.
Our world is different than Lincoln’s. But what continues to bring immigrants here would look familiar to him: an opportunity to rise higher, improve themselves, live safely under the rule of law, become citizens, and count themselves as American by right of belief.
This is a small temporary exhibit, perhaps 200 square feet at most, and primarily consists of panels featuring text and images (no historic objects). In the center of the room is a map of the world made of pegs, which visitors can use to link places associated with them using colored rubber bands (this looks cool but I’m not sure Continue reading →
Tim Grove facilitating a lively conversation about historical thinking at the AASLH Annual Meeting in 2015.
The annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History always offers a good mix of educational sessions, social events, and opportunities to visit museums and historic sites around the country. This year, Sam Wineburg, a Stanford University professor and author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001), prompted an ongoing discussion with his plenary address on the first day of the annual meeting. Through his research on students and scholars, he showed that the analysis of historical documents is a sophisticated skill that isn’t apparent to most people (and I can confidently say this also applies to objects, buildings, and landscapes). He went on to argue that teaching people to think historically isn’t about teaching history but making them better citizens. John Dichtl, president of AASLH, discusses this further on the AASLH blog.
These ideas were pursued the next day at a packed session facilitated by Tim Grove of the National Air and Space Museum. Using excerpts from Wineburg’s book, Tim encouraged a lively dialogue that allowed me to report out 15 Tweets, including:
Historical thinking: multiple perspectives; analysis of sources; context; and based on evidence.
Are we underestimating visitors if we don’t give them oppty to debate ideas & issues at museums/historic sites?
Debates always happen, but history gets flattened over time. Build multiple perspectives, uncertainty, & questions into exhibits.
Challenge for marketing & communications staff about handling provocative topics in social media era.
Are museums & sites imposing their ideology on visitors? Have we become arrogant? Do we need to learn about visitor interests?
which resulted in 31 favorites and 20 retweets. Just to be clear, these ideas didn’t come from me but from the persons gathered in the room. I could have tweeted out many more but I couldn’t listen and type them out quickly at the same time.
If you weren’t able to attend, there’s next year in Detroit. In the meantime, enjoy these snaps from the recent meeting in Louisville (and thanks to everyone at the Kentucky Historical Society for being such gracious hosts).
The State of the First Amendment survey, conducted each year since 1997 by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, tests Americans’ knowledge of their core freedoms and samples their opinions on First Amendment issues of the day. The survey again found that most Americans are unable to name more than one or two of the five freedoms in the First Amendment —religion, speech, press, assembly and petition— and that one-third cannot name any of the five. Looks like a great opportunity for history organizations!
The 2015 survey questions also covered topics including the use of Confederate flags Continue reading →
Archaeological excavations at James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia.
If your historic site or history museum is using or would like to use archaeology in your research (even if you’re not conducting archaeology), the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is seeking your suggestions and advice to improve and enhance the “For the Public” section of their website via a survey (open until July 22).
SAA launched For the Public in 2006 as a clearinghouse to share resources, best practices, and general information about the discipline of archaeology with both the professional community and the interested public. The site has now grown to a complex tangle of over 400 linked pages. Many of the pages need substantive revision in content, function, and aesthetic perspectives. As they continue the process of revision, they would appreciate Continue reading →
Heritage Tourism in the 21st Century with James Stevens of ConsultEcon Inc., who recently studied the heritage tourism sector in Philadelphia
Restoration and Reconstruction: Fulfilling the Possibilities of a 21st Century Museum, a discussion about the reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in South Carolina (also reviewed in the recent issue of the Public Historian and the Journal of American History; not to be confused with the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home in Georgia)
There may be bourbon at the breakfast for historic house museums when Dennis Walsh from Buffalo Trace Distillery discusses the preservation of this historic sites (and it’s pretty cool website, too)
An evening at Locust Grove, a National Historic Landmark, with costumed interpreters, live music, and a three-course buffet.
With 65 sessions, there is much, much more happening and you’ll be torn about what to do. There’s certainly enough to appeal to directors, curators, historians, educators, and preservationists. I’m particularly eager to hear Sam Wineburg, professor of education and history at Stanford University and author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past(see “A History of Flawed Teaching“), and the follow-up discussion led by Tim Grove, chief of museum learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Wineburg is currently developing new forms of assessment to measure historical understanding and undertaking a longitudinal study on the development of historical consciousness among adolescents in three communities. But I don’t want to neglect the three other outstanding plenary speakers: Wendell Berry, James Klotter, Renee Shaw, and Carol Kammen.
I rarely ever skip the AASLH annual meeting and I plan to be there this year. Registration is $250 if you jump in before July 24 and there’s the alternative online conference featuring six sessions.
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 →
Thanks to the support of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, the steering committee of the History Relevance Campaign held a retreat this past week to plan its next steps. Randi Korn facilitated the retreat to clarify our impact and distinctiveness as well as begin to draft outcomes for our work. It was a long day and a half but we made tremendous progress. Although we won’t be ready to share the results for another month or so (our draft ideas are still being discussed), we are making progress in several other areas:
Storefronts that were covered with plywood during the protests in Ferguson were painted by local artists and collected by the Missouri History Museum.
Ferguson and related events are sparking broad protests over the treatment of African Americans by the police and the courts. Should museums and historic sites be involved? Should they be collecting, preserving, or interpreting these present-day events? Should they provide a place for protest or response? Or are these beyond their roles and responsibilities? There are no easy answers because every site and every community is different, but ultimately, people engage with historic places because there’s a personal connection–historic sites are collecting, preserving, or interpreting topics that are relevant and meaningful to the visitor.
Identifying what is relevant and meaningful isn’t always easy but contemporary events offer a glimpse. People discuss, explore, study, question, react to, and protest about issues that matter to them, and the more people that are involved around the same issue, the more significant it is.
Museums and historic sites inhabit a special “third space” in society that allows us to do things that can’t happen at home or work. They allow diverse people to discuss, explore, study, question, react to, and protest about issues in a safe place. As Presence of the Past has shown, we are Continue reading →
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 →
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 →