I’ll be at an all-day workshop today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to discuss the work of the History Relevance Campaign with representatives of two dozen national organizations, including the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Park Service, American Historical Association, American Alliance of Museums, National Coalition for History, National History Day, National Humanities Alliance, and National Governors Association. We’ll use our work on the values of history, impact project, and research on popular attitudes towards history to discuss where the campaign should go next and how they might get more involved (most of these organizations have already endorsed the values statement). I’m not sure what the results will be but you can follow along on Twitter at #historyrelevance.
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 Through his research on students and scholars, he showed that the analysis of historical documents is a sophisticated skill that isn’t apparent to most people (and I can confidently say this also applies to objects, buildings, and landscapes).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.
- Asking good provocative questions is a skill. Learn more at the Right Question Institute.
- 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 International Committee of Museum Management (InterCom) of the the International Council of Museums (ICOM) with be holding its annual meeting in Washington, DC from October 28-31, 2015, the first time it has held its meeting in the United States. InterCom works toward the development of sound museum management throughout the world, including the managerial aspects of policy formulation, legislation, and resource management. Registration is $350 ($150 for students) and early bird registration for $295 ends today (July 31).
This year’s conference focuses on three themes–The Sustainable Leader, The Enduring
Organization, and the Essential Museum–and plenary speakers include Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; Elaine Heumann Gurian, author and museum consultant; and Richard C. Harwood, Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Sessions involve diverse topics from around the world and several caught my eye. I wonder what someone from Columbia has to say about museums as tourist attractions; how violence or civil unrest are affecting museums in Mexico, Denmark, and Minnesota (Minnesota??); or how the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations in Turkey tackles the value of history and heritage in the contemporary world (how do you make thousands of years of history relevant?).
I’ll be there to expand my horizons and reporting out when I get a chance. It also looks like we’ll be having special tours of several museums in DC (it’s the behind-the-scenes experience at museums that lured me into this field) so that will be great fun. Hope to see you there!
Discuss strategies to improve history education in our schools with people coming at it from different perspectives on Tuesday, July 7 at 12 noon (Eastern) in a Google Hangout co-hosted by the National Assessment Governing Board and the American Historical Association. It’s in response to the latest results of the Nation’s Report Card, which shows that many students lack a strong understanding of our nation’s history (as seen in the chart, scores have been flat for the past twenty years, and the conversation will explore ways that students can become more engaged and informed. Hmm, can historic sites and house museums play a role?
- Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association
- Chasidy White, history and geography teacher at Brookwood (Ala.) Middle School and member of the National Assessment Governing Board
- Judith Gradwohl, MacMillan associate director for education and public engagement at the National Museum of American History
- Libby O’Connell, chief historian at the History channel
- Frank Valadez, executive director of the Chicago Metro History Education Center
and the conversation will be moderated by Jessica Brown, contributing writer at Education Week.
To register or for more information, visit Why History Matters at the National Assessment Governing Board.
The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) just delivered the preliminary program for its annual meeting, which will be held in Louisville, Kentucky from September 16-19, 2015. Obviously, the conference is centered around history but there are several sessions, workshops, and field trips that focus on historic sites and house museums, including:
- 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)
- Old House, New Diverse Stories, a brainstorming session led by Ken Turino of Historic New England
- An Untapped Resource: How to Locate and Use Legal Cases at Historic Sites, a session to learn how to mine legal case files to find compelling narratives for exhibits and programs
- Interpreting Religion at Historic Sites, a discussion on leveraging “historical truth when interpreting religion” led by the historian of the Navigators.
- An afternoon tour of the exuberant Second Empire Culbertson Mansion and Farmington, the Federal-style home of Lucy and John Speed.
- 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.
“Drayton Hall has been my passion and purpose for more than 25 years,” said McDaniel, “and I can’t imagine a better or more fulfilling vocation. But the time has come to turn over leadership responsibilities so I can focus on family, research, writing and other projects. I thank the Drayton family, whose vision made all of this possible, and the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust board of trustees, our outstanding staff and the thousands of Friends and visitors who have supported us during my tenure.”
Under McDaniel’s leadership, Drayton Hall earned Continue reading
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
If you haven’t been to Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC in the last ten years, you’ve missed a major makeover. Not only are the chairs in the theater more comfortable, but it has dramatically updated its interpretation. An extensive interactive exhibit on Lincoln and the Civil War (including Booth’s gun!) now fills the basement. Across the street, the Petersen House (“the house where Lincoln died” and the federal government’s first historic house museum) has been joined with the adjacent office building to provide several floors of exhibits and programs. Now it’s in the midst of creating Remembering Lincoln, a new website that will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination by collecting, digitizing, and sharing local responses from the 13 months following his death. It won’t launch until 2015, but in the meantime they are sharing their progress and most importantly, their process on a blog.
It’s essential that you know the purpose and goals with any project, but even more so when there are more than a dozen institutional partners. You’ve got to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve to keep you focused—you don’t want people pulling in different directions. To keep their eyes on the road, Ford’s Theatre developed a “product definition document” for the Remembering Lincoln website which: Continue reading
The financial sustainability and social relevance of historic house museums continue to intrigue scholars, preservationists, organizations, and even pundits on National Public Radio (I was recently interviewed by them about this topic) and adding to the conversation are two recent publications by the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
If historic house museums are historic sites that primarily educational (not commercial) in purpose, how would they be different if they were managed by educational institutions? “University-Affiliated Historic House Museums,” a report by the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University may provide some answers. Prepared for the 1772 Foundation by Hillary Brady, Steven Lubar, and Rebecca Soules, the report examines the issues facing historic house museums that are owned or operated by colleges and universities based on a survey of existing practices at ten sites. Offering recommendations for “new ways to make these museums more useful to the university community,” it concludes with a half dozen alternatives for the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University, which might be applicable to sites that are not affiliated with universities (swap “campus” and “students” with “community” and “residents”). By the way, the Center is hosting an intriguing colloquium in May 2015 on “lost museums“.
In 1949, Congress created the National Trust for Historic Preservation to Continue reading
Politics and Prose, the famous independent bookstore in Washington DC, hosted a booksigning for Tim Grove, chief of museum learning at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, that attracted seventy-five listeners this past Saturday. It’s not often that museum folks share a stage that recently included Patrick Buchanan, Timothy Geithner, Lynn Sherr, and Michelle Obama. His talk will be aired on C-Span.
A self-professed history geek, Tim shares his love for history in A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History (University of Nebraska Press, 2014), a collection of stories from his years working at Colonial Williamsburg, Missouri Historical Society, National Portrait Gallery, and the National Museum of American History. Tim wants to improve the public image of history by demonstrating the fun of history and “help history haters change their minds.” To do this requires provoking a deeper thinking about historical programs and activities to better link past and present As he states in his book,
The staff at [Colonial] Williamsburg and other history sites wants visitors to “experience” history. What does this mean? One can visit Yosemite National Park and experience the beauty and grandeur of nature. One can go whitewater rafting and experience the rush of the river and the cold wetness of the water as it splashes the face. But experiencing history? Do you experience history when you walk the hallowed ground of a battlefield or visit a historical house? Experience in verb form implies action. What action is actually taking place?
Tim demonstrates that “action” through a wide assortment of stories, from conquering a high wheel bicycle and questioning the significance of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin to navigating the legacy of Lewis and Clark, and yes, unpacking a grizzly bear Continue reading