Tag Archives: American Association for State and Local History

Cruisin’ and Musin’ in Motown with AASLH

detroitI’ll be in Detroit for the next few days enjoying the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History.  I’ve been a member for about 40 years and I don’t think I’ve missed a conference during the last decade—does this make me a history nerd?

I hear this conference will be among the largest in AASLH’s recent memory and in partnership with the Michigan Museums Association, they’ve assembled some intriguing sessions and events.  As usual, I’ll have to split myself to attend several sessions at the same time but spending Saturday afternoon at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village will be the highlight.

Of course, seeing friends and colleagues from around the country is always great fun (sometimes it seems the entire conference is just one long reunion) and if you’ll be attending, I’d love to chat.  I’ll be at the evening events on Wednesday and Thursday, plus I’ll be participating in two sessions this year: Continue reading

Professional Development is Taking on New Forms This Month

Historic Annapolis logoProfessional development (aka staff training) is one of the key elements for developing capacity at house museums and historic sites, but it’s often considered a luxury because of the cost.  This month, for example, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Maryland, and Historic Annapolis are hosting a two-day workshop, “Preservation Leadership Training: Invitation to Evolve” on September 8-9, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland and next week, the American Association for State and Local History and Michigan Museums Association are hosting their conference, “The Spirit of Rebirth” in Detroit, Michigan.  Both demonstrate the continuing trend of partnerships among organizations to provide professional development to increase attendance, reduce expenses, and improve the quality.  I’m not sure if others do this, but I can only commit to two conferences per year: one is always AASLH and the other rotates among one of the other organizations where I’m a member.

But lately, I’ve noticed new forms of training popping Continue reading

Challenges Facing Historic House Museums: A Report from the Field

AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.

AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.

At the annual AASLH workshop on historic house museum management, we always start by asking participants about the biggest or most important challenge they are facing at their historic site.  For the participants, the exercise allows them to get to know each other beyond a name by recognizing the issues they may have in common.  As the instructors, It’s an opportunity for George McDaniel and me to ensure we address their concerns.  For AASLH, it’s a way of keeping a finger on the pulse on what’s happening in the field.  At the end of the workshop, we review the list and provide some time for participants to develop a plan to address their issue.  As a reminder, they also fill out self-addressed postcards with a message to themselves, which I’ll mail to them in six months.

So that you can keep your finger on the pulse of the field, here’s the list of issues and challenges from the Cedar Rapids workshop at Brucemore, which included participants from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois: Continue reading

Tackling Challenges for Historic Sites in St. Louis

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Last week, Ken Turino of Historic New England and I gave a one-day workshop on reinventing historic house museum in St. Louis, Missouri for the American Association for State and Local History.  It was a sold-out workshop with more than 50 people participating, mostly from the St. Louis region, so it was a great opportunity to meet so many of our colleagues, including a couple places who were starting new house museums (glad to have people learning about this specialized field before they open the doors!).  A big thanks to Andy Hahn at the Campbell House for hosting the workshop and to the St. Louis Public Library for allowing us to meet at the historic Central Library.

Ken and I continue to refine the workshop based on the evaluations we receive from the participants, and one of the elements we added to the beginning of the workshop is asking, “What is the biggest challenge facing your house museum?” and “What needs to be reinvented at your historic site?”  Here are some of the responses we received: Continue reading

Webinar: How can Historic Sites Make History More Relevant?

History Relevance CampaignOn Monday, March 21 at 3:00 pm Eastern/12 pm Pacific, Tim Grove and I will be discussing the History Relevance Campaign during AASLH’s monthly Historic House Call.  For the past few years, a dozen people from various history organizations have studied the challenges and opportunities for changing the common attitude that history is nice, but not essential.  We won’t have overnight solutions and there’s lots of work to do, but we’ll share what we’ve learned, discuss how it impacts historic house museums, and provide a tool that organizations have found very helpful.  The webinar is free but preregistration is required.

If you’re not familiar with the Historic House Call, they are webinars offered through out the year by the Historic House Museum Community of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH).  Upcoming webinars include religion and historic house interpretation and using futures thinking to navigate ongoing change, and a recording of an earlier webinar, “creating engaging and memorable tours” is available.  They also have a very active listserv on Yahoo Groups, a growing blog called “Views from the Porch,” and free resources, such as the Technical Leaflet, “How Sustainable is Your Historic House Museum?

Historic House Workshops for the New Year

Historic House Museum Workshop, Charleston, South Carolina, 2015

Historic House Museum Workshop, Charleston, South Carolina, 2015

If want some time to plan and evaluate what’s happening at your historic site or house museum, one of the best ways is through a workshop. Of course, a long weekend of reflection in the Rockies or Virgin Islands might be more relaxing, but a workshop with colleagues discussing the potential solutions to the challenges facing historic sites will be more effective.

AASLH is offering two workshops this year just for house museums and historic sites, and I’ll be part of both of them:

April 4: Reinventing the Historic House Museum at the Campbell House in St. Louis, Missouri

This one-day symposium is designed to offer current thinking, practical information, and solutions to the challenges facing historic sites. The historic house museum in America is not dead nor are most of them dying. The field, however, needs to take time to reflect and renew as the world around our historic sites continues to change. The symposium will include presentations, discussion, a boxed lunch, historic site visit, and a brainstorming workshop at the historic house museum to try out the new ideas proposed during the symposium. Workshop led by Ken Turino (Historic New England) and Max van Balgooy (Engaging Places). (There may be a second Reinventing workshop offered this year.)

April 28: Historic House Museum Issues and Operations at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Why are historic houses necessary to their communities? How are historic house museums unique? This workshop focuses on the special needs, management, and interpretation of historic houses. With a focus on historic house museums, topics covered include collections care, types of research appropriate for historic house museums, exhibition development, interpretive tours, volunteers, and building and landscape maintenance. Workshop led by George McDaniel (Drayton Hall) and Max van Balgooy (Engaging Places).

Can’t attend these workshops but are still looking for a shot in the arm? Join one of the quarterly Historic House Calls. Every call explores a different topic with an expert, and they’ve previously discussed deaccessioning, tours, interpreting race, and environmental sustainability.

AASLH has nearly two dozens way to sharpen your skills with some of your smartest colleagues in the history field and you’ll find a continually updated list on their calendar of events.

Reinventing Historic Houses in National Parks

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Earlier this week I led a workshop on reinventing historic house museums at two great National Parks—Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller in Vermont and Saint-Gaudens in New Hampshire—with Ken Turino of Historic New England. The National Park Service and the American Association for State and Local History co-sponsored this workshop to help their staff rethink the tours of the historic houses at these two sites, especially for visitors under 35 years of age. Using such tools as the Five Forces and a Double-Bottom Line Matrix along with a smorgasbord of ideas from other sites, we explored possible processes and projects that could improve and enhance their tours.  Our goal wasn’t to provide solutions but to raise many useful questions, including: Continue reading

AASLH Annual Meeting Provokes Historical Thinking

Tim Grove facilitating a lively conversation about historical thinking at the AASLH Annual Meeting in 2015.

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.
  • 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).

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Interpretive Planning Workshop coming to Tennessee

AASLH Historic House Museum workshop at the Oaklands Museum, 2013.

AASLH Historic House Museum workshop at the Oaklands Museum, 2013.

On Monday, August 17, I’ll be leading a one-day workshop on interpretive planning for history museums and historic sites in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History, Humanities Tennessee, and the Tennessee Association of Museums, the workshop will layout effective strategies for interpreting history and the humanities at museums and historic sites, explain how to use StEPs as a model for standards and best practices, and show how to conduct a self-evaluation of interpretation in order to prioritize activities.  It’ll be hot in Middle Tennessee but the workshop will be held in the comfortable and cool visitor center at the Oaklands Museum.  Registration is $75 and $15 for members (you read that correctly–$15!) and includes lunch.  To register or for more details, visit AASLH.org.

So Many Possibilities for Historic Sites at AASLH Annual Meeting

AASLH Louisville 2015The 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.
Sam Winburg

Sam Wineburg

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.