Tag Archives: Conny Graft

Planning for the 250? This Webinar Will Help You Get Started

Join Conny Graft and Max van Balgooy on May 24 at 3:00 pm Eastern for a ninety-minute webinar on interpretive planning as we prepare for the U.S. 250th anniversary in 2026. To help you feel more confident in this specialized topic, we will discuss the basic process of interpretive planning, provide a simple rubric to develop goals, and distinguish topics and themes (and why themes are more valuable). As a bonus, we’ll briefly mention ways to identify target audiences and expand your thinking about methods and formats. Registration is $20; $10 for AASLH members.

It’s the start of a three-part series on interpreting the 250th at historic sites and house museums. Other sessions will dive into the field-wide themes for the 250th with Ashley Jordan (African American Museum in Philadelphia) and Steve Murray (Alabama Department of Archives and History) and offer an interactive platform to workshop ideas with fellow practitioners with Sarah Pharaon (Dialogic Consulting). Whether you have a clear tie to the Revolution or not, this webinar series will help you make history relevant and captivating for your audience. Attend all three webinars for $55; $25 for AASLH members.

The American Association for State and Local History is hosting these webinars. Scholarships to attend all three webinars are available on a first come, first served basis, thanks to support from the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust.

Know a Museum or Site Making an Impact with History?

Discussing the History Relevance Campaign at a packed session at AASLH in St. Paul.

Discussing the History Relevance Campaign at a packed session at AASLH in St. Paul. Photo by Lee Wright.

At the American Association for State and Local History annual meeting in St. Paul, the History Relevance Campaign presented an update on their work to a packed audience. During the session, we presented the Impact Project, a year-long process for identifying and studying historic sites and history museums that are making history relevant in their community. The goals of the Impact Project are to:

  • Increase the use of history as a way to understand and address critical community issues.
  • Help board members and staff make an impact in their communities by integrating best practices into their strategic and interpretive plans
  • Encourage AASLH and other professional associations to include standards on community relevance and impact
  • Encourage academic programs in history, public history, and museum studies to include community relevance and impact in their curriculum
  • Encourage elected officials, funders, and communities to provide more support for history organizations that are making an impact
  • Provide every Governor with at least one example of history organizations that are making an impact in their state

We Need Your Help

We are looking for history museums, historic sites, and similar organizations that are Continue reading

Greetings from Minnesota!

St. Paul, Minnesota along the banks of the Mississippi River.

St. Paul, Minnesota along the banks of the Mississippi River.

This week I’m attending the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I’ll be part of a couple educational sessions, debuting my new book on the interpretation of African American history and culture, and concluding my term on the Council.  The Minnesota Historical Society has worked hard to encourage participation and radio raconteur Garrison Keillor is giving the keynote address, so this is expected to be among the largest annual meetings in AASLH’s history.  The AASLH annual meeting has lots going on including more than 70 sessions and workshops, evening gatherings at the Minnesota History Center and Mill City Museum, a dozen tours of local museums and historic sites, affinity group luncheons, poster and pop-up sessions, an exhibit hall of vendors and companies, and lots of receptions.  It’s an ideal place to keep up with what’s happening in the field as well as catch up with my colleagues and friends.  If you won’t be able to make it in person, consider attending online (deadline to register is 5 pm on Wednesday, September 17).

On Thursday, I’l be moderating a session with debb Wilcox and Lee Wright, two marketing experts from outside Continue reading

A Simple Tool to Keep Users Engaged with Your Website (or Exhibit or Program)

User-Story-rubricIf 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

News from Montpelier and Belle Grove in Virginia

Last Friday I was in Virginia and thought I’d share what’s been happening at James Madison’s Montpelier and Belle Grove, two historic sites that I’ve been associated with for more than a decade.  


The day started with a meeting of the Interiors and Interpretation Committee at James Madison’s Montpelier to see the most recently restored rooms at the mansion, advise them on the next phase of work, and to meet Kat Imhoff, the new president of the Montpelier Foundation.  The committee hasn’t met for a couple years so I was particularly anxious to see what’s been happening at this nationally significant site.  The drawing room, dining room, new library, and James Madison’s office are furnished (or nearly so) and with revisions to the tour, it’s a dramatically different visitor experience.  If you haven’t been there in a couple years, it’s well worth another visit.  I enjoy participating as a committee member because Montpelier gives me the unique privilege of staying overnight on site (not in the mansion, alas, but in a nicely updated house in the Constitutional Village).  Even better are the people I work with when I visit–passionate and enthusiastic colleagues who are among the best in their fields.  This meeting included Conny Graft, Betty Monkman, Gail Serfaty, David Mattern, and Robert Leath and to give you a glimpse of their fervor, one of the committee members brought an undiscovered Madison letter that descended through her family and we stayed up until midnight (at least that’s when I went to bed) to discuss and analyze it.  

In the evening, I stopped by Belle Grove in Middletown on the way home to congratulate Elizabeth McClung on her retirement.  Their board of trustees hosted a well deserved celebratory party with lots of speeches, food, and wine.  Elizabeth has served for 17 years at the helm of this historic site, making tremendous strides in preservation and interpretation to make it a major point of pride in the community.  She helped create the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, launched new research initiatives on African American and women’s history, acquired extremely important family portraits and adjacent land parcels, fought bloody preservation battles in the Shenandoah Valley, revised the website, authentically restored the parlor and dining room, and raised LOTS of money (those are just the things I’m aware of from my distant view!).  Her last major project was the rehabilitation of an early 20th century barn for educational activities and while funds still need to be raised for the exhibits, 4274 Design Workshop unveiled a new model of Belle Grove as it appeared in 1820.

It was an incredibly full and fun day visiting these two historic sites, and because I was mostly traveling the Virginia countryside, a great day of driving on a beautiful day as well.

HBR: To Engage Your Visitors, Keep it Simple

"To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple" by Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman (Harvard Business Review, May 2012)

The May 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review arrived a little early to my mailbox, but I couldn’t stop from sharing a great article on engaging customers in business world that can easily be translated to engaging visitors and building support for historic sites and museums.  In “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple,” Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman note the paradox of today’s promotional techniques:

Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more interaction and information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to these increasingly distracted and disloyal customers.  But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering–it’s overwhelming.  Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.

This conclusion is based on multiple surveys of more than 7,000 consumers which were then compared to interviews with 200 marketing executives representing 125 brands.  Their pointed out that what consumers what and what companies think consumers want didn’t correspond to each other, or in biz speak, it’s a Continue reading