As an interpretive planner, one of the common circumstances I encounter at a site or house museum is that historical research hasn’t been conducted for years, perhaps even decades. It’s not that research and scholarship isn’t appreciated by the staff. Typically there was lots of research done when the site first opened, but staff just hasn’t had time since then (the distractions of “toilet paper and light bulbs”, alas!) or there isn’t the incentive now that the place is open (“history hasn’t changed that much in twenty years, has it?”).
The past may not have changed, but our interests continually change. Right now, the Civil War is hot but in a couple years it could be jazz. Without new historical research, eventually tours, exhibits, events, and programs, and yes, even staff lose their edge and the place seems dull and boring. And you have to stay committed to research for the long term because as other sites mimic your innovative interpretation, it eventually settles into a regional monotony when everyone does the same thing (e.g., now it seems that every Colonial house museum is discussing foodways, lives of servants, and the contradictions of liberty and slavery).
Scholars Workshop underway at Drayton Hall. Director George McDaniel is providing an introduction to the site during the first part of the workshop.
If you find that you’ve ignored research far too long or that your research endeavors need some direction and refinement, a scholars workshop may help. For a day or two, a small team of scholars gathers at your site to review the current interpretation and historical resources (archives, collections, and buildings) and then discusses how they might be refined, updated, or approached in new ways. They can also confirm existing plans, support new ideas, and suggest new books or archives to explore. By including staff in the workshop, it rekindles their energy and allows them to think longterm and strategically about interpretation. For an example of the structure of a scholars workshop, take a look at Continue reading →