Working in historic house museums often can often seem like an isolated job but not in the nation’s capital, where there is the Historic House Museum Consortium of Washington, DC, an active association of forty sites that mutually support and promote each other. Every two years they also host a half-day symposium that attracts about one hundred museum guides, docents, and interpreters. This year it was held on September 17 at the impressive George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia and I joined Dr. George McDaniel of Drayton Hall and Rebecca Martin of the National Archives to talk about various aspects of tours and the visitor experience:
- George laid out that the visitor experience is much more than the tour and extends to the visitors’ planning, arrival, and departure. He emphasized the importance of little things, such as the directional signage, staff hospitality, and the condition of grounds and restrooms can have on visitors’ attitudes even before the tour starts
- In “Before You Get Engaged: Advice for Lovers of History and Historic Sites,” a light-hearted perspective on visitor engagement, I discussed three issues to consider before getting engaged with visitors: don’t marry a stranger (know your audience), don’t share everything you know about a site on a tour (keep it mysterious), and let them know what you care about (keep your passion alive).
- Becky closed the session with Continue reading
Session on Interpreting African American history and culture, AASLH annual meeting, 2012
Last September, I had the privilege of moderating a session on interpreting African American history at historic sites in a room filled with some of the smartest people in the field during the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History. The panelists–George McDaniel, Pam Green, David Young, and Tanya Bowers–gave outstanding opening remarks but even more engaging was the discussion that followed with the audience. Because African American history can be a sensitive topic and to demonstrate a way to confront these issues among a group of strangers, I used a technique drawn from Great Tours (page 117). Each person in the audience was given a 3×5 card and was asked to anonymously complete the sentence, “I would feel more comfortable talking about African American culture and history if…” Among the responses I received were: Continue reading
For two days last week, about two dozen people gathered in Washington, DC for AASLH’s annual Historic House Management Workshop. George McDaniel and I have been co-teaching this workshop for more than a decade around the country and while all the classes are fun and interesting, the one we recently completed was unusual because it was held in two incredibly significant historic houses designed by two of America’s pioneering architects. Special thanks go to AIA Legacy for hosting the meeting at the Octagon and the White House Historical Association for hosting the meeting at Decatur House. The workshop usually attracts a diverse group of participants but this one especially so with a mix of curators, educators, conservators, directors, boardmembers, college professors, and consultants–it would have been great to conduct a charrette with them!
Each year we ask the participants to identify one issue they’d like to address in the workshop and Continue reading