Tag Archives: National Council on Public History

Interpreting Race: Challenges and Solutions from NCPH

Interpreting African American History and CultureLast year when I was preparing Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites, it seemed that the obvious had been overlooked: race. Although we all advocated for the integration of African American history in interpretation in part to overcome racism, I wondered if instead we are inadvertently promoting the idea that races exist and we simply need to find ways to get along, just like dogs and cats in our homes. We never questioned or uncovered the assumptions about race that visitors may carry with them into museums and historic sites. Our bigger concern was that African American history was sufficiently significant to merit preservation and integration into the interpretation.

We know that races do not exist and it was a theory developed by scientists in the 18th and 19th century as a way to explain human differences.  Race has long been disproven, but certainly race and racism continues, probably in the minds of many of our visitors.  So if more of our visitors could understand that race is socially constructed and artificial, it may go a long way towards Continue reading

An App That Easily Merges Oral History and Images

My recording about a bird nest on the Galapagos Islands using PixStori.

My recording about a bird nest on the Galapagos Islands using PixStori.

At the National Council on Public History conference last week in Baltimore, Michael Frisch of the University of Buffalo introduced PixStori, a iOS app that he helped develop that easily shares photographs with audio recordings.  Frisch is a leader among oral history practitioners and he developed the app as a way for people to record short oral histories to accompany photographs.

Users pull up a photo from their iPhone or iPad and then record a short message (up to 20 minutes), which can then be shared via email, Twitter, or Facebook.  I experimented with a photo of a bird and it’s remarkably easy to use.  It’s definitely fun for sharing photos, but I can easily see museums and archives using it to share historic images or documents with a comment by an historian or help promote an upcoming event.  But I can also see how it might be used in-house to record visitor reaction to proposed exhibit or to send a message to your staff about a site emergency. It appears that the recordings are stored at PixStori, so recipients don’t need to have the app installed but do need an internet connection to see and hear the file. The app is available free for iOS devices and an Android version is underway.

Historic House Museums a Special Focus for the Public Historian

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum by Brandon Bartoszek

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum by Brandon Bartoszek

The May 2015 issue of the Public Historian was just released and provides a dozen articles related to historic house museums.  Lisa Junkin Lopez, associate director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and guest editor of this special issue, provides the criteria that helped her select the articles and her vision of historic house museums:

Though a number of sites have turned to revenue-generating activities like weddings and farmers’ markets to stay afloat, rigorous historical content has not necessarily been quashed in favor of parlor room cocktail hours and heirloom tomato beds. Many sites have recommitted to the project of excavating their own histories, digging deeper to find relevance with contemporary audiences and identifying new methods for engagement along the way.

The individual essays are case studies of various projects at historic house museums, but many question and even break the basic assumptions of museum practices and historic preservation standards.  This shift will need to be watched because Continue reading

Plenty for Historic Sites at 2015 NCPH Meeting

National Council on Public History annual meeting 2015The National Council on Public History will be holding its 2015 conference in Nashville from April 15-18 and there are lots of sessions that will interest house museums and historic sites, including:

  • Best Practices for Interpreting Slavery at Historic Sites and Museums
  • Re-imagining Historic House Museums for the 21st Century with President Lincoln’s Cottage, Roger Brown Study Collection, and others
  • On the Cutting Edge of American Historic Preservation:  The Role of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association
  • Religion, Historic Sites, and Museums with Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum, Ephrata Cloister, and others
  • Historic Sites, Racialized Geographies, and the Responsibilities of Public Historians with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Weeksville Heritage Center
  • The Woodrow Wilson Family Home: Our Story of a Radical Makeover
  • Pulling Back the Curtain: Displaying the History-Making Process in Museums and Sites
  • Hidden Histories:  Cultural Amnesia, Interpretive Challenges, and Educational Opportunities
  • Haunted Histories: Ghost Lore Interpretation at Historical Sites

Nashville also has many historic sites and NCPH will be offering walking tours and field trips on musical heritage, the state capitol, crime, Civil War, civil rights, and Fisk University.  Nearby are several notable historic house museums, including the Hermitage, Belle Meade Plantation, and Belmont Mansion.

Registration is $240 and for members it’s $192.  Sign up before March 4 as a member, and it’s only $167.  For a copy of the preliminary program, visit http://bit.ly/NCPH2015prog.

Video: 2014 NCPH Conference Recap

The Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas at El Paso just produced a 2:49 video covering the 2014 annual conference of the National Council Public History in Monterey, California.   Using video from the conference and Monterey along with interviews, it highlights the value of the conference.  This was created by Karina Arroyo and Jesus Genaro Limon, who I believe are students at UTEP.  Perhaps your site could create something like this for your events or conferences with the help of a local college or university.  

Recap of NCPH Annual Meeting in Monterey

The National Council on Public History held its annual conference in Monterey, California a couple weeks ago.  More than 600 people attended from around the country plus ten countries, making it the largest stand-alone meeting (at times, NCPH will co-host a conference with another organization, such as AASLH).  Monterey, of course, is a wonderful place to enjoy history and nature, especially if you’ve been enduring a long winter.  This year’s theme was sustainability and a task force is developing a white paper, which is available for public comments.

I attended primarily to discuss the History Relevance Campaign and collect more comments and ideas on our goals and projects.  I also participated in a couple sessions, a morning of speed networking (graduate students and new professionals rotate among several mid-career and seasoned pros), and ran into lots of friends and colleagues in the hall and on the street.  NCPH is a mix of Continue reading

Exploring History and Historic Sites in Monterey in March 2014

Historic downtown Monterey with the Cooper-Molera Adobe in the background.

Historic downtown Monterey with the Cooper-Molera Adobe in the background.

The National Council on Public History will hold its annual conference in Monterey, California from March 19-22, 2014.  It will be the first time I’ve attended a NCPH conference and I’m thrilled–the schedule is packed with a variety of sessions that will appeal to those who are working on the cutting edge of historic sites and house museums, including:

  • Educational sessions on co-created exhibits, tribal partnerships, preserving LGBT sites, interpreting slavery, the history of museums, stewardship of archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, and the sustainability of museums. 
  • THATCamp NCPH” is an afternoon learning laboratory on digital projects that Continue reading

OAH Report Claims History is Imperiled at National Parks

The Organization of American Historians recently completed an evaluation of the “state of history” at the National Park Service.  Four prominent historians–Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Marla Miller, Gary Nash, and David Thelen–led the study, which was based on more than 500 staff responses to an online survey, interviews with current and former staff, site visits, discussions at national meetings, and a review of past studies and reports.

Their analysis revealed that much good work is going on in such areas as reinterpreting slavery and the Civil War, negotiating civic engagement, sharing authority, developing interdisciplinary partnerships, encouraging conversations about history through new media, and collaborating with historians in colleges and universities.  These are presented through a dozen profiles of projects at such National Parks as Manzanar, the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, San Antonio Missions, Harpers Ferry, and the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site.

Although they discovered that good work is being done in a few places, it is not “flowering on the whole” due to several intertwined issues.  Most significant is the report’s contention that, “the agency as a whole needs to recommit to history as one of its core purposes, and to configure a top-flight program of historical research, preservation, education, and interpretation so as to foster effective and integrated stewardship of historic and cultural resources and places and to encourage robust, place-based visitor engagement with history.”  These concerns are presented as a dozen findings, and from my observations, many also reflect what’s happening at historic sites outside of the National Parks.  For example:

  1. The History/Interpretation Divide.  The intellectually artificial, yet bureaucratically real, divide between history and interpretation constrains NPS historians, compromises history practice in the agency, and hobbles effective history interpretation. The NPS should find and take every opportunity to reintegrate professional history practice and interpretation. [In museums, this is comparable to the tensions found between curators and educators, where those who conduct research are often separated from those who teach.]
  2. The Importance of Leadership for History.  Without visionary, visible, and respected leadership at the top, and Continue reading

A Great Conference for Historic Sites Coming Up in April

The Organization of American Historians and the National Council on Public History are combining their annual meetings this year and this double-header is creating a really interesting conference for people who are working to preserve and interpret historic places.  Here are just a few sessions that caught my eye (and just a few–there are more than 200 sessions offered over five days):

  • Museum and Makers:  Intersections of Public History and Technology Buffs from Steam Trains to Steampunk
  • Museums, Historic Sites, and the University:  Public History Projects and Partnerships in the American Indian Great Lakes
  • The Witness Tree Project:  Using Historic Landscapes to Explore History and Memory
  • Toward a Reinterpretation of the Indian Wars at National Historic Sites and Parks
  • Closing Up Shop:  Strategies for Partners and Communities When Historic Sites Close Continue reading