Tag Archives: President Lincoln’s Cottage

Strengthen Your Interpretive Themes with these Tools

I didn’t realize it at the time, but twenty years ago I began working with interpretive themes when I was refreshing the tours at the Homestead Museum in California. The tours were organized and based on recent research, however, they seemed to lack cohesiveness and structure. Armed with a freshly minted M.A. in history, I applied the idea of a thesis to the tour.  It wasn’t until I was introduced to Great Tours by Barbara Levy, Sandra Lloyd, and Susan Schreiber and worked on the interpretive plan for President Lincoln’s Cottage that I developed a much better understanding of how to develop interpretive themes.

Unlike topics, which are simply subjects like colonial life or the Civil War, themes are a complete idea with a message. I often explain them with an analogy to music, where topics are notes and themes are melodies. Since then I’ve been on the hunt for excellent themes, ones that provide a memorable, hummable melody for historic sites that stays with people long after they’ve visited (like the song in the Disneyland ride, “It’s a Small World”). In the years that followed, I’ve treated it like fine art: I’ll know it when I see it.

Thankfully, Sam Ham, the interpretation guru from the West, wrote Continue reading

President Lincoln’s Cottage Tackles Immigration

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

President Lincoln’s Cottage, the presidential summer retreat just a few miles north of the US Capitol, recently opened an exhibit in their visitor education center the compares immigration issues in the 19th century to the present day.  Titled, “American by Belief,” the introductory label reads:

The United States of America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. Abraham Lincoln recognized immigrants as one of America’s greatest resources and its best hope for the future. He believed America, in return, owed immigrants the full realization of its founding promises and a fair chance to succeed.

Our world is different than Lincoln’s. But what continues to bring immigrants here would look familiar to him: an opportunity to rise higher, improve themselves, live safely under the rule of law, become citizens, and count themselves as American by right of belief.

This is a small temporary exhibit, perhaps 200 square feet at most, and primarily consists of panels featuring text and images (no historic objects).  In the center of the room is a map of the world made of pegs, which visitors can use to link places associated with them using colored rubber bands (this looks cool but I’m not sure Continue reading

Brown University and National Trust Provide Recommendations for Historic House Museums

The financial sustainability and social relevance of historic house museums continue to intrigue scholars, preservationists, organizations, and even pundits on National Public Radio (I was recently interviewed by them about this topic) and adding to the conversation are two recent publications by the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Bedroom at Liberty Hall Museum, Kean University, New Jersey.

Bedroom at Liberty Hall Museum, Kean University, New Jersey.

If historic house museums are historic sites that primarily educational (not commercial) in purpose, how would they be different if they were managed by educational institutions? “University-Affiliated Historic House Museums,” a report by the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University may provide some answers. Prepared for the 1772 Foundation by Hillary Brady, Steven Lubar, and Rebecca Soules, the report examines the issues facing historic house museums that are owned or operated by colleges and universities based on a survey of existing practices at ten sites.  Offering recommendations for “new ways to make these museums more useful to the university community,” it concludes with a half dozen alternatives for the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University, which might be applicable to sites that are not affiliated with universities (swap “campus” and “students” with “community” and “residents”).  By the way, the Center is hosting an intriguing colloquium in May 2015 on “lost museums“.

Future of Historic Sites Forum Journal 2014In 1949, Congress created the National Trust for Historic Preservation to Continue reading

Celebrating the New Year by Looking Back

Freedom's Eve at President Lincoln's Cottage

Freedom’s Eve at President Lincoln’s Cottage

President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC is hosting a New Year’s Eve party with meaning by marking the “stroke of midnight, January 1, 1863” when “thousands of men, women, and children celebrated as the Emancipation Proclamation finally took effect.”  Tickets are $150 to $250 per person, with a special discount for persons under 40 years old.  Although the staff will be working on a holiday, it’s a clever way to connect history and support a good cause, too.  What popular events in your community can be connected to your site’s history or mission?

Responses to Government Shutdown Vary at Historic Sites and Museums

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Washington, DC is one of the nation’s museum meccas with nearly 19 million annual visitors so with the partial shutdown of the federal government, tourists are frustrated and confused.  Closed are the most popular destinations such as the Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art, Lincoln Memorial, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Archives, and Capitol Visitor Center (tours of the White House ended in March 2013 due to sequestration).  Although it is a federal city, many of its museums and historic sites are privately operated so places such as the Phillips Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, President Lincoln’s Cottage, Tudor Place, Woodrow Wilson House, and International Spy Museum, are open as usual.  “National” may be in its name, it doesn’t mean it’s affected by the shutdown, so the National Building Museum, National Geographic Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, National Museum of Health and Medicine, and National Museum of American Jewish Military History are open (as is the National Aquarium in Baltimore).  Adding to the confusion are parts of the federal government that remain open (hence its more precise definition as a “partial shutdown”), so historic sites such as the US Supreme Court and Arlington National Cemetery (but not Arlington House), continue to be open to tourists.

Washington DC is definitely a confusing places for tourists at the moment, but it’s also confusing at the Continue reading

Lincoln’s Cottage Breaks Ground on Gay Weddings for Military

Travis Hollenbeck and Daniel Vukelich at their ground-breaking wedding at President Lincoln’s Cottage

Travis Hollenbeck and Daniel Vukelich not only started a new life together by getting married on April 28, 2012, but they also broke new ground at President Lincoln’s Cottage, a National Trust Historic Site at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC–it was the first wedding held at the site and perhaps the first same-sex wedding at a U. S. military base.  Over 150 friends and family attended.

Hollenbeck and Vukelich chose Lincoln’s Cottage because of its personal Continue reading

Put Your Organization to the Rorschach Test

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you’re finding that your organization is in a rut and you no longer feel as inspired about its work, it might be useful to look at it in a new way by creating a “word cloud” of key documents, such as a strategic plan, mission and vision statements, interpretive themes, or visitor evaluation.  A word cloud is a visual presentation of the most frequently used words, sized by frequency.  For example, if you use the word “history” ten times more than “preservation” in your strategic plan, “history” shows up much larger than “preservation” in the word cloud.  The word cloud allows you to look at your organization from a different perspective: words jump out at you and prompt questions about what’s being emphasized (and what’s not).

As examples, in the slide show above I’ve assembled word clouds from the first few paragraphs of the About section of the websites (which often includes the mission or vision statements) of the following historic sites:

I’ve used word clouds in strategic planning sessions to Continue reading

Q&A: Managing Collections at Historic Sites with Terri Anderson

Terri Anderson

Terri Anderson is swapping history collections for art when she joins the Corcoran Gallery of Art next week as a Contract Registrar to help them migrate their collections database from Filemaker to TMS (The Museum System).  For the past five years, she has focused her work on collections management at the 29 National Trust Historic Sites as the John and Neville Bryan Director of Collections at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, where she also taught collections management for George Washington University and became one of the national leaders on the challenges of deaccessioning collections at historic sites.  With this transition, I thought it would be a good time to capture some of her thoughts about managing collections at historic sites.

Max:  You’ve been managing the collections of the National Trust for the last five years–what have been the major successes?

Terri:  Our most visible successes were opening several Sites to the public for the first time, including the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut; President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC; and Villa Finale in San Antonio, Texas. Each of these Site openings required many important decisions about collections stewardship and access, and each Site demanded a different approach: one size did not fit all.

At the same time, we had successes that, while less visible, were important to me and the parties involved.  We did a lot of great work with thoughtful, appropriate deaccessions at several of our Sites.  I wrote about our experiences in Continue reading