George Mason’s Gunston Hall in Virginia will become a hands-on laboratory to explore how to create a comprehensive and conscientious interpretation of slavery at an historic site at a one-day workshop on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm (right before the AAM annual meeting). You’ll learn how to better connect and extend your site’s interpretation of its history of slavery and help staff and volunteers achieve a greater understanding of difficult knowledge and complicated emotions. Registration is $90 and includes morning refreshments, lunch, and a post-workshop reception. For more details and to register, visit http://bit.ly/SlaveryWorkshop.
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).
The American Association for State and Local History offers a wide range of educational workshops and professional training that is particularly helpful for staff and volunteers for work at historic sites and house museums–if you know where to look. I’ve previously mentioned the sessions during its annual meeting but people often forget that it also has half-day and day-long workshops before and after the annual meeting to explore topics in depth. What most people don’t know is that you can register for just these workshops; you don’t have to attend the annual meeting–a great advantage for local folks!
This year, AASLH is offering 14 workshops, including:
Best Practices for Slavery Interpretation led by Kristin Gallas of the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery with Patricia Brooks, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; Conny Graft, Conny Graft Research and Evaluation; and Dr. Julia Rose, West Baton Rouge Museum. Full day for $75.