Tim Grove facilitating a lively conversation about historical thinking at the AASLH Annual Meeting in 2015.
The annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History always offers a good mix of educational sessions, social events, and opportunities to visit museums and historic sites around the country. This year, Sam Wineburg, a Stanford University professor and author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001), prompted an ongoing discussion with his plenary address on the first day of the annual meeting. Through his research on students and scholars, he showed that the analysis of historical documents is a sophisticated skill that isn’t apparent to most people (and I can confidently say this also applies to objects, buildings, and landscapes). He went on to argue that teaching people to think historically isn’t about teaching history but making them better citizens. John Dichtl, president of AASLH, discusses this further on the AASLH blog.
These ideas were pursued the next day at a packed session facilitated by Tim Grove of the National Air and Space Museum. Using excerpts from Wineburg’s book, Tim encouraged a lively dialogue that allowed me to report out 15 Tweets, including:
Historical thinking: multiple perspectives; analysis of sources; context; and based on evidence.
Are we underestimating visitors if we don’t give them oppty to debate ideas & issues at museums/historic sites?
Debates always happen, but history gets flattened over time. Build multiple perspectives, uncertainty, & questions into exhibits.
Challenge for marketing & communications staff about handling provocative topics in social media era.
Are museums & sites imposing their ideology on visitors? Have we become arrogant? Do we need to learn about visitor interests?
which resulted in 31 favorites and 20 retweets. Just to be clear, these ideas didn’t come from me but from the persons gathered in the room. I could have tweeted out many more but I couldn’t listen and type them out quickly at the same time.
If you weren’t able to attend, there’s next year in Detroit. In the meantime, enjoy these snaps from the recent meeting in Louisville (and thanks to everyone at the Kentucky Historical Society for being such gracious hosts).
Heritage Tourism in the 21st Century with James Stevens of ConsultEcon Inc., who recently studied the heritage tourism sector in Philadelphia
Restoration and Reconstruction: Fulfilling the Possibilities of a 21st Century Museum, a discussion about the reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in South Carolina (also reviewed in the recent issue of the Public Historian and the Journal of American History; not to be confused with the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home in Georgia)
There may be bourbon at the breakfast for historic house museums when Dennis Walsh from Buffalo Trace Distillery discusses the preservation of this historic sites (and it’s pretty cool website, too)
An evening at Locust Grove, a National Historic Landmark, with costumed interpreters, live music, and a three-course buffet.
With 65 sessions, there is much, much more happening and you’ll be torn about what to do. There’s certainly enough to appeal to directors, curators, historians, educators, and preservationists. I’m particularly eager to hear Sam Wineburg, professor of education and history at Stanford University and author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past(see “A History of Flawed Teaching“), and the follow-up discussion led by Tim Grove, chief of museum learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Wineburg is currently developing new forms of assessment to measure historical understanding and undertaking a longitudinal study on the development of historical consciousness among adolescents in three communities. But I don’t want to neglect the three other outstanding plenary speakers: Wendell Berry, James Klotter, Renee Shaw, and Carol Kammen.
I rarely ever skip the AASLH annual meeting and I plan to be there this year. Registration is $250 if you jump in before July 24 and there’s the alternative online conference featuring six sessions.
In 2008, Stanford University introduced “Reading Like a Historian,” a non-traditional history curriculum to five schools in the San Francisco Unified School District. According to Sam Wineburg, who directs the Stanford History Education Group and has been a longtime proponent of revising the teaching of history, “We need to break the stranglehold of the textbook by introducing students to the variety of voices they encounter in the past through primary sources.” It seems this new curriculum is doing that and more, as recently reported in Futurity:
There are no orderly rows of desks in Valerie Ziegler’s 11th-grade history class—students sit in groups of three or four at small tables around the room. There also is no lectern because there are no lectures. And perhaps most striking, there are no textbooks.
These students at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco learn about the Vietnam War, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the Great Depression, and other major events in U.S. history by analyzing journal writings, memoirs, speeches, songs, photographs, illustrations, and other documents of the era.
“I always tell my students they’re historians-in-training, so the work we do in here is that of a historian,” Ziegler says.