One of the big challenges in interpreting history is conveying the uncertainty of the future. When we look back at the past, the decisions around the pitfalls seem so obvious but at the time, it’s hazy and unclear.
My recent visit to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas presented an effective technique using a “touch table” to explore LBJ’s response to the Vietnam War, putting visitors in the hot seat. In this interactive activity, the President is faced with a decision, such as increasing U.S. ground troops in Vietnam, and you’re asked to advise him yes or no. On the screen you can explore primary documents, watch news reports, and when the phone rings, overhear LBJ talking about the issue. In the upper right hand corner, the clock reminds you that time matters and you can’t dawdle. After you provide your advice, you’re told what actually happened. I seemed to never give the right advice (or my good advice was ignored, depending on how you look at it), but nevertheless it was fun to have a glimpse of the moment (and thankful I didn’t have to make these decisions).
Gallagher and Associates designed the exhibition and Cortina Productions developed the interactives.
George McDaniel, Sandra Smith, and me at dinner at the LBJ Library.
This week I’m at the AASLH Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas where both the weather and friendships are warm. We’re about halfway through the conference and I’ll have further postings about specific topics and sessions soon, but for now I wanted to share a few photos from my experiences at a couple workshops, a session I moderated on community engagement (also presented later as a webinar), the exhibit hall, dinner at the LBJ Presidential Library and the Briscoe Center on American History, and a reception for the Seminar for Historical Administration.
Friday, July 21 is the deadline to catch the early registration price of $328 ($253 for members); it jumps to $393 the next day. AASLH offers the widest variety of sessions and workshops for house museums and historic sites at a national level and attracts some of the best minds in the field. This year, the annual meeting will be held in Austin, Texas from September 6-9 and include:
- Awaken the Historic House: A Fresh Look at the Traditional Model, an afternoon workshop led by Brett Lobello of Brucemore.
- Current Issues Forum: What Role Should Historic Sites Play in Teacher Professional Development? moderated by Sarah Jencks at the Ford’s Theatre Society.
- Engaging Programs = Engaging Communities?, a session I’ll be moderating on different ways to engage more effectively with your local community.
- Preserving and Interpreting Contested Histories of Missions and Missionaries moderated by Barbara Franco, an independent scholar.
- Historic Preservation Never Ends: Practical Maintenance for Your Historic Buildings moderated by Evelyn Montgomery of the Dallas Heritage Village.
- From Millstone to Crown Jewel: Revitalization and Transition of a “Tired” Site moderated by Mike Follin of Ohio History Connection.
- Parks and Prejudice: The Legacy of Segregation and State Parks moderated by Cynthia Brandimarte of Texas State Parks.
- The Great Debate: Engaging Audiences vs. Protecting Dollhouses moderated by Brandie Ragghianti of the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum.
- Lessons Learned: The Legal, Ethical, and Practical Issues Involved in Finding a New Steward for Upsala moderated by Carrie Villar of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Open the Door! Approaches to Interpreting Historic Landscapes moderated by Sean Sawyer of the Olana Partnership.
- Historic House Museum Affinity Group Breakfast featuring Ken Turino of Historic New England.
- Bucking the Trend: Energizing Historic Homes in Central Texas moderated by Oliver Franklin at the Elisabet Ney Museum.
Of course, these are just a small part of the 85 sessions, keynote presentations, field trips, evening events, and an exhibit hall happening over a few days in Austin. There’s usually much much more available than you’ll ever have time to do and I’m often torn between 2-3 sessions at the same time.
To register or for more information, visit go.aaslh.org/AMreg. Although registration fees for this national conference are very reasonable, especially at the early registration rate, AASLH offers several scholarships to reduce expenses (although their application deadlines have already passed). If you can’t attend, there’s also an online version where you can hear six sessions that are especially presented as webinars, including my session on Engaging Programs = Engaging Communities? (they’re not simply a broadcast of the conference session). They’ll be available for six months and can be viewed as many times as you like at rates starting at $60.
In the 2:34 video, Tianwei Studio documents “The Warehouse,” a three-channel video installation installed in an old warehouse in downtown Lubbock, Texas. It’s part of “The Memory Series is a series of site-specific video installations exams personal and collective experiences of memory. Through the over used public imagery, brings historic awareness and collective memory to the obsolete industrial architectural space, where memory is not based on an illusion of static and eternal time, but derives from the awareness of temporal change.” It’s much more aesthetic than interpretive, but you might find some new ideas for interpretive methods (such as filling an entire doorway with a projected image) for your historic site.
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.