Added to Medium, April 12, 2018
I visited many museums as a child but I chose Plimoth Plantation because it was one of the earliest museums I went to that inspired my love for museums.
Plimoth Plantation, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, started in 1947 by a young archaeologist named Henry Hornblower II with help and support from friends, family and business associates. It started with two English cottages and a fort on Plymouth’s historic waterfront, and since then the Museum has grown to include the Mayflower II, the English Village, the Wampanoag Homesite, the Hornblower Visitor Center, the Craft Center, the Maxwell and Nye Barns and the Plimoth Grist Mill. This living history museum offers personal encounters with history built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community in the 1600s.
Today, Plimoth Plantation provides an engaging and experiential indoor and outdoor learning environment on its main campus, at the State Pier on Plymouth’s waterfront, and at the Plimoth Grist Mill on Town Brook. It has permanent exhibits tell the complex and interwoven stories of two distinct cultures, the English and Native American.
I have mixed feelings about Plimoth Plantation because of the nostalgic feelings I have towards the museum as well as admire the concept of living history interpreters engaging with visitors. At the same time, as a museum professional, I am concerned about the situation surrounding the museum’s staff policies. Visitors should have an immersive experience without its quality being hindered. I hope Plimoth Plantation figures out how to resolve the issues that the museum’s staff brought to their attention so the museum can have an appropriate work environment and by extension improve the visitor experience. When I recently visited their website, I not only noticed features that I did not participate in while I was growing up but I thought were interesting.
I personally have not been to Plimoth Plantation in recent years but I decided to take a look at their website to see what the living history center has to currently offer. One of the things I noticed, for instance, was the virtual field trips they offer on their website. On the Virtual Field Trips page, it includes two videos that provides virtual experiences of traveling through the English Village and the Wampanoag Homesite. Also, there is a web activity that gives opportunities for participants to become history detectives, and figure out what really happened at the First Thanksgiving. I liked that there are opportunities for individuals not located close enough to physically to see what Plimoth Plantation has to offer. It serves as a great introduction to Plimoth Plantation whether or not one is close enough to travel to the museum. My experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was a different one especially when I was a child.
My first experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was when I came with my sisters, mother, and my maternal grandmother. I remember walking through the Village and meeting other visitors in the meeting house. Later I saw some pictures from that visit, and each of the pictures showed my sisters and I having an opportunity to use the broom to sweep one of the houses. Another picture I saw was of myself appearing to be giving a lecture which reminded me of the story my mother told me: I pretended to be a minister and encouraged visitors to sit down and participate in the mock service, and then I greeted each individual with handshakes. I went back a number of times during my childhood and then visited as a young adult.
Years later during college I visited Plimoth Plantation with the Historical Society club. As the treasurer on the executive board of the Historical Society, I planned the financial aspects of the trip. Once all the details were settled, all of the Historical Society members and other college students interested in attending drove to Plymouth.
As I learned more about the museum field during college and graduate school, I became more aware of how museums are run. Since I wrote a few blog posts about current conditions of the workforce in the museum field, I am glad that the museum staff members are pointing out the unfair work conditions and they want things to change. Our field is working towards improving conditions but we do have a long way to go. Plimoth Plantation is an example of our need to work harder towards better working conditions for all museum professionals.
I came across an article from the Boston Globe written by Robert Knox last month called “Plimoth Plantation and its ‘Pilgrims’ at odds” about Plimoth Plantation and its current relationship with its living history interpreters. In the article, Knox stated that union members were driven to create a union due to the persistent understaffing, low pay, and deteriorating working conditions and their consequences for visitors’ experience and safety. Knox also provided background information about the stories of what the staff had to face which led to the formation of the union. Negotiations began last year with meetings twice a month, but instead of seeking compromise and consensus the museum hired a high-powered law firm to handle the negotiations rather than giving workers modest raises.
Situations like what is happening at Plimoth Plantation is part of the discussion of why there are many museum professionals leaving the field and we should continue to work towards making our working conditions better for all of our museum professionals. It makes me sad that one of the museums I have visited during my childhood has gone down this road, and I hope things improve especially for the museum workers so we all can focus on creating engaging visitor experiences.
Have you visited Plimoth Plantation? If you have, what was your experience like? What were your impressions?