Digital Resource Examination: The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook

September 19, 2019

Resources for public historians and museum professionals are numerous, and as both fields are talking about and taking action to being more inclusive there is a demand for resources to help museums, historic sites, and its staff become more inclusive. There are books, professional development sessions, webinars, articles, et. cetera professionals develop and utilize to move the fields forward. I participated in the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)’s webinar this afternoon about the new digital project, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook first released in August 2019 during the AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook is co-sponsored by AASLH and the National Council for Public History (NCPH). In the webinar, Kimberly Springle (Executive Director of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives and an advisory committee member) and Will Walker (associate professor of history, Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta and an editor for the Handbook) presented the website and explained how they envision the site to be used.

The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook is a digital resource that is free and open to all on the internet, and the authors of the entries on the site are experienced public historians and museum professionals. According to Springle and Walker, the goals for the Handbook are

To share a knowledge base that invites more people to engage in history projects,

To center equity, inclusivity, diversity, and public service,

To provide concrete examples of how to make history work more relevant.

I always appreciate projects that has several professionals collaborate to make a difference in the field. I appreciate that one of their approaches for being more inclusive is inviting individuals of varying backgrounds from professionals to individuals who work with historical collections but do not call themselves historians. By having so many contributors, we would have a lot of perspectives represented in each entry. When contributors send in their entries, there are editors and advisors that work together with contributors to make sure their content is as clear and concise as possible. The topics are limitless, and the list the presenters shared proved how extensive the list is and there is always more to write about for the Handbook.

They first shared a list of twenty-one current entries in the Inclusive Historian’s Handbook. A few examples of current entries include accessibility, civic engagement, heritage tourism, memorials and monuments, sexuality, and historic preservation. They also had a list of entries that are in progress of editing including but not limited to activism, oral history, leadership, K-12 history education, and Holocaust history. Lastly, they included a list of proposed entries including but limited to advisory boards, Civil Rights history, decolonizing museums, difficult history, boards and governance, documentary films, gender, and hiring. The editors and Advisory Committee members are still encouraging individuals to contribute to the Handbook by using the contact form on their website.

Participants in the webinar also were asked to answer two short polls in which of the 20 proposed entry categories. In the polls, we chose three categories from each one we were most interested in reading about. I think this would also be helpful for the Handbook to include these polls for visitors to the website so it will help both the Advisory Committee, editors, and contributors know what entries need to be included in the Handbook. Also, I like that the target audience for the Handbook is more inclusive.

Springle and Walker emphasized that the audience for the Handbook is anyone who is seeking to be more inclusive, equitable, and service-oriented in their work not just for paid professionals or academic scholars. Their hope with this digital resource project is that the content is accessible to all individuals who are doing historical work. Also, they had a list of suggested ways to use the Handbook including but not limited to personal reflection, staff development/team building, teaching/mentoring, collaboration/partnerships, resource mining, and contribute. Each suggested way to use the Handbook is significant to help the study of history evolve and inspire people to continue discussing important topics we need to keep fresh in our minds. It will also help museum professionals move forward within the field by delving into important topics we need to continue to address (especially hiring and boards and governance). This is a living digital resource that will be useful for all who seek inclusivity in history, and hopefully future editions will help continue important discussions.

To learn more, check it out here: www.inclusivehistorian.com

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