Philadelphia Museum Impressions: Science History Institute

October 17, 2019

Another museum I visited during the AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia was the Science History Institute. On the last day of the Annual Meeting, I decided that this will be one of the museums I wanted to see before I left. According to the website, the Science History Institute collects and shares stories of innovators and of discoveries that shape our lives. The Institute also preserves and interprets the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences. Inside the Institute, there are four programmatic areas that address specific parts of the non-profit organization’s overall mission: an archive and library for historians and researchers, a fellowship program for visiting scholars around the world, a community of researchers who examine historical and contemporary issues, and an acclaimed museum that is free and open to the public. The Institute also has a state-of-the-art conference center located within the building.

Because I did not have much time before I was leaving the city, I visited the museum and the exhibits. The Institute’s museum exhibits include an array of artifacts, scientific instruments, and art utilized to create exhibitions, public programs, and other materials showcasing the research and diverse collections. Making Modernity, a permanent exhibit, shows visitors how chemistry has touched our lives and visitors can trace the scientific progress in the laboratory, the factory, and their homes; the exhibit’s mission is to help visitors learn how chemistry created and continues to shape the modern world.  Throughout the exhibit, there are scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art, and the personal papers of prominent scientists. Making Modernity also have varying topics that range from alchemy, synthetics, and the chemical-instrument revolution to chemistry education, electro-chemistry, chemistry sets, and the science of color.

During my visit, I noticed that each part of the museum showcased scientific artifacts that described the evolution of everyday materials we may take for granted nowadays. For instance, one of the many sections I was impressed with was called The Chemical Body: A New View of Health which showed technical innovations in the 19th century that led to discoveries of vitamins and techniques for analyzing the body’s chemical and cellular makeup.

Another example of a section that stood out to me was The Bright World of Color which shares the changes in creating dyes from natural resources to using industrial research, synthetic dyes, and new testing methods to improve dye production. It reminded me of my research while I was in college about the history of cochineal used as red dyes. I enjoyed how much detail the exhibit labels went into each section of the museum exhibit especially in the Bright World of Color.

I was also impressed with another part of the exhibit which features an interactive multimedia learning experience which showcases the collections of art, scientific instruments, rare books, and other artifacts. The installation has a two-story high video column and a pair of high-resolution, interactive tables known as Object Explorer; visitors can explore the history and science behind various everyday objects by placing them on an interactive table to investigate the object’s history and the stories of the materials they are made of. For instance, I took a Pyrex measuring cup and placed in on the interactive table which revealed information about the history of glass and how the quality of glass was improved to eventually be used as the measuring cup.

Also, there was another exhibit I viewed while I was inside the Science History Institute called What Was the Real Age of Alchemy? Inside the exhibits there were various paintings and artifacts that revealed alchemy was change, creativity, and curiosity which shaped the modern understanding of modern science.

If you are visiting Philadelphia, I recommend spending a lot of time at the Science History Institute for there is so much to see and learn.

Resources:

https://www.sciencehistory.org

https://www.sciencehistory.org/museum

Who Decides the “Best Practices” in Museums?

October 10, 2019

Museums and museum professionals work towards making their programs, exhibits, and events successful based on best practices set for them to follow. I thought about writing on this topic when I saw a discussion on Twitter revealing their thoughts on paternity of best practices. When I hear the words “best practices”, the following questions came across my mind: What do “best practices” mean? How do we decide what the “best practices” are? Which ones should be followed, and which ones should not be followed? Do they work for my museum/institution?

The American Alliance of Museums stated that Best practices are commendable actions and philosophies that demonstrate an awareness of standards, solve problems and can be replicated. Museums may choose to emulate them if appropriate to their circumstances. In other words, there are many ways museums can demonstrate standards and are able to figure out which ones are appropriate for their institutions. As a museum professional, I noticed that best practices are continuously evolving as all museum professionals share and learn from one another what works based on the changing societal values. It is up to individual museums to figure out how to execute best practices that make sense for their museums.

Museums, however, do have best practices that each one should emulate that are ethical, legal, and equitable across the field. In the American Alliance of Museum’s Ethics and Best Practices in Museums document, it discussed general museum ethics and legal policies and practices while sharing its own best practices. According to the document, the American Alliance of Museums’ standards and best practices for museums in the United States require museums

  • is a good steward of its resources held in the public trust,
  • has “a formally approved, separate and distinct institutional code of ethics,”
  • is “committed to public accountability and is transparent in its mission and operations,” and
  • will “legally, ethically and responsibly acquire, manage, and dispose of collection items as well as
  • know what collections are in its ownership/custody, where they came from, why it has them, and their current condition and location.”

General best practices in museums could be applied to many museums. They can take the best practice and figure out based on local and state laws how they should be executed within the museum and their communities. When the best practices are specific to subjects and expertise (i.e. science, children’s, railroad, etc.) these institutions refer to other museum associations for resources on best practices.

There are numerous “best practices” museums utilize for their institutions, and various categories for best practices in museums. To answer a question of what the best practices are is a challenge to undertake. Many museum associations have their own list of best practices. On one of the American Alliance of Museum’s related webpages, for instance, they listed a number of museum associations that are specific to the field; the Association of Art Museum Directors, American Association for Museum Volunteers, American Association for State and Local History, American Historical Association, Association of Children’s Museums, Association of Railway Museums, Association of Science-Technology Centers, International Council of Museums, National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage, National Park Service, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and the Southeastern College Art Conference. Each of them has their own lists of standards and best practices for museum professionals to use for their museums.

Professional development programs introduce best practices for specific fields and departments. Museum professionals learn about best practices implemented by other museum professionals in museum education, volunteer/internship, finances, development and fundraising, leadership, boards, and collection stewardship just to name a few. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), for instance, had a webinar on Best Practices for Developing History Internships that is available to be viewed since it is recorded. According to their website,

Best Practices for Developing History Internships is an AASLH Continuing Education recorded webinar. This webinar is about tips and strategies for creating an internship program that both you and your interns will get something out of. Creating an internship program at your historic site can not only benefit your organization, but should also benefit your interns and lets you help develop the next generation of history professionals. We’ll cover the ethics of internships, best practices for managing interns, and a look at some common challenges and possible solutions. You’ll leave with ideas you can use at every organization, no matter its size.

In each professional development program in various formats there are descriptions that share what participants should expect to take away from the experience and share with their museums; once this information is shared, it is up to the staff of the museums to figure out the best way for them to execute methods and practices discussed. The previously listed example pointed out that by creating an effective internship program all museums can create a partnership that will benefit both the museum and interns. Best practices need to be reviewed, adapted, and utilized by museums based on its capabilities.

Discussion questions I will leave here: Do you have examples of best practices in museums that you have heard about? How are museums taking advantage of what they learned about best practices?

Resources and Additional Resources:

https://www.nemanet.org/files/3413/8552/9233/Standards_and_Best_Practices_Compilation_-_Fact_Sheet.pdf

https://aaslh.org/event/best-practices-for-developing-history-internships/

https://iowaculture.gov/sites/default/files/History%20-%20Research%20-%20Collections%20-%20Collections%20Care%20-%20Objects%20-%20Field%20Guide%20for%20Museums%20%28PDF%29.pdf

https://www.amazon.com/National-Standards-Best-Practices-Museums-ebook/dp/B004EEOLU8

https://ncac.org/resource/museum-best-practices-background

http://ww2.aam-us.org/resources/ethics-standards-and-best-practices/standards

https://www.aam-us.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/BRIEF-ETHICS-AND-BEST-PRACTICES.pdf

https://www.aamg-us.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/AAMG-Professional-Practices-2018-web-FINAL-rev043018.pdf

Philadelphia Museum Impressions: Museum of the American Revolution

September 26, 2019

I wrote last time about my museum impressions on Independence Hall when I was down in Philadelphia for the AASLH Annual Meeting. Another place I visited during the first day of the conference was the Museum of the American Revolution. Since I was participating in a networking event later in the day, I did not spend the time I would have wanted to spend in the Museum since as soon as I entered the exhibit I knew I could spend an entire day exploring the place and utilizing the interactive supplemental materials.

The Museum’s Entrance

Located not too far from the Independence Hall, the Museum of the American Revolution explores the American Revolution through its unmatched collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, documents, and works of art. Since it opened in April 2017, the Museum’s aim is to inspire visitors to gain a deeper appreciation for how this nation came to be and feel inspired to consider their role in the ongoing promise of the American Revolution. After getting my admission ticket, I decided to start by going upstairs to see the exhibits.

Portrait of King George III

The second floor contained the core exhibition which explores the origins of the American Revolution, the fight for independence, and the on-going legacies of the Revolution.  Throughout the exhibition, the collections and the narrative were guided by these questions which invites visitors to answer them while they explore:

How did people become Revolutionaries?

How did the Revolution survive its darkest hour?

How Revolutionary was the war?

What kind of nation did the Revolution create?

I enjoyed that the Museum guides visitors through the exhibit by introducing these questions for them to keep in mind because it could help them think about what they see, read, and interact with and the significance of the Revolutionary War. Another example of having visitors think more about what really happened during the Revolutionary War were the “Closer Look” markers I found as I went through the exhibit. One of the “Closer Look” labels asked the question When was the term “American Revolution” first used? This question made me happy as a public historian since introducing these questions puts the visitor in the perspective of a historian and challenges the usual way history is taught in the American school system (assuming there is a clear answer for each question posed).

After exploring the origins of the American Revolution section of the exhibit, I proceeded to the fight for independence section. I read about the Battle of Lexington and Concord and saw the collections from the era.

As I moved through the exhibit, I noticed several more interactive supplements that made the experience more engaging. For instance, there is a map that lights up when a button is pressed to show the soldiers movements during battles such as the Battle of Princeton (1777). Also, in the room where the life-size replica privateer ship is located, there is a piece of the replica tar-covered rope inside a box, visitors were encouraged to smell it.

I also appreciated that within the exhibit there is a section within the exhibit that discussed the narrative of the forgotten allies, the Oneida Nation, that joined the colonists in the fight during the American Revolution. Not many talks about the Native American involvement and contributions to the American Revolution, and this exhibit includes a video describing how the Oneida Nation decided to join the colonists.

Towards the end of the exhibit, there is a section dedicated to the Revolutionary Generation through photographs. According to the Museum’s text, the last known Revolutionary War veterans had their photographs taken and died shortly after the Civil War. Also, I liked that the exhibit ended with visitors meeting the future of the American Revolution which has a wall covered with mirrors since it is a subtle way of explaining to visitors what these veterans were fighting for.

I did not explain everything I have seen because there was so much that the post would be too long, and I really encourage everyone reading the blog to visit the Museum of the American Revolution when one gets the opportunity. Since my visit, I found out that there is a virtual tour available on the Museum’s website so if one is not able to get there in person yet there is another way to see the Museum. It is a museum I am willing to visit again when I can visit Philadelphia again.

To find out more about the Museum, click here for the Museum’s website: http://www.amrevmuseum.org/

If you have been to the Museum, what were the things that you observed? If you have not visited yet, what would you like to learn more about or expect to see?

Museum Impressions: Independence Hall

September 12, 2019

On the first day of the AASLH Annual Meeting, I decided to not attend workshops and walk around Philadelphia to visit various sites. I mentioned in the previous blog post that I went to Philadelphia as a teenager with my family, and because it has been sixteen years since I visited, I decided it would be a better decision to explore the city. The first place I visited on the first day was Independence Hall where I participated in a tour led by the National Park Service Rangers.

Since my tour was not going to begin for about 10 to 15 minutes, I was able to explore the grounds and visit the Great Essentials Exhibit in the West Wing of Independence Hall. According to the website, the Great Essentials Exhibit displays surviving copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States, along with the silver inkstand that, according to tradition, was used during the signing of the Declaration and Constitution. The copies that I saw were not signed since the ones signed are located in Washington, D.C., and while I was there a Park Ranger stated there were many copies made to be distributed throughout the colonies to spread the news of the Declaration and Constitution.

After visiting the exhibit, I went in line to wait with the group for the timed tour to start. I liked that one of the Rangers had a brief introduction before going in to remind people to not bring in food and drinks, and to not be on cellphones while on the tour. To me it showed that not only Rangers made sure history is being protected but they emphasized the importance of the history as well as the importance of engaging with the surroundings instead of calling and texting during the tour. We were then brought inside the East Wing of Independence Hall to sit down for a brief introduction of the history of Independence Hall and then we went onto the tour.

The group I was in was led outside to walk into the main building. Inside there were two rooms we went into to learn more about the Pennsylvania State House which is later known as Independence Hall. While it was known as the place where the Declaration of Independence was written and approved, there is so much more to this building’s history. According to the National Park Service, the Pennsylvania State House originally housed all three branches of Pennsylvania’s colonial government. The rooms we saw were the Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Assembly Room.

We went into the first room which was the Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After taking pictures, our Ranger guide started to tell us more about the room and more history about Independence Hall. A couple of examples we were told about was that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania sat in this room in the 1700s. Another example was that on July 8, 1776, an act of defiance occurred here when a group of Pennsylvania militiamen stormed in and tore down British King George III’s coat of arms; then a hundred years later, visitors came to this room during the Centennial to experience the National Museum, a collection of artifacts celebrating the founding of the nation.

Once we were finished in the Courtroom, we went into the Assembly Room where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. The Assembly Room later became a shrine to the founding of the nation with a proudly displayed Liberty Bell and original paintings of the Founding Fathers. The tour concluded in this room after about twenty minutes in each of the rooms previously mentioned.

I would have liked to see more of Independence Hall such as the Long Gallery and Governor’s Council Chamber located on the second floor. The Long Gallery served as a reception area for visitors meeting with Pennsylvania’s governor, and the Governor’s Council Chamber was where Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council met in this room in the 18th century then later was used as the location fugitive slave trials in the 1850s. There seemed to be at least a few opportunities to have further discussions about challenging the historical narrative that glorified the past briefly mentioned in the tour. While I was confused when I noticed how short the tour was, because this is one of the most popular landmarks in the United States there are numerous visitors the National Park Service bring through Independence Hall they would need to get each tour group through as swiftly and smoothly as possible.

Museums are moving forward to creating more engaging and interactive experiences to be more visitor-focused, and I wonder: should Independence Hall do the same and if so, what approaches should be done? I believe that there should be interactive opportunities at least on the property as another option to do while waiting for tours to begin like a pop-up museum that are easily moved for weather conditions. I do think that if one has not visited Independence Hall one should visit at least once to learn about the significance of it’s part in the birth of the United States and learn about the building beyond this significance.

Share your experiences. If you have visited Independence Hall, what were your experiences like?

Resources:

https://www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/independencehall.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/places-independencehall.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/places-independencehall-assemblyroom.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/westwing.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/places-greatessentialswestwing.htm

How History is Seen by the Public: AASLH Partnership for Grant-Funded Project

June 27, 2019

History has always been a subject I have been interested in studying and, as I developed my education and career, I became more interested in finding effective ways to translate the study of history to school children and adult visitors. Over the years, I participated in professional development programs that delved into museum education and involving the public in conversations to help visitors learn more about topics in history, art, STEM, et cetera. I continue to grow and improve the quality of my practices as a museum educator. As the summer begins, I started to reflect on my previous experiences and figure out how I can be a better museum educator as I turn to focusing back to history.

This past week I learned about the partnership between the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), Washington, D.C.-based FrameWorks Institute, National Council on Public History (NCPH), and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) that received a grant for a new project researching American attitudes towards history called “Framing History with the American Public”. The grant of $479,000 is from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which is a foundation that endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. According to an article released by AASLH

Over the next three years, we will carry out a comprehensive, nationwide study of how the public views, interprets, and uses a wide variety of history activities and will develop new tools to strengthen the field’s communications efforts.

“Framing History” will not only provide unprecedented detail about how Americans view these organizations and their work, it will build, test, and share tools that all organizations and practitioners can use to positively affect public understanding of the value of history. Whether it’s a historical society communicating with new audiences, an academic department talking with potential majors, or a museum making their case to funders or legislators, this project will provide history practitioners with tools to frame their messages as effectively as possible.

It is an interesting project to me because my background in history and public history naturally leads me to finding ways to connect with the public to help keep history relevant. By having that information, it will especially help museums and historical societies including the Three Village Historical Society strengthen their communication skills in educating the public on history. If we can improve the way we connect with the public, we will be able to express the significance of history and why we need to keep historical sites and objects protected.

The article continued by briefly explaining the three phases of the project including the partners establishing a panel of history professionals representing the overall history field to identify and principles experts use to explain their work. Another phase of the project was to utilize focus groups, surveys, and on the street interviews to fill in gaps on the understanding of history. Then the last phase is to develop and share those tools and educational materials to ensure historical professionals in the community of the effectiveness of the results.

I am glad that it will take some time to complete the project, even though at the same time I would like to know at an earlier point than stated, because it is important to accurately gain the information needed so we can better serve the public and provide a compelling argument for sharing and preserving history. I also believe the information that will be gathered from the research will also help bring more people in the history field since they will be more informed of what makes history important for our country and for our world. There are a lot of myths about the history major that are addressed in articles like the American Historical Association’s article “History Is Not A Useless Major: Fighting Myths With Data” written by Paul B. Sturtevant, and by having a comprehensive information to share with the public it could inspire more students to major in history and therefore preserve future historical scholarship. To learn more about the project, check out the link from AASLH in the resources section.

I look forward to learning more as the project commences!

Discussion Questions: How do you feel about history? What do you hope for from this project? What do you think we could do to improve communications about history?

Announcement: Because next Thursday is the Fourth of July celebration in the United States, I will not post a new blog post, but I will share previous posts next week.

Resources:

https://aaslh.org/aaslh-receives-mellon-foundation-grant/

https://mellon.org/

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data

Reaction: The Value of Small Museums

Added to Medium, August 16, 2018

I enjoy museums, and I especially enjoy working at museums. I have had experience in working in both large and small museums during my career in museum education. No matter the size of the institution and staff members, all museums should be valued within our communities. This week I came across Aimee E. Newell’s blog post, “The Value of Small Museum Experience, or Why I Don’t Have a ‘Better’ Job”, on the American Association for State and Local History’s (AASLH) website. Newell is the Executive Director of the Luzerne County Historical Society in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. This post described her experience working in a small museum and the reactions she received when she explained her work in the museum field.

Like Newell, I have also been asked the same question or been asked varying questions ultimately stating the same thing: “why don’t you have a ‘better’ job?” It is a backhanded complement to ask this question, and by asking this question to me suggests our work in the small museum is less significant than in any other institution. Working in this field has proven over and over again that our museum work makes a tremendous impact in communities especially on visitors. I was also taken aback by this question as I read the post and I also thought about her response

I managed to reply, “How would you define ‘better’?” The conversation didn’t really go anywhere after that, but the question has stuck with me. And, I remain a little offended, no matter how many nice things this person said to me in preface to the question. Do we really want to define particular museum jobs as “better” based on geographical location, salary size, or annual budget level (which is what this person seemed to be implying)?

When did we start defining some museum jobs as “better” than others? Small museums have had limited resources such as annual budget levels and salary sizes in comparison to larger museums. The problem with defining museum jobs as “better” than others is it devalues the hard work museum professionals contribute to the small museums. All museum professionals have so many challenges and other things to accomplish that we are reminding ourselves to not take self-care for granted. As a museum professional who works in a small museum, I argue that museum professionals in smaller museums have even more responsibilities since we are required to wear multiple hats to accomplish varying projects on a regular basis.

My career in the museum field began working in local historical societies and historic house museums. In each of my experiences, I have worked on many projects from doing research for exhibits and education programs to cleaning and preserving historic houses. Like Newell, I also moved away from Massachusetts when I noticed an opportunity to expand my skills and take on more challenges. I moved to Long Island and worked at the Long Island Museum, which is a larger museum than I have previously worked for. I enjoyed the different set of challenges working in a larger museum presented since before I started at the Long Island Museum I was previously mainly teaching education programs.

At the Long Island Museum, I was put in charge of scheduling volunteers, booking school and group visits, taking care of petty cash for school and public program purchases, coordinating mailing flyers to schools and libraries, and updating our teacher contact lists. By having the experience of working in different size museums, I could see the time and dedication to their work in the field is not so different from one another. Small and large museums have the same mission in bringing visitors to their institutions to share the educational value they have within the community and beyond. This experience and the observations I made are what I bring with me to each new project I work on today.

I still work on multiple projects at the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket and the Long Island Explorium in Port Jefferson. At both of these places, I see the time and dedication everyone puts in to keep the historical society and children’s museum running for the visitors who appreciate the resources we provide and for people we hope to bring awareness of our organizations to. I love reading about Newell’s experience working at the Luzerne County Historical Society since we learn her perspective on working in a small museum. For example, she stated

I love the sheer variety that my job entails. Sure, I spend a lot of time doing executive director tasks – fundraising, attending board and committee meetings, serving as chief spokesperson and supervising the staff. I am a walking encyclopedia for the historical society’s budget figures and membership numbers on a daily basis. But I am able to balance these administrative and fundraising tasks with curatorial projects and program brainstorming. Small museum experience teaches you to don many hats (sometimes at the same time). You learn to prioritize, along with picking up a mind-boggling variety of new skills – quickly.

Working in small museums do help museum professionals like myself to be able to learn quickly skills they need to complete projects that will ultimately fulfill the overall mission of the museum. In my experience, I have balanced administrative, financial, and educational projects by prioritizing the ones that are most dire at the moment. A lot of times priorities have to change in order to meet the demand of what is happening in the current situation. The importance of these experiences is knowing that while these museums are smaller they are making a difference.

What was your reaction to the AASLH blog post? If you work in or have visited a small museum, what was your experience like?

To read the original AASLH blog post, the link is here: https://aaslh.org/the-value-of-small-museum-experience-or-why-i-dont-have-a-better-job/

Museum Leadership: What We Need To Do To Develop Our Skills in the Museum Field

Added to Medium, July 19, 2018

All museum professionals need to develop their skills to succeed in the field, and we need to do more to help museum professionals, especially emerging museum professionals, develop their leadership skills. The current state of our field, however, does not do a lot to encourage its museum professionals to practice their skills that will help them develop their careers. There are numerous resources we provide on what leadership is and what characteristics make a great leader, but how are museum professionals exercising their leadership skills? In our field, gaining experience is a double-edged sword because we attempt to develop the skills we learned and are well versed in by applying for jobs with leadership building opportunities but we are turned down because hiring managers say we lack the experience.

As a museum professional, I continue to seek leadership opportunities and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. Throughout my career, I have developed my skills in museum education and would often have to take on leadership responsibilities to maintain time as well as knowledge for school programs. I began to see more leadership opportunities when I came to Long Island. As I became more involved in the museum field on Long Island, I took on more responsibilities that I have not taken on before such as administration duties like booking programs and creating docent schedules. A lot of what I am able to do now as a museum professional I have learned from experience. Lately I have been thinking about my previous and present experiences, and tried to recall how much of my leadership skills were learned from lessons and how much of them were learned from experience. I also wondered what we are doing now for museum professionals on developing leadership skills.

Based on the articles such as “Leaving the Museum Field” and numerous articles about museums and self-care, our field is not doing enough to make sure museum professionals have well-rounded experiences with time dedicated to self-care. We still have far to go in having a sustainable and effective museum workforce. There are many resources museum organizations and associations provide about leadership and how leadership skills should be utilized. Our museum associations provide a wide variety of leadership resources in forms of books, articles, blogs, museum association standards, webinars, and conferences.

One of the books that discusses leadership Martha Morris’ Leading Museums Today: Theory and Practice published for the American Association for State and Local History through the Rowman & Littlefield publishing firm. In her book, Morris revealed that this book is about the context, the urgency, and the nuances of service to the mission of the museum organization whether at the level of the governing body or a middle manager. The book also provides a balanced look at external operations of the museum which are factors that influence success such as demographic changes and political trends, and internal operations of the museum such as organizational design, new modes of planning and decision making, implementation of strategic programs, and flexibility in response to the reality of constant change. Museum professionals also find resources from other museums and museum associations especially about leadership.

Blogs, like this one, is one of the ways museum professionals can learn from one another and other museums or museum associations to develop their leadership skills. Also, there are articles and standards museums and museum associations provide about leadership. I took a look at the resources page on the American Alliance of Museums’ website, and I found the following.

The American Alliance of Museums has a page on its website that shared standards the Alliance has for Leadership and Organizational Structure. Its page stated standards regarding governance, standards for museums with joint governance, standards regarding the composition of the governing authority, and standards regarding delegation of authority. In the latter standards, it describes how

Having clear delegation of authority means that the governing authority understands the main areas of its responsibility. Those areas are to collectively determine mission, set policies for operations, ensure that charter and bylaw provisions are followed, plan for the institution, approve budgets, establish financial controls and ensure that adequate resources are available to advance the museum’s mission.

In other words, if authority is clearly laid out in a museum’s organization all of the responsibilities of leaders would be fulfilled for the museums. Each standard I have previously listed discuss the purpose and importance, implementation, and documentation.

AAM also provides blog posts such as “Leadership, and Why You Need a SWOT Analysis (and a Personal Board of Directors)” which is a conversation between Greg Stevens and Anne Ackerson about ways to improve leadership skills such as the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, and “Museum Leadership, Organizational Readiness, and Institutional Transformation” which is a case study that was a part of a series on museum leadership, developed for the career and leader-ship management workshop for participants in the International Program, held at the AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo in May, 2016.

The American Association for State and Local History also have a number of resources available on the website. One of the blog posts AASLH previously posted about leadership is “A Special Kind of Leader: Small Museum Leadership Characteristics” that lists characteristics that museum professionals have or should have when working in a small museum. Another example of a blog on leadership is “The Ideal Director?”; the writer of this post gave their impressions of job descriptions looking for directors and what they believed are the characteristics an “ideal” director should be for an organization. I do realize that there are many more resources than what I previously described but the point is leadership is a common discussion that is addressed throughout the field.

Providing all these resources is all well and good but the question remains: How do we utilize all of the resources we learned from on leadership?

There is a difference between having the knowledge and actually practicing this knowledge. If museum professionals are under the impression that there are only certain professionals that can exhibit their leadership skills, then we would be hindering our museum professionals and future professionals’ potential. We need to show museum professionals at all levels how leadership skills benefit all of them within the organization. Our field right now is working towards improving the museum workplace throughout the field but there are still issues we need to work through to untangle this web. A blog post I found addresses leadership and where we are now as a field.

This week Joan Baldwin wrote on the Leadership Matters blog about where we are now with museums and leadership. She discussed how Baldwin and Anne Ackerson are planning to revise the original Leadership Matters book by interviewing more museum professionals in the field. In the meantime, Baldwin provided a preliminary list of places where leadership intersects with the lives of individuals, directors, organizations and boards. For individuals, for instance, she pointed out that

-The job market remains highly competitive and graduate school is still the admission ticket.
-This is still a field where too often one is asked to work for no money in the form of volunteering or internships before actually making too little money.
-This is a field that too often fails to train for leadership, but asks for independent, creative forward-thinking employees.
-This is still a field where race, class and gender are barriers: Race because too often young POC are hired for the wrong reasons and asked to represent a race/culture rather than being treated with equity; class because poor salaries continue to make it easier for wealthy individuals to enter the field; and gender, because for women, particularly women of color and most especially trans women, even the most casual Facebook survey points to a boatload of bias.

Individuals within the field constantly move through figurative cobwebs of expectations that contradict themselves making it challenging for museum professionals to meet their personal goals. This double-edged sword needs to be addressed, make expectations clear and be sure the reality can meet these expectations. Baldwin also pointed out that for leaders in the museum field need to remember:

-The back of the house is as important as the front of the house. Museum workers who have a long tradition of not retaliating when mistreated have started to react individually and collectively.
-Museum workers and museum audiences expect (and want) organizations to be values driven. Sorting out what that means for a given museum or heritage organization is one of the tasks for today’s leader.
-Leading an organization means engagement not just presentation.
-Leaders need to understand how and where personal and organizational leadership intersect and mirror one another. A self-aware leader means a self-aware organization.
-21st-century museum leaders need the courage to tackle the hard stuff.

The relationship between directors and staff is a significant one especially within the museum field. Directors have many responsibilities and challenges when running a museum, and by establishing expectations and applying them both parties will be able to create a strong organization that will make both of their jobs easier to execute in the long run.

Museum professionals at every level should be able to serve as both mentors and mentees. When museum professionals learn from one another, the bonds between them will not only be strengthened they will also be able to preserve and strengthen future museum leadership in the field.

What are your impressions about leadership? Where and how have you learned to be a leader? How have you utilized your leadership skills?
Below are resources I referenced in the blog post and additional resources I found.

Resources:
https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2018/07/16/museums-and-leadership-the-story-continues/
https://www.amazon.com/Leading-Museums-Today-Practice-Association/dp/1442275332/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532058143&sr=8-1&keywords=leading+museums+today
https://aaslh.org/how-much-did-that-meeting-just-cost/
https://aaslh.org/managing-interpreters-expectations-and-feedback/
https://aaslh.org/the-ideal-director/
https://aaslh.org/other-duties-as-assigned/
https://aaslh.org/a-special-kind-of-leader-small-museum-leadership-characteristics/
http://ww2.aam-us.org/resources/ethics-standards-and-best-practices/leadership
http://ww2.aam-us.org/resources/ethics-standards-and-best-practices/public-trust
https://www.aam-us.org/2017/08/02/leadership-and-why-you-need-a-swot-analysis-and-a-personal-board-of-directors/
https://www.aam-us.org/2017/03/01/museum-leadership-organizational-readiness-and-institutional-transformation/
https://www.aam-us.org/2014/11/02/museum-leadership-and-growing-enormous-pumpkins-2/

What Can We Do to Avoid Fraud?

Added to Medium, February 22, 2018

Fraud is a scary topic especially within the museum field. It is a topic not often talked about, and it should be discussed more among museum professionals. Maybe we think that it might not happen but it could happen at any point in any time frame if we are not careful. I do not recall being in a situation that led to fraud in the museum, and while I am thankful that I have not faced something like this I do feel that it is important that all of us in the field especially myself need to know what to do under these circumstances. Since this week is known by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) as “Nightmare at the Museum Week”, the webinars and articles they are sharing discussing deaccessioning and fraud inspired this week’s discussion on my blog. The more we talk about fraud, and learn from one another, the more we are able to be more aware of fraud and maybe we will be able to do our best to avoid fraud.

This topic captured my attention more now as a museum professional since I have become more involved in the financial realm of running a museum. I had some experience in keeping track of finances during college when I was a treasurer of two clubs for all four years. Since starting at the Maritime Explorium, I have been asked to be the manager of finances to make sure admissions and other income are adequately recorded and supported to keep the children’s science museum running. The more I get a closer look at the record keeping, the more I knew that the need for accurate record keeping is essential.

I notice more human counting errors when I began reviewing the daily and monthly reports. It is a challenge to go through a lot of previous records and make sure it is accurate, but it is necessary to make sure we have accurate information. If our organizations are not careful, we can be open to more issues down the road.

I reiterate that we should do our best to avoid fraud because if we do not prepare for it by updating our policies and evaluating our museum ethics fraud can sneak up before one realizes it happened. We can take a look at journal articles, magazine articles, and books that discuss fraud to see what would work best for our organizations.

Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland pointed out in their book Museum Administration 2.0 that museums need to keep in mind their professional codes and ethics when running the museum. By doing so, I believe museum professionals have the ability to have the tools they need for fraud prevention. According to Genoways and Ireland, a museum ethics statement is an important moral compass that guide staff and board to fulfill their museums’ missions. When we set up a code of standards for board and staff, we set an expectation that we will run the museum with the public’s interest and trust in mind.

Our museums should take care of our fraud prevention practices so we can maintain our visitors trust in our organizations. One of the examples of resources we can use on fraud and fraud prevention is an article that focuses on embezzlement.

AASLH published an article in their Winter 2017 edition of the magazine AASLH History News about embezzlement written by Max A. van Balgooy. He not only briefly described examples of museums, historic sites, and historical societies that had to face embezzlement, but also went into detail about what embezzlement is and how to detect fraud.

Van Balgooy revealed there was a study done by the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) called the 2016 Global Fraud Study. The study showed that the typical organization loses 5 percent of its revenues to fraud each year. Also, it stated frauds last an average of eighteen months before being detected, and losses rose the longer the schemes continued. Therefore, the faster an organization acts the smaller the losses will be for that organization.

He stated in the article that state and local history organizations can reduce losses and recover more quickly if boards and staff are more informed about the techniques used by criminals and adopt practices that provide obstacles and create transparency. I agree because we would be better prepared if we knew how criminals perform these crimes so we will be able to catch it as soon as possible.

One of the statements that stood out to me in the article was “Don’t Assume an Independent Audit Will Catch Fraud”. It stood out to me because when I thought about it, this makes sense because museum professionals are more aware of the finances and the financial history of their organization. It is the auditor’s job to detect any weaknesses in the financial management system and report that so the staff and board can work on improving this system. When we strengthen our system, we would be able to detect when a fraud may occur.

The most important thing I got out this article was we need to be talking about fraud more often. It is an embarrassing feeling and we do feel betrayed but we need to figure out how to deal with the situation. If we do not involve the authorities or overlook it, we would be letting the criminal(s) free to embezzle other organizations. Discussing it more will help museums and museum professionals feel more comfortable seek help and advice to best prevent from another fraud happening again. AASLH has recently followed this example of discussing the topic more often.

This afternoon, AASLH had a webinar called Fraud at the Museum: Protecting Your Organization from a Devastating Event. According to their webinar description,

Financial fraud can happen to any size history organization, from the very large to the smallest of the small. But it’s only after they become a victim that the vast majority of organizations take steps to protect themselves against fraud.

It is exactly the point that has to come across to museum professionals of all institutions, no matter what type or size of the museum. In the webinar, the guest speaker, Kelly Paxton, discussed how fraud is committed and discovered then proceeded with recommendations for policies and procedures to help prevent financial loss and protect its staff and board members.

I plan on looking at #AASLH Twitter Chat this Friday which discusses deaccessioning and fraud prevention. A few of the questions they will ask participants are:

What are your experiences with fraud or fraud prevention?
What policies do you have in place to deal with potential fraud?
What are your favorite resources for preparing your institution in this and other tricky areas?

These questions will hopefully let museum professionals be comfortable to discuss their experiences and resources they use to deal with fraud or work on fraud prevention.

If more museum professionals become more open to discussing fraud we would be able to help our organizations run better and maintain our visitors’ trust in our ability we can serve as educational institutions.

Have you heard of a situation in which fraud has taken place within an organization? What resources have you read that discussed fraud prevention?

Resources:
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
van Balgooy, Max A. “Embezzlement”, AASLH History News, Winter 2017, Vol. 72, #1, 20-25.

How Do We Educate Our Students About Charlottesville?

Added to Medium, August 17, 2017

Museum educators continue to prepare for school visits as the new school year approaches. As I was preparing for the upcoming school year, I as well as everyone in this country found out about the white supremacists rally and the attack that occurred on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. It made me sad to learn that this is occurring in our country, and more importantly I thought about the future generations trying to understand how and why this is occurring in our nation. Museums and history organizations made their statements on what has happened in our country and their stand on these tragic events. We, as museum professionals, have this one question in mind: how do we educate our students about what is happening in Charlottesville?

Throughout the museum and education community, I have seen many organizations have spoken about these events. The American Alliance of Museums stated in their newsletter and Twitter account “There is absolutely no place in society for the kind of hatred, racism, and violence that were on display this past weekend, and we offer our deepest condolences to the victims, their families, and the community.”

The American Association for State and Local History also released a statement on the events in Charlottesville. They reinforce the importance of this organization, and what it stands for in this nation. AASLH
“abhors not only the violence of the clash in Virginia, initially over a Jim Crow era statue, but the hateful misunderstanding of history, the cruel misuse of the past, and the willful blindness to the historical record by the forces of white nationalism. As the national professional association for individual members, historical societies, history museums, and history sites that preserve and interpret state and local history, the AASLH stands for open discussion, reasoned research and interpretation, reliance on evidence and current scholarship, and the preservation of historical resources.”

Museums are not the only organizations that have made statements about the events in Charlottesville. Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit international educational and professional development organization that engages students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry, released a message as well.

Roger White, President and CEO of Facing History and Ourselves stated in an email sent to newsletter subscribers:
“As educators, our first concern is the millions of young people watching Charlottesville unfold. As we return to classrooms across the United States and the world, we will be called upon to manage difficult conversations about the evil, base bigotry at play. We will need to provide historical and cultural context for the violence, for the references to Nazi language and events, and for the legacy of slavery in the U.S. that underlies the pain we see across the nation today.” Roger White, August 14, 2017.

As I read through these statements, I thought about how we should explain these events to our children and students. It is important to express that we should be accepting of every person within our community. One of the resources I read which I agree with is an article written by CNN’s Jessica Ravitz on the topic of what we should be telling children. According to Jessica Ravitz, we should be proactive, not just reactive; don’t ignore; and empowering kids as well as yourself.

Children should be taught at an early age to appreciate diversity and practice empathy at home, in the classroom, and within their community. Also, it is important for parents, guardians, and teachers to be honest and frank about these events in an age-appropriate way, as well as reassure them they are safe and remind them there is still good in the world. I agree with these tips because we all should be able to make the choice to take a moral stand and do not support hate crimes.

Teachers should be able to encourage students to learn about different cultures and identities in addition to what had happened in our past to understand why we should continue to work at decreasing the hate in our communities and nation.

What should museums do to help educate students about what happened in Charlottesville? Museums need to continue to fulfil their education missions, and inspire people to learn more about the community around them to learn how to appreciate diversity in addition to practicing empathy. According to Paul Orselli’s blog post, “What can museums do to resist?”, now is not the time for museums to be “neutral” or to sit on the sidelines. He has a point that museums should not be neutral because we create a space where people can come together to acknowledge our past and help one another respect and appreciate each individual from all backgrounds through our collections and programming.

Various museum professionals have been vocal about what has happened in our country, and what we should do moving forward. Seema Rao for instance wrote a post for Nina Simon’s blog Museum 2.0 called “How Museums Can Resist Racism and Oppression”. Seema wrote this post in response to a program she participated called MuseumCamp (a summer professional development program at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History) in addition to the news on what happened in Charlottesville. Both Nina Simon and Seema Rao started an open Google Doc to assemble ideas for specific things both museums and museum professionals can do to resist oppression.

Some of the ideas from the Google Doc include staff can share their feelings together; have an open ear for those that need to express their feelings, thoughts, ideas, vent, etc.; raise money for organizations that support inclusion; educate themselves on anti-racist terminology, history, activities, and opportunities; and reach out to colleagues in Charlottesville with unencumbered, unquestioning support.

Also, in the Google Doc, museums could, but not limited to, host conversations for visitors; if open conversations are not possible, then provide open talk-back boards (remember to talk back); model inclusion in their programming, work together in regions to create safe spaces for inclusion; and offer space to local NAACP, BLM, SURJ, and other anti-racist groups for their own events, meetings, and public forums.

There is more than one way we can encourage inclusion and diversity, and practice empathy as we have seen in this blog post. I implore everyone, including everyone who reads my blog, to take action however you can and…be good to one another.

While I was reading social media posts about what happened in Charlottesville, and the statements from organizations including American Alliance of Museums and American Association of State and Local History on what happened in Charlottesville, I came across resources that will help all educators approach this topic with students. Here are the following resources I read and recommend everyone to read and use:
Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/13/the-first-thing-teachers-should-do-when-school-starts-is-talk-about-hatred-in-america-heres-help/?utm_term=.6fc22fdfe36f
NPR: http://www.npr.org/2017/08/14/543390148/resources-for-educators-to-use-the-wake-of-charlottesville
Harvard: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/02/talking-race-controversy-and-trauma
CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/14/health/talking-to-kids-about-hate/index.html (article referenced in this blog)
Paul Orselli: http://blog.orselli.net/2017/08/what-can-museums-do-to-resist.html?m=1
Museum 2.0: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2017/08/guest-posted-by-seema-rao-how-museums-can.html?m=1

 

What are you and your organizations doing in response to the events in Charlottesville? Do you have ideas on what museums should do?

How to use Food to Create Relevance in Museums

Originally posted on Medium, February 24, 2017.

Food is an important necessity people need to survive, and by creating an exhibit or program based on the narrative of food history museums create examples of how people can understand relevance in museums. This week there was a webinar the American Association of State and Local History hosted called Interpreting Food at Museums and Historic Sites, which provided introduction to strategies for using food and food history to develop interpretation with depth and significance, and will make relevant connections to contemporary issues and visitor interests. This webinar inspired me to write about my own experiences when I collaborated with my classmates and Connecticut Historical Society on the exhibit Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart. Also, I will discuss how the study of food history is continued to be discussed since I first approached the subject during graduate school.

During my second semester of my first year of graduate school, I took a course on Museum Interpretation in which the major assignment was creating an exhibit at Connecticut Historical Society using food as the theme. My classmates and I were introduced to the project at the beginning of the semester, and my professor assigned books to provide background information on food history; one of the books was Warren Belasco’s Food: The Key Concepts (Bloomsbury Academic, 2008) which served as an introduction to the study of food studies and an essential overview to the increasingly critical field of enquiry. Other books assigned were about food and food preparation in different centuries in America.

In my records, I also found my notes on the justification of creating an exhibit based on food for Connecticut Historical Society. They argue that food is a part of history that individuals can identify with as being universally relevant. According to my notes, food is an essential part of life for everyone needs food to survive, and more than that food can unite families and larger communities; food can also conjure powerful memories for individuals whether it is a yearly holiday meal tradition or cooking in the kitchen with a relative. My justification notes also stated that the exhibit will provoke questions about the differences in food history as it relates to class and gender within Connecticut’s social structure as well as challenging visitors to think about their own personal experiences with food. This is what my teammates and I had in mind when we created the original proposal presented to the committee at Connecticut Historical Society.

To create the proposal, in addition to figuring out a way to present food history in Connecticut, we also picked out objects that represented food history and our idea for the exhibit. We originally came up with an idea that was like the Upstairs/Downstairs concept when creating the Connecticut food narrative. Then we included the idea of telling Connecticut food history throughout time from the 18th century to current period. We then looked through Connecticut Historical Society’s collections that we felt best represented the narrative we believed will be presented in the exhibit. For instance, I oversaw picking out items from the eighteenth century and one of the pieces I chose to include in our proposal was a ceramic bowl that was made and used between 1730 and 1770.

After selecting our items for the proposal, we also had to figure out how to include an interactive segment in our exhibit to allow visitors to engage with the historical narrative. A couple of ideas we had include a tea etiquette practice in which a table and chairs are set up with a container of all the necessary items for the tea setting (photocopies of the directions for a Victorian tea setting would be provided and visitors would then attempt to properly set the table for tea based on the directions). The second idea we came up with was we would provide reproductions of community cookbooks from the Connecticut Historical Society’s collections for the visitors to look through.

When our class had the opportunity to present our proposals, my teammates and I presented our idea to a committee of Connecticut Historical Society staff members to determine which group’s exhibit idea they will move forward with. Each member of my group presented two different sections of our exhibit idea, and I presented the very first section when visitors enter the exhibit space as well as the interactive elements section to the committee. The first section was called “Cooking for a New Nation” which would feature Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (which was the first cookbook published in America). The book would have been used as a representation of how women cooked in eighteenth century America and the narrative would have described the women’s and servants’ roles in the kitchen during this period; when discussing these roles, the narrative would also discuss the separation between servants and household was emerging in the eighteenth century as well as the transition from colonies to a new nation. Then I described the objects that would be selected for display in this section. After the rest of the sections were presented, I introduced the interactive element for the exhibit we brainstormed for the proposal.

Some time passes, and our professor announced that the committee decided to choose our group’s idea for the exhibit with some suggested changes. The exhibit was changed to focus more on the time line of cookbooks published in the United States and discuss food history in America (especially Connecticut) in each century beginning with Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery and ending with Martha Stewart’s cookbooks. It was named Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart and we proceeded with selecting the objects and collaborating with the University of Hartford art design students to design the exhibit labels and space. My group oversaw the interactive element of the exhibit; the interactive element was changed to providing copies of various recipes that came from the cookbooks displayed in the exhibit, and presented the opportunity for visitors to write their own recipes and place them in a box. We each took a cookbook and selected the recipes we would be interested in using then narrowed down the options to a few of them. Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart eventually opened in January 2013, and it ran from January 18, 2013 to April 13, 2013.

Since then I did not see much of the history of food presented in a museum setting until I came across Michelle Moon’s Interpreting Food in Museums and Historic Sites which was published by the American Association of State and Local History in 2015, and the basis of this past week’s American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) webinar. Moon’s book argued that museums and historic sites have an opportunity to draw new audiences and infuse new meaning into their food presentations, and food deserves a central place in historic interpretation. Her book provides the framework for understanding big ideas in food history, suggesting best practices for linking objects, exhibits and demonstrations with the larger story of change in food production as well as consumption over the past two centuries. She also argues that food tells a story in which visitors can see themselves, and explore their own relationships to food.

I also came across Linda Norris’ blog post “Building a Learning Culture: Food Included” on her blog The Uncatalogued Museum which discussed her experience working with the board and staff at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota on creative practice in context of interpretive planning. The American Swedish Institute decided to include stories of all immigrants not only Swedish immigrant stories. To assist with creative practice including in interpretive planning, there are lessons that each institution needs to learn to connect with each other and with their communities. Norris introduced lessons from this experience including good ideas come from everywhere so it is important to cast a wide net to gain knowledge, and making time to think together is especially important.

Also, it is important be open to collaborate with people in the community to develop new collaborations and deepen other partnerships. If the American Swedish Institute did not learn that lesson, then they would not have learned about a restaurant in their community that shows appreciation for Bollywood dance and shows customers how to perform them. She also talked about the experience influencing the staff to schedule regular fika, or Swedish coffee break, with baked goods to spend some time from a busy day and connect with each other. For more information about her experience, the link to her blog can be found here: http://uncatalogedmuseum.blogspot.com/2017/02/building-learning-culture-food-included.html.

These previous examples show how food presentations in the museum field has evolved in the past few years. By sharing my previous experience on food presentation and the most current experiences on food and culture, I provide some examples of how visitors can make connections to their own memories related to food. I will soon be attending a New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) program called Lessons in Equity from Culturally-Specific Institutions: Beyond the “Target Program” at the Museum of Chinese in America on creating a diverse environment in the museum. The program will also include a closer look at the special exhibition Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America. When I heard about this program the first time, it reminded me of the many family meals I have had during my childhood and in my adulthood trying various Chinese food dishes. I will continue the discussion on food history and how individuals can to share my experiences after I attend this program.
Do you think your museum or institution would be able to include food history in its exhibits or programs? What is your most powerful memory that comes to mind when you think of food? Have you attended a program or exhibit that discusses food history or a subject related to food?