Book Review: The Cabinet by Lindsay M. Chervinsky

March 4, 2021

The most recent book I have been reading is Lindsay M. Chervinsky’s The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution which was published on April 7, 2020. I wanted to read this book since my current work in the museum field also focuses on George Washington (during the American Revolution, specifically with the Culper Spy Ring), my museum background is mostly in early American history. After I heard about this book, I decided to check it out and provide my thoughts on this book.

Lindsay M. Chervinsky, who is a White House historian at the White House Historical Association, provided detailed account of Washington’s early years in his presidency and his Cabinet. According to the book flap, Chervinsky’s book described the political history of Washington’s Cabinet:

              On November 26, 1791, George Washington convened his department secretaries- Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph-for the first cabinet meeting. Why did he wit two and a half years into his presidency to call his cabinet? Because the US Constitution did not create or provide for such a body. Washington was on his own.

              Faced with diplomatic crises, domestic insurrections, and constitutional challenges-and finding congressional help lacking-Washington decided he needed a group of advisors he could turn to. He modeled his new cabinet on the councils of war he had led as commander of the Continental Army. In the early days, the cabinet served at the president’s pleasure. Washington tinkered with its structure throughout his administration, at times calling regular meetings, at other times preferring written advice and individual discussions.

I took the time to read the book and I appreciate its great attention to detail as well as the way Chervinsky delineated the narrative in this book. Within the book, there are eight chapters, an introduction and an epilogue that went into detail of after the Revolutionary War, when Washington became president, his presidency in the early years, the Cabinet emerges, and how the Cabinet worked after it was created.

        Also, I appreciate Chervinsky’s efforts to outline and organized resources she used to write her book. When I read history books, I like to pay attention to how resources are cited and displayed not only because it was how I learned to read these books while earning my bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degree in public history, but it helps me see the primary sources used for this book to provide context to what I am reading. Inside the book, she has a notes section that includes additional information relevant to a point made in the book that did not fit into its flow. It also lists the resources she used including primary sources such as presidential papers and diaries, and secondary sources including books, articles, and journals (such as Journals of the Continental Congress and Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States) throughout her book. Each chapter had at least between 80 and 100 annotations, and the introduction and epilogue have 15 and 26 annotations, that direct the reader to the notes section.

         In addition to the structure of the book, I appreciate the dedication to telling this significant part of the United States’ political history and leaving the reader to ponder on the influence of this Cabinet on following presidential cabinets in almost 250 years of the country’s existence. The Cabinet discussed the resulting consequences that followed Washington’s choices on figuring out the roles of his advisors and how they will conduct their roles. In the same book flap, it stated that:

The tensions in the cabinet between Hamilton and Jefferson heightened partisanship and contributed to the development of the first party system. And as Washington faced an increasingly recalcitrant Congress, he came to treat the cabinet as a private advisory body to summon as needed, greatly expanding the role of the president and the executive branch.

           While the cabinet has evolved in step with the federal government, Washington established a precedent whose powerful legacy endures. Each president since has selected his closest advisors, Senate-appointed or otherwise—whether political allies, subject experts, or a coterie of family members and yes-men.

This book is definitely a relevant book for understanding political and presidential history in the United States. I believe reading books like Chervinsky’s The Cabinet would be helpful to understand the role of the Cabinet in more recent presidencies. When Washington became the first president of the United States, he was trying to figure out what that means for the new country and ultimately setting the example for future presidents to follow. He had to think about what the responsibilities are of the president and how to handle the responsibilities, and his approach to the presidency came from what he knew about how to be a leader when he was the general in the Revolutionary War. As I read her book, I appreciated that she began the book within the war since as readers we need to see the foundations of Washington’s leadership and how his interactions with cabinet members can be influenced from the efforts to be able to create a new nation. From my experience educating and discussing Washington’s role in the Revolutionary War, I can understand how he modeled his cabinet on the councils of war he had.

At the Three Village Historical Society, we focus one of our main exhibits on the Culper Spy Ring and share Washington’s involvement in leading espionage in the Revolutionary War, especially on Long Island. Among the many roles Washington had as the General, he appointed one of this Dragoon Majors, Benjamin Tallmadge, as head of the spy ring on Long Island since Tallmadge was originally from Long Island and expected that he would receive the most accurate information. I recommend visiting the TVHS website to learn more about Washington and the Culper Spy Ring.  

I also appreciated the connection Chervinsky made towards the modern presidencies in the book by discussing legacy. The epilogue especially focused on how Washington’s legacy influenced the presidents directly after him and the more recent presidents. One of the ways Chervinsky illustrated his legacy was:

“Rather than following a written guide or legislative direction, each president would decide how his or her cabinet operated. The flexibility of the institution offered an excellent opportunity for strong leaders but could serve as a liability for weaker presidents” (309).

Since there was so much flexibility, it made sense why there are so many differences in how each president handles their role and their relationships with the cabinet. It also explains how little or big of an impact changes made in the country due to the advice from the fifteen departments of the cabinet: the State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security.

      Overall, I recommend taking a look at the book itself if you are interested in learning more about George Washington, political history, and Early American history.

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts. ☕ https://buymeacoffee.com/lbmfmusedblog

Links and Resource:

Chervinsky, Lindsay M., The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, Cambridge, MA: The Belkap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020.

https://www.lindsaychervinsky.com/book

Three Village Historical Society

Book Review: For Love or Money Confronting the State of Museum Salaries

January 21, 2021

MuseumsEtc, an independent publishing house based in Edinburgh and Boston on books for museum and gallery professionals, published the book For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries edited by Dawn E Salerno, Mark S. Gold, and Kristina L Durocher. I chose this book because museum salary is still a relevant topic in the field, and I have wanted to write this book review for a while. Now I am glad that I am re-visiting this book since I am going to be writing more book reviews for this blog. I recommend checking out this book, especially for individuals who are new to the museum field, since each section is incredibly detailed in the topic of what is going on for museum salaries.

            It is also a relevant topic now as the pandemic hit the museum field hard (like most if not all professional fields). Many museum professionals faced layoffs, furloughs, salary cuts, schedules cut, et. cetera when museums closed or continue to offer online experiences as a result of the pandemic. There are some that have re-opened their sites to limited capacity and some even require purchasing tickets ahead of the visit. As we continue to move forward, we need to revisit museum salaries. We as a museum field need to continue to make progress in equity for gender and salary, and having these conversations as well as sharing our thoughts, ideas, and actions are important steps in improving the state of the museum field.

Cover of For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries

For Love or Money is a collection of chapters written by various museum professionals within the museum field. Inside the book, there are twenty-four chapters and are divided into four sections: the state of museum salaries, causes and effects, addressing the issues, and turning talk into action. There are at least 29 museum professionals who have contributed their thoughts and research to this book.

            I appreciate that not only are there table charts but also cartoon depictions to illustrate and stress the points being made inside the book. In Taryn R Nie’s “Far Too Female: Museums on the Edge of a Pink Collar Profession” for instance, they included a table chart of compensation expenditure as a percentage of the operating budget and a table chart of gender ratio by position; an example from the gender ratio (according to the AAM 2017 National Museum Salary Survey) is the amount of museum professionals who held the position of volunteer coordinator who identify as male was 12.5 percent and those who identify as female was 86.8 percent.

In Emily Tuner’s “What’s Going on In This Picture? Museum Education as Undervalued Labor”, she included a number of cartoon panels that describe and illustrate the points she made in her chapter of the book. One of them labeled The price of entry to full-time museum education work displayed a hopeful candidate asking a museum professional about a full-time museum education position but was told despite her experience she was qualified for a part-time museum education position.

Also, I appreciate how much detail each writer put into their chapters as well as the amount of research they have included within the text and in their resource sections. In Charlotte Martin, Sarah Maldonado, and Anthea Song’s “A Case for Salary Transparency in Job Postings”, for instance, their chapter described how salary transparency in job postings is a relatively easy step towards the goal for assuring diversity and equity in museum and cultural institution employees, and they described New York City Museum Educators Roundtable’s (NYCMER) transition into changing their policy for all posting jobs on their job board to have salary transparency.

            On an additional note, I thought it was really awesome to see a tweet I had posted during the NYCMER conference in 2018 on the announcement of the policy change for their job board.

I recommend checking out this book for yourselves to learn more about what each museum professional has discussed about museum salaries and salary transparency.

If you like this book review and would like to see more of these posts on the blog, find out how you can become a supporter of the blog and website by “buying me a coffee”. Check out the link here: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/lbmfmusedblog.

Link: https://museumsetc.com/

What Are You Reading? A List of Books Shared

November 5, 2020

“Remember, remember the fifth of November…”

I remembered that today is Guy Fawkes Day so I had to acknowledge it before I started the blog post. Anyhow, last month I released a post on the books I wanted to read for the rest of 2020. I asked you all what you are reading, and below is a selection of books that have been shared with me through social media.

  1. Ron Chernow’s Grant

From the writer of Washington and Hamilton, Ron Chernow wrote a biography of another general and president: Ulysses S. Grant. Chernow’s biography provides an understanding of the general and president who faced frequent changes in successes and failures in his career and personal life. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

2. Tejano Patriot: The Revolutionary Life of José Francisco Ruiz, 1783–1840 by Art Martínez de Vara

Art Martínez de Vara wrote a biography of one of the important figures in Texas history. The biography takes a closer look at the life of José Francisco Ruiz and his contributions go beyond being one of two Texas-born signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Ruiz went through a transformation during the war of Mexican independence from a conservative royalist to one of the steadfast liberals of his era. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

3. Frederick Jackson Turner: Historian, Scholar, Teacher by Ray Allen Billington

Written in the 1970s, Billington wrote a biography of the historian Frederick Jackson Turner who was known for his paper on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” that was presented at the 1893 American Historical Association meeting held in Chicago. For more information, check out the link about Turner here and for the biography here.

4. Brief History of History: Great Historians And The Epic Quest To Explain The Past by Colin Wells

Wells goes into brief detail about history that is described history as a living idea. Also, it provides summaries of historians and their important works. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

5. John Arnold’s History: A Short Introduction

Arnold released an essay about how we study and why we study history. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

6. Alun Munslow’s History of History

Munslow wrote a book which confronts several basic assumptions about the nature of history. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

7. A Relentless Spirit: Catharine Ladd by Patricia Veasey

Patricia Veasey wrote about Catherine Ladd who was an innovative educator and writer. She juggled marriage with numerous children, established and conducted female academies, contributed poetry for publication, wrote and produced plays, helped raise funds for rebuilding her war-ravaged town, and submitted political commentary—all within 19th century cultural constraints. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

8. Intentional Practice for Museums: A Guide for Maximizing Impact by Randi Korn

Korn wrote on how the idea of intentional practice grew from a confluence of political concerns, observations of museum in the marketplace, and the increasingly deafening call for museums to be accountable. Also, it describes the seven principles of intentional practice and provides basic intentional-practice strategies, exercises, and facilitation questions. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

9. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

A novel written by O’Farrell, Hamnet is set in England in the 1580s during the plague. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

10. Pull of the Stars by Emma Donohue

Donoghue’s novel is set in Ireland in 1918, and it is about a nurse working in an understaffed hospital where unexpected mothers were quarantined together after coming down with a terrible new flu. For more information, check out the link for the book here.

If you would like to share what you are reading or are planning to read, please let me know in the comments. Have you read the books above? If you have, what do you think of them?

Here is the link to the previous book list I wrote last month: Books I Want to Read for the Rest of 2020

Books I Want to Read for the Rest of 2020

October 1, 2020

It has been a while since I released a list of books that I am interested in reading on this site. I decided to compile a list of books that I either already have in my collections that I want to read (or re-read) or books that I have heard about and I want to put on my list of books to read. There are a few books on the list that I was introduced to during the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) virtual conference in the Author Talks sessions. This is not a complete list of books but rather it is a sample of books I would like to read. I plan to write a couple more posts to add more books to the list until the end of 2020, and then I will start another list of books for 2021. Here is the following list:

  1. Doing Women’s History for the Public: A Handbook for Interpreting at Museums and Historic Sites by Heather Huyck https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442264175/Doing-Women’s-History-in-Public-A-Handbook-for-Interpretation-at-Museums-and-Historic-Sites
  2. Exploring the History of Childhood and Play through 50 Historic Treasures by Susan A. Fletcher https://www.amazon.com/Exploring-Childhood-Historic-Treasures-Americas/dp/1538118742/
  3. Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) by Sam Wineburg https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/W/bo23022136.html
  4. A Leader’s Guide to Solving Challenges with Emotional Intelligence by David R. Caruso, PhD and Lisa T. Rees, ACC, MPA. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38899539-a-leader-s-guide-to-solving-challenges-with-emotional-intelligence
  5. Exploring Women’s Suffrage through 50 Historic Treasures by Jessica D. Jenkins https://www.amazon.com/Exploring-Suffrage-Historic-Americas-Treasures/dp/1538112795
  6. Leadership Matters Leading Museums in an Age of Discord, Second Edition by Anne W. Ackerson and Joan H. Baldwin https://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Matters-Leading-American-Association/dp/1538118319

What books are you reading in 2020? It does not have to be books about the museum field nor about history. I will be releasing a blog post about this year’s AASLH Annual Meeting and Conference soon. In the meantime, check out the conversations on Twitter using the hashtag #AASLH2020 and I will post some pictures (well…screenshots) from the conference on the Looking Back, Moving Forward in Museum Education’s Facebook page and Instagram.

Also check out a previous list I wrote a few years ago here: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-1s

And here is a list I wrote for 2019: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-we

Happy New Year!

January 2, 2020

It is officially 2020, and there is so much to look forward to this year. I hope for more progress in the museum field, especially in providing salary information in job descriptions and equity. I also hope to incorporate more self-care into my everyday life to maintain a work/life balance. And finally, I hope to read more books this year (this will always be my new year’s resolution).

Normally in the past blog posts, I provided a list of books I would like to read in the new year. This year, I ask all of you to share with me what books you are either hoping to read or have already read. It can be history and museum related, or any book in any genre. Happy New Year to you all! Thank you for continuing to read my blog. I wish you all good health and happiness in the new year. Stay tuned for more posts this year.

What books have you read or have already read? What do you hope to accomplish this year?

Books I Want to Read in 2019

Added to Medium, December 31, 2018

In honor of the new year, I am sharing a list of books I plan to read in the upcoming year. A while back I wrote a similar list for books I wanted to read in 2017, and I realized that I have not updated the list to currently reflect on what books I have come across and added to my list of books I plan on reading. These books are focused on museum education and history, both non-fiction and fiction. In the list, I will provide publishing information, descriptions, why I recommend these books, and links to see where you can get your own copy of the book.

1. 101 Museum Programs Under $100 by Lauren E. Hunley, Lanham: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Company, 2018. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538103043/101-Museum-Programs-Under-$100-Proven-Programs-that-Work-on-a-Shoestring-Budget

This book presents successful programs across the country that have been successfully presented in real museums across the country for under $100. Nearly 100 figures and photographs make this a stellar programming tool museums could use throughout the year.

Because I have worked and continue to work for small museums, this could be a useful book to help me get inspiration for education programs at the museum.

2. Designing for Empathy: Perspectives on the Museum Experience by Elif M. Gokcigdem, 2019 https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538118283/Designing-for-Empathy-Perspectives-on-the-Museum-Experience

Designing for Empathy is a volume of twenty-three essays contributed by multidisciplinary experts, collectively exploring the state of empathy for its design elements that might lead to positive behavior change and a paradigm shift towards unifying, compassionate worldviews and actions. It expands our understanding of empathy and its potential for fostering compassionate worldviews and actions through a multidisciplinary exploration in three parts: “The Object of Our Empathy” explores how we define and perceive the “Other,” “The Alchemy of Empathy” introduces thirteen design elements of empathy that might lead to transformative learning experiences, and “The Scope and the Spectrum of Empathy” highlights the importance of positioning empathy as a cross-industrial shared value for the benefit of people and the planet.

It is an important book for all museum professionals to help express the importance of empathy in our society. To improve my abilities as a museum professional, I would like to read this book to work on my abilities on how to inspire empathy and discussions about empathy within the museums I work for.

3. Why Old Places Matter: How Historic Places Affect Our Identity and Well-Being by Thompson M. Mayes, 2018 https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538117682/Why-Old-Places-Matter-How-Historic-Places-Affect-Our-Identity-and-Well-Being

It is a book that explores the reasons that old places matter to people. Although people often feel very deeply about the old places of their lives, they don’t have the words to express why. This book brings these ideas together in evocative language and with illustrative images for a broad audience. The book could help people understand that the feeling many have for old places is supported by a wide variety of fields, and that the continued existence of these old places is good.

I adore historic houses and sites, and it is where I began my career as a museum professional. I want to see how Mayes presents their evidence on how historic places affect our identity and well-being. It is a book I would recommend for anyone to understand the significance of preserving old places.

4. Leading Museums Today: Theory and Practice by Martha Morris, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442275331/Leading-Museums-Today-Theory-and-Practice

In the book, we can learn about leadership theory in both for profit and nonprofit worlds and how to effectively master the role of both leader and follower. Literature from business and non-profit management as well as the insights of current thought leaders provide lessons for the reader. The book explores the reality of change in the workplace, the standards and best practices of businesses and museums, and innovative approaches to creating a nimble and responsive organization.

I hope to improve and develop my leadership skills, and as I am taking on more managerial responsibilities it is important that I improve my knowledge of best practices in businesses and museums.

5. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 20th anniversary edition, Beacon Press; 2nd Revised edition, 2015. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0807080535/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_7?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Silencing the Past is an analysis of the silences in our historical narratives, of what is omitted and what is recorded, what is remembered and what is forgotten, and what these silences reveal about inequalities of power.

While I was earning my Bachelor’s degree in History, I read similar books that discuss silence and historical narratives. I would like to explore this edition and have a future discussion on the blog about historical narratives and how they are presented.

6. Creating Exhibits That Engage: A Manual for Museums and Historical Organizations by John Summers, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1442279362/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_8?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

The book is a concise, useful guide to developing effective and memorable museum exhibits. The book is full of information, guidelines, tips, and concrete examples drawn from the author’s years of experience as a curator and exhibit developer in the United States and Canada.

I would like to read how Summer presents in the useful guide how effective and memorable museum exhibits can be developed. This could also help me when I develop exhibits for the museums I work for.

7. Introduction to Public History: Interpreting the Past, Engaging Audiences by Cherstin Lyon, Elizabeth Nix, and Rebecca K. Shrum, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1442272228/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_7?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

This book is a brief foundational public history textbook for use in undergraduate and graduate classrooms. It is organized around the questions and ethical dilemmas that drive public history in a variety of settings, from local community-based projects to international case studies.

I would like to read this to see how this compares to the Introduction to Public History textbook I used while I was earning my Masters degree in Public History.

8. Makeology: Makerspaces as Learning Environments, Edited by Kylie Peppler, Erica Halverson, and Yasmin B. Kafai, Routledge, 1st edition, 2016. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1138847771/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_1?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Makeology introduces the emerging landscape of the Maker Movement and its connection to interest-driven learning. While the movement is fueled in part by new tools, technologies, and online communities available to today’s makers, its simultaneous emphasis on engaging the world through design and sharing with others harkens back to early educational predecessors including Froebel, Dewey, Montessori, and Papert. Makerspaces as Learning Environments (Volume 1) focuses on making in a variety of educational ecosystems, spanning nursery schools, K-12 environments, higher education, museums, and after-school spaces. Each chapter closes with a set of practical takeaways for educators, researchers, and parents.

Since my background is mainly in history, and if I continue to work within the science museum field, I would like to read more about Makerspaces and figure out how the information presented in the book can help my colleagues and myself see the potential our makerspace can have in our museums.

What books do you want to read in 2019? Do you have any recommendations for all of us to read?

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!!

Museums vs. The Couch: How Museums Can Retain Relevance and Visitation

Added to Medium, September 27, 2018

Museums always need to think about and plan how they can stay relevant as society’s expectations change and as technology advances. In previous blog posts, I discussed about relevance and its significance in museums and history. For instance, I wrote about how museums can use the history of food to reach out to audiences. Also, I wrote about a Game of Thrones tour I took at the Met with Museum Hack. I wrote a book review on Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance, and about using the Broadway musical Hamilton to help audiences connect with the nation’s past. This month I recently came across an article that talk about relevance and grabbing the attention of individuals who prefer to stay at home. Colleen Dilenschneider’s “Potential Visitors To Cultural Entities Are Spending More Time On The Couch Instead (DATA UPDATE)” shared data about individuals’ preference to stay at home and that cultural organizations should not be discouraged but rather work on finding ways to engage them.

While I have written about relevance in the past, it continues to be an important topic as new media, technology, events, et cetera, develop and change how people interact with the world around them. I have previously stated in my blog post “Does ‘Hamilton’ use Relevance to Teach Our Nation’s History?”: Relevance is significant especially in museums to understand who our community is and to help individuals feel they can connect to our past in a way that they can relate to. This of course still holds true now as museums and cultural organizations learn ways to attract attention from individuals who would rather stay at home. Dilenschneider’s article discussed about the numerous reasons likely visitors are more inclined to say home and all of them have one thing in common: increased accessibility from the comfort of one’s home.

Technology and the internet has given people ways to gain knowledge by using their computers to look up information they need or would like to learn more about. Individuals are able to binge-watch television shows without having to wait for the stations to re-air episodes. They can shop online for a variety of things especially books, music, food, and clothing. Possibilities for individuals to have everything at their fingertips are limitless. Dilenschneider pointed out that

If there are fewer reasons for people to change out of pajamas in the first place, it makes sense that cultural organizations may have an uphill battle before them. Motivating attendance may be that much harder. Indeed, we see that this is strengthening the “preferring an alternative activity” barrier to attendance.

This may not necessarily represent a failure on the part of cultural organizations…or rock concerts, sporting events, or the wonders of nature. Instead, this may be the consequence of our current, convenience-optimized, super-connected world. Even so, this growing trend impacts the double bottom line of cultural organizations to achieve their missions, and secure funding to continue to achieve those missions in the first place.

Museums and cultural organizations have many challenges when they look for ways to capture visitors’ and potential visitors’ attention then inspire them to engage with the exhibits and programs museums and cultural organizations have to offer. One of the examples is the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York where I am an Education Committee member.

Founded in 1964, Three Village Historical Society continues to meet its goals to educate the community about local history through events, walking tours, and educational programs. Inside there is an exhibit dedicated to General Washington’s Culper Spy Ring which was an American spy network, mainly made up of members who lived or grew up in East Setauket, that operated during the Revolutionary War. The spies were able to provide Washington information on what the British troops’ plans were to help win the War. A television series was produced by AMC in 2014 called Turn, which is based on the Culper Spy Ring and the Revolutionary War, for four seasons. Turn brought a number of fans to the Three Village Historical Society who wanted to learn more about the Culper Spy Ring. Even after the show ended, fans still come to the site thanks to the show’s accessibility on DVDs and on Netflix.

Another example of getting individuals’ attention and interest is Museum Hack’s themed tours. It was my turn to be on the other side of the visitor-museum relationship, and I shared what I experienced as a visitor. They have a number of different themed tours, and at the time of when I wrote the blog about the Game of Thrones tour I wrote:

I chose the Game of Thrones Mini Tour because I thought it was not a tour that I would expect to find in other places I have visited. Plus, I was interested in seeing how they would tie the show with the pieces displayed at the Met. I also enjoy watching Game of Thrones so I thought it would be a great way to refresh my memory about the series before the new season airs.

Each of the Game of Thrones tours is adjusted based on the tour guide’s knowledge of a piece in the museum itself, and to connect it someway to the HBO series. The main point of the tour was to show both museum lovers and those who are not fans of attending museums how awesome museums are by sharing how individuals interested in the Game of Thrones series can identify and interact with the museum exhibits.

Game of Thrones, which is an HBO series which is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, is another show that is both accessible through streaming and DVDs. The last season of the series is premiering next year, and I can see the potential in the Game of Thrones themed tour continuing to gain stay-at-home visitors’ attention and interests even after the last season airs due to the show’s popularity. Even while I was attending graduate school, I knew about the importance of relevance capturing visitors’ interests.

I worked on a project with my classmates and the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford. In my blog post I wrote about my experience planning the exhibit:

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.

These examples show the efforts museums and museum professionals go through to attract visitors of varying participatory levels and interests. All we can do is to continue to adapt with the changing society and learn from each other’s experiences.

If you have read Dilenschneider’s article, what is your reaction to her data? How is your organization maintaining relevance within the community?

Resources:
https://www.colleendilen.com/2018/09/19/potential-visitors-cultural-entities-spending-time-couch-instead-data-update/
http://www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org/
Does “Hamilton” use Relevance to Teach Our Nation’s History?: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-K
Museum Hack’s Relevance: Game of Thrones Mini-Tour: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-bv
How to use Food to Create Relevance in Museums: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-5d
Book Review: The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-4Q

 

A Closer Look into Museum Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

Added to Medium, January 25, 2018

Museum workers are valuable to museums, especially those who volunteer their time to help the museums run. During my experience as a museum educator, I have worked with volunteers as well as participated in professional development programs about volunteers and volunteer programs.

As I am in the middle of helping rewrite the Three Village Historical Society’s docent manual, I thought about my previous experiences and professional development I participated in. In one of my previous blog posts, “Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs”, I wrote about my previous experiences working with volunteers and working as a volunteer in my early career. A couple of my most recent experiences working with volunteers were previously managing volunteers for school programs at the Long Island Museum, and writing down records of sailing tour hours at the Long Island Maritime Museum.

At the Long Island Museum, I oversaw scheduling volunteers to assist with larger school programs based on their availability and discussed with them what the students got from the lessons. Then at the Long Island Maritime Museum, I volunteered for a school tour, collected admission for a Boat Burning event, Past Perfect data entry and preserving books by scanning pages, and working at the visitor services desk. Based on my perspective, I can understand what volunteers need to complete their goals as well as making sure their work accomplishes work museums’ need to accomplish their mission.

To make sure we understand what we should expect from our volunteer programs, it is important to learn from colleagues through professional development programs and written information such as books and articles.

One of the professional development programs I attended was the American Alliance of Museums’ EdComVersation. The EdComVersation I attended was called “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” with several presenters giving case studies of how volunteer programs are run at different museums or organizations. Each case study provide advice on how we can run our volunteer programs and make sure we utilize volunteers’ time to everyone’s advantage. Museums should evaluate the volunteers and the volunteer programs since evaluations can help give volunteers information they need to do better work and can help museums nab problems early (problems with program or problem volunteers). Also, by evaluating volunteers and volunteer programs it conveys appreciation and reinforce value of volunteers; motivates volunteers to do both their personal best and give positive impact on the museums; and it allows museum to improve volunteer program.

Another resource that is good to learn about managing volunteer programs and working with volunteers is a book Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management by Kristy Van Hoven and Loni Wellman. In their book, Van Hoven and Wellman discussed what museum volunteers are and the importance of museum volunteers especially today. Van Hoven and Wellman gave solid advice on volunteer recruitment, communication, and retention strategies. They answered various questions about volunteers including: What are new volunteers looking for? How can you develop a successful relationship with potential volunteers? How can your museum support a robust and active volunteer program? How do you reward volunteers and keep them for the long term? How can you meet volunteers’ needs and still benefit from their work?

Their book also provided sample documents for managing volunteer programs. It has a sample of a volunteer job description and a volunteer application. There are also samples of volunteer interview questionnaire, volunteer evaluation forms, recognition letters, and certificate of recognition. I have also found another resource that is helpful with museum volunteer programs.

The resource I found is a technical bulletin called Building a successful museum volunteer services program written by Robbin Davis who is a Volunteer and Marketing Manager at the Oklahoma Museum of History. According to Davis, the questions that volunteers think about when considering volunteering at a museum are: how do they fit into the picture, how can they be useful and how much time will it take? Can they give tours? Can they work with artifacts? Can they interact with the public? Are there social activities? Does it cost?

Davis also went into specific details about how to build volunteer programs. For instance, Robbin discussed incorporating the mission statement in the volunteer program. In the bulletin, it stated that

A mission specific to the Volunteer program should frame the program within the context of the overall museum mission. Make sure it is attainable and a staff decision. If the volunteer program is already established, let the volunteers help create the mission or “freshen” up an existing one.

By incorporating the museum’s mission, potential volunteers will be able to see how they would be able to contribute to the museum and what the museum stands for.

The technical bulletin also discussed the importance of having a volunteer reference manual, marketing materials to promote the volunteer program, and forms for volunteers to fill out. Also, it stated that there are important questions that need to be asked as a volunteer program is being developed such as

Who does your museum serve? What is the volunteer history of the museum? Have there been volunteers before? How were they utilized? What kind of program was it? Was it effective? Why? Why not?

When museum staff figure out the answers to the previously stated questions, they will be able to have an effective and successful volunteer program that will generate dedicated volunteers to help museums fulfill their missions.

Museum volunteers are significant in helping museums function. Volunteers have skills that can be useful in various aspects within the museums’ departments. By focusing on establishing a successful volunteer program, museums are able to not only provide opportunities for positive experiences for volunteers but they will be able to promote your organizations.

What is your relationship with your volunteers like? What ways does your organization recognize its volunteers?

Resources:
Van Hoven, Kristy and Loni Wellman, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
“Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs”
Building a successful museum volunteer services program

How to Work with Museum Boards: A Relationship Between the Staff and the Board

Added to Medium, November 9, 2017

As I assist with preparations for my museum’s board meeting this week, I thought more on what I have learned about the board’s role in the museum. Throughout my career so far, I became more involved in getting to know the board and what their impact is on the museum. I continue to learn more as I become more involved in projects that help the board see the museum’s progress. To absorb more knowledge about museum boards, in addition to personal experience, I read books, articles, and blog posts on various information about museum boards.

There are a number of responsibilities boards have for museums and other non-profit organizations. According to Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0, board members have a number of responsibilities including but not limited to: ensure the continuity of the museum’s mission, mandate, and purposes; act as an advocate in the community for public involvement in the museum; review and approve policies consistent with the museum’s mission and mandate, and to monitor staff implementation of these policies; plan for the future of the museum, including review and approval of a strategic plan that identifies the museum’s goals and ways to attain them, and monitoring implementation of the plan; and ensure that the museum has adequate staff to fulfill the mission.

Museum board responsibilities are not limited to only the previously listed. Their responsibilities do have to be clear to make sure the board members understand how their tasks have an impact on the overall museum’s function. Board members do need to not only understand the museum director and staff roles to see the museum’s impact on the community.

To effectively run a museum there has to be a clear definition of roles and responsibilities of board members, the executive director, and staff. Each of them need to work together to fulfill the museum’s mission and meet the needs of its constituencies. The executive director and board balance their leadership roles between both of them, and the extent to which the board and director achieve this balance will vary from museum to museum and will depend on the size of the museum. Each staff member, director, and board member have a role to fulfill to keep the museum running.

By learning more about my role in the museum and other roles in the museum, I can see how all of our work keeps the museum running for the community.

I began to learn more about museum boards and my role in collaborating with boards during my most recent years in my museum career. For instance, this week I have been asked to look over financial records of Maritime Explorium’s admission records for 2017. I carefully looked through each information between January and October to make sure it was all accurate to prepare for an upcoming board meeting. By completing this task, I will be able to help the executive director and the board understand the trends of this past year so far and they would be able to move forward in planning for next year.

While I was learning from my personal experience and from the book Museum Administration 2.0 about the board’s role in the museum, I also read the blog posts about museum boards.

In the Leadership Matters blog post “It’s the board, stupid”, Joan Baldwin pointed out that not everyone on boards internalizes the museum’s mission, gets along with the executive director, contributes time and money and gets others to do the same, but if board members have understood their trusteeship as work, based in a museum’s mission, there would probably be less disruption, less mediocrity, and more organizational success.

No one is perfect, and it can be a challenge to keep things functioning in the museum. The most important thing to keep in mind is to have constant and clear communication between the board, director, and museum staff.

Communication also needs to be clear between the board, executive director, and staff. The more effective and accurate the communication among them are the more likely what changes unfold can be accommodated smoothly.

Board members bring a variety of values with them, and the director’s success in the museum is directly related to his or her understanding of the board and its values. The board’s composition needs to be reflective of the community it serves. Museums’ boards, in other words, need to reflect diversity in their leadership. In Rebecca Herz’s blog post “Museum Boards” from a few years ago, one of the former museum directors she talked with pointed out that “we need boards that can represent the range of communities served by our museums”. This is certainly true now as it was when this blog post was written. If we do not effectively represent our communities, then people within those communities will not see how museums can be valued. To be able to represent our communities, we need to start with a diverse museum board.

The best way to have a better understanding of how museum boards function is to take advantage of the opportunities to assist in projects that affect museum boards’ roles and to get to know your museum board members.

Have you been on a museum board? What is your experience like? If you work in a museum, how directly have you worked with board members? What have your experiences with boards been like?

Resources:
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
https://museumquestions.com/2013/11/18/museum-boards/
https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/its-the-board-stupid/

How Creativity is Necessary in the Museum

Originally posted on Medium, June 8, 2017.

What is Creativity? Why is it so important to have creativity in our practice as museum professionals? Questions like these two are what we ponder every day to fulfill our museums’ missions and our career goals. Creativity allows us to be able to express ourselves and provides another outlook on the world around us. Museum professionals especially need to express their creative sides to help their organizations continue to grow and adapt to their changing communities. This is not a new topic but we can always learn something new when we express our creative side. I learn a lot when I allow to express my creative side whether it is drawing, writing, or making projects; and I use my experiences inside and outside of museums to inspire me to create something different and sometimes the same subject from a different perspective.

Since I was young, I made various drawings of many things including animals and landscapes. As I developed my interests in museums, I began drawing museums I have been to and museums I have worked with. For instance, I drew the Butler-McCook House in Hartford, the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Noah Webster House in West Hartford, and Connecticut Historical Society. I drew many of these drawings from my own memory, and one was drawn using a photograph as reference. Also, I used either pens or pencils to make my drawings (depending on which utensil was available at the time). I learned to use my creativity to assist in my museum experience, and I continue to use references from books and professional development programs discussing creativity.

Connecticut Historical Society, pen, drawn 2015

  Noah Webster House, pen, drawn 2015

Stanley-Whitman House, pen, drawn 2014

Butler-McCook House, pencil, drawn 2014

One of the resources I used and continue to use is Linda Norris’ and Rainey Tisdale’s Creativity in Museum Practice to help me get inspired. Norris and Tisdale express the importance of allowing creativity to inspire work in the museum no matter which department they work from. In their book, they state that they believe “the daily life of museum workers behind the scenes both needs and deserves more attention in order for museums to reach their full potential.” Norris and Tisdale shared colleagues’ stories from across the museum field of what creative practices have worked for themselves and their museums. Also, they shared their own tips on how to jumpstart one’s creative practice using no-cost or low-cost activities. Throughout the book, Norris and Tisdale discuss many ways museum professionals can find creativity in their daily tasks, and use whatever inspiration they find in the environment they are surrounded by. The style of this book is written as both a textbook and a workbook to help museum professionals spark their own creativity.

Norris, Linda and Rainey Tisdale, Creativity in Museum Practice, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2014.

One of the professional development programs I participated in was a NYCMER workshop in October called “Exhibition Designs for Educators” at El Museo del Barrio. This program was an example of how educators can learn to express their creativity to design exhibits and programs simultaneously. There was a challenge in which we were not told what the object was, and we were expected to create an exhibit with an unknown artifact (what appeared to be a cement block). The group I worked with received the prompt to create this exhibit as a warm and friendly environment; we brainstormed various ways we could create the exhibit using the prompt. For more information about this activity, check out the post “Writing about Museum Education: Using Professional Development to Our Advantage.” By brainstorming together as a group, we were able to express our collective creative experience that led to the concept we designed.

“Exhibition Designs for Educators” Activity, October 2016

Creativity is especially used in museum education programs to not only entertain its audiences but to educate them on the subject matter of the museums’ expertise including but not limited to art, history, and science.

There are many examples of when I used creativity as a museum education professional. For instance, while I was working in historic house museums in Connecticut, I taught and assisted participants in making crafts and cooking recipes for school and camp programs. One of the crafts I helped kids make were cornhusk dolls during the summer camp program at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society which not only was a fun activity but they also learned about what kinds of dolls kids during the eighteenth century played with and created themselves to find ways to entertain themselves. I have also helped fifth grade students make apple pies and Irish-style mashed potatoes at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington. At Connecticut Landmarks Butler-McCook House, I helped kids create Samurai helmets out of gift wrap and yarn during the New Year’s Eve celebration, First Night Hartford. The Samurai helmet activity was inspired by the Samurai armor that the McCook family have in their old 18/19th century house; Reverend McCook and his daughter Frances traveled to many places on the way to and from China to visit another daughter Eliza, and one of the places they visited was Japan where he purchased the Samurai armor to bring back to Hartford.

One of the most recent examples include creating activities for kids to participate in during down time in school programs and during general tours at the Long Island Maritime Museum. I created activities such as cross word puzzles, word searches, matching games, and a scavenger hunt. To create these activities, I used information about the Long Island Maritime Museum and the maritime history it shares with its visitors. For instance, I created a crossword puzzle about one of the historic buildings on the museum’s property called the Rudolph Oyster House based on the information about the Oyster House and oyster business; the Rudolph Oyster House was built in 1908 by William Rudolph for his oyster company established in 1895, and it was used as an oyster culling and shucking house until 1947 and was acquired by the Long Island Maritime Museum in 1974.

Another example of activities I created was a breeches buoy search to teach participants the parts of the breeches buoy, an early contraption that pulled victims from shipwrecks, by writing down the names of the parts next to the corresponding letter (I included a word bank so they see the appropriate names). The next example of activities I created is a Name These Boats activity that challenges participants to use their memories of the boats stored in the museum’s Small Craft Building. I included a word bank to limit the possibilities, and participants would write down the name of the boat next to the photograph of a boat.

I also had the opportunity to observe a children’s program that the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson participated in. Children created sound-sandwiches for them to take home and play music on by blowing into them like harmonicas. The sound-sandwiches were made with tongue depressors, two pieces of straw, and rubber bands. To make them, one of the two tongue depressors needs a large rubber band wrapped around it from one tip to another; then the two tongue depressors and two small pieces of straw are tied together with smaller rubber bands at the ends. Sound-sandwiches can be adjusted until a humming or vibrating sound is heard. This was not only a fun activity for children to participate in but they also learned how to create sound by using the materials they were given.

Last weekend I created another exhibit for my childhood church to share the community’s summertime fun since the season would be around the corner soon and I wanted this exhibit to focus more on the parishioners as well as their interactions with the community around them. I included photographs from the Summer Festival the church participated in in 1975, and photographs from a Church picnic that took place by the beach in the 1960s. I also included bulletins that included announcements of activities planned for the summer, ways to get involved in the community, and current events to remind parishioners to be good Christians and learn more about the issues discussed as a result of events. I designed little suns to decorate the exhibit with to represent summer. This exhibit is an example of how creativity is especially useful during the exhibit design process.

Summertime Fun with Trinity exhibit, opened June 4, 2017

Tomorrow I am also participating in another professional development program about creativity, Creativity Incubator. It is a New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA)/ Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN) Partnership Program which encourages museum staff to test out experimental interpretive approaches through hands-on activities. I will travel to the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, New York where it is being hosted. Creativity will continue to be a significant part of our work as museum professionals, and we need to find ways to inspire creativity in our work and inspire creativity with our visitors.

What ways have you found to inspire creativity work for you? Do you have a favorite moment where you accomplished a creative project, museum-related or not? Have you been inspired by something outside of the museum field that helped you complete a project?