History Camp America: A Public Historian’s Experience during Virtual History Conference

July 29, 2021

History Camp America platform

        Earlier this month I attended History Camp America, which was their first national History Camp virtual conference. It is produced by The Pursuit of History, a non-profit organization that engages adults in conversation about history and connects them with historic sites in their communities, and across the country through innovative in-person and online programming. There were more than 45 sessions that included but were not limited to presentations, historic site tours, history walks, culinary history demonstrations, trivia, and yoga. According to their website, this conference is designed to be a casual conference for adults, teenagers and children that are students, teachers, professors, authors, bloggers, reenactors, interpreters, museum and historical society directors and board members, genealogists, and everyone else, regardless of profession or degree, who is interested in and wants to learn more about history.

         Like previous virtual conferences, they were hosted on platforms designed to run their conferences; History Camp used the event automation Pheedloop which made organizing conferences, meetings, and trade shows easy with event management software that powers everything from mobile apps, registration, touch-free check-in, and live streaming, to floor plans, sponsors, badge printing, and networking since 2015. I decided to attend History Camp this year after I discovered their website because I wanted to learn what a conference that is not hosted by a museum association would be like to experience. I also wanted to participate in something that appeals to my interested in history and that is different from professional development programs I have attended in the past.  It is also important for history and museum professionals in the field to see how people are currently studying history and how they are interpreting history since the history and museum field are discussing the 250th commemoration of American Independence and a part of the discussion about the commemoration is to work on helping the people learn how to do history, in other words how to do their own historical research of the communities they live in. The following are a sample of sessions I attended during History Camp America.

        One of the sessions I attended was Saunkskwa, Sachem, Minister: native kinship and settler church kinship in 17th and 18th-century New England led by Lori Rogers-Stokes, an independent scholar of 17th-century New England and the author of Records of Trial from Thomas Shepard’s Church in Cambridge, 1683-1649: Heroic Souls (published by Palgrave Macmillan). Rogers-Stokes shared her work in process research by discussing the political records and Congregational church records from 17th-century Massachusetts. Her presentation focused on sharing the similarities and differences she found on how the Algonquin people and English colonists defined and valued kinship; she revealed that, according to her research, the puritan church defined kinship in a similar way to indigenous kinship which led her to believe there was a potential connection that could have been a fruitful common ground for cooperation and respect but was unfortunately lost.  I thought the content was interesting and I chose to attend this session because I wanted to expand my knowledge on indigenous history; while the session focused on comparing the Algonquin people and English colonists views on kinship, it is an introduction to the Algonquin culture and history. I look forward to hearing about her completed work on this research.

         Once that session was complete, I moved on to a short spotlight session introducing The Daily Bellringer created by Jared Bruening. The Daily Bellringer provides short video overviews of U.S. History topics, and they are designed to be used for grades 5-12 as warm-ups, reviews, or introductions to content. I will go more in depth about The Daily Bellringer in a future post. This was not the only spotlight that occurred during History Camp America.

         There was also a spotlight on History Dame created by Larisa Moran who is a history blogger and creator of History In Under A Minute©. History In Under A Minute is a series on YouTube that discusses a variety of topics in history in less than a minute.  She is also a volunteer with The Pursuit of History and regional editor for The History List, the platform historical societies, historic sites, and other organizations use to attract and engage visitors and members through things including but not limited to listings of programs and exhibits, and resources for organizations of all sizes that provide research, tool, and insight to support history programming across the country. I will also explore more of History Dame in a future post.

        Another session I attended was “Thrown into the pits”: how were the bodies of the nineteen hanged Salem “witches” really treated? and the speaker was Marilynne K. Roach, author of The Salem Witch Trials: a Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, and Six Women of Salem. She is a member of the Gallows Hill Group that verified the location of the hangings, a discovery Archaeology magazine hailed as one of 2016’s top ten discoveries in the world. Roach discussed her experience taking a closer look at the court records that may disprove assumptions of what happened to the bodies of those hung during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. I thought this was an important session to attend not only because of my interest in Salem’s history but this is an example of why historical research is significant. Popular accounts starting with 19th century historian Charles Upham’s statement that the deceased were “undoubtedly all thrown into pits dug among the rocks” were usually based in available resources or lack thereof, and when records are discovered the interpretation begins to change to reflect what the primary sources state about moments in history such as the Salem Witch Trials.

       During lunch, there was a demonstration and a short session that focus on the history of food. In this demonstration, Chef Justin Cherry cooked a recipe for crab cake in Dressed Crab – An Early American Favorite and participants had access to the recipe so they could follow along making their own crab cake. Chef Justin Cherry is the Chef/Owner of Half Crown Bakehouse which is a mobile 18th-century clay oven that specializes in colonial foodways. The recipe he used during the demonstration came from a manuscript written by Anne Chase in 1811; Anne Chase was the daughter of Samuel Chase, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I thought it was interesting since not only participants learn more about history, but they can also prepare their own crab cakes as they watch. To my memory, I have not participated in a demonstration like this one before.

      In the next demonstration, Sarah Lohman shared photographs and discussed the history of soda fountains in Soda Fountain Favorites. Sarah Lohman is a culinary historian and the author of the bestselling book Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, and she focuses on the history of food as a way to access the stories of diverse Americans. She focused her presentation on food history in New York and provided recipes of the classic sodas she talked about so participants can make them at home. Lohman shared stories behind some of the favorite fountain drinks including the egg cream and the popularity of seltzer, Dr. Brown’s Soda (specifically Cel-Ray), the Lime Rickey, and the Purple Cow. During the session, I recalled the first time I tried an egg cream when I first visited my then boyfriend (now husband) on Long Island.

        After attending the sessions live, I decided to take advantage of the recorded sessions so I can revisit the sessions and listen to other sessions that I did not attend on the day of the conference. I included a pdf file of the itinerary History Camp released to provide an idea of topics that were discussed, tours given, and demonstrations performed. I will also elaborate in future posts about other sessions I attended and tours of historic sites I participated in.

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Links:

A Public Historian Explores History Camp

History Camp

Pheedloop

The History List

History Camp America Session Schedule

NYCMER 2020: A Virtual Conference Experience

May 14, 2020

This past week I participated in the annual New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference. I previously wrote about past experiences with the NYCMER conference in which I discussed not only the content presented and discussed but also about the locations each conference took place. It was different this year since we are in the middle of a pandemic, and the conference was moved to a virtual platform. The conference was free to attend with the option to donate money to receive NYCMER merchandise based on the tier level chosen. One of the ways NYCMER was able to transition as quickly as possible to move the conference to the virtual platform was, they found a computer platform that was specifically designed to host virtual conferences. NYCMER and the conference committee used Hopin, the first all-in-one live online events platform made for any size where attendees can learn, interact, and connect with people from anywhere in the world, to host this year’s conference.

When I first registered for the conference, I was not entirely sure how the conference is going to be held in the digital platform. I watched a ten-minute introduction video to the Hopin computer app, and was impressed with how much we would be able to do; to summarize the video, participants would be able to do what we usually did during the conference, including attending the keynote session, sessions, poster sessions, Peer Group meetings, and networking, but from home. Since we were exploring a new way of interacting with one another, it was not going to go smoothly. Every now and then there were some technical difficulties, but we all moved passed them. On the morning of the conference, I used my personalized link to log on and joined the rest of my colleagues.

I attended the Keynote session, and this year’s Keynote Speaker was Chloe Bass who is an artist and public practitioner, and the author of the book Art as Social Action: An Introduction to the Principles and Practices of Teaching Social Practice Art. Bass’s speech was a very inspiring and on point to what we are going through during this pandemic. One of the takeaways from her speech that I especially found to be important is to think about our staying away from others as “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” since we can still communicate with one another without being physically in the same space; also she pointed out that “social distancing” implies that we should not be communicate with and be kind to one another. Then we went into our sessions in the Sessions section of Hopin.

As usual it was hard to decide which session I wanted to attend but I remembered that as a NYCMER member I would have access to resources from each session, and this year NYCMER members will also have access to all of the session recordings. In the end, I decided on sessions that not only interested me but ones I thought my professional skills will need improvement on. The sessions I chose were: Using Theatrical Techniques to Engage Your Audiences, History Engages Science: Connecting history and STEM programming, Addressing Absence: Telling the Stories of Underrepresented Groups, and Beyond the Walls: Museum Educational Programs in the Digital Space.

In the Using Theatrical Techniques to Engage Your Audiences session, participants including myself learned some best practices from professionals who use these techniques at their museums to encourage more effective engagement with their audiences. The speakers in this session were Erin Salthouse (Access Educator at the Intrepid, Sea, Air, and Space Museum), Elysia Segal (Lead Teaching Artist at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum), Julia Butterfield (a Program Associate at Historic Hudson Valley), and Maggie Weber (Director of Education of The Old Stone House of Brooklyn). They broke down the session into three sections describing what is a theater in museums, museum theatre performances, and third person living history. Museum Theatre is a live interpretive presentation with performers who engage visitors by portraying characters and conveying a story or dramatic narrative; when developing a program, they stated that it is important to keep in mind the age of your audience, the topic, style, format, and accessible. Third person living history means that the staff does not pretend to be characters from history, or anyone documented as living at the site. Also, they described process drama which allows students to be in the roles to learn empathy as well as being empowered by the decision-making process. In addition to the previously listed, they pointed out how theatrical skills can help every educator especially by using skills every museum educator can use: tone, volume, body language, et. cetera.

In the History Engages Science: Connecting history and STEM programming session, it was aimed to inspire connections and new ideas. The session speakers were Samantha Hartford (Miller/Historian in the NJ Morris County Park Commission) and Erich Morgan Huhn (Education Assistant at Historica Speedwell in Morristown, NJ). They broke down the way we approach both history and STEM, then took a look at ways these fields can overlap in effective programming and even collaborate to build something new. Both of them shared examples from their respective organizations that used both history and STEM to educate school, homeschool, scout, senior, and adult groups. Also, the conclusions they made were that incorporating STEM in programs allows museums to explore beyond the site, STEM connections are always appreciated but rarely sought at a historic site, and that living history, demonstrations, hands-on, and other types of education programs can sneak STEM in.

In the Addressing Absence: Telling the Stories of Underrepresented Groups sessions, participants including myself learned how educators at the Whaling Museum and Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor and the South Street Seaport Museum addressed these absences by developing new programs that told the stories of women and African-Americans through new programs. The speakers were Brenna McCormick-Thompson (Museum Educator at the Whaling Museum and Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor, NY) and Rebecca Manski (an independent educator currently based at the South Street Seaport Museum and Social Justice Tours). Both speakers talked about how they worked to refocus the narrative to include women more in the whaling industry narrative and African Americans more in the South Street waterfront narrative. McCormick-Thompson, for example, explained that by not telling women’s stories we lose the idea of what the economy was like in the whaling community since they were the ones who stayed behind to run their husbands businesses and fill their roles in advisory boards while they were out on the sea.

Also, both speakers split the participants into three separate groups (by providing links to two separate session spaces to split over 100 people into smaller groups by birthday month) to discuss the following questions: How can things change in society when we reintroduce these stories? What are the things stopping us? How can we effectively engage audiences? By discussing these questions, we begin to think about how we can create more inclusive programs and be able to share ideas to take steps towards creating new programming in our own museums and sites.

Between sessions in the morning and afternoon, we had opportunities to participate in networking, poster sessions, and peer group meetings. The Hopin conference platform has a networking section that allowed us to click on a connect button that selects a participating individual at random to connect with others at the conference. However, the challenge was to keep within a certain time limit that first began with a two-minute limit then it continued to increase after a number of participants told conference organizers that they kept getting cut off mid-sentence.  The poster sessions were numerous case studies that discussed various topics in museum education, and we were invited to hop around in the Expo section of Hopin to listen to each one. Also, the peer group meetings this year were split into two booths: one was a video overview of the Peer Groups and the other was NYCMER Secretary & Peer Group Liaison, Sierra Van Ryck deGroot will be on hand to answer questions. After the break, we went to the last sessions of the day.

I chose to attend the Beyond the Walls: Museum Educational Programs in the Digital Space session that explored whether and how the physical “third space” of the museum can shift online from the perspective of the Bronx Museum, which is a small museum with very little digital presence until March. The speakers were Nell Klugman (Education Programs Manager at the Bronx Museum of the Arts) and Patrick Rowe (Director of Education at the Bronx Museum of the Arts). Klugman and Rowe described what their programs were like before the pandemic and converting to the virtual platform. After describing their programs that involved teens in interviewing artists, designing graphics for posters, and participating in art programs on anti-gun violence campaign, the speakers revealed how they adapted existing programs to the online platform and keep teens involved in the existing programs they were previously involved in before the pandemic. Also, they led an interactive discussion of how best to share resources, reach communities, and achieve goals during the COVID-19 pandemic and the future beyond it. Once the last sessions ended, we went back to the Stage section of the Hopin platform for concluding thoughts and thanking everyone involved in setting up this year’s NYCMER conference.

While I missed being able to meet with colleagues in person, I liked that we were still able to have the conference in the virtual platform. Also, the number of individuals who have signed up for the conference had doubled compared to the previous year; normally about 250 people attend the conference in New York City and this year over 500 people have registered for the conference (with more on a waiting list). There were more individuals outside of the New York area who have attended the conference. They came from places including but not limited to Texas, Arizona, San Francesco, California, Chicago, Illinois, et. cetera. Also, there were individuals from England and Canada attending the conference, according to the president and vice president of NYCMER. Even though I would like to attend NYCMER in person once again, if it is decided to do another virtual conference, I would be happy to attend to connect with more museum professionals.

Links:

Hopin Demo

Hopin

https://nycmer.org/2020-conference/

2020 NYCMER Conference Program

NYCMER 2019

NYCMER 2018