Sneak Peak of Member Post: Let’s Revisit Butler-McCook House Genealogical Research: Then and Now

March 30, 2021

When I was working at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House in Hartford, Connecticut, I contributed to an online literary journal, Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovery. Founded in the spring of 2013, its mission is to publish creative works inspired by objects and images of material culture contained in museums and elsewhere. One of my former co-workers at the time was a creator on the Journal at the time, and she asked me if I could write about the research I was doing about the Butler family and McCook family genealogy. As part of my responsibilities as an educator and an interpreter at the Butler-McCook House, I needed to review the information each staff member was given to learn and incorporate more into our educating experience. I remember that what inspired me to start this project was looking at the poster board of the Butler-McCook family tree Frances McCook (the last member of the family who lived in the house) worked on and was not completed. I decided to take a look and learn about the ancestors.

It has been a while since I wrote the original post, and I decided to revisit the project and post after all this time because it is one of my earliest projects that also focuses on women’s history. I thought it would be appropriate since this month, as I am writing this post, is Women’s History Month. Another reason I wanted to revisit this project is to share how I previously approached this the research and what I learned.

While I was working at the Butler-McCook House, one of the things I really appreciated was the women’s involvement in preserving not only their family history, but Hartford history as well. Frances McCook, who was part of the fourth generation of the family who lived in the house, had a passion for history and her efforts to preserving Hartford history is admirable.

Here are the links to learn more about the Butler-McCook House, Connecticut Landmarks, and the original post I wrote for Poor Yorick Journal back in 2016:

Butler-McCook House Genealogical Research: Then and Now on Poor Yorick

Connecticut Landmarks

Butler-McCook House

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Museum Memories: Connecticut Landmarks Historic Houses in Hartford

April 25, 2019

In previous blog posts, I started a series of posts sharing memories of museums I have worked at. This week I am continuing this series to share my memories at Connecticut Landmarks where I started to work from towards the end of graduate school to when I moved to Long Island. Connecticut Landmarks, originally known as Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, is a state-wide network of eleven significant historic properties that span four centuries of New England history. It’s mission according to their website is to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities. I worked as an educator and tour guide of two historic houses in Hartford, the Butler-McCook House & Garden and the Isham-Terry House.

The Butler-McCook House & Garden was home to four generations of a family who participated in, witnessed, and recorded the evolution of Main Street between the American Revolution and the mid-twentieth century. At this historic house, I sold admission, gave an introduction to the history of Hartford and the family who lived in the house, and provided a tour of the first and second floor of the house. There are a number of things I have enjoyed sharing about the house; for instance, there is a Bierstadt painting of an Italian village which reminded Reverend McCook and his wife of their honeymoon. Also, I loved sharing and listening to audio recordings of Frances McCook, one of Reverend McCook’s children, who shared memories of living in Hartford, in the house, and her family. Frances was the last living member of the McCook family who lived at the house, and she put in her will that the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society will own the house after her death. In the recordings, for instance, she talked about watching the snow come down with her siblings during the Blizzard of 1888.

In addition to sharing the information about the house with visitors, I also taught school programs, assisted with set up in gallery for monthly Cultural Cocktail Hour, and guided visitors through the garden during the Garden Gala. During my time at the Butler-McCook House, I was a part of the team that worked on revamping the tours by picking a theme of the house and researching the theme for a more engaging visitor experience. Each of us picked one theme to research on our own to present to the rest of the Connecticut Landmarks team, and I chose the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Hartford and the family.

The purpose of the theme I chose for a new tour was to show the Industrial Revolution had an impact on the city of Hartford especially on its residents including the Butlers and the McCooks. I chose five key objects that will support the theme and its purpose including Tall Case Clock which was made approximately 1750 by Benjamin Cheney, and this is an example of a locally made piece that was made before the Industrial Revolution to show the differences between craftsmanship and factory made items. Another example of a key object was the Mill Ledger C, 1818-1826 which was John Butler’s, one of the family’s ancestors’, ledger which recorded payments to men and women who labored in his paper mill; this revealed what the employees were paid for their labor in early industrial work. After selecting key objects, I chose key documents and photographs then created a tour outline highlighting the narrative relevant to the Industrial Revolution theme. While I worked at the Butler-McCook House, I also provided tours and worked programs for the Isham-Terry House.

Isham-Terry House, the lone survivor of a once vibrant Hartford neighborhood, is a time capsule of the genteel lifestyle of turn-of-the century Hartford once owned by the Isham family filled with objects of historical, artistic and family significance including antique furnishings, decorative arts, rare books, and the Terry clocks made famous by their great uncle Eli Terry. Like the Butler-McCook House, there are so many things that I found both interesting and enjoyed sharing with visitors. In this Italianate house, I loved pointing out the high ceilings not found in a lot of modern homes today and each room held numerous treasures that were well-preserved thanks to the two sisters  Julia and Charlotte Isham, who like Frances McCook left the house to the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society after they passed away. One of my favorite rooms was the library with so many books and an impressive fireplace; it once had the Isham’s pet bird that they once kept in their fridge after its death and the sisters decided one day to go to the cemetery to bury the bird with their family and have a picnic. Another room I admired was once a ladies’ sitting room that was converted into the sisters’ brother, Dr. Oliver Isham’s, doctor’s office, and once he died the sisters basically locked the door which meant it was for the most part preserved as it was while Dr. Isham was alive. While I was at Isham-Terry House, I not only gave tours of the house, I also assisted with holiday tours, and a lecture and tour for nursing students.

Both of these historic houses have unique stories to share and I recommend visiting these places if one has the opportunity to do so. These houses also are a part of my journey as a museum educator where I both learned a lot about the significance of local history and practiced what I have learned from graduate school in museum education, history, and historic preservation. Each experience I have had has taught me so much, and I hope to carry on the lessons I’ve learned through current and future endeavors.

Resources:

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/butler-mccook

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/isham-terry

Museum Memories: Connecticut’s Old State House

Added to Medium, February 7, 2019 

I recently have thought about the reasons why I started writing this blog, and one of those reasons was to remember my experiences in the museum field. Each museum I have worked for or done projects with has opened up doors for many opportunities to learn and grow in my career, and I thought that if I share some of my memories of these experiences another museum professional would be able to benefit from them. For this week, I decided to write about some of them at Connecticut’s Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut.

Me at Connecticut’s Old State House

The Old State House’s mission is to reawaken citizen engagement and awareness by offering an authentic, educational and inspiring visitor experience by putting ideas on display in historic rooms that celebrate democracy and citizenship from the past and present. While I was in graduate school earning my Master’s degree in Public History, I got the opportunity to complete an internship with Connecticut’s Old State House.

For one of my assignments, my classmates and I interviewed suggested professionals in the public history field and learn what we could about their experiences in the careers relevant to the interviewees’ career path. Then after we had the interviews we were to write about them and what we learned from their experiences. Since I expressed interest in the museum field as I started the graduate program, I decided to interview Rebecca Taber-Conover who is currently Head of Public Programs & History Day. I met her at the Old State House and asked her about her experiences in the museum field as well as any advice she could give me. At the end of the interview, she told me that there was an opening for an internship and I decided to join them for a summer internship for museum education.

On the first day of the internship, I joined the education team as they taught one of the last school programs of the school year. The school brought over a hundred students of varying grade levels between kindergarten and fifth grade and they were split into groups to explore the Old State House. The group I assisted the educator with was with kindergarten children. We helped the kids create spyglasses using paper towel tubes to use as part of the “I Spy” program where the kids can walk around the Old State House and point out what they “spy” in each room they visited.

During the rest of the internship, I sat in on staff meetings to find out what common questions were asked during tours we did not already have answers for and I used those questions to do research to answer them. I regularly visited the Connecticut State Library to do research, and recorded answers into the Google Doc so we would be able to answer them in the future. Also, in the meetings I also learned about the Farmer’s Market and what goes into planning it. According to the website, the goal of Connecticut’s Old State House Farmer’s Market is

to offer a variety of products from as many farmers and artisan vendors as possible within the available space. We are committed to offering a vibrant marketplace in downtown Hartford where local farmers and artisans can enjoy coming together with the community to share the “best” of what Connecticut has to offer!

At the Farmer’s Market, I handed out flyers for upcoming programs for Connecticut’s Old State House dressed in an eighteenth century style dress. One of the programs that I also sat in on and assisted with is called Conversations at Noon.

Conversations at Noon is a series that provides opportunities to hear about relevant topics about Connecticut history and current events during lunch time at the Old State House. For instance, a couple of the topics covered in previous conversations include “Did Hartford’s Constitution Plaza Hurt or Help the City?” and “Exploring Connecticut and the Slave Trade”. It is also aired on Connecticut Network (CT-N) and on their website. At the Conversations at Noon, I distributed the surveys on how to improve the quality of the series and collected them for review. I also provided tours for visitors during its open hours.

Each tour started with an introductory video that gives an overview of the history of the Old State House. Then once the video has ended I guided groups through unique exhibits including the Museum of Curiosities, and the historic rooms. The Museum of Curiosities started as a portrait studio by Reverend Joseph Steward inside the Old State House in 1796, and a year later a “Curiosity Room” was established which featured wonders and treasures around the world. Another favorite part of the tour was the statue of Lady Justice which was on top of the Old State House in 1827. Also during my internship, I developed a scavenger hunt for children to search for animals painted on the walls of the Education Center.

This internship was an important experience because it was at Connecticut’s Old State House where my passion for museum education developed and my career in museum education began. I am especially grateful for the experiences I had, the memories I developed, and the opportunities that led to where I am today.

What was your experiences like in your internships?

Resources:

Connecticut’s Old State House: https://www.cga.ct.gov/osh/default.asp

Connecticut Network: https://www.ct-n.com/

How Museum Can Gain Visitors’ Attention through Educational Programming: Homeschool and Other Non-Traditional Programming

Added to Medium, August 3, 2017

Museum educators prepare for the upcoming school year by not only preparing for school programs but also non-traditional education programs such as homeschool days and scout programs. As museum professionals, we recognize there are various groups interested in educational programming museums have to offer. Museums, however, need to continue to expand its offerings and spread the word to those groups to remain relevant for all visitors.
I have had some experience in education programs for non-traditional groups. It is without a doubt a different experience from school programs. At the same time, what all of these programs have in common were the ability to educate and engage students with the materials offered by museums.

Homeschool programming in museums vary depending on what museums offer to their visitors. For instance, my first experience educating homeschool groups was at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. There was one homeschool group that came to Noah Webster House, and the students participated in an educational program that was adjusted to accommodate the small homeschool group in one of the pre-existing school programs.

I later experienced working with homeschool students in Long Island Museum’s Homeschool Day program. In May of 2016, there was a Homeschool Day planned in collaboration with the Smithtown Historical Society. Individuals participating in the program were able to visit both places in the same day or choose which place to visit for Homeschool Day. The families signed up with either organization, and they made the decision on whether to visit both places or one of the places. At the Long Island Museum, homeschool students and their families participated in a couple of interactive activities in addition to touring the Museum’s campus. They learned about parts of a 19th century stagecoach, experienced what it was like to attend school in a one-room schoolhouse during the 19th century, and visited the Samuel West’s blacksmith shop. Meanwhile at the Smithtown Historical Society, those who visited the place visited the historic structures and learned how to write with scratch pens (later version of the quill pen).

Many museums created programs that appeal to homeschool students and the majority of these programs helped homeschool students as well as their teachers network with each other. During my research on homeschool programming, I discovered a number of museums that have different programs that welcomed homeschool students and families to their museums. For instance, the New York Historical Society developed the Homeschool Academy which is designed to supplement their curriculum with engaging lessons in their classrooms, studios, and galleries. Also, the Museum of Play had programs geared towards homeschool students.

The Museum of Play in Rochester, New York offer various opportunities and programs for homeschool students to engage with the interactive exhibit spaces. While homeschool students and their families can participate in the Museum’s homeschool activities and lessons aligned with state and national standards, they also have the option to register for school group lessons that can be adapted for homeschool students’ needs.

There are other places that participate in their own versions of Homeschool Day. For instance, the Intrepid Museum of Sea, Air, and Space has Homeschool Days that feature talks and discussions geared towards appropriate age ranges and abilities. Also, there are activities that include an educator-led tour of the Museum as well as a chance to explore various topics through our historic artifacts, photographs and demonstrations. Homeschool students and their families also have time to travel the museum on their own, and can participate in a self-guided scavenger hunt. In addition to the Homeschool Days, homeschool groups of 10 or more students are also invited to take part in the Museum’s K–12 school programs.

Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, New York also has Homeschool Days that include activities such as guided tours and scavenger hunts. Also, when they bring 25 or more students, homeschool families can explore the Museum’s galleries, see a Giant Screen film, and Planetarium Show in addition to attending museum classes. They are welcome to register for any of the museum classes; and the educator-led programs include active discussion, fun visuals, hands-on demonstrations and other related activities.

I also did some research on homeschool programs in Connecticut museums since the beginning of my career in museum education began in this state. One of the examples I found was the Children’s Museum in West Hartford where it has a program known as the Homeschool Series. The Series offers various days in February, March, April, and May which they are able to participate in programs related to science and nature. This museum offers programs that encourage families to engage in hands-on science instruction, inquiry-based learning activities, and cooperative learning opportunities.

The New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut has Homeschool Days that take place on second Mondays of every month between October and June. According to their site, each month features a different artistic element or medium, historical period, or special exhibit, using the galleries as the classroom. Homeschool students participate in inquiry-based learning and flex visual literacy skills with in-depth discussions of works of art, and sessions end with studio workshops that allow them to delve into the creative process.

Mystic Seaport also has Homeschool programs students and families can engage in during their visit. Their homeschool programs are a series of hands-on learning programs designed specifically for homeschoolers ages 4-13, adjusted for each age; each day of the program concentrated on one theme. Also, Mystic Seaport has Homecoming Community Sailing in which students practice boat handling and become familiar with the basics of water safety and wind.

Connecticut Historical Society has Homeschool Days, or events that give families the opportunity to enjoy engaging, educational workshops, tour our galleries, and connect with other homeschool families. There are short workshops on a variety of topics that are taught throughout the day; two Homeschool Days are scheduled at different parts of the year.

There are many museums and organizations that offer homeschool days and programming. While there are some differences, depending on what the museums’ offer, one of the things they have in common are how they offer interactive events that encourage participation in hands-on activities. These activities not only help homeschool students and families connect with each other but also assist with supplementing their education standards.

In addition to homeschool programs, there are other groups and programs that also encourage connecting with other people and engaging with the materials museums offer. Scout groups, for instance, are also drawn to visiting museums for their educational programs.

Boys and Girls Scout programs encourage them to be active members in their communities and part of these programs inspire them to earn badges that showed they accomplished a task and/or skill to move up a level in the program. Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and the Long Island Museum, for instance, have programs that are adjusted to meet the these organizations standards not only to allow participants to enjoy their visit but also earn the badges they needed for their programs.

Another example of other programming is family programs that connect them with other families and engage them with the hands-on activities. For instance, while I was at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, I worked during a program called Bookworm Adventures with storytelling as well as crafts and other hands-on activities. The particular theme I worked during was Dr. Seuss, and I assisted young children make green eggs of green eggs and ham using marshmallows and green covered chocolates. Meanwhile, the kids pinned a tail on the Cat in the Hat, played with toys, listened to Dr. Seuss’ stories, and made other crafts.

Museums have so many programs and resources to offer. By extending them to groups including homeschool students and scouts, we reach out to audiences that will have another place to interact with other people and take advantage of what we have to offer in educational programming.

What other museums or organizations have similar programs I discussed? Has your organization considered expanding programs like homeschool programs if it does not have a program already? If your organization has similar programming, please share the accomplishments and challenges your museum or organization accomplished.

To learn more about the programs I mentioned in this post, check these out:
http://www.nyhistory.org/education/homeschool
http://www.museumofplay.org/education/homeschool-students
https://www.intrepidmuseum.org/homeschool-days
http://www.cradleofaviation.org/education/homeschool.html
http://www.thechildrensmuseumct.org/programs/homeschool-programs/
http://www.nbmaa.org/classroom/11
https://www.mysticseaport.org/learn/k-12-programs/homeschool/
https://chs.org/education/home-school-day/

 

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?