Museum Impressions: New York Historical Society

July 11, 2019

This month’s Patron request was to share more of my impressions of museums I have visited. Each post I write describes what I saw at the museum and what I learned after my initial visit. I decided to share my experience visiting the New-York Historical Society in honor of their new exhibit that opened last week, Revolutionary Summer. Another reason I wrote about this museum is my husband and I visited New-York Historical during our honeymoon back in March. We wanted to see as much of the New-York Historical Society as we possibly could before we went to dinner and a show later. As a historian, I was in awe of how much was displayed in each exhibition and I admire their efforts to engage its visitors with the collections.

According to their website, the New-York Historical Society was established in 1804 as New York’s first museums. Its founders who lived through the American Revolution and the British occupation of New York believed New York’s citizens needed to take action to preserve eyewitness evidence of their own historical moments; they also believed if the evidence was left in the hands of private individuals then the collections would have the inevitable fate of obscurity. Today the New-York Historical Society offers visitors on-site and online a massive collection of art, objects, artifacts, documents, and an ongoing collecting program to facilitate a broad grasp of history’s enduring importance and its usefulness in finding explanations, causes, and insights. I noticed their efforts during the visit as I explored through the exhibits. My husband and I went to exhibits on the four floors of the New-York Historical Society.

One of the first exhibits my husband and I visited was the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps which featured one hundred illuminated Tiffany lamps from their collections. Each Tiffany lamp in the exhibit was displayed within a dark space mainly lit by the Tiffany lamps. I loved looking at each unique designs and patterns, and I also thought the exhibit was thought provoking by showing visitors the differences between a Tiffany lamp and a knock off. The display had two lamps that looked like each other and in the drawers below them there are pieces of lamps and descriptions that explain the differences between the Tiffany lamp and the knock off.

Another exhibit we visited was the Objects Tell Stories exhibit located in the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture. The exhibit featured treasures from their permanent collection which tell the story of New York and American history. Within the Center, there are themed displays in the North Gallery present a variety of topics including slavery, war, infrastructure, childhood, recreation, and 9/11. A lot of the displays had touchscreens and interactive kiosks to allow visitors to explore American history and engage with objects. I was impressed by how much they were able to fit into the space. If my husband and I were able to spend more time, I could easily spend at least a whole day in the New-York Historical Society.

When we visited the gift shop, I spoke with the staff and after I told them my background as a public historian they showed me the gift shop bags that had various questions on the outside of the bag for visitors and gift shop customers to ponder and answer. The bag also included a link to the answers that they can check. If you can visit the New-York Historical Society, I recommend going in a little earlier to fully explore the museum. As for me, I look forward to the next time I visit the Historical Society.

Resources:

https://www.nyhistory.org/

https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward

Museum Memories: Noah Webster House

May 23, 2019

Here is another entry for the Museum Memories series which are blog posts about my experiences working in the museums. This series began as a Patreon request to help support the blog and website.  In case if one is not aware of Patreon, it is a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service as well as ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or patrons. On my Patreon page, one can give requests for the next topic on the blog. To learn more, check out my Patreon page after reading this blog post; the link to the page is here: https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward.

The Museum Memories post this week is my experience at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in Connecticut. According to its website, the mission of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is to engage citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding. It is located in the restored 18th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster who was the creator of the first American dictionary and the Blue-Back Speller, a teacher, a lawyer, and early abolitionist. The Blue-Back Speller, also known as the Americas Spelling Book, was published for students to use in their classrooms to learn the alphabet and how to spell words. After meeting with the Director of Education and reuniting with a colleague from Connecticut’s Old State House who is now the Executive Director, I was brought in to work at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.

I began working at the Noah Webster House after I graduated from Central Connecticut State University with my Masters degree in Public History, and I continued to work at Connecticut Landmarks in addition to this position. I taught school programs in colonial dress that were on site and at schools in Connecticut. Museum Teachers who taught school programs at the Noah Webster House received a binder of lesson plans. When I started I utilized the binder to get background information to use in programs, and I followed veteran museum teachers for a few programs to see different ways they executed the programs. Also, I went through the clothing supplies to see which costumes would fit and once I found the right outfit I continued to wear it in each program I taught.

Before the school groups arrived, we discuss as a group what station each of us would like to start then each museum teacher is given a schedule with times we should spend at each station (that we adjust based on when the school groups arrive). At the start of each onsite school program, teachers, chaperones, and students are greeted by the museum teachers and Director of Education and they are introduced to what they should expect during the program. Then students are split into groups and are sent with each museum teacher to the station. During the program, we follow the rotation based on where we started and follow the route until we visited each room so we do not end up in the same room at the same time. What we teach in each room for the most part depended on what program is scheduled for that morning.

The programs I taught during onsite school programs at Noah Webster House that were the most popular were Sampler of Early American Life and A Day of Living History. In the Sampler of Early American Life program, students have the opportunity to explore the historic house and learn about colonial clothing, foods, and medicines, while also trying their hand at 18th-century “women’s” and “men’s” work in each of the rooms of the house. Teachers also have the opportunity to add on either the Colonial Schoolhouse or Hearth Cooking to their students’ experience. In the museum part of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, there is a reproduction of a one-room school house that each museum teacher including myself bring students in to talk about and demonstrate what going to school was like back in the 1700s. Also, we have a recreation of an 18th century kitchen we use to have students help create flatjacks and the museum teachers cook the flatjacks over the hearth.

In the A Day of Living History program, students research and play the roles of families who lived in Noah Webster’s neighborhood in 1774. When students arrive at the house, we each play a role of who they were back in 1774 and the museum teachers as their 18th century counterparts tell them that Mrs. Webster would like some help with chores to prepare for that day’s dinner (or lunch in the 21st century). The students moved around the house as they did chores, attended school, learned how to dance, play games, and cooked their lunches they will have at the end of the program. One of my favorite aspects of this program, and the Sampler program, is cooking over a hearth because it allows the students to see how their hard work pays off when they share what they made together; each group has the opportunity to add ingredients to vegetable stew and hoecakes, and churn butter to spread on top of the hoecakes.  Everyone, including teachers, museum teachers, and chaperones, gets an opportunity to try vegetable stew, hoecakes and butter. Also, I always got a kick out of playing my 18th century counterpart not only because I can work on utilizing my old acting skills but when I was assigned to the counterpart she was a 50 year old widow who took care of her son and his children; at the time I was in my 20s so the kids would always get confused when I talked about my grandchildren, and I would be laughing on the inside.

I also traveled to schools in Connecticut to teach pre and post visit programs so we would know how much the students know before coming and after their visit. Plus I taught a colonial  summer program that would last at least a week where kids learned colonial crafts, completed chores, cooked corn chowder, play games, explored Noah Webster’s house and garden, and learning about farm life at Westmoor Park including taking care of barnyard animals. My experiences have been valuable to me as I look back on my time at the House. I learned more skills including learning how to cook more recipes over a hearth and colonial dancing, and these skills I still remember today (it is good to know that if the power goes out and I don’t have a gas oven I will know how to cook over a fire).

If you have any questions about my experience, please contact me on my Contact page.

To learn more about the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, please visit their website.

Resources:

https://noahwebsterhouse.org/

https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward

Planning a Summer Program: My Experience Creating a Summer Camp Program

Added to Medium, August 2, 2018

On August 1st, I executed and implemented a test summer program for the Three Village Historical Society. I spent months with the rest of the Education Committee coming up with ideas for activities and coming up with a list of materials needed for the program. During those months, I developed the invoice, lesson plan, and evaluation forms for the program. While planning this program, I thought a lot about summer programming and the significance of keeping activity going in the museum during the summer.

 
Last year I discussed in a previous blog post about previous experiences with summer programs in museums. I included a link to the blog post “Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums” below which provided details about my experience at Connecticut’s Old State House, Connecticut Landmarks, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, and the Long Island Museum. I stated my plans with the Three Village Historical Society:
I also began working with Three Village Historical Society on education programs. Collaborating with the Director of Education and the Historian, I will work on school and kids summer programs. I look for inspiration from past programs Three Village Historical Society has taught, my own experiences, and the lessons I learned from professional development programs. Summer programs and the staff who develop them I have learned from my experiences provide opportunities for visitors to return for more programming. It is important to have it well advertised so more people will be able to know about these programs through outlets such as social media, newspaper ads, flyers, mailings, and/or a mixture of any of the previous methods. Also, it is important to develop a way to evaluate the programs to see what works and what needs to be improved on.
A few months ago, the plan I mentioned in last year’s blog post was put into action. As we planned and implemented the program, we found that there are things we could improve upon for future programs.

 
One of the first steps that were taken was to find a camp that is willing to participate in our test summer program. The Three Village Historical Society decided to ask Campus Camps in Oakdale to participate in the demonstration, and they accepted our invitation. I was put in charge of not only being the main person to maintain contact with Campus Camps but I was also put in charge of leading the activities. Both parties came to an agreement on the cost and number of participants for the program, and we determined that the program should last about two hours. Since this summer program is a test run, we decided to charge the regular rate for school programs but decided to revisit the summer program rates in the future.

 
During the initial process, I developed a couple of documents to put our agreements into writing and to allow program participants provide feedback for us to keep or make changes going forward. After we made the agreements for the amount of campers and rates, I drew up an invoice based on the historical society’s invoice set up for school programs and sent it to the director of Campus Camps. Then I created two different versions of evaluation forms for campers and counselors, and the rest of the Education Committee’s reviewed the forms so we would be able to determine what we want to take away from the evaluations so we should ask the right questions that will help us improve the program.

 
In the counselors’ evaluations, the first couple of questions asked them to provide a rating for their experience with the program and the educational value of the program. The third question asked the counselors to rate the staff and explain how the staff could be more effective while leaving the fourth question to have the counselors elaborate on their previous ratings. The last question asked the counselors to provide any suggestions or recommendations for improving the summer program.

 
In the campers’ evaluations, we asked them to describe what their favorite part of the visit was, what they were surprised about, and what they would like to learn more about. At the end of the sheet, they were also given an option to draw a picture or write a story about their favorite part of the trip. The evaluation forms were given to the counselors at the end of the program.

 
Once we had the evaluation forms developed, we were ready to develop the lesson plan to use as a guideline. The Education Committee met on a weekly basis to discuss ideas for activities focused on the Culper Spy Ring, and we came to a consensus on how this test program will be run. I took the notes I wrote down from our brainstorming and planning process to develop the lesson plan.

 
We decided to have the campers walk through the Culper Spy Exhibit and once they have walked through the campers will gather in the room to listen to the introduction. In the introduction, we would explain what the Culper Spy Ring is as well as who the spies were: Benjamin Tallmadge (who was in charge of the espionage ring), Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, and Anna Smith Strong. During this introduction, a brief explanation of what the campers would expect from the program is given. We have three stations to divide the campers into to participate in writing messages using invisible ink, creating clues to guess which Culper Spy they portray called Who Am I?, and solving codes. Each station has an opportunity to create their own presentations to share with the rest of the participating campers to see what they learned and discovered at the end of the program. The campers picked the names of stations out of a basket to help move the process along.

 
In the Invisible Ink station, campers would first practice writing with quill pens and lemon juice. While their first sample dried, campers would make predictions of whether milk, baking soda and water mixture, or lemon juice would work better for use as invisible ink. After making their predictions, the campers wrote messages using each method. As those messages dried, since I was in charge of this station, I would discuss invisible ink or sympathetic stain with the campers and demonstrate how pH pens worked on revealing messages. The campers then prepared poster boards for their presentations, and used an iron to reveal their hidden messages. Each camper had varying results since some found that baking soda worked better while others found lemon juice worked better. What each camper agreed was the heat worked better to reveal the hidden messages than the pH pens for the majority of the invisible ink methods.

 
In the Who Am I? station, the leader would explain why the Three Village Historical Society wanted a permanent display to be made so campers can contribute to the exhibit. The campers can choose from six characters who were involved in the Culper Spy Ring, pick and try on costumes, and pick related props for their characters. Once they picked their characters, they have an opportunity to practice out their clues and act as their characters.

 
In the Coding station, the leader would explain what coding is to the campers and then show a poster of a primary source document, Tallmadge’s Code. The campers received a copy of one of the original letters written by Abraham Woodhull and a dictionary code of Tallmadge’s Code to decode letter. Also, the leader would show campers other samples of types of codes and the campers would choose one to decode. Then the campers chose a code to write their own message with to have other campers attempt to decode.
We used the past couple of days earlier in the week to prepare for the program. The Director of Education and myself went in to the Three Village Historical Society to set up the costumes and props, the invisible ink section, and the coding sections. Then we left the rest of the preparation for the morning of the program.

 
On the day of the program, we tested our flexibility skills when we executed and implemented the program. As the campers came in, the campers were older than we initially believed they would be so we made last minute adjustments to each of the stations, and we added a trip to the nearby cemetery at the Presbyterian Church so the campers could visit Abraham Woodhull’s grave. Overall, the campers as well as the counselors seemed to enjoy the visit, and we had a blast working with the group. The Education Committee will meet again to compare notes and see what we can do to develop the summer program further as we look to the future.

 
Have you planned a summer program in the past? What were your experiences like?
Resources:
Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-9v
Three Village Historical Society: http://www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org/

What is the Benefit of Museum Partnerships?

Added to Medium, February 9, 2018

In previous blog posts, I have talked about how important it is for museum professionals to collaborate. Museums can also benefit in forming partnerships to work on projects to bring in more visitors and awareness to our organizations. We can learn a lot from each other on how to draw visitors’ attentions. I was inspired to write about museum partnerships based on my recent experience in meeting with another museum professional and planning visits between two museums. Also, I saw various articles written about partnerships formed for greater purposes for the community.

The articles I came across pointed out that partnerships come in different sizes and ways for their community. Seema Rao has talked about different types of museums and how there is potential for museums to create partnerships that will benefit all parties. Also, museums can also come together to promote their programs, lectures, exhibits, and other events to discuss the importance of art and technology. Another article I came across was an article in an early childhood educators’ journal that discussed why museums are beneficial for young children and how early childhood educators can utilize museums’ services.

In her article, called “What Can Museums Learn from Each Other”, Seema Rao pointed out that in order to maintain and increase audience members “museums of all kinds should be looking to others to see what is working.” Rao discussed what art and science museums have to offer, and the benefits of having art and science museums work together. She stated that “Art museums have already seen the power of interactives, and environmental installations. Science museums could learn from art museums on ways to draw adults.” While there is potential for art and science museums to collaborate, there is also potential for history museums can also learn from art and science museums on drawing more visitors into our organizations.

History and historic house museums assimilate art and science topics in their programs especially school programs. When I worked in history and historic house museums, I have taught school programs that talked about what paintings can tell us about what life was like in the 19th century. Also, in historic house museums specifically I have taught students how to cook 18th century recipes by using mugs since there were no measuring cups to accurately measure ingredients for a chemical reaction. Museums can form partnerships to learn from each other about bringing visitors in and sharing knowledge about topics.

As an Education Committee member at the Three Village Historical Society, I joined the rest of the committee to visit a museum in Connecticut to see what they had about volunteering and the exhibits they have in their spaces including a small section about the Culper Spy Ring. We met with the Director of Education who showed us around as well as answered questions we had about volunteers and developing volunteer programs. We continue to make connections with the museum to share with them our resources about the Culper Spy Ring.

Museums can also come together for educational purposes such as the relationship between art and technology.

There are fourteen Boston-area arts and culture institutions are teaming together to show how technology has affected our relationship to art. Each of these organizations planned a series of exhibits and panels between now and July. For instance, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum has an exhibit called ‘Cool Medium: Art, Television & Psychedelia, 1960 – 1980’ through March 11th; the exhibit explores color television’s relationship to art of the era and its connection to mind-altering substances and spirituality. In Tufts University’s Art Galleries, artist Jillian Mayer creates furniture specifically designed to support human bodies as they interact with cellphones, tablets and computers.

Museums can be appealing to all ages especially young children, and partnerships between museums and early learning institutions recognize they can help children reach their full potential. The NAEYC, an organization that promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research, publishes a journal series called Young Children and one of their editions talked about the importance of creating partnerships with museums.

In the March 2016 edition of Young Children, an article called “Creating Meaningful Partnerships with Museums” discusses why museums are beneficial for both young children and early childhood educators. They argued that museums have much to offer young children, and described in detail how children at various age levels including but not limited to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers benefit from what museums offer.

According to Sarah Erdman, who wrote the article, teachers working with infants have seen firsthand how babies respond to stimulus such as high-contrast objects and bold images. By bringing infants to museums, they would be exposed to museum collections which have a wide variety of sizes, colors, textures, and movement. Also, museum exhibits can help advance language development and teachers are encouraged to talk to babies using rich and varied vocabulary. Finally, museums can be flexible in giving time for infants and their adults to interact with exhibits and because of this they may be explored at a time and pace suitable for infants and often have spaces set aside for baby care.

The article also discussed how toddlers can benefit from interacting with museums exhibits and programs. Museums can speak directly to a toddler’s ability to connect with concrete objects, and the variety of objects can also help toddlers understand that familiar objects such as houses can come in many shapes and sizes. Like infants, toddlers need flexibility and museums are able to accommodate for teachers to create experiences that work for their classes.

As a museum professional who is working in a children’s science museum, Erdman’s arguments are to my knowledge accurate since kids at the Maritime Explorium learn STEM lessons through hands-on activities and events. The Maritime Explorium’s preschool program, Little Sparks, shows children how fun learning can be while they develop the skills they need to reach their full potential.

We should continue to reach out to other museums and organizations to keep our institutions going strong.

What examples of museum partnerships have you experienced or read about? What benefits and challenges have you faced when maintaining partnerships?

Resources:
https://brilliantideastudio.com/art-museums/what-can-museums-learn-from-each-other/
www.wbur.org/artery/2018/02/07/art-tech-collaboration-exhibitions
https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2016/creating-meaningful-partnerships-museums