Museums and Technology: Moving Forward into the Digital World

Added to Medium, January 24, 2019

Technology is continuing to be innovative, and museums do what they can to catch up with the latest to attract more visitors. Museum visitors have tons of access to technological items including but not limited to phones, computers, iPads, and laptops. There is also a number of technological advances that we don’t even realize we use on a regular basis such as radio frequency identification (RFID) found on E-Z Passes that help make commuting faster and non-humanoid robots. As our society makes technological advances, museum professionals need to educate themselves about what is out there for their own benefit and for the visitors they serve within their museums.

Museums have varying budgets and spaces available to use on technology. To take advantage of the ever changing technology, we need to figure out what interactive technology should be add to the museum and used by the visitors. There are advantages and challenges museums need to consider when integrating technology and interactive media. In American Alliance of Museums’ article “New Directions in Interactive Media for Museums” it stated that

The challenges of integrating interactive media into the museum experience are manifold. New technologies can engage but also potentially alienate museum visitors who have different cultural backgrounds and varying degrees of knowledge about the art form, history, and ideas involved. But at its best, interactive media that balances the creativity of right-brain thinking with the deductive logic of left-brain analysis can help with the intuitive discovery of unexpected connections and create newfound meaning.

As museum professionals, we should consider the advantages and challenges of incorporating interactive media in our museums and figure out how the technology will benefit potential visitors. Technology literacy is important for museum professionals not only to help visitors engage with programs, exhibits, and what else our museums have to offer but it is important for promotions and other important administrative work to keep our museums running.

The article “Museums and AI: Could Robots Be Your New Coworkers?” gave a couple of reasons why it is important for museum professionals should understand the landscape of Artificial Intelligence:

First, these corporate tools affect every patron of every museum, so ignorance of AI is poor business practice. Museum professionals can make exemplary exhibitions and labels, but without understanding the impact of AI systems on patrons accessing information, we could find ourselves with a dampened reach. Every moment, from the first awareness of the museum, to walking into the building, to likes on the patron’s Facebook post, is affected by AI.

If we remain ignorant of technology, museums will not be able to remain relevant in a changing society. Museum professionals should take the time to learn about how to utilize the available technology, and when we have professional development programs we should take advantage of learning from these programs as we move forward in museums’ futures.

Professional development opportunities not only help museum professionals learn about recent innovations but museum professionals also utilize new innovations to participate in professional development opportunities. For instance, there are podcasts about museums and historic sites from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH); they have recordings from past conference sessions and livestream current conference sessions. American Alliance of Museums has Museopunks, a podcast for the progressive museum. Each month, host Suse Anderson investigates the work and personalities in and around the museum sector. I will leave these questions up for discussion:

How do you feel about the digital world in the museum? Are we too dependent on technology or are we not taking enough advantage of it?

Resources:

https://www.aam-us.org/2019/01/11/interactive-media-for-museums/

https://soundcloud.com/aaslh-podcasts  

https://www.aam-us.org/programs/about-museums/museopunks/

https://hhethmon.com/2018/08/31/3-reasons-your-museum-should-start-a-podcast/

https://www.aam-us.org/2018/12/26/museums-and-ai-could-robots-be-your-new-coworkers/

https://www.geniusstuff.com/blogs/10-everyday-technologies-you-dont-realize-you-use.htm

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

 

Patron Request: History and Museums Interpreted Through Children’s Media

Added to Medium, August 10, 2018

On my Patreon page, patrons can ask me to write about varying topics to be posted and shared from my website. There have been a few posts I have written based on patron requests including one about the concept of history repeating itself, people’s experiences during the Great Depression, and my impressions of Plimoth Plantation. If you want to support my website, please visit my Patreon page and as a supporter you can send requests for future posts, receive access to Patreon-only book reviews, and more!

This week’s patron requested post is about museums and history being interpreted in children’s media such as books and television shows. By using children’s media to discuss history and museums, adults have the opportunity to introduce history and museums to a whole new generation to emphasize the significance of preserving and protecting history and our resources to connect with the past with our present. We are lucky that there are many different resources for children to learn more about history and museums. Because there are so many to go through, I decided to focus on books and television shows that I came across recently then give my impressions of the mediums. I also included a list of other television shows and books I came across while researching for this blog post.

Children’s television shows provide educational programming to help young kids understand the world around them and encourages them to ask questions so they can learn more about what they see on television. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) kids shows are great example of broadcasting children’s shows that are both fun and educational. One of those shows, one that I grew up watching, was Mr. Rogers Neighborhood hosted and created by Fred Rogers. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood talked about different subjects between 1968 and 2001, from everyday fears related to going to sleep, getting shots to losing a loved one to death. He used talking directly to the children, simple songs, and segments from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to get his points across. Also, Mr. Rogers would use a picture frame to take a closer look at various events such as showing children how crayons are made.

In the second season seventh episode Mr. Rogers introduces the episode by telling the audience (or kids) he is taking them to an art gallery . Before they leave, he shows the viewers a couple of paintings from post cards they will be able to see there, and reminds them to look and listen carefully when they visit the gallery in a museum. In other words, as one looks at the paintings they should listen to the thoughts and questions they have about the paintings they see. At the Neighborhood Art Gallery, they meet Bae Jetson who shows them paintings and Mr. Rogers talked with Bae about what he observes in each painting such as what is going on in the painting itself and who painted each one. For instance, in a painting of a farm the artist grew up on Mr. Rogers kept talking about how he could look at the painting all day because there is so much going on in one painting. This episode shows children what it is like to observe paintings in the gallery space. It encourages children to use their imaginations to see what may be going on in a painting, and reveals that there are so many different types of paintings made by many artists and even one artist can create different types of painting.

What I also like about the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood episode was that Bae Jetson pointed out something that we are talking about and making sure people understand even today: museums are for everyone. Museum professionals like myself have been working on ways how we can show individuals we are a part of the community and everyone in the community should have the opportunity to have access to what we offer in our museums.

Not all children’s television shows focusing on history and museums were as impressive to me. Most recently I discovered a show on Netflix called The Who Was Show, a sketch comedy and history program in which a character named Ron played by Andy Daly who interacts with a group of teenagers and it is interspersed with historical vignettes and narrated by H. Jon Benjamin. The show is based on the Who Was…? book series published since 2003. I saw the first four episodes of the thirteen episodes aired, and it was hard for me to get through them as well as continue watching the rest of them. While I knew that I am not the target audience for the show, it is not a show that I would recommend even to the children that are part of the target audience since it talks down to its viewers with their “lessons”. Even though I liked that it shared information about historical figures and attempted to compare and contrast each of them, the show is too formulaic and shoves the lessons and jokes in the viewers faces. For instance, in the first episode they compared Benjamin Franklin and Gandhi by pointing out that they were both bald and stood up against British oppression then proceeded with forced sketches, and at the end of each episode had a “what we learned today?” and an animated press conference talking to the historical figures about what they liked the most about being on the show and what a great show it was if they have not hammered that fact in enough throughout each episode. It tries too hard to convey the idea that history is cool, and I believe it is not the best way to retain the audience’s attention.

A similar show I grew up watching also used sketches to convey information about historical events and figures but did so in a way that did not seem to be forced down the audience’s throats. The show Histeria! aired on Kids WB in the United States between 1998 and 2000, and it derived most of humor from its slapstick comedy and satire, and had the distinction of combining historical figures and events. Unlike the Who Was Show, it did not feel like they were forcing the idea that history is cool and that it is a great show. It did not need to talk about what a great show it is and that history is cool because these ideas were already conveyed through the sketches, songs, and other segments. Television is not the only medium children could learn about history and museums.

Books have been used long before televisions were invented, and would continue to be used to help children learn especially about history and museums. I discovered in recent years the I Survived series of books mainly written by Lauren Tarshis which talked about various historical events and disasters that fictional characters went through. I read I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 on a recommendation by one of the Education Committee members at the Three Village Historical Society. The book is about an eleven year old boy who found himself in the middle of the battlefield during the American Revolution fighting against the British. It is not only an easy read for children but it also provided an insight that introduces the reader to what the American Revolution was in our history.

There are also numerous books that either featured museums or were centered around museums. One of the books I came across was A is for Artist: A Getty Museum Alphabet by John Harris which shares details from paintings on display at the Getty Museum used to illustrate the alphabet; one example is I is for Iris painted by Van Gogh. Harris’s book could be easily used as a guide to the Getty Museum by looking for the details printed for each letter. Another example of a children’s book about museums is Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen. Hopkins’ selections captures childhood curiosity, and translates their questions and musings about museum objects into verse. Also, there are poems that speak to fascinating artifacts such as fossils, mummies, and dinosaur skeletons. There are also more recommended books for children about museums in the list from the National Endowment for the Arts blog.

What books about history and museums have you come across that children enjoy? How do you feel about television programs for children that educates them about history?

Resources:
National Endowment for the Arts: https://www.arts.gov/art-works/2015/childrens-books-about-museums
Mister Rogers Neighborhood: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5itxry
https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Museum-Childrens-Guide-Metropolitan/dp/0810925613
https://www.amazon.com/Survived-American-Revolution-1776-15/dp/0545919738/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1533872776&sr=8-2&keywords=i+survived+bookshttps://www.amazon.com/Survived-American-Revolution-1776-15/dp/0545919738/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1533872776&sr=8-2&keywords=i+survived+books
https://isurvived.scholastic.com/
https://mommypoppins.com/kids-books-nyc-museums-childrens-books-moma-metropolitan-guggenheim
https://www.amazon.com/History-Historical-Fiction-Childrens-Books/b?ie=UTF8&node=2917
The Who Was Show: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7488702/
Histeria!: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0175738/
https://www.workingmother.com/content/8-historical-tv-shows-kids
https://www.travelchannel.com/shows/mysteries-at-the-museum
Patreon Request: Museum Impressions, Plimoth Plantation: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-qa
Patron Request: Does History Repeat Itself? A Discussion About This Concept: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-rV
Patron Request: People’s Experiences during the Great Depression: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-rA

 

The Past is in the Past? A Closer Look into Public History

Added to Medium, March 22, 2018

As a museum professional with a Master’s degree in Public History, recent discussion in the public history field has captured my attention. One of the reasons why I decided to write a little more about public history this week is because I came across Taylor Stoermer’s “Let It Go: The Exceptionalist Narrative in American Public History” on Medium. Stoermer is a Museum Studies (Public History) lecturer at Johns Hopkins University. After reading his article, I thought more about my experience in public history and the lessons I’ve learned especially while I was earning my Master’s degree at Central Connecticut State University.

Stoermer’s “Let It Go” article briefly discussed internal issues museums face including equitable pay schemes, governance development, and better attention to the modern needs of emerging museum professionals in the economy. His article focuses more on external issues especially the disconnection between the America we see outside of our museums and the one that many of our sites represent.

He provided examples of tough issues museum professionals have always had a hard time discussing but are making progress in being awareness to these issues. According to the article, he stated that

Slavery and race have always been thorny issues for interpreters, but tremendous progress has been made to help them tell the stories of enslaved peoples, to accurately and effectively weave them throughout a site’s narrative (and maybe point out that race doesn’t really exist except as a cultural construct). Programs only for Black History Month, like those for Women’s History Month, just don’t cut it anymore, as the penny has finally dropped for museum directors that every month is for black and women’s (and LGBTQ) history (check out Old Salem’s “Hidden Town” project). But larger institutions are slowly, but surely, recognizing their responsibilities as stewards to smaller, satellite sites, in providing workshops and interpretive resources to create a rising tide that lifts all museum boats. The upcoming Mount Vernon/American Alliance of Museums program on museum leadership and the Montpelier/National Trust for Historic Preservation’s recent National Summit on Teaching Slavery are solid examples. We’re not yet where we need to be in those respects, but progress is being made.

It is true that we are not there yet and that progress is being made in discussing slavery and race. We should also acknowledge what smaller institutions are doing to provide workshops and interpretive resources. For instance, I mentioned in a previous blog post about my experience with the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut.

A historic house museum that also focuses on the history of Farmington, the Stanley-Whitman House began to take a closer look at slaves who have lived in Farmington between the 17th and 19th century. While I was in graduate school, I decided to work with the Stanley-Whitman House on a project that addressed slavery in Connecticut. I had a couple of classmates and colleagues join me in the team to work on this project for a Curatorship class requirement. We researched former slaves who worked and lived in Connecticut before the 1790 Census to present the research results about what slavery was like for slaves in Farmington to colleagues who attended the In Plain Sight symposium presentations and discussion.

Since working on this project and the symposium, there have been more developments on discussing slavery in Connecticut. One of my teammates collaborated with the Stanley-Whitman House to create a database on the information about slaves in Farmington. This project is called The Farmington Slavery Research Project, and the goals were to document captive people – record them as they were discovered in primary source materials such as probate inventories, wills, account books and other records. It is an ongoing volunteer-staffed project that volunteers are welcome to contribute to the continuous research on Farmington’s history with slavery. To learn more about this project, I included a link in the resources section of this blog post.

Also, more recently a new exhibit that opened on February 17th called “Slavery, Resistance & Freedom in Connecticut”; one of the students from the Public History program I graduated from at Central Connecticut State University researched, wrote, and designed the exhibit. By being able to discuss slavery in Connecticut more, we are able to address what life had been like for enslaved individuals and draw more attention to their lived experiences.

Many museum professionals and public historians would have to admit that we still have a long way to go in creating that informative and comfortable dialogue between staff and visitors on tough issues. Our field is constantly attempting to catch up and move forward to remain relevant in the community. Stoermer brought up this question: “What are we trying to catch up to?” He concluded that the answer is that “…sites are trying to catch important, undertold, underrepresented stories up to the same tale of American exceptionalism that has dominated public history…” In other words, museum professionals and public historians research and tell stories that have been forgotten or previously overlooked to figure out how they fit into the familiar narrative of our nation’s history that the majority have become used to over the centuries.

We have realized in recent years that visitors are asking more questions that challenge the narrative and we continue to work towards answering these questions through our programming and exhibitions. Many questions come from what visitors learned or have seen outside of museums especially through our media. Movies in the cinemas are examples of media where debates have emerged to contribute to the ongoing portrayal of our history and museum practices.

The discussion surrounding the film, Black Panther, is especially important for the museum field and one of the excellent examples of public history. Before I proceed with talking about this film, there is a spoiler alert for individuals who have not yet seen the film since I will mention a scene from the film that museums should pay attention to.

Released last month, in case if one is not familiar with the film, Black Panther is a film from Marvel Studios about a superhero also known as T’Challa. He is also king of an African nation that is isolated and technologically advanced called Wakanda. According to IMDB, when T’Challa rises to power after the passing of his father, his claim to the throne is challenged by a vengeful outsider who was a childhood victim of T’Challa’s father’s mistake.

I saw the film last month, and I enjoyed it. In addition to special effects and other elements that go into making this film, I admired its look into the issues it presented especially when one of the main antagonists, Erik Killmonger, visited a museum that had items in the collections which belonged to the nation he was born in. In that scene, the curator approached Killmonger to explain the history of these items; a little while into the scene the curator told him the items are not for sale when he made an attempt to take them, and he responded by asking if her ancestors paid a reasonable price when they took them from his native country. I took notice of the museum scene not only because of what happens within that scene but my perspective as a museum professional made me think about past museum practices of obtaining items in its collections and the ethical practices we have today.

In the online museums journal, The Hopkins Exhibitionist, Casey Haughin wrote about the Black Panther film in the piece “Why museum professionals need to talk about Black Panther”. The article went into a deep discussion about the museum scene and wrote about the impact the film had on the continuing conversation on our nation’s and global history. Haughin stated that

Black Panther provides a platform to discuss a multitude of topics on a national scale. With issues such as police brutality, the ever-present effects of slavery in Western society, and black identity approached in the film, it is easy to gloss over one of the more exposition-driven scenes of the film that engages with the complicated relationship between museums and audiences affected by colonialism.

What I have learned in my history courses all the way up to the end of graduate school and beyond the classroom is that colonialism had a major impact on world and it continuously makes an impact as we deal with its consequences. We still have a long way to go to be as inclusive and accepting of one another as we need to be in an ever changing world.

Haughin proposed a response for museum professionals to make after seeing this film. According to the article, among many things that were proposed, it stated

The first step after this movie is to publicly confirm the reality of the situation; museums need to step up and acknowledge the fact that Killmonger’s anger in the exhibition and the experience he had were not entirely fictionalized, but rather a magnification of museum practices in the modern world. The next step is to listen. Listen to people of color, to communities, and to whole countries who see themselves both robbed by and cast out from international institutions. By communicating openly with the audience of a museum, professionals can determine how better to adapt their practices and make the institution a place that is relevant and respectful for all visitors. Until a truly symbiotic dialogue is established, this scene in Black Panther will represent the reality of museum politics where fact is truly more alarming than any fiction.

I also came across an opinion piece written by Lise Ragbir, who is a writer, curator, and the Director of the Christian-Green Gallery and the Idea Lab, both part of Black Studies at the University of Texas. In her piece, What Black Panther Gets Right About the Politics of Museums, she went into detail about the representation of current attitudes towards museums in the film while sharing her perspective of the scene, a similar situation that occurred in the film happening in France, and shared data from the American Alliance of Museums of how many African Americans visits. These are only a few examples of what she discussed in her piece.

One of the statements she made that stood out to me was the importance of access and how it creates opportunities to learn especially about how we are represented in other narratives. She then went on to say

To be clear, museums and other cultural spaces have functioned under the weight of these truths since people began publicly exhibiting art and artifacts. But old truths are giving way to new attitudes, as evidenced by France’s more diplomatic version of Killmonger’s vigilante repatriation of African artifacts. However, ongoing debates about representation, repatriation, and cultural appropriation — all cannily encapsulated in Killmonger’s memorable visit to the Museum of Great Britain in Black Panther — affirm that a great deal of work is still needed to make our museums truly welcoming and diverse. Besides, as Princess Shuri puts it: “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.”

Both Ragbir and Haughin emphasized what museum professionals need to do, and continue to do, is to work towards being truly inclusive and diverse organizations.

We need to invest in time to address each issue that we face in the public history/museum field. So many issues are brought to our attention and we need to keep moving forward to remain relevant in the changing climate of our society. We should be asking ourselves the tough questions, and finding effective ways to invite our visitors in to help our communities fully understand our past.

What do you think of our museums progress of being more inclusive and diverse so far? Have you discussed about Black Panther within your own organizations?

Resources:
https://medium.com/@History_Doctor/let-it-go-the-exceptionalist-narrative-in-american-public-history-3338e3a11b87
https://jhuexhibitionist.com/2018/02/22/why-museum-professionals-need-to-talk-about-black-panther/
https://hyperallergic.com/433650/black-panther-museum-politics/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=sw#sidr
Farmington Slavery Research Project: www.captivepeople.stanleywhitman.org/
To learn more about Black Panther and the impact it has in the museum field:
https://www.aaihs.org/the-black-panther-and-cold-war-colonialism-in-the-marvel-universe/
https://impactingmuseums.org/2018/02/16/why-museum-professionals-should-go-see-black-panther-today/

 

Museum Hack’s Relevance: Game of Thrones Mini-Tour

Added on Medium, July 10, 2017

Game of Thrones logo

German Medieval Shield

In my previous posts, I have discussed how museums use relevance to engage audiences with subject matter they present. I wondered what if you did not work for a specific museum but rather a tour company. What would a tour be like with someone outside of the museum? How will they create ways to engage audiences with the subject matter? On Friday, I participated in one of Museum Hack’s evening tours that took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to find out.

Friday’s tour was the Game of Thrones theme tour called Metropolitan Museum of Art: Game of Thrones Mini-Tour. For those who do not know, Game of Thrones is an HBO series which is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, and Game of Thrones is the first book in the series. 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.

There may be minor spoilers of the Game of Thrones series, so be forewarned.

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.

To get that point across, Museum Hack tour guide, Anna, led activities that the audience participated in throughout the tour. The first example of an activity was introduced during an ice breaker where we were broken up into pairs and came up with our house name, motto, and animal (for instance, my house was House Stragglers, our motto: Pizza is Coming, and our animal was a bear). Throughout the tour, we were encouraged to take pictures of anything in the museum that contains dragons or birds that will later be added for points and whoever has the most points wins a prize; there is an opportunity at the end to take away points from other houses.

Another example of an activity I participated in was verbal jousting. We were given sheets of paper with medieval insults listed in three columns. Then we were separated from our House partners, and were told to choose three insults (one from each column) to use at each other. After shouting these insults at each other, Anna decided the winner by determining whose is the silliest. Not only there were activities related to the HBO series we occasionally participated in during the tour, we were also guided through most of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and stopped at pre-selected artifacts to discuss similarities to Game of Thrones.

The ties made between the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Game of Thrones were sometimes strong and other times they were reminders of what we have seen during the show.

During the tour, Anna discussed how George R.R. Martin had written the book series using historical events and figures as inspirations for the events and characters in the A Song of Ice and Fire books and were later portrayed in the Game of Thrones HBO series. For instance, she mentioned the civil war, which was the result of Robert Barathean’s death, to earn the right for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, known as the Iron Throne, was inspired by the War of the Roses which was a civil war fought to claim the throne of England. She draws connections at each stopping point by talking about what had happen to the characters in the show and what similarities are found in individuals from the past.

For instance, she talked about Robert Barathean and Henry VIII of England by briefly talking about the Game of Thrones character then talked about the 16th century king of England. Both men were kings who enjoyed sports especially jousting. Robert Barathean was the king of the Seven Kingdoms who took over the throne after defeating the previous king of the Seven Kingdoms, Aerys II Targaryen, during a battle known as Robert’s Rebellion. Anna then talked about Henry VIII by talking about his two armors we stopped in front of; Henry VIII was an athletic young king, and during one of his jousting games a horse landed on top of him. He survived but because of the injuries he had as a result, he was no longer able to participate in jousting and began eating an over 5,000 calorie diet that led him to a being fitted for a larger armor with an adjustable chest plate.

Henry VIII’s armor, before jousting accident

Henry VIII’s armor, after jousting accident

Anna also mentioned during the tour that both Tyrion Lannister and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec could have been friends if they lived in the same world and time. Tyrion Lannister was a dwarf who was a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the Westeros kingdom; he used his family’s status alleviate the prejudice he received throughout his life from his family and others. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter, known for his paining At the Moulin Rouge (1892–1895), who immersed himself in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris during the late 19th century. As a boy, he suffered from fractures that were later attributed to an unknown genetic disorder which prevented his legs from growing; Toulouse-Lautrec developed an adult-size torso and retained his child-sized legs. Both Tyrion and Henri soothed themselves with wine and prostitution.

The tour included items in the museum’s collections that did not fit into the equivalent of the Westeros culture but nevertheless reminded Anna of one of the character’s helmets worn during the show. Anna took us through the display of Japanese armors to show us decorative helmets that took on various shapes and animals including a rabbit. She introduced the helmets by talking about the Game of Thrones character known as The Mountain. Gregor Clegane, known as The Mountain because of his height at eight feet tall, is a knight who led Tywin Lannister’s (Tyrion’s father) army, and known for his brutality from his numerous war crimes as well as rape and murder of the Targaryen royal family at the end of Robert’s Rebellion.

During the show, he has been shown to be wearing variously shaped helmets which helped create the connection to the Japanese armor helmets. I also connected these helmets to the helmets and armor I talked about when I gave tours of the Butler-McCook House in Hartford; the McCook collected various artifacts during their world trips including Japanese Samurai armor and helmets displayed in the library. These helmets drew many different reminders that help audiences including myself make connections to.

Japanese armor helmets

Overall, I enjoyed the tour very much because it includes activities to help audiences think about the show and keep them actively participating in the tour. I also enjoyed the tour because the connections made to the Game of Thrones show not only captured my interest but made me think about the museum’s collections a little differently than I previously had when I visited the Metropolitan in the past. This tour did refresh my memory about what I have seen on the show so far, and not only did I leave the museum feeling I had an entertaining evening but I also wanted to learn more about the artifacts presented in the tour. If interested in learning more about Museum Hack tours or want to participate in similar tours, find out here: https://museumhack.com/tickets/.

Have you participated in a Museum Hack tour? If you have, what do you think about your experience participating in their tour? If you have not, have you had similar experiences of making connections like the ones I discussed during the Game of Thrones Mini-Tour?

 

Does “Hamilton” use Relevance to Teach Our Nation’s History?

Originally posted on Medium. November 3, 2016

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. We use that relevance every day in various mediums to reach to our audiences. I watched the Museum Hive discussion webinar with Nina Simon on the topic of museums, relevance, and community which aired live last week and it also draws on her book The Art of Relevance. In the beginning of the discussion, Simon described relevance as a “key that unlocks meaning”. We need to figure out how to make sure that we inspire them to desire that meaning we have in our museums. So how does Hamilton come into play on relevance? Broadway Tony Award winning musical Hamilton, a hip-hop musical about the life of one of our founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, is the most current example of using relevance to tell the story of our past that will inspire people to get into history and understand the meaning of that history. Hamilton’s America, a PBS Great Performances program aired on October 21st, discussed Alexander Hamilton’s history, how the Broadway musical was developed and had become the hit it is today. When I watched Hamilton’s America, I noticed that both Hamilton and museums in our country share this goal to make people understand why history and museums can be relevant today.

Towards the beginning of the documentary, Lin-Manuel Miranda talked about how he becomes the character as soon as he sees the rest of the cast dressed in costume. He revealed that the cast comes together as a community that agrees to create the world of Hamilton for people. What stayed with me during the documentary was when Lin-Manuel Miranda said,

“There’s the part of my brain that works really hard on making Hamilton historically accurate and exciting and high stakes; and then there’s the charge and the adrenaline that comes from performing something and hearing a response.”

My first thought was: Isn’t this what we do as museum educators? We teach about how history can be exciting with high stakes by in many cases dress up in historical costumes and create interactive experiences to hopefully get students inspired to see how this history has meaning in their own lives. History is a story of humanity; this is what most people forget and it is our job to remind them of that. It is a lesson that I remind myself I need to teach the students that visit the museum I work for.

Throughout my career as a museum educator, I have aspired to inspire students to learn about history using my excitement for what I teach and make sure they leave with the understanding of how history is relevant in their own lives. During my experiences as a museum educator, I dressed up in period clothing while I taught programs at the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut, Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, and the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages. Every time I dress in these costumes I step into the perspective of the individuals I portray; when teachers as well as students ask me questions about my costume and then ask me about why people dressed the way they did, I feel like I inspired them to understand the past. The more questions they ask, the more I think they are learning about the past. For instance, while I was at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society I dressed as an old woman named Deborah Moore Kellogg and when students ask me questions about my character I tell them about who she was from her perspective as a woman who had to raise her children on her own when her husband passed away. Students learn about what life was like in 18th century was like by learning how hard people especially worked to survive in the then young country.

Another example was when I dressed as a school mistress in 19th century Long Island as I taught the School Days program at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages. The program was taught in a one room school house where I gave students samples of the lessons students in the 19th century learned, such as arithmetic, reading, and writing, and talked with the students about what school is like now and back then. What I take away from this experience is kids understand how different the one room school house was; while it is important I wonder can students see the similarities and therefore can relate to the past? That became my mission as I took the students to the one room schoolhouse. I also wondered about how relevance can be realized while I was taking a school tour through the Long Island Maritime Museum. I facilitate the school groups visit by taking them to each historic building including the Bayman’s Cottage, Boat Shop where boats were made, and the Oyster House (where an oyster business was held) as they hear about the history of each building from the docents. I enjoyed learning about Long Island’s maritime history in which I had limited knowledge of before I joined the museum. What is important for students to learn is to find out, in addition to the significance of maritime history, is to learn about the humanity behind the history. I like that when the kids were brought inside the Bayman’s Cottage the docent shows them how the bayman’s family had lived in tight living quarters in the early 19th century. These experiences have brought up this important question: what can we do to make our educational programs more relevant and inclusive?

As a fan of musicals, I believe historical themed musicals provide a creative way to teach history to a wide audience. Hamilton is not the first musical to teach history to people attending, since there many musicals especially 1776 which premiered on Broadway in 1969, but it gave a fresh look at our nation’s history using Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton as inspiration as well as modern music to tell the story of this founding father. While I have not seen the musical live, I listened to the soundtrack and have seen clips from the news and the documentary. At first, it seemed like an odd concept to use rap in a historical musical; but when I listened to the soundtrack I realize how clever it was to describe Hamilton’s life and the lives of those around him using rap and other types of music for each different character. I also thought that the musical brought life into our founding fathers’ past and could inspire people to learn more about Alexander Hamilton and the rest of our founding people in 18th century America. The important take away from this musical is not only we learn about our founding fathers and mothers but as a community we learn about how we can relate to them. By casting of different racial backgrounds, i.e. Hispanic and African American, as Caucasian founders of the United States this shows what our country is like now and how our founders’ stories can happen to us now. No matter how big or small, we all work hard to make an impact on our country and to make a difference in our community. Hamilton and other founders worked on finding a way to create a democratic nation after breaking away from Great Britain. Miranda’s decision to create music that bring life to historical events rather than history textbooks giving general statements of what happened.

In Hamilton’s America, for instance, Miranda discussed the idea behind the song “Room Where It Happens” sung by Aaron Burr. He stated that instead of giving a “dry” history lesson about Hamilton trading New York City as the capital in exchange for the passage of his debt plan to pay off debts because of the Revolutionary War, a song is written from a different perspective to create human reaction to this event. This event was sung from Aaron Burr’s perspective as he sees everyone else pass him by and that is the moment when he realizes he wants to be more involved in this life rather than hanging back and being too careful. Individuals who have seen the musical and listened to the soundtrack would be able to find their way to meaning, and therefore it leads to them discovering its relevance in our community.

What do you think of Hamilton? Do you think it is an example of how relevance can be used? Why or why not? Is there another medium other than museums that create relevance? What does your institution do to bring relevance inside and outside your institution?

Resources:
Hamilton’s America. PBS Great Performances. Directed and Produced by Alex Horwitz. Executive Producers Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeffrey Seller, et. al., October 21, 2016.
Museum Hive with Nina Simon: Museums and Relevance. Google Hangouts on Air, Brad Larson. www.museumhive.org. Streamed October 26, 2016.