Museum Impressions, John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum

Added to Medium, November 29, 2018

In previous posts, I wrote about museums I have visited during my childhood. This time I have written about a museum I visited while I was in college and my cousin was visiting from Italy, and she wanted to see places and museums in the Boston and Cape Cod area during her visit.

Growing up I went to Hyannis with my sisters to visit our maternal grandparents in the town of Centerville. My sisters, my cousins, and I would spend time at our grandparents’ house playing dress up in our grandmother’s old clothing, visit the Penny Store to buy candy, and went to the beach to feed seagulls. At least one of the times we drove around Hyannis, we passed by the beach area where the Kennedys sailed their boat. It was not until I was in college that I knew of and was able to visit the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum. I remember walking through the exhibits and seeing the legacy that Kennedy had left behind especially in Hyannis.

It has been a while since I havevisited the museum, and I decided to explore their website to see what theyhave been up to since I was there. A number of exhibits were placed in themuseum over the years and a couple of current exhibits are Robert F. Kennedy: Ripple of Hope and Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe. The Robert F. Kennedy: Ripple of Hope exhibit, that is assembled incollaboration with RFK Human Rights Foundation, highlights an impromptu speechhe gave before a large group of distraught onlookers the night Martin LutherKing, Jr. was assassinated in April 1968 just weeks after Kennedy announced hisbid for the presidency. The Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe exhibit features intimate,behind-the-scenes images of John F. Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline, and theirchildren, Caroline and John, taken by Kennedy’s personal photographer. Inaddition to the exhibits, the Museum offers a number of educational programsespecially for children. 

The Museum’s education programs teach students from preschool through high school the value of civic engagement by beginning with President Kennedy’s legacy and then organize age-appropriate experiences, infused with critical thinking skills, a key tenet of civic engagement, into the lessons. In the preschool program, preschoolers from Cape Cod Child Development Program/Head Start have learned the importance of family and community. Early elementary students participated in lessons with a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) theme. Fourth and fifth graders have learned to “use their voice” in their lessons to communicate with local, state, and national officials. Meanwhile, middle school students learn how the Constitution impacts the presidency, through both the election process and the president’s responsibilities. High school students participate in the Federal Budget Simulation, working in collaborative groups to organize and defend their funding of the fourteen discretionary accounts in the federal budget. There are other programs that are outside of the school programs offerings.

For instance, the Museum has the Art Curator Program and Camp Kennedy. TheArt Curator Program, with four participating high schools, allows students toshowcase their knowledge of President Kennedy’s legacy through art, with piecesthat they create and then showcase in an exhibition. Camp Kennedy, which isheld in the summer, is a one day camp open to students who will begin grades 2,3, and 4 designed to engage the youth of our country in exploring Kennedy’slegacy of leadership. The lessons in the camp help campers develop criticalthinking skills, civic engagement, and science, technology, engineering,mathematics and art (STEAM). John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum offers a variety ofpublic programs that are relevant to the mission and Kennedy’s legacy.

Museum programs at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum include lectures, screenings, book signings, receptions, live webcast viewings, family events and exhibit openings. A few examples of upcoming events include “JFK and the Cold War: Video Presentation of speaker Dr. Sergei Khrushchev” which is a screening and discussion of the Video Presentation of speaker Dr. Sergei Khrushchev, son of former soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, discussing JFK’s and Khrushchev’s relationship, and challenges of the cold war and their relevance to today. Another example is “Brian Murphy, Author of Adrift: Lecture and Book Signing” which is a lecture and book signing event with Washington Post Journalist and author Brian Murphy who will discuss about and sign copies of his new book Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Who Lived to Tell about It. The next example is “The Cahoons and the Kennedys: Discussion” which discusses the Cape Cod folk artists, Ralph and Martha Cahoon and the Kennedys’ interest in collecting their works. The Museum is also working on an expansion project to create more space in the museum for its programming.

The renovation project includes construction of a 50-seat state-of-the-art auditorium and media room with a 100 seat community room and configurable tables and chairs that will support Museum-wide programming. On their website, they ask for donations that will support the transformation of the Museum’s antiquated lower level, contemporary educational curricula, advanced media capabilities, and collection and artifact growth. By accomplishing the previously listed goals for the renovation, the Museum is working to create a modern venue where they can better serve the community and continue their work to inspire active and informed civic engagement thereby ensuring the JFK legacy, and the Museum, remain relevant and sustainable for generations to come. There has been a lot of changes since I last visited the museum, and I hope this museum continues to move forward in educating visitors about civic engagement and Kennedy’s legacy.

What are your impressions of the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum?

John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum: https://jfkhyannismuseum.org/

Museum Impressions, Salem Witch Museum

Added to Medium, October 4, 2018

In honor of the month of Halloween, I am going to give my impressions about the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. This museum is another one of the museums I have visited during my childhood but my memory of this experience is limited because I did not see a whole lot of the place at the time. I did visit the museum years later with the Historical Society club at Western New England College (now University). In addition to these memories, I will also give my impressions of the Salem Witch Museum based on what I observe on their website to see how much has changed since I visited.

When I first made the visit to the Salem Witch Museum, it was in the 1990s and I was with my parents and my sisters. We waited in the lobby of the museum until the group we were in was able to sit in the auditorium to learn about the Salem Witch Trials. As my family waited for our turn, I remember looking through the brochures and saw pictures of the statues depicting the townsfolk. I was scared since in my imagination I thought that the creepy statues were going to move around in the dark room. Once our group was able to go in after the previous group left, I did not want to go in so one of my parents went into the gift shop with me until the rest of the family joined us. It was not until I was in college when I returned to the Salem Witch Museum.

The Historical Society club I was a member and treasurer of decided to visit the town of Salem during one of our day trips we typically go on a couple times a year. When I finally went inside of the Salem Witch Museum’s auditorium, I felt silly that I was scared of the statues since it turned out that they were only statues as a recording tells the history of the Salem Witch Trials while lights were used to give spotlights for the stationary statues. After the presentation, we went into the exhibit that shared the history of Wicca and the depiction of witches over the centuries. Then we visited the gift shop before we left to see more of Salem. Our advisor who was also one of my History professors expressed his concerns that the recording used outdated information and the Witch Trials overshadowing other significant narrative in Salem’s history especially Salem’s maritime history. While he did express his concerns, we did visit a couple of places that were related to the Salem Witch Trials such as the memorial to those who were killed and the Witch House where one of the judges who tried a number of court cases during that period. We made visits to other places in Salem in addition to the Salem Witch Museum and places related to the 1692 Salem Witch Trails.

There are many places we visited in Salem as a group which are easily overlooked because of the popularity of the Salem Witch Trials. For instance, we visited the Salem Maritime National Historic Sites where a number of historic buildings, wharves, and a replica tallship tell stories about how Salem residents helped build the foundation for one of the most powerful national economies. Another example of places we visited is the House of Seven Gables is a house built for Captain John Turner and remained within the family for three generations, and was made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of Seven Gables published in 1851. It has been a long time since I visited the town of Salem, and now I look at the website for the first time in years and I am impressed.

On their “History/Education” page of the website, there is a section on witch hunts that gives varying examples of witch hunts throughout history and modern history. An equation is presented at the top of the page that reads out “Fear+Trigger=Scapegoat”; in other words, it means that when fear is triggered a scapegoat is used to express one’s fear that causes harm to individuals treated as scapegoats. During the Salem Witch Trails, it was the fear of the devil that was triggered by the community which led to many innocent people to be tried and killed for being witches. A modern history example listed on the page is the fear of infection which was triggered by AIDS and unfortunately the gay community was used as a scapegoat for the AIDS epidemic. The page allows visitors to submit their own examples, and I think it is an interesting way to illustrate how the Salem Witch Trails have occurred.

The website also provides a self-guided tour page that allows visitors to see locations around Essex County and a few key sites in and around Boston that are related to the events of 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Individuals can click on the town and city names on the map or on the left side of the page to not only see pictures but to read about the sites in these locations. There are descriptions of the sites from the witchcraft trials which can still be seen today, including original houses, foundations, grave sites, and sites marked by historic markers. If one is interested in learning about witches and maritime history, I recommend visiting Salem when one has the opportunity.

Announcement: Next week will be my 100th blog post so stay tuned for a special blog post!

Resources:
https://salemwitchmuseum.com/
https://www.nps.gov/sama/index.htm
https://7gables.org/

Museum Impressions, Abigail Adams Birthplace

Added to Medium, September 13, 2018

After writing about my impressions of Plimoth Plantation, I was asked to write about my impressions about another museum I have visited during my childhood. I visited the historic house, the Abigail Adams Birthplace, while I was a teenager. The Abigail Adams Birthplace is owned by the Abigail Adams Historical Society in North Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was also the wife of the second President of the United States, John Adams, and the mother of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams. This visit was one of the significant visit to museums while I was growing up because it proved to me that my passion for history and museums is not a phase I would move on from; it would become a lifelong passion.

In my post about Plimoth Plantation, I pointed out that my passion for history and museums began with visits to museums like Plimoth Plantation. The living history museum was not the only museum I visited during my childhood. A lot of the museums I visited were with my family and with school field trips. When I went with my family, we used library passes for free or reduced admission to museums. There was an example of a visit to a museum that we happened to come across.

My mother, sisters, and I were driving through Weymouth to meet with family who lived in the area. On our way to a family gathering, my mother and I discovered the Abigail Adams Birthplace and because there was no parking lot we immediately pulled over to take a quick tour of the house. My sisters at the time were not as keen to see it so they decided to stay in the car. I remember there were a lot of trees surrounding the house and a small sign that indicated it was the birthplace of Abigail Adams. I remember thinking that we were lucky the house was open and that we were allowed to take a tour of the house. One of the guides told us the history of the house, and my mother and I soaked up the information we were given. We did not realize how much time had passed until my sisters eventually decided to come into the house. All of us did not stay for too long since we still needed to reach our family’s house for our family gathering. Since my visit there, I explored the website to see what the Birthplace is like today.

Other than the exterior of the Birthplace is painted differently than what I remembered, I discovered that the property surrounding the Birthplace did not change too much since I last visited the place. There were still a number of trees surrounding the house and a cemetery next to the house. It has been years since I visited the place so I do not know how much of the interior has changed. Based on the few pictures I came across, the interior seemed to be even more wonderful than I remembered. The pieces of furniture and various objects reflected the time period Abigail Adams lived in the house, and still gives me the sense of nostalgia I felt when I explored the house and other museums for the first time. This sense of nostalgia is combined with the knowledge I gained on history and public history, and I see the potential of the Birthplace and appreciate the Abigail Adams Historical Society’s efforts as it moves forward to preserve the home and maintain its relevance in the 21st century. When I explored the website, I was happy to see information and resources provided to capture visitors’ interest in Abigail Adams and the house she grew up in.

In addition to the biography of Abigail Adams, there are quotes from the letters she wrote to her husband John Adams. Also, there is also an archives of news related to the Abigail Adams Birthplace from the renovation work in 2012 to the 200th commemoration of Abigail Adams’ death that will take place on October 28, 2018. The website also gives a brief history of the Birthplace from when it was built in 1685 to its renovation in 1947 when the Abigail Adams Historical Society took ownership of the property. Between 2012 and 2013, there was a modern renovation on the Birthplace which was made possible by the Weymouth Community Preservation Committee grant, and the website included a video and a slideshow of the modern renovation process.

With this modern renovation, it opens up to the opportunities of more year round programming. I think that it is great the renovation took place since when I visited the Birthplace I was lucky that the house happened to be open on that day and I do not remember if the guides gave us information on when their open hours are for a future visit.

I hope that as they move forward in providing more programming, there would be information about field trips and provide more resources. The Abigail Adams Historical Society seems to be going in that direction because there are pages available to provide this information but they are left blank. They also engage with audiences on their Facebook page promoting their programs as well as sharing programs of their colleagues in other historical societies.

The Abigail Adams Birthplace website revealed that their open hours are typically on the weekends from 1pm to 4pm. It is five dollars per adult and one dollar for children under twelve years old. Private tours are also available and need to be planned two weeks in advance.

There is so much potential in this Birthplace, and based on what I see so far Abigail Adams’ childhood home is on its way to preserving its relevance in the 21st century.
If you can, please see this house for yourselves!
Resources:
http://www.abigailadamsbirthplace.com/

Summer Memories, and How to Prepare for the Upcoming School Year

Added to Medium, August 24, 2018

Most of the summer for museum educators is dedicated to organizing the school programs for the upcoming school year. Since we also focus on practicing self-care, museum educators also focus their summers on spending time enjoying the summer vacation. With schools starting soon, a lot of our minds especially museum educators reflect on what has been accomplished during the summer and finalize programs for the upcoming school year.

This week’s main topic on #MuseumEdChat’s Twitter discussion was a recap of our summers. Participants were asked to share where we went during the summer (from far away places to a couple of blocks away), books, articles, and what skills we learned outside of the field that we can adopt into our practice as museum educators. Also, we were encouraged to share photographs from our summer experiences. The memories I have shared with #MuseumEdChat are:

I took part in planning and executing Culper Spy Tour in collaboration with the @fairfieldmuseum and I planned and executed a test summer program for the Three Village Historical Society #MuseumEdChat

@Museumptnrs
Q2: Read any good books (or articles or magazines or blogposts or listened to podcasts)? Tell us! They can be #museum or work related, or not… we all need to escape now and then… #MuseumEdChat
A2 I am currently reading The Forgotten Founding Father by Joshua Kendall about Noah Webster (shout out to @NoahWebHouse where I used to work!) and I am reading the current edition of the Journal of Museum Education #MuseumEdChat

@Museumptnrs
Q3. OK, there has to be a good story – whether it’s a #museum story or not… tell us – in 180 characters or less (or a string of replied tweets)! #MuseumEdChat
A3 I don’t know if you mean recent stories or not but the pictures of seagulls I posted reminded me of when I was a kid visiting my grandparents on the Cape my cousins, sisters, and I were feeding seagulls then suddenly a swarm of them chased us across the beach. #MuseumEdChat

Plus I also shared that I went to Robert Moses Beach in Babylon, New York with my fiancé and friends then went to one of our friends’ houses for a game night. I also shared a few photographs of seagulls from that day that reminded me of my childhood. It was a lively conversation that showed so many museum professionals enjoying their summers in and out of the field.

Now we think about what we need to do to prepare for the upcoming school year. Museum educators prepare for school visits by, and not limited to, sharing what the museums have to offer to school teachers and their students and prepare materials to have enough for each program. By advertising school programs ahead of time, teachers are made aware of what they can offer to their students to aide the lessons learned within the classroom. Museum educators also review evaluations from the previous school year to figure out how to improve the quality of their education programming to meet the standards and expectations of the visiting schools.

An upcoming resource from the New England Museum Association offers information to help museum educators prepare for this school year. According to their website, this month’s Lunch with NEMA webinar, Small Goals are Better than No Goals: An Hour for Museum Educators to Plan for Evaluation and Reflection Before the Madness Begins,

During this session, you’ll set realistic evaluation goals for the upcoming year—whether you simply want to find ways to be more reflective about your personal practice or you want to develop an evaluation plan for your entire department.

I plan to use this resource to assist myself and my teams to see how we can develop our educational programming and utilize our evaluations in the most effective way possible.

What is your plans for the upcoming year? How are your educators and/or education departments preparing for this school year?

Resource: https://nemanet.org/conference-events/lunch-nema/museum-educators/

History and Museums Interpreted Through Children’s Media

Added to Medium, August 10, 2018

This week’s 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
Museum Impressions, Plimoth Plantation: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-qa
Does History Repeat Itself? A Discussion About This Concept: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-rV
People’s Experiences during the Great Depression: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-rA

Museum Impressions, Plimoth Plantation

Added to Medium, April 12, 2018

I visited many museums as a child but I chose Plimoth Plantation because it was one of the earliest museums I went to that inspired my love for museums.

Plimoth Plantation, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, started in 1947 by a young archaeologist named Henry Hornblower II with help and support from friends, family and business associates. It started with two English cottages and a fort on Plymouth’s historic waterfront, and since then the Museum has grown to include the Mayflower II, the English Village, the Wampanoag Homesite, the Hornblower Visitor Center, the Craft Center, the Maxwell and Nye Barns and the Plimoth Grist Mill. This living history museum offers personal encounters with history built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community in the 1600s.

Today, Plimoth Plantation provides an engaging and experiential indoor and outdoor learning environment on its main campus, at the State Pier on Plymouth’s waterfront, and at the Plimoth Grist Mill on Town Brook. It has permanent exhibits tell the complex and interwoven stories of two distinct cultures, the English and Native American.

I have mixed feelings about Plimoth Plantation because of the nostalgic feelings I have towards the museum as well as admire the concept of living history interpreters engaging with visitors. At the same time, as a museum professional, I am concerned about the situation surrounding the museum’s staff policies. Visitors should have an immersive experience without its quality being hindered. I hope Plimoth Plantation figures out how to resolve the issues that the museum’s staff brought to their attention so the museum can have an appropriate work environment and by extension improve the visitor experience. When I recently visited their website, I not only noticed features that I did not participate in while I was growing up but I thought were interesting.

I personally have not been to Plimoth Plantation in recent years but I decided to take a look at their website to see what the living history center has to currently offer. One of the things I noticed, for instance, was the virtual field trips they offer on their website. On the Virtual Field Trips page, it includes two videos that provides virtual experiences of traveling through the English Village and the Wampanoag Homesite. Also, there is a web activity that gives opportunities for participants to become history detectives, and figure out what really happened at the First Thanksgiving. I liked that there are opportunities for individuals not located close enough to physically to see what Plimoth Plantation has to offer. It serves as a great introduction to Plimoth Plantation whether or not one is close enough to travel to the museum. My experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was a different one especially when I was a child.

My first experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was when I came with my sisters, mother, and my maternal grandmother. I remember walking through the Village and meeting other visitors in the meeting house. Later I saw some pictures from that visit, and each of the pictures showed my sisters and I having an opportunity to use the broom to sweep one of the houses. Another picture I saw was of myself appearing to be giving a lecture which reminded me of the story my mother told me: I pretended to be a minister and encouraged visitors to sit down and participate in the mock service, and then I greeted each individual with handshakes. I went back a number of times during my childhood and then visited as a young adult.

Years later during college I visited Plimoth Plantation with the Historical Society club. As the treasurer on the executive board of the Historical Society, I planned the financial aspects of the trip. Once all the details were settled, all of the Historical Society members and other college students interested in attending drove to Plymouth.

As I learned more about the museum field during college and graduate school, I became more aware of how museums are run. Since I wrote a few blog posts about current conditions of the workforce in the museum field, I am glad that the museum staff members are pointing out the unfair work conditions and they want things to change. Our field is working towards improving conditions but we do have a long way to go. Plimoth Plantation is an example of our need to work harder towards better working conditions for all museum professionals.

I came across an article from the Boston Globe written by Robert Knox last month called “Plimoth Plantation and its ‘Pilgrims’ at odds” about Plimoth Plantation and its current relationship with its living history interpreters. In the article, Knox stated that union members were driven to create a union due to the persistent understaffing, low pay, and deteriorating working conditions and their consequences for visitors’ experience and safety. Knox also provided background information about the stories of what the staff had to face which led to the formation of the union. Negotiations began last year with meetings twice a month, but instead of seeking compromise and consensus the museum hired a high-powered law firm to handle the negotiations rather than giving workers modest raises.

Situations like what is happening at Plimoth Plantation is part of the discussion of why there are many museum professionals leaving the field and we should continue to work towards making our working conditions better for all of our museum professionals. It makes me sad that one of the museums I have visited during my childhood has gone down this road, and I hope things improve especially for the museum workers so we all can focus on creating engaging visitor experiences.

Have you visited Plimoth Plantation? If you have, what was your experience like? What were your impressions?

Resources:
https://www.plimoth.org/
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/south/2018/03/23/plimoth-plantation-and-its-pilgrims-odds/iG7mDoQ2W2wd7JHkbYhlsL/story.html
https://www.plimoth.org/learn/just-kids/virtual-field-trip

How to Handle Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites

Added to Medium, February 15, 2018

This week I received Museum Education Roundtable’s March edition of Journal of Museum Education and the theme of this edition is “Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites”. When I received the Journal in the field, it made me think about the experiences I have had in professional development and in the museum field with dealing with tough subject matter. It is important for all museum professionals, whether or not they directly work with narratives about traumatic events, understand how to interpret trauma, memory, and lived experience for the visitors.

The March edition of Journal of Museum Education have a few articles that delved into this subject matter.

For instance, Lauren Zalut’s, guest editor of this edition, “Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites” introduces the subject of handling topics of trauma, memory, and lived experience. Zalut stated that,

Our field typically tells stories of trauma and complex issues through museum educators, tour guides, or docents who are generations or decades removed from the topic or event. This approach utilizes historical empathy, defined as developing “…understanding for how people from the past thought, felt, made decisions, acted, and faced consequences within a specific historical and social context.” Research reveals that this approach humanizes historic figures, but is applied inconsistently by educators.

We have the skills to convey the significance of these stories, however we need to commit to what consistent approach is needed.

Not many museums and organizations have a narrative that includes traumatic issues. There are museums such as U.S. Holocaust Museum and the National 9/11 Museum that discuss emotional and traumatic situations on a regular basis. Meanwhile, there are museums and organizations that share a part of its overall narrative dealing with traumatic, emotional, or lived experience.

One of my first experiences with interpreting trauma, memory, and lived experience was when I was working at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut. The Stanley-Whitman House is a living history center and museum that teaches through its collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington.

At the Stanley-Whitman House, I taught school programs that also discussed Native Americans and African Americans who lived in the early American Farmington. One of the students did ask if the house owners had slaves, and while at the time I was not entirely sure what the answer was I delicately explained that there were slaves in Farmington during the 17th century but slavery in the New England area was no longer accepted by the 1800s.

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. Also, more recently a new exhibit is opening this Saturday (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.

I believe that with what the Stanley-Whitman House is doing now we are working towards helping visitors understand these lived experiences. Zalut pointed out the importance of encouraging visitors to ask questions and how museum educators have the skills to assist visitors in understanding and learning from the past:

Asking questions and spending time reflecting are critical parts of transforming the work of museum educators. If our field is genuine about its will to make space for visitors to process emotionally complex topics, spark social change, and learn from the past to make a more equitable present and future then museum educators are the ones to make it happen. We can create job opportunities for disenfranchised populations and draw in new audiences, but this work is resource intensive, and requires major internal work – both personally and institutionally. If taken on with great care, collaboration and gratitude, creating platforms for marginalized voices and narratives will be transformative for you, your visitors, your co-workers, your museum, and the field at large.

We have to dedicate our time and efforts as museum educators to create places marginalized voices and narratives can be heard and understood. Emphasis on spaces is especially important for visitors to feel they can go through the process of understanding untold stories.

Mark Katrikh’s “Creating Safe(r) Spaces for Visitors and Staff in Museum Programs” discusses visitors’ expectations of their museum experience. Visitors do not necessarily come to museums to have an emotional response, and it can be hard for them to be accustomed to this response especially when they are not prepared for it. Our responsibilities as museum educators include guiding visitors by helping them process their emotions with engaging dialogue between the museum educators and visitors. Katrikh discussed the Museum of Tolerance’s approach to having safe and responsible conversations through a framework for understanding and managing key issues when easing challenging conversations. Their framework points out there are many needs and interests participants have involved in conversations, and museum educators are responsible for approaching them with compassion, mindfulness, and skilled responses.

As museum educators, we do acknowledge that we always have the responsibility to engage with the visitors in a way that will allow them to take away with them the lessons our past have to offer. We are all responsible for figuring out what to do with these lessons to make our world a better place for us in the future. According to Katrikh,

At museums whose focus is discussing and presenting trauma, emotional responses are the norm. Visitors unprepared for such a personal experience can react in a multitude of ways along the spectrum that includes confusion, denial, inappropriate comments or questions, and anger. Anticipating such reactions, museums have a responsibility to build into their programming opportunities to promote dialogue, to process emotions and ultimately to allow visitors to reach a place of equilibrium.

We maintain balance within our museums, and by creating opportunities for visitors to process their emotions and reach a balance they would be able to take that lesson museum educators gave them to create a better community.

To be able to fulfill our responsibilities as museum educators, we should start with our training so we are prepared for the challenging conversations. Noah Rauch’s “A Balancing Act: Interpreting Tragedy at the 9/11 Memorial Museum” discussed the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s docent program and the challenges it presented. When the program was launched, it raised many questions including those on how to balance and convey strongly held, often traumatic, and sometimes conflicting experiences with a newly constructed institutional narrative. Since then the museum negotiated on specific issues and dealt with ongoing questions and challenges.

The more we work together, the more we learn and understand how our museums deal with fact-checking progresses, the more we are able to feel responsibility of our expertise in the events and life experiences. When we include more of our staff and volunteers in the training process, we would be able to connect to our missions and effectively help our visitors understand the narrative they learn.

When I participated in last year’s New York City Museum Education Roundtable’s (NYCMER) conference, I attended a session presented by the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum called The Challenges of Confronting Difficult Content. Rauch’s article reminded me of this session because both dealt with the challenges. While Rauch discussed mainly the docent perspective of the dealing with the subject matter, this NYCMER session discussed the school programs they developed and explained how their lessons approached difficult content.

In my blog post about the conference, Reflections on the NYCMER 2017 Conference, I revealed that I thought this session was interesting because these programs provided a way for students from third grade to seniors to express their thoughts on the events through art and discussion. The takeaways from the session are to address the common question: How to translate difficult content in ways that allow all visitors to correct with sensitive subject matter? And the second takeaway was as a differentiated and inclusive practice, strategy transcends content by incorporating storytelling and historical contents and current resonances/present day connections.

It is important to understand both perspectives of museum professionals and visitors so we can work on strengthening the relationship between the two. When we do, both museum staff and visitors will have the understanding and space to confront difficult content and learn the lessons they have to offer.

How has your museum or organization dealt with educating difficult content? What challenges have you faced when interpreting trauma, memory, and lived experience?

Resources:
Mark Katrikh (2018) Creating Safe(r) Spaces for Visitors and Staff in Museum Programs, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 7-15
Noah Rauch (2018) A Balancing Act: Interpreting Tragedy at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 16-21
Lauren Zalut (2018) Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 4-6
If interested in exhibit opening I mentioned, register for the Stanley-Whitman House’s exhibit opening here: http://www.stanleywhitman.org/Calendar.Details.asp?ID=743&Cat=Visit

 

Response to Blog: “Museums are places to forget”

Originally posted on Medium, May 4, 2017. 

I chose to do something a little different this week for my blog post. While I have done something similar in the past by responding to what museum professionals discuss in professional development programs. This time I decided to write about what other people discuss about in the museum field in their own blogs. I came across the blog post “Museums are places to forget” written by Steven Lubar. Lubar is a professor of American Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and a museum consultant. Before that, Lubar was the Curator at the National Museum of American History, Director at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, and Director at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. He has written a book called Inside the Lost Museum: Curating, Past and Present which will be released in August.

When I came across this blog and finished reading this blog, I thought it was an interesting piece since it reminds me of lessons I have learned while in both college and graduate school. At least one of my previous classes had a deep discussion about what it means to be a professional historian, and one of the topics discussed was about history and memory. The relationship between history and memory is an ongoing discussion that takes place outside of the classroom especially during my experiences as a museum professional. This blog post Lubar wrote is a discussion about how museums are examples of how history and memory are dealt with within our community.

One of the things that caught my attention as I read the blog was this subtitle for the blog. Lubar stated that “sometimes, museums are places of forgetting, not remembering” which I find interesting since in general people believe that they are supposed to attend museums to be reminded of our past and learn about a part of the past that help them understand a community’s culture. While this is true that people come to museums to be reminded of the past, museums can represent what we have forgotten and chose to forget. Museums can also sometimes choose to forget the past and/or unintentionally forget the past.

Museums have the purpose to tell a narrative that supports the institution’s mission, and sometimes when museum professionals decide on a narrative not every item in its collections can be displayed to explain their narrative. For instance, when I worked at the Butler-McCook House & Garden in Hartford, the historic house is set up to tell the story of the third and fourth generations of the family who lived in the house during the 19th century even though the history of the house and family can be traced back to the 18th century.

The staff created an exhibit in the History Center that gives an overall history of Hartford and of the family during the 18th and 19th century; the exhibit included not only narratives but also objects and photographs from the house’s collections. While I was there, the staff and myself worked on projects based on the interpretive framework that will help start including more information from the Butler-McCook House’s history; to this day, the Butler-McCook House continues to create interpretive programs that covers more history that can be shared with visitors of all ages and backgrounds interested in learning more about this family.

The example of the Butler-McCook House showed how a historic house museum while still maintaining its display in the house as a 19th century house it also works on incorporating other significant parts of the house’s history. There are more objects that are found in both the collections storage room and on the third floor of the house not open to the public which are not seen by the public.

This brings up a point Lubar brought up in his blog that there are times that not everything in a museum, especially at the Butler-McCook House, can be viewed by the public for various reasons. Some items in museums’ collections are those that are in poor condition, and even have stopped serving purposes for the museum and are forgotten with the passage of time.

Of course, there are more than a couple of reasons museums forget. Lubar pointed out that sometimes “society decides that it’s not longer ethical for museums to hold certain kinds of artifacts.” And this can be true especially for museums that have Native American artifacts in its collections. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) was created to require museums receiving federal funding to return Native American human remains and other artifacts to appropriate tribes. Between museums and the government, they work together to find out what is no longer ethical to hold onto for educational purposes and it is important for all museums to acknowledge ethical issues and find ways to make sure artifacts are given respect. It is also important for museums to serve and work with society to remain relevant, and to stay relevant museums need to pay attention to how society views its own practices in ethics.

Another statement that stood out to me was this statement about religion and religious artifacts. Lubar stated in the blog “When something’s put in a museum, it loses part of its meaning. Religious artifacts become art.” That can be true for museums that include religious artifacts in the collections. As Parish Historian at my childhood church, I have seen a unique situation where the meaning behind the artifacts in Trinity Church that have both its own original identity and an identity as a historic collection item. When I last talked about my experience as a Parish Historian, I talked about the exhibit I designed to celebrate the Easter season using items that were viewed as items used in church services in addition to photographs.

At the same time, Trinity Church also has items in the collections that are not stored with the rest of the items but are still used in church ceremonies (such as the chalice and prayer books); these items are listed in a book of donated items to the church which is one of the items in the collections. In my experience, the collections are constantly crossing the line between being part of a collection that is, until recent years, has been forgotten about by the Trinity community and being part of Trinity’s practices today. The Trinity community continues to rediscover its collections from the past as future projects are getting underway.

Museums today continue to practice its practice of helping the public remember and forgetting its history, and will always constantly cross the line between remembering and forgetting to meet expectations of society and its surrounding communities.

The link to the original blog post can be found here: https://medium.com/@lubar/museums-are-places-to-forget-ba76a92c5701
Do you agree that museums are places to forget? What are some examples you have seen and experienced with remembering to forget and forgetting to remember?

Writing about Museum Education

Originally posted on Medium website on October 19, 2016

As I continue my career in museum education by having many adventures in the field, I realized someday I want to be able to look back on all of the work I accomplished and be able to share these experiences with other educators. This was when I thought about writing this blog series. When I started to create this blog, the first words I see are “Tell your story.” I kept thinking about how to start this first blog entry, and when I saw those words I thought about how to begin this story. In order to tell my story of when I first found my passion for museum education, I will start from the beginning.

When I was a child, my mother encouraged my sisters and I to visit museum during family vacations. One of the family vacations was a trip to Plimoth Plantation with my nana, mom, and my two sisters. During that trip, all of us were in the meetinghouse and suddenly my mom and nana saw me go up to the pulpit to pretend to be a minister. My mom told me years later that I encouraged people coming into the meetinghouse to come sit down on the benches and a bunch of people sat down as I continued my pretend lecture; I even came up to people to give them communion and shake their hands. This is one of those kids say and do the most interesting things, and not only that it was also the moment that I truly enjoyed learning about history. My family made a number of trips over the years, and I enjoyed visiting museums and sites such as Monticello, Battle of Gettysburg battleground, Colonial Williamsburg the most. Education for me has always been my favorite part of life, and while at times it was challenging for me field trips especially to museums have given me a way to understand the lessons I learned in the classroom.

In school I was a student with learning differences that according to my I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan) made speech, reading, and math a series of challenges I overcame as I continued my education. I thank my teachers every day for their commitments they made to fill my head with knowledge and their efforts to provide my classmates and I educational experiences outside the classroom. Even when I entered Western New England College (now University) in Springfield, Massachusetts and joined the Historical Society I enjoyed planning Historical Society trips to places such as Salem and Old Sturbridge Village. While I was in college, I looked back on my experiences and realized that I wanted to have a career in the museum field. Every day I was thankful for all of those field trips and family vacations I went on. Each of those trips gave me wonderful experiences I will always cherish.

While I was in graduate school at Central Connecticut State University, I began my museum career at the Old State House in Hartford as an intern in the education department during the summer. Then I worked as a Museum Teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington as I continued graduate school. Towards the end of my graduate program, I began working as a Museum Interpreter at Connecticut Landmarks’ historic house museums, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, where I gave tours to both school and the public. After I graduated with my degree in Public History in 2013, I also began to work at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society as a Museum Educator. Then I transitioned to New York to work as a Museum Educator with the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. I also have been working as a Parish Historian for the church I grew up going to and volunteer at various museums on Long Island. All of these experiences I plan to talk about as I continue to write in this blog.

This story will continue not only with a discussion about my experiences in greater detail but I also will discuss recent topics in the field as well as recent books and journal articles I read. I also will write about conferences and workshops I attended. What I hope to accomplish with this blog is to give educators and aspiring educators both a personal account of and resources on the museum education field. I will end this entry with one of my favorite quotes on education:

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
― Albert Einstein