Thanksgiving: How We Are Changing the Way We Teach Kids Why We Celebrate

November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving is a few days away, and we reflect on how we teach the next generation about its history. Children in the past began to dress up as Pilgrims and Native Americans for school pageants, make Turkeys in arts and crafts, create headbands with feathers and clothing out of shopping bags, design hats with buckles on top, and listen to stories about the first Thanksgiving. When I was a child, I was taught these lessons and since I grew up in Massachusetts, I made a number of trips to Plimoth Plantation to interact with the living history interpreters. We were taught at a young age that Native Americans and the Pilgrims had their first Thanksgiving in 1621 when they shared food and learned to get along. This story was reinforced especially in the media, and rarely did the media challenge the story.

In the 1993 film Addams Family Values the camp Wednesday and Pugsley Addams attend put on a play based on the first Thanksgiving. Wednesday and other kids considered outcasts of the camp were assigned to portray Native Americans and the rest of the kids were cast as food and Pilgrims. The play began with the typical depiction of what our society has taught children about the first Thanksgiving including the Pilgrims finding common ground with the Native Americans. As one of the characters invited the Native Americans to their table, Wednesday breaks from the play and delivers this speech:

You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the roadsides. You will play golf and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, “Do not trust the Pilgrims…”

Wednesday’s speech painted a different picture from the play attempted to tell, and is closer to the reality Native Americans face since their land was taken over. And now? The more we learned about Native Americans, the more we are moving away from this myth we were taught for generations.

I was introduced to the truth about the first Thanksgiving during one of my college History courses. Before we left for Thanksgiving, our professor assigned readings from the book The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz. The Deetzes pointed out the myth of Thanksgiving which opened my eyes more to how this myth was used as a credible source to teach Early American history and the disservice it does to representing the true nature of the Pilgrim/Native American relationship. In recent years, we have started to move away from teaching children the myth.

Time magazine released an article, which will be in the December 2nd through 9th edition of the magazine, focusing on the change in the way American children are learning about the first Thanksgiving. Their article covered a workshop in Washington D.C. called “Rethinking Thanksgiving in Your Classroom” in which teachers learned a better way to teach the Thanksgiving story to their students and to do so they did a lot of studying to learn about the story. The teachers were part of the movement to change the way Thanksgiving is taught in schools that had been stuck in the 19th century’s nostalgic interpretation of the past. While the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, it was not a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln declared it to be so to unite a country torn by the Civil War. The late 19th century saw a number of instances of rebranding people and events in the first Thanksgiving to fit the idyllic narrative, and by the 1920s Thanksgiving was the most talked about holiday in classrooms while leaving out details that made the settlers look bad. It was assumed that the Native Americans have disappeared which was why non-Native Americans feel comfortable dressing children in costumes; the reality is there are 573 federally recognized tribes today, and the active Native American culture and communities can be found across the country. The 1960s and 1970s civil rights movement, with the growth of the American Indian Movement, made the difference between reality and the story of Thanksgiving harder to ignore.

 Education Week also released an article that covered the turn to a different way to introduce the history of the first Thanksgiving. In addition to explaining the origins of how the celebration of Thanksgiving began and how the myth began to be taught in schools, they discussed when teachers noticed the need for change. Jacob Tsotigh, a citizen of the Kiowa tribe and the tribal education specialist for the National Indian Education Association, was quoted in the article stating that there is decreasingly less focus on the myth as people are made aware of the history being in actuality a myth as well as the realization that there is a different perspective which needs to be considered. While this myth has been shared for approximately 150 years, the Native American perspective has not been recognized in American schools. According to the article, Tsotigh recommended that to help students appreciate colonial oppression of Natives and the violence ensued from it the holiday should be reframed to honor representatives of Native communities who greeted the small number of European visitors at the time with open arms and believed in sharing with those less fortunate.

As we gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, we should remember to not only express what we are thankful for but to also learn more about Native American culture and their perspectives about the holiday.

I have included additional resources about teaching Thanksgiving for more information. I am thankful to all of you who have either continued to read the blog since the beginning or have just started to read the blog.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Resources:

https://time.com/5725168/thanksgiving-history-lesson/

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/11/22/as-thanksgiving-approaches-unlearning-history-continues.html

Deetz, James, Patricia Scott Deetz, The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony, New York: Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 2000, pg. 22-24.

Additional Resources:

https://blog.nativehope.org/what-does-thanksgiving-mean-to-native-americans

http://www.seattleschild.com/This-Thanksgiving-educate-your-family-about-Native-history-and-culture/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2016/11/27/do-american-indians-celebrate-thanksgiving/

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/25/the-invention-of-thanksgiving?fbclid=IwAR3rQIfmcyD29tetwpltW15916fCVsdIoM3dg7V1IAUMgsOyhUe8vywd_wk

International Museum Workers Day 2019 and #MuseumEdChat

October 24, 2019

October 24th is International Museum Workers Day. According to the official website, IMWD began as an educational project to introduce the general public to the myriad professions relating to the creation, research, discovery and presentation of heritage. The people behind International Museum Workers Day value the importance of soft power heritage diplomacy to help with exchange of views & ideas, promote knowledge of other cultures, and build bridges between nations. This year IMWD is supporting sustainable heritage by committing to stimulate communities to urgently embrace the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. The Agenda, developed by the United Nations, is a commitment to eliminate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 world-wide. To learn more about the Agenda, take a look at the European Commission page on the Agenda and sustainable development here.

In honor of International Museum Workers Day, I participated in the #MuseumEdChat on Twitter that focuses on stress and how museum professionals deal with stress. We all need to remember how to take time for ourselves for our emotional, mental, and physical health. The first question we addressed in the discussion was:

Q1: What in your work tends to ignite stress? #MuseumEdChat

A lot of the discussion focused on boundaries not being set, working significantly beyond the job description, low wages, and lack of understanding from leadership about emotional labor as well as physical and mental work put into our work as the main triggers of our stress in the museum field. In my opinion it seems that the further removed from the emotional, physical, and mental work the more leadership is unaware of what museum staff can realistically accomplish.

Museum professionals who participated in the discussion seem to agree that it is a challenge to have a work-life balance because we are stretched beyond our capabilities to meet expectations of leadership and the nature of our work. Some museum professionals, in my experience from talking with colleagues and participating in professional development programs, feel that they need to stretch themselves out to make ends meet on unlivable wages. If we continue this path, we will continue to have both an increase in burn out and individuals leaving the museum field. The second question we addressed in tonight’s discussion was:

Q2: What methods or strategies do you use to manage your stress? #MuseumEdChat.

My response to this question was:

There are varying strategies museum professionals can do to manage stress. For instance, some watch favorite television shows and knitting. The third question we addressed in our discussion was:

Q3: In what ways can managers/supervisors help staff manage their stress? In other words, what support do you need?  #MuseumEdChat

My response to this question was:

In other words, staff and managers should set aside time away from the museum to attend painting classes, go for a hike, etc. which would help both parties set up work/life balances. It is important that leadership should set an example for a healthy work/life balance. Also, an open communication between leadership and staff is a must to improve the quality of the museum work we do.

All museum professionals would benefit greatly from equitable pay, benefits, feasible expectations, and a healthy work/life balance. We need to continue to advocate for these things for museum workers. When we think about our museums contributions to the communities surrounding them, and sustainability for around the world, we should not forget about improving the quality of the museum workers’ working conditions. Our recognition of museum workers should be acknowledged on more than one day, as the people of IMWD strive towards with International Museum Workers Day.

Resources and Relevant Posts:

http://museumworkersday.org/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/06/07/why-self-care-is-important-for-museum-educators/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/04/reaction-no-money-no-new-ideas-conundrum/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/06/06/moving-towards-an-equitable-museum-workforce-reaction-to-salary-doc/

Philadelphia Museum Impressions: Science History Institute

October 17, 2019

Another museum I visited during the AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia was the Science History Institute. On the last day of the Annual Meeting, I decided that this will be one of the museums I wanted to see before I left. According to the website, the Science History Institute collects and shares stories of innovators and of discoveries that shape our lives. The Institute also preserves and interprets the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences. Inside the Institute, there are four programmatic areas that address specific parts of the non-profit organization’s overall mission: an archive and library for historians and researchers, a fellowship program for visiting scholars around the world, a community of researchers who examine historical and contemporary issues, and an acclaimed museum that is free and open to the public. The Institute also has a state-of-the-art conference center located within the building.

Because I did not have much time before I was leaving the city, I visited the museum and the exhibits. The Institute’s museum exhibits include an array of artifacts, scientific instruments, and art utilized to create exhibitions, public programs, and other materials showcasing the research and diverse collections. Making Modernity, a permanent exhibit, shows visitors how chemistry has touched our lives and visitors can trace the scientific progress in the laboratory, the factory, and their homes; the exhibit’s mission is to help visitors learn how chemistry created and continues to shape the modern world.  Throughout the exhibit, there are scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art, and the personal papers of prominent scientists. Making Modernity also have varying topics that range from alchemy, synthetics, and the chemical-instrument revolution to chemistry education, electro-chemistry, chemistry sets, and the science of color.

During my visit, I noticed that each part of the museum showcased scientific artifacts that described the evolution of everyday materials we may take for granted nowadays. For instance, one of the many sections I was impressed with was called The Chemical Body: A New View of Health which showed technical innovations in the 19th century that led to discoveries of vitamins and techniques for analyzing the body’s chemical and cellular makeup.

Another example of a section that stood out to me was The Bright World of Color which shares the changes in creating dyes from natural resources to using industrial research, synthetic dyes, and new testing methods to improve dye production. It reminded me of my research while I was in college about the history of cochineal used as red dyes. I enjoyed how much detail the exhibit labels went into each section of the museum exhibit especially in the Bright World of Color.

I was also impressed with another part of the exhibit which features an interactive multimedia learning experience which showcases the collections of art, scientific instruments, rare books, and other artifacts. The installation has a two-story high video column and a pair of high-resolution, interactive tables known as Object Explorer; visitors can explore the history and science behind various everyday objects by placing them on an interactive table to investigate the object’s history and the stories of the materials they are made of. For instance, I took a Pyrex measuring cup and placed in on the interactive table which revealed information about the history of glass and how the quality of glass was improved to eventually be used as the measuring cup.

Also, there was another exhibit I viewed while I was inside the Science History Institute called What Was the Real Age of Alchemy? Inside the exhibits there were various paintings and artifacts that revealed alchemy was change, creativity, and curiosity which shaped the modern understanding of modern science.

If you are visiting Philadelphia, I recommend spending a lot of time at the Science History Institute for there is so much to see and learn.

Resources:

https://www.sciencehistory.org

https://www.sciencehistory.org/museum

Who Decides the “Best Practices” in Museums?

October 10, 2019

Museums and museum professionals work towards making their programs, exhibits, and events successful based on best practices set for them to follow. I thought about writing on this topic when I saw a discussion on Twitter revealing their thoughts on paternity of best practices. When I hear the words “best practices”, the following questions came across my mind: What do “best practices” mean? How do we decide what the “best practices” are? Which ones should be followed, and which ones should not be followed? Do they work for my museum/institution?

The American Alliance of Museums stated that Best practices are commendable actions and philosophies that demonstrate an awareness of standards, solve problems and can be replicated. Museums may choose to emulate them if appropriate to their circumstances. In other words, there are many ways museums can demonstrate standards and are able to figure out which ones are appropriate for their institutions. As a museum professional, I noticed that best practices are continuously evolving as all museum professionals share and learn from one another what works based on the changing societal values. It is up to individual museums to figure out how to execute best practices that make sense for their museums.

Museums, however, do have best practices that each one should emulate that are ethical, legal, and equitable across the field. In the American Alliance of Museum’s Ethics and Best Practices in Museums document, it discussed general museum ethics and legal policies and practices while sharing its own best practices. According to the document, the American Alliance of Museums’ standards and best practices for museums in the United States require museums

  • is a good steward of its resources held in the public trust,
  • has “a formally approved, separate and distinct institutional code of ethics,”
  • is “committed to public accountability and is transparent in its mission and operations,” and
  • will “legally, ethically and responsibly acquire, manage, and dispose of collection items as well as
  • know what collections are in its ownership/custody, where they came from, why it has them, and their current condition and location.”

General best practices in museums could be applied to many museums. They can take the best practice and figure out based on local and state laws how they should be executed within the museum and their communities. When the best practices are specific to subjects and expertise (i.e. science, children’s, railroad, etc.) these institutions refer to other museum associations for resources on best practices.

There are numerous “best practices” museums utilize for their institutions, and various categories for best practices in museums. To answer a question of what the best practices are is a challenge to undertake. Many museum associations have their own list of best practices. On one of the American Alliance of Museum’s related webpages, for instance, they listed a number of museum associations that are specific to the field; the Association of Art Museum Directors, American Association for Museum Volunteers, American Association for State and Local History, American Historical Association, Association of Children’s Museums, Association of Railway Museums, Association of Science-Technology Centers, International Council of Museums, National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage, National Park Service, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and the Southeastern College Art Conference. Each of them has their own lists of standards and best practices for museum professionals to use for their museums.

Professional development programs introduce best practices for specific fields and departments. Museum professionals learn about best practices implemented by other museum professionals in museum education, volunteer/internship, finances, development and fundraising, leadership, boards, and collection stewardship just to name a few. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), for instance, had a webinar on Best Practices for Developing History Internships that is available to be viewed since it is recorded. According to their website,

Best Practices for Developing History Internships is an AASLH Continuing Education recorded webinar. This webinar is about tips and strategies for creating an internship program that both you and your interns will get something out of. Creating an internship program at your historic site can not only benefit your organization, but should also benefit your interns and lets you help develop the next generation of history professionals. We’ll cover the ethics of internships, best practices for managing interns, and a look at some common challenges and possible solutions. You’ll leave with ideas you can use at every organization, no matter its size.

In each professional development program in various formats there are descriptions that share what participants should expect to take away from the experience and share with their museums; once this information is shared, it is up to the staff of the museums to figure out the best way for them to execute methods and practices discussed. The previously listed example pointed out that by creating an effective internship program all museums can create a partnership that will benefit both the museum and interns. Best practices need to be reviewed, adapted, and utilized by museums based on its capabilities.

Discussion questions I will leave here: Do you have examples of best practices in museums that you have heard about? How are museums taking advantage of what they learned about best practices?

Resources and Additional Resources:

https://www.nemanet.org/files/3413/8552/9233/Standards_and_Best_Practices_Compilation_-_Fact_Sheet.pdf

https://aaslh.org/event/best-practices-for-developing-history-internships/

https://iowaculture.gov/sites/default/files/History%20-%20Research%20-%20Collections%20-%20Collections%20Care%20-%20Objects%20-%20Field%20Guide%20for%20Museums%20%28PDF%29.pdf

https://www.amazon.com/National-Standards-Best-Practices-Museums-ebook/dp/B004EEOLU8

https://ncac.org/resource/museum-best-practices-background

http://ww2.aam-us.org/resources/ethics-standards-and-best-practices/standards

https://www.aam-us.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/BRIEF-ETHICS-AND-BEST-PRACTICES.pdf

https://www.aamg-us.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/AAMG-Professional-Practices-2018-web-FINAL-rev043018.pdf

Interpretation: The Importance of Storytelling in Museum Programs

October 3, 2019

I recently started to have discussions about interpretation and storytelling for current projects I am working on, and they have inspired me to reflect on interpretation in museums and historic sites. Since officially beginning my career in the museum field in 2012, I learned about the importance of translating historical narrative for visitors to understand and to be engaged with the experience. As I continued my career, the discussions among museum professionals I noticed focus on using storytelling methods to get visitors’ attention.

Interpretative programs are significant for all history museums, historic house museums, and historic sites since how visitors see them and enjoy their experiences in these places would affect the way they viewed museums. The Technical Leaflet, a publication of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), called Telling the Story: Better Interpretation at Small Historical Organizations written by Timothy Glines and David Grabitske went into detail about interpretation and what small organizations can do better for their programs. Glines and Grabitske pointed out that Historical interpretation translates human stories from the past into meaningful thoughts for people in the present. As museum professionals our educational missions we strive for are to tell human stories people can identify with to have a better understanding of the history we present in our museums.

When I began graduate school and my career, I began to see the importance of relating human stories to the public and taking visitor input into account for interpretation. At the Connecticut’s Old State House, for instance, there were many frequently asked questions visitors have asked during tours that inspired staff to do more research to include in the tour narrative. In my blog post sharing my memories about the internship, I stated

I sat in on staff meetings to find out what common questions were asked during tours we did not already have answers for and I used those questions to do research to answer them. I regularly visited the Connecticut State Library to do research, and recorded answers into the Google Doc so we would be able to answer them in the future.

By finding out information visitors want to know most about, we would be able to have visitor input in the narrative. When interpretative programs are developed it is important to understand who the audience is and how to capture their attention to explain our relevance within the community and the overall historical narrative. Marcella Wells, Barbara Butler, and Judith Koke’s book Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making pointed out that museum planners must apply intentional effort and deliberation if they are to fully integrate visitor perspectives into their plans. In other words, there must be full commitment to incorporate visitor perspectives when considering planning interpretive programs. I saw the start of fleshing out this important point when I was working in Hartford on an interpretive project.

Something I have thought about when I gave tours at Connecticut Landmarks before the project started is the amount of information I tell visitors. Throughout the tours, I would figure it out the appropriate balance for each group of visitors. Glines and Grabitske also stressed the importance of sharing the right amount of information when storytelling. According to Glines and Grabitske, they pointed out that: we must pay attention to the interests of our visitors by telling meaningful stories, making sure not to fatigue them mentally with breathless depth or fatigue them physically with no chance to take it all in. When I started giving tours, I noticed there was a ton of information provided to each educator giving tours. It would be impossible to include all of it in one tour which is why it is important for us to chose what information to include in the narrative we tell. I also noticed that at that point I was more focused on making sure I hit each point than telling a story. The interpretive project I worked on with Connecticut Landmarks seemed to be moving towards telling a story.

While I was at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House, I joined the rest of the staff in interpretive planning meetings to draw in more visitors to the historic house. We realized that by using a theme, not only were we working towards visitors making connections, but it also focused on telling a narrative. Because there are many themes that are found in the Butler and McCook family history, there are different narratives visitors can choose to learn about and keep coming back to see something different than their previous visits. I briefly talked about this experience in my memories blog on Connecticut Landmarks’:

During my time at the Butler-McCook House, I was a part of the team that worked on revamping the tours by picking a theme of the house and researching the theme for a more engaging visitor experience. Each of us picked one theme to research on our own to present to the rest of the Connecticut Landmarks team, and I chose the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Hartford and the family.

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

To read a copy of the interpretive project, I included a link here. The Industrial Revolution was an important theme for the tour since we are all affected by technological advances, and to help visitors understand the impact of the Industrial Revolution it is important to use relevant examples.

Another example of using examples to help visitors connect with the historical narrative was while I taught school programs at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. In one of the chambers inside the house, I talked to the kids about the history of Noah Webster and his work on the first American published dictionary; I also discussed the objects that were displayed in the room. One of the kids asked me about how the bed warmer was used and I did so by describing the process and after asking them if they have seen the movie Pirates of the Caribbean I told them about how one of the characters used a similar bed warmer in one of the scenes. By connecting this object to something they have seen before in modern times, they were able to make that connection and use it to refer to it at a later point when they shared their experiences.

When I move forward in working on a current interpretative project, I will not only keep in mind the experiences I have had but incorporate more lessons I will continue to learn each step of the way.

Resources:

American Association for State and Local History, Technical Leaflet # 222, “Telling the Story: Better Interpretation at Small Historical Organizations”, History News, volume 58, number 2, Spring 2003.

Wells, Marcella; Butler, Barbara; Koke, Judith, Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc., 2013.

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/02/07/museum-memories-connecticuts-old-state-house/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/25/museum-memories-connecticut-landmarks-historic-houses-in-hartford/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/05/23/museum-memories-noah-webster-house/

Digital Resource Examination: The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook

September 19, 2019

Resources for public historians and museum professionals are numerous, and as both fields are talking about and taking action to being more inclusive there is a demand for resources to help museums, historic sites, and its staff become more inclusive. There are books, professional development sessions, webinars, articles, et. cetera professionals develop and utilize to move the fields forward. I participated in the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)’s webinar this afternoon about the new digital project, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook first released in August 2019 during the AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook is co-sponsored by AASLH and the National Council for Public History (NCPH). In the webinar, Kimberly Springle (Executive Director of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives and an advisory committee member) and Will Walker (associate professor of history, Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta and an editor for the Handbook) presented the website and explained how they envision the site to be used.

The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook is a digital resource that is free and open to all on the internet, and the authors of the entries on the site are experienced public historians and museum professionals. According to Springle and Walker, the goals for the Handbook are

To share a knowledge base that invites more people to engage in history projects,

To center equity, inclusivity, diversity, and public service,

To provide concrete examples of how to make history work more relevant.

I always appreciate projects that has several professionals collaborate to make a difference in the field. I appreciate that one of their approaches for being more inclusive is inviting individuals of varying backgrounds from professionals to individuals who work with historical collections but do not call themselves historians. By having so many contributors, we would have a lot of perspectives represented in each entry. When contributors send in their entries, there are editors and advisors that work together with contributors to make sure their content is as clear and concise as possible. The topics are limitless, and the list the presenters shared proved how extensive the list is and there is always more to write about for the Handbook.

They first shared a list of twenty-one current entries in the Inclusive Historian’s Handbook. A few examples of current entries include accessibility, civic engagement, heritage tourism, memorials and monuments, sexuality, and historic preservation. They also had a list of entries that are in progress of editing including but not limited to activism, oral history, leadership, K-12 history education, and Holocaust history. Lastly, they included a list of proposed entries including but limited to advisory boards, Civil Rights history, decolonizing museums, difficult history, boards and governance, documentary films, gender, and hiring. The editors and Advisory Committee members are still encouraging individuals to contribute to the Handbook by using the contact form on their website.

Participants in the webinar also were asked to answer two short polls in which of the 20 proposed entry categories. In the polls, we chose three categories from each one we were most interested in reading about. I think this would also be helpful for the Handbook to include these polls for visitors to the website so it will help both the Advisory Committee, editors, and contributors know what entries need to be included in the Handbook. Also, I like that the target audience for the Handbook is more inclusive.

Springle and Walker emphasized that the audience for the Handbook is anyone who is seeking to be more inclusive, equitable, and service-oriented in their work not just for paid professionals or academic scholars. Their hope with this digital resource project is that the content is accessible to all individuals who are doing historical work. Also, they had a list of suggested ways to use the Handbook including but not limited to personal reflection, staff development/team building, teaching/mentoring, collaboration/partnerships, resource mining, and contribute. Each suggested way to use the Handbook is significant to help the study of history evolve and inspire people to continue discussing important topics we need to keep fresh in our minds. It will also help museum professionals move forward within the field by delving into important topics we need to continue to address (especially hiring and boards and governance). This is a living digital resource that will be useful for all who seek inclusivity in history, and hopefully future editions will help continue important discussions.

To learn more, check it out here: www.inclusivehistorian.com

Services Examination: Explorable Places

August 22, 2019

As a museum professional, there are so many services I learned about that offer various ways to facilitate museum practices. For instance, there are services that help museum educators run booking and scheduling school programs. There are also services that help education programs get attention from parents and teachers to learn about field trip opportunities at museums; one of those services is Explorable Places. According to their website, Explorable Places helps parents and teachers find great learning experiences outside the classroom.

I learned about Explorable Places during this past year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference. It was in the session I attended called Technology in Museums: when it works, and when it doesn’t, which discussed when it makes sense to add technology to museums; the session asked questions such as: When does introducing technology actually take away from our objective? How can we figure this out before pouring thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into a “new” technology product? The speakers, one of them was the founder of Explorable Places, discussed their partnerships to draw more teachers and students to their museum. Since attending the session, I decided to take a closer look at the website to see how this service works.

On the website, there is a place where one can find trips, assemblies, and performances by typing in one’s zip code. At the time of this post, the featured cities are New York, Kansas City, Metro-Denver, and Philadelphia.  In the modify search and search results page, there are five sections to help adults find opportunities and connect with museums to book programs. One can look for experiences by subject, grade level, activity, cost, and accommodations such as lunch space and special education programs. Also, one can look for programs that have the option to book online. When I clicked on one of the museums, a profile of the museum I selected appears which provides a brief description of the museum, pictures, and contact information.

Each profile also includes information on lunch spaces so they know if the museum has a place to eat or if there is a place nearby students can eat, and they provide information about bathrooms. Also, the profile has a section that showed tags for subjects, activities, grades, cost, and accommodations the museum has based on the search results. For instance, I went onto the Children’s Museum of the Arts profile and found the subjects educators teach are technology, arts, art, visual arts, and media/film. Profiles have a section called Learning Experiences which list educational opportunities with information such as a brief information, grade levels, capacity, price options, and duration of program. If a museum’s profile has this feature, adults could book online through Explorable Places portal which will take them to the museum’s calendar of availabilities and will guide them through the steps to book a program at the museum. I see the potential of helping more museums, parents, and teachers form connections to provide and participate in opportunities. Explorable Places’ home page includes links to pages for cultural partners, parents, and teachers to help them find what they are looking for.

For cultural partners, Explorable Places wants to help parents and teachers find them and the programs they offer. If an institution was not found on the Explorable Places site, they can reach out so Explorable Places can add them to the list to spread the word to site members. There are three tiers available for those considering reaching out to the site. The first tier, which is free, allows one to manage the page to include a photo of the site or program, one hundred words to describe what the museum/site does, up to five subject tags (verified for accuracy), and contact information and link. Each tier after the first one has additional features such as highlight learning experiences and unlimited bookings.

For parents and teachers, after clicking on the link it directs visitors to the places webpage. There are places in the states of Pennsylvania, Kansas, Colorado, New York, Delaware, and a couple of places in Massachusetts. Some of the places that are listed on the website are but not limited to Four Mile Historic Park, Old Sturbridge Village, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and the Gore Place. Also, there is an opportunity to sign up to become a member so one could be informed about new museums or sites added to the cultural partners list.

To learn more about what Explorable Places offers and see if it is right for your site, students, or children, I included the website in the resources section.

Announcement: I will be attending this year’s AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia next week from August 28th to August 31st. Instead of writing a blog post next week, I will be posting my reactions on social media and compile highlights for a post when I return. To follow my reactions to the sessions and events live, follow me on Twitter at this username: @Steward2Lindsey

Resources:

https://www.explorableplaces.com/

NYCMER 2019: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/05/16/nycmer2019-the-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-of-museum-education/

Humanities Indicators Results Reaction: Visitors Historic Sites and Museums on the Rise

August 15, 2019

This past Monday, I discovered an interesting study that was examined and presented by Humanities Indicators. For those who are not familiar with them, Humanities Indicators is run by the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. The Academy is an honorary society that recognizes and celebrates the excellence of its members, and it is an independent research center convening the leaders from across disciplines, professions, and perspectives to address significant challenges. Humanities Indicators, according to the website, presents data which are quantitative descriptive statistics that chart trends over time in aspects of the humanities that are of interest to a wide audience and for which there are available data. As the title suggests, the results from the study revealed the number of visitors coming to historic sites and museums is on the rise.

On the results page, it revealed that the results were updated this month, so we know they continuously update the information as new studies have been completed. In the report, it stated according to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), the percentage of people making at least one such visit fell steadily from 1982 to 2012, before rising somewhat in 2017. The recent results make me hopeful that the numbers will continue to increase especially since we need to preserve the historic sites, parks, and collections for future generations to learn about our past, and learn how we remember and preserve the past. It is important now more than ever to help educate people and future generations why history is significant in understanding how the country came to the current state it is in. I continued to read the study to learn about the findings they discovered about historic sites and museums.

There were a few findings and trends they reported on the webpage to explain the rise of visitors to historic sites and museums. For instance, the number of American adults who visited historic sites has changed in a few ways:

In 2017, 28% of American adults reported visiting a historic site in the previous year. This represented an increase of 4.4 percentage points from 2012 (the last time SPPA was administered), but a decrease of 8.9 percentage points from 1982 (Indicator V-13a). The bulk of the decline in visitation occurred from 2002 to 2008.

The Indicator V-13a refers to the bar graph that measures the percentage of U.S. adults by age who toured a park, monument, building, or neighborhood for historic or design value in the previous 12 months between 1982 and 2017. What did not surprise me too much was the bulk of the decline between 2002 and 2008 since it was the years leading up to the recession and I assume not many people were willing or able to travel as much (of course there is more than one reason for the decline). Other findings and trends that were shared by Humanities Indicators include:

From 1982 to 2017, the differences among age groups with respect to rates of historic site visitation decreased. For example, in 1982, the rate of visitation among 25-to-34-year-olds (the group most likely to visit a historic site in that survey) was approximately 11 percentage points higher than that of the youngest age group (18-to-24-year-olds), and more than 17 points higher than that of people ages 65–74. By 2017, however, the visitation rate of 25-to-34-year-olds had dropped to within five percentage points of the younger cohort and was virtually identical of that for the older group.

Much of the recent growth in visits to historic sites occurred among parks classified as national memorials and was driven by a particularly high level of visitation at sites that did not exist in 1995, such as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (3.3 million visitors in 2018), the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (3.6 million visitors), and the World War II Memorial (4.7 million visitors). As a result, visits to national memorials increased more than 300% from 1995 to 2016, even as the number of sites increased just 26% (from 23 to 29). In comparison, visits to national monuments increased only 3%, even as the number of sites in the category increased by 9% (from 64 to 70). From 2016 to 2018, the number of visits fell in every category, with the largest decline occurring at the memorial sites (down 10%), and the smallest drop at national monuments (3%).

When I read the study not only was I beginning to see hope in the future of museum and historic site visits, but I also began to get curious about how historic sites and museums visits were influenced by people outside the country visiting the United States. Is there a study out there that showed foreign visitors at the historic sites, parks, museums? Were the patterns like what has been presented in this study?

I would also be interested in the number of families that visit the historic sites and museums. Are there similar patterns found in this study for family visitors? It would be worth looking into both foreign visitors and families.

To find out the rest of the findings and the charts that visually represented the results they discovered, I included a link to the original site they presented the study. They also included a study on attendance of art museums, and I included the link to this one as well.

Resources:

Historic Sites Visits: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=101

Art Museum Attendance: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=102

American Academy of the Arts and Sciences: https://www.amacad.org/

Humanities Indicators: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/default.aspx

Virtual Museum Experiences: Impressions of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education

August 1, 2019

This week Museum Education Roundtable released the forty-fourth volume, number three edition of their journal, Journal of Museum Education, online. In case you are not familiar with the journal, the Journal of Museum Education is a peer-reviewed journal released by the Museum Education Roundtable four times a year that explores and reports on theory, training, and practice in the museum education field. Each journal is divided into at least four sections, and in the latest edition they are: Editorial; Articles; Tools, Frameworks and Case Studies; and Book Review. In this edition of the Journal, there are four articles focused on virtual reality, five pieces in the Tools, Frameworks and Case Studies, and a book review of the book Intentional Practice for Museums: A Guide for Maximizing Impact by Randi Korn.

On Museum Education Roundtable’s website, they released links to the articles from this edition Virtual Visits: Museums Beaming in Live focusing on using virtual reality for museum experiences. I believe that utilizing virtual reality in museum education is a helpful tool for visitor experiences, and while it does not replace the in-person experience, but it especially is a benefit for individuals who are not able to for various reasons be in the physical space. I have limited experience with virtual reality, but I continuously seek professional development opportunities to advance my skills as a museum educator; which is why I took advantage of reading these articles.

At the Long Island Explorium, a children’s science museum, I have worked with virtual reality programs for educational and entertainment purposes. Each visitor had the opportunity to wear a virtual reality headset and participate in a couple of programs that came with the Microsoft virtual reality system. One of the programs allowed visitors to tour through the solar system wearing the headset and using the handsets participants can click on each star, planet, etc. to learn more about everything about solar systems. The second program gives participants two ancient ruins and their modern landscapes to tour through to learn the history of each civilization; participants can tour through either Peru or Rome. What was different about this program from the solar system program is participants can move around a little bit as if they were really standing in the locations. The Microsoft system we used connected to the PC and Smartboard which allowed individuals who were not wearing the headset to view what the person wearing it sees.

Since I was guiding visitors and showed the rest of the museum staff how to use the virtual reality, I have gained some experience using it and recognize the value of virtual reality in museums. Both programs provide an educational opportunity for visitors to explore space and civilizations where they are most likely have not been before. When I read the latest edition of Journal of Museum Education, I shared the sentiment the Editor-in-Chief, Cynthia Robinson, shared in the journal

“Although virtual access does not provide some of the authenticity of a physical encounter, it is no less meaningful than reading a history book to learn about and imagine the past, or viewing a filmed documentary of a place we would otherwise not visit.”

By including virtual reality in museums, museum professionals can provide another medium they will utilize for programs and exhibits to reach out to visitors. My experience with virtual reality showed me the potential of its use in a children’s science museum and based on the programs I worked with I have no doubt it could work with varying types of museums.

Individuals can take advantage of virtually visiting museums and participating in museum programs that are far from home, or places that are not entirely handicapped accessible. According to one of the articles, “Virtual Visits: Museums Beaming in Live”, Allyson Mitchell stated

“Museum educators already interpret the collections and content of their institutions through educational programming to meet the needs of family, school age, adult, senior, and community audiences. IVL [Interactive Virtual Learning] programs provide a similar real-time connection to a museum professional who facilitates personalized learning experiences that actively engage groups visiting virtually to forge deeper connection to cultural institutions and lifelong learning.”

IVL programs provide live interactive broadcasts that offer visitors at a distance real-time connection to a museum professional and resources. I had my first experience with an IVL program during a professional development program. During last year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference, I participated in a session called Virtual Field Trips: Traveling Through Time and Space to Connect Museums and Audiences in which session speakers discussed the benefits and challenges of running and planning virtual field trips. Also, they performed a demonstration what a virtual field trip is like using Skype by giving us a brief demonstration of what it would be like to be in space without wearing a space suit. As I continued to read the Journal of Museum Education, I realize the continued potential of virtual reality use in museums not only in programs but with museum collections.

In the article “Defining Interactive Virtual Learning in Museum Education: A Shared Perspective”, Kasey Gaylord-Opalewski & Lynda O’Leary discussed how all cultural institutions can benefit from a top-notch virtual learning program in terms of outreach, diversity, and promotion of collection. According to Gaylord-Opalewski and O’Leary, there are multiple benefits of using

“The world of IVL is commonly viewed as an addendum to an onsite experience with cultural institutions such as zoos, museums, libraries, science centers, and the like. Through dedicated virtual educators trained to interpret collections using synchronous technology, IVL programs serve not just as an addendum to onsite experiences, but rather as a conduit for greater outreach and promotion to audiences that may never have the opportunity to visit the collections of a museum in person – due to budget, physical limitations, or distance.”

While the program I used at the Long Island Explorium was used as one of the additions used onsite, I believe in the potential to reach out to many current and potential visitors who do not always have access to museums in person. Museum professionals have always investigated ways we can draw more visitors to our museums and sites, and as technology continues to develop we continue to figure out different ways we can reach out to people to share resources and collections.

Discussion Questions: Have you used virtual reality, whether it was in a museum or not? What is your reaction to virtual reality? Do you think virtual reality could be useful in museums? Why or why not?

Resources:

www.museumedu.org/jme/jme-44-3-virtual-visits-museums-beaming-in-live/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/05/24/social-media-journalists-at-conferences-my-experience-as-one-at-nycmer-2018/

Mental Impact of Historic Sites on Individuals

July 25, 2019

As a member of the American Association for State and Local History, I receive a copy of History News, the magazine that connects the people engaged in history work to new questions, ideas, perspectives, and each other. This week I received the Spring edition of the History News which focused on the power historic places hold on visitors. One of the articles featured in the magazine is “More Than a Feeling: Measuring the Impact of Historic Sites on the Brain” which discusses the impact of historic places on people’s mental state. After reading this article, I thought about my own experiences visiting historic places and my own emotional and intellectual response to these experiences. I covered a lot about the places I have visited on my blog in the past which I will include links to at the end of this post. I decided to revisit the ones I have written about to point out the emotional and intellectual connections I made to the places I visited to show how my connections evolved overtime. By briefly sharing both the article and my experiences from the previous blog posts, we will see how important historic sites and places are to individuals’ mental state during their visits.

Written by Erin Carlson Mast and Callie Hawkins, the Executive Director and the Director of Programming at President Lincoln’s Cottage respectively, the article examines how the staff at President Lincoln’s Cottage investigate how visitors are emotionally and intellectually effected by this historic site. Carlson Mast and Hawkins pointed out that:

Though many have tried to explain the value of old places or the important role they play in our society, no one has created a replicable, scientific way to quantify what is often at the heart of our mission: deeply personal, qualitative experiences for individuals and communities.

The plan to study the emotional and intellectual effects in visitors is to use mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to both measure and clarify brain states of visitors as they participate in the guided Cottage tour, with the goal of distinguishing between what does and does not have a significant impact on the visitors’ experience. There will be three groups of thirty participants who will participate in sub-groups of ten to mimic the average visit on a tour in the Cottage. As the tour is conducted, they will use the mobile EEG technology to measure excitement, interest, stress, engagement, focus, and relaxation and the participants self-reports will be used to clarify the data. I look forward to reading the follow-up to the study to see what the results would be.

I think that it would be interesting to discover what the emotional and intellectual connections to historic sites would be since we may have accurate data to use to help create more effective interactive as well as engaging exhibits and programs. The writers also brought up this point on the importance of this experiment:

Emotion is critical to enhancing learning, improving critical thinking, and inspiring people to act or think differently. Thus, having scientific data about the best ways the Cottage can illicit such responses will get us ever closer to fulfilling our mandate and proving the elusive power of place.

Museum professionals strive to create an engaging and educational experience for each visitor they serve within the community museums are located. As I reflect on my own experiences at museums as both a visitor and museum professional, I made note of the emotional and intellectual effects that it had on me.

For instance, one of the first museums I visited in my lifetime was at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In a blog post I wrote about my experience, I stated:

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.

My emotional connection to Plimoth Plantation is through my childhood memories of when I visited with family members. When I made another visit, it was when I was studying history in college and part of a historical society club for a both bonding and educational session. Both instances shared how my connections are reflections from my memory, and at the time of each instance I was creating bonding moments with family and peers that helped me connect with Plimoth Plantation’s narrative. When I was a child, I was focused on playing and enjoying my time in a setting I was not familiar with. Meanwhile, as a young adult I became more focused on the history of Plimoth colony and the Pilgrims and Native Americans who lived in the colony.

Another example of the similar emotional and intellectual connections made was when I visited the Salem Witch Museum located in Salem, Massachusetts. Known for the Salem Witch Trials and for the maritime history, Salem drew in many people to visit the tourist destinations. In my blog post about the Salem Witch Museum, I wrote about my experiences:

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.

As a child, I associated the Salem Witch Museum as a scary experience because of my impressions of what I was anticipating but when I was in college, I was able to see the presentation I missed during my last visit. Based on what I wrote in the blog, my emotion connection to the museum was caused by the stress of waiting for the experience and seeing visuals that made my imagination as a child run wild. Each of my experiences showed that time between visits effected my impressions and emotional connections to the museums.

If museum professionals in other museums can perform similar experiments, they could help their significantly effect not only how programs, events, and exhibits are developed but they could affect how staff can perform in their roles. The article pointed out that:

Proving the transformative nature of experiences at our sites and museums would mean that experiences like those shared by our visitors would be useful not only for advocacy and fundraising efforts, but also could better inform changes that would enhance the depth of our impact. We could apply that data to change how we recruit, train, and treat staff; how we interact with visitors; how we choose stories and how we tell them; and how we advocate for the field as a whole.

We will not know for sure unless we take a closer look into our visitors’ emotional connections to improve the quality of their experience.

Discussion question I will leave here: How do you feel about science experiments to study visitors’ experiences with museums?

Resources:

History News: https://learn.aaslh.org/history-news

Museum Impressions, Plimoth Plantation: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/04/12/patreon-request-museum-impressions-plimoth-plantation/

Museum Impressions, Salem Witch Museum: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/10/04/patron-request-museum-impressions-salem-witch-museum/