Women Represented in Historical Narrative and Museums

Originally posted on Medium, March 23, 2017.

In honor of women’s history month, I thought I would discuss women’s roles in history and how women are represented in museums. I specifically will talk about the women in the historical narrative of the museums I worked for. Also, I will discuss a lesson plan that I wrote for my capstone project, Women of the Eighteenth Century at Stanley-Whitman House, as a requirement for my Master’s degree in Public History at Central Connecticut State University. The lesson plan I wrote focused on the women who lived in the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, and women’s role in 18th century America.

In addition to my experience writing this lesson plan, I also worked at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House where strong independent women once lived in and heavily involved in the Hartford community. For instance, there was Frances McCook who was a substitute organist at her father’s (Reverend John James McCook) church at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in East Hartford and was an active member of the Antiquarian Landmarks Society (now called Connecticut Landmarks) who saved a historic building from being torn down by suggesting it is moved onto her family property. Women’s roles in history as we are reminded this month are significant in our society.

Women have an impact on our society in large and small ways. My experience on teaching Hartford history and the women’s role in preserving that history is an example of this. Stanley-Whitman House is a living history center and museum that teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. My lesson plan was written based on this mission and on my experience teaching programs there. The purpose of this lesson plan was to aid school-age children in becoming more aware of the study of Early American women’s history and its significance to the overall local and American eighteenth-century history. According to my capstone project, it is based on the requirements of a Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan which focuses on eighteenth century New England women and it takes a specific look at the lives of two women who lived in the Farmington, Connecticut, Mary Steele Smith and Susannah Cole Whitman.

Mary Steele Smith was born in 1709 to Ebenezer Steele and Sarah Hart. She inherited the house from her father who purchased it from Deacon John Stanley, whose father (John Stanley) built the house between 1709 and 1720 using wood and stone, and used post and beam construction for the frame. At the time of her father’s death, he did not have male heirs who would have inherited his property so therefore Mary inherited the property. In 1725 18-year-old Mary and her 25-year-old husband Thomas Smith moved in, becoming its first occupants. Smith was a professional weaver who also farmed along the banks of the Farmington River. Mary and Thomas Smith lived in the house for ten years before selling the property and moving to another house in Farmington.

The second family that lived in the Stanley-Whitman house was the Whitman family. Reverend Samuel Whitman, a minister of the First Church of Christ, Congregational in Farmington, purchased the property in 1735 for his son Solomon Whitman who was born in 1711. Solomon married Susannah Cole (Cowles), born on October 22, 1721, in 1736. Susannah was the daughter of Caleb Cowles (1682–1725) who was a deacon and Abigail Woodford (1685–1736). Cowles and Woodford were both descendants of the parties that followed Thomas Hooker to Connecticut in the 1630s; James Cowles, Caleb’s great grandfather, came over to New England with his family from Essex County in England and sometime in 1633 his family traveled to where they settled Hartford, and Woodford was the granddaughter of Thomas Woodford who was one of the parties led by Thomas Hooker to Hartford, of which he became one of the founders in 1633. Based on these connections, Susannah would have come into a lot of wealth, land, and prestige.

Both were economically comfortable, two white New England women who were members of the First Congregationalist Church. Also, both Mary Smith and Susannah Whitman were landowners, mothers, daughters, faithful Christians, and servants within their communities, one in the early eighteenth century, and the other before the Revolution. The lesson includes background information about the history of Farmington and about women of different social and economic status to inform students that not every individual who lived during the eighteenth century lived the same way Mary and Susannah lived.

The capstone also includes background information on the history of Farmington taken from research materials found in the Stanley-Whitman House library and collections as well as Central Connecticut State University’s Elihu Burritt Library for more background information about eighteenth century New England. Farmington was settled in 1640 when English settlers arrived in the Tunxis Native Americans territory. For the first 100 years in Farmington, the main occupation was farming. By 1700, the self-reliant community included carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, tanners, weavers, and coopers. As the number of industries grew in Farmington in the late 1700s, the town became increasingly prosperous. After the Revolutionary War, the town became a trading center, selling Yankee wares in the South and importing goods from as far away as China. Townspeople began wearing silks and satins, buying luxuries such as pianos and phaetons — light horse-drawn carriages — and spending money on fine new homes. The lesson plan has an impact on the Stanley-Whitman House because it provides them another lesson plan for visiting students who come to the museum.

This project provided a way to teach eighteenth century New England women’s history to students. The capstone project began with a paper called “Eighteenth-Century Women’s Roles in the Stanley-Whitman House: Typical or Extraordinary?” which discusses the question of whether Mary Smith and Susannah Whitman were typical women of their time or were exceptional; based on the available evidence, I discovered that Mary Steele Smith and Susannah Cole Whitman were largely typical women of their respective eras within their socio-economic class. After the paper, the capstone project continued with the lesson plan. The lesson plan was divided into sections: an introduction to the history of Stanley-Whitman House, about the lesson which has a citation and where the curriculum fits into the national and state learning standards, objectives for students, and materials for students. Another section in the lesson plan was teaching activities which includes a map activity, a few reading comprehension activities that include narratives of Farmington and women’s history especially the women who lived in Stanley-Whitman House, and object-based activities inside the house that help students compare the women in the house as well as the 18th century. The experience of writing this lesson plan provided an opportunity for me to learn more about women’s roles in the local community.

I continued to learn more about women in the local community by learning more about three women who were dedicated to preserving their family history and Hartford’s history. Connecticut Landmarks, originally known as the Antiquarian Landmarks society, obtained two historic houses from members of the organization in Hartford.

The first property was the Butler-McCook House located on Main Street across the street from Capitol Street; it was originally owned by four generations of the same family from the 1780s until 1971, and the last living member who owned it was Frances McCook (1877–1971). In 1907 and 1908, she traveled around the world with her father stopping in places like Spain, Italy, Egypt, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong and then visited her sister Eliza in China; Eliza McCook was a teacher who moved to China to become a missionary. As a member of the Antiquarian Society, she offered to save Amos Bull House by having it moved onto her property.

The eighteenth-century building was originally a dry goods store and a residence and then it was used as a hardware store, an auto dealership, insurance offices and a restaurant; Amos Bull (1744–1825) was born in Enfield and grew up there and in Farmington. He completed his home in late 1789 and advertised that he was open for business in December 1789; his store sold linens, hardware and household items. In 1968, the building was threatened with urban renewal-related demolition but with the efforts of the community and Frances’ generosity the endangered building was moved to the rear of the Butler-McCook House.

Toward the end of her life, Frances decided to make the McCook house into a museum and spent years organizing family letters and diaries as well as taking care of the house. She wanted people to enjoy the house for its architectural significance as well as her family’s role in the Hartford community and the history of Hartford. What I have learned from these experiences and throughout my life is that women have contributed so much to our society, and they inspire me to be continue to achieve my goals as a person, historian, and museum educator.

Find out more about these women and places they lived in here:
http://www.ctlandmarks.org
http://www.stanleywhitman.org

What have you learned about women in history? If you had to choose a favorite female historical figure, who would it be? Do you have any women in your life you look up to for inspiration?

 

 

 

 

 

Equity and Inclusion in Museums

Originally posted on Medium, March 10, 2017.

This week’s blog post is both a continuation of the previous blog post “How to use Food to Create Relevance in Museums” and a discussion on equity and inclusion in museums. The topic was inspired by a New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) event Lessons in Equity from Culturally-Specific Institutions: Beyond the “Target Program” that took place this week at the Museum of Chinese in America. This panel began with a gallery exploration of the exhibit “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America” and snacks and refreshments were provided based on the exhibit.

The panel was moderated by Stephanie LaFroscia who is the Arts Program Specialist at New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Each of the panelists who spoke at the program represent culturally-specific institutions and discuss their experiences and challenges of inclusivity and equity. The panelists were Nancy Yao Maasbach (President of the Museum of Chinese in America), Shanta Lawson (Education Director at the Studio Museum in Harlem), Joy Liu (Education Specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York), and Isra el-Bishar (Curator of Education and Public Programming at the Arab American National Museum). While I was listening to the panelists’ experiences, I also thought about how equity and inclusion is discussed in the general museum field. Last month’s Museum magazine issue was dedicated to the topic of equity and inclusion. Also, I recently received my issue of the Journal of Museum Education which includes articles based on the issue’s title “Race, Dialogue and Inclusion” (Volume 42.1, March 2017). By attending this program, I learned more about how to create an environment that is more inclusive as a museum professional.

The program took place at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) located on Centre Street in New York City. The Museum of Chinese in America is an organization that is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States; the museum also promotes dialogue and understanding among people of all cultural backgrounds. The central part of this museum’s mission is the goal to make Chinese American history accessible to the general public. Also, the museum not only promotes the understanding and appreciation of Chinese American arts, culture, and history but it also informs, educates and engages visitors of Chinese American history in the making.

Museum of Chinese in America

After I walked from the subway to the Museum of Chinese in America, I had the opportunity to try the food related to the museum’s exhibit “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America” before the program began. The snacks were provided by Nom Wah Tea Parlor which is a vintage dim sum parlor that dates back to 1920. There was a sample of various dim sum featured on their menu as well as sparkling water and lemonade for beverages.

I had the opportunity to try vegetarian dumplings, scallion pancake, chicken siu mai, and fried sesame ball with lotus paste. Vegetarian dumplings have mixed vegetables and mushrooms in homemade tapioca starch wrappers. Scallion pancakes are made with wheat flour batter mixed with scallions and then the batter is pan-fried. Chicken Siu Mai is minced chicken in wonton wrappers. The fried sesame ball with lotus paste is lotus paste (sweet and smooth filled paste made from dried lotus seeds) that is wrapped in rice flour dough and then wrapped in sesame seeds. Each of these were delicious, and it is different from other Chinese dishes I have had during my lifetime so far. By trying dim sum, I was able to see what authentic Chinese food tastes like and I had the opportunity to appreciate the culture even more than I had before this experience.

Once I finished eating dim sum, I explored the exhibit “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America” which opened on October 6, 2016 and will now close on September 10, 2017 due to its popularity. The exhibit had a large table and chairs around it in the middle of the room which featured plates, utensils, place settings, and ceramic sculptures; this exhibit told stories of thirty-three Chinese and Asian-American chefs. Also, this exhibit weaves together various complex stories through video installations featuring pioneering chefs including Cecilia Chiang, Ken Hom, Anita Lo, Ming Tsai, and Martin Yan; new restaurateurs like Peter Chang, Vivian Ku, and Danny Bowien; and persevering home cooks like Biying Ni, Yvette Lee and Ho-chin Yang.

This video as well as the large table in the center of the room create a tapestry of various stories that tell their experiences with immigration as well as sharing food memories, favorite dishes and cooking inspirations that define the culinary and personal identities of these chefs. The name of this exhibit comes from an expression that not only refers to the balance of flavors that define Chinese cooking but it also refers to the ups and downs of life. As I read each personal story and explored the rest of the museum’s exhibits, I began to understand the Chinese American experience and I was able to see the relevance of how important it is to continue telling stories of and to appreciate various cultures in our nation.

The program began, after spending time in the exhibit, with each representative from culturally-specific institutions describing their institutions’ missions. For instance, Shanta Lawson of the Studio Museum in Harlem stated that the museum, founded in 1968/1969, was created in response to the lack of diversity in the community and fifty years later there is still a long way to go, and was created to support black artists and art education. Nancy Yao Maasbach of the Museum of Chinese in America discussed the Journey Wall which features Chinese immigrant families and talk about how each of the items in their collection (which is about 65,000 items) have value to the museum and the community. Also, Isra el-Bishar of the Arab American National Museum stated that the museum has been around for twelve years and continues to fulfill its mission by finding ways to represent individuals’ narratives from each Arab country. At the conclusion of the program, after answering various questions from the moderator and people in the audience, each panelist discussed how their respective organizations move forward towards inclusion and equity.

Lawson, for instance, stated that the Studio Museum in Harlem staff plan to continue challenging themselves on how to push forward and challenge norms to see what works and what doesn’t work. Joy Liu of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York discussed the opportunity to include other indigenous peoples’ stories (Latin American indigenous groups), integrate indigenous history, and answer the question what does it mean to be indigenous today? Liu also stated that it is important to emphasize that indigenous peoples’ stories continue to this day, and make sure the truth about indigenous people (indigenous people are the majority in North America for example) is told. Also, Maasbach stated that the museum will use technology more to help visitors understand stories in a way people of different cultures can understand what they did not experience (such as the chair to simulate interrogation of twelve-year-old that was separated from family on Angel Island, California). This program made me think more about equity and inclusion, especially how it is discussed by organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums and the Museum Education Roundtable.

The American Alliance of Museums publishes Museum a magazine that publishes articles written by museum professionals and by writers who write about topics that help museum professionals run their museums. As an AAM member, I have the opportunity to subscribe to this magazine. The previous issue, January/February 2017, main topic was “Equity in the Museum Workforce”, and each article was written with this topic in mind. For instance, there is an article written by Elizabeth Merritt (founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums [CFM]) called “Taking the Bias out of Hiring” which discusses identifying and eliminating unconscious bias in the recruitment process. Another article is “We’re Not That Hard to Find: Hiring Diverse Museum Staff” by Joy Bailey-Bryant (who is responsible for the U.S. operations of Lord Cultural Resources) which presents a set of guidelines to implement change in the museum and identify a pipeline of diverse employees.

Museum Education Roundtable’s publication Journal of Museum Education presents articles written by museum education professionals and museum professionals to discuss current trends and practices in museum education. This month’s journal is on the topic of “Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion: A Museum on the National Stage” and it is broken down into a few sections. The Journal starts with an editorial from Cynthia Robinson, editor-in-chief, and then moves on to an article from guest editors and additional articles from various museum professionals; the Journal also includes a section Tools, Frameworks, and Case Studies which provide exercised examples of how the topic can be addressed in the museum, and What the Research Says which is a research study. I will also be participating in AAM’s discussion on Race, Dialogue and Inclusion based on this month’s Journal of Museum Education so I will discuss this one in further detail. I leave you with these questions to ponder on:

What is your museum/organization doing to move forward on equity and inclusion? Have you read any of the above articles and journal I referred to? If so, what do you think?

Museums Advocacy Week: How to Promote Museums Significance in our Nation

Originally posted on Medium, March 2, 2017.

This past week the American Alliance of Museums presented Museums Advocacy Days, which museum professionals go to Washington, D.C. each year since 2009 to speak to legislators about museums significance in our society. Museums Advocacy Day 2017 took place on February 27th and February 28th in Washington, D.C. and throughout the United States. Museum professionals also participate from home by promoting through social media, and by contacting their state representatives to send letters stressing how important museums are to our nation and society to continually give financial support to these organizations.

I have participated in various Museums Advocacy Days promotion over the years, and this year’s Museums Advocacy Days were no exception. For instance, I promote the significance of museums by posting facts and reposting information on Facebook and Twitter. I have also used templates provided by the American Alliance of Museums to write to legislators to help them understand how important museums are to our nation. The American Alliance of Museums announced that this year about 400 museum professionals went to Washington to speak with legislators.

When the museum professionals attend Museums Advocacy Day on location in Washington, D.C., there are various sessions scheduled to discuss the importance of museums. Much of this year’s Museums Advocacy Day took place at the Washington Plaza Hotel. The day before Museums Advocacy Day was when registration and material pick up begin, and a couple of optional programs are offered to give museum professionals advice on how to prepare for meetings with legislators. Then there was a Welcome Reception at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

On the first day of Museums Advocacy Day, there is a networking breakfast before orientation. Then AAM’s President and CEO, Laura Lott, welcomed advocates by addressing why they were there and what is at stake in 2017 for museums. Dr. William (Bro) Adams, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chairman, gave an overview of NEH while presenting its current priorities and explained how the agency partners with museums. The Director of National Public Engagement at the US Department of Education, Karen Stratman, provided an overview of the department’s priorities and gave details on how its programs can support museums’ work. Then Wendy Clark, Director of Museums, Visual Arts & Indemnity at the National Endowment for the Arts, discussed the NEA and how this organization supports museums. Paula Gangopadhyay, Deputy Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, then explained what IMLS is, its priorities, and the number of ways this organization supports and serves the entire museum field.

Then the first day continued with various sessions that help advocates successfully discuss with Congressmen and legislators about museums significance in our country. Also, they provide information about public policies and how to use them when discussing with legislators. Towards the end of the day, there is a way that advocates can practice with other advocates from their state and region as well as plan for their visits to the Hill.

On the second day of Museums Advocacy Day, it starts with a Congressional Kick-Off as well as a breakfast that will give advocates inspiration as they prepare to meet with legislators. The entire day is filled with meetings on Capitol Hill arranged by the American Alliance of Museums based on what information museum professionals give during registration. At the end of the day, there is a Congressional Reception located in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress to celebrate a long day of advocating for museums. If museum professionals like me did not go down to Washington, D.C., they still get involved by participating on social media and sending letters to local legislators.

All over social media, museum professionals post on social media to promote Museums Advocacy Day. Even museum professionals who were in Washington, D.C. used social media to quote presenters discussing museums and museums advocacy. Each quote is used to reinforce why museums are important in our country and why our government should provide sufficient funding for our museums and cultural organizations. For instance, the United States Department of Education, the American Alliance of Museums, and the American Alliance of Museums Education Committee was tagged with this quote on Twitter: “Nothing is more important than kids getting a broad education including museums”. I agree with that statement because museums provide lessons that will help supplement lessons taught inside the classroom, and help students develop skills that will be useful once they enter the working field.

Another tweet tagged the National Endowment for the Arts with this quote on arts and museums: “The arts are everywhere, they are all around us, belong to everyone & enrich our lives”. There is a quote that really resonated with me when I followed Museums Advocacy Day on Twitter: “We are from A-Z, Art Museums to Zoos & need to tell the truth, advance your mission. Always be advocating for museums!” This quote resonated with me because even when Museums Advocacy Day has come and gone I always stress the importance of museums in my daily practice as a museum professional; I also discuss museums impact on our society with my friends and family to help them understand what I do and how the museum field works. Additional resources are provided for museum professionals promoting Museums Advocacy Day.

The American Alliance of Museum provides resources to assist museum professionals successfully promote Museums Advocacy Day. For instance, on their website they present five ways to advocate today; the five ways are to speak up, engage your board members, visit legislators locally, raise awareness, and join the cause. AAM suggest to museum professionals can speak up by customize and send template letters to Congress on the issues you care about, including supporting NEA and NEH funding, supporting funding for IMLS Office of Museum Services, and demonstrating your museum’s economic impact. Also, AAM started a museum trustee initiative that gives museum professionals an opportunity to download a copy of Stand for Your Mission to inspire discussions with your board about how their role is significant in advocating for your museums and museums overall. The site also provides resources on how to make appointments with local legislators or invite elected officials to visit your museum. Also, the site includes a Publicity Toolkit that makes it easier to write an op-ed, craft a media pitch, write a press release, or be on talk radio to get viewers’ and listeners’ attentions. To join the cause, the AAM launched a campaign to recruit museum supporters and encourage supporters to enlist other people to support the campaign. Additional information is provided on AAM’s website under their Advocacy page.

What I have learned from each Museums Advocacy Day is that we can all participate whether we are in the area or located across the nation. Also, I learned that advocacy does not have to be practiced in one day but it can be continued throughout the year. Every now and then, no matter what happens within our nation, we still need to remind people of how museums are important resources for our society.

How has your organization participated in Museums Advocacy Day? What ways do you advocate for museums? What information from your organizations do you share to show how important your resources are to the public?

Book Review: The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon

Originally posted on Medium, February 10, 2017

This week I am writing a review of Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance which I completed reading. Simon’s book provides examples, case studies, and practical advice on how museums or organizations can be relevant to many people and how museums’ work can be more vital to the community. I enjoyed this book because it breaks down the various case studies to show many ways any type of organization can show their communities how they can be relevant and why they remain relevant. I also enjoyed her comparison of relevance to being a key to a locked room where meaning lives.

 

It is a true comparison since keys can open many doors that can lead to opportunities on the other side especially programs that introduce new meaningful connections with people in the community. Also, I found Simon’s book interesting because her layout of the book is not broken up into chapters, like many books I have read in the past, but rather broken into five parts with five or twelve examples, case studies, and advices for the reader. Each of these examples, case studies, and advices are related to the specific parts in the book. She told a story in the introduction which inspired the this book, and I agree with her when she stated that relevance can unlock new ways to develop deep connections with people.

 

The Art of Relevance is also an important book in the museum education field since our museums can practice this art of relevance through the educational programs offered including public programming, school programs, and summer programs. After reading the book, I felt that I could adapt these advices to my own practices as a museum educator.

Nina Simon, The Art of Relevance, Nina Simon CC Attribution-NonCommercial, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. 2016
The first section answers the question: What is Relevance? Simon had five different examples of relevance in the field. One of the parts called “A Walk on the Beach”, she discussed the 130-year anniversary party for the first surfers in the Americas her museum the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History planned; three teenage Hawaiian princes put on the first surfing demonstration ever documented on the mainland of North America in Santa Cruz. What she learned from the experience was “…relevance is just a start. It is a key. You’ve got to get people in the door. But what matters most is the glorious experience they’re moving towards, on the other side” (31). Another part in the first section was called “Meaning, Effort, Bacon” which talked about Deidre Wilson and Dan Sperber, the leading theorists in the study of relevance, who argued that the there are two that make information relevant: 1. How likely that new information is to stimulate a positive cognitive effect to yield new conclusions that matter to you; 2. How much effort is required to obtain and absorb that new information (the lower the effort, the higher the relevance). The section also discussed a study she saw in 2015 from the World Health Organization showing that processed meats (such as bacon, ham, and sausages) are among the top five most cancerous products alongside established killers like cigarettes and asbestos; the study is an example of the two criteria for relevance since it creates a new connection to things people care about and it adds information to our knowledge of these topics.
The second section is called Outside In, in which Simon pointed out there are two kinds of people, the outsiders and insiders. She stated that insiders are in the room who know about it, love it, and protect it while outsiders don’t know about those doors exist so they are not interested, unsure, and unwelcome. Therefore, if we want new people to come inside our organizations we need to open doors that speak to outsiders and welcome them in. The third section is called Relevance and Community which expressed the importance of being relevant to one’s community. According to Simon, communities are made of people with shared dreams, interests, and backgrounds, and the more we understand them the more easily we can unlock relevant experiences with them.

 

The fourth section is called Relevance and Mission which discusses how adapting your organizations’ missions to make it relevant to new people. She viewed organizations as structures stating that every institution has a mission that forms the structure of the room; it is important to not obscure it with tidbits but instead strip back the paint, recommit to its frame, then use it to open new doors to new people. The fifth section is called the Heart of Relevance which explains how it is important to maintain that relevance in your institution. Simon stated that the more someone uses the key the more it becomes a part of them; and therefore, the room changes them and they change the room. In other words, we need to inspire newly introduced visitors in our institutions to keep returning to the institutions. After reading this book I remembered my own experiences with relevance in programs.
When I started at the Butler-McCook House, I gave tours based on the script I received and I used my script to help me remember details of each item in the room and the history of each room and family members. As I continued working in the house museum, I noticed that not many people expressed interest in the narrative I told. This traditional way of providing tours did not help me make connections with most of the visitors. However, as the executive director recognized the need to change the way we run the museum and when I became a part of the team that did research on the house to improve visitor experiences, a shift was made towards creating a better connection with visitors. Visitors are beginning to understand not only the McCook family history and the contents of the house but they also learned about the family’s role in making a difference in Hartford’s community. While I used the script as background information, I had a more inquiry-based approach to ask visitors about how they grew up in their childhood homes to connect people with what growing up in the 19th century house was like for the family who lived there. By incorporating relevance in the tour, more visitors can connect with the history of the house and recognize its significance in Hartford’s history.

 

If you have read The Art of Relevance, what example in the book did you enjoy? How does your museum or institution use relevance to maintain its significance in the community?

Responses to the Presidential Election: An American Alliance of Museums Conversation on the Future of Museums

Originally posted on Medium. January 19, 2017.

This afternoon I attended a webinar I registered for about museum education, EdComVersation, called Museums Respond to the Presidential Election. The program was hosted by Greg Stevens, Assistant Director of Professional Development at the American Alliance of Museums; moderated by Megan Wood, Director of Museum and Library Services at the Ohio History Connection and Ed Com Secretary; and guest speakers were Nina Simon, Executive Director at Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and Will Walker, co-editor of New York History and National Council on Public History’s blog, and assistant professor of history at the Cooperstown Graduate Program. It was a panel discussion that presented questions and answered questions from participants. Wood, Simon, and Walker expressed their thoughts and opinions as they answered the questions: How are US museums, museum educators and other colleagues dealing with the election results? What does it mean for museums and our evolving role in society? What action should we take to foster civic responsibility and service, continue to defend and reaffirm democratic ideals and principles, and advance understanding on the interrelationship between actions and consequences nationally and globally? Along with the program, it provided a handout with resources to refer to the presidential election and the influence it could have on the museum field. I took away from this program what I began realizing after I found out about the results of the election: we need to keep moving on and if we want to make a difference in our community we need to be the ones to effect change.

Our nation is divided on the results of the recent presidential election, and there are many that take their stand on how they feel about the outcome. I will admit I was not happy with the results of the election but I will not rant about my feelings here because on this blog I like to discuss how this would be significant as a museum professional committed to providing an educational opportunity for those who seek it and the position I have to reach out to people to build connections as well as provide a space to express their voice in a society where they fear it cannot be expressed. After I found out about the election, I went on with my day and drove to the Long Island Maritime Museum to do my work. While there I realized that we continue with our day no matter how we feel about the election because we have an opportunity as Americans to affect change in the way we behave as individuals. I continued to greet visitors who came to see the museum, I worked on various collections projects, and other duties as I would on any other day since just because the results did not turn out like I hoped it does not change me as a person or as a museum professional.

There was an old saying that my high school principal said after every announcement: “Be good to one another”. I keep this in my mind as I continue with my life as a student and as a professional, and I try to be the best person I can be. I think about what this expression means every day, and while something good happens in our society there is something else that tells me we have not made enough progress to be good to one another. For instance, as our nation has legalized gay marriage there are still acts of hatred that cause harm to people of different races and genders. We live in a society that has made much progress and has not made enough progress at the same time. To inspire progress on improving our society, everyone, including myself, need to step outside of their perspectives and learn more about each other to build our empathy as humans. We educate ourselves on the issues and learn about each other to find out how we can make a better community for ourselves as well as for future generations. This is where education professionals like myself come in to assist in making this progress.

Today’s discussion this afternoon and tonight on Twitter’s continuing #MuseumEdChat discussion on the election delve into what we should be doing as museum professionals and for museums. Museums and other cultural organizations took their own stands in response to the inauguration tomorrow; some believe in participating in the Arts Strike movement and others have their own plans for running the museums with various programs and events that are based on what they believe should be doing to help their communities. There is a list of museums in New York City that share their plans during inauguration day (found here: http://ny.curbed.com/maps/nyc-free-museum-inauguration-day). There are a few things I took away from the discussion including there are persistent inequalities that did not begin with this election that we have to keep in mind as we make plans to serve our communities; keep in mind the voices that are not being heard in our community and find a way to include these voices in our programming and see how we can progress from there; and figure out how we could reach out to the audiences we want to reach out to based on our missions and expand our missions to include social issues we want to address. Also, we need to figure out the answers to these questions and learn how to proceed from there as organizations: What dialog we are inviting in our work? Are we perpetrating ideas we do not believe in? Another question to keep in mind as I read on Twitter tonight: What role, if any, do you think museums have in creating/making space for dialogue for divided public? My answer to this question would be to make sure our communities understand the significance of our roles in the community and build upon this by becoming more involved in the community to be able to have the trust to provide that space for dialogue; it does take time for any improvements in our society so we need to keep working toward that space for dialogue.

What do you think the museums roles should be as we face the future of our society? Do you have any responses to the questions presented in this discussion?

 

Books I Want to Read on Museum Education in 2017

Originally posted on Medium. January 12, 2017.

After I read a blog post from Museum Hack called Ten Inspiring Museum Reads for 2017, I was inspired to write my own list of I want to read about the museum education field in 2017 except I created a list of books written for the field. I used Amazon and American Alliance of Museums websites to research available literature for this field. Keep in mind not all books written about the museum education field are included on here because this blog post would take you all days to finish reading. Each book includes descriptions of what they are about as well as publication information, and I also explain why I put these books on the list. The books on this list are in no specific order; I chose these books based on when I first came across them. I will later discuss the books I already have on the field in another future blog post. Enjoy the list! What books do you want to read this year, both on museum education field and other books capture your interests? Do you have a book you have read on the museum education field?

I want to read the following:
1. The Manual of Museum Learning by Brad King (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2nd edition, 2015, ISBN 978–1442258471): This book offers practical advice for creating successful learning experiences in museums and other institutions including galleries, zoos, and botanical gardens. The first edition was published in 2007, and in the second edition focuses on the ways museums staff and the departments they work in can facilitate experience that point out connections between institutional strategic planning and its approach to museum learning. The book acknowledges that not all institutions run the same way so it identifies various approaches and enables museums to find the paths for which they are individually best suited, that will help them identify their own unique approaches to facilitating museum learning. I put this book on the list because in the past I thought that each department work separately to fulfill one mission but the longer I worked in the museum world the more I realize that education is a part of museums’ mission. Also, I read a book review of King’s book in the Journal of Museum Education, the publication of the Museum Education Roundtable. It is important to recognize that museum learning should be incorporated into a part of museums’ strategic planning. I want to see the various approaches King presents in the book to have a better understanding of how museum education is presented in different types of institutions.

2. Engagement and Access: Innovative Approaches for Museums by Juilee Decker (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015, ISBN: 978–1442238756): The book addresses how museums forge two-way communication and engaged participation by using community curation, social media, collaboration, and inquiry-based learning. Decker collected case studies that advocate for doing and listening, or in other words the institutions mentioned in the case studies can understand the importance of meeting the audience’s needs both onsite and online. This book is part of a series called Innovative Approaches for Museums which offers case studies, written by scholars and practitioners from museums, galleries, and other institutions; each case study present original, transformative, and sometimes wholly re-invented methods, techniques, systems, theories, and actions that demonstrate innovative work being done in the museum and cultural sector throughout the world. The contributors come from various institutions and each volume offers ideas and support to those working in museums while serving as a resource and primer, as much as inspiration, for students and the museum staff and faculty training future professionals who will further develop future innovative approaches. This book is on my list because I am interested in seeing different ways other museums approach engagement and access for their visitors.

3. Museum Learning: Theory and Research as Tools for Enhancing Practice by Jill Hohenstein and Theano Moussouri (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1138901131): This book is not released yet but the reason why I included this book is I think it is important to review educational theories to make sure museum educators revitalize their skills for school and public programming. I hope to gain both methods to retain my skills as a museum educator and different insights on how learning as well as teaching in museums would benefit our education.

4. Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H Falk (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1598741636): Falk’s book reiterates that understanding the visitor experience provides essential insights into how museums can affect people’s lives. Visitor experiences have various meanings, such as personal drives, group identity, memory, and leisure performances, for each individual and that experience extends beyond the four walls of an institution in time and space. Falk reveals there are five different types of visitors who attend museums and identifies the processes that inspire people to visit time and time again. I would like to read this book since by finding out different aspects on why people visit museums it would help museum professionals like myself to increase our ability to retain visitors as well as gain more visitors to our museums.

5. The Multisensory Museum: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Touch, Sound, Smell, Memory, and Space by Nina Levent and Alvaro Pascual-Leone (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978–0759123540): Levent and Pascual-Leone’s book brought together scholars and museum professionals to highlight new trends and opportunities for using scent, sound, and touch to offer more immersive experiences as well as diverse sensory engagement for visually- and other impaired patrons. The book also reveals that education researchers discover museums as unique educational playgrounds that allow for various learning styles, active and passive exploration, and participatory learning. I include this book on this list because I believe museums can provide people of all abilities access to education, and I find the psychological and museum connection would be fascinating to get a more in-depth knowledge of.

6. Creating the Visitor-centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1629581910): Samis and Michaelson’s book brought up numerous questions that are answered with cases and additional resources to help transform their museums into visitor-centered museums: What does the transformation to a visitor-centered approach do for a museum? How are museums made relevant to a broad range of visitors of varying ages, identities, and social classes? Does appealing to a larger audience force museums to “dumb down” their work? What internal changes are required? I think we can always learn more ways to help adapt our museums to the changing viewpoints of visitors.

7. The Museum Effect: How Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Institutions Educate and Civilize Society by Jeffrey K. Smith (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978–0759122956): The book explores how museums, libraries, and cultural institutions provide opportunities for people to understand and celebrate who they are, were, and might be. According to Smith, the “museum effect” is a process through which cultural institutions educate and civilize us as individuals and as societies. I think it is an interesting book to read since I have known from when I was a kid that museums can provide ways to educate visitors and help them identify with what museums offer. By reading this book, I would gain another perspective on how my work as a museum professional can affect our society.

8. Contemporary Curating and Museum Education by Carmen Mörsch, Angeli Sachs, and Thomas Sieber (will be released February 2017): The writers of this book share insight that international scholars discovered as they answer the question: How does museum work change if we conceive of curating and education as an integrated practice? This is the second book that has not been released yet but I believe I would enjoy this one because not only it would supplement the knowledge I gained about creating an exhibit to design an education plan through a NYCMER workshop I attended, Exhibition Design for Educators, but the book can offer additional insights that would allow me to explore more the intertwining of curatorship and education.

9. All Together Now: Museums and Online Collaborative Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Wei-Hsin Din (American Alliance of Museums, 2011, ISBN: 978–1933253619): Crow and Wei-Hsin Din’s book discusses the potential of online learning for museum professionals and visitors from all over the world. The book reveals that online collaborative learning offers museums and visitors new possibilities for learning, both in small, “narrowcast” groups and at the larger institutional level. The writers included extensive case studies and practical advice for museum educators. As an online learner, I think the concept of museum education in the online community is fascinating and would be a possible move for more museums to engage in online learning. I also think it would be able to help the museum education field reach out to more people as fewer field trips are booked each year due to limited school funding. I also like that this book is endorsed by EdCom (American Alliance of Museum’s education group) and the Media and Technology Committee of AAM because it reassures me as a reader that the United States’ museums organization sees online learning as a possible outlet for museum education to branch out to various audiences inside and outside the museum.

I am sure that this list is not set in stone, and I will continue to find more books that I will add to my list for 2017. I hope you all read many books this year, museum education related or not. Thank you all so much for reading! I really appreciate all of your support for this blog, and if you know of anyone who is interested in the museum education field please refer them to this blog. Thank you to all of you who are currently following this blog. It really means a lot that you continue to be interested in what I have to write about. I am so touched that there are more and more people reading these posts. Thank you all again and stay tuned for more blog posts.

Book Review: Engaging Young Children in Museums by Sharon E. Shaffer

Originally posted on Medium. November 10, 2016

This week I decided to write a review of a book written to help develop skills in the museum education field. As a museum educator, I believe it is important to read published works about the field to continue to provide new ways of educating school groups and the public. I chose to review Sharon Shaffer’s Engaging Young Children in Museums because not only it reiterates the importance of developing various ways to educate people but the methods shared can be used in any type of museum and audiences of various ages. The following is the review of Shaffer’s book:

Shaffer’s book was laid out in three different sections to introduce the idea of engaging young children in museums. The first section discusses the audience and brings up these questions: who are they? How has the audience changed over the years? The second section then discusses using learning theory and transition the theory into practice. Then the third section revealed future possibilities in museum education especially for young children. Each of the sections have two or three chapters that go into detail about the audience, learning theory and practice, and the future possibilities; the chapters are also divided by providing sections: an introduction, descriptions and arguments, and a conclusion.

In the first section, the three chapters introduce the book as well as discuss understanding young children as an audience. The first chapter introduces the framework for thinking about early learning in museums, and it explores object-based methods that were used effectively in all disciplines as well as in early childhood classrooms. Shaffer also discusses twenty-first century trends and reiterates that it is important to create experiences that are interesting, engaging, inspiring, and provocative.

In the second chapter, she revealed the history of museums in America and the emergence of children’s museums as well as the development of the relationship between children and museums. She also revealed both children’s and traditional museums are partnering with schools in new and different ways to be able to bring content and learning strategies to students and teachers to enrich understanding. In the book, Shaffer brought up these questions that still need attention and time to answer: What role should museums play in education that has traditionally been the responsibility of schools? What strengths do museums offer that are unique to these institutions, yet relevant for children and teachers in more formal settings? In what ways can museums support and contribute to formal early learning? While we cannot immediately answer these questions yet, it is important to figure out the answers by understanding our communities’ needs and our museums’ role in the community.

The third chapter is mainly focused on learning theories and how they can be applied into practice. To have a better understanding of how to educate young children, Shaffer explains how the learning theories can be reviewed and interpreted as educators plan lessons for young children. I appreciate that this chapter give a description of the learning theory and a layout of the theory to visually explain how it can help educate our audiences. For instance, Shaffer describes George Hein’s model in the book Learning in the Museum (1998) which revealed the complexity of learning; the model is divided into four domains that represent different categories of educational theories where the values and beliefs are defined about knowledge ascribed to each domain, and ideally within the theory support each other. Also, other theory models include Early Learning Model (made of key elements essential to construction of knowledge: explore, experience, conceptualize, imagine, create, and knowledge constructed through the process), and thematic approaches to learning (nature of experience, learning through play, ways of knowing, and motivation and learning). Each of these theories were described in detail to purposely aid educators in the classroom and museum setting.

The second section went into detail about early childhood classrooms and museum learning, the key concepts of best practices and best practices for a foundation for early childhood programming in museums. In the fourth chapter, Shaffer discussed various early childhood models and programs, and especially went into further discussion on models including the Montessori Method, the Reggio Emilia model, and the High Scope approach. The Montessori Method focuses on using the child’s surroundings especially nature as inspiration for learning. The Reggio Emilia model encourages collaboration between the child and the teacher to maintain the child-focus in the lesson and embraces self-expression as well as creativity. Meanwhile the High Scope approach focuses on the concept of active participatory learning, or a process designed to make the child a co-creator in his or her learning experience through observation.

Then the fifth chapter discusses key concepts of best practice by explaining the transition to including young children as museums audiences, and how educating young children in museum spaces has grown in the museum community. The chapter also gives the reader an example of a program developed by the Denver Art Museum that uses games and art making activities to allow children to explore their American Indian galleries. It is important that the book included real scenario examples because it gives museum educators detailed ideas to help our organizations get inspired to create similar programs for our young audiences. The fifth and sixth chapters also stress the importance of creating a welcoming environment for museum goers of all ages, and how educators and interpreters can utilize professional development to learn to adapt their lessons that appeal to young children. The last section focuses on making a difference and future promises in the field.

Shaffer describes future trends that will affect the way museums use early learning in their programs. The trends include continuing to see value in creating early learning programs, collaborations and partnerships, and use of technology. To continue to run our museums, we need to make sure we adapt with the changing society and understand its role in the community. Our museums would always have the past as our museums contemplate current practices and the future of the museum field to influence our thinking as well as rekindle our outlook reflecting today’s perspective. I agree with this statement because our institutions are founded in our past and we create innovative programs based on our museums’ missions.

In my experience, educating young children is an essential part of our society and the museums, especially the ones I have worked for and currently work at, can aid their educational experiences. At the Long Island Museum, for instance, I taught young children in kindergarten about primary colors using the museum’s art gallery to help them recognize the colors in paintings and later I gave children color wheels to color in the colors using watercolor pencils; they also listened to a story about the use of colors. I also participated in Family Fun Day at the Long Island Museum by creating crafting activities for families with young children to participate in. By using interactive activities for the children, they can understand the world around them and create a foundation for their continued education as they grow up. As I continue my career in museum education, I hope to continue to learn innovations in engaging with young children in the museum.

What are some examples your institutions are using to educate young children? Are there programs that you collaborate with other institutions or families?