The History of Halloween and How Museums Celebrate

October 30, 2019

To celebrate Halloween, it is time to remind ourselves of how Halloween became the holiday we know in the twenty-first century. Halloween’s earliest root is the Pagan celebration and ancient Gaelic festival Samhain (pronounced “saah-win”) which marked the time of year when seasons changed, and many observers believed the boundary between this world and the outside world is at its thinnest to connect with the dead. Margot Alder explained in her book Drawing Down the Moon that Pagans, or Neo-Pagans, are varying religious groups with differing tradition, scope, structure, organizations, ritual, and names of their deities but regard one another as part of the same religious and philosophical movement; they share the same set of values and communicate with one another through a network of newsletters and websites, as well as regional and national gatherings. Her book went into detail about groups that attempt to recreate ancient European pre-Christian religions with leaders who developed key concepts and theories that are now common within the whole of Paganism. In an attempt to keep this post straight to the point, I will share how Samhain was celebrated, how it is celebrated nowadays, and how it led to the Halloween we now celebrate from resources I came across.

Early celebrations of Samhain involved a lot of ritualistic ceremonies to connect to spirits including celebrating in costumes (using animal skins) as a disguise themselves against ghosts, special feasts, built bon fires, and made lanterns by hollowing out gourds. During these celebrations, people would also tell each other fortunes. After the celebration was over, they re-lit the fires in their homes from the sacred bonfire to help protect them and keep themselves warm during the winter months.

Modern Pagans still celebrate the holiday with death as its central theme. According to Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, she pointed out

Although observances may include merry-making, the honoring of the Dead that is central to Samhain is a serious religious practice rather than a light-hearted make-believe re-enactment. Today’s Pagan Samhain rites, while somber, are benevolent, and, although centered on death, do not involve human or animal sacrifices. Most Samhain rituals are held in private rather than in public.

There are many ways that Pagans today celebrate Samhain. Like people of other faiths, they always honor and show respect for their dead but modern Pagans particularly mark these practices during Samhain. When loved ones recently die, they are remembered, and their spirits are often invited to join the living in the celebratory feast. They also spend time during Samhain formally welcome those born during the past year into the community. Because death symbolizes endings, Samhain is not only a time to reflect on mortality, but it is a time to take stock of the past and coming to terms with it before moving on and looking forward to the future. As Christianity grew, Samhain practices were adopted and branched out into religious holidays celebrating their saints.

When Christians adopted the practices, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve on October 31st, followed by All Saints’ Day on November 1st, retaining the elements of remembering and honoring the dead. All Hallows’ Eve literally means “hallowed evening”, and both All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day paid homage to the holy saints, or “hallows”. The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve when worshippers prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast. A third holiday, All Souls’ Day, was usually combined with the other celebrations and traditions from this holiday seem to be precursors of the modern Halloween celebrations. In some traditions, children went from door to door begging for soul cakes (or small cakes described as hot-cross buns, current-topped buns, or small round loaves) and state a traditional rhyme on the day: “A Soule-cake, a Soule-cake, Have mercy on all Christen soules for a Soule-cake”. This tradition evolved into trick-or treating that the candy-grabbing concept became part of the mainstream in the United States between early to mid-1900s when families would provide treats for children hoping they would be immune to the holiday pranks. How do museums relate to Halloween celebrations?

As with other holidays celebrated, museums look for opportunities to engage with visitors and participate within their communities. When museums began to focus on visitor engagement to remain relevant, more programs celebrating Halloween emerged. Current examples of Halloween museum programs are limitless so I will share some of the ones I came across.

Of course, the most popular place to visit during Halloween is in Salem, Massachusetts. There is a website about family friendly events that happen in Salem, especially during Halloween, called Haunted Happenings . Events include but not limited to The Salem Psychic Fair & Witches’ Market, Witch’s Brew Patisserie Tea, Black Cat Tales Book Signing and Discussion, Salem Haunted Magic Show presents Hysteria: Ghost Stories, 28th Annual Temple of Nine Wells-ATC Witches of Salem Magick Circle 2019 e.v. For Samhain Night Free Event, and Haunted Dinner Theater presents Clue Live.

Last Sunday, the New York Historical Society had an event called Beyond Spooky: Hallowe’en Family Party to celebrate their exhibition Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere. Some of the activities they had included get a ride on one of two visiting ponies, create your own horse on a stick, listen to spooky stories, craft secret messages with our Living Historian spymaster, and trick-or-treat for candy.

The Museum of the City of New York has a Halloween party on Halloween geared to families with children ages 6–12 years old. Adults and children attending the party can wear costumes to trick or treat on the spooky New York scavenger hunt, make fun Halloween themed accessories, and dance at the monster mash dance party. Not all Halloween celebrations in museums only target families to attend their public events.

In Connecticut, the New Britain Museum of American Art has an event called Spooky Speakeasy: 1920s Halloween Party! On Halloween partygoers will arrive at the Museum to experience the 1920’s-inspired nightclub to enjoy hors d’oeuvres, learn how to do the Lindy Hop and the Charleston from professional dancers, and listen to live music of the period performed by The Cartells. There is an event that is more for adults but kids can participate if they wish to participate in being scared.

On select dates between September 20th and November 9th, the Eastern State Penitentiary is holding an event for the Halloween season called Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary which is America’s largest haunted house. It consists of six haunted attractions included in one admission price: Lock Down (zombie inmates and guards), Machine Shop (interactive attractions with maniacal surgeons, dentists, and nurses), Infirmary, Blood Yard, Quarantine 4D, and Break Out (inmates using visitors to aid in their escape). No matter how you celebrate this year, I hope everyone stays safe and has a wonderful time.

Happy Halloween! Blessed Samhain!

Resources and Additional Resources:  

Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America, New York: Penguin Group, 1979; revised edition 2006, pp. 3, 243–99.

Morton, Lisa. The Halloween Encyclopedia, Second Edition, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2011.

Skal, David J. Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, New York: Bloomsbury, 2003.

https://www.countryliving.com/entertaining/a40250/heres-why-we-really-celebrate-halloween/

https://www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/celebrating-the-seasons/celebrating-samhain

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/holydays/samhain.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/halloween_1.shtml

Halloween Event at the Jack the Ripper Museum, London: https://www.jacktherippermuseum.com/

Hershey’s Chocolate Tastings, Hershey, PA: https://hersheystory.org/hersheys-chocolate-tastings/

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

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/

Philadelphia Museum Impressions: Museum of the American Revolution

September 26, 2019

I wrote last time about my museum impressions on Independence Hall when I was down in Philadelphia for the AASLH Annual Meeting. Another place I visited during the first day of the conference was the Museum of the American Revolution. Since I was participating in a networking event later in the day, I did not spend the time I would have wanted to spend in the Museum since as soon as I entered the exhibit I knew I could spend an entire day exploring the place and utilizing the interactive supplemental materials.

The Museum’s Entrance

Located not too far from the Independence Hall, the Museum of the American Revolution explores the American Revolution through its unmatched collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, documents, and works of art. Since it opened in April 2017, the Museum’s aim is to inspire visitors to gain a deeper appreciation for how this nation came to be and feel inspired to consider their role in the ongoing promise of the American Revolution. After getting my admission ticket, I decided to start by going upstairs to see the exhibits.

Portrait of King George III

The second floor contained the core exhibition which explores the origins of the American Revolution, the fight for independence, and the on-going legacies of the Revolution.  Throughout the exhibition, the collections and the narrative were guided by these questions which invites visitors to answer them while they explore:

How did people become Revolutionaries?

How did the Revolution survive its darkest hour?

How Revolutionary was the war?

What kind of nation did the Revolution create?

I enjoyed that the Museum guides visitors through the exhibit by introducing these questions for them to keep in mind because it could help them think about what they see, read, and interact with and the significance of the Revolutionary War. Another example of having visitors think more about what really happened during the Revolutionary War were the “Closer Look” markers I found as I went through the exhibit. One of the “Closer Look” labels asked the question When was the term “American Revolution” first used? This question made me happy as a public historian since introducing these questions puts the visitor in the perspective of a historian and challenges the usual way history is taught in the American school system (assuming there is a clear answer for each question posed).

After exploring the origins of the American Revolution section of the exhibit, I proceeded to the fight for independence section. I read about the Battle of Lexington and Concord and saw the collections from the era.

As I moved through the exhibit, I noticed several more interactive supplements that made the experience more engaging. For instance, there is a map that lights up when a button is pressed to show the soldiers movements during battles such as the Battle of Princeton (1777). Also, in the room where the life-size replica privateer ship is located, there is a piece of the replica tar-covered rope inside a box, visitors were encouraged to smell it.

I also appreciated that within the exhibit there is a section within the exhibit that discussed the narrative of the forgotten allies, the Oneida Nation, that joined the colonists in the fight during the American Revolution. Not many talks about the Native American involvement and contributions to the American Revolution, and this exhibit includes a video describing how the Oneida Nation decided to join the colonists.

Towards the end of the exhibit, there is a section dedicated to the Revolutionary Generation through photographs. According to the Museum’s text, the last known Revolutionary War veterans had their photographs taken and died shortly after the Civil War. Also, I liked that the exhibit ended with visitors meeting the future of the American Revolution which has a wall covered with mirrors since it is a subtle way of explaining to visitors what these veterans were fighting for.

I did not explain everything I have seen because there was so much that the post would be too long, and I really encourage everyone reading the blog to visit the Museum of the American Revolution when one gets the opportunity. Since my visit, I found out that there is a virtual tour available on the Museum’s website so if one is not able to get there in person yet there is another way to see the Museum. It is a museum I am willing to visit again when I can visit Philadelphia again.

To find out more about the Museum, click here for the Museum’s website: http://www.amrevmuseum.org/

If you have been to the Museum, what were the things that you observed? If you have not visited yet, what would you like to learn more about or expect to see?

#AASLH2019: Conference Recap

September 5, 2019

Last week I attended the AASLH Annual Meeting for the first time located in Philadelphia. If you were following along with me on Twitter, I tweeted a lot about the sessions I attended, the events I participated in, and the places in Philadelphia I visited on my own. I included a highlight of tweets from the Annual Meeting in this post, and to see all of tweets I posted they can be found on the page here @Steward2Lindsey. Because I have not been to Philadelphia since I was a teenager, I was naturally excited to return and explore the area while I could during the conference.

I started tweeting about the conference the night before since I was so excited. I got the song “One More Sleep ‘til Christmas” from The Muppets Christmas Carol stuck in my head thinking about one more night until I leave for Philadelphia which inspired this tweet:

I will admit that it was hard for me to sleep the night before because I was so excited to be going back to a city I have not been in many years. In the morning, I left with my Three Village Historical Society colleagues to the Philadelphia 201 Hotel where the conference took place.

We arrived in Philadelphia later in the morning to check into our rooms. Once we put our things in our rooms, we went to the registration table to check in and get our totes that include conference programs, leaflets, and tickets for lunches as well as events. My colleagues and I went our separate ways to do our own plans in the city. Wednesday is technically the first day of the conference since there are several workshops that require an additional registration fees for each workshop. Since I have not been to the city in years, I decided to not sign up for them opting to explore the area instead. I went to take a tour of Independence Hall, visited the Liberty Bell, explored the Museum of the American Revolution, looked inside Carpenter’s Hall, and walked through the 18th Century Garden. After attending the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience reception, I walked to Chinatown to get some dim sum.

On the official first day of the conference I attended the opening plenary (opening panel discussion), first time attendee reception, and sessions. When I was sending tweets from the conference, I followed the social media guidelines AASLH provided to show where one was tweeting from such as #plenary, #keynote, and if one is attending a session the hashtag starts with “#s” then the session number (i.e. #s10) listed in the program.

After attending the morning sessions, I went to the Educators and Interpreters Affiliation Luncheon which had three courses including an irresistible chocolate cake. During the luncheon, we learned more about the Museum of the American Revolution and its education program offerings.

I attended afternoon sessions after the luncheon including, and these are a few of my favorite moments from the sessions:

In the evening, I went to an evening event that took place at the Eastern State Penitentiary. After getting off the bus, the first thing I did was participated in a twenty-minute introduction tour. Then I walked around the Penitentiary on my own looking at various cells including Al Capone’s cell. At the Penitentiary, there are a few food stations that offered various cuisine; for instance, there is one station that served Philly Cheese steaks and another one that served sushi and dumplings. I also went through an exhibit called Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration that illustrates what prisons are like in recent years in both general facts and in more personal experiences. In a future blog post, I will talk more about my experiences at this museum. While waiting for the bus heading back to the hotel, I watched part of the animation films, made by people currently in prison, that were projected onto the Penitentiary’s wall outside the main entrance.

On the second day, the Three Village Historical Society colleagues and I participated in a poster session to talk about the Founder’s Day program which won a Leadership in History Award from AASLH. Then I attended a luncheon for historic house museums, and sessions about reworking historic house tours and advocacy for equity. In the evening, I joined the rest of the Three Village Historical Society conference participants and staff/colleagues who were able to come down to attend the Awards banquet as the Historical Society received the award.

On the last day of the conference, I attended morning sessions about finances in historic house museums and revamping school programs. While the rest of the day were more workshops, I decided to walk around Philadelphia before I left the city. I went to places including Betsy Ross’s House, Elfreth’s Alley, the Science History Institute, Christ Church and Burial Ground, and the Quaker Meeting House.

Overall, I enjoyed the conference and it made me want to go to Philadelphia again so I could see more of the city. The sessions were informative and are helpful as I move forward in my career. To see more tweets from the conference, they are available on my Twitter page.

If you have any questions about the sessions I attended, please reach out to me on my social media pages or here.

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

Museums I Visited While I Was in College: Springfield Museums

Added on August, 8, 2019

One of my previous blog posts had my memories of visiting the Salem Witch Museum as Historical Society Club Treasurer in college, and to learn more about the experience check out the link here after reading this post. Another museum I visited during college was Springfield Museums which was not far from where I went to college in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Springfield Museums is in downtown Springfield and provides access to five museums under one admission. According to their website, the Museums inspire exploration of our connections to art, history and science through outstanding collections, exhibitions and programs. The mission was apparent during my visits to the Springfield Museums. My first visit was during another Historical Society trip, and the museums I remember visiting were the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts and the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.

The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum is an art museum which holds the eclectic collections of George Walter Vincent Smith (1832-1923) and his wife, Belle Townsley Smith (1845-1928) in an Italian palazzo-style building established in 1896. Their collections include but not limited to examples of Japanese lacquer, arms and armor, ceramics and bronzes; and one of the largest collections of Chinese cloisonné outside of Asia. Also, the collection contains significant American 19th-century paintings (especially landscape and genre), Italian 19th-century watercolors, a fine assembly of Greek and Roman antiquities, a rare plaster cast collection, objects created for 19th-century International Expositions and examples of lace and early textiles.

The Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts was established in 1933 and located in an Art Deco style building. It includes a comprehensive collection of American, Asian and European paintings, prints, watercolors and sculpture and representative examples of drawing, furniture, metalwork, textiles, glass and ceramics. Inside the museum, it houses a comprehensive collection of European Art (French, Dutch, and Italian) and the Currier & Ives (active 1834-1907) Collection is the largest holdings of lithographs in the nation.

The Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History is known for its local history research facility. Also, the museum is known for its comprehensive program of changing exhibitions, its diverse educational offerings, and the wide-ranging collections that illuminates the history of the Connecticut River Valley.

I visited the museums not only as part of a Historical Society trip but for classes as requirements for my studies at college. I took a culture course on France and French Caribbean, and one of our assignments included a visit as a class to the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts to see and discuss the French art collection. Another course I took was an art course in which I visited the art museums to use resources available to complete assignments.

At each visit to Springfield Museums, I visited the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. The Garden celebrates Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, in the city in which he was born and raised. After Dr. Seuss’ death, his wife, Audrey, authorized the museums to create the memorial which features bronze sculptures of his characters. At the time of my visits, it was the only connection to Dr. Seuss that the museums had in its campus. When I was still a college student, they were still working on establishing a museum dedicated to his life and work.

Now there is a museum called The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum that is devoted to Dr. Seuss. According to the website, it features family friendly, interactive exhibits that explores his Springfield roots and provides opportunities to experiment with new sounds and vocabulary, play rhyming games, and invent stories. The museum also features a recreated studio and living room of Geisel’s, and never been publicly displayed art, family photographs, and letters.

Since there is so much to see, I did not see everything in the museum system. For instance, I have not seen exhibits in the Springfield Science Museum. It houses permanent collections of Natural Science, Anthropology and Physical Science. The Science Museum also includes Seymour Planetarium which consists of the historic Korkosz Starball, the oldest operating star-projector in the United States. I recommend if one can do so to visit the Springfield Museums and see the vast collections; be sure to dedicate a lot of time to see as much as possible.

Resources:

https://springfieldmuseums.org/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/10/04/patron-request-museum-impressions-salem-witch-museum/

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/