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

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?

Museum Impressions: Independence Hall

September 12, 2019

On the first day of the AASLH Annual Meeting, I decided to not attend workshops and walk around Philadelphia to visit various sites. I mentioned in the previous blog post that I went to Philadelphia as a teenager with my family, and because it has been sixteen years since I visited, I decided it would be a better decision to explore the city. The first place I visited on the first day was Independence Hall where I participated in a tour led by the National Park Service Rangers.

Since my tour was not going to begin for about 10 to 15 minutes, I was able to explore the grounds and visit the Great Essentials Exhibit in the West Wing of Independence Hall. According to the website, the Great Essentials Exhibit displays surviving copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States, along with the silver inkstand that, according to tradition, was used during the signing of the Declaration and Constitution. The copies that I saw were not signed since the ones signed are located in Washington, D.C., and while I was there a Park Ranger stated there were many copies made to be distributed throughout the colonies to spread the news of the Declaration and Constitution.

After visiting the exhibit, I went in line to wait with the group for the timed tour to start. I liked that one of the Rangers had a brief introduction before going in to remind people to not bring in food and drinks, and to not be on cellphones while on the tour. To me it showed that not only Rangers made sure history is being protected but they emphasized the importance of the history as well as the importance of engaging with the surroundings instead of calling and texting during the tour. We were then brought inside the East Wing of Independence Hall to sit down for a brief introduction of the history of Independence Hall and then we went onto the tour.

The group I was in was led outside to walk into the main building. Inside there were two rooms we went into to learn more about the Pennsylvania State House which is later known as Independence Hall. While it was known as the place where the Declaration of Independence was written and approved, there is so much more to this building’s history. According to the National Park Service, the Pennsylvania State House originally housed all three branches of Pennsylvania’s colonial government. The rooms we saw were the Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Assembly Room.

We went into the first room which was the Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After taking pictures, our Ranger guide started to tell us more about the room and more history about Independence Hall. A couple of examples we were told about was that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania sat in this room in the 1700s. Another example was that on July 8, 1776, an act of defiance occurred here when a group of Pennsylvania militiamen stormed in and tore down British King George III’s coat of arms; then a hundred years later, visitors came to this room during the Centennial to experience the National Museum, a collection of artifacts celebrating the founding of the nation.

Once we were finished in the Courtroom, we went into the Assembly Room where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. The Assembly Room later became a shrine to the founding of the nation with a proudly displayed Liberty Bell and original paintings of the Founding Fathers. The tour concluded in this room after about twenty minutes in each of the rooms previously mentioned.

I would have liked to see more of Independence Hall such as the Long Gallery and Governor’s Council Chamber located on the second floor. The Long Gallery served as a reception area for visitors meeting with Pennsylvania’s governor, and the Governor’s Council Chamber was where Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council met in this room in the 18th century then later was used as the location fugitive slave trials in the 1850s. There seemed to be at least a few opportunities to have further discussions about challenging the historical narrative that glorified the past briefly mentioned in the tour. While I was confused when I noticed how short the tour was, because this is one of the most popular landmarks in the United States there are numerous visitors the National Park Service bring through Independence Hall they would need to get each tour group through as swiftly and smoothly as possible.

Museums are moving forward to creating more engaging and interactive experiences to be more visitor-focused, and I wonder: should Independence Hall do the same and if so, what approaches should be done? I believe that there should be interactive opportunities at least on the property as another option to do while waiting for tours to begin like a pop-up museum that are easily moved for weather conditions. I do think that if one has not visited Independence Hall one should visit at least once to learn about the significance of it’s part in the birth of the United States and learn about the building beyond this significance.

Share your experiences. If you have visited Independence Hall, what were your experiences like?

Resources:

https://www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/independencehall.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/places-independencehall.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/places-independencehall-assemblyroom.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/westwing.htm

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/places-greatessentialswestwing.htm

#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.

Patron Request: Museums I Would Like To Visit

Added to Medium, December 13, 2018

I have been asked a number of times throughout my life so far what museums I have been to and which ones I would like to visit. For this month’s Patron request, I decided to answer their question with a list of museums I would like to visit with a brief description of the museum, mission, and why I would like to visit this museum. This list is in no particular order, and it could be museums in and outside of the United States. I am only limiting myself to eight museums even though my list of museums is much longer because the blog post would be too long. Here are some of the museums I would like to visit in the future:

1. Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, PA: It explores the dramatic, surprising story of the American Revolution through its collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, documents, and works of art. I want to visit the Museum of the American Revolution not only because one of the histories I am most passionate about is Early American history but the last time I visited Philadelphia I was a kid and would have loved to visit a museum like this one in addition to visiting the Liberty Bell. https://www.amrevmuseum.org/

2. Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, CA: The Museum is about the life story of Walt Disney, the man who raised animation to an art, tirelessly pursued innovation, and created a distinctly American legacy that transformed the entertainment world. It features contemporary, interactive galleries with state-of-the-art exhibits narrated in Walt’s own voice alongside early drawings, cartoons, films, music, a spectacular model of Disneyland, and a lot more. Since I am one of many who have grown up watching Disney films, both animated and live action, and have had a fascination for the history of the Disney family after watching a couple of Walt Disney movies and documentaries, I would like to visit the museum in person. https://www.waltdisney.org/

3. Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA: It a public learning laboratory exploring the world through science, art, and human perception. Their mission is to create inquiry-based experiences that transform learning worldwide. A few of my colleagues at the Long Island Explorium talked about how impressive their exhibits and interactive experiences are, and would like to see this for myself. https://www.exploratorium.edu/

4. Barnum Museum, Bridgeport, CT: The Museum is a leading authority on P.T. Barnum’s life and work, and it contains more than 60,000 artifacts relating to Barnum, Bridgeport, and 19th century America. I went to the circus once as a child, and I thought that the history of the circus was interesting. Also, when I was an intern at Connecticut’s Old State House I learned that P.T. Barnum once served the state inside the Old State House. After talking with a museum colleague who I met online who works at the Barnum Museum and learning about the restoration plan of the Museum from the Director, Kathleen Maher’s, presentation at the NEMA conference, I would like to visit the museum and learn more about P.T. Barnum and his influence on American culture. https://barnum-museum.org/

5. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.: This museum is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts, and advocates for better representation of women artists and serves as a vital center for thought leadership, community engagement, and social change. It is a fascinating museum and I have not been to many museums that focus solely on women and the accomplishments made by women. As a woman myself, I think it is especially important to learn more about what these women have accomplished and how their accomplishments impacted the nation. https://nmwa.org/

6. The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, Netherlands: In cooperation with Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, the museum was established inside the house where Anne Frank went into hiding and its’ mission is to increase awareness of Anne’s life story all over the world. Since I learned about Anne Frank and her life while I was in school, I wanted to visit in person to not only learn more about the lives of those who hid in the house but I also think it is important to put into perspective what it would be like to be hidden in a small space by stepping into that space. https://www.annefrank.org/en/museum/

7. The Louvre, Paris, France: Since 1793, the Louvre was intended to be a universal museum in terms of the wealth of the collections (which there are thousands of art and artifacts) and its diversity of its visitors. While it is the most visited museum in the world, I have always wanted to travel to France since I started to learn French when I was in middle school and see the vast history and art that the Louvre has collected in its long history as a museum. https://www.louvre.fr/en/

8. Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, Italy: This is the largest Franciscan church in the world, and the construction of the current church that replaced an older one began in May 1294. I have relatives who live in northern Italy and in addition to visiting them I would like to see the Basilica for its architectural significance as well as its art and monuments including Michelangelo’s and Galileo’s tombs. http://www.santacroceopera.it/en/default.aspx

What are some of the museums you are interested in visiting?

If you would like to learn more about Patreon and make your own requests please visit my Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward