Book Review: The Cabinet by Lindsay M. Chervinsky

March 4, 2021

The most recent book I have been reading is Lindsay M. Chervinsky’s The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution which was published on April 7, 2020. I wanted to read this book since my current work in the museum field also focuses on George Washington (during the American Revolution, specifically with the Culper Spy Ring), my museum background is mostly in early American history. After I heard about this book, I decided to check it out and provide my thoughts on this book.

Lindsay M. Chervinsky, who is a White House historian at the White House Historical Association, provided detailed account of Washington’s early years in his presidency and his Cabinet. According to the book flap, Chervinsky’s book described the political history of Washington’s Cabinet:

              On November 26, 1791, George Washington convened his department secretaries- Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph-for the first cabinet meeting. Why did he wit two and a half years into his presidency to call his cabinet? Because the US Constitution did not create or provide for such a body. Washington was on his own.

              Faced with diplomatic crises, domestic insurrections, and constitutional challenges-and finding congressional help lacking-Washington decided he needed a group of advisors he could turn to. He modeled his new cabinet on the councils of war he had led as commander of the Continental Army. In the early days, the cabinet served at the president’s pleasure. Washington tinkered with its structure throughout his administration, at times calling regular meetings, at other times preferring written advice and individual discussions.

I took the time to read the book and I appreciate its great attention to detail as well as the way Chervinsky delineated the narrative in this book. Within the book, there are eight chapters, an introduction and an epilogue that went into detail of after the Revolutionary War, when Washington became president, his presidency in the early years, the Cabinet emerges, and how the Cabinet worked after it was created.

        Also, I appreciate Chervinsky’s efforts to outline and organized resources she used to write her book. When I read history books, I like to pay attention to how resources are cited and displayed not only because it was how I learned to read these books while earning my bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degree in public history, but it helps me see the primary sources used for this book to provide context to what I am reading. Inside the book, she has a notes section that includes additional information relevant to a point made in the book that did not fit into its flow. It also lists the resources she used including primary sources such as presidential papers and diaries, and secondary sources including books, articles, and journals (such as Journals of the Continental Congress and Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States) throughout her book. Each chapter had at least between 80 and 100 annotations, and the introduction and epilogue have 15 and 26 annotations, that direct the reader to the notes section.

         In addition to the structure of the book, I appreciate the dedication to telling this significant part of the United States’ political history and leaving the reader to ponder on the influence of this Cabinet on following presidential cabinets in almost 250 years of the country’s existence. The Cabinet discussed the resulting consequences that followed Washington’s choices on figuring out the roles of his advisors and how they will conduct their roles. In the same book flap, it stated that:

The tensions in the cabinet between Hamilton and Jefferson heightened partisanship and contributed to the development of the first party system. And as Washington faced an increasingly recalcitrant Congress, he came to treat the cabinet as a private advisory body to summon as needed, greatly expanding the role of the president and the executive branch.

           While the cabinet has evolved in step with the federal government, Washington established a precedent whose powerful legacy endures. Each president since has selected his closest advisors, Senate-appointed or otherwise—whether political allies, subject experts, or a coterie of family members and yes-men.

This book is definitely a relevant book for understanding political and presidential history in the United States. I believe reading books like Chervinsky’s The Cabinet would be helpful to understand the role of the Cabinet in more recent presidencies. When Washington became the first president of the United States, he was trying to figure out what that means for the new country and ultimately setting the example for future presidents to follow. He had to think about what the responsibilities are of the president and how to handle the responsibilities, and his approach to the presidency came from what he knew about how to be a leader when he was the general in the Revolutionary War. As I read her book, I appreciated that she began the book within the war since as readers we need to see the foundations of Washington’s leadership and how his interactions with cabinet members can be influenced from the efforts to be able to create a new nation. From my experience educating and discussing Washington’s role in the Revolutionary War, I can understand how he modeled his cabinet on the councils of war he had.

At the Three Village Historical Society, we focus one of our main exhibits on the Culper Spy Ring and share Washington’s involvement in leading espionage in the Revolutionary War, especially on Long Island. Among the many roles Washington had as the General, he appointed one of this Dragoon Majors, Benjamin Tallmadge, as head of the spy ring on Long Island since Tallmadge was originally from Long Island and expected that he would receive the most accurate information. I recommend visiting the TVHS website to learn more about Washington and the Culper Spy Ring.  

I also appreciated the connection Chervinsky made towards the modern presidencies in the book by discussing legacy. The epilogue especially focused on how Washington’s legacy influenced the presidents directly after him and the more recent presidents. One of the ways Chervinsky illustrated his legacy was:

“Rather than following a written guide or legislative direction, each president would decide how his or her cabinet operated. The flexibility of the institution offered an excellent opportunity for strong leaders but could serve as a liability for weaker presidents” (309).

Since there was so much flexibility, it made sense why there are so many differences in how each president handles their role and their relationships with the cabinet. It also explains how little or big of an impact changes made in the country due to the advice from the fifteen departments of the cabinet: the State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security.

      Overall, I recommend taking a look at the book itself if you are interested in learning more about George Washington, political history, and Early American history.

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Links and Resource:

Chervinsky, Lindsay M., The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, Cambridge, MA: The Belkap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020.

https://www.lindsaychervinsky.com/book

Three Village Historical Society

Public Historian Revisits Childhood During Historians at the Movies: The Princess Bride

February 18, 2021

Since I was a kid, I loved the film “The Princess Bride”, the fantasy film starring actors such as Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. The first time I watched this movie was when I was at a friend’s birthday party. I remember watching it so many times over the years since then. There were days that when I was not feeling well, I watched this movie. Most of the time, I watched this movie when I wanted a good laugh. My friends and I used to reenact scenes from the movie, and quote this movie on a number of occasions.

“Inigo Montoya: Fezzik, are there rocks ahead?

Fezzik: If there are, we all be dead.

Vizzini: No more rhymes now, I mean it.

Fezzik: Anybody want a peanut?

Vizzini: DYEEAAHHHHHH!”

I also bought the book the film was based on, and read that book many times including the sequel that was in my copy of the book. Plus, I loved watching the behind-the-scenes stories of filming this movie.

For Valentine’s Day, the Historians at the Movies Twitter conversation took a closer look at this film on DisneyPlus to talk about history and what time period the film portrays. When I heard about this, I was really excited, and I decided to write a post about this discussion.

It has been a while since I covered a Historian At the Movies, and if you want to read about the first experience I had, check out the link below after you read this one.

My husband and I participated in watching The Princess Bride and Historians at the Movies on Valentine’s Day. The memories came flooding back as we watched the film, and once again I had an awesome time tweeting with all of the participants. All of us had a lot of thoughts throughout the movie, and there was a lot of commentary on Twitter. For instance, the following are samples from the Historians at the Movies conversation:

We also answered questions to open discussions while we were making commentaries on the film. The first one was an introduction to what we liked most about the film, what our Valentine’s Day dinners are, et. cetera. I was going to answer each question, but I did not have the answer off the top of my head and there were thoughts I wanted to express about the movie itself. To answer the rest of the questions, it is hard for me to imagine any other actors in the roles and I have not thought about who would be good in the roles if I were to cast the roles today; my husband and I had Indian cuisine from our local Indian restaurant we ate at home.

        I also appreciated the discussion about what the time period this movie would be set in. In the tweet, I stated that based on the clothing I could see the film being set between the 15th and 16th century. Also, in response to other individuals’ tweets that point out it could not be past post-Renaissance I stated:

While my expertise is not in historical clothing, I thought it was consistent enough to not be jarring and they help distinguish between the story scenes and the scenes between the grandfather and grandson.

If you are interested in joining the discussions with Historians at the Movies, follow their website, Facebook page, and the conversations on Twitter using the hashtag #HATM.

What do you think of The Princess Bride? What time period do you think this film is set in? Are there moments from the film that are memorable to you? If you have not seen it, what movies are you nostalgic about?

Links:

A Public Historian’s Participation in Historians At The Movies

Historians at the Movies website

Historians at the Movies Facebook page

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts. ☕ https://buymeacoffee.com/lbmfmusedblog

Winter Holidays in 2020 and Happy New Year

December 16, 2020

As with everything this past year, the winter holidays are going to be celebrated a little bit differently because of the pandemic. Museums are continuing to offer virtual programs, tours, et. cetera to help us all engage with and keep our spirits up during the holiday season. While we are figuring out how we are celebrating this year, I thought I would do a short examination of the history of holidays that take place during this time of year.

There are many holidays celebrated in December around the world, and the ones I mention in this blog are only a sample of what holidays are out there. I have included in the list of links a link to the December holiday calendar that shares various holidays celebrated this time of year (even some that secular holidays). The holidays celebrated in December include but are not limited to Yule, Christmas, and Hanukkah.

Yule is a celebration, practiced by pagans, neo-pagans, and other individuals who incorporate witchcraft practice in their lives, which involves gathering together to enjoy meals and gift giving, and activities like feasting and wassailing (where the tradition of singing carols comes from) are sometimes regarded as sacred. Also, it is one of the celebrations from the Wheel of the Year acknowledging the change in seasons; Yule represents the celebration of death and rebirth in nature, and the eventual return of the sun from its weakest point in the year, faced during the winter season. Some of the traditions that are practiced during this Yuletide time are but not limited to decorating the Yule tree, lighting the candles on the Yule log, making and hanging wreaths, and telling stories.

This celebration corresponds with the astrological change of the Earth tilting away from the sun, known as the Winter Solstice. The amount of sunlight on Earth during this time varies, short day and long night to long darkness, depends on which part of the globe one lives on. In the Northern Hemisphere, it also marks the first day of winter. In Mary Kate Hagan’s article “Winter Solstice Celebration”, she pointed out that

Winter Solstice is a time to pause, with the restraints of winter, to perceive the seeds of our future growth. It is an invitation to align ourselves with the turning of the seasons and the natural world, experiencing ourselves as being woven into the sacred web of life, acknowledging the mystery of the Divine creative presence pulsating through all. (185).

Yule is linked to a number of religious celebrations and spiritual traditions that coincides with the Winter Solstice which occurs on December 21st this year in the Northern Hemisphere.

One of the most common examples of Yule’s connection with other religious celebrations and spiritual traditions is Christmas. A lot of the traditions that have been adopted into Christmas traditions came from pagan celebrations. Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday is one of the examples of books written about the history of Christmas and its roots in paganism. Nissenbaum used documents and illustrations in his book to share Christmas’s carnival origins and shows how it was transformed, during the nineteenth century, into the celebration we know now. His book also shared the origins of Christmas traditions from St. Nicholas to the Christmas tree and the practice of giving gifts to children.

Christmas is the celebration in the Christian religions to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and, especially in the secular world, gather with loved ones by giving presents and having meals together. There are many customs that vary in different countries, and in the United States Christmas traditions are celebrated together with many customs from other cultures and countries. Families around the world decorate the tree and home with bright lights, wreaths, candles, holly, mistletoe, and ornaments. Some individuals attend church on Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus comes from the North Pole in a sleigh to deliver gifts; in other parts of the world, Santa arrives on other modes of transportation such as in Hawaii he arrives by boat and in Ghana he comes out of the jungle.  Another holiday celebrated in December is Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday.

Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish people honoring the Maccabees’ victory over King Antiochus who forbade them from practicing their religion. They celebrate over eight nights to remember how the oil in the temple was supposed to last for one night ended up lasting eight nights. To celebrate Hanukkah, they start with a prayer, the lighting of the menorah, and food. The menorah holds nine candles, eight candles to be lit on each night and the nineth is used to light the other candles. Also, children play games such as the dreidel, sing songs, and exchange gifts. Unlike Christmas, the days the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah changes each year because the holiday follows the lunar cycle. This year Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 10th and ends on December 18th. As I am writing this blog post, it is the sixth night of Hanukkah (when this is posted, it will be the seventh night) and will be lighting the menorah with my husband and his family.

All of the celebrations that I mentioned above and the ones I share within the links section have in common is the focus of celebrating with loved ones whether we are in person or not. While celebrating the holidays this year will be different, technology will be able to help us connect with family members as we focus on getting a better control of the pandemic.

I am taking a break from posting on the blog for the holidays. I will be working on the campaign and more posts on the blog for the upcoming new year. Stay tuned for more posts and exciting developments in the new year! Thank you all for your continued support, and I hope all of you have a fun and safe holiday.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!

Related Posts:

Blog Campaign:

https://www.buymeacoffee.com/lbmfmusedblog

Happy Holidays! Museum Education during the Holiday Season

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year: Ready for Museum Education

Links:

Holiday Calendar List

https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/winter-celebrations/

https://religiouslife.princeton.edu/religious-holidays

USA Today: “Hanukkah 2020: When it is and what to know (no, it’s not the ‘Jewish Christmas’)” by David Oliver

F. C. Conybeare, “The History of Christmas”, The American Journal of Theology, Jan., 1899, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan., 1899), pp. 1-21, Published by: The University of Chicago Press.

Jan M. Ziolkowski, “The Yuletide Juggler”, The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity, Volume 5: Tumbling into the Twentieth Century, Open Book Publishers.

Mary Kate Hagan, “Winter Solstice Celebration”, The Furrow, Vol. 61, No. 3 (March 2010), pp. 185-188 (4 pages), The Furrow.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/12/winter-solstice-2017-first-day-winter-definition-space-science/

The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday by Stephen Nissenbaum

America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories by Bruce David Forbes

All About Yule

Holidays Calendar: Yule

James Buescher, “Wiccans, pagans ready to celebrate Yule”, Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster County, PA, Published: Dec 15, 2007.

Bonus Post: How Thanksgiving Will Look in 2020, and Indigenous Lives Matter

November 23, 2020

Thanksgiving will look different this year not just due to the pandemic. It is still a holiday in which we should acknowledge our past and as I said in last year’s Thanksgiving post:

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

It is especially important now, even while times are hard, to remember what we are thankful for and find ways to safely connect with others. A number of articles including from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal cover what we could do to have a safe holiday during the pandemic whether we are with our families or by ourselves this year. The Wall Street Journal for instance released articles “The Covid Thanksgiving: Outdoor Heaters, Virtual Meals, Grandma Stays Home” and “Traveling for Thanksgiving During the Pandemic? Here’s How to Stay Safe” that discuss the tough decisions people in the United States have to make and share information on what precautions that should be taken if one invites family over for the holidays.

The New York Times released articles as well to provide information on how to handle preparations for Thanksgiving during a pandemic. Anna Goldfarb’s “Solo on the Holiday? Reach Out” released advice for individuals who find themselves by themselves during the holiday. Goldfarb stated various ways to still enjoy the holidays as well as advice on dealing with being by oneself, and had shared more detailed explanations behind them:

  1. Plan ahead
  2. Accept whatever feelings bubble up
  3.  Identify what’s most important to you and focus on achieving it
  4. Take a social media break if you need it
  5. Be gracious and live in the moment
  6. Give back
  7. Rest up

Tara Parker-Pope wrote an article called “Serve Up Some Extra Precautions at Your Thanksgiving Table This Year” which discussed health concerns of the pandemic while sharing what one should do if they decide to invite family members outside of the household for Thanksgiving. Health officials recommend keeping home gatherings small, but it is better to not invite people who do not already live within the household. Parker-Pope also listed them with more detailed explanations behind them, and the following was what she stated in the article if one plans to invite people in the house:

  1. Assess the risk
  2. Ask your guests to take early precautions
  3. Move the dinner outside
  4. Reduce the time you spend together
  5. Wear masks during downtime
  6. Don’t share serving utensils and other items

The links of the previously mentioned articles I have discussed are posted below. In addition to what Thanksgiving would be like this year, I have also paid attention to more information available about indigenous people today and Thanksgiving since the post I wrote last year. I included a link to that post below for more about the history of Thanksgiving.

This past year, I attended the virtual AASLH Annual Meeting and one of the sessions I attended was called #IndigenousLivesMatter: Centering Voices of Indigenous People. The speakers were Fawn Douglas and Ashley Minner, and Patrick Naranjo was the moderator. Fawn Douglas is a member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, where she previously served as a Tribal Councilwoman; she is an artist whose works include murals and performance that aims to shine a light on race, class, and gender to ask what it means to be Native in the contemporary. Ashley Minner is a community based visual artist from Baltimore, Maryland, and an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Minner’s current research focuses on the changing relationship between Baltimore’s Lumbee Indian community and the area where they first settled. Patrick Naranjo is the director of the American Indian Graduate Program at the University of California, Berkley. Naranjo has published several articles and continues to transform higher education experiences for Native and Indigenous people through the intersection of Native heritage, academia, and cultural concepts.

All three of them had a discussion about the history and the disparage of the American Indian identity and issue. They emphasized within the session that having some meaningful conversation builds awareness and revisits a narrative of fore change in the current context.  During the session, the speakers shared a number of resources on indigenous nations and to help us identify indigenous people who occupied the land first to help us acknowledge the people who live on the land we live on before us. This conversation is not only an important one to learn how we become better ancestors for future generations (the theme of the AASLH Annual Meeting was What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be?) but it is one of many important examples of why indigenous lives matter. Thanksgiving this year for me will be reflecting on what I am thankful for especially in the mist of the pandemic, and how to be a better individual by learning about indigenous culture as well as the issues that need to be addressed.

I hope everyone has a safe Thanksgiving!

I included an updated list of resources I shared in last year’s blog post on Thanksgiving and Native American culture. These resources came from research that I did on my own, and some that were shared during the AASLH session #IndigenousLivesMatter: Centering Voices of Indigenous People.

Links:

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

Solo on the Holiday? Reach Out

Serve Up Some Extra Precautions at Your Thanksgiving Table This Year

The Covid Thanksgiving: Outdoor Heaters, Virtual Meals, Grandma Stays Home: Is it safe to have Thanksgiving? As coronavirus cases surge, families face difficult decisions.

Traveling for Thanksgiving During the Pandemic? Here’s How to Stay Safe The Covid pandemic has thrown uncertainty into this year’s celebrations. Here are tips for those who are getting on the road—or staying at home

Resources:

Thanksgiving:

Getting Through The Holidays During The Pandemic

How to watch this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — and what to expect

Five Ideas to Change Teaching about Thanksgiving, in Classrooms and at Home

Indigenous People, Land, Et. Cetera:

Native Knowledge 360° Essential Understandings about American Indians

The Yup’ik People and Their Culture (#arcticstudies)

Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Arctic Studies Center

Check Out Indigenous Cinema With the National Museum of the American Indian

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Native Land

Protesters demonstrate against ICE near downtown Las Vegas

Ashley Minner Community Artist

Fawn Douglas Art

U.S. Department of Arts and Culture

Indigenous Digital Archive

IDA Treaties Explorer

Locations of North American Native Nations and Cultural Institutions

Books I Want to Read for the Rest of 2020

October 1, 2020

It has been a while since I released a list of books that I am interested in reading on this site. I decided to compile a list of books that I either already have in my collections that I want to read (or re-read) or books that I have heard about and I want to put on my list of books to read. There are a few books on the list that I was introduced to during the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) virtual conference in the Author Talks sessions. This is not a complete list of books but rather it is a sample of books I would like to read. I plan to write a couple more posts to add more books to the list until the end of 2020, and then I will start another list of books for 2021. Here is the following list:

  1. Doing Women’s History for the Public: A Handbook for Interpreting at Museums and Historic Sites by Heather Huyck https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442264175/Doing-Women’s-History-in-Public-A-Handbook-for-Interpretation-at-Museums-and-Historic-Sites
  2. Exploring the History of Childhood and Play through 50 Historic Treasures by Susan A. Fletcher https://www.amazon.com/Exploring-Childhood-Historic-Treasures-Americas/dp/1538118742/
  3. Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) by Sam Wineburg https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/W/bo23022136.html
  4. A Leader’s Guide to Solving Challenges with Emotional Intelligence by David R. Caruso, PhD and Lisa T. Rees, ACC, MPA. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38899539-a-leader-s-guide-to-solving-challenges-with-emotional-intelligence
  5. Exploring Women’s Suffrage through 50 Historic Treasures by Jessica D. Jenkins https://www.amazon.com/Exploring-Suffrage-Historic-Americas-Treasures/dp/1538112795
  6. Leadership Matters Leading Museums in an Age of Discord, Second Edition by Anne W. Ackerson and Joan H. Baldwin https://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Matters-Leading-American-Association/dp/1538118319

What books are you reading in 2020? It does not have to be books about the museum field nor about history. I will be releasing a blog post about this year’s AASLH Annual Meeting and Conference soon. In the meantime, check out the conversations on Twitter using the hashtag #AASLH2020 and I will post some pictures (well…screenshots) from the conference on the Looking Back, Moving Forward in Museum Education’s Facebook page and Instagram.

Also check out a previous list I wrote a few years ago here: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-1s

And here is a list I wrote for 2019: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-we

#AASLH2020: Day 1

September 24, 2020

AASLH Conference 2020

Earlier today was the first day of the virtual American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) conference. This year’s theme is “What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be?” It was an engaging and thought provoking first day with sessions focusing on being aware of our blind spots in terms of diversity and we could learn more about women in history through generations. I have included some tweets I released throughout the first day below with brief explanations of what session each tweet is referring to. The first thing I will address is

AASLH’s staff worked really hard to make this year’s conference a virtual one. Originally, this conference was going to be in Las Vegas, Nevada. If it were still in Las Vegas, I would not be able to go since I would not be able to afford the airfare in addition to the hotel and conference rate. While I do like to be in person when I participate in professional development programs, I like that by making this year’s conference virtual it is a little more accessible for more people to participate in. Also, at the time I was attending the first session there were 2,245 conference attendees and I believe it was at least more than half of the conference attendees that attended last year. Since the conference is online this year and that I was able to receive a scholarship to attend, I decided to attend this year’s conference to learn more to develop my skills as a museum and history professional. I also thought about my answer to this year’s conference theme:

One of the sessions I attended was #MeToo, and #BlackLivesMatter: Black Women Leaders Overcoming the Double Burden. In the session, the speakers revealed a number of disturbing statistics on how many people make up the museum leadership in the entire country:

Meanwhile 85 percent of the individuals in museum leadership roles are white men. This shows that we still have a way to go to making the museum field more diverse. We should not expect that when we fulfill one criteria for diversity our work is done because our society is continuously changing, and we need to continue to learn how to be better organizations.

Another session I attended was Generations of Women: Complicating Traditional Timelines which focused on three case studies of researching women’s history through using sources found from census records, books, articles, et. cetera and generations of their families. The speakers discussed how keeping track of what happened in history through generations rather than dates because people can relate to generations since we all belong to generations.

The previously listed sessions and tweets were just a sample of what I did today. I learned so much, and I look forward to learning more in the next few days (until September 30th).

Follow me on Twitter, @Steward2Lindsey, to see my thoughts and reactions in real time. If you would like to attend the conference, click on the AASLH conference page.

Stay tuned!

Preserving COVID-19 History: An Important Museum-Community Partnership

April 23, 2020

We are already seeing how we are affected by this pandemic, and museums as well as historical societies are reaching out to the community to contribute photos, videos, stories, et cetera about their experience in quarantine. While it is not appropriate for museums to collect equipment that are needed now to help those with the virus, all of us are wondering what the future will be like once the pandemic is over and should understand that one day this will become a part of our global historical narrative. Museum professionals and historians especially know that the more we preserve from this time the more people in the future will understand the how and why the pandemic occurred. Historians researched and museum professionals developed exhibits on the epidemic that occurred in 1918 (also known as the Spanish flu) to help readers and visitors comprehend the impact it had on the world. This will most likely happen to help future generations understand the impact of the coronavirus and learn the lessons we are learning now to help move modern medicine forward. In the meantime, we will figure out how we will get through the pandemic, and how to express our emotions with and support one another.

Our healing as a community, state, country, and as a global community could begin by learning from what we experienced, talking with one another, and preserving our memories for future generations to learn about these experiences. One of the ways we can figure out how people in the world are affected by being in quarantine, limiting physical contact with others, and traveling for only essentials is to develop the relationship between museums and the community further so we would be able to preserve these memories.

It is hard to think about this pandemic in the historical context perspective while we all are still emotionally, mentally, and physically involved. The important thing in maintaining a museum-community partnership is to learn what the community needs during this time, and to provide resources and activities to help individuals cope with changes in our society caused by the pandemic. When we keep communication open between our community and our institutions, virtual visitors are able to continue to trust museums to be the safe space to express concerns they have on current events. The more visitors trust museums to help them through the tough times, the more likely they are to share with museums and historical societies that decided to preserve community memories of their pandemic experiences.

We are seeing historical societies contacting their communities to encourage them to share what they are doing in their quarantines. The Connecticut Historical Society, located in Hartford, Connecticut, released a message through their member contact lists and social media outlets asking them to reach out to their staff with photos to preserve this part of Connecticut history. Another example is the Rhode Island Historical Society which shared its call for stories on social media. On their Twitter page, the Rhode Island Historical Society stated

Help make history by contributing to the new online Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive. This is a collaboration of RIHS and Providence Public Library. Stay safe! As the song goes, Rhode Island is Famous for You.

http://ricovidarchive.org

1:40 PM · Apr 16, 2020

RIHS reach out to virtual visitors with a survey to make sure they produce content the audience would benefit from. Also, they created a website that offers a space to contribute to the online collections and to browse through the collections individuals already contributed. There is also a section on the website that provided individuals with a guide to personal archiving, and it gives advice for individuals on how to back up as well as share their records.

The next example is the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York. In a Facebook post, they asked

Please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences, for the archives, as we learn how to get through each day in our new normal. Most importantly, stay paused and stay healthy.

April 17 at 10:48 AM

The post also stated that community members in the Three Village district should send an email to submit their story, video, or image. In addition to sharing on social media, they released a blog post describing the importance of preserving this history to remember the anniversary of the town’s founding 365 years ago. According to the Town of Brookhaven Historian Barbara Russell,

This worldwide pandemic becomes part of our local history as it affects our residents as well as those across the globe. Historians in New York State have been asked to record this event in their local municipalities, so I ask you all in the days, weeks and months ahead to share your experiences with me. You can write, video, create visual art, even clip your local newspaper articles. Let your neighbors and family and friends know they are welcome to contribute. Let us turn our town’s anniversary into an opportunity to record an unprecedented moment of time for future generations to know and understand.

Russell stressed the importance of community through these difficult and unprecedented times, and to encourage the community to become involved in preserving their history.

Do you know a museum or a historical society that is asking about preserving pandemic experiences? Let me know in the comments.

As always, stay safe out there and be good to one another.

Links to Resources and Additional Examples:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/83093-public-libraries-after-the-pandemic.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/

https://aaslh.org/museums-and-victory-gardens/

http://ricovidarchive.org

https://www.tvhs.org/blog

www.chs.org

www.rihs.org

Curiosity about History: What Does this Mean for Museum Educators?

February 27, 2020

Earlier this month, the American Alliance of Museums released a blog post called “Curiosity About History is Growing Across Generations, a New Survey Finds” by Conner Prairie President and CEO Norman Burns. The blog post revealed survey results from a survey conducted by Connor Prairie, Indiana’s first Smithsonian affiliate museum which is an outdoor museum that inspires curiosity and fosters learning by providing engaging and individualized experiences for everyone. They wanted to find out what individuals thought about history and museums since the general initial impressions of museums is each one focuses on one discipline (i.e. history, art, science) or one type (i.e. children’s, zoological, and nature). Also, they found that similar surveys have not been conducted in decades which was why they decided to conduct their own national survey. After examining the results, they emphasized how museums have the potential for so much more than a house for collections and museums will continue to evolve with the changing society. Once I read the blog, I kept thinking about what the survey results mean for museum educators teaching programs in history and decided to share a few examples from the blog post to illustrate how museum educators can utilize the results for their practices.

Museum educators in history museums, historical societies, and historic house museums in recent years have been learning to incorporate other disciplines to provide well-rounded experiences for the audiences they teach. In my experience as a museum educator, I developed my skills in teaching not only history but also art and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). All museum educators, including myself, could benefit from finding out from their audiences how to best create memorable and educational experiences. This survey is an example of what we can take away about how we can harness the increasing interest in history. In the post, Burns pointed out museums role in helping individuals connect with history:

The survey found that, second only to gatherings with their families, Americans most often mentioned visits to museums and historic sites as the situation that makes them feel most in touch with history. When asked which sources they most trusted for knowledge of the past, Americans put museums and historic sites first, ahead of grandparents, eyewitnesses, college professors, history books, movies, television programs, and high school history teachers. The survey demonstrated that America’s history museums have broad appeal and respect, while also having a real personal impact on Americans. People connect with the past when they visit museums and historic sites, and award these institutions a credibility that is greater even than an eyewitness’s account or a grandparent’s memory.

I have seen visitors who came to the museums I worked for tell me about what book, television show, movie, etc. that inspired them to visit this museum and asked questions confirming whether or not the information they learned in other mediums was accurate. For instance, at the Three Village Historical Society, which works within the community to explore local history through education, I spoke with visitors who came to see the Historical Society’s exhibit about the Culper Spy Ring (who collected intelligence during the Revolutionary War for General George Washington) because of the AMC television show Turn about the Culper Spy Ring. A lot of questions I received were how accurate the show was to what happened during the Revolutionary War and how the Culper Spy Ring operated. Museum professionals should make sure that their research is up to date when anything new is discovered so the narrative presented in programs and exhibits are accurate especially since our institutions are seen as credible sources of information.

The survey also pointed out that history museums are the number one most trustworthy source of information in America. Therefore, museum professionals, especially museum educators, have been doing something right for survey participants to state history museums are the most trustworthy source of information.

Burns continued to share results from the survey and some of the findings including why history is valuable to us personally, to our communities, and to our future. According to the survey,

96 percent of Americans believe it is important to look at our history to inform our future.

91 percent of Americans agree that it is important that people learn about history to build a strong foundation for the future.

42 percent of Americans now have a higher level of curiosity in history as compared to this time to last year.

Millennials showed the highest level of increased curiosity, at 55 percent, compared to 42 percent of Gen Xers and 28 percent of baby boomers.

These results show increasing interest in and curiosity about history within generations in America, and it is important to also appeal to the younger generations who seem to be the most interested in learning about history especially since a large number of individuals see history as a way to inform the future. Also, other results from the survey revealed that Americans believe in history museums can stress the importance of protecting the environment and develop critical thinking skills. Museum educators should learn about the communities their museums serve, and with survey results like this one we are able to evolve with the communities we are a part of.

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/02/03/curiosity-about-history-is-growing-across-generations-a-new-survey-finds/

https://www.connerprairie.org/

https://www.connerprairie.org/new-survey-nine-in-10-americans-say-our-past-should-inform-our-future-curiosity-in-history-expands-across-generations-with-millennials-leading-the-way/

Art and History Museum Perspectives on Storytelling

February 13, 2020

I decided to revisit storytelling in museum programming to continue discussing its importance from not only the history museum perspective but from the art museum perspective as well. In my previous blog post “Interpretation: The Importance of Storytelling in Museum Programs”, I discussed about the focus of storytelling in history museums, historic house museums, and historic sites to help visitors relate to or identify with the narrative they presented. This blog post also shared my experience in storytelling at the Connecticut historic house museums I worked for. These experiences are part of a small sample of examples of storytelling in museum programming, and it is important to address more perspectives on storytelling.

Art museums, for instance, have the ability to incorporate storytelling within their museum programming. What I think is interesting about art is each piece has varying emotional interpretation with each visitor who views it. Also, there are varying kinds of art styles art museums hold within their collections visitors could view on display such as contemporary, modern, 19th century art, Renaissance art, and abstract. Rather than focusing on being vessels for collections, museums and museum programs have the ability to help people make deeper connections to them. I previously worked at the Long Island Museum and facilitated a program called In the Moment, which helped elders with Alzheimer’s and dementia connect with art pieces, music, and artifacts to spark their memories and encourage them to share their memories. As I observed the participants hold onto replications of pieces in the exhibit, I noticed how happy they become as they describe the memories of family members and places the objects remind them of. Storytelling has a powerful way of expressing emotions, and by making storytelling in museum programs more inclusive it will help visitors create a deeper connection with the collections.

Earlier this month, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) released a post called “The Transformative Power of Inclusive Storytelling in Museums” in which Makeba Clay (the Chief of Diversity at The Philips Collection) discussed how art can create a deeper connection to our own narratives and our well-being. Clay also described the powerful connections they had when visiting The Philips Collection exhibits. The post continued to make arguments for improving the quality of storytelling within art museums. One of the points Clay made in the post that I find important about all museums is that

At the heart of powerful storytelling, whether through art, science, history, or other focuses explored by museums, lies a strong command of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI). By exhibiting work related to my own cultural heritage, TPC facilitates access to memories, emotions, and inquiry intimately tied to my understanding of place, identity, and community. In order to continue catalyzing powerful moments of beauty, empathy, and connection—like the one I experienced that day—museums must find ways to incorporate comprehensive DEAI into who, how, when, where, and why they tell stories. As a field, it is therefore incumbent upon museums to continue expanding their capacity to steward these values in all aspects of institutional life, including but not limited to staff, board, and volunteer composition and development; organizational strategy and operations; facilities design and upkeep; collections and archiving practices; community engagement; and programming.

All museums should be working to incorporate diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion; recent professional development programs I participated in suggest that museums are working towards improving the quality of DEAI museum programs. When museum programs’ storytelling allows for more diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, museums can help visitors who have not been previously been affected foster deeper connections with the collections. Also, the more we include in inclusive storytelling the more people will be able to develop deeper empathy for and connection with other people’s stories than they had before. I also believe the values storytelling introduce in museum programs should be extended in museum operations since we would not be able to truly be an empathetic, equitable, diverse, and inclusive if our institutions do not set an example within our operations for our staff, boards, and volunteers.

We are still on our way to creating museum programs with more inclusive storytelling but there is always room to include more, and all museums have the capacity to incorporate storytelling within their programs.

What are some examples of inclusive storytelling have you witnessed or have been immersed into?

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/02/05/the-transformative-power-of-inclusive-storytelling-in-museums/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/10/03/interpretation-the-importance-of-storytelling-in-museum-programs/

100th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment

January 16, 2020

This past weekend I attended a fundraiser event called the Snow Ball, and this year’s theme was the 100th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment. According to the United States Constitution, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote and was ratified on August 18, 1920. The fundraiser was for the Mill Museum located in Willimantic, Connecticut. The Mill Museum decided this year’s Snow Ball theme to introduce their upcoming exhibit opening in mid-February called Unlacing the Corset, Unleashing the Vote, and the associated lectures to bring the history alive. In addition to dancing along with live music from local band The Flamingos and participating in the silent auction, each table had a black box to collect 1920s ballots for a mock election; the results will be posted on their Facebook page. We will see if the result is different from the 1920 results when women first had the right to vote.

Centerpiece from Snow Ball

After attending the Snow Ball, I reflected on the significance of the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. It is incredible that it has been only 100 years that women were able to voice their views by participating in voting in state and federal elections. A lot of American women, including my great-grandmothers, were able to vote for the first time. It also took close to one hundred years to see a woman attempt to run for president, and this year at the time of this post we have three women running for president. We could potentially elect a female president one hundred years after the 19th Amendment was ratified. There is so much we still need to accomplish for equity rights for all American citizens.

Ever since the Mill Museum fundraiser I wanted to find out what other museums are also commemorating the ratification of the 19th Amendment. For instance, the National Archives Museum has an exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, that can be visited in person and virtually on their website, which highlights the relentless struggle of diverse activists throughout U.S. history to secure voting rights for all American women. It will be open from Friday, May 10, 2019 to Sunday, January 3, 2021.

There is also a 200-year old house located a block from the U.S. Capitol called the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument; it served as the headquarters for the National Women’s Party founded by women’s suffrage leader Alice Paul in 1916. The National Park Service operates a museum about the suffrage movement and the fight for women’s rights out of the historic house, and ranger-led tours are run Wednesdays through Sundays at 9:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

At the National Museum of American History, an exhibit called American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith which opened in June 2017. The exhibit focuses on the changing political ideals and principles of the nation, citizenship in a pluralistic society, and political participation and engagement. One of the objects that is featured in the exhibit is the table on which Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments.

Another example of an exhibit celebrating the women’s suffrage is one I visited last November at the Middlebury Museum of Art during the New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference week. The exhibit discussed the question “Should American women vote?” and why many have not considered this question until the last century. Inside the exhibit, there were vintage photographs, banners, and memorabilia that coincided with the 100th anniversary.

Many museums are doing various exhibits, events, and programs to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. I included links to the ones I referred to and the ones I found in my search.

What museums do you know are celebrating the 100th anniversary? How are you going to commemorate the 100th anniversary?

Links:

https://www.yourlawyer.com/library/19th-amendment-womens-suffrage-movement/

https://millmuseum.org

http://museum.middlebury.edu/exhibitions/upcoming/node/2976

https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/baltimore-museums-2020-vision-exhibition-19th-amendment-13500/

https://www.si.edu/spotlight/votes-for-women

https://americanhistory.si.edu/democracy-exhibition

https://www.nps.gov/wori/2020.htm

https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=63

https://www.2020centennial.org/

https://nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/gazette_How-Women-Won-Vote-.pdf

https://www.ncsl.org/blog/2019/08/07/celebrating-the-100th-anniversary-of-the-19th-amendment.aspx

https://www.archivesfoundation.org/women/

https://museum.archives.gov/rightfully-hers

https://www.nationalwomansparty.org/