#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/

Public Historian’s Perspective: The Importance of Talking About Family History

January 9, 2020

Families are defined in multiple ways, and it is important that we learn what we can about who our families are to help us understand how we came to be. We could also find out who we want to be by learning about our past. Last month I came across an article in Good Housekeeping called “We’re Losing Generations of Family History Because We Don’t Share Our Stories” which made me think about my own perspective about family history as a public historian on both a professional and personal level. I argue that learning about one’s own family history and heritage could be used as an introduction to telling stories that could be shared with other people and learning more about other perspectives.

There is so much we can learn about our past by talking about our stories and sharing them with the next generation. Previous generations have lived through major historical events and we can learn from our relatives about what these events were like from their perspective. Families, especially in the 21st century, are more diverse than it was commonly believed to be 100 years before; therefore, family histories are more complex. As technology advances, we find ways to connect with people around the world including family members who live outside the country. At the same time, family members move away for varying reasons, previous generations grow older and lose memories, children are adopted into other families, and family disputes are some reasons that change and disconnect from family histories. The article I found shared their argument for why we are losing touch with family history and ways to maintain telling stories about our families.

 In Good Housekeeping, they discussed that people usually become interested in genealogy in their 50’s and 60’s and by that time parents and grandparents are already dead or not able to recount these stories. Since I talked to family members at a young age and one of my sisters did a genealogical research at a young age, I feel that this general statement does not represent all people regarding family genealogy. It would be good to see research describing people’s feelings on family history and genealogy, so we have a definitive understanding of how we are losing generations of family history. What I did like about this article is that they pointed out

The solution to this problem is to get people interested in their family histories when they’re still adolescents or young adults, when they can still hear directly from relatives. But how do we cultivate an interest in each other to begin with? By asking thoughtful questions, participating in storytelling, and by focusing on our similarities with our relatives.

By telling the stories when people are younger, they could learn as much as possible to be able to tell these stories to future generations. Asking questions is a great way to start conversations specially to learn more information about family. When I learned about my family history, I asked questions which made me realize how extensive this history is.

I was able to learn a lot about my family history when I was a child and continued to learn as an adolescent. I do however wish that while the senior members of my family were still around so I can check with them about details I am not entirely clear about. What I remember about my family history came from conversations I have had during extended family gatherings and visits with grandparents. I also talked to my grandparents for a school project about what they were doing during World War II; according to my memory, my paternal grandfather was in Alaska and my maternal grandfather was in Hawaii (just after Pearl Harbor) and Japan.

The stories I have heard about my family extend a little bit into my ancestors in the 16th century but I mainly know more about three or four generations back from my generation. My maternal side of the family has mainly an Italian-Irish heritage with living relatives still in northern Italy where my grandfather’s family came from; I also have extended family from my grandmother’s side that I visited growing up at the Christmas parties. My paternal side of the family has mainly an English-Swedish heritage with living relatives still in England where my grandfather’s family came from. When I learned about my heritage, I was inspired to learn more about the culture of the countries my family came from and it sparked my interest in learning about other countries and cultures in the world. Without my family’s willingness to tell these stories and my curiosity, I would not have known about where I came from and been inspired to learn more about other cultures starting with cultures from my own family background.

After I read that article from Good Housekeeping, I took a look at a post from the National Council on Public History (NCPH) website which talked about a conference from a few years ago, the International Family History Workshop in Manchester, United Kingdom. There were a lot of takeaways from the conference that stress the complexity of family history in general. For instance, the international participants of genealogists, sociologists, humanists, psychologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and public historians

…shared an awareness of the ways in which family history methodologies complicate national narratives, especially in settler-colonial and settler-migrant nations. At the same time, the model of “family history” imposed upon local cultures by global information structures and systems often stresses Westernized, Anglophone models of historicity, identity, and family relationships. Hence it may work to occlude, forget, or ignore particular communities and to reify certain ways of thinking about the past and the present. Part of our investigation into family history as a “global” phenomenon within a public history framework must be to recognize the ethical, moral, and political assumptions that are at the heart of these practices.

To study family history in general is complicated because of how every person could view what it means to be a family differently across the world. We should acknowledge how certain ways of thinking influence history including family history. Once I read each of these articles, they reaffirmed that family histories can be complex, and I acknowledge it is important to find out what one should understand about family history.

Have you asked your family members about your family history? What did you find was interesting about researching your family’s history?

Links:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a29610101/preserve-family-history-storytelling/

https://ncph.org/history-at-work/family-history-around-the-world/

https://ncph.org/history-at-work/hold-for-international-family-history-post-from-jermoe-degroot/

How Important it is to Teach Historical Thinking Skills

November 14, 2019

I have learned, as a historian and public historian, that having and utilizing thinking skills are essential for understanding history and the current events surrounding us in our communities. Therefore, I emphasize it is significant to continue as well as improve how we teach historical thinking skills in schools. Before I became a historian and a public historian, I was a student in the public-school system with a passion for history. In addition to going to museums at a young age with my family, I remember reading biographies and history books for kids in the school library where I discovered my childhood hero Albert Einstein (I admired how smart he was, and that we both played the violin).

While attending public school, my history classes focused on learning the significant events in our nation’s history then as I got older there was deeper conversations about historical events in U.S. and World history. It wasn’t until I started college that I was introduced to the historical thinking skills I am more familiar with today. These memories of how history was taught while I was in public school and how I was introduced to historical thinking were sparked when I came across a blog post from Future-Focused History sharing Mike Maxwell’s article in the Social Education, a peer-reviewed journal of articles on theoretical and practical ideas from the National Council for the Social Studies.

What are historical thinking skills? According to the American Historical Association, historical thinking skills are comprised of a number of skills that students should take away from a history class: chronological, historical comprehension, historical analysis and interpretation, historical research skills, and analysis and decision-making on historical issues. Students who study history should understand how to distinguish past, present, and future to identify how events take place in time while being able to look for, find, and interpret information from the documents found from the past, or primary sources. The question that needs to be addressed is: how can improve on helping students develop better historical thinking skills?

Mike Maxwell, in preparation for his article and his book Future-Focused History Teaching: Restoring the Power of Historical Learning, conducted a seven-year study of contemporary history schooling. He concluded that there are two factors that limit historical thinking skills’ potential, and those are: useful thinking requires useful knowledge to think about; and historical thinking skills aren’t exclusive to history.

Historical thinking skills are especially important for future generations of historians to develop and utilize to uncover forgotten history and to keep history relevant. If we do not do a good job in educating students on historical thinking skills, we would be doing a disservice for the next generation of life-long learners. While it is good to educate students about historical events to provide context, this practice encourages students to take the information at face value and not take the time to delve deeper into history with any thinking skills. When we do not use skills, we can lose the skills and serious consequences in interpreting history emerge.

One of the skills, for instance, I remember was taken away from lessons in school was how to read and write in cursive. The problem with taking away cursive is the majority of documents analyzed were written in cursive, and historians utilize those skills to read and interpret documents. Without that skill, we will not be able to interpret documents that have not been previously interpreted and learn more about our past.

Even students who are not interested in pursuing history as a career benefit from learning how to use and develop critical thinking skills. Maxwell’s article in Social Education argued that historical thinking skills could be used in other school subjects taught to students. His article pointed out that

Like history teachers, teachers of mathematics, language, science, and other school subjects may encourage their students to distinguish between fact and opinion; view circumstances in a wider context; seek valid evidence and corroborating viewpoints; consider underlying assumptions, alternative explanations, and unintended consequences. Because such critical thinking processes are general in nature, the educational system does not need a separate discipline of history dedicated to teaching them; other school subjects can adequately handle the job.

Historical thinking skills do not necessarily need to only be used for studying history. They can be utilized in varying subjects as they all require teachers to help their students develop thinking skills for solving problems, developing their own opinions, and have a better understanding of what facts are. Critical thinking skills are used as a part of life in varying situations, which would lead students to becoming more well-rounded individuals.

Discussion Questions: What are your thoughts on historical thinking skills? Can you share examples of historical/critical thinking skills you have used in your work and/or daily life?

Resources:

Maxwell, Mike, “Historical Thinking Skills: A Second Opinion”, Social Education, Vol. 83 Issue 5: pg. 290-294. https://futurefocusedhistory.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/ncss-article-102019-1.pdf

https://futurefocusedhistory.blog/historical-thinking-skills-a-second-opinion/

https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/teaching-resources-for-historians/teaching-and-learning-in-the-digital-age/the-history-of-the-americas/the-conquest-of-mexico/for-teachers/setting-up-the-project/historical-thinking-skills

https://www.socialstudies.org/publications/socialeducation

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?

Digital Resource Examination: The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook

September 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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