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

Remembering 9/11: 18 years later

September 11, 2019

Normally I would be posting a blog post on Thursdays but today I decided to write a short post in addition to my Thursday post because I had a number of thoughts as I remember the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I read various articles today about remembering those attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the people who have lost their lives on that day. I saw comparison pictures of the New York City skyline and area the day of the attacks and what they look like today. It is hard sometimes to think that it had been so long ago, and yet it felt like it had been a short time ago at the same time. Eighteen years later, I can still vividly remember where I was when I learned about the news and saw the attacks on the television. When the attacks happened, I was in middle school in my hometown of Franklin, Massachusetts and I was in class as I learned about what was happening in New York City. Even though we were in the middle of a history lesson, my teacher turned the television on so my classmates and I can learn about what is going on as it happened. I remember talking about what happened with my mother and sisters after school on the ride home, and later watching the news coverage.

Now that I live on Long Island, New York, I see more of how New Yorkers felt on that day and how they remember. I am also happy about how many people are able to help those in need on that day and even now as 4,000 New York volunteers board the Intrepid to pack a million non-perishable meals for New York families and 100,000 non-perishable meals for victims of Hurricane Dorian (according to an article I read on amny.com released the day before). These actions remind me of how our country, even as it faces so much over the past few years, can still come together to remember and help others. I am happy that we still commemorate this day to remind us of not only what happened and those who have lost their lives on that day but those men and women in the police and fire departments, and volunteers, who worked hard to save lives. I will never forget!

Below I have included articles I have read today and the 9/11 Memorial Museum website for more information:

https://www.amny.com/news/intrepid-9-11-volunteer-1.36140377

todayincthistory.com/2019/09/11/september-11-9-11-terrorist-attacks-hit-close-to-home/

https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/handwritten-note-september-11-2001

gvshp.org/blog/2019/09/11/remembering-the-world-trade-center-and-its-aftermath-of-its-destruction/

abcnews.go.com/US/us-marks-18th-anniversary-911-terrorist-attacks/story?id=65530195&cid=social_twitter_abcn

https://news.yahoo.com/911-then-and-now-18-years-later-182946226.html

https://www.911memorial.org/

Humanities Indicators Results Reaction: Visitors Historic Sites and Museums on the Rise

August 15, 2019

This past Monday, I discovered an interesting study that was examined and presented by Humanities Indicators. For those who are not familiar with them, Humanities Indicators is run by the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. The Academy is an honorary society that recognizes and celebrates the excellence of its members, and it is an independent research center convening the leaders from across disciplines, professions, and perspectives to address significant challenges. Humanities Indicators, according to the website, presents data which are quantitative descriptive statistics that chart trends over time in aspects of the humanities that are of interest to a wide audience and for which there are available data. As the title suggests, the results from the study revealed the number of visitors coming to historic sites and museums is on the rise.

On the results page, it revealed that the results were updated this month, so we know they continuously update the information as new studies have been completed. In the report, it stated according to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), the percentage of people making at least one such visit fell steadily from 1982 to 2012, before rising somewhat in 2017. The recent results make me hopeful that the numbers will continue to increase especially since we need to preserve the historic sites, parks, and collections for future generations to learn about our past, and learn how we remember and preserve the past. It is important now more than ever to help educate people and future generations why history is significant in understanding how the country came to the current state it is in. I continued to read the study to learn about the findings they discovered about historic sites and museums.

There were a few findings and trends they reported on the webpage to explain the rise of visitors to historic sites and museums. For instance, the number of American adults who visited historic sites has changed in a few ways:

In 2017, 28% of American adults reported visiting a historic site in the previous year. This represented an increase of 4.4 percentage points from 2012 (the last time SPPA was administered), but a decrease of 8.9 percentage points from 1982 (Indicator V-13a). The bulk of the decline in visitation occurred from 2002 to 2008.

The Indicator V-13a refers to the bar graph that measures the percentage of U.S. adults by age who toured a park, monument, building, or neighborhood for historic or design value in the previous 12 months between 1982 and 2017. What did not surprise me too much was the bulk of the decline between 2002 and 2008 since it was the years leading up to the recession and I assume not many people were willing or able to travel as much (of course there is more than one reason for the decline). Other findings and trends that were shared by Humanities Indicators include:

From 1982 to 2017, the differences among age groups with respect to rates of historic site visitation decreased. For example, in 1982, the rate of visitation among 25-to-34-year-olds (the group most likely to visit a historic site in that survey) was approximately 11 percentage points higher than that of the youngest age group (18-to-24-year-olds), and more than 17 points higher than that of people ages 65–74. By 2017, however, the visitation rate of 25-to-34-year-olds had dropped to within five percentage points of the younger cohort and was virtually identical of that for the older group.

Much of the recent growth in visits to historic sites occurred among parks classified as national memorials and was driven by a particularly high level of visitation at sites that did not exist in 1995, such as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (3.3 million visitors in 2018), the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (3.6 million visitors), and the World War II Memorial (4.7 million visitors). As a result, visits to national memorials increased more than 300% from 1995 to 2016, even as the number of sites increased just 26% (from 23 to 29). In comparison, visits to national monuments increased only 3%, even as the number of sites in the category increased by 9% (from 64 to 70). From 2016 to 2018, the number of visits fell in every category, with the largest decline occurring at the memorial sites (down 10%), and the smallest drop at national monuments (3%).

When I read the study not only was I beginning to see hope in the future of museum and historic site visits, but I also began to get curious about how historic sites and museums visits were influenced by people outside the country visiting the United States. Is there a study out there that showed foreign visitors at the historic sites, parks, museums? Were the patterns like what has been presented in this study?

I would also be interested in the number of families that visit the historic sites and museums. Are there similar patterns found in this study for family visitors? It would be worth looking into both foreign visitors and families.

To find out the rest of the findings and the charts that visually represented the results they discovered, I included a link to the original site they presented the study. They also included a study on attendance of art museums, and I included the link to this one as well.

Resources:

Historic Sites Visits: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=101

Art Museum Attendance: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=102

American Academy of the Arts and Sciences: https://www.amacad.org/

Humanities Indicators: https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/default.aspx

Mental Impact of Historic Sites on Individuals

July 25, 2019

As a member of the American Association for State and Local History, I receive a copy of History News, the magazine that connects the people engaged in history work to new questions, ideas, perspectives, and each other. This week I received the Spring edition of the History News which focused on the power historic places hold on visitors. One of the articles featured in the magazine is “More Than a Feeling: Measuring the Impact of Historic Sites on the Brain” which discusses the impact of historic places on people’s mental state. After reading this article, I thought about my own experiences visiting historic places and my own emotional and intellectual response to these experiences. I covered a lot about the places I have visited on my blog in the past which I will include links to at the end of this post. I decided to revisit the ones I have written about to point out the emotional and intellectual connections I made to the places I visited to show how my connections evolved overtime. By briefly sharing both the article and my experiences from the previous blog posts, we will see how important historic sites and places are to individuals’ mental state during their visits.

Written by Erin Carlson Mast and Callie Hawkins, the Executive Director and the Director of Programming at President Lincoln’s Cottage respectively, the article examines how the staff at President Lincoln’s Cottage investigate how visitors are emotionally and intellectually effected by this historic site. Carlson Mast and Hawkins pointed out that:

Though many have tried to explain the value of old places or the important role they play in our society, no one has created a replicable, scientific way to quantify what is often at the heart of our mission: deeply personal, qualitative experiences for individuals and communities.

The plan to study the emotional and intellectual effects in visitors is to use mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to both measure and clarify brain states of visitors as they participate in the guided Cottage tour, with the goal of distinguishing between what does and does not have a significant impact on the visitors’ experience. There will be three groups of thirty participants who will participate in sub-groups of ten to mimic the average visit on a tour in the Cottage. As the tour is conducted, they will use the mobile EEG technology to measure excitement, interest, stress, engagement, focus, and relaxation and the participants self-reports will be used to clarify the data. I look forward to reading the follow-up to the study to see what the results would be.

I think that it would be interesting to discover what the emotional and intellectual connections to historic sites would be since we may have accurate data to use to help create more effective interactive as well as engaging exhibits and programs. The writers also brought up this point on the importance of this experiment:

Emotion is critical to enhancing learning, improving critical thinking, and inspiring people to act or think differently. Thus, having scientific data about the best ways the Cottage can illicit such responses will get us ever closer to fulfilling our mandate and proving the elusive power of place.

Museum professionals strive to create an engaging and educational experience for each visitor they serve within the community museums are located. As I reflect on my own experiences at museums as both a visitor and museum professional, I made note of the emotional and intellectual effects that it had on me.

For instance, one of the first museums I visited in my lifetime was at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In a blog post I wrote about my experience, I stated:

My first experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was when I came with my sisters, mother, and my maternal grandmother. I remember walking through the Village and meeting other visitors in the meeting house. Later I saw some pictures from that visit, and each of the pictures showed my sisters and I having an opportunity to use the broom to sweep one of the houses. Another picture I saw was of myself appearing to be giving a lecture which reminded me of the story my mother told me: I pretended to be a minister and encouraged visitors to sit down and participate in the mock service, and then I greeted each individual with handshakes. I went back a number of times during my childhood and then visited as a young adult.

Years later during college I visited Plimoth Plantation with the Historical Society club. As the treasurer on the executive board of the Historical Society, I planned the financial aspects of the trip. Once all the details were settled, all of the Historical Society members and other college students interested in attending drove to Plymouth.

My emotional connection to Plimoth Plantation is through my childhood memories of when I visited with family members. When I made another visit, it was when I was studying history in college and part of a historical society club for a both bonding and educational session. Both instances shared how my connections are reflections from my memory, and at the time of each instance I was creating bonding moments with family and peers that helped me connect with Plimoth Plantation’s narrative. When I was a child, I was focused on playing and enjoying my time in a setting I was not familiar with. Meanwhile, as a young adult I became more focused on the history of Plimoth colony and the Pilgrims and Native Americans who lived in the colony.

Another example of the similar emotional and intellectual connections made was when I visited the Salem Witch Museum located in Salem, Massachusetts. Known for the Salem Witch Trials and for the maritime history, Salem drew in many people to visit the tourist destinations. In my blog post about the Salem Witch Museum, I wrote about my experiences:

When I first made the visit to the Salem Witch Museum, it was in the 1990s and I was with my parents and my sisters. We waited in the lobby of the museum until the group we were in was able to sit in the auditorium to learn about the Salem Witch Trials. As my family waited for our turn, I remember looking through the brochures and saw pictures of the statues depicting the townsfolk. I was scared since in my imagination I thought that the creepy statues were going to move around in the dark room. Once our group was able to go in after the previous group left, I did not want to go in so one of my parents went into the gift shop with me until the rest of the family joined us. It was not until I was in college when I returned to the Salem Witch Museum.

The Historical Society club I was a member and treasurer of decided to visit the town of Salem during one of our day trips we typically go on a couple times a year. When I finally went inside of the Salem Witch Museum’s auditorium, I felt silly that I was scared of the statues since it turned out that they were only statues as a recording tells the history of the Salem Witch Trials while lights were used to give spotlights for the stationary statues.

As a child, I associated the Salem Witch Museum as a scary experience because of my impressions of what I was anticipating but when I was in college, I was able to see the presentation I missed during my last visit. Based on what I wrote in the blog, my emotion connection to the museum was caused by the stress of waiting for the experience and seeing visuals that made my imagination as a child run wild. Each of my experiences showed that time between visits effected my impressions and emotional connections to the museums.

If museum professionals in other museums can perform similar experiments, they could help their significantly effect not only how programs, events, and exhibits are developed but they could affect how staff can perform in their roles. The article pointed out that:

Proving the transformative nature of experiences at our sites and museums would mean that experiences like those shared by our visitors would be useful not only for advocacy and fundraising efforts, but also could better inform changes that would enhance the depth of our impact. We could apply that data to change how we recruit, train, and treat staff; how we interact with visitors; how we choose stories and how we tell them; and how we advocate for the field as a whole.

We will not know for sure unless we take a closer look into our visitors’ emotional connections to improve the quality of their experience.

Discussion question I will leave here: How do you feel about science experiments to study visitors’ experiences with museums?

Resources:

History News: https://learn.aaslh.org/history-news

Museum Impressions, Plimoth Plantation: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/04/12/patreon-request-museum-impressions-plimoth-plantation/

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

A Public Historian’s Participation in Historians At The Movies

June 20, 2019

I first became aware of history depicted in movies was when I was about nine years old and I heard about the movie Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet being released in theaters. I read books about the history of Titanic with a classmate of mine, and I began to become more and more interested in learning about the ship itself and the tragedy that occurred in her maiden voyage.  When I approached my mother about going to see the film, especially since a number of my peers were going to see it, she said no pointing out that it was not going to be historically accurate since it is focused on a love story (and of course she also told me that she did not approve of taking a nine year old to see a PG-13 rated film). The fact that it would not entirely be a historically accurate film was enough for me to not ask to see it again. Almost a decade later, I watched the film and while yes it was more focused on a love story between two fictitious Titanic passengers I was impressed with so much detail that was put in to make the ship as accurate as possible. I may revisit the film in a future blog post to go in depth of how the filmmakers approached historical depiction. Since then, I have always enjoyed watching films depicting historical events or stories taking place in specific time periods.

The reason why I bring up my childhood memory is because this past weekend I participated in a live tweeting discussion called Historians at the Movies. Hosted by Jason Herbert, a Doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota focusing on Indigenous and Atlantic History, Historians at the Movies is an online community for everyone interested in history and films and historians on Twitter that live-tweet films every week using the hashtag #HATM. On Saturday June 15th, I participated in Historians at the Movies live-tweet of the film Carol which is about an aspiring photographer who develops an intimate relationship with an older woman named Carol in 1950s New York starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Participants are asked to use Netflix to get access to the film. If people do not have a Netflix subscription, I think it is possible to still watch the film using other ways including owning or borrowing the DVD/Blu-ray and watching it on demand.

Without revealing any spoilers, I will share a few of my tweets reacting to the film. The following tweets are reactions to the details made in helping make the film set in the 1950s.

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg @Steward2Lindsey

It does a really wonderful job in setting up the time period the story takes place in, and it doesn’t need to have font telling us when it takes place #HATM

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg @Steward2Lindsey

My grandmother had a beautiful collection of clothing she saved and as kids my cousins, sisters, and I would play dress up and put on plays in Nana’s old furs, hats, gloves, scarves, etc. #HATM

In response to a tweet on happiness in 1950s families: It was definitely the perception people in the 1950’s we’re expected to strive for especially from the media but does not exactly reflect the reality of people’s lives in this point in time.  #HATM

Reaction to a department store depicted in the film: It must have taken a lot of research time to not only find out what dolls were sold in that time but finding the dolls or even creating their own dolls using the parts that were used creating them in the doll factories back then. #HATM

If interested in participating in future live-tweets with Historians At The Movies, join them throughout the rest of this month on Saturdays at 9pm using the hashtag #HATM. In July, Historians At The Movies will move to Sundays at 9pm.

As a public historian, I thought the concept of historical depiction in films is interesting and curious about the work filmmakers put into these type of movies. I included a link to the National Council on Public History’s definition of public history in the resources section for those new to the public history field. Now that I have a Master’s degree in Public History I wonder how much involvement did historians have in depicting historical events and stories taking place in a specific time period. I watch films keeping in mind that there are decisions all involved in making them they need to consider to make visual and technical sense to entertain the intended audiences. This past weekend’s live-tweet of Carol was an example of that. I see films and television shows that are set in time periods or depict moments in history are ways to bring attention to history and hopefully inspire viewers to learn more by visiting museums, reading books, watching documentaries, and other accurate resources available.

How do you feel about history being depicted in films and televisions? Do you believe it has an impact on the history that is being portrayed in these mediums?

Resources:

https://ncph.org/what-is-public-history/about-the-field/ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2402927/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

Mon cœur va aux gens de France: Fire in the Notre-Dame Cathedral

Added: April 18, 2019

On April 15, 2019, I saw a Tweet from ABC News that shared a video link to the live coverage of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral that occurred as renovations were worked on. In addition to the many people in France and around the world, I was affected by the news in a number of ways. From a personal perspective, I have always wanted to someday travel to Paris to visit the most known buildings including the Notre Dame Cathedral. As a child, I watched Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame which was my first exposure to Notre Dame, the novel,  and media interpretation of French history.

When I was in middle school, I started to take French classes. In eighth grade, I had the opportunity to join my classmates for a trip to Quebec and Quebec City. My classmates and I went to meet our French Canadian pen pals we were writing to during our classes. We stayed at the Chateau de Frontenac and in addition to meeting our pen pals in person we explored the city and province learning about its history. After this experience, I continued to learn French in high school and took a France and French Culture class in college. I hoped that one day I would be able to have a similar experience when I go to Paris. During the live coverage, the memories from school and the Quebec trip flashed through my mind. At the time, I had the scary thought of what would happen if the fire was not put out in time. I am happy that the fire was put out, and I hope that Notre Dame will continue to awe and inspire many Parisians, French persons, and people around the world.

As a public historian and a museum professional, I understand the significance of what was lost in the fire and the challenges that arise during and after a fire. The cathedral is a 13th century building that was restored a number of times over the centuries, and once we lose a part of history no matter the effort we put in to recreate it we would not be able to get it back. We should not take for granted the history that is left behind, and our work as historians preserving historic places and collections is significant in keeping history around for future generations to understand our past. When I watched the live coverage, I posted on Twitter expressing my sadness for what was lost:

This is heartbreaking! I hope everyone is safe from the fire. I can imagine how much time, money, and dedication it will take to restore this cathedral after this sad event. #publichistory #MuseumEdChat #History #NotreDame

I kept myself up to date on the news of Notre Dame and the efforts that are made to protect its history. I read articles and posts from a number of outlets such as the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and National Public Radio. One of the posts from the Art Newspaper, for example, revealed that there were a number of items from Notre Dame’s collections were retrieved from the cathedral. In the article, Anny Shaw wrote that some of the most valued objects including Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been placed on Jesus’s head during his crucifixion, and the 13th-century tunic of Saint Louis were stored at the Hotel de Ville overnight then transferred to the Louvre for safe keeping. These articles and the reactions from people on the internet about this tragedy reveal what connects us all together.

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral reminds all of us that we have a connection to old places and we should come together to help preserve them. In an article from National Trust for Historic Preservation called “Why the Cathedral of Notre Dame Matters”, Thompson Mayes recounted his own reaction to the fire and reminded readers that the Notre Dame serves as a French national identity as well as a witness to numerous events in history for centuries. Mayes also pointed out that

We feel this loss because we recognize these places do something few other things can. They remind us that we are all part of humanity and the world. They expand our notion of ourselves beyond our treasured individual memories and national identity to give us an expansive sense of shared humanity around the globe. Notre Dame reminds us that we are collectively part of a continuum across the generations, past, present, and future, and across the world.

I have seen a number of examples of museums share their empathy for the French people. For instance, I saw a statement from the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut post on their Facebook page written in both English and French to reach out to the French people to express their empathy especially since they are going through their own path of disaster recovery and the importance of historic places. I have listed relevant links about Notre Dame in the resources section I have been reading to keep myself informed. I hope that someday we will look back at this moment and see it as a part of its long history it has survived. In the meantime, I will watch for news coverage and articles on the restoration and preservation efforts of Notre Dame.

What was your reaction to the fire at Notre Dame?

Resources:

Chateau de Frontenac: https://www.fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec/?cmpid=msn_lcf_search-frontenac_quebec-brand-us-revsh&utm_source=msn&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=lcf&utm_campaign=search-frontenac_quebec-brand-us-e-revsh

https://savingplaces.org/stories/why-the-cathedral-of-notre-dame-matters?

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/louvre-plans-to-take-precious-works-rescued-from-notre-dame

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2019/04/many-historic-icons-face-same-threats-notre-dame-cathedral/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/04/15/fire-was-scourge-medieval-cathedrals-they-rebuilt-ashes/?utm_term=.ba3e367999b8

https://www.wired.com/story/the-notre-dame-fire-and-the-future-of-history/?mbid=social_twitter_onsiteshare

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/150622-andrew-tallon-notre-dame-cathedral-laser-scan-art-history-medieval-gothic/

https://dailyhive.com/montreal/notre-dame-basilica-cathedral-fire-paris-montreal-bells-ring

https://www.forbes.com/sites/chloedemrovsky/2019/04/15/notre-dame-in-flames-protecting-our-cultural-treasures/#3208d1235f10

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2019/04/15/paris-notre-dame-cathedral-flames/xxj3cTUPh1XtTMfTte2VNL/story.html?fbclid=IwAR01befd9thoh__2ABZHK7jmICRvdA9nVeBa-7MpznwAJCBMt3CLecxDvxY

https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/notre-dame-fire/h_de6c51d2088b7bdefceb008a51b20c2c?utm_medium=social&utm_source=fbCNN&utm_content=2019-04-15T18:31:47&fbclid=IwAR2uOXYzLbzkL4fPTpXou29tZnpjgt-zrg0j_StS7-CLc43Rq1BJ1G1_Osc

https://abcnews.go.com/International/fire-breaks-paris-notre-dame-cathedral/story?id=62411000&cid=clicksource_4380645_null_twopack_hedhttps://www.npr.org/2019/04/15/713525879/paris-notre-dame-cathedral-in-flames