A Public Historian Explores History Camp

May 6, 2021

I recently came across History Camp while exploring museums virtually, and I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look. According to their website, History Camp is a casual conference generally for adults especially including but not limited to students, teachers, professors, authors, bloggers, reenactors, interpreters, museum and historical society directors, board members, genealogists, et. cetera regardless of profession or degree who is interested in and wants to learn more about history. The first History Camp was held on March 8, 2014 which presented 23 sessions and two panels, and welcomed 109 people to an IBM facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are some local volunteer committees that manage History Camps while others are managed by non-profit organizations. In 2019, the non-profit organization The Pursuit of History was started to foster the development of more History Camps across the country.

       Other conferences in the past have been in person at various places including Boston, Colorado, Virginia, and Philadelphia. This year, however, their conference History Camp America will be a fully virtual History Camp participants can enjoy from anywhere in the world.

       Since I have not experienced History Camp America yet, I am not able to, at the time I am writing this blog post, to state what the experience is like. History Camp America will take place this year on Saturday, July 10th. I have signed up for their newsletter so I will know when tickets will become available. If you would like to check it out for yourselves, I have included a link below where you can sign up for their newsletter. Based on the information provided so far, the biggest differences between conferences I have attended in the past and History Camp America is there are no places where services are being shared and sale pitches. Another difference that I noticed is in each conference I have attended there are themes, and the sessions are in general based on those themes; History Camp America put emphasis on making the conferences as broad as possible to attract many people to attend, and they believe that ultimately, it is the speakers and attendees that define the scope discussions are focused on. On their website, they stated that:

        Since our first History Camp in 2014, history enthusiasts of all stripes have been enthralled by our casual conference format. This format encourages a wide variety of topics and participants learn about history and new research, engage with history in unique ways, share what they love about history, and challenge everyone to think about history in new ways.

Once the conference occurs, I will be able to share more about the experience of attending History Camp America.

        During the pandemic, they launched two new History Camp events called History Camp Discussions and America’s Summer Roadtrip. History Camp Discussions are free online weekly discussions that are live every Thursday at 8pm Eastern, and are also available as recordings in their archives section for replays. One of the History Camp Discussions that caught my attention was the discussion with Emerson W. Baker on his book A Storm of Witchcraft: Salem Trials and the American Experience. Baker is a Professor of History and Interim Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts. The hour-long program discussed Baker’s book by focusing the discussion on his investigation of the key players in the Salem witchcraft crisis and explains why this tragedy unfolded the way it did according to the research he did for his book.

        Another History Camp Discussions that caught my attention was the discussion with Linda Jeffers Coombs on the topic of The Wampanoag and the Arrival of the Pilgrims. Coombs is an author and historian from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and program director of the Aquinnah Cultural Center. In the near hour-long program, she discussed the Wampanoag’s experience with the pilgrims’ arrival, and the effects of an epidemic that swept through and devastated the region just before the pilgrims arrived.

      America’s Summer Roadtrip is a free online event that brought participants to 12 historic sites across the United States without leaving home and where many of their guides offer special access to areas other tours usually do not go. The twelve historic sites across the United States are located in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, North Carolina, and California.

      To learn more, I have included links below on their website and the programs they offer.

Links:

History Camp

About History Camp

Upcoming Events

History Camp America 2021

America’s Summer Roadtrip

History Camp Discussions: Emerson W. Baker’s A Storm of Witchcraft: Salem Trials and the American Experience

History Camp Discussions: Linda Jeffers Coombs on The Wampanoag and the Arrival of the Pilgrims

History Camp Newsletter Sign Up

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/

Museums and Technology: Moving Forward into the Digital World

Added to Medium, January 24, 2019

Technology is continuing to be innovative, and museums do what they can to catch up with the latest to attract more visitors. Museum visitors have tons of access to technological items including but not limited to phones, computers, iPads, and laptops. There is also a number of technological advances that we don’t even realize we use on a regular basis such as radio frequency identification (RFID) found on E-Z Passes that help make commuting faster and non-humanoid robots. As our society makes technological advances, museum professionals need to educate themselves about what is out there for their own benefit and for the visitors they serve within their museums.

Museums have varying budgets and spaces available to use on technology. To take advantage of the ever changing technology, we need to figure out what interactive technology should be add to the museum and used by the visitors. There are advantages and challenges museums need to consider when integrating technology and interactive media. In American Alliance of Museums’ article “New Directions in Interactive Media for Museums” it stated that

The challenges of integrating interactive media into the museum experience are manifold. New technologies can engage but also potentially alienate museum visitors who have different cultural backgrounds and varying degrees of knowledge about the art form, history, and ideas involved. But at its best, interactive media that balances the creativity of right-brain thinking with the deductive logic of left-brain analysis can help with the intuitive discovery of unexpected connections and create newfound meaning.

As museum professionals, we should consider the advantages and challenges of incorporating interactive media in our museums and figure out how the technology will benefit potential visitors. Technology literacy is important for museum professionals not only to help visitors engage with programs, exhibits, and what else our museums have to offer but it is important for promotions and other important administrative work to keep our museums running.

The article “Museums and AI: Could Robots Be Your New Coworkers?” gave a couple of reasons why it is important for museum professionals should understand the landscape of Artificial Intelligence:

First, these corporate tools affect every patron of every museum, so ignorance of AI is poor business practice. Museum professionals can make exemplary exhibitions and labels, but without understanding the impact of AI systems on patrons accessing information, we could find ourselves with a dampened reach. Every moment, from the first awareness of the museum, to walking into the building, to likes on the patron’s Facebook post, is affected by AI.

If we remain ignorant of technology, museums will not be able to remain relevant in a changing society. Museum professionals should take the time to learn about how to utilize the available technology, and when we have professional development programs we should take advantage of learning from these programs as we move forward in museums’ futures.

Professional development opportunities not only help museum professionals learn about recent innovations but museum professionals also utilize new innovations to participate in professional development opportunities. For instance, there are podcasts about museums and historic sites from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH); they have recordings from past conference sessions and livestream current conference sessions. American Alliance of Museums has Museopunks, a podcast for the progressive museum. Each month, host Suse Anderson investigates the work and personalities in and around the museum sector. I will leave these questions up for discussion:

How do you feel about the digital world in the museum? Are we too dependent on technology or are we not taking enough advantage of it?

Resources:

https://www.aam-us.org/2019/01/11/interactive-media-for-museums/

https://soundcloud.com/aaslh-podcasts  

https://www.aam-us.org/programs/about-museums/museopunks/

https://hhethmon.com/2018/08/31/3-reasons-your-museum-should-start-a-podcast/

https://www.aam-us.org/2018/12/26/museums-and-ai-could-robots-be-your-new-coworkers/

https://www.geniusstuff.com/blogs/10-everyday-technologies-you-dont-realize-you-use.htm

Museums vs. The Couch: How Museums Can Retain Relevance and Visitation

Added to Medium, September 27, 2018

Museums always need to think about and plan how they can stay relevant as society’s expectations change and as technology advances. In previous blog posts, I discussed about relevance and its significance in museums and history. For instance, I wrote about how museums can use the history of food to reach out to audiences. Also, I wrote about a Game of Thrones tour I took at the Met with Museum Hack. I wrote a book review on Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance, and about using the Broadway musical Hamilton to help audiences connect with the nation’s past. This month I recently came across an article that talk about relevance and grabbing the attention of individuals who prefer to stay at home. Colleen Dilenschneider’s “Potential Visitors To Cultural Entities Are Spending More Time On The Couch Instead (DATA UPDATE)” shared data about individuals’ preference to stay at home and that cultural organizations should not be discouraged but rather work on finding ways to engage them.

While I have written about relevance in the past, it continues to be an important topic as new media, technology, events, et cetera, develop and change how people interact with the world around them. I have previously stated in my blog post “Does ‘Hamilton’ use Relevance to Teach Our Nation’s History?”: Relevance is significant especially in museums to understand who our community is and to help individuals feel they can connect to our past in a way that they can relate to. This of course still holds true now as museums and cultural organizations learn ways to attract attention from individuals who would rather stay at home. Dilenschneider’s article discussed about the numerous reasons likely visitors are more inclined to say home and all of them have one thing in common: increased accessibility from the comfort of one’s home.

Technology and the internet has given people ways to gain knowledge by using their computers to look up information they need or would like to learn more about. Individuals are able to binge-watch television shows without having to wait for the stations to re-air episodes. They can shop online for a variety of things especially books, music, food, and clothing. Possibilities for individuals to have everything at their fingertips are limitless. Dilenschneider pointed out that

If there are fewer reasons for people to change out of pajamas in the first place, it makes sense that cultural organizations may have an uphill battle before them. Motivating attendance may be that much harder. Indeed, we see that this is strengthening the “preferring an alternative activity” barrier to attendance.

This may not necessarily represent a failure on the part of cultural organizations…or rock concerts, sporting events, or the wonders of nature. Instead, this may be the consequence of our current, convenience-optimized, super-connected world. Even so, this growing trend impacts the double bottom line of cultural organizations to achieve their missions, and secure funding to continue to achieve those missions in the first place.

Museums and cultural organizations have many challenges when they look for ways to capture visitors’ and potential visitors’ attention then inspire them to engage with the exhibits and programs museums and cultural organizations have to offer. One of the examples is the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York where I am an Education Committee member.

Founded in 1964, Three Village Historical Society continues to meet its goals to educate the community about local history through events, walking tours, and educational programs. Inside there is an exhibit dedicated to General Washington’s Culper Spy Ring which was an American spy network, mainly made up of members who lived or grew up in East Setauket, that operated during the Revolutionary War. The spies were able to provide Washington information on what the British troops’ plans were to help win the War. A television series was produced by AMC in 2014 called Turn, which is based on the Culper Spy Ring and the Revolutionary War, for four seasons. Turn brought a number of fans to the Three Village Historical Society who wanted to learn more about the Culper Spy Ring. Even after the show ended, fans still come to the site thanks to the show’s accessibility on DVDs and on Netflix.

Another example of getting individuals’ attention and interest is Museum Hack’s themed tours. It was my turn to be on the other side of the visitor-museum relationship, and I shared what I experienced as a visitor. They have a number of different themed tours, and at the time of when I wrote the blog about the Game of Thrones tour I wrote:

I chose the Game of Thrones Mini Tour because I thought it was not a tour that I would expect to find in other places I have visited. Plus, I was interested in seeing how they would tie the show with the pieces displayed at the Met. I also enjoy watching Game of Thrones so I thought it would be a great way to refresh my memory about the series before the new season airs.

Each of the Game of Thrones tours is adjusted based on the tour guide’s knowledge of a piece in the museum itself, and to connect it someway to the HBO series. The main point of the tour was to show both museum lovers and those who are not fans of attending museums how awesome museums are by sharing how individuals interested in the Game of Thrones series can identify and interact with the museum exhibits.

Game of Thrones, which is an HBO series which is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, is another show that is both accessible through streaming and DVDs. The last season of the series is premiering next year, and I can see the potential in the Game of Thrones themed tour continuing to gain stay-at-home visitors’ attention and interests even after the last season airs due to the show’s popularity. Even while I was attending graduate school, I knew about the importance of relevance capturing visitors’ interests.

I worked on a project with my classmates and the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford. In my blog post I wrote about my experience planning the exhibit:

During my second semester of my first year of graduate school, I took a course on Museum Interpretation in which the major assignment was creating an exhibit at Connecticut Historical Society using food as the theme. My classmates and I were introduced to the project at the beginning of the semester, and my professor assigned books to provide background information on food history; one of the books was Warren Belasco’s Food: The Key Concepts (Bloomsbury Academic, 2008) which served as an introduction to the study of food studies and an essential overview to the increasingly critical field of enquiry. Other books assigned were about food and food preparation in different centuries in America.

These examples show the efforts museums and museum professionals go through to attract visitors of varying participatory levels and interests. All we can do is to continue to adapt with the changing society and learn from each other’s experiences.

If you have read Dilenschneider’s article, what is your reaction to her data? How is your organization maintaining relevance within the community?

Resources:
https://www.colleendilen.com/2018/09/19/potential-visitors-cultural-entities-spending-time-couch-instead-data-update/
http://www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org/
Does “Hamilton” use Relevance to Teach Our Nation’s History?: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-K
Museum Hack’s Relevance: Game of Thrones Mini-Tour: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-bv
How to use Food to Create Relevance in Museums: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-5d
Book Review: The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-4Q

 

What Do You See? The Importance of the Visitors’ Perspectives

Added to Medium, November 2, 2017

Museums continue to work to make educational programs, events, and exhibits more visitor-centered. One of the first things museum professionals should consider is to understand the visitors perspective. It is sometimes easy to forget what it is like to see the museum one works for with a fresh perspective. When we learn from the visitors, we are able to appeal to visitors and potential visitors.

I previously wrote about visitors in past blog posts, and by developing this topic now we see that it is still relevant in the museum field. To best understand our visitors, we should observe as well as talk with our visitors.

When we are able to observe visitors during their experiences, museum educators especially can learn how to make programming more engaging, fun, and educational for participants.

In the Museum Notes blog, visitor observation and perspective discussion was developed in the post “Observation: Seeing, Un-seeing, Re-seeing”. According to the blog post, it stated “Without thoughtful observation, what can we know and understand about what is happening around us in our museums, in the experiences we create, and the connections we hope to foster?” They brought up a good point since we need to learn what our visitors want or need from their experiences, and if we do not observe how visitors react to our programming our field cannot move forward and would not be relevant within our community.

To find out how we can observe visitors effectively, museum educators should find the best methods that would be the most appropriate and effective for their institution. Museum Notes stated that “we engage in both formal and informal observation in research and evaluation, during prototyping, and sharing visitor comments.” When we find out how we observe visitors, we follow through with the method, and hopefully gather results that will make our services better for visitors and potential visitors.

We also need to keep in mind when we observe we do not exclude our own actions within the museum. Museum Notes points out that,

“As good observers, we must also be observers of ourselves, studying our attention, checking our assumptions, and registering our focus. Questioning ourselves as we observe reminds us that we arrive at subjective interpretations, partial findings, and, hopefully, new questions.”

When we observe ourselves, we learn what we are currently doing to provide what the visitors want or need from our museums programming, events, and exhibits.

As we learn more about our visitors and ourselves, we should keep in mind what visitors’ rights are while they are participating in museums activities and interacting with the exhibits. In this month’s Brilliant Idea Studio blog, Seema Rao wrote about visitors in the short blog “Bill of Rights for Museum Visitors” which lists a number of certain rights museum visitors have while they are inside the museum. Some of the rights she listed are

“They have the right to just listen, to ask, to share, to question.
Again, they have the right to question.
They have the right to ask and question when their story isn’t included.
They have the right to notice when museums are doing it wrong.”

Visitors have various levels of interest in the material museums present depending on their reasons for visiting the museums in the first place. Sometimes they want to spend hours in the exhibits, and sometimes they want to walk through the exhibits to briefly see the exhibits. There are other times that visitors want to only attend programs such as a seminar, a family program, and an exhibit opening then leave.

Also, visitors should know how they can feel connected to the stories museums present as well as why they are significant within the community. If they feel they cannot relate to the museum and what it has to offer, then there would be no point from their perspective to go in.

Most importantly visitors need to feel that they can trust museums to allow them to express their desires for attending museum programs/exhibits/events, and for museums to trusts its visitors. They have many reasons for why they visit a museum, and if they feel the museum can provide a safe place or simply a place for them to relax visitors are more likely to continue their patronage to the museum. Visitors should also be able to provide feedback not only because it will help the museum continue to be relevant to its patrons but visitors also have a way to express what they enjoyed and what can be improved upon for future visits.

How does your museum or institution learn about its visitors? What feedback have you received from visitors that surprised (or not surprised) you the most?

Resources:
https://museumnotes.blogspot.com/2017/10/observation-from-seeing-to-un-seeing-to.html
https://brilliantideastudio.com/art-museums/bill-of-rights-for-museum-visitors/

Reaction to Museum Magazine: Engaging Visitors

Added to Medium, July 13, 2017

I decided for this week I am react to something different than I have reacted to in the past. As an American Alliance of Museums member, I receive regular subscriptions to Museum magazine published by AAM, and I thought I would give you my thoughts on the most recent edition of the magazine. The July/August edition of Museum magazine compiled many articles about engaging visitors in the museum. In addition to my thoughts on the Museum magazine, I am also going to briefly talk about other resources I have read on visitor engagement as well as my experience on engaging visitors to the museums I have worked for.

This edition of Museum magazine has the regular pieces from the departments. In the beginning of the magazine, a letter from the President and CEO Laura L. Lott discusses what is in this issue and additional information available to AAM members to sharpen the institutions’ focus on audience engagement through professional networks such as the Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation (CARE) and the Public Relations and Marketing Network (PRAM). There is a “By the Numbers” section that shares brief statistics of how museums impact the nation; this edition focuses on visitor statistics for museums. One of the statistics shared in the magazine was in 2016 forty-eight percent of those who participated in the U.S. leisure attraction visitors survey, published in the Voice of the Visitor: 2017 Annual Outlook on the Attractions Industry, visited museums. The magazine also shared what is new going on at AAM’s member museums, an article providing information about creating collaborative community-based programming, and an article on museum educators sharing ideas with Chinese counterparts as part of the strategic plan to connect U.S. museums with international organizations.

After the regular pieces, Museum has five features related to the magazine’s main topic.

Greg Stevens wrote about the 25th anniversary of AAM’s 1992 publication Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums called “Excellence and Equity at 25: Then, Now, Next” which includes an interview with the individuals who wrote the original publication discussing the document then, how it has changed to reflect what is happening in the museum now, and what they think the document will be used in the future. Everyone who was interviewed for the article agreed that the effort to address diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (referred to as DEAI in the article) in the museum field is still ongoing especially since as one of the contributors put it there will never be an endpoint where they will sit back and congratulate themselves on finally being inclusive. I thought that this last point shows there is always room to improve our inclusive programming in museums.

Another article is “Converting Family into Fans”, written by Bob Harlow and Cindy Cox Roman, which is about how the Contemporary Jewish Museum changed its focus and increased visitation to this museum. Their article shared various strategies they had used when they put together strategy and tasks including designing major exhibitions designed to attract families and new programs and a welcoming environment, reduce financial barriers, and develop community partnerships. Since I began my career as a museum educator, and when I started working at the Maritime Explorium, I have seen different ways of engaging families with museum programs and activities. I have participated in engaging families during programs such as family concerts, First Night Hartford, Family Fun Day, and the Mini Maker Faire. These programs have taught me how engaging families with museums are beneficial for not only museums but for families looking for ways to spend time together.

Sara Lowenburg, Marissa Clark, and Greg Owen discuss creating programs uniquely suited to build confidence, comfort, and community for veterans in the third article called “Serving Those Who Served: Engaging Veterans at Museums”. The article includes case studies from the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City, the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Pennsylvania, and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington on how their programming attracts veterans. Lowenburg, Clark, and Owen proved in the article that veterans can benefit from programs and activities museums can offer.

The article “Think of a Time When You Didn’t Feel Welcome”, written by Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Michael Lesperance, and Renae Youngs, discuss how museums can align and apply the LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines in their internal and external museum operations. I appreciate that this article is included in this edition since our mission for visitor-centered museums is to allow all visitors to not only engage with the museum programs and exhibits but to make sure all visitors are able to express themselves as well as feel comfortable within the museum while participating in its programming and interacting with the exhibits. It makes me sad that at different points people did not feel welcome in the museum, and by using the guidelines Lesperance and Youngs discuss in their article this shows that we are making sure that all visitors and staff members can feel they have a space to go to no matter what sexual orientation and gender they identify as.

The last feature “A Visitors’ Perspective on Visitor Engagement” by Max A. van Balgooy discussed how understanding visitors’ needs will greatly inform museums work in visitor engagement. I appreciate that this article was included in this edition because to understand what the visitors want we should learn from the visitors themselves.

Visitor engagement as a topic is not new but it is worth discussing because our audiences wants and needs change as the community and nation values change. I have discussed this topic previously with my book review on the Visitor-Centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson that introduces various methods of creating visitor centered programs (the link to the original blog post can be found here: https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/visitor-centered-museums-how-we-can-appeal-to-our-audiences-6a5ebc33853). MuseumNext, an organization that joins museums from across the world together to discuss what happens next for the museum field, posted a brief article on their website called “Visitor Centered Museums in Practice and its Future” covering a discussion Lath Carlson and Seema Rao (MuseumNextUSA speakers with 30 years’ experience in the museum field) had about what museums are doing now to be more visitor-centered and what directions the visitor-centered museums may be like going forward. The discussion can be found here: https://www.museumnext.com/2017/07/visitor-centered-museums-practice-future/. We continue to work towards an improved visitor experience for all visitors who come to our museums.

Have you read this edition of Museum? If you have, what are your thoughts? For those who have visited museums, whether you work for one or not, can you describe your experiences at the most recent museum you have visited? What did you take away from those experiences?

Visitor-Centered Museums: How We Can Appeal to Our Audiences

Originally posted on Medium, May 11, 2017. 

This week I finished reading this book Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson. Peter Samis is the Associate Curator of Interpretation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Mimi Michaelson is an education and museum consultant who received her doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University. It is one of the books I had on my list of books I wanted to read on museum education, and the rest of the books I have on the list can be found here: https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/books-i-want-to-read-on-museum-education-in-2017-14ed52facb11.

My book review of Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum will touch on the layout of the book while pointing out the main takeaways from the book. In addition to reviewing Samis and Michaelson’s book, I will also discuss my own experiences in creating visitor-centered museums. By describing Samis and Michaelson’s examples of visitor-centered museums and my experiences in creating programs that make museums I worked for more visitor-centered, I reiterate the importance of keeping museum offerings relevant to returning and new visitors.

Samis, Peter and Mimi Michaelson, Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum, New York and London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Samis and Michaelson’s Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum is an interesting book that while it does not present a new concept it describes different examples of how museums can create programs and exhibits that are focused on the visitor. The important take away from this book, as museum professionals learn in recent years, is there is not just one way to create a visitor-centered museum. To introduce the concept of the visitor-centered museum, the book was divided into three parts: the introduction, or setting the stage; the case studies; and the conclusion to introduce varieties of visitor-centeredness and change.

One of the most important points Samis and Michaelson introduced in the beginning of the book is if museums do not make changes the museums are not going to survive. Also, both authors pointed out that many transitions in museums have to do with museums reaching out to the community to both visitors and potential visitors in new and authentic ways. Samis and Michaelson described in detail why it is important to consider the visitors. They also described that to be able to consider the visitors change takes leadership, and that change begins with a recognition that something is not working. Then the authors described the contours of change; one of the ways they discussed contours of change was pointing out that prioritizing visitors as essential to the museum’s mission may also lead to empowering the voices of those who have traditionally had most direct contact with them.

The authors provide ten different case studies of museums that had approached creating visitor-centered museums through various programs and exhibits. Each case study presented museums that opened their doors to a wider range of visitors and how this decision to change their approach in reaching their audiences presented internal struggles to reorganize their institutions. A few of the museums working towards being more visitor-centered presented in the book include the Denver Art Museum, Ruhr Museum, Minnesota History Center, Oakland Museum of California, and the Van Abbe Museum. To describe each of the museums’ case studies, the authors used a continuum of approaches that begin and end with institutions not strictly speaking collection based; in between these museums, there are museums of various art and multidisciplinary institutions that are intent on finding ways of making their collections relevant to the public and the final museums on the continuum apply contemporary theory and performance to connect with visitors.

Samis and Michaelson’s goal for the book is to share what we have witnessed and join or provoke ongoing conversation related to how (or even why) museum professionals should prioritize visitors in our institutions. Inside the book, there are pictures and charts printed in color to aid in achieving the book’s goal in describing how museums can be more visitor-centered. Also, each chapter was broken down to key takeaways that summarized what the reader learned to make sure museum professionals can understand what they might be able to do with their own institutions.

Each institution is different from one another, and what we can take away from this book is we can find ways to adapt our programs and events that will bring more visitors in by considering the visitors. The museums I have worked for are, of course, different from one another and present their own experiences with creating visitor-centered museum experiences. For example, when I was completing my required internship hours, while working towards my Master’s degree, at Connecticut’s Old State House I participated in distributing and collecting surveys for a lunch program called Conversations at Noon in which people who work in Hartford can attend monthly discussions on various topics related to Hartford history. Participants also can see inside the Old State House while they are sitting in one of the original rooms former state representatives used especially during the eighteenth century.

Another example is while I was at Connecticut Landmarks Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House there were programs created that encouraged visitors to not only participate in program but to also see the historic house museums’ collections.

At the Butler-McCook House, one of the programs it held was the Cultural Cocktail Hour, a monthly program which encouraged adult visitors to see and possibly purchase local artists’ works, listen to live music, and socialize. During the program, the first couple of rooms are opened to participants and they can view the rooms and learn a little bit about the family that lived in the Main Street Hartford house. At the Isham-Terry House, there are a few programs hosted at the house including a Hartford Holiday house tour which is one of the Hartford homes to participate in a mostly self-guided tour of the house while participating in holiday festivities. Currently Connecticut Landmarks is moving forward with improving their tours and programs to make it even more visitor-centered based on the interpretive framework and make sure visitors can make connections to their own interests and understand the people who lived in the houses.

As museum professionals, we make sure our work can help identify who our visitors are and how we can continue to be relevant to visitors and understand the overall needs of our society to bring in new visitors.

Do you think museums are becoming more visitor-centered? How have museums changed over the years? What are your organizations doing to make them more visitor-centered?

Books I Want to Read on Museum Education in 2017

Originally posted on Medium. January 12, 2017.

After I read a blog post from Museum Hack called Ten Inspiring Museum Reads for 2017, I was inspired to write my own list of I want to read about the museum education field in 2017 except I created a list of books written for the field. I used Amazon and American Alliance of Museums websites to research available literature for this field. Keep in mind not all books written about the museum education field are included on here because this blog post would take you all days to finish reading. Each book includes descriptions of what they are about as well as publication information, and I also explain why I put these books on the list. The books on this list are in no specific order; I chose these books based on when I first came across them. I will later discuss the books I already have on the field in another future blog post. Enjoy the list! What books do you want to read this year, both on museum education field and other books capture your interests? Do you have a book you have read on the museum education field?

I want to read the following:
1. The Manual of Museum Learning by Brad King (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2nd edition, 2015, ISBN 978–1442258471): This book offers practical advice for creating successful learning experiences in museums and other institutions including galleries, zoos, and botanical gardens. The first edition was published in 2007, and in the second edition focuses on the ways museums staff and the departments they work in can facilitate experience that point out connections between institutional strategic planning and its approach to museum learning. The book acknowledges that not all institutions run the same way so it identifies various approaches and enables museums to find the paths for which they are individually best suited, that will help them identify their own unique approaches to facilitating museum learning. I put this book on the list because in the past I thought that each department work separately to fulfill one mission but the longer I worked in the museum world the more I realize that education is a part of museums’ mission. Also, I read a book review of King’s book in the Journal of Museum Education, the publication of the Museum Education Roundtable. It is important to recognize that museum learning should be incorporated into a part of museums’ strategic planning. I want to see the various approaches King presents in the book to have a better understanding of how museum education is presented in different types of institutions.

2. Engagement and Access: Innovative Approaches for Museums by Juilee Decker (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015, ISBN: 978–1442238756): The book addresses how museums forge two-way communication and engaged participation by using community curation, social media, collaboration, and inquiry-based learning. Decker collected case studies that advocate for doing and listening, or in other words the institutions mentioned in the case studies can understand the importance of meeting the audience’s needs both onsite and online. This book is part of a series called Innovative Approaches for Museums which offers case studies, written by scholars and practitioners from museums, galleries, and other institutions; each case study present original, transformative, and sometimes wholly re-invented methods, techniques, systems, theories, and actions that demonstrate innovative work being done in the museum and cultural sector throughout the world. The contributors come from various institutions and each volume offers ideas and support to those working in museums while serving as a resource and primer, as much as inspiration, for students and the museum staff and faculty training future professionals who will further develop future innovative approaches. This book is on my list because I am interested in seeing different ways other museums approach engagement and access for their visitors.

3. Museum Learning: Theory and Research as Tools for Enhancing Practice by Jill Hohenstein and Theano Moussouri (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1138901131): This book is not released yet but the reason why I included this book is I think it is important to review educational theories to make sure museum educators revitalize their skills for school and public programming. I hope to gain both methods to retain my skills as a museum educator and different insights on how learning as well as teaching in museums would benefit our education.

4. Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H Falk (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1598741636): Falk’s book reiterates that understanding the visitor experience provides essential insights into how museums can affect people’s lives. Visitor experiences have various meanings, such as personal drives, group identity, memory, and leisure performances, for each individual and that experience extends beyond the four walls of an institution in time and space. Falk reveals there are five different types of visitors who attend museums and identifies the processes that inspire people to visit time and time again. I would like to read this book since by finding out different aspects on why people visit museums it would help museum professionals like myself to increase our ability to retain visitors as well as gain more visitors to our museums.

5. The Multisensory Museum: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Touch, Sound, Smell, Memory, and Space by Nina Levent and Alvaro Pascual-Leone (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978–0759123540): Levent and Pascual-Leone’s book brought together scholars and museum professionals to highlight new trends and opportunities for using scent, sound, and touch to offer more immersive experiences as well as diverse sensory engagement for visually- and other impaired patrons. The book also reveals that education researchers discover museums as unique educational playgrounds that allow for various learning styles, active and passive exploration, and participatory learning. I include this book on this list because I believe museums can provide people of all abilities access to education, and I find the psychological and museum connection would be fascinating to get a more in-depth knowledge of.

6. Creating the Visitor-centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1629581910): Samis and Michaelson’s book brought up numerous questions that are answered with cases and additional resources to help transform their museums into visitor-centered museums: What does the transformation to a visitor-centered approach do for a museum? How are museums made relevant to a broad range of visitors of varying ages, identities, and social classes? Does appealing to a larger audience force museums to “dumb down” their work? What internal changes are required? I think we can always learn more ways to help adapt our museums to the changing viewpoints of visitors.

7. The Museum Effect: How Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Institutions Educate and Civilize Society by Jeffrey K. Smith (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978–0759122956): The book explores how museums, libraries, and cultural institutions provide opportunities for people to understand and celebrate who they are, were, and might be. According to Smith, the “museum effect” is a process through which cultural institutions educate and civilize us as individuals and as societies. I think it is an interesting book to read since I have known from when I was a kid that museums can provide ways to educate visitors and help them identify with what museums offer. By reading this book, I would gain another perspective on how my work as a museum professional can affect our society.

8. Contemporary Curating and Museum Education by Carmen Mörsch, Angeli Sachs, and Thomas Sieber (will be released February 2017): The writers of this book share insight that international scholars discovered as they answer the question: How does museum work change if we conceive of curating and education as an integrated practice? This is the second book that has not been released yet but I believe I would enjoy this one because not only it would supplement the knowledge I gained about creating an exhibit to design an education plan through a NYCMER workshop I attended, Exhibition Design for Educators, but the book can offer additional insights that would allow me to explore more the intertwining of curatorship and education.

9. All Together Now: Museums and Online Collaborative Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Wei-Hsin Din (American Alliance of Museums, 2011, ISBN: 978–1933253619): Crow and Wei-Hsin Din’s book discusses the potential of online learning for museum professionals and visitors from all over the world. The book reveals that online collaborative learning offers museums and visitors new possibilities for learning, both in small, “narrowcast” groups and at the larger institutional level. The writers included extensive case studies and practical advice for museum educators. As an online learner, I think the concept of museum education in the online community is fascinating and would be a possible move for more museums to engage in online learning. I also think it would be able to help the museum education field reach out to more people as fewer field trips are booked each year due to limited school funding. I also like that this book is endorsed by EdCom (American Alliance of Museum’s education group) and the Media and Technology Committee of AAM because it reassures me as a reader that the United States’ museums organization sees online learning as a possible outlet for museum education to branch out to various audiences inside and outside the museum.

I am sure that this list is not set in stone, and I will continue to find more books that I will add to my list for 2017. I hope you all read many books this year, museum education related or not. Thank you all so much for reading! I really appreciate all of your support for this blog, and if you know of anyone who is interested in the museum education field please refer them to this blog. Thank you to all of you who are currently following this blog. It really means a lot that you continue to be interested in what I have to write about. I am so touched that there are more and more people reading these posts. Thank you all again and stay tuned for more blog posts.