Black Lives Matter

I found the website pages that spoke of “Black Lives Matter” to be an inspiration for writing about the injustices directed at immigrants and refugees and minorities throughout the United States, most specifically African Americans. Focusing on these issues and thoroughly discussing them is a good way for the next generation to understand the immorality of discrimination, and hope that they will make better, fair choices for a bright future for everyone. The first issue to discuss would be the issues of the Museum Bloggers who spoke of the events that transpired in Ferguson, Missouri. The information I reviewed in the blogs describes how the town of Ferguson is the center for issues involving past racial tensions, and attempted resolution to these problems following years of problems and certainly exacerbated by a police shooting by a white police officer of a black young man. Throughout the United States; colleges, schools, and other facilities dedicated to educating the public should be helping to advocate about the issues in Ferguson to many students. “Institutions designated for public benefit should promote greater social justice.”  (Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events.)  I share that conviction.  I believe American museums that have exhibits dealing with racial inequality or injustice are helping to educate and inform.  It is crucial that citizens are ensured of the ability to become aware so they can, in turn, influence younger generations. Such institutions such as libraries and museums often will have conference rooms or auditoriums that are available to various community organizations for meetings and informative seminars. 

Ferguson has caught the attention of the museums and historic centers that are helping to bring awareness in African American history and culture. The Association of African American Museums (AAAM) have noticed many bloggers and other groups of individuals who are forming collaborative responses to new occurrences.  From the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), Chieko Phillips and Leilani Lewis wrote in the AAAM newsletter detailing their institution’s response to the shooting of Mike Brown. Both Phillips and Lewis have worked for many years to ensure the success of collaboration ensuring the sharing of accurate information. I find this kind of news influential in getting the public to become aware of what sort of racial injustices are occurring within the U.S. It is of crucial importance that museums respond to their communities, as they are “dependent on their audiences and the communities that support their staff.” 

Alicia Garza wrote her opinions on the Black Lives matter campaign.  Garza wrote, “Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes” The growth of what began as a social media hashtag has become part of our social vernacular. And, according to Garza, “goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some Black communities . . .”.  The Black Lives matter campaign brings to light not only the unjust killings and mistreatmentd that have occurred in communities throughout the United States, but the injustice in regards to human rights of all kinds from the judicial system to housing and beyond.  She notes that “half of all people in prisons or jails” are black.  The National Museum of African American History and Culture in their effort to exhibit and document the Black Lives Matter campaign have collected “artifacts and ephemera of the campaign, which was founded online by three black women in 2012.”  Working on the hope that awareness can bring change, these dedicated historians and archivists are recoding history and hopefully bringing change. Throughout history, people like Denmark Vesey during the early nineteenth century organized and fought for “freedom and civil rights.”  It is an ongoing struggle as racism still exists today and one that museums can play an important role in being “physically and virtually relevant.” 

Trustee Zachary Aarons, of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, describes their museum as one trying to demonstrate the commonality of Americans.  After all,  we are almost all immigrants and there is much to celebrate in America with what our country has become with the contributions of so many.  Aarons notes that even in their museum, there are “Jewish, Italian, Irish, Latino and Chinese, among others.”  Of particular interest is the utilization of immigrants working within museums.  Two museums have implemented such programs such as the “Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark and ROMU the Danish museum in Roskilde, Lejre.”  At the Pergamon Museum, the Bode Museum and the German Historical Museum, Germany is experimenting with Syrian and Iraqi refugees working as tour guides that enables the participant and tourists to experience different cultures and to be able to familiarize themselves with their new homeland.  “We believe that our strength lies in our diversity among the broad range of people and museums we represent.” That is the belief of the American Alliance of Museums.  The core values followed by the Alliance will help to provide resources that will enrich the lives of their communities and future generations.

Against the Grain

I will preface my comments by saying that I recently had an argument with a family member that may be coloring my perspective of this material. In reading these articles I found myself wanting to go against the grain, to question some of the assumptions I think are being made. In particular the ones surrounding Black Lives Matter. I accept the premise that the issue isn’t one only for African American Museums and African Americans to address. I also accept the premise that museums should challenge the status quo. Having said that I need to ask, “Are the limits to museum’s responsibilities?” Should all museums spend time looking for ways to address issues of race, or other discriminated groups such as LBGT? If I go the Historic Roseberry Museum in Donnelly, Idaho, should I expect something on Black Lives Matter? Should there be exhibits at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West about sexual identity and gender-related issues? My point is that not all museums have materials with which to connect to current events and, outside of major metropolitan areas, most museums don’t have a clientele interested in these topics. Should they be presented anyway?Grinch image


Of the articles I read, the LaBlond article resonated with me the most. Museum Island has amazing collections and to have refugees from the origin sites of some of their collection provides a perspective that would be informative and amazing. For those from the worn torn regions, this is clearly a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with their heritage. As Kefah Ali Deeb notes in the UNHCR video, there is also an opportunity to see a community that was rebuilt after an all-out war destroyed it.  If the guides make that connection for museum visitors it could indeed give them hope for the future of their own countries. As an American, I would love to have an English-language tour of the museums with the same presenters. That would give me an opportunity to connect with their homelands and their heritage in a way that would be unique and very meaningful.

In closing, I want to ask the question I posed at the beginning, “What are the limits to museum’s responsibilities?” As a follow up to that question, who is responsible for determining those limits? Curators? Directors? Donors? Visitors?

Inclusiveness in Museums

This week’s readings pointed out a sad reality to me– that inclusiveness in museums requires a directive,  that diversity is somehow frightening, and that those who have been forced to flee their homes in other places feel shut out from the few places that contain pieces of their heritage. It was not something I’ve ever had to consider, since the vast majority (7/8) of my own heritage comes from European immigrants, and I’m not arrogant enough to claim much knowledge of the Cherokee/Creek cultures that make up the rest of it. It just seems that something so common sense as “These people make up part of the population, therefore their stories should be told” shouldn’t have to be a mandate. I understand that it is this way, and why it is this way, but I’m still sad that it ever came to that.

It also bothers me that people would attend the Immigration Museum looking for a fight. The museum exists to celebrate the contributions that immigrants make, all of which were vital in the construction and achievement of America and its famous Dream. Looking to pick a fight with curators surrounded by the evidence of immigrant excellence is defeatist at best. It’s a shame that these people don’t take a hard look at their own logic before blindly acting on misdirected rage.

I do think it is important that the conversation about artifacts brought from war-torn places is being re-evaluated. The article about immigrants from Syria to Germany put this many-faceted issue into better context. Is it unfortunate that these artifacts were taken from their country of origin? Yes. Is it important that these artifacts are protected from malicious destruction? Also yes. With organizations like ISIS targeting ancient sites and ephemera I can’t help but be grateful for those early archaeologists (tomb raiders?) and their light fingers. It is good that these museums are seeking volunteers from these regions to better contextualize their collections; I had not considered that such exhibitions would aid in the integration process. Hopefully more aspects of American society begin to better understand why representation matters so much to under-represented groups.


Relevancy and Inclusion

If museums are struggling to stay relevant in an era of social media and instant gratification, then perhaps the best way to revitalize them is to jump on the bandwagon. It seems like contemporary movements begin online, especially on social media, and museums would do well to make use of this massive shift in the way that information is spread, and history is made. Not only do museums have a chance to save themselves, but building a connection between social media and a physical museum allows them to start important conversations in public places outside of the internet, allowing for perhaps an even more broad audience. I think about my grandma, who asks once a month what “Facepage” is, and who sees those liberal “riots” on Fox News, but who also loves to walk through museums on a weekday afternoon. Imagine what she could be exposed to if museums decided to build this sort of bridge. She’s awfully proud of the hardships endured by the Irish immigrants in our family line… imagine if she could learn those same struggles are still being endured today, in a setting that is already non-threatening and familiar to her.

It’s heartbreaking that people are using museum settings to argue about issues, instead of just stepping back and allowing themselves to learn. The Aarons article in particular struck me, because I guess when I think of museums as forums, I think of them as positive places of discussion and learning. But the Le Blond article about refugee guides in Berlin has so much incredible potential, and I wonder if it would be possible to put something like that in place here in Boise. Boise (somewhat strangely, for this political environment) tends to (quietly) celebrate its immigrant and refugee population, and it would be so cool for institutions like the history museum, when it reopens, to take advantage of the diversity present in the far corners of this culturally homogenous city. Even further, letting those refugees and immigrants tell locals stories about themselves would be killer. The Hispanic Cultural Center over in Nampa used to do this a little bit, but if a larger institution like the Historical Society took the initiative, I think they could take the idea of inclusion in this city to a whole new level.

Museum Relevance Explored

Museums as relevant institutions of contemporary dialogue is a topic that really makes you think about how the role of museums has changed in the last few decades.  All of these articles concerning the Black Lives Matter movement or refugees call into question how to include these controversial topics into museum discussions.  It was interesting to read about how different museums around the world are doing just that. On a side note, I wonder about funding for these topics.  I know that here in Idaho, as Alisha discussed in her Public Historian post, funding is a major problem for the Idaho Black History Museum. Aside from that, I struggle with how these efforts would get implemented in places like a Idaho.  Certain people in this part of the country may benefit from education on African Americans that a museum could provide, but I know some would not even want to walk in the door.  Those that need it most, would protest the exhibits the most, and be resolute in keeping their views the same as they’ve always been.  Maybe I’m being cynical and unfair, but as we’ve already discussed, these tricky subjects can cause defensiveness.

All of the articles regarding the Black Lives Matter movement mentioned social media as a major component in keeping relevance. Throughout the previous week’s reading, social media and an online presence had been mentioned multiple times.  When reading this, I was struggling to visualize how museums would go about that. Personally, the most that I have been exposed to online associated with museums is following a certain institution on Facebook and reading some of their posts related to current exhibits.  So I had questioned what a museum online presence actually meant.  As a non-twitter user, I appreciated the sections devoted to how twitter has been the biggest connecting force.  In “Museums & #BlackLivesMatter” they described how a museum can facilitate a twitter conversation and store those conversations for later use.  While this is all very interesting, I can’t help but think about how many trolls are out there spewing insults and attacking people’s right to have an opinion.  Civilized, informed dialogues can be lacking when there’s online anonymity to hide behind.

Another point that I found worth discussing was the fact that the African American History Museum is collecting artifacts from the Black Lives Matter protests.  In my experience, I feel like some people don’t always recognize the significance of current events, and some length of time is needed to gain that perspective.  As a result, I found the collecting of protest artifacts very proactive.  The museum is recognizing that these protests are important, and thus, they won’t have to worry about gathering signs and gas-masks 20 or 30 years down the road.  While conversely, the opposite can be said.  Many feel as though contemporary happenings are the most significant events to ever happen in the history of the Earth, when later we see that that may not be the case.  To this argument I’d say that it would be better to have more than enough artifacts for any given time period, than not enough.

My last thought is that I love the idea that Berlin’s Museum of the Ancient Near East has implemented by employing refugees as guides.  I think its immensely important that people own their history and this is one way to do that.  Even though the artifacts are in Germany instead of Syria, Syrians are still the ones telling people about it and informing other Syrians about their heritage.  While having these artifacts in Germany is not ideal, they are kept safe and away from groups like ISIS who recognize that destroying art and history is part of how you destroy your enemy’s existence.

On a tangent, here is a list from 2015 of some sites that ISIS has destroyed, which just infuriates me.

Who decided what should be included or not included in museums

The idea that museums actually have to post notices or public announcements to the general public about inclusiveness is disturbing to me. To me the museum is one of the last bastions of inclusiveness even if it is in a minor way. Everybody that considers themselves United States citizens family came to this country as an immigrant or a slave. Museums should be the embodiment of that fact and reality.  Zach Aarons article where he says “To those who visit our museum spoiling for a fight, or who pass it over anticipating a political message, I invite you to consider our values.”[1] Values that everybody has a history of a relative becoming an immigrant to this country and should respect their mission of equality for all people who were and are.

Germany’s program with refugees giving tours to other refuges is a perfect answer to the problem brought up in my initial paragraph. Educate and celebrate heritage, but also understand the different viewpoints and feels that will be invoked when people see the exhibits. Museums are supposed to be the institutions that can bridge this gap by allowing for educated open conversation and helping people cope with the array of feelings they have on the subject related to the artifacts. Topics Museums choose to show is for that reason to help a society cope with a great or bad experience so, we as a unified people, will never forget or be forgotten. “The American Alliance of Museums respects, values, and celebrates the unique attributes, characteristics and perspectives that make each person who they are. We believe that our strength lies in our diversity among the broad range if people and museums we represent. We consider diversity and inclusion a driver of institutional excellence and seek out diversity of participation, thought and action. It is out aim, therefore, that out members, partners, key stakeholders reflect and embrace these core values.”[2] American Alliance of Museums diversity policy explains this very well.

The Black Lives Matter movement should also be given the same treatment as every other topic is given when added to history and explained in museum exhibits. History is history and some of it is uncomfortable and arouses strong emotions. This does not mean it should be shoved in a box somewhere and put in large warehouse never to be seen again. A they have done in European museums the same should be done here in the United States. Guides to should be trained to answer and interact with a myriad of reactions to the exhibit and be able to mediate an informational dialogue with each experience so that it arouses different thought and ideas in a conducive manner as to appeal to all visitor’s experiences and reactions. Just with the people I work with in this graduate program, we all different opinions and viewpoints, but seem to handle everybody’s ideas well. There are exceptions that do occur, but as in museums, there are policies to help in dealing with those rare occasions.

[1]Zach Aarons. “Memo to all those visiting the tenement museum to fight about immigrants.” Forward, December 4, 2016.

[2] Alliance Board of Directors. Diversity and Inclusion Policy. American Alliance of Museums, February 26, 2014.

Inclusion or exclusion? Where is the line?

After the multiple readings, I could not help but think to myself,” Is the inclusion of a group that is normally overlooked exclusion of other groups?” I find that all too many times movements like the #BlackLivesMatter are severely hindered by this thought exactly. Although they clearly did not intend to exclude people from their movement, the wording alone seems to have charged people both to its side as well as against it almost immediately. From the prospective of the museum, where is the line drawn between these two ideas? Often the traditional narrative of American History has been exclusionary. To allow this to go uncontested is one of the many great tragedies of history. On the other hand, for a museum to get involved with groups that are seen by others as exclusionary due to their own lack of inclusion can spell trouble. Certainly, even just by choosing a theme for an exhibit, a museum can show their own possible bias one way or another, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture choosing to document the history and artifacts of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but can a line be drawn between documenting a social movement and the goals and actions of the movement itself? I found myself drawn to the section in the Smithsonian Magazine where it talked about Darian Wigfall, and more significantly where the article discussed the idea that “In addition to the poster (New Age of Slavery by Patrick Campbell) Wigfall also donated a 20-foot wide banner that says, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty.”[1] Also, a sign that said “White silence is White consent” caught my attention. Immediately, being someone who studies the 19th century, I recognized the Transcendentalist overtones in both of these ideas. It made me think of a quote by Edmund Burke (although the source of the quote is argued) “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Although both of these examples were from the #BlackLivesMatter articles, I found the same ideas in the Tenament Museum article only based on the idea of immigrants. The real question to me is, how are museums to walk the thin line between inclusion of often overlooked groups without winding up exclusionary themselves?

[1] Katie Nodjimbadem, “How the African American History Museum Is Curating “Black Lives Matter”,,  December 14, 2015,

Relevance in museums: Temple or Forum?

It seems that this is another collections of articles which inadvertently raises the question: should museums be temples to the artifacts of the past, or should they be forums for debating issues both past and present. The authors of all of these articles, and it would seem that the majority of people involved in museum studies, believe that they are forums for discussion.
My only concern with this approach is the obsession with “relevance”. Because what is relevant to one is not necessarily relevant to another. I mean if someone were to put up an exhibit describing what happened in Ferguson in the Owyhee Co museum, I believe the locals would burn the building to the ground. Even in Boise I think something like that would draw a lot of fire from those in the community who are a little more “reactionary” in their politics. That being said, if a museum were to highlight historical injustice, like the “white only” water fountains in Canyon Co, or the plight of migrant Hispanic farm workers, or everything the Chinese overcame during the mining days, these (I believe) would be met with less hostility, and if properly curated could still bring attention to current problems.
An alternative, and I think the NEMO memo, and the UN refugee agency both had an idea that I believe would work well in an area like Boise which is relatively homogeneous, culturally speaking, but is struggling with including immigrants and refugees. The idea of using the museum to host conversations, using the space to help these new arrivals become acquainted with local culture, this seems to be a way to help both those who are new to the community, as well as those who might not be as welcoming.
I am one of those who wants to overthrow the existing order, rearrange the way people see the world, but I live in one of the most conservative states in the Union. And as such I think we as public historians need to try to find a way to drag our neighbors into the 21st century, but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t make them pull away. Unfortunately I’m not exactly sure how to do that, but there has to be a way.

How a Museum Can Tackle Controversial Topics

The type of work that the National Museum of African American History and Culture is doing surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the political and racial unrest surrounding police brutality is exactly how I picture a museum exhibit and how they do work. The fact that they are collecting signs from protesters, gas masks from Ferguson, and even a broom and rake used for protest debris, makes me extremely excited. I had always wondered how people collected things like buttons and pins from Nazi Germany or signage from the Civil Rights Movement. It’s very intuitive of museum curators and collectors to be able to recognize a moment in history that will be important for years/decades to come. That is really where all of the magic in museums is for me.

While this may be my ideal museum world, I am really excited about museums that are fully engaging in social activism. While I don’t think this is the right step for all museums, I appreciate the museums that are turning towards this. Challenging peoples’ ideas and misconceptions is very important. Making people think about and engage in their history (or even just America’s history) is extremely important right now. I can see how museums can be on the front lines of changing harmful attitudes or misconceptions.

The Medium article that addressed Museums and #BlackLivesMatter was very interesting to me. Throughout this class I have wondered about how museums can best have an online presence and reading this article opened my eyes to possibilities. I never thought that simply engaging with the community and even other museums on Twitter could be so rewarding for museums and its participants. The most challenging part of online conversations as mentioned in the article, is the active participation outside of the internet. Museums need to be able to dismantle their own racist and/or oppressive past first before being able to tackle these kind of issues. Then they must turn to galleries, programming, and community outreach to continue their activism or simply the conversations. As outlined in the NEMO examples of refugee and immigrant participation in museums, there are ways for museums to reach a wider variety of people and to be more inclusive. Allowing immigrants and refugees to lead tours in their own language can help new citizens adapt and feel included in their new country. This is extremely valuable for new citizens.

Museum Island-Berlin, Germany Photo by Alisha Graefe
Museum Island-Berlin, Germany
Photo by Alisha Graefe

Making history more than a ghost story

The lure of ghost stories and hidden tunnels is what tends to draw tourists to the Old Town section of Edinburgh, Scotland, but it’s in the real historical sites where the story comes alive. Crichton Easton is a former employee with Edinburgh’s Mercat Tours, the most popular and trusted historical interpretation and touring company in the city. He laughs at the transformation that he witnesses in tourists when moving from supposedly haunted sites, to ones where real people lived, worked, and died. “The ghosts elicit giggles,” he says, “but the real history gets the gasps, and ‘ooohs, and the proper interest.’”


Mercat is contracted by the city of Edinburgh to do all “official” tours in the Old Town and along the Royal Mile. The Old Town contains Reformation-era buildings still situated on a Medieval street plan, and the Royal Mile is a long stretch of road that serves as the central hub of the Old Town, running from Edinburgh Castle to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. While the company’s most popular attraction is the evening Ghost Tour, Easton also gave tours and site interpretations along the Royal Mile during the day, and worked briefly as a site interpreter at various World War I sites in Belgium and France. The tour routes, Easton said, were strict and specific, having been written by the directors of the company. “The directors,” he added, “are all former Heads of History at schools in Edinburgh.” Guides aren’t required to go by a script, though, and are often encouraged to make their tours personal and distinctive.


a screen shot from the Mercat Tours website
a screen shot from the Mercat Tours website


Even in their advertisements, Mercat Tours boasts that all of their guides and site interpreters are university trained, having at least a BA in History or something similar. Easton received his BA in Honors History at the University of Stirling in 1992, his post-graduate diploma in Tourism and Hospitality Management from Napier University of Edinburgh in 1993, and a post-graduate certificate in Education with a distinction of History Teaching from Glasgow University in 2001. He says that his additional degrees more than prepared him for the job at Mercat, and even allowed him to rise through the ranks to interim manager of the Edinburgh branch of the company.

The company’s directors carefully research each site, and routes are often changed when new history or archaeological evidence is found. Interpreters also know to leave time for extra stops, as tourists always have questions or feedback that would invite further exploration of certain places across town. Inevitably, Easton added, tourists would want to know about things they had seen in films, or on TV. Dispelling those myths always felt like a job well done, though Mercat did eventually give in and create a tour of sites seen in the book/television series Outlander.

Easton loved his job with Mercat, relaying stories of giving tours to Barry Gibb (twice!), to the Russian Ambassador to Scotland, and to a NASA astronaut who was working on the tiles of the Space Shuttle. But he also understands the importance of making history relevant and exciting to those who might think otherwise. One has to imagine that in this company, making the history tours just as worthwhile as the ghost tours can be a challenge. But he says it’s not impossible. “Be confident in what you are talking about. Have a theatrical slant — once did a tour with 250 people on it — very hard work but worth it.”