Letting Go? Part II

Having community input on projects is so important. If a community or a committee of people want to create an art piece, a museum gallery, or an exhibition of any kind that surrounds a particular place or group of people, it is of the utmost importance that there is input by those people. In the chapter regarding the Black Bottom neighborhood, they talk about how the community members of Black Bottom had the final say on any of the scenes that were to be performed. I think this is one of the most important parts of public history. With the approval and input of the Black Bottomers, they allowed the community to truly tell their story and their history without it being patronizing or told incorrectly. If you start an exhibition on the history of cattle ranchers but have never spoken to a cattle rancher, then what is the point?

The reason why I am so on-board with user-generated content and public history projects like the ones talked about in Letting Go? is because of the real power it can give communities and groups of people if done right. And this is exactly why I am all about StoryCorps. “First, and most directly, StoryCorps sets out to spark a shift in historical understanding: it wants to demonstrate powerfully, viscerally, exhaustively that ordinary people shape history.”(pg. 177) They’re focused on breaking the mold of top-down history telling, which I am very passionate about. “If museums tell stories–rich, complex ones that engage emotions–then visitors will engage, reflect, and, likely, be moved to tell stories of their own.” (pg. 189) History to me should be based on the bottom-up storytelling and StoryCorps is a great example of how this can be done well. People will always be passionate about their own history and their own stories and if museums and historians can incorporate that kind of passion into exhibits, classrooms, and galleries, then maybe historians won’t be the only people to care about history.

Public history should be seen as a way of collaborating (with either artists, communities, or just people in general) that ultimately strengthens public history as a whole. While museums and historians shouldn’t give up their academic discipline and authority over collections and interpretations, they should be open to collaborations and input from communities in order to strengthen their work and bring everyone into the fold of the beauty of history.

Letting Go? Or Simply Sharing?

“Public curation” is a wonderful and exciting tool that museums across the country should be looking forward to engaging in. To me, public engagement should be a number one priority and something that all museums strive for. While museums celebrate the history of everyday life, they can also be extremely personal to anyone walking through the doors. Encouraging everyone to participate in some way in their local or non-local museum is an important idea.

I especially enjoyed Nina Simon’s strong stance on proper feedback by museums. She explains extremely well why museums and their participatory efforts fail due to the lack of proper feedback by museums. Museums cannot simply open up voting on galleries or encourage gallery ideas and not give the participators a response or turn their suggestions into action. Keeping the full engagement of a community is especially important for museums. If the community engages and participates and the museum does little in return to show that that participation is valid and useful, the community will turn away from the museum.

Matthew Fischer’s perspective on audience curation and participation fascinated me immensely. He talks about how historians have a huge job of interpreting history and telling a story through detective work, curation, and editing. He believes that non-historians should be able to share in this work as well. I find this extremely insightful. I think that historians have such a huge task of producing engaging and challenging historical research but have such few avenues to share their work. By letting the public share in this through technology, the work of historians can be strengthened. This perspective ties in nicely with Nancy MacLean’s perspective on how museum curators and the museum experts should embrace views of the public. She talks about how museums and staff need to learn with their community and embrace change. This kind of give and take should be important to all historians in any field as well as curators.

Since history is so personal, I think that museums and historians should be encouraging public perspective and participation. If the study of history and the physical space of a museum is to continue, the public must be included, encouraged, and listened to. This isn’t some alien past, it’s everyone’s past and everyone’s history.