Thoughts on Readings March 4

This week’s readings were a really nice mix of how history is presented to the public-in addressing both historical reenactments and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The first article by Nick Kowalczyck “Embedded with Reenactors” illustrates that people have a strong desire to make meaningful connections with the past. However, this article also sheds light on people’s glaring ignorance of the past, including all of the pasts complexities as well as its relationship to the present. Ann Little’s piece “The Limited (and queer?) Vision of American Historical Reenacting” makes a great connection between race and gender in the reenacting world, although Kowalczyck does mention some female reenactors in his article, for the most part reenactors seem to be white, male, and over 40. This fact leads Little to contemplate that “the desire to live in the past (if only on weekends and special occasions) is a wish more widespread among white men in particular than among others.” I have to admit that this comment by Little made me think about the Tea Party’s obsession with revolutionary and colonial clothing and symbols. In the context of the first two articles, Kevin M. Levins article “Why Doesn’t Anyone Think its Cool to Dress up Like a Confederate Soldier Anymore?” makes me wonder, with the current state of reenactments, is this the best way to engage young people historically?

The other articles for this week also look at public history but through lens of Wikipedia. Naom Cohen, in “Define Gender Gap? Look up Wikipedia’s Contributor List” brings up an important issue. I am guessing that there are numerous reasons why women don’t contribute as much as men on Wikipedia; some of these reasons are practical and some sociological, such as the gender issues the author addresses. I do feel it is important to diversify Wikipedia by broadening perspectives for each post, but is Wikipedia the best place to focus our energies when it comes to gender equality? Besides the gender gap on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia also seems like a dangerous use of information in regards to its ‘majority rule’ and ‘undue truth’ policies. Timothy Messer-Kruse’s article “The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia” was quite alarming and I disagree with Andy Famiglietti’s rebuttal to Messer-Kruse in “Weighing Consensus-Building Truth on Wikipedia”. Oftentimes, the truth is a lonely thing lost in a majority ruled by ignorance. I believe many early scientists of the Enlightenment are examples of this. I understand and agree that Wikipedia editors should be discerning, but in their discernment there should also be an allowance for flexibility.

An Online Interview with Stepanie Milne

For my interview, I chose to speak with Stephanie Milne. I met Milne in 2009 after she moved to Boise to attend Boise State University. Milne is a graduate of the Masters of Applied Historical Research program at Boise State and she continues to work as a historian for Stevens Historical Research Associates in Boise. Milne is a prime example of how hard work and creativity can open up opportunities for budding historians. In addition to her current work Stephanie will be presenting research in November on the history of Nursing programs in Boise.

Below are Stephanie’s responses to the assignments questions:

What path did you take to get to your current position?

A native Washingtonian I graduated with a BA in History from Eastern Washington University. I had a public history internship at EWU working for the Cheney Normal School Foundation. Essentially I was able dig into the history behind a 100-year-old one-room schoolhouse that was moved to EWU’s campus. It seems so small now, but it was that internship that really sparked my love of public history. I moved to Boise in 2009 and graduated with my Master in Applied Historical Research from Boise State University in May of 2012. Part of my program was a collaborative internship between the Boise City Department of Arts and History and Boise Parks and Recreation. Looking back two factors during my graduate work were extremely beneficial to me once I graduated.

I was fortunate enough to get small contracts for several semesters while working toward my master’s degree.
This experience really helped in getting bigger contracts (not huge by any means!) later. I had experience creating invoices, selling my capabilities, and most importantly being assertive. As is typical with the MAHR program I completed a project and analytical paper instead of a traditional thesis. I would argue one of my biggest assets when I began applying for jobs in the field was that I completed a project instead of a thesis. It takes some explaining to employers (so practice!) but you can sell it as “project management.” Some of the best advice I can give is to use “work place” language when describing your history work. Don’t be afraid to say you have experience budgeting—You have to budget time constantly in graduate school—How much time are you going to spend on reading a book? Writing a paper? Researching? Organizing?
What kinds of projects do you work on?

After I graduated I became a history consultant/contractor. By July 2012 I had three contracts
1. Boise City Department of Arts and History
I managed several different projects including writing historic interpretative signs for a walking tour, reviewing and editing a book, and transcribing oral history interviews.
2. Boise City Department of Public Works
I was hired as Project Manager for the Boise 150 Infrastructure Project. Participating organizations include Bureau of Reclamation, United Water, Idaho Power and Boise City Public Works. The project seeks to celebrate the development of Boise’s infrastructure, specifically utilities and includes a photo gallery, blog, and brochure.
3. Stevens Historical Research Associates (SHRA)
SHRA specializes in environmental litigation support. Areas of specialties include: Water rights and irrigation history, mining history, CERCLA/Superfund, Clean Water Act, Roads/Rights-of-Way, Forest History, and Tribal Claims. In 2012 SHRA hired an Architectural Historian and has expanded its services to include Cultural Resource Management and Historic Preservation.
After 4 months as a contractor, SHRA hired me in October (2012) as an employee. Right now I work approximately 30 hours a week while I finish my remaining contracts. That same month I was able to travel to Washington DC and research in National Archives I ( just off the National Mall) and National Archives II (located in College Park, Maryland) for a week for one of SHRA’s projects.

With what kind of people (demographics, occupations, etc.) do you typically work?
1. Lawyers
2. Archivists
3. City/County/State Employees
4. Librarians
5. People who work in “history” jobs
6. County Clerks

• As far as demographics, I would say I deal with an equal amount of men and women. However, I am usually the youngest person, especially when working on litigation projects.
Do you have autonomy to pick your own projects, or are projects generally assigned to you by others in your organization or elsewhere?
• As a public historian, you usually take any project(s) that come your way. Specifically in regard to SHRA projects, if you are not the principal of the company (like Dr. Jennifer Stevens) you pretty much work on any case given to you. The caveat comes when you are given autonomy to bring in projects to the firm. I’ve been fortunate to be able to bring in an oral history project to the firm, which is a nice change up from litigation.
What are the current issues in your field?
• I can’t really think of any real “issues.” I guess my gut reaction would be to stay relevant. As historians (at lease for me) sometimes its easy to get wrapped up in research and writing. Staying current with social media and new trends is really important, especially when selling yourself to clients.

What skills are expected of applicants for an entry-level position?

• Research—Specifically archival research
• Writing
• Attention to detail
• Entrepreneurial capability
• Database Skills (navigability)
• New ideas regarding platforms for projects (digital, print, social media)

What is the current starting salary for entry-level positions in your field?
• Part time = $20,000-$30,000
• Full time = $40,000-$42,000

How is your position funded? Is this typical for positions in your field or organization?
• Obviously the majority of my work comes from litigation, so companies-people-organizations-states-counties-cities-etc…suing one another, that’s how my position (at SHRA) is funded.
• My other contracts are funded from municipal funds. I consider myself extremely lucky that I was able to work for Arts & History while in graduate school, so I’ve made connections for the past two years. I am also lucky that Boise is celebrating its 150th year and history is “hot” right now. 

Thoughts on Readings for February 25

I think a lot of these articles say less about museums and more about the ways in which we feel about services and resources in our society. It is clear from most of the readings, that what is valued most in this society is a corporate and capitalistic mentality. We live not in a market economy, but a market society where almost anything can be bought and sold. The articles in the book make it perfectly evident that our history is no exception.

According to John Falk and Beverly Sheppard in “Creating a New Business Model”, it is evident that museums have shifted from an accessible, shared, public service (like a library) to a business for many people. The authors state: “Today museums must compete for audience, publicity, and resources.” Why do museums need to follow a business model? Why do they need to compete? Once museums become part of the market economy their focus is no longer on serving a public need, but on making money. However, article after article places museums in a corporate context, the editor’s decision to include the article by John P. Kotter, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” in this book implies that museums and corporate businesses and their goals are interchangeable.

In the article written by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, “Museums and Libraries in the 21st Century: New Contexts and Skills Definitions” it is disheartening that this organization is also advocating that museums follow a corporate model, including the use of invasive marketing. Audiences expect connections from museums, why turn museums into for-profit white noise that exists in nearly every corner of our lives? Museums should not feel the pressure to compete in the market place, just like a library shouldn’t feel the need to compete with Barnes and Noble. The goals are different, so the methods of executing those goals should also be different. The article by the Institute was also filled with the most self-evident concepts, and this was the most disturbing aspect of the article. If statements such as, “ Evaluate information critically and competently”, need to be stated at all then the museum industry has much larger problems than trying to expand their audiences.

Thoughts on Readings No. 2

I enjoyed all the articles and I am glad that our reading began with the Monroe and Echo-Hawk article. This article set a good tone for the following articles, and the ideas within them. Monroe and Echo-Hawk state valid points that pertain to how museums conduct themselves and how they have conducted business in the past. The average visitor to a historical or natural history museum probably has never heard of the Antiquities Act, or knows what it entails. Like the innovative work done by Fred Wilson in his “Mining the Museum” exhibit, I think part of museum interpretation should include (in a creative interpretation like Wilson’s or in straightforward text), how the object was obtained and its varied contexts. Therefore, museums could be even more progressive by addressing the context of the objects ascension, for example mentioning the Antiquities Act of 1906, as well as, that Native Americans were not recognized as a person under the law until 1879, and not granted citizenship until 1924.

Adding these concepts and historical facts to museum interpretation allows for the polysemic classification that Cameron discusses in her article. According to Cameron, “An object’s meaning and its classification, is not self-evident or singular, but is imposed on the object depending on the position and aims of the museum.” (227) I believe this is the most important concept brought up by the readings, and is a concept that ties all of this week’s readings together. As Corrin points out in her article, colonial history is not addressed in historical displays, which begs the question of, what is the true position and aim of a historical museum when it ceases to encompass a complete cultural and historical context in displaying their objects?

Thoughts on Readings 1

The readings this week bring up the importance of museums and the way they can improve by being more community minded and focused, and by increasing participation. The article that stood out the most to me was Cameron’s article. The way people rearrange and categorize objects does have a powerful effect on the way we perceive our reality, and the museum as the voice of authority can be a powerful means of constructing historical reality in someone’s mind. That being said, I agree that museums need to be aware of the tone they are setting and the proposed reality they are constructing, but I am not positive that the ways some of the authors suggested connecting with the community were that much better than what museums already do. George Hein is really on to something in examining the different ways people learn, and this is a good starting point. Allowing for complexity is the most important first step in making any changes, and part of this complexity is not abandoning traditions that work.

I like a lot of things about traditional museum settings and I would hate to see that tradition lost to over-participation. A lot of times I think visitor participation is overrated, and created just for participation’s sake. I agree that people will have the most meaningful experience if they connect, but Nina Simon’s idea that visitors who “create” and “work” during their visits can be just as alienating as a traditional museum where the scholarly voice of authority tells us what is important and why. Aren’t educators acting as the same voice of authority, and with the same racial and class bias, by assuming that their proposed activities will be beneficial and enjoyable to the public? There is comfort in the museum as church, especially for those from a working-class background that aren’t always surrounded by beautiful and interesting objects. Walking around a dark and quiet museum can elicit awe and a sense of safety in visitors, and that form of connection, especially with the past, is extremely powerful. To suggest that a participatory activity creates more powerful connections than other forms of engagement is part of the same elite, upper-middle class line of thinking that many of the authors criticized.
I agree that museums should be constantly re-invented, but we need to be mindful of our assumptions about people in creating those changes.