Museums and the Balancing Act

A theme in all the readings included, the ways in which a museum is to display and inform the public while being historically accurate as well as sensitive to a variety of groups.  A museum wants people to come to the museum, because it requires patrons and donations or earnings to keep the museum going.  However, after completing the reading it seems impossible to meet everyone’s expectations.  For example, at the Air and Space Museum there was a great deal of arguing as to the display of the B-29 bomber the Enola Gay.  Its pilot, Brigadier General Tibbets was angry that the Enola Gay was being displayed in parts, and was not fully restored.  Also, when deciding the script that would accompany the display, there was some debate as to the discussion on the use of the atomic bombs as well as photos of women and children’s’ burned bodies after the bombings.  Some images or displays some may believe to be too graphic or shocking.  However, as a museum it should be able to display images that are relevant to the history of the artifacts.

How are historians and museums able to dial down the horrors of war and other tragic events, and be historically accurate? In my opinion, they can’t, tragic events in history can’t be dialed down to better suit the public.  In the text there is the mention of the Holocaust Museum as a horror tour.  For example, the museum has a display in which the process of arriving and then being processed to the gas chambers.  It is a display based on actual events, so it is educational not a horror tour.  There is not a way to make the Holocaust Museum less graphic or shocking to some because it is teaching about the slaughter and genocide of 6 million Jews.  In contrast, the Fred Harvey Museum displays Native American art, however does not include the information including; death marches, reservation systems, and any information about Native American culture.  The focus is only on the artwork.

Reading Reflections 2-27

I enjoyed reading about Shaping the West project in which the area of study is the growth and influence of the railroads on the Western United States.  Some of the study topics include; railroad rates, safety, and how railroads affected the travel/moving of the population.  I think it would be interesting to also study the improved technology, for example, improvement in brakes, refrigerated railroad cars, passenger cars, and luxury sleeper cars.  You may also learn a great deal about Railroads of the West at the Sacramento Railroad Museum. You may choose to learn more about the Big Four, the building of the transcontinental railroad, or look at some trains.  There are also a lot of cool shops and historic buildings in Old Sacramento.  Do you like train rides?  On weekends there are steam-powered train rides!

I also found the Mobile for Museums site interesting because it provided a list of several museums that use mobile devices to tour their museum.  The San Jose Museum of Art was one of the first museums to include the use of iPhone/ipod touch apps in their museum tour.  I also experimented with the Art in the City app, in which you may explore by places, tags, and art.  It is a great app to use when traveling, or if you want to learn more about your own area.

The last site, Center for History and New Media, is a digital archive that includes a variety of topics.  One I took a look at was the September 11th Digital Archive.  This site also relates to my public history career introduction, because I interviewed a person who worked for The Shoah Foundation, which is a digital archive of Holocaust survivor interviews.  Here is their website

The Shoah Foundation-Cataloging Reviewer

The Shoah Foundation

Public History Career Introduction

Historical Authority Supervisor

The Shoah Foundation was founded by Steven Spielberg after he completed the film, Schindler’s List.  Prior to filming of the movie, research included interviews of Holocaust survivors.  Spielberg decided to use the earnings from the movie to start a foundation to interview additional survivors, and preserve the films/oral histories.  He set up a temporary location, on the back lot of his Dream Works studios located at Universal Studios, in Los Angeles, California.  Shoah in Hebrew means the Holocaust.  Staff of the foundation were asked to refer to the foundation as the Survivors of the Shoah.

I interviewed David; he has a B.A. in history, and was fortunate to have a paid position for the foundation.  His job title was a Historical Authority Supervisor, or a cataloging reviewer.  David’s job was to catalog the interviews into a computer archive, and organize the interviews based on key words.  The reason for this was so people could search a particular interview by topic.  They would segment the interview by keywords, so it is searchable by computer.  The index included the names of people mentioned and the content, place, time and summary of what happened.  For example, conditions in Germany, Ghetto intake procedures, children’s testimonies, liberation of camps, etc.

Cataloging the interviews was a large job.  The foundation had a total of 52,000 interviews; however they were not all fully cataloged but are accessible in the archives.  Two thousand of the interviews are fully catalogued.  Jewish volunteers interviewed Holocaust survivors all over the world.  The interviews included men and women from 57 countries, and speaking 32 languages.  Using volunteers saved money, however the quality of the interviews varied.  There were always professional videographers used during the interviews because film quality of course was important to Spielberg.

Some issues that David experienced at Shoah was that he questioned how neutral or balanced did the archive turn out?  Because they were looking for certain information in the testimonies.  Only 2,000 testimonies were fully catalogued out of 52,000 interviews.  Is that a balance?  Also, most of the money for the foundation was based on fundraising.  He questioned if this practice may lead to bias because the organization relied on wealthy investors.  At the start of the foundation, 48% was funded by Spielberg, and 52% was community based funding.  One woman who was prominent in the foundation, and helped to raise money, also raised questions as to her survival of the Holocaust.  She told employees that as a child she had survived the Holocaust.  However, she remembered the events as an adult under hypnosis.  When she was interviewed, her memories did not relate to historic facts.  She was considered a prominent person in the community; however her testimony didn’t have credibility.

In order to work for the foundation, it was recommended that all catalogers had to be Jewish, because many people interviewed used Yiddish words, and spoke about religious practices.  At one point they did have some non-Jewish staff, however it took additional training to teach them about Judaism and Hebrew words.  It was also important to have a background in history, European history, and World War II knowledge.  David is Jewish and he went to Hebrew school for 7 years.  After David was hired, more employees were hired that had foreign language degrees, and master’s degrees.  Most of the foundation staff were volunteers and interns which was considered an unpaid position; however they did receive a small stipend that basically paid for gas.  David recommends working as a college professor and to try to become published in your area of interest.  When working for a non-profit organization it is difficult to find a paid position.

The interviews are archived at the USC library, as well as the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and the Yad Vashem in Israel.  Now, USC runs the program and preserves the archives.  If you are interested in watching any testimonies the website is below.  The last website provides free videos and materials to teachers ( Holocaust video & Civil Rights Movement videos).


Foundation Website

Article about foundation

The website below provides free materials for teachers that includes:  lesson plans, videos, posters, maps and other materials.  Fill out the form provided on the website, choose which materials you wish to order and have your administrator sign the form.  There is a video titled One Survivor Remembers, based on the autobiography of Gerda Weissman Klein, All But My Life.  It is the most interesting and informative biography I have every read.

Giza Pyramids – Fabulous Public History Project

A public history project that interests me and that would be user friendly to students at any grade level is the use of virtual tours.  History instructors often teach and discuss geographic areas that students have never been to or even seen pictures of.  What often interests students or sparks their interest in subjects is to see a graphic or photo of what they will be learning about.  This also relates to learners of all ages and may be beneficial to any public history project.  We often spend a great deal of time on-line researching articles, journals, and websites that relate to our area of study.  Teachers may often use the internet and a variety of sites to support their student’s learning.  They may include web quests, virtual tours, and student research.

My project focused on the website:

It is a PBS/NOVA website about the Pyramids of Giza

The website allows users to explore the three pyramids of Giza as well as the Great Sphinx.  The site is user friendly and easy to navigate.  Users may click on either: Khufu, Khafre, or Menkaure to learn more about the three pyramids.  There is also information about; the history of Giza, age of the pyramids, how they were built, hieroglyphs, a virtual tour, and an interview with Dr. Zahi Hawass, Director of the pyramids.  Also, included are maps of the site, excavation information, and teacher resources for lesson plans.

The following link includes a short video of a fly by the pyramids:

The project was created by PBS as a learning tool for the public to learn more about the Giza pyramids and ancient Egyptians.  The audience may include; teachers, students, and the public in general.  The project’s learning objectives are to educate people about how the pyramids were built and why.  The pyramids are the great resting places for the pharaoh’s of Egypt.  The Nile was used to transport the supplies and building materials to construct the pyramids.  The precise date of the pyramids is unknown, however, many estimate that the pyramid of Khufu was under construction around 3200 B.C.

The project is replicable, and may be used as a model for any other historic sites to organize their own site that includes: videos, virtual tours, and maps.  The project could be used as a template for other projects that may include; museums, historic sites, and even walking tours.

The site interviewed several specialists in the fields of: archaeology, historians, and the Giza director, Dr. Zahi Hawass.  There are also posted email responses from the excavators in response to questions posted by the public.



Cultural Landscapes II

One of the chapters I found interesting was chapter 16 and how Latinos in East Los Angeles utilized their porches and front yards as extensions to their homes as outdoor living spaces.  Parents sat on chairs or couches on the front porch while kids played on the grass, or played ball in the street.  The fence or street in front of the house was also used to sell handcrafted items, or display items for a yard sale.  Regardless of race, I’m sure all of us have used our outdoor spaces in some way that chapter 16 described.

I also thought, chapter 16 could be expanded into another book or text about how different ethnic groups or cultures live and use their homes.  This could also be done based on socioeconomic status, environmental factors, and a variety of other topics.  I also thought about my community I grew up in Hacienda Heights in southern California.  My community was predominately Chinese, and I learned a great deal about Chinese culture.  Many of my Chinese neighbors had Koi ponds in their front yards, and when I was younger I would help them feed their fish.  Some of my neighbors also had traditional Chinese gardens with ornate bridges and pathways.

In Chinese households, Feng Shui is very important and there are many rules that should be followed in order to have a harmonious life that balances: health, wealth, and happiness.  Some areas of importance include; the direction of your front door, the direction your house faces, the importance of colors, and Feng Shui symbols.  The 5 elements are also important to include: water, wood, fire, earth and metal.  It’s all about having the right balance of chi which will make your home and your life harmonious.  It is also important to live near a Buddhist temple, when possible, and in Hacienda Heights we had one of the largest temples in the state.  The closer your residence was to the temple the better, because if you lived within 1 mile, then you live on holy land.

In Hacienda Heights, there is a very large Buddhist temple, HSI Lai Temple.  I tried to include a picture, but it didn’t work for some reason…

I’ve visited the temple about 3 times, and there are several gardens, and temples in which to pray.  There is also a 20 foot Buddha statute in one of the temples.  Many of my classmates and friends taught me about Chinese holidays, religious ceremonies and how to speak a few words in Mandarin.  So my community was more about fried rice rather than the “corn lady” in East L.A.

J.B. Jackson

In Chapter 1, I was interested in learning background information about J.B. Jackson that included his education, traveling, and variety of people that influenced his life and his education.  Although he had experiences with wealth and privilege, he also valued the hard work of manual labor and balance in his own life.  He spent time at private boarding schools in the United States and Europe which resulted in him being fluent in Spanish, French, and German.  Jackson also tested the waters in college until he found the right fit.  He served in the U.S. Army, worked as a publisher and editor for his Landscape magazine, and taught college courses at Harvard, Berkeley, and other universities.

Jackson spent time in both Europe and the United States which gave him a somewhat new perspective on his interpretation of the American landscape.  He saw the importance in the everyday lives of Americans and how the architecture, countryside, shopping centers, and roadways represent us.  “Winston Churchill put it simply when he wrote, “We shape our buildings, and then they shape us”  (Jackson, 2003, p.15).

The Churchill quote reminds me of Jackson’s interest in the American highway landscape in chapter 5.  Professional publications found the roadside signs and silly architecture ugly, and low class.  However, Jackson viewed it as unique and fun.  In part he understood how some may view the large overpowering signs as ugly to the landscape, however he understood the economic reasons for roadside restaurants, hotels, and gas stations using that type of advertising to the masses.  Chapter 5 also touches on the socioeconomic climate during the 50s & 60s in which people had more leisure time and income that they could spend money on their automobiles and spend time traveling, or going on a scenic drive.  Henry Ford and the automotive boom greatly changed the roadways of America, and increased government spending on roadways.

Also, what kept coming to my mind after reading the text were the many connections or themes between American lifestyle, socioeconomics, advertising, leisure time, and how they influence modern architecture.