Ferguson Readings

MLM Ferguson Readings

These readings were excellent. Thought-provoking reads.
My take-home messages:
-Social responsibility as cultural institutions in communities.
-Relationships! Nothing will be “right,” with out that solid base.
-Museums and other cultural institutions as “welcoming” places for ALL, not a select few (“the Temple” concept)

My notes on each reading:
American Alliance of Museums: Diversity & Inclusion Policy
Key words: respect, values, celebrate diversity = institutional excellence
All members, partners, key stakeholders + board/staff/etc: embrace these values..
How do institutions hold their staff responsible for this?
Articulating policies are critical, but leadership demonstration from Boards, managers, etc is even more critical. Museums are community leaders.
Best quotes: “Even when people appear the same on the outside, they are different.”
“Diversity always exists in social systems. Inclusion, on the other hand, must be created.”

New England Museum Association – Advocacy
Contradiction between personal consciences and the institution can cause problems, which may make museums reluctant to engage publicly.
“Think Tank” sessions – great idea on how to make museums more socially responsible and involved in social change, dialogue, problem-solving.
Best quotes: “As key pillars of their communities, museums play an important role in helping make sense of life’s
challenges, contextualizing the news, and improving the circumstances of the people they serve. The great power of museums is their ability to transform the lives of individuals who walk through their doors. Their greater power, and fundamental duty in my opinion, is to act as agents of transformation to society as a whole.”

Museum Commons.com: Practical Compassion
What is the appropriate role for museums? Should they be more responsive to community issues? Regular engagement (not reactionary/issue-specific); Collaborate (use facilitated discussion so everyone is heard); Talk to key stakeholders first – this is OK, but make sure not railroaded by stakeholder reticence or power to sway institution action; Staff: community involvement, leadership- this s a really important point. Why? Networks…but more importantly, relationships! That is foundational.

#Black Lives Matter Movement, Nik Hill
Shared histories – we are not homogenous, so respect diverse opinion and share it.
Actions matching words.
Best quotes: “…fear that our institutions are not staying relevant.”

“Making statements in support of the current movements won’t fundamentally change the ways in which we relate to black people in our communities. I recognize that our silence is complicity, but I don’t think we have to jump further ahead than where we are. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with our communities about where we need to criticize our selves, strengthen our relationships and let’s work to build the trust that will help us grow sustaining relationships with black people in our communities. Those actions will speak louder than any of our words ever could.”

Anti-Oppression Museum Manifesto, Nik Hill
“Why don’t persons of color participate at same rates as other groups?” by Porchia Moore.
– Uneven power distribution
– Invisiblizing
– Who is telling the stories? Through what lenses ar stories being told? (consider multiple perspectives, generations, etc)
– Fiscal decisions – constrained budgets, “open and honest” can lead to decreased visitors and interest, loss of base = loss of funding = survival issues
Best quote: “For museums to truly be a forum for visitors of color, and not a temple for those with privilege”

Assoc of African American Museums – Samuel Black, Pres., statement on behalf of AAAM Conference (AAAM)
Use education and outreach, creativity to contextualize African American (or any) struggle. Collaborative of museums, curators, designers, artists, poets, playwrights” – continue to tell the story as people the freedom/democracy/justice.

Taking a position. AAAM certainly did! This was a very powerful, strong, (and possibly politically risky) statement for the President of AAAM:
“As a national organization and like most Americans of conscience we cannot sit idly by as unchecked police power cheapens our lives and creates a “failure of government not witnessed since the dark days of lynching.”

Incluseum: Museums and Social Inclusion: Chieko Philllips and Leilani Lewis (NAAM)
Assoc of African American Museums (AAAM) – statement bloggers response
NW African American Museum’s response to Ferguson
“An act of learning, healing, protest and community”
Relevance again- and shifting cultural landscapes – make museums more relevant?
“Journalist Charles Mudede posed this question in his complimentary article, “Northwest African American Museum Just Became a Lot More Relevant” published on September 10, 2014, in
Seattle’s weekly newspaper, The Stranger.” Relevance as the “golden egg of the museum field”
-Museums lay ground work for collaboration (real-time, social media, collective mobilization = provide opportunities to engage and act.)
-High value on collaborative: multidisciplinary, multiage, multigenerational, multicultural: identity is dependent on this
-“Conduit of Connectivity” –I loved this! rather than claiming the spotlight – networking, “democratization of museums by creating spaces for multiple voices to be heard.”

#BlackLivesMatter (Feminist Wire), Alicia Garza
Conference calls created space for open communication
All Lives Matter – dropping the “black” from “lives matter” meant erasing, furthering the divisive legacy, “a watered down unity” – had not really thought about that.

Ferguson Must Force Us to Face Anti-Blackness, Op-Ed Michael Jeffries
Michael P. Jeffries is an associate professor of American studies at Wellesley College, author of “Paint the White House Black: Barack Obama and the Meaning of Race in America.” National shame; polarizing.
Best Quote: “Chants of “black lives matter!” have not weakened the critique of institutional
racism; they have strengthened it. And if we are to survive, they must grow louder.”

Joint Statement Museum Bloggers/Colleagues on Ferguson
Museums are part of educational/cultural network (Schools/ed orgs, teachers; arts orgs; pop culture icons).
Museums are “mediators of culture” – this is very true…it’s important for them to connect with contemporary issues – regardless of museum’s collection, focus, mission. Silence can speak volumes – at the time of the blog publication, only Assoc of African American Museums had joined the statement:
“We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums.”

Role of museums as institutions that claim to conduct activities for public benefit – and what can they do? Connections between museums and social justice:
1.Look at own staff diversity/equity in policy and practice. It’s hard but they must institute policies and work hard on them, have internal discussions, treat one another on staff with the respect they want in community.
2.Helping volunteers and partners: race, violence, community – volunteers are a very difficult issue. Not on payroll, volunteering time, often not supervised.
3.Offer museum meeting space for meetings and conversations. – that’s good.
4.Join the community to address issues (“respond and invest”)
Best quotes: “The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural
and educational infrastructure.”

We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish
to serve.”

Diversity of museums = diversity of perspectives! Example: American Alliance of Museums (http://www.aam-us.org/); theAssociation of Science-Technology Centers; (http://www.astc.org/) the Association of Children’s Museums (http://www.childrensmuseums.org/); American Association for State and Local History (http://about.aaslh.org/home/). In Boise: ISHS, BAM, Black History Museum, Basque Museum & Cultural Center, Discovery Center, Peregrine Fund World Center for Birds of Prey, local city museums, WarHawk, Old Pen, oh and what in the world will JUMP bring?

Social Justice Alliance for Museums
Joining of organizations, individuals to encourage debate about the museum’s role in “promoting racial equality and cultural understanding.”
Get involved…this was from Liverpool; international organization.
Think globally!!!

Social Justice and Museums

MLM Social Justice and Museums

This week’s readings got me to thinking about risk-taking with sensitive subjects such as social justice in Boise. Just think about the recent “Add the Words,” education issues, and other political debacles in Idaho. It’s hard to think of being a risk-taking public institution in an insular community with closed-minded leaders. BUT…

Should museums be involved in current social movements?
-Museums are cultural institutions, and therefore, are responsible for taking the lead on broaching difficult social, political subjects with the public.

-Most are publicly funded, which lends credence to collective leadership on social issues, short of advocacy.

-Museums are the perfect place to educate the public about issues, difficult or not. They are usually in community centers, can be non-threatening places for conversation, and can include various people at different social levels for diverse conversation. Community means gatherings, shared histories, memories and places.

-“Agents of change” – leading the way – communities matter…

-Relevance – staying abreast of current issues connects museums to the public – should move them closer to their constituent base, not farther away.

-Silence is complicity (ie; #BlackLivesMatter).

-Multidisciplinary, multiage, multigenerational, multicultural opportunities- reciprocal participation w/audiences and communities.

-Places for multiple voices, democratic ideals.

-Museums are invested in their communities – reciprocal investments: public will invest in institutions.

Arguments for museum non-action, or neutrality, in contemporary issues:
-Budget and fiscal issues: losing funding or visitorship due to social action.

-Possible divisiveness of individual personal opinion, or contradiction between personal consciences and the institution = inaction, silence. (Don’t rock the boat publicly.)

-Politics. Powerful people control the messages, funds, and therefore, actions, of the institutions. Fear of politicians, elected officials, strong community members.(Do you have a diverse board? Who funds? Who speaks for the institution?)

-When missions collide with social justice. Example: diversity. Is the institution mission narrowly defined, with no articulated goal of cultural education, diversity, broad representation?

-Mission clearly articulates “no advocacy.” This works well for being neutral, but it can also work to disadvantage if appearance is this is due to fear of taking a position for cultural change.

-Risk-averse: stay with “what has worked well in the past.”

-Institution is reluctant to change with the times, or stay in the “facts-only” mode. Limit interpretation and stories to minimal exploration – no critical thinking, just presentation of facts and no story behind them – prefer no public engagement, as this will give up institutional authority and control.

-Prefer to talk “to,” not “with.” (Safer?)

-Untrained staff, leaders, docents/volunteers, or some that are unable to embrace social change, deal with difficult issues, or critical thinking.

-Fear of the media. What happens when a reporter calls?

-View of purpose: “temple of privilege?” for whom is this institution for?

-Untrained in contemporary modes of communication, including social media, technology. Not fast enough, integrated enough, lack of reach.

-Hidden agenda of Boards, leaders, managers, staff, volunteers.

-“The man behind the curtain.” Faceless bureaucrats or institutional employees who claim powerlessness due to hierarchical structures, Boards, funding contributors, rules, regulations.

-Internal division – prefer to remain neutral than risk a combative staff, especially with one another.

Museum Visit(s)

Museum Visit(s) 02/08/15

What a beautiful Sunday. Great weather and good museum visits, plus lots of stimulation for public history!

-Excited to see Liu Bolin’s “Invisible Man” exhibit!

-Greeted by a staff member who was a bit in disbelief I was a student. Hmmm…
-Then, greeted by a small monitor, with barely-audible sound/”bleeps” for prompts with alien-looking faces: “Why At Museums Have Rules.” (The “no’s”: backpacks, pens – use pencils, kids, touching, wall-leaning, etc.) Basically “no-no-no,” not a first “Welcome to our museum! We want to thank you…” visitor greeted by the no’s…hmmm. I was put off, definitely.
-I know rules are important for all to be aware of, but this was most negative welcome I have had to a museum in a long while…and it was rather unobtrusive, so possibly some would ignore or miss it.

-“Invisible Man” exhibit: very cool! Thoughts: emotional connections…what it means to be invisible, meaningless, voiceless in society. Similar to the “erasing” black history in the Ferguson articles. The 45-foot dragon tie-in was even more meaningful, and visually impressive with beauty and strength – got the messages clearly: “Normal people” with forbidden access, “Are we all descendants of aggression and dominance?” “Have we lost the ability to investigate and think?”
-History: “the truth and falsehoods of history” tied directly to our readings this week, plus the issue of whose story is it? Are we “blinded by lies,” or lies of omission? I loved those words in the exhibit.

-“A Matter of Taste – Food for Thought”
Food Exhibit: what a missed boat. There are SO MANY things that exhibit could have done, and some many participatory things missed for visitors…even a discussion table!

-Participatory Elements – and suggestions for improvement/inclusion:
o“Sensory Stations” – little more than small monitors with headphones, and a few video-audio clips (shssh! quiet!) Broadened the story, but not really participatory

o“Art Experience” Kids’ Gallery: this is great! Drawing, observations, tactile section, books, computers, shapes and forms, and questions for older kids to answer: what did you like the most? What would you change? Age? Come back?
oReading Room – addresses those who need quiet space and independent exploration – books, smaller exhibits, viewing films through video library. Good and meaningful.

oSurvey station – well-meaning…one did not work. Is this really participation, or is it just another survey method?

oThe “live posts” were kind of neat – shared opinion and conversation.

oI was interested in the explanation onscreen of the “new interpretive components of BAM’s exhibits” – “A New Way to Experience BAM’s Permanent Collections” – so that visitors can interact with artworks. The touch-screen computers were to have “art games, film clips, music, virtual curation programs, cell phone tours. Could not find much this at BAM, other than the static video kiosks. The family exploring paks, however,were great for each exhibit. I did not find a whole lot of follow-through on this for “integrating interactive educational components” into BAM’s exhibit paces, transforming the experiences into a participatory, self-guided exploration of art.” “Create a label” and “Create a postcard” were good ideas, though!

Suggestions: Can we do something like the kid room for adults? An invisible portrait booth? A photoshop computer game? Questions about race, “invisibility” in society, “erasing” – for community conversation?? A table for the food experience? Questions about food, or a place to post recipes, or favorite foods? Hook in somehow with local restaurants? Food and culture??!!

-It was open!!!
-Greeted by a very congenial young man who was so thrilled to have visitors, and there were a fair number of families coming in. It was welcoming.
-The interp panels are rather old, and the objects scarce, but it had a good feel.
-Panels are text-heavy, but span a lot of years – decent messages and photos/art.
-TONS of books – very cool.

oThey have 2 non-working monitors, that may or may not be able to be used…in their stead, the museum staff person suggested they may put up a video screen and play looped videos of music, MLK speeches, etc. That would be neat – I offered that the music at Basque Museum adds yet another sensory dimension, and adds to the cultural history.

oI asked if they would be open to sharing info with other museum about culture in Boise, like the Basque Museum, or combining forces with those who know Chinese history. He thought that would be very cool.

oSlider panels directed at kids (read answers to questions)– but they are very boring. Some sort of interactive and certainly more graphic elements would engage kids.

oThey have a genealogy room! This could be a huge draw! I’d advertise that and set up workshops. As a matter of fact, Basque Museum could do the same….exploring personal heritage is great, and it would be participatory. Much like the Ellis Island search rooms?

oNo interpretation on the Baptist Chapel itself –that would be really neat and to incorporate photos of those who had been married in that chapel, what it looked like on BSU campus, a recording of a sermon or music???

-Participatory elements: boarding house kiosk that is really old and semi-functional. You all know my ideas about doing something cool with boarding houses!

-The pelota onscreen game – pretty cool. I like the recreation of a fronton room.

-Video/voices of Lucy Garatea and boarding house women – voices are really important. I’d maybe include more and always have the music going. The CJU house has some wonderful voices in the sound kiosks. This is compelling.

-Very warm and welcoming – to anyone. I think this is critical – access is #1 importance to me…open, accessible.

oThere is so much that can be done here with participation!

o“Changing names” exhibit – you come in much like the Titanic exhibit, with a Basque name – by end of visit, your name (and identity) has a huge chance of changing – Spanish/French/English names, new jobs, work-home life, etc.

oTake a ship to America, then train trip to Boise.

oBoarding houses – make this a real-life exhibit in the museum (the CJU job is excellent). Add an interactive, digital boarding houses –or diorama of some sort – push buttons? what Boise used to look like (with train station, Chinese, etc) Voices?

Suggestions: It seems that there is a great opportunity for the museums to join forces more, at least in Boise. The Idaho Association of Museums may be helpful, but that includes a lot of very small, local museums. Boise could “pilot” some projects that are museum collaboratives, regarding societal issues – for instance, what about all of them, including the Idaho History Museum, tackling multiculturalism history – and contemporary diversity issues? Yes, even “Add the Words!)

Funding is a real issue…and participatory efforts can cost money.

We have major corporations, businesses, and interested/able individuals in the valley – let’s get to work on contacting potential sources of funding, and collaborative grant-writing! Our History502 class has the brain power, contacts, and willpower to shake things up and make it happen!!!!

More later on our assignment to come to class with possible projects…

Hush? Interesting article today…

Remember our discussion about “hushed, quiet” museums? Well, you may be interested n this share from Great Britain….it’s today’s post from the Museums Association Journal by Richard Wendorf, Issue 115/02, pg. 14, 2.02.15

About a year ago, I visited my friend Steven Parissien at Compton Verney, where he is the director, to see the exhibition of English landscapes he had curated.

It was a rich, lovely show and, as we wandered from room to room, we became quite animated. At one point, we were approached by someone who had broken away from a tour of the gallery. “Don’t you realise this is a museum?” he asked.

“You’re making so much noise that we can’t hear what our guide is saying.”

We bit our tongues and gave each other a bemused look. Later, however, as I made my way back to my own museum, I entertained several conflicting thoughts.

The first was an appreciation of the irony of the situation, in which two museum directors had to be reminded where they were standing. The second was that it was terrific that these museum-goers were hanging on to a guide’s every word. The third was a sense of mild embarrassment that our excitement had distracted other visitors.

But my final response, which I wish to examine here, was to think more generally about the kind of behaviour we would like to see displayed by visitors. Don’t we, more than anything, want people to become engaged with what they are viewing, and isn’t a vigorous conversation just what the arts should generate?

Why should galleries become hushed temples of visual culture? Isn’t there room for a museum of exuberance, both in the art that is displayed and in our reaction to it?

And now the caveats. I am not condoning any kind of behaviour that is so intrusive that it prevents other visitors from concentrating on the art on display.

We have all had exasperating experiences of this kind, often in large museums, where surging crowds focus on a particular iconic object, cameras in hand and phones at the ready. Some may see this as engagement, while others will see it as disrespectful to the art and distracting to other visitors.

I don’t wish to adjudicate these disputes. However, I do wonder just how our galleries devoted to painting, sculpture, prints and drawings became the hushed and hallowed sepulchres they often appear to be – or aspire to be. Like others, I have argued that libraries, museums and concert halls have become the chapels and cathedrals of an increasingly secularised society.

Libraries and concert halls naturally call for a respectful silence, as readers and listeners engage with texts and performances. But is a hushed atmosphere the healthiest way in which to engage with visual art? And isn’t an exchange between viewers one of the social and cultural productions that artists hope to generate?

I was a trustee of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts for a decade before moving to the UK, and nothing gave me more pleasure than taking my children through its galleries on Saturday mornings. I always gave them the same assignment: after half an hour or so, tell me which one painting you would like to take home and why.

They loved this exercise and excelled at it, blending emotional responses with increasingly solid aesthetic ones. And they both became excited, just as Steven and I had done, and inevitably caused a raised eyebrow or two. I thought that was fine then – and I still do today.

Nothing gives me more satisfaction in my own museum than hearing animated conversation and laughter well up within the central hallway of the manor house. I sometimes take a look down at our visitors from my perch on the top floor to see what they are responding to – and then I return to my office and, if necessary, shut the door.

Richard Wendorf is the director of the American Museum in Britain, Bath

Lessons learned from Collective Memory

Reflections on Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory

James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton’s book is a balanced, and sobering, look at America’s most paradoxical reality: the nation was founded on principles of freedom, yet from the outset, many Americans engaged in slavery. More than this, the Horton book painted a picture of the societal angst that exists even in 2015 about race and the vestiges of slavery’s effects on all Americans – black, white, and otherwise, as we know from recent events such as Ferguson. I learned a lot about slavery from this book, especially because as a western American from mostly white states of Idaho and Nevada, I think we have been sheltered from the story of slavery. Every time I am in the east, I learn more deeply disturbing facts abut the reality of this horrible practice, and the scars that it left. This book puts it all out there and brings it into contemporary times, threading the huge job public historians have in interpreting difficult topics (“tough stuff”). There were so many truths about the interpretation of collective memory that I will write way too much on this!

– “The clash between memory’s ownership and history’s interpretation” was a recurrent theme. Who “owns” memory, and who has the right to interpret it? What is the “right” version of history, and does that change over time with historical time, distance, and perspective? Throughout the book, the issue arises of elected civic leaders, public institutions, federal/state/city agencies, universities, organizations and individuals all owning their truth and wanting to publicly state it through monuments, histories, exhibits, artifacts, tours, and commemorative events. How do we tell stories with widely divergent social memory? What stories do we tell, and where?

– The word “uncomfortable” appeared in this book almost as much as slavery. One way to move through uncomfortability is dialogue, not repression or avoidance of an issue – and certainly, not running off with an idea(s) created in a vacuum with a small circle of those “who know it best” to avoid dissent. Public historians have such a perfect opportunity to apply dialogue to projects, but as the books recounts, there are many examples of best-laid intent going terribly awry. This made me reflect on several interpretive projects I have been involved in. The best efforts were those that engaged dialogue amongst a wide circle of stakeholders right from the very beginning. That form of open and inclusive communications seemed to be the foundation for addressing difficult issues, and encouraged creativity by gaining multiple perspectives. Many of the book’s authors had first-hand experience as advisors to, assessors of, and employees of the US National Park Service. Oh my, if the NPS would have only applied some of those principles early on to some of the tales in this book…and learned not to work in a bubble where their “train had left the station” (alone).

– We need more of NPS’s Dwight Pitcaithely’s historian’s grounding and people skills, as well as his strong belief that public history is not to “make people feel good,” but rather …”to make people think (p. 86-87, Liberty Bell story). Also Gay Nash’s thoughts about revelation, provocation, demonstration of relationships, and collaboration to produce balanced, educational, and meaningful….(Liberty Bell story, again- Ch 5)

– Of side note: 2015 is the last year of the Civil War sesquicentennial. See the NPS site, and the different participants in sesquicentennial public history. Has the interpretation of the Civil War’s multicultural face made progress? I see on the home page alone lead stories: American Indians, Slave Trade and the US Constitution, “Bleeding Kansas” – free or slave state, and Hispanics in the Civil War. http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/index.htm

– Mia, I thought of your Minidoka work with the late John Hope Franklin’s quote about interpreting “sad places,” and the issues that appear in this book about of redemptive narratives, memorial landscapes, painful sites, “therapeutic history.” JHF: “The places that commemorate sad history are not places i which we wallow, or wallow in remorse, but instead places in which we may be moved to a new resolve, to be better citizens…Explaining history from a variety of angles makes it not only more interesting, but also more true. When it is more true, more people come to feel they have a part in it”(p. 216). Again, inclusion – not exclusion, separatism, allows us to touch the past. By the way, it is too bad Franklin passed away as his contributions would have been amazing for the Smithsonian’s long-awaited (since 2003), but soon-to-be-opened (2016), African American History and Culture Museum.

– Ira Berlin piece (Ch 1): thought-provoking information about slave names and the five generations. The thoughts align so closely with some Basque work I am doing, it was like being hit by a flash of light!…the very thought that names, a core construct of human identity, would be changed, obliterated is so degrading, and speak so directly to issues of control. I had no idea that many blacks were stripped of their surnames, or that they had to clandestinely use their African names amongst only themselves is the antithesis of humanity. I applied this to the Basque globalization and loss of Euskaldunak world-wide, but right in their own country under Franco’s control.

– David Blight’s Chapter 2 contained W.E. B. DuBois’ construct about seeing the past: memory and history (p. 23). I think that’s really helpful to apply to work we do today. It’s interesting to think about owning memory and reconstructing memory base don your personal, and then collective, experiences. love the quote from pg 25; “We’re writing histories of memory.” So true about history’s relationship to collective memory.

– Inadequate education, not only in our schools (Horton claims “This education must not remain on campus” (pg 43)… but in the need for public institutions and historic sites to educate was important. The real-life example of the “Back of the Big House” Library of Congress controversy that John M Vlach wrote about was just unbelievable to me. What lessons learned there! Both that story and the heritage tourism/redevelopment piece made me realize that controversy can most certainly can be heightened by current – not past – affairs. Examples: African American litigation about LOC and the Confederate flag ruling that both prompted huge contemporary conflict. Awareness of issues is a good first step to sensitizing oneself to possible issues that can be averted or dealt with in positive and non-divisive ways.

– The heritage tourism piece by Marie Tyler-McGraw (p. 515) forced me to think a lot about issues on the Basque Block: cultural narratives, commerce and history, the “cinematic,” outdoor spaces, dominant histories, ethnic niches, local relationships and civic support. It also stressed the importance of community planning and collaboration. Like this quote: “Heritage tourism can not be a pilgrimage to an unchanging shrine, and sites are going to be forums, not temples” (p. 167) Change through time is essential in public history; if we embrace change, we will do our jobs well for the public we are charged with serving.

– Lastly, the book hits the reality of Congressional and other elected bodies/individuals holding the power of the public. It is wise never to underestimate this, and to think about early involvement in elected officials who represent the public. It may increase initial controversy or difficult conversations due to differing perspectives, but in the end, it will serve to gain open communication and collaborative projects that embrace community diversity – and collective memory.

Sparking Ideas

The second half of Letting Go was more thought-provoking to me. I suppose that is because these chapters focused on collaboration and creativity, which are really important to me with projects. Here are a few reflections, and some ideas that these chapters sparked for me:

The Black Bottom
The stark difference in perspectives about the Black Bottom neighborhood between West Philadelphia’s Redevelopment Agency’s 1954 statement of authority and Dr. Pearl Simpson’s recollection of her neighborhood got my attention! The entire piece drove home to me the ways communities can use collective memory to present history. The relationships between the Black Bottom and the University taught me that sensitive topics can be broached with the right attitudes at a collaborative table, but that trust must first be earned. Several ideas popped out of this that we may consider for a group class project: college students mentoring high school students project; pairing generations together to present history, such as the powerful life stories that were shared by the older generation with the younger students. I know that politics of community councils, working with elected officials, and partnerships can sometimes inhibit or even derail projects, but the collaborative aspects of the Black Bottom Advisory Council and community representation to evaluate the project and develop it further worked to their advantage. People’s voices were heard, which is critical. Could we do something with the City of Boise, or some of the State elected officials?

Listening Intently: StoryCorps
I am such a huge fan of this project that I enjoy reading both the pros and cons of it. The debate about “polish” and what gets edited to be presented to the public on the airwaves is very interesting. I do believe there is great power in telling and sharing stories and that sharing common, everyday story resonates with us all. Filene’s statement that the project aims to shift historical understanding by allowing listeners to learn that “ordinary people shape history” is foundational to public history. I agree that facilitated discussions are helpful, as that role can help the more inexperienced or cautious interviewees and interviewers get over tough humps – emotionally and technically during the interview. One of the most intriguing aspects of StoryCorps to me is the trailer and the recording booth environment that StoryCorps uses. Has anyone been in one? I love the intimate space, and the “road-traveling” aspect of it, which is reminiscent of family camping trips of the 50s to me. So, my point in mentioning this is two-fold. First, it led me to realize that physical space is critical to oral history and cultural sharing. It can make or break the project. I would love to use an old sheep wagon to do a generational oral history project, or to do a traveling Basque exhibit – maybe even a digital hands-on for kids!!! Secondly, intimate spaces are critical for one of this article’s key points: Listening. As Filene says for the storytelling project, “its biggest ambitions lie not in the telling but in the hearing.” Lastly, can storytelling affect social change, or at least increase cultural awareness, because it stays firmly in the realm of emotion? I would like to see more emotion in public history: detachment seems to alienate.

Public Curation Research Framework
This was just so-so for me, but it did make me draw parallels between my previous life working for scientific agencies and history learning. The messages and goals are very similar. I know research and strategic planning are important for museums and other public projects, but sometimes I have found that planning and research won’t always get the results you hope for…sometimes, it just takes trying something out of (yes, intuition), and let it move forward — with shared input.

General thoughts about historians and artists
Hmmm…I am an artist, and an historian. It never really occurred to me that they could be mutually exclusive or problematic as some of these pieces note. Rachleff’s mention of “winners and losers” with stakeholders and museum staff just didn’t sit well with me, neither did her comment that “Artist provoke accepted interpretations.” I guess if we look at art as a purely internal, personal experience, collaboration with artists can affect viewing experiences and public (or Board/stakeholder) relationships. The Peter Severs house project was the epitome of internal personal experience. Mining the Museum – wow – powerful, and yes, individual reactions cold be all over the board. I can see why it sparked debate. The pre-work between artists, museum staffs, advisors, all – everyone must have initial input at the table. That was a big problem as Adair acknowledged with the Rosenbach project. Of all the art pieces, I took away the message that more than just artistic collaboration may help museums with the issue of dwindling relevance: interdisciplinary collaboration may be more important. History and science…History and nature trails/outdoor experiences…History and performance such as Katchor’s Rosenbach Tragicomedy. Fascinating lessons in historians’ responsibility to help connections to others – not objects. Lastly, maybe we could start some sort of an interdisciplinary-in-residence program, not just an artist-in-residence? Could we work with another class on an interdisciplinary project? These seem to be healthy and progressive approaches to increasing attention and historical awareness.

OK, now I like it!

Meggan LM


Reflections: Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World

OK, I admit it…after being raised in a political, Catholic, and Basque family, I run from the word “authority.” And…after working for the federal government for a quarter-century, those who thought they had “authority” prompted a similar reaction for me: run away, fast! Why? Because for me, authority is synonymous with control, which can inhibit creative thought, shut down open-mindedness, discourage communication, and limit choices.  So, one can probably imagine my visceral reaction to this book title! What? A book that uses “Letting Go” and “Sharing Historical Authority” together right on the book cover? Then, the Foreword greets the reader with “Sharing the Authority of Knowledge.” The very thought that knowledge is somehow a construct of authority rubbed me ever further raw. Furthermore, these words in conjunction with history, a field that I have great respect for, troubled me.

For me, history is not an authoritative action, a final declaration, or a definitive means of knowledge control. Nor is it limited to chosen individuals who have been vested with authority to tell one story, or the only story.  It is not to be relegated to archives or collection storage for the minority who know how to access it. It’s not about the curator, the archivist, the collections manager, the professor, or the powerful institution. History is about the continual process of learning and acquiring knowledge. Public history welcomes sharing stories, changing times, and evolving relationships. It is the opposite of authority and control, because it encourages creative thought, shares perspectives (to open minds), welcomes communication and conversation, and offers many choices. It is participatory. It is communal. It is diverse.

Despite my trepidation at the titles and sub-titles in Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, the first 155 pages have proven my misgivings about the book somewhat wrong. Thankfully, it challenges traditional concepts of the authority of history and the control of historical gatekeepers. Some of the book’s  chapters align with my four principles of public history: creativity, shared perspectives, conversation, and choice. They prompted serious thought about the public history in today’s fast-changing world, and the role the public historian can play in changing traditional authoritative approaches for the benefit of visitors, institutions, and most importantly – the communities history serves. If public history evolves the way many of the examples in this book have, history’s relevance in the future will be ensured. So far, this book has me excited about contributing energy to public history in ways beyond authority. It got my wheels turning!

A few thoughts about some of the pieces – not comprehensive in any way and I look forward to hearing everyone else’s thoughts!

Nina Simon’s piece is about the benefits of participatory design for both institutions and participants (p. 18-33). It encouraged me to think about the value of peer review amongst the public, collaboration between the institution and the public, and the feedback loop. The use of conversation, whether through voting on content or adding content, ensures an ever-changing, non-stagnant approach to history, using multiple perspectives. I agreed with her argument that this allows for inclusion because traditionally, museums have appeared to be exclusionary. Encouraging dialogue not only personalizes the experience, but it adds dimension and depth to exhibitions. Most importantly, museum staff responsiveness tells the visitor that he or she is no longer an outsider, but rather, a participant in the conversation. An exchange is occurring, which means no longer is it the authoritative historian presenting a definitive, controlled message, but rather, a “give-and-take” that allows for a multi-dimensional experience created communally.

Matthew Fisher and Bill Adair’s piece, “Online Dialogue and Cultural Practice,” contention that online, digital means must move beyond just “getting the collections online” (p. 44-55). I liked Fisher’s comment that as with the teacher who “provides guidance, informs the classroom environment with expertise and knowledge, and encourages the students to look beyond their own viewpoint,” the public historian, too, encourages exploration and conversation (p. 48). The two authors support of technology as a tool to accomplish conversation was great. History is about the conversation.

Steve Zeitlin’s story of the City of Memory project in “Where are the Best Stories” supported my principle of shared perspectives in public history (34-43). Through the “Add a Story” function, and placing stories on a virtual “map,” people were connected – by story, memory, and place. These are all individual experiences, but they begin to form a community of shared perspectives. Zeitlin’s words say this the best, “…It links stories and memories in ways that across chronology, sparking connections and enabling visitors to rediscover the city through the memories of others (p. 43)” New Yorkers were given the chance to connect with others and still retain their place in the shared experience. This allows for self-identity, as well as cultural connections to others’ experiences in place, time, and memory.

Matthew MacArthur’s  “Get Real! The Role of Objects in the Digital Age” got my wheels turning about giving artifacts “a second chance” through digital technology (p. 56-65). I agreed with the emotional connection that “real-life” objects may have over digital images, but creative uses of these images can engage greater intellectual exploration, in-depth research, and the ability to see objects at one’s leisure rather than wait for the museum to display them.

Kathleen MacLean’s “Whose Questions? Whose Conversations?” was another thought-provoking piece (p. 70-79). I appreciated the approach that communities and museums are reciprocal experts, and that creative and open dialogues can empower conversation amongst communities.

I fell in love with Benjamin Filene’s “Make Yourself at Home” (p. 138-155). Possibly because this project in Minnesota could parallel the Basque community’s work on the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga boarding house and the immigrant story, it opened a flood of ideas for improving living history museums and working to tell the everyday, common story. The Open House project embodied creativity that I hope to be able to put forward into public history!

Michael Frisch’s metaphorical digital kitchen, “From a Shared Authority to a Digital Kitchen, “ however, was the clencher for me (p. 126-137). His nuanced approach to “sharing authority” and “shared authority” was brilliant. Sharing authority presumes inequity, power, and control. Shared authority levels the laying field and encourages participation because everyone has the potential to share what their know: individual, common knowledge has value. I appreciated his caution about the “trackless waste of cyberia,” and that the new information, digital world has its limits as well. This serves to remind the public historian to keep current, use technology, but always learn how to integrate many modalities.