In August 2015, a museum that had originally been billed as “the first women’s museum in the UK” opened instead as the Jack the Ripper Museum on Cable Street in the East End of London. ‘Jack the Ripper,’ an anonymous figure who murdered and mutilated at least five women in the late nineteenth century, has become the focus of a museum that had once been promised to represent and celebrate untold histories of women.
Photo credit: Claire Hayward
The unveiling and opening of the museum has caused a great deal of controversy in the United Kingdom because planning permission had been granted for a museum focusing on women’s history. The change of use application for the site explained that the Museum of Women’s History would “analyse the social, political and domestic experience of women from the time of the boom in growth in the East End in the Victorian period through the waves of immigration to the present day.” There is already a museum of women’s history in the UK–the Glasgow Women’s Library in Scotland has been an accredited museum since 2010–but the Museum of Women’s History would have been a valuable addition to London’s public history sites and, furthermore, could have paved the way for improving the representation of women in museums across the UK. Continue reading
Leo Frank circa 1910. Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-B2-1234]
As museums increasingly become spaces for engaging challenging topics, three metro Atlanta institutions joined together to address a century-old rift in the community. Using expanded audiences, a shared strategic mission, and a network of public historians, the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History
forged a partnership with the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
and the Museum of History and Holocaust Education
to present the exhibit, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited.” The following reflective case study provides an example of how public history can address a controversial subject in its most sensitive geographic location. Continue reading
The author’s son. Photo credit: Adina Langer
Last December, I shared this post about my then-recent relocation from Lansing, Michigan, to Atlanta, Georgia. I wrote about my efforts to make connections in my new community and to nurture my career as a public history consultant and educator. Ten months later, I am writing from an altered vantage point; over the summer, I decided to apply for and ultimately accepted a new job as Curator of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University.
Although I am very excited about my new job, I was trepidatious about writing this post. I have been co-chair of the National Council for Public History Consultants Committee since 2012, advocating for consultants within the public history community and trying my best to offer advice to young professionals and those seeking to make an adjustment to consulting. Ironically, I believe that an analysis of my decision to leave consulting in favor of a full-time job can offer some additional insights for those interested in pursuing a consulting career. Continue reading
David J. Skorton. Photo credit: Cornell University
The wide scope of new Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton’s interests and expertise is a good match for the sweeping breadth of the Smithsonian Institution. Formerly president of Cornell University, Skorton is a cardiologist and biomedical researcher who is also an accomplished jazz musician. What, to some, may seem like an unlikely combination of scientific and musical ability and achievement fits well with a tradition of capacious Smithsonian leadership. Skorton’s background suggests a kinship with great Smithsonian secretaries of the past: Joseph Henry, the first secretary; Spencer Baird, his successor; and S. Dillon Ripley, who presided over the institution’s expansion and transformation in the sixties and seventies. These men were also scientists whose interests extended far beyond the laboratory to include the arts and humanities. If Skorton follows their lead, the venerable national institution has a bright future. Continue reading
Images from the Community of Gardens project. Photo credit: Smithsonian Gardens
Gardens are personal. To some they are a way to grow food, to others a space of serene retreat, and to others still a background for celebrating culture and friendship. For many, they encompass a host of meanings and uses. How do we collect these ephemeral stories? How do we celebrate garden diversity?
Community of Gardens is Smithsonian Gardens’ answer to the call to preserve our vernacular garden heritage. The Horticulture Collections Management & Education department has embarked on a new initiative to crowdsource garden histories. With help from an internal Smithsonian grant, we collaborated with Curatescape to customize its Omeka-based web platform for “curating the landscape” with location-based content. Visitors to the website can contribute stories of gardens and green spaces in their own communities and explore other stories from around the country. Our goal is to create a participatory archive that enriches and adds diversity to the Archives of American Gardens collection and encourages engagement with gardens on a local, community level. In the coming months, we will introduce online exhibits and educational materials for teachers. The website uses a multimedia platform that supports images, text, audio, and video, and we welcome stories from the general public, museums, schools, universities, and public gardens. It is our hope that the project will encourage our audience to get their hands dirty and go out and unearth the everyday, untold stories in our own backyards.
~ Kate Fox is Smithsonian Gardens educator.
Dakawa Cultural Center. Photo Credit: Dakawa Cultural Center website
Editor’s Note: This series showcases the winners of the National Council on Public History’s awards for the best new work in the field. Today’s post is by Julia C. Wells, author of “In the Shadow of the Butcher: The Limits to Confronting Colonial Legacies Through Commemoration in South Africa,” The Public Historian Vol 36, No 2. The article won the G. Wesley Johnson Award for the best article published in the journal in the previous year.
First, I wish to express my gratitude and appreciation to all my colleagues at The Public Historian and NCPH who saw fit to honor me with this award. Since it derives from a public project, all the benefits will be ploughed back to help the initiative to keep on growing. At the close of my article, I said that the value of any public history project can by measured by the seeds that it sows for future work. In this short message, I will share the various ways that the 2012 bicentennial commemoration in Grahamstown has stimulated new thinking.
Soon after 2012, a small community of people who shared a passion for putting the past to good use emerged. After working on various projects during 2012, their views and skills were better appreciated all around, making it easy to continue discussing new ideas. A restless energy to do much more began to be felt. An informal discussion group coalesced around the theme of “Re-imagining Grahamstown.” Out of excited exchanges about what ought to still be done, the concept developed of creating an applied history institute at Rhodes University. The name Isikhumbuzo was chosen, meaning “memories” in the Xhosa language. The institute is viewed as being a vehicle for bringing together the best of the academic world with community-based artists to tell and create new histories. Continue reading
I have always thought of public history as a tool to assist us in mediating unchartered territory. More specifically, museums can serve as public forums to tackle persistent forms of oppression that have escaped clear resolve. This vision seems particularly relevant today. There is a wide gap between understanding the inaccessible civil liberties and rights black people struggled for and acknowledging operations of oppression that persist into the present day. Rather by willful ignorance, genuine unawareness, or fear, much of the American public lives in that gap. Through exhibits, collections, community outreach projects, and continued dialogue, museums can assist the public in mediating that gap where we have not gained much traction. Continue reading
The historical society was sparsely decorated when it opened in 1975. Photo credit: Morgen Young
In early 2014, a small historical society outside of Portland, Oregon, circulated a request for proposals (RFP). Having received a grant from their local government, they sought to hire a curator for a one-year contract. The duties of the curator included: inventorying and assessing collections, developing and implementing a policy and procedural structures for managing collections, creating an interpretative plan, developing a public services strategy, and staffing the museum every weekend. Continue reading
Editor’s Note: This series showcases the winners of the National Council on Public History’s awards for the best new work in the field. Today’s post is by the students of the Jenks Society for Lost Museums, creator of a unique exhibition in the Brown Public Humanities Program.
J.W.P. Jenks with his taxidermy students, 1875. Photo credit: John Hay Library and Brown University Archives
It circulated as a bit of campus lore: the curious tale of the Jenks Museum of Natural History, which once existed at Brown University.
As graduate students in Brown’s Public Humanities program, we were intrigued when we first heard about the long-gone Jenks Museum. We spend much of our time thinking about preservation and memory, so the idea of a lost museum at our university resonated with us. We began to imagine recreating the museum as a class project on the occasion of Brown’s 250th anniversary. In the fall of 2013, a group of ten students with a range of backgrounds in the arts and humanities joined forces to carry out this work. We called ourselves the Jenks Society for Lost Museums. Continue reading
(Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series on the Amsterdam Museum. To read the first post, click here.)
The exhibit’s leading image, Argentina’s legendary Diego Maradona in his classic praying pose, introduced a striking thematic juxtaposition. Photo Credit: Caro Bonink/Amsterdam Museum
“The stadiums are getting fuller and the churches emptier.”
This observation, from Amsterdam Museum director Paul Spies, served as the inspiration for the museum’s intriguing, controversial, and, at times, humorous temporary exhibit Football Hallelujah! On view September 2014 through January 2015, the exhibit explored the ways in which international football (soccer) fandom parallels a religious experience. While attending the first annual conference of the International Federation of Public History I visited the exhibit, intrigued to see the approach taken by a curatorial staff that dared to tread on sports fans’ hallowed ground. Continue reading