Conference Poster. Photo credit: Arts Extension Service at UMass Amherst.
For most of my experience as a public-historian-in-training, I did not often think about the arts in any purposeful way. I played in an orchestra from elementary school through college, have a not-so-secret love for musicals (my roommates are probably tired of hearing me sing Disney songs in the shower!), and enjoy visiting art museums as much as the next person, but I would not consider myself an artist. After all, my formal training is in history. This all changed last year when I decided that I needed some practical management skills in order to feel confident about running a historical organization after graduation. To learn about financial management, strategic planning, development, and the like, I decided to pursue a certificate in arts management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to complement my public history degree. I felt like a bit of an outsider in the Arts Management Program. Everyone that I met at the Arts Extension Service (AES) organization on campus that runs the arts management program was lovely, but I did not necessarily feel like I was part of that world.
My perspective changed on September 26, when I attended the Arts Extension Service’s conference titled “Arts Policy on the Ground: The Impact of the National Endowment for the Arts.” First, we had a lot to celebrate. Not only is AES commemorating its 40th anniversary, but the National Arts Policy Archives and Library (NAPAAL), which will be part of the UMass Special Collections and University Archives, is opening this year as well. NAPAAL currently contains publications and research reports from the National Endowment for the Arts, records from the Arts Extension Service, and will soon also include papers from Americans for the Arts as well as the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Continue reading
Students at the Danville Correctional Center. Photo credit: Rebecca Ginsburg, Education Justice Project, University of Illinois.
It was a June morning when I got out of my car and walked towards the barbed wire and concrete of the Danville Correctional Center, a medium-security men’s prison in central Illinois. The guards behind the plate-glass windows cleared me through the six mechanical locked doors to enter the facility. I walked past the dining hall on my right and the cell-houses on my left towards the education building. Finally, I reached the classroom where I was holding a mock dissertation defense with a committee comprised of 15 incarcerated men. Continue reading
Passersby in downtown Princeton, New Jersey, stop to inspect the Mobile Bread House on a Saturday afternoon in May. Photo credit: Richard Anderson.
This summer I prepared to facilitate a series of introductory public history workshops for fellow students in my graduate history program at Princeton. In thinking about how to present a range of formats and venues for public history, I planned to highlight alternatives to the usual, institution-hosted projects–an important message on a hidebound campus such as mine. This effort led me to survey various examples of mobile history endeavors, with the hope of illuminating the underlying goals and organizational processes behind them.
My investigation began not with a public historian but with an anthropologist who created a traveling bread-making house as a vehicle (no pun intended) for community building. Continue reading
Some of the garden features which a team of volunteers researched and restored using archival materials at Long Hill in Beverly. Credit: Kate Preissler
- I’ve written before about differences I see between education and engagement as strategies (and goals) for programming at cultural sites. Two features crucial to making programs “engaging” as well as “educational” are:
- The inclusion of activities that encourage visitors to use multiple senses and their full concentration, freeing the mind from other thoughts and distractions; and
- Information or activities that cause some type of positive change in individuals beyond their visit to the site.
At The Trustees of Reservations, the staff members at many of its historic and cultural sites have been implementing a range of projects which allow visitors, volunteers, and community members to become involved in planting, tending, and harvesting gardens of all sorts. In some cases the gardening activities are clearly part of the work of “doing history” while in others the gardening activities make use of the site’s landscape to offer engaging opportunities for participants and benefits for the host community. Continue reading
Community members visit an exhibit at the Terra Cotta Heritage Museum, as described in this post about a student project in North Carolina.
One of the biggest challenges public history educators face is managing community partnerships. Such partnerships offer rich learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students, but they often entail numerous complications, which may lead some students and instructors to seek to avoid them altogether. Engaging with community partners is essential, however, to effective training in public history. Because of the many pitfalls that come along with the obvious rewards of such work, it is a frequent topic of conversation among public history educators at conferences and in online forums. Collected below are posts from History@Work that readers may find helpful as they navigate the trials and tribulations of work with community partners. Continue reading
“Ask a Slave” is a brand-spanking new comedy web series that is going viral in certain circles. In the series (just two episodes at time of writing; there will be six total), actress/comedienne/NYU grad Azie Mira Dungey portrays the character “Lizzie Mae” who is supposed to be an enslaved housemaid for America’s founding couple–George and Martha Washington. In a nutshell, Lizzie Mae hosts a talk show where she fields questions from clueless tourists. The questions are drawn from Dungey’s actual experiences working as a first person interpreter–portraying a woman named Caroline Branham–at George Washington’s Mount Vernon; Lizzie Mae’s responses, one surmises, are not. By the end of the first four-minute episode, Lizzie Mae calmly but firmly calls out a smirking tourist’s question (“Why don’t you just go to Massachusetts and go to school?”) as “foolish,” and she schools him as to why. Continue reading
Hundreds of Boston-area Haitian Americans and African Americans attended the historical pageant, “Roots of Liberty – The Haitian Revolution and the American Civil War,” at Boston’s Tremont Temple on May 4, 2013.
Organized by Boston National Historical Park, Boston African American National Historical Site, Central Square Theater, Harvard University, and the Museum of African American History, the performance focused on the significant impact of the Haitian Revolution on black and white abolitionists and black Union troops. Part of the U.S.’s 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the historical pageant attracted a crowd of 1,700 to the location where the Proclamation was first read in Boston in 1863. The performance featured a diverse cast of actors and actresses, dancers, music, a choir, and an enormous puppet figure of the iconic Haitian leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. Immediately following the play, a Q & A session was moderated by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. featuring the Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat, who contributed to the script, and the actor Danny Glover, who portrayed Toussaint Continue reading
Read Part I of this series here.
The first big step in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s re-installation process was to conduct visitor research. How do visitors feel about the current South Asian galleries? What do they already know about the area’s religions, geography, cultures, etc.? What do they want to know? What do they find difficult or overwhelming? Which objects do they seem to be drawn to and why? These questions to laid the groundwork for the re-installation, and we set out to find the answers in a number of different ways. Continue reading
With the resignations of the Hirshhorn Museum’s director and the chairman of its board of trustees this summer, the Bubble, or Seasonal Inflatable Structure, project (at left) has collapsed in a very public way. As the Bubble deflated under the weight of its projected costs, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a different kind of venue for arts and culture, continued its long run of phenomenal success. (This year’s festival, which ran from June 26 through July 7, featured Hungarian heritage, African American styles of adornment, and speakers of endangered languages.) Although the Bubble’s projected $12.5 million price tag was the most frequently cited reason for its demise, I want to propose an alternative explanation. With the former director’s goal of using the Seasonal Inflatable Structure to host think tanks and Davos-style meetings of the minds, the project bore the taint of elitism and was not a good fit for the Smithsonian. Continue reading
I founded the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History by accident. Originally, the idea was for a one-night party in my apartment in January of 2011, designed to create a for-us, by-us space where queer people could join together to celebrate ourselves as a valid public, worthy of speaking to; a valid subject, worthy of speaking about; and a valid authority, worthy of speaking on our own terms. But when a few Facebook postings generated nearly 30 exhibits–and over 300 attendees–I realized that what had started as a party had the potential to become something more.
A few of us began holding meetings to define just what “The Pop-Up Museum” was. Eventually, we came up with this as our mission statement:
The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History develops exhibitions and events that engage local communities in conversations about queer pasts as a way to imagine queer futures. We provide a forum to do what we’ve always done: tell our own stories. We are artists, historians, educators and activists and we believe you are too. Continue reading