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
Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.
A Nash Motor Home, one of the artifacts “read” in the RASI class. Photo credit: Canada Science and Technology Museum, Nash Motor Car Company, 1983.0258, 2012
On the final day of Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI), each group was required to present its artifact to an audience of other participants, museum staff, and volunteers. Throughout the morning, artifacts that had initially seemed ambiguous and daunting at the start of the week were slowly separated into layers of meaning and their hidden histories were recounted. A small piano was revealed to be a portable ecclesiastical device used in religious sermons; a Gestetner printing press was exposed as a post-war business venture for a Japanese immigrant; a cannon-shaped lens viewer proved to be one of the first novelty cameras; a radiography device turned out to be one of the earliest home service x-ray machines; and a Nash Motor Home was an intact summer retreat, complete with additions such as a wooden arm that came down to signal a turn.
In our presentations, we were challenged to consider various methods suitable for presenting research on artifacts, from traditional slide show presentations to performances. Continue reading
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the number of academic public history programs, the saturation of the job market, and concern about the training students are receiving (see Robert Weyeneth’s article “A Perfect Storm”). Curtailing the number of public history programs, growing the public history market, and accrediting programs are all big challenges. I’d like to propose a small change: that potential students gain work experience BEFORE they enter an academic program.
Does the culinary school model hold promise for public history education? Photo credit: Bill Way, HPRMan on Flickr
What would happen if public history programs demanded that applicants worked in the public history field before they could apply to an academic program? Culinary schools have long used this model and have required that applicants have kitchen experience before they apply to a program. In fact, there are lots of similarities between culinary arts degree programs and public history programs. Continue reading
I was editing a student’s master’s thesis and came across a note stating that she could not access two key images because they were only available on the Websites of the United States Geological Survey and the United States Department of Agriculture. I was discussing another student’s research paper and tried to access a part of the Library of Congress’s Website that was unavailable. In conducting my own research, I tried to consult census.gov and got this message: “Due to the lapse in government funding, census.gov sites, services, and all online survey collection requests will be unavailable until further notice.” Minor annoyances, perhaps, but the cumulative effect of each dead end is to degrade the learning environment and restrict productive work for both students and faculty.
One of my colleagues and our first-year graduate students are preparing for a field trip to Washington, DC. The itinerary includes visits to the Smithsonian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and National Mall. Can you imagine taking a group of museum studies graduate students to Washington and not getting to see any of these things? Continue reading
The brochure that accompanied the mystery stove. (Source: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, No. L11201)
Read Part I of this series here.
On the second day of the Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI), we received the artifact accession files. Although our physical examination of the stove had proven effective, artifacts need some help to speak. Material cultural historians have shown the benefits of (re)connecting objects to their historical contexts by undertaking a process of “thick description,” combining the use of written sources with material ones. We eagerly anticipated what the accession file could tell us about the stove’s origins, manufacture, and targeted audience. Continue reading
The authors chose this enigmatic little stove for their week-long exploration. (Source: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, No. 1981.0040)
In August 2012, a group of 26 doctoral students and museum professionals from different disciplines and multiple countries gathered at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) in Ottawa, Canada, for the fourth annual Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI). The one-week program, guided by staff and volunteers from the museum with guest scholar Dr. Allison Marsh, a historian of technology from the University of South Carolina, offered participants three avenues to investigate the role of artifacts in society:
- as historical sources with multiple cultural meanings that shift over time,
- as teaching tools in museum environments, and
- as three-dimensional objects whose preservation and storage present additional information–and challenges–to the work of curators, conservators, historians, and educators.
In the CSTM’s cavern-like storage warehouses, where artifacts range from delicate light bulbs to a massive mid-nineteenth-century steam engine, it became immediately apparent how much effort–intellectual, physical, and fiscal–is needed to maintain collections. This is not a new story for the curatorial world, but, in the midst of the Digital Revolution, where more and more objects, people, and places exist as digital representations and relationships, the week offered an opportunity to rethink how and in what ways our work with artifacts contributes to the construction of meaning in a pluralistic society. 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
EDITOR’S NOTE: This four-part post by Robert Weyeneth, President of the National Council on Public History and director of the public history program at the University of South Carolina, is also printed in the September 2013 NCPH newsletter. To add your comments, go to Part 4 of the post.
To many, it looks like the perfect storm: five disturbing trends coming together to spawn a monster disaster. Here’s the meteorological analysis. (1) There are now too many public history programs in colleges and universities, especially at the graduate level. (2) They are producing record numbers of new MAs, probably too many. (3) These newly minted public historians are not finding good entry-level jobs in the field. (4) Some of the new graduates aren’t finding jobs because they are poorly trained—by new public history programs that are struggling to figure out what they should be doing. (5) Even graduates of long-established programs aren’t getting jobs—because their stodgy curricula haven’t kept up with the realities of the twenty-first-century economy and the digital revolution.
These are observations I hear regularly from colleagues whom I respect. Some conclude that the National Council on Public History should actively discourage the creation of new programs. Let’s look at some of the issues raised by these alarming observations and consider what NCPH might do consistent with its impulse to welcome all aboard the “big ark.” Continue reading
Continued from Part 1
What can NCPH do?
The alarmed observations with which I began single out the rising numbers of both programs and graduates, but it seems to me that the real issue is quality. I believe that NCPH can address the issue of quality control from two different but related angles. Continue reading
Continued from Part 2
Quality Control from Students
Empowering students In its own way, the NCPH Guide to Public History Programs is also a best practices document itself. It is an international listing of graduate, undergraduate, and “related” public history programs that can be searched by geographical location, curricular concentration, and type of degree. It also permits an apple-to-apple comparison of programs. Continue reading