Utilizing shared authority

Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World is a collection of essays published by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. It was a timely read for me this week as I wrote a piece for AnabaptistHistorians.org about how Anabaptist Historians should embrace public history techniques such as shared authority.pa-lancaster-mennonite-historical-society-october-14-2016-132028

[Lancaster Longhouse at the 1719 Hans Herr House & Museum, one of the really positive examples I identify of public history methods in an Anabaptist context]

In fact, I wish I had read Letting Go? before I wrote most of the post. I will certainly refer back to the collection of theory and case studies whenever I get around to writing the sequel. Continue reading “Utilizing shared authority”

12 Weeks Down: Thanks are in Order

It’s Thanksgiving, and there is a brief lull in what has been an overwhelming semester. I wanted to take a moment to thank a bunch of people who have gotten me through the 12 weeks so far and who will (I hope) sustain me for the next 3.5 weeks (or at least be there to comfort me if I fall to bits).

Thanks to the friends I already had in Philadelphia. I couldn’t have take the plunge and moved without Darren and Lisa’s hospitality or knowing there’d be some friendly faces around town.

Thanks to Joel Nofziger and Devin Manzullo-Thomas, who got me writing history again and who will usually patiently listen to my half-baked proto-theses about Anabaptist history.

Thank you to my Eastern State Penitentiary family. I’ll be leaving you all soon but don’t worry, I’ll be back. You have been as good a work environment as I could hope for, filled with genuine friends and role models. If I didn’t know it before, the weeks since the election have made clear what good eggs you all are.

My professors at Temple have been wonderful! Thank you, Dr. Rita Krueger, Dr. Seth Bruggeman, and Dr. Hilary Iris Lowe, for throwing just so much information at us and being gracious when it didn’t all stick. Thank you for checking in on our emotional well-being and also being totally frank with us about the bleak job market.

And then there’s the “us”: the cohort. Thank you to (in alphabetical order) Angie, Charlie, Chelsea, Cynthia, Derek, Derek, and John.* There are other folks in the wider History Department who have been an important part of my semester, but these kids are the real deal. They’ve also been blogging about Managing History and you should check out some of their work:







I am very, very lucky to have you all around me.

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’d be unconscionably remiss if I didn’t mention my family. I’ve enjoyed being just a train ride away from an overnight with my parents and I am very much looking forward to time with cousins and –at Christmas– time with my far-flung sister, Justine. It’s enough to make me break out the Tim Minchin a bit early:

In conclusion, thank you. I have missed many people in this accounting; thanks to all of those who’ve I’ve forgotten or elided. 

*Angie isn’t continuing with us but made an indelible impression in her time with us. We all miss her!

Political Museums, Exhibits that Provoke

Our readings for Managing History this week continue the trend of considering the political dimensions of public history. While the readings–Andrea Burns’ From Storefront to Monument, Edward Linenthal’s oft-assigned postmortem of the Enola Gay controversy, and an article by Ken Yellis on Fred Wilson and provocation–are united in examining exhibits, they engage different facets of how museum spaces can be freighted with political meaning (with or without the curator intending it). Continue reading “Political Museums, Exhibits that Provoke”

Methods and Mandates in Historical Activism

In the Historical Methods class I’m taking this semester, I’ve been struggling to frame a topic for my semester-end paper (which will be due all too soon!). I want to look at historical preservation and historical interpretation as methods of historical work alongside the schools of thought we’ve read about: everything from Rankean objectivity to Marx to the Annales school to Orientalism. I’ve been struggling because it’s been hard to know where to start assembling a historiographical framework. For one, it seems like there has been less theoretical work done in public history fields such as preservation and interpretation, and that which has been done has been done within the last few decades.

Then along came this week’s reading and my task for Methods snapped into focus. Cathy Stanton is an anthropologist (her internal citations totally irked me at first), but she begins The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City with a history of the discipline of public history and then a very thorough examination of the shortfalls in the scholarship. Continue reading “Methods and Mandates in Historical Activism”

Sometimes you just need to read two books together

In class this week we discussed The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques by Anna Johnson, Kimberly A. Huber, Nancy Cutler, Melissa Bingmann, and Tim Grove (as well as a few other readings, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m ignoring them here). The Manual is divided into three parts, covering “Training and Management,” “Programs and Outreach,” and “Working with Others.” Within these umbrella topics are essays by the authors covering such challenges as “Working with Volunteers,” “Reaching out into the Community,” and “Collaboration.” In evidence that these authors have learned the lesson of that last essay, collaboration occurs throughout the book. While each essay is written by one or two authors, there are short inserts detailing examples or additional techniques from the other authors.

Aiming to cover the whole of the museum educator’s (MEs) work, the Manual is pretty exhaustive. Great pains are made to cover all the many professional hats MEs must wear, from marketer to scheduler to volunteer wrangler. I found the chapter on docent training fascinating, in part because I went through a similar process recently. While my training was defined by the needs of the specific historic site at which I work—and it is paid work rather than volunteering—I found that there were lots of similar techniques and strategies to what was recommended in the book. The use of transitions as the structure to build a tour around is excellent. The intermixing of formal and informal docent interpretation (the Manual authors suggest floating docents wear “Ask Me!” pins) is important because it provides several different kinds of learning that visitors can self-select. It empowers the visitor to determine what percentage of their visit will involve a docent and to drive the direction of the interpretive experience; they can wander around reading signage and then ask a docent about a particular topic that extends beyond the signage, for instance.

When we talked about the book in class, the shortcomings that several folks identified were the rather scant chapters on community outreach and digital education, at 8 and 7 pages long, respectively (the digital education chapter is the shortest in the book). Perhaps the intent was to provide how-to guides to the part of the job that a prospective ME might not anticipate (e.g. planning fundraisers) but within our public history cohort, both of these topics seemed of great importance.

So it was refreshing to read Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums by Franklin D. Vagnone and Deborah E. Ryan and see some of the blanks filled in. Continue reading “Sometimes you just need to read two books together”