November 2009

Here’s what looks like a great job opportunity for an NYC-based public historian/museum type, at the Brooklyn Historical Society:

Historian – In Pursuit of Freedom Project

Two year, grant funded position

Job Description:

The Historian will serve as curator and lead history scholar for a project called In Pursuit of Freedom, which focuses on the history of abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn, providing new resources for preserving, interpreting, and advancing public understanding of this dramatic and significant chapter in American history.

The In Pursuit of Freedom collaboration links three complementary cultural entities: the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC), and Irondale Ensemble Project (IEP). Implemented over a two to three year period, In Pursuit of Freedom will create five mutually-reinforcing components designed to help the public explore Brooklyn’s historic role in the fight against slavery and the effort to fulfill America’s promise of liberty and freedom: 1) A commemorative installation by a commissioned artist in Willoughby Square Park 2) Interpretive exhibitions at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Weeksville Heritage Center, and the Irondale Center at Lafayette Avenue Church, providing opportunities to go deeper by exploring historical images and rich archives of primary documents. 3) The development and presentation of an original theater piece that will draw upon the story of abolition in Brooklyn. 4) An Educational Curriculum, and 5) a web site that will connect all of the components: introduce the walking tour; preview the interpretive installations; and reinforce educational curriculum. The site will provide a downloadable tour map of relevant sites throughout the Borough as well as accompanying podcasts, so that visitors can explore the Borough through the historic lens of abolitionism and the Underground Railroad. To this end, the historian will synthesize information for all aspects of the project, and coordinate the content, taking responsibility as follows:
Conduct original research in archives around the city including but not limited to: Brooklyn Historical Society and various Brooklyn churches, the Schomberg Center and other research collections.
Work in close coordination with project archivists, and the entire project team, which included other historians, archivists, educators, exhibit designers, community and stake-holders.
Communicate about research regularly through oral presentations and written reports.
Organize meetings periodically with Scholarly advisory board.
Give guidance and input on the development of the school curriculum.
Provide a curatorial voice in the development of interpretive plan for exhibitions, working with project team and designers.
Write exhibition text and texts for website and historical markers
Review scripts for exhibition, website and theater program

Ph.D. in history (or public history) with a focus on NYC history, abolitionism and the Underground Railroad
Demonstrable knowledge of and experience in creating public history projects in a timely fashion
Excellent interpersonal, written and oral skills
Ability to carry out multiple and diverse tasks concurrently
Strong organizational skills

Position reports to the Vice President for Exhibits and Education at the Brooklyn Historical Society and works in close collaboration with a team of historians and partner staff members.

Please send curriculum vitae, a cover letter and writing sample to No phone calls, please.

$45,000 to $50,000 depending on experience, with benefits. There is some flexibility in schedule. Grant funded, for two years.
Start date: Immediate


I discovered yesterday (via the Minnesota Association of Museums on twitter) that the Minnesota Discovery Center (formerly Ironworld), the mining history center in Chisholm on the Iron Range, is closing as of today, and putting its 47 employees (26 fulltime) on “temporary layoff.”  It’s unclear if and when it will reopen.

Two years ago the state agency (Iron Range Resources) which used to run Ironworld helped spin off the museum/center as an independent nonprofit with a new name and helped establish an endowment for continuing operations, with transitional funding tapering over 5 years.  It’s a huge attraction (I’ve heard it described as a “mining theme park”) on 660 acres, with not only the museum but an important archives center.  The recession has hit the endowment hard (it dropped from 10M to 6M this year), and the museum can no longer make payroll.  Apparently revenue from the gate has been going up:

Revitalized programming within budget yielded a 15% increase in attendance figures despite cold weather, five months of highway construction, and an economy where tourism spending in northeastern Minnesota saw double digit declines.

–but that has not been enough to offset the endowment decline and lack of state funding.

The scariest part of  the Duluth News Tribune report on the venue’s closing is this:

Efforts are underway to make sure the facilities don’t freeze while closed.

I really worry for the collections at Ironworld as winter rolls in.  The museum’s artifact collections are good, but the archives in particular are an extensive and unparalleled repository of life and work on the Range.  I hope that the board is able to regroup and reopen the facility as soon as possible;  and if not, that collections held in the public trust are transferred to another public history institution (ie, the MHS).  In this transition period, please take care of your collections, Minnesota Discovery Center.  They touch your visitors’ lives.

At SHOT several weeks ago, we had a meeting of the TEMSIG group, the technology museums special interest group.*  A small braintrust of public historians of technology (Allison March, Erik Nystrom, David Unger and I) had an exciting conversation.

We realized that most of us, and the many people interested in, broadly, the material culture of technology don’t often go to SHOT or are not particularly involved in that Society, but we do generally make the rounds of other conferences and associations, such as NCPH, AAM and Museums and the Web, where we talk about our work among people in intersecting, but not exactly the same fields.  We are museum people, scholars, public historians and digital historians and have no particular disciplinary homes–so how can we connect, coordinate and collaborate?

We quickly realized that working only within SHOT was probably not useful for us, and we don’t have any interest in forming a new professional association**–so what’s next?  We’re thinking about an informal coordinating committee with one basic aim being to improve communication with some further goals relating to collections (cooperative loans and exhibits), and an interest in nurturing and developing better tools for digitizing material culture (and the mat cult of technology in particular).

What’s next?  Well, who’s in?  Also, we need to develop a catchy name and a basic timeline of plans and goals.  What do you think?


*I have no idea what the E stands for.  Engineering?  Or is it just for euphony?

**The way that professional organizations are broken is one of my personal hobby horses.