I don’t know enough about Egyptian politics to comment intelligently, but I have been keeping my eye on the welfare of  museums and cultural heritage during this uprising.  And the news has been generally good. In Alexandria, the library was protected by groups of organized youth, as the director of the Biblioteca Alexandrina, Ismail Serageldin, said in two recent statements. In Cairo, thousands formed a human shield to protect the National Museum, which is located next to the national party headquarters, which was set on fire in the early days of the protests.  Some theft and damage did occur at this important museum of antiquities–but conservator Dan Cull has suggested that these seem to be from organized criminal activity rather than looting.  As Dan says:

It’s important for us to show solidarity, but not just with those who are professionally trained to work on material culture, we must show solidarity with all those who struggle so that the material culture will have meaning in the new world they are creating….

And perhaps most of all we should be deeply inspired that ordinary Egyptian people felt strongly enough about their cultural heritage and cultural institutions that they should come out unarmed to protect them against criminal gangs… whilst just next door the political institutions burned.

Do consider donating to the Blue Shield, whose mission is to protect cultural property during armed conflict.

Back at home, a heritage win:  last week, Walmart announced they would not build a store on the site of Wilderness battlefield.  Our Magpie offers her perspective as a historian and a local.


Disaster preparedness is necessary for cultural institutions.  When the waters rise, or the fire breaks out, does your museum know what to save first?  Who to call for conservation help?  May 1 is the international day of cultural heritage disaster preparedness awareness (I’m sure someone has developed a catchier title), and this year it coincided with the enormous floods we’ve seen affecting our friends and colleagues in Tennessee.  I thought I would share some disaster resources and do a roundup of reports on the health of Tennessee museums and archives after the flood.

Disaster Resources for the LAMs

SAA has a nice list of ideas for small tasks to do to increase your institution’s disaster preparedness.

AAM has compiled a document, Emergency Flood Recovery Resources for Museums (pdf)

Heritage Preservation + FEMA = Heritage Emergency National Taskforce

Tennessee Museums News Roundup

Flood reporting from the Tennessean.

Our colleague Gordon Belt of the Posterity Project lives in middle Tennessee and has been reporting on the flooding.  I am glad to hear that he and his family are okay.  He also reported that the Tennessee State Library and Archives avoided damage.  I’m going to quote this list he posted of affected heritage landmarks:

This list of major heritage landmarks in Tennessee damaged by the storm and flooding comes courtesy of Dr. Carroll Van West, Director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University

Grand Ole Opry House (1974), Nashville. Brenda Colladay will let us know next week if and how many volunteers may be needed to work with the collections.
2nd Avenue North and Lower Broadway Historic Districts, Nashville
Riverside Park, Clarksville
Historic Town Square, Lebanon
Dyersburg downtown historic district, Dyer County. Downtown Dyersburg is really being hit today with the rising water from the Forked Deer River.
Bemis Historic District (the old mill town), Jackson
Millington Naval Air Station, Shelby County
Bethesda Presbyterian church and cemetery, Purdy, McNairy County (tornado)
Hartsville historic district, Trousdale County
Kingston Springs and Ashland City, Cheatham County

The following are more open landscapes that have been impacted:

Mound Bottom/narrows of the Harpeth State Park
Bicentennial Mall State Park
Springhouse, Carnton Plantation, Franklin
The Hermitage grounds and cemetery
Old City Cemetery, Nashville
Historic cemeteries, Franklin
Nashville Greenway system (especially Shelby Park)
Germantown greenway (contains Fort Germantown), Shelby County
Pinkerton Park (Fort Granger), Franklin

An interview with Kyle Young, director of the  Country Music Hall of Fame.  Their collections were not affected (exhibits and storage are on upper floors), but their building was severely flooded.

The Hermitage received some flood damage to grounds and buildings, though collections were not affected.

A disaster recovery post from a Tennessee archivist.

A report on local libraries.

A flood resource page from the Nashville Public Library.  Always nice to see the library as a key community space in a disaster.

I would be happy to update this post with information from other cultural institutions or ways to help.

We’ve had some sad preservation stories recently here in southeast Michigan, with a few bright spots nationally.

The good news is all cliffhanger saved-in-the-nick stories:

  • Every library in Philadelphia was set to close, but, perhaps due to the public outcry, the state legislature passed a budget and saved the libraries.
  • Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (who has tried to defund museums in the past), as well as Sen McCain of Arizona, proposed amendments to the FY2010 transportation bill to prohibit transportation funds from being used for museums or historic preservation.  These were happily defeated in the Senate last week.

For good historic preservation news, the National Trust has some interesting content on Latino heritage in preservation.

This week, a blow for preservationists in Orange County, VA. The county board has approved Walmart’s plans to build a store on the outskirts of Wilderness battlefield, which will radically change the character of the historic site.  Local historians have been fighting the store, but aren’t surprised by the decision.  There is some possibility, however, of a continued fight or appeal.

This news, combined with continued preservationist losses here in Detroit, is disheartening.  I can’t shake the feeling that we’re turning into CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.  Readers, do you have any positive history news to share?

Does a spirit of generosity dwell within you every day of the year?  Or are some pecuniary gifts suddenly burning a hole in your pocket? (“Mom, I want to donate my Christmas money to the county historical society!”)  Do you want to give some donations before the year runs out?  Did you forget to get me a gift?  In any case, here are some historical and museum organizations that could use your help at the end of the year.

Your local historical society:  municipal, county, state.  You know who they are.  

The National Trust:  has been doing amazing work this year to preserve historic places and our collective memory.  Give back to them.

The historic institution I work for.  Nuff said.

The International Cryptozoology Museum:  Amazing collection of cryptozoological artifacts curated by Loren Coleman in Maine;  currently having serious problems with the IRS.  Please help out thusly:

Save The Museum! Help out if you can. Build a crypto-future. Donations, via a check, money order, or, if outside the USA, an international postal money order sent to the “International Cryptozoology Museum” supports the research and saving of the collection.

Please send contributions to: International Cryptozoology Museum c/o Loren Coleman PO Box 360 Portland, ME 04112. You may also merely use PayPal to

Among AAM’s projects is museum advocacy on a national level.  Recently, they sent Tammis K. Groft, deputy director of collections and exhibits at the Albany Institute of History and Art, to Washington as a “citizen-lobbyist” to speak to a committee about the importance of NEH Preservation and Access Grants.   She wrote a few blog posts on the subject on the AAM’s advocacy blog.  PAG grants are a major way museums of all sizes fund collections stewardship projects, and the funding for the program is slated to be cut by 50% next year.  Contact your elected officials to advocate for NEH conservation programs!

The Humanities Advocacy Network is also a great resource for humanities advocacy, including preservation and history programs.  You can sign up to get action alerts and email your representatives from the page.

I’d love to see more blogging from AAM or other organizations on museum and history advocacy issues.  The wrangling over appropriations can be very opaque, and a human voice really helps to clarify issues and make advocacy work seem much more possible for small museum professionals and those without much lobbying practice.  (My occasional posts about Minnesota cultural legislation don’t cut it.)

All this is prefatory to mentioning that AAM’s museum advocacy day will be February 23-24, 2009:

AAM is pleased to invite museum professionals from around the country to
Washington, DC on February 23-24, 2009 for Museums Advocacy Day.  During the
two-day program, participants will be briefed on AAM's legislative agenda and
will learn how to effectively communicate the value of museums to public policy
makers. The second day will consist of visits to Capitol Hill where advocates
will make their case to Congress.

In 2009, a new Congress and a new administration will begin working on a wide
range of issues, including funding for museum programs and the reauthorization
of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  We need to make our
voices heard!

February 23 will be a day of advocacy training, where you will:
hear from a range of Capitol Hill experts about the political landscape in 2009
be briefed on AAM's legislative agenda for museums
get tips about meeting with elected officials and the stats you need to make
your case
learn how to participate in "year-round" advocacy, engaging elected officials
in the ongoing work of your museum
network with advocates from your state about your upcoming Capitol Hill visits
attend an evening reception with Members of Congress and staff invited
Tuesday February 24 we will take our message to Capitol Hill. Advocates will
gather in groups by state to make coordinated visits to House and Senate
offices to make the case for continued federal support for museums. Museums
Advocacy Day will begin on Sunday, February 22, with optional visits to your
favorite Washington, DC museums.

"There could not be a more critical time for museum advocates to make their
case on Capitol Hill," said AAM President Ford Bell.  "With so much at stake,
we need to effectively communicate the value of museums to our elected

For more information please contact our Government Relations team at (202)

Stay tuned for more details about the final program.

But for now, SAVE THE DATE - February 23-24, 2009!

I’m decamping for the city of the straits this weekend, and may or may not do things of historical interest.  So, to tide you over, here’s historic preservation news: resources on the 1953 Marcel Breuer-designed Grosse Pointe Central Library, which was slated for demolition but now seems to be saved, with a renovation in the works.  This is a great story of web organizing, primarily by architects concerned about the future of this modernist library.  Calling themselves the Modern Architecture Protection Agency or mapa, they organized a design charette among architects from all over the world to brainstorm solutions for the library’s future.  Historic preservation ftw!

But already mapa had been successful in achieving their original goals. Internal emails early in the process had acknowledged that no member of the group was really intending to be the architect or designer of what the library would eventually build. The group’s agenda was simply to brainstorm, to show that there were other options to razing the Breuer building and, toward that end, their objective had been to make a lot of noise in the community of Grosse Pointe Farms and initiate a public discussion of what kind of library the community wanted as it proceeded into the 21st century: a well-loved landmark linked to a famed architect and an important community philanthropist; a suitably-enlarged facility; or both.

Library to be spared?  (Architectural Record)

Central Library redesign spotlight (Grosse Pointe News)

 The building committee’s blog

An interesting way to get folks to your house museum:  look for ghosts.

The John H. Stevens House, “the birthplace of Minneapolis,” a historic house museum near Minnehaha Falls, is holding three ghosthunting seminars this spring, starting March 2.  “Stevens House is your “laboratory” as you learn how to detect the presence of  paranormal activity using the tools of professional ghosthunters.” What a creative idea!  Doing history is sometimes poetically described as talking to ghosts, and here’s the literal interpretation.  Are members of the public more interested in possible ghosts than in actual documented dead people and their artifacts?  The museum can capitalize on that by using their house, a meeting place for the earliest white settlers in the Village of St Anthony, as the venue.  The museum is closed all winter, so this kind of program is a also good way to get people in the museum in the off-season.  There are some possible problems, including the worry of promoting pseudohistory (which Tim Compeau wrote about interestingly last fall), but I’ll give the ghosthunters the benefit of the doubt.

I’m planning to go to at least the first ghosthunting seminar (my predictions:  they’ll tell us to get a thermometer and an EMF detector and will talk vaguely about presences.  All I know about ghosthunting I learned from Kiki Strike) and I’ll report back on how the metaphoric ghosts of the archives interact with the ‘real’ ghosts that make eerie noises.  Maybe our small museums need a bit of the spectacular.

Quick, how do you keep the South Carolina highway board from demolishing the 150 year old house built by your great-great-grandfather?  Get your petition linked on Boingboing, that’s how.

There’s an interesting comment stream about class and access to a digital soapbox:  what about folks whose houses might be razed but don’t have lots of geeks organizing for them?  I’m definitely for creative approaches to preservation (and I signed the petition), but we can always use a reality check about the digital divide.