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Come to our NCPH session, this Thursday morning at 8:30 as part of the NCPH annual meeting in sunny, convenient Monterey.

How can co-created projects become a sustainable part of our work?  This roundtable includes participants who have facilitated recurring co-created exhibits and other projects involving museums, community organizations, students, artists, and other diverse partners. We will discuss the best practices that have emerged from ongoing collaborative projects, followed by a robust discussion with the audience as we collectively outline how we can sustain the co-created projects that keep our institutions responsive, challenging, and vital.

Facilitator: Suzanne Fischer, Oakland Museum of California

Presenters: Lisa Junkin Lopez, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

Benjamin Cawthra, California State University, Fullerton

Deborah Mack, National Museum of African American History and Culture

Evelyn Orantes, Oakland Museum of California

I’ll be at AASLH in Birmingham this week, talking about history practice with the biggest gathering of small history museum professionals there is.

I’m giving a talk Thursday at 1:30 pm:

Vintage or Artifact? Collecting the 20th and 21st Centuries

At what point do we consider an object old enough to be an artifact? Must an item be rare to be worthy of collecting? This panel discussion will explore these questions and make the case for why history museums should be collecting contemporary, even mass-produced items today.

The panelists are me, Veronica Rodriguez from the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park, and Leslie Howard in absentia (we’ll be sharing the results of her survey of small history museums on collecting contemporary artifacts.)  Please come and talk about collecting with us.

On Friday night I’ll be at the awards banquet, picking up an award the museum and our partners at Sacramento State won for a collaborative exhibit.

In my down time I hope to visit a zillion museums–there are great history of technology sites there as well as civil rights museums.  If you see me around please say hi!

The public image of what the war was like (bloody and muddy) and meant (pointless) has remained strikingly constant over the last four decades.

An interesting analysis of public memory of WWI in Britain, posted recently on H-Public.

Memorialization is always fraught and problematic.  But we can’t let Wilfred Owen do our history work for us. As a historian my personal practice is usually focused on the objects and people that we fail to insist are important, fail to remind ourselves of.   There are usually a few people who care deeply about these kinds of things (my dispatches from the fringes of the history of technology), at least intellectually. But when faced with enormous incidents of public memory around wars  I’m always struck by the depth of feeling that emerges, that billows over.  It’s about emotional truth–and public historians working on appropriate memorial institutions and projects–not treacly, hagiographic or inaccurate, but not cynical and contemptuous either–have hard decisions to make.  Here’s to historians trying to get the stories right.

A few links on public history from around these webs:

Please start reading the excellent Fredericksburg Remembered and its sister blog Mysteries and Conundrums from folks from the NPS at Fredericksburg.   Thanks to @jmcclurken for bringing them to my attention.

The Civil War Augmented Reality Project is a neat project prototyping AR binoculars for Civil War landscape interpretation.  Their kickstarter is in its last days; give them a boost!

NCPH has a new blog:  Off the Wall is a place for “critical reviews of history exhibit practice in an age of ubiquitous display.”  The reviews up already are thoughtful, smart and unexpected, and I’m sure they will continue to be so even when my posts appear.

Magpie is wondering about defining “historian,” and if her reenactor communities “count.”

Are you all reading Prerogative of Harlots, Chris Norris’ excellent blog on issues in natural history collections?  Though I resent the general elision of “art museum” to “museum,” I fear that when talking about museum collections challenges I’m just as parochial and tend to leave out natural history.  Chris’ provocations are essential here.

ArchivesNext is continuing to explore this “citizen archivist” idea and what a “participatory archives” would look like.  I like how all the LAM fields are addressing these issues:  what does it mean to be open and encourage engagement and participation in our work, the communal work of collecting, preserving and providing access to cultural (and natural!) heritage materials?

Today Eric Johnson and I have a guest post at Museum 2.0 about Oldenberg’s The Great Good Place, part of this month’s discussion on the book.  Do go read it: we shoutout to John Cotton Dana.

History museums are in the business of helping people make meaning out of the past, often through historic objects.  Stories and personal connections in history help people feel the emotional meanings of objects, engaging with the past in a creative and intimate way.

Supporting the historical imaginary, though, could mean tolerating, supporting, even promoting stories that are not accurate.  For museums, whose brands rest on their authenticity, alternate histories can be a minefield–but I’ve been seeing a clear trend toward them.  Should we develop these kind of experiences?  Or do we have a moral duty not to?  Can museums make space for the historical imaginary?  How can we make space for visitors to dream themselves into the past?  Can museums support the whimsical and untrue while making clear what we have evidence for, and what we don’t?

The Ghosts of a Chance alternate reality game at SAAM is a great example of the way alternate stories can coexist with the real objects and stories in the museum.  In the ARG story, young curators are haunted by restless spirits whose demands visitors need to discover and propitiate through the making of objects related to SAAM’s collections and other tasks.  The story was told through the web and the museum, and despite the this-is-not-a-game epistemology of ARGs, it was clearly an alternate story (ghosts, curators in their early twenties with myspace profiles, the bodybuilder at ARG-fest-o-con).  If the Smithsonian can support alternate history storylines, can your museum?  Or is the Smithsonian’s perceived authenticity so high that something like Ghosts of a Chance can’t hurt it?  And is it easier for an art museum to support an alternate history story than a history museum, whose mission is to research, preserve and interpret the past?

Recently the museosphere has been talking about the Powerhouse Museum’s clever Odditorium, where the writer and artist Shaun Tan was given the opportunity to write fictitious labels about some curious objects from the museum’s collections.  The “real” labels for the objects (the label text is headed “what they actually are!”) are all put together in a separate area in the exhibit, while Shaun’s labels accompany the artifacts. Visitors are also encouraged to write their own (Balderdash-type) labels for these interesting objects, and visitor participation has been enthusiastic.

Nina Simon recently posted on the project, and suggested that this kind of space for play and alternate or subversive meaning-making should be “tucked into the corner of every collecting museum.”

In the Odditoreum, you know you are being given a little space to have fun and poke at the rest of it all. The rules of the museum still exist, and it’s more powerful to subvert them in little bits than to throw them out altogether.

If an alternate history space is clearly but not didactically set aside, as in the Odditoreum, I’m more optimistic about the mission fit of such a space. For instance, I’ve been thinking about how to encourage steampunk enthusiasts at my museum, and this might be an interesting model.

History is stories, of course, not just one narrative (one museum recovering and telling a true narrative different from the canonical one is the National Museum of the American Indian), and a history museum, to do good public history, needs to tell its stories responsibly.

Instantiating alternate history at museums can do a disservice to objects.  Some of the Powerhouse’s curiosities considered for the Odditoreum, like the 2nd-best collection of barbed wire in Australia, are strange true stories.  Museums like the Mutter in Philadelphia arguably tell as unusual, unbelievable and unfamiliar stories as the (entirely fabricated) Museum of Jurassic Technology.  Maybe one compromise tactic is bringing more curious and wonderful objects onto the floor, ones that resist conventional interpretations.

Floods continue to inundate the Mississippi Valley. What’s happening with history and cultural heritage institutions? Read more for how you can help.

NEH has just announced that it will be giving out $1 million in grants for disaster recovery: “Affected institutions in federally designated disaster areas may apply immediately for emergency grants of up to $20,000 to salvage, protect, and treat historical collections damaged by the flooding. Such collections may include manuscripts, historical records, art and artifacts, recorded sound, film and videotape, rare books, photographs, and other materials of cultural or historical significance.”

Here in Minnesota, Historic Forestville, a living history museum run by the MHS, in a state park, had some flood damage, including a washed out bridge, but the park reopened last weekend. The caves will take a while to dry out, so postpone that trip to the Mystery Cave when you’re down in Preston.

The Cedar Rapids Public Library, right on the river, had some serious damage to collections: there’s an interview with a library spokesperson. The library’s website notes: “Please do not return flood damaged books. Fines and fees for flood damaged library materials and overdue materials are waived until further notice.” These flooded library pictures are tragic. (via jessamyn)

Heritage Preservation has a disaster resource page, with links to damage response information and ways to get teams of crack conservators to come in to your institution as collections first responders. This should be particularly useful if you’re affiliated with a flood-damaged museum or cultural resource institution.

****Want to help out affected museums with a donation? I will match donations to the Iowa Museum Association for flood relief by PH readers up to $200. We all know that small museums run on a shoestring. Without help, some of these institutions may never be able to recover. Please send checks to Iowa Museum Association, 1116 Washington Street, Cedar Falls, IA 50613. Leave a note in the comments or drop me an email to tell me you donated.****

Here’s a message that’s been circulating from the Iowa Museum Association about how to help (and here’s more tragic photos from their blog).

…While we are still receiving damage reports, it is important to begin getting supplies and help to those who have been allowed back in their facility.

Mail and delivery services as well as e-mail, telephone and cell phone communication, are spotty in some areas at this time. For that reason we have decided to concentrate delivery of supplies to two main areas at this time. More will probably be added as we are able to determine where the need for help exists.

The organizations in Cedar Falls/Waterloo and in Cedar Rapids have been or are starting to be allowed back in their buildings. In some clean up and recovery has begun. You will find attached a list of items (flood-clean-up-supply-list1 [pdf]) that I am aware of that have been vital to beginning this process – if you know of others please let me know and I will add them to the list. The supply items listed are merely suggestions – if you would like to donate money, a fund has been set up by the Iowa Museum Association which will be distributed to those affected. Funds may be sent to IMA at the address below. If you would like to donate your time and talents, you will need to contact the individual museums and see if it is safe for you to travel to that area and how you can best assist. Again, my personal experience has shown that it takes many hard-working volunteers to begin the recovery process, so “helping hands” may be the greatest blessing you can offer.

The two collection points have different volume needs based on facilities identified to date that are in need of assistance.

In Cedar Falls/Waterloo, affected museums are the Ice House Museum, the Dan Gable Wrestling Museum, the Waterloo Center for the Arts and Hope Martin Theatre.

In Cedar Rapids, affected museums are the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, the Science Station, Ushers Ferry Historic Village, Seminole Valley Farm historic building complex and the Mother Mosque of North America museum.

The collection point in Cedar Falls will be the Cedar Falls Historical Society, 308 West Third Street, Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613.

The collection point in Cedar Rapids will be Brucemore, 2160 Linden Drive SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403.

Please ship all supplies via FedEx or UPS. In each box, please include your name, contact information and a complete list of supplies you are sending.

Area museums will be asked to send a representative to the two collection points to pick up supplies that will aid their recovery efforts. Donated supplies will be available to any museum or cultural organization that needs them, not just those listed above as identified to date.

Thank you very much for your offer of assistance!

Iowa Museum Association
mailing address: 1116 Washington Street
Cedar Falls, IA 50613
(319) 239-2236

Remember THATcamp, the humanities and technology unconference happening in two weeks over at the CHNM in Virginia? They’ve put up a great little website with profiles of all the participants, basic info about the conference, and a blog (the quote above comes from this post about TEI and digital critical editions). For those of us who can’t attend, this is a great opportunity to sit in on some great conversations about the digital humanities. Margie of Tellhistory, a camper, also set up a delicious account for sharing blogs on the subject (so that’s why my traffic spiked!). I’ll be keeping my eyes on thatcamp and the great projects the campers are developing.

A conversation between me and Ben Franklin:

Suzanne: Who do you support in the Pennsylvania primary?

Ben: Human beings. Are you testing me?

Suzanne: No, I just wanted your opinion on politics.

Ben: Interesting question.

Suzanne:  Do you like Barack Obama?

Ben:  Some people like it.  I like any faithfully sung hymn.

Suzanne:  How are you celebrating Earth Day?

Ben: Everything is going extremely well.

(Sarah Waugh via Rob McDougall)

Mike Rhode from the NMNH has a blog called A Repository for Bottled Monsters. It looks like the NMNH is doing some great work with digitizing their collections and finding aids. I’m particularly happy that they’re putting their books up on the Internet Archive.

An interesting post from a tech blog about the rising need for digital curators. And who better to be a digital curator than an IRL curator? (via Museumatic)

The first issue of the Museum History Journal is out!  Check out the ToC. (It’s coedited by my colleague Mary Anne Andrei, who write a fascinating dissertation on the history of taxidermy, and my advisor is on the editorial board.)

An interview with Kage Baker, my favorite writer of time travel books (and an erstwhile historic interpreter)

Corey Everett writes about “the successful combination of history and celebrity gossip.” Not only is gossip one of the most fun things you can do in historical fiction, but in the classroom I remember my students only got interested in Lavoisier when I talked about how he married Laplace’s widow after Laplace got the chop. And have I mentioned recently how much I love the regency romance novels of Georgette Heyer, despite being not super interested in British history?  You might see a longer post on this later.

This is the last weekend for “Peace Crimes,” a play about the “Minnesota Eight,” folks who raided draft offices throughout Minnesota during the Vietnam war.  It’s being produced by History Theater in conjunction with the U, and there are performances all weekend.  A friend of mine knows one of the 8 and has insisted we go, so you’ll see me there on Friday.

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