But for lovers or friends with no past in common the historic past unrolls like a park, like a ridgy landscape full of buildings and people.  To talk of books is, for oppressed shut-in lovers, no way out of themselves; what was written is either dull or too near the heart.  But to walk into history is to be free at once, to be at large among people.  Art does its work even here in clarifying their faces, but they are dead, immune, their schemes and passions are legacies….Outside, the street, empty, reeled in the midday sun; the glare was reflected in on the gold-and-brown restaurant wall opposite; side by side in the empty restaurant, they surrounded themselves with wars, treaties, persecutions, strategic marriages, campaigns, reforms, successions and violent deaths.  History is unpainful, memory does not cloud it; you join the emphatic lives of the long dead.  May we give the future something to talk about.

–Elizabeth Bowen, The House in Paris

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

Reading this scholarly book, I came upon this wonderfully forthright explanation of historical curiosity:  “The primary purpose of this monograph is to answer the question, “Man, what’s up with that?””

“The primary purpose of this monograph is to answer the quest... on Twitpic

I hope your 2014  is full of museumgoing and critical reflection on history!

In the new year, may I suggest that the NCPH members among my readers vote in the NCPH board elections?  You should have received an email in December with voting information.  The election closes on Jan 5 and I am running for nominating committee.   I’d appreciate your support.

It’s important for me to challenge this nostalgic vision of the past, particularly of the early 90s. So many queers now have this nostalgia for something they never experienced. In the early 90s, everyone was dying from AIDS, and drug addiction, and suicide. I came of age watching a generation of people losing all their friends. That’s what being queer meant: it meant everyone was dying. Nostalgia erases the actual experiences.  

–From this interview with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Robert C. Post, Who Own’s America’s Past? The Smithsonian and the Problem of History.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

Bob Post’s new book is a hybrid account—it covers both the history of cultural history at the Smithsonian and Post’s own career as a curator.  He traces the usual story of how Joseph Henry didn’t want to start a museum and so on, but the book really shines in its telling of the genesis of the Museum of History and Technology and its transformation into the National Museum of American History (and the National Air and Space Museum.)   I loved the deep dives into exhibit practice and the stories of particular exhibits and their context within the changing currents of the historical profession and those of SI’s internal politics. (Speaking of internal politics, one affective response I had to the book was an appreciation of how difficult—impossible!—it is to work under the political pressures of a national museum.)  Post devotes an entire chapter to the Enola Gay incident, but he also gives time to a host of other exhibits in all areas of the museum over the past 50 years—Field to Factory and America on the Move, certainly, but also smaller exhibits on banking, printing, and clockwork, with an emphasis on the consequences of the shift from collections-based to experience-based exhibits and on the outsized role of donors.  He also traces the way our fledgling discipline of the history of technology was nurtured by and in turn helped shape a new national museum that put technology in the spotlight (also see this T & C article).

Read the footnotes—that’s where Post puts his most trenchant observations of SI personalities and his notes on such important topics as diversity in curatorial hiring.  This book is for the general reader, but those embedded in history museum practice will appreciate the insider perspective and the opportunity to hear about our distinguished colleagues when they were brash young curators.

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!


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