Monthly Archives: March 2013

SHA Made Me the Kind of Leader I Strive to Be

Laura MinzesMy decision to attend Developing History Leaders @SHA was the culmination of about a 6 or 7 year journey. The program seemed to offer all of the aspects of training that were components of my position very shortly after I started in it…then titled Chief Curator of [Indiana] Historic Sites. It was then still located at Colonial Williamsburg.

With 2 very small children, I just didn’t feel I could be away that long and the financial situation of my institution wasn’t going to allow me the chance to attend. Could I afford to send myself? See above about 2 very small children… Keeping SHA in the back of my mind (and looking longingly at the announcement every year thereafter), I was thrilled to learn of the program’s move to Indianapolis and the Indiana Historical Society in 2004. I applied in 2005 and was accepted after talking to a 2004 grad who is a close colleague and her encouragement/endorsement.

It was the best career decision (after changing my major in college) that I’ve ever made. I realized after attending SHA that I could be a leader in a quiet, background way to help my organization move forward dramatically. I also knew that I didn’t want to be the CEO. Before SHA, I’d been in a leadership position, but lacked the confidence in what I was doing to be able to lead effectively and because of this, it kept me from actively participating.

Indiana State Museum

Indiana State Museum on the Indianapolis Canal

SHA truly changed all of that for me. I got it…I had many tools from which to pull from (which I still do everyday) and furthermore, if I had questions, I had a network of very smart, very engaged individuals in my field from which to draw information, ask for assistance, or look for a referral.

Shortly after I returned from SHA, I took part in a very important strategic planning effort for my institution (that’s it on the left) and felt as if I’d contributed, and been listened to, in a way that had never occurred before.

One of the last activities that we did as a class was to list the characteristics of a Good Leader. Here is our list, in priority order:

  1. Integrity
  2. Communication skills, especially listening
  3. Big picture thinker
  4. Humility
  5. Passion

These are posted in front of me on my wall, right above my computer. I’ve quietly added the following to Humility for my own personal encouragement…

and confidence including the wisdom to know when each should be called upon

It reminds me of the kind of leader that I strive to be, everyday.

If you desire a life-changing experience in your own leadership journey, consider applying to SHA.

Laura Minzes (SHA ’05) is Deputy Director of Site Structures and Land at Indiana State Museums and Historic Sites. She recently served as chair of the SHA Alumni Committee.

Why I Am Grateful I Could Attend the 2012 Developing History Leaders @SHA

Berman PhotoOctober 2012 proved to be a very transitional time period for me. I left my job as Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society, a position I had held for over five years, and took a new and very different position. As the Assistant Director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives on the campus of the Queensborough Community College, CUNY, my day is much different than before. My workload is similar, the hours are pretty much the same, the quest for funding sources and new program ideas still plays an important role, but the biggest difference is: I am happy.

When I arrived in Indianapolis on October 27, 2012, however, I was completely lost. Although I was excited that I was about to begin a new job when I got home – I no longer had a sense of identity. How was I to introduce myself? “Hi – I was the Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society yesterday, but today I am now the Assistant Director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center”…it’s kind’ve a mouthful. But I went with it, and my peers seemed to understand and were sympathetic to my unique situation.

I tried to use my experiences to contribute to the conversation and I think (I hope) that my comments and ideas helped move the dialogue. All twenty of us in the Class of 2012 brought a unique perspective and a wide range of types of sites and locations. This was probably the best aspect of the program for me as I was the only participant from New York – (hard to believe as there are over 80 museums in New York City alone!) and I got the opportunity to learn in detail about all of these amazing institutions.

Why you should apply to the program

I didn’t realize how badly I needed to take a few steps back in order to move forward with my career goals. Professional development is VITAL to your success. You can’t do it alone, and you shouldn’t have to. By putting yourself in a contemplative environment with others in your field can give your creativity and inspiration the boost you need. This program is unique in its focus on history. It connects participants with leaders in the museum field from diverse backgrounds that bring helpful case studies and life lessons.

Sometimes you need to say it out loud before you can really understand what you are thinking.
Communication is so important, and I don’t think that we have enough of it at many of our institutions. There needs to be more dialogue between staff members, between the board/management and staff, and especially directly with the audience you are trying to serve. Through three weeks of being in a classroom environment with your peers, you get a reminder that not everyone is always on the same page – and that’s okay! You need the opportunity to explain your opinion, and sometimes through the ensuing conversation you might end up changing that opinion.

Why I contribute to the SHA Scholarship:

We have all struggled, be willing to give something back.
Pretty much all cultural/historical organizations are tight on money these days, but many institutions still make funds available to their staff for professional development. For those who can’t, like my previous site, their staff should be given the opportunity to prove why they should be a part of the conversation. I am honored that I was the recipient of a Denny O’Toole Scholarship and I hope that this program will continue in the future so that others like myself get the opportunity to participate in this outstanding program.

* * * * * * *

When I returned to New York after completing SHA, I was full of energy and ready to start my new position. It turns out that SHA came at just the right time in my life. My new institution is a place that encourages professional development, is open to communication, strives to educate on the past in a way that is relevant to the present, and has good health insurance. But even if it didn’t have all those things, and even if I was still at my old job, I know that SHA would have still made me better at what I do.

Thank you so much to everyone at the American Association for State and Local History for organizing the program; the Indiana Historical Society for hosting; and the SHA partners – including the American Alliance of Museums, Colonial Williamsburg, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

SHA Class of 2012

The SHA Class of 2012

Thank you to the amazing John Durel – the SHA Coordinator for all of his wisdom and insight, and to all of the presenters – an amazing group of history leaders. And of course, thank you so much to all of my peers in the Class of 2012 – I left this program with 19 new friends (and 19 couches to crash on when I visit their museums).

In closing, I will admit that it was not easy to set aside three weeks away from work and family, and this program is by no means a vacation. But I can’t begin to express how glad I am that I was able to attend this powerful workshop. I filled almost two notebooks with nuggets of wisdom I gathered.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • “We need people to love what we are doing.”
  • “We should not just be dispensing history, but rather, engaging in conversations that prompt questions.”
  • “Tell a story!”
  • “Attendance figures are not the most valid measure of the positive value and impact of the historic site experience.”
  • “Academic history is not associated with place as much as public history.”
  • “Move from programs being about someone to being for someone.”
  • “The best museum experiences provoke questions that don’t get answered in the museum.”

Marisa L. Berman (SHA ’12) is the Assistant Director of the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives. She holds an M.A. in Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, and Museum Practices from the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as a B.A. in English Literature, and a B.P.S. in Fashion Design – both from Marist College. She was a participant in the 2012 Institute for Cultural Entrepreneurship for Museum Leaders at the Cooperstown Graduate School. A museum professional and historian specializing in Costume and Textile History, Museology, Cultural Studies, and Historic Preservation, she is always seeking new and innovative ways to get people interested in their local history. Her first book, Images Of America: Nunley’s Amusement Park, will be released later this year by Arcadia Publishing.

The Intersection of Public History and Historic Preservation

I recall in 2010, my first year as coordinator of Developing History Leaders @SHA, a student showed me an email she had received. She was the director of a local historical society, and the email concerned a local historic building that was threatened with demolition. Her question for me was: should she do anything, and if so, what could she do? Her hands were already full managing the historical society, and the property developer was one of her donors.

This incident led to a new session last year, offered by Brent Leggs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, on ways to assist grassroots preservation efforts. Members of the class made contact with Reverend Cory Grady, pastor of Bethel AME Church, which is only a block from the Indiana Historical Society where the seminar meets. Brent adapted his session to include a tour of the historic church, and a discussion with Rev. Grady about his efforts to preserve it. It was great “on the ground” learning.

The National Trust is one of our Partner organizations, and for many years has provided funds that have made this program possible. This year we are fortunate that the Trust’s annual meeting is in Indianapolis during the first week of the seminar. We are planning to have the students attend a portion of the conference to learn about preservation issues.

Also, Estevan Rael-Galvez, Senior Vice President of Historic Sites, will join the seminar faculty and lead a session on “Re-Imagining Historic House Museums,” a project funded by the Innovation Lab for Museums. The Innovation Lab is a program of the American Alliance of Museums, another one of our partners. The funding is enabling the Trust to prototype innovative approaches to historic site sustainability, stewardship, and programming.

The seminar continues to evolve in response to issues and trends facing our field. If you work in a history organization – a museum, historical society, archive, historic site, preservation organization, etc. – and you see yourself as a leader, the seminar is the best way for you to advance your knowledge, skills, and network. If you are the executive director of a history organization, consider sending one of your star performers. It’s the best investment you can make in leadership development.

Click here to get application guidelines. The deadline for submitting applications is May 13, 2013.

Be Bold!

SONY DSCAre we the most devoted employees ever or just a bunch of history nerds? I’d say after taking part in SHA, we are truly both. I chose to attend SHA because I came into the museum field from teaching in a classroom and wanted a program that could help me round out didn’t know and get new ideas to take back to my site. I was not disappointed!

Going to SHA helped me grow immensely in my field and at my site. I’ve extended my duties and been asked to be a leader in areas outside of my department. I get asked lots of questions and my notes from the program are still consulted as a starting point for discussions. I’ve often said that SHA was like a summer camp—but for adults and in the fall. Taking the time away from my site—okay, taking about 90% of the time away from my site— really allowed me to focus on what I was learning and how it applied. My creativity inside the field really bloomed.

I returned to HMH and found co-conspirators who wanted to break through the silos. Sure the change has been incremental, but it’s starting. I’m not a department head, but I can still have an impact with ideas, suggestions, and a strong work ethic. I know now that I can be a leader.

Most of all, though, thanks to the program, I have a group of colleagues who act as my sounding board. See, the program is more than who the presenters are—although, you will have fantastic presenters who teach and push you. It’s also about the people in your class—the fact that people come from different sites and have different job duties. You learn as much from the questions they ask as the ones you do.


And, I’d talk about the late night hangouts, but those are sealed forever! I can go to my SHAmazing friends (←that’s my class right there!) and get ideas, sample policies, and even (did you read above that we’re nerds?) be a part of a PD book club that meets via video chats. That longtime connection just doesn’t happen through one week or one day programs. It’s been more than a year, and I’d say we connect every few weeks via Facebook or email or Twitter.

My path to SHA was paved because I paid the tuition, but my company had to be willing to give me the professional leave. We’ve both recouped the investment.

I strongly encourage every museum professional out there to apply for SHA and do what my class is often fond of stating: Be Bold!


Cynthia Capers (SHA ’11) was a professional social studies educator in a suburban high school in South Carolina, where she created the one-credit course Holocaust and Genocide Studies. An Alfred Lerner Fellow with the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, and a Museum Teacher Fellow with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, she is now the Associate Director of Education and Changing Exhibitions at Holocaust Museum Houston. In 2011 she completed the Seminar for Historical Administration/Developing History leaders program. Cynthia organizes education programming, conducts teacher trainings, creates curricula based on museum resources, and researches and drafts interpretive text for temporary exhibitions. Some of the most fascinating exhibition and curriculum work she has done includes how to talk about social cruelty, genocide, and the parallels between the Holocaust and Jim Crow America.

“That Would Be Good Both Going and Coming Back”


The title of today’s post derives from the penultimate line in Robert Frost’s “Birches.” It was also the title of the kickoff to the 2012 edition of Developing History Leaders @SHA.

When John Durel began his tenure as SHA Coordinator, he instituted a new wrinkle to the program, a keynote address from a senior leader in the history field on the first Sunday of SHA.

This past year, Bill Tramposch, Executive Director of the Nantucket Historical Association, delivered our keynote address which we have just published in the latest issue of AASLH’s History News magazine.

Here is an excerpt from Bill’s address to the SHA Class of 2012:

This essay is about the importance of white space. Like an episode of Seinfeld (without the humor), this piece is about nothing, and the importance of nothing. Enjoy it. There are no footnotes here, no expostulation on decades of scholarly research into museum education theory, just thirty-five years of observation, first as an interpreter and now as a director, with a lot of reverent looking-on in-between.

Magic can occur in our halls and within our sites, and this magic implores us to have a faith in that which cannot be measured, nor should be. Trust the silence. Trust the white space in which deep and enduring connections are being made in front of our very eyes. Trust the settings and ambiance we offer our guests. Trust and wait, and while waiting, look at what some great writers have said. We can measure many things, and we increasingly do, but our utmost respect must go towards that which defies measure.

Graduates of SHA often note that one of the program’s main benefits is access to faculty who are some of the top leaders in the field of history. Bill’s essay reinforces that notion. I hope you’ll take the time to reflect with Bill on the white spaces in your own institution and career path and consider SHA’s role in it. Frost’s conclusion in “Birches” is apropos to Bill’s central thesis, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” As history professionals, we would be wise to heed that wisdom.

p.s.: If you want a real treat, here is the great Robert Frost reciting “Birches.”

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