Monthly Archives: April 2015

Crucial Framework for Professionalization

– by Sarah Milligan

SHA 2011 getting ready to head home on their Graduation Day! (author, Sarah, is on far left)

SHA 2011 on their Graduation Day and getting ready to head back home! (author, Sarah, is on far left)

So, I can honestly say in retrospect, there is career pre-SHA and career post-SHA. Pre-SHA I looked at the job in front of me and thought about what I needed to do in order to get that job done. Post-SHA, I looked at the same job and thought about how the goals of that job could be leveraged to improve, not only my team, but my institution’s health, as well as assist in drawing organizational advocates through a strong and clear messaging plan. In other words, I finally got The Big Picture.

For me, going through SHA was like flipping on a light bulb illuminating the context for the intersection of my job with the larger history, library, museum and even the entertainment fields. The intense interaction with nationally diverse professionals put my personal and professional goals into a new perspective. I was curious in how my organization was making decisions and setting institutional goals and I wanted to participate. The more I participated, the more interested I became and the more doors that opened, both within the institution and without.

Four years later, I am still curious. I am still building on that SHA framework. Yes, I developed some amazing relationships with my classmates (go, 2011!), and yes, the encouragement and resources of many SHA alum are a continued source of assistance and encouragement, but the #1 skill developed during my SHA experience is the ability to understand organizational structure comprehensibly.

Sarah Milligan
Associate Professor
Head, Oklahoma Oral History Research Program
Oklahoma State University

When Life Happens SHA Can Help

– by Cindy Olsen

Think Positive! A nice reminder for all of us!

Think Positive! A nice reminder for all of us!

The March 26 SHA Blog Movin’ Movin’ Movin’ mentioned that alumni often change jobs shortly after attending. I did relocate and change jobs within three years of attending SHA but not as a direct result of the program. My husband was offered a new position that moved us 700 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Detroit, Michigan, and I found myself looking for a new job.

The program gave me stronger skills for applying for jobs. My 2010 classmates and SHA network gave me potential job opportunities and much needed emotional support. I could even reach out and get the inside scoop on museums that were potential employers.

When I jumped into contract work to hold me over, it was my SHA connections that gave me my first two projects. It was my SHA connections that opened the door for my permanent position as Director of Material Culture at the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House. The skills I learned at SHA and the connections I made through this program enabled me to get this job and do the best work I can with this awesome historic house and its collection.

Not bad for a three week program……

Cindy Olsen
Director of Material Culture
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House

Into the Abyss— Taking the Plunge

– by Ryan Spencer

SHA? I knew nothing about it. I knew little of AASLH. I was focused on my own work in my own institution with little awareness of the outside world. My director brought SHA and AASLH to my attention—urging me to consider applying, and offering support for my attending. “What the heck,” I thought, “why not?” A month later, an email from Bob Beatty said that I had been accepted to the SHA class of 2012. Four months later, I packed my car and drove down to Indianapolis from Detroit for three weeks of… I wasn’t too sure. Once there, I thought I had joined some secret society (I had been a fraternity guy… this all smelled familiar). There were the legacies, those who were the second or third generation from their institutions attending SHA. There were the high-achievers—the hard core AASLHers who sat on every committee under the sun. There were executive directors with really impressive résumés. Where did I fit in? Did I belong here? Did Bob and the board make a mistake? By the end of the first night, the comradery of my classmates, the hospitable IHS staff, and engaging faculty put my anxieties to rest. This was going to be a great experience.

Over the course of three weeks, I was reintroduced to history and to museums. I was reminded of the poetry in museum work, the just causes, the challenging stories, the connections— the human experience that transcends place and time. I remembered why museums are worthwhile. SHA faculty introduced ideas that my classmates debated spiritedly. Conversations spilled over into restaurants, the hotel lobby, the Canal Walk… it really was an opportunity to look at and discuss museum work objectively (separated from pressures of the day-to-day) with newfound peers and friends. I’m so thankful for taking the plunge. The people and ideas I encountered helped me transition from a museum employee to a museum professional. Without a doubt, it was a pivotal experience in my career.

Ryan Spencer, Senior Manager
Venue Interpretation & Firestone Farm
The Henry Ford


– by Trevor Jones

One of the best, lasting benefits of SHA is the way it deepens your professional network. Immediately after your three weeks you’ll realize that you’ve got a group of people with whom you can discuss just about anything. Because SHA delves so deeply into your professional beliefs and forces you to re-examine not only what you do but also why you do it, your classmates really know what makes you tick. I attended SHA in 2009, and I can still call most of my classmates to tell them about something I’m thinking about and get unvarnished feedback. SHA isn’t like typical networking opportunities where you meet someone briefly, exchange a couple of ideas and business cards and then move on. After three weeks discussing, arguing and looking at leadership in the field, you understand everyone’s strengths and perspectives. My classmates know my blind spots and after nearly six years they’re still willing to tell me when my ideas are half baked. That kind of professional honesty is a rare and wonderful thing.

SHA 2009 - Taking polls and discussing some of the "big issues"

SHA 2009 – Taking polls and discussing some of the “big issues”


SHA 2009 visiting the Indiana Medical History Museum

SHA 2009 visiting the Indiana Medical History Museum

SHA 2015 and Indiana’s RFRA

Since the Indiana legislature’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in March, the SHA partners have been in discussion about holding SHA 2015 in Indianapolis. This week, we made the decision to stay with our original plan to again host SHA in Indianapolis, its home since 2004.

SHA Coordinator John Durel communicated our deliberations and final outcome to the SHA Faculty in two emails, one on March 31, the second on April 7. Those emails are below.



Dear Faculty and Supporters of SHA:

I am writing to let you know that in light of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) recently passed by the State of Indiana, the SHA partners are considering moving the location of the seminar to another state.

Our main concern is that Indiana’s existing laws do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The new law gives legal ground for a person or business to refuse to serve LGBT individuals based on religious objections. It makes it more likely that in discrimination cases a court would rule in favor of the person asserting the exercise of religion.

As historians and preservers of our past, we value the rights guaranteed to all citizens by our constitution, and we understand that there have been times when people have had to take a stand to defend those rights. This may be such a time.

Using an example from the history of racial integration, and an analysis of the text of RFRA, Garrett Epps in the Atlantic asserts that “this new statute hints most strongly that it is there to be used as a means of excluding gays and same-sex couples from accessing employment, housing, and public accommodations on the same terms as other people.” Indiana Governor Pence denies this was the intent, and as I’m writing this he has called on the legislature to clarify the act.

As we proceed we are taking into consideration:

  • Our longstanding relationship with the Indiana Historical Society. We have been in touch with John and Kyle and they understand the need for the Partners to consider a move.
  • If we do make a move it would be initially for only 2015. If the Indiana RFRA is repealed, modified, or found unconstitutional, we would consider returning to Indy.
  • We would only move to a state that recognizes same-sex marriage and includes sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-discrimination laws.

We are also watching as things unfold on the ground in Indy. The Indianapolis City/County has passed a resolution opposing RFRA, stating that it does not truly represent the city as an inclusive and welcoming place. The CEOs of  the nine largest Indiana-based corporations, including Eli Lilly, have sent a letter to the governor and legislative leaders urging them to immediately enact “new legislation that makes it clear that neither the Religious Freedom Restoration Act nor any other Indiana law can be used to justify discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.”  If the legislature should act quickly, we will take this into consideration.

Thanks for your support of SHA. If you have thoughts or feelings that may help us make a decision, we welcome them. I anticipate that we will make a decision this week.



Dear Faculty and Supporters of SHA:

A week ago I wrote to let you know that the SHA partners were considering moving the seminar to a new city because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by the Indiana state legislature. Because of changes made to the act late last week, the partners have now decided to stay in Indianapolis.

Here’s the background:

The City of Indianapolis has had a human rights ordinance since 2005 which includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. RFRA threatened to override the City’s ordinance, allowing a person to discriminate against LGBT individuals by citing “religious freedom.” Swift action by the city’s civic, corporate and cultural leaders forced the governor and legislative leaders to amend the law, so that now it cannot take precedence over any pre-existing local law.

John Herbst says that pressure from the outside – cancellations and threatened  boycotts – was essential. In one news article he is quoted: “Organizers of Developing History Leaders at the Seminar for Historical Administration, a prestigious conference for the nation’s top historical museum leaders hosted by the Indiana Historical Society every year, are ‘seriously considering’ pulling out of Indianapolis and relocating to St. Paul., Minn.”

RFRA may still allow discrimination against LGBT individuals in other parts of the state – the courts will ultimately decide. As part of the negotiations this past week the Republican leaders in the house and senate have agreed to allow a bill to be presented at the next session that would protect LGBT individuals from discrimination statewide. Only 19 states plus DC offer such protection. It seems unlikely to pass in Indiana, but it’s one more step forward.

Staying in Indy provides SHA with a way to support the people in the state who are working for change. We have longstanding relationships with the Indiana Historical Society and other cultural organizations, many having active programming in support of the LGBT community. Indeed, this whole episode may offer us a case study to discuss the ‘politics’ of leading history organizations.

So pack your bags for Indy. I look forward to seeing you in the fall.

Step Away From the Work Email

I was talking recently with someone who is interested in applying to SHA. I was giving advice on the application essay, how to deal with being around people for three weeks (I’m an outgoing introvert so that part was a little tough for me), and how duck pin bowling is totally awesome. Inevitably the discussion turned to the question that I’m guessing comes up for everyone, which is IF and HOW you can disengage with work for three-weeks.

Thankfully my place of employment is very supportive of SHA’ers. It is understood that you are going to be immersed in this experience and that there are rarely history emergencies for which your assistance is vital.

At first I assumed I’d check email in the evenings and do some work. After about day three that stopped. I rarely checked my work email, and it wasn’t until I had only a few days left that I started to check it regularly . . . and I wish I hadn’t.

With each email I checked toward the end of SHA I was pulled a little bit more out of the SHA bubble and back into the day-to-day of staff needing help with a project or a coworker wondering where a document is. It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized how valuable that time away from all the work noise really is for being able to take a huge step back and see the big picture, which is exactly what leaders need to do.

At SHA you get to hear from amazing speakers, see great museums, and make new personal and professional connections, but the disconnecting from your day-to-day work is so very important.

We get stuck in the weeds and it becomes difficult to lift your head up and look around at the rest of the field and see what’s happening.

– by Stacia Kuceyeski

SHA 2012! The Most Wanted!

SHA 2012! The Most Wanted!

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