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