Monthly Archives: December 2017

Social Justice at Battlefield Sites

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Erin Carlson Mast of President Lincoln’s Cottage delivering the State of the Field address at the Seminar for Historical Administration, 2017.

Guest post by Ashley Phlipot, SHA Class of 2017

On Day 1 of SHA, we were introduced to Erin Carlson Mast, Executive Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC. During her keynote, she spoke on how her museum was intergrating social justice topics within their exhibitions and programming. She touched on the Students Opposing Slavery campaign, which is “an award-winning youth education program for students dedicated to continuing Lincoln’s fight for freedom by raising awareness about modern slavery within a high-risk population – teenagers.” By interpreting this type of slavery, this organization has expanded their mission of “continuing the fight for freedom” by making it relevant.

The topic of social justice continued to come up pretty much every day of sessions and in every conversation we had outside of the classroom. Hearing fellow classmates talking about how their sites and museums were also taking on this subject was inspiring, yet overwhelming. I kept asking myself how could I possibly integrate modern social injustice at my site, a War of 1812 fort and museum? I just feel grateful if visitors acknowledge that this war actually happened, as it is easily forgotten between the American Revolution and the American Civil War.

For days, I kept dwelling on it. Then it hit me: Read the rest of this entry

The Case for SHA

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Guest post by Dawn Weaver, SHA Class of 2017

Three weeks! What kind of seminar lasts for three weeks?

  • A seminar that brings engaged individuals from the history field together, in the Midwest, to take a critical look at what’s happening in the field. A critical, intensive look at topics like conservation, classic design and cutting-edge design, interpretation of the difficult topics like racism, decolonization and inclusion, and political advocacy.
  • A seminar that opens a window on financial management and how the bottom line effects everything else that we do, with real-world answers and a toolkit that you can use.
  • A seminar that leads a conversation as to the relevance of our passion and how to advance the relevance of it for many years to come, and forces us, as an individual and as a group to dive deeper for more answers and for where we fit into the bigger picture

This is a time apart, away from the daily pressures, to meet and make a band of companions from a disparate group of other professionals with similar passion and drive.

This is a nesting place for ideas and ‘aha’ moments, with a support group standing by with encouragement and support and more ideas than you can come up with yourself.

When this opportunity presents itself before you, do not turn a blind eye. Do not even think that you do not have the time. You do not have the time NOT to do this. Make a plan and make it happen. You will not regret it!

Dawn Weaver is the Manager of the Musgrove Mill State Historic Site in Clinton, South Carolina.

Social Justice, Sharing Authority, and Mission

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Guest post by Peter DeCarlo, SHA Class of 2017

This year’s SHA participants come from a wide range of public history backgrounds——technology people and content creators, directors and site managers, curators and educators. Our places of work range from historic sites and regional organizations, to some of the largest historical societies in the nation. The first week focused on challenges and opportunities facing our field. Our time spent talking with leaders, going on field trips, and chatting over dinner has covered a wide range of topics, but throughout, three main themes rose to the top: social justice, expertise vs/& shared authority, and mission.

Social Justice: We realized the need to be intentional with our language. The term “social justice” is frequently used to encompass many things, but specifically relates to the equal distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privilege. As history organizations, the greatest resource we can provide the public is history itself. To pursue social justice we must make our sites, collections, programs, exhibits, and publications as accessible as possible to all people, especially communities museums have historically marginalized and oppressed. This work can take many forms, from contextualizing current civil rights issues, to opening a historic site to a displaced community, to the work of inclusion and diversity. It is important to note that in addition to social justice, working towards equality in all its forms is something history organizations should consider.

Expertise vs/& Shared Authority: This issue is sweeping the museum field and it permeated almost every topic we covered. Our cohort realized this need not be a “versus” dichotomy. Expertise and shared authority must exist together. The question is: what is the right balance? A workplace example: having a member of every department on your exhibits planning team and collections acquisitions team (yes, the curators only get one vote!). In interpretive work it can take the form of dialogic questioning, allowing visitors to guide the conversation and come to a shared conclusion. Sharing authority with community members often serves social justice. Both can be pursued at once. On the side of expertise, it is important to remember that we are professionals, and “we do know things,” as one presenter put it. We must defend Read the rest of this entry

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