Erin Carlson Mast, CEO and executive director of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC, will open this year’s Developing History Leaders @SHA on Sunday, October 29. A member of the 2008 class of SHA, she was part of the original team that opened President’s Lincoln Cottage in 2008 and became its executive director in 2010. Erin has led the organization through growth, groundbreaking programming, and national and regional recognition, including a Presidential Medal and being named one of Washington, DC’s 50 Best Places to Work and the Best Museum off the Mall. In 2016, she led the organization through its transition to an independent 501(c)(3). Erin has written for such publications as History News and The Public Historian and was a contributing author to Museums of Ideas: Commitment and Conflict (MuseumsEtc, 2011). She holds an MA in Museum Studies from The George Washington University and a BA in History from Ohio University.
If you’re fortunate enough to attend Developing History Leaders @SHA you’ll get the chance to learn from some amazing faculty. When I attended SHA in 2009, during the last week one of the presenters was Kent Whitworth, Executive Director of the Kentucky Historical Society.
Kent spoke openly and honestly about communication in the workplace, and how getting everyone on the team rowing the right direction is a key part of a leader’s job. He discussed using meetings to reach this goal, and how he used healthy conflict among the leadership team to improve performance. It was an eye opening day.
That talk changed my life in multiple ways. First, I immediately purchased Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting which transformed how I thought about meetings and their fundamental purpose. After I got home, I told my wife, “I’d like to work for someone like Kent someday.”
Several months later a position opened at the Kentucky Historical Society. I was not looking to move and the timing was terrible, but my wife convinced me that if I did not apply I’d regret it, so I did. I worked for the Kentucky Historical Society for six years before taking my first director & CEO position at the Nebraska State Historical Society in 2016.
Your SHA experience may not be as transformative as mine, but it has the potential to be. That’s part of the reason @SHA is such an incredible opportunity.
Trevor Jones is Director/CEO of the Nebraska State Historical Society. He is a member of the SHA Class of 2009.
The Partners for Developing History Leaders @SHA are pleased to announce that the three-week program for SHA Class of 2017 will begin on Saturday, October 28, with an application deadline of Monday, May 15. The program will include presentations by several dozen leaders in the field coupled with field trips to a variety of history-related organizations, including museums, historic sites, and preservation projects.
In an exciting development this month, the Partners have appointed Max van Balgooy as the Director, succeeding John Durel’s seven-year tenure. Max is the president of Engaging Places, LLC and teaches in the museum studies program at George Washington University, and formerly director of interpretation and education for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Director’s position attracted several strong candidates, which confirmed SHA’s reputation as one of the leading mid-career training programs in the nation.
Upon his appointment, Max responded that, “I’m thrilled by this incredible opportunity to serve our field as well as work with so many of the people and organizations that have helped me and helped make history a rich and meaningful experience in our communities. I’m also thankful for the tremendous contributions of my predecessors and realize that I will be standing on the shoulders of many people who helped create, sustain, and enhance SHA over many, many decades.”
Please join us all in thanking John Durel for his service to SHA and to the field and in offering a hearty congratulations to Max. And please take a minute to share SHA with your friends/colleagues and encourage them to apply for the Class of 2017.
By the time I attended what is now Developing History Leaders @ the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2005, the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites had been through 6 different CEOs in 7 years. In our final exercise as a class, the great history leader, Denny O’Toole, lead us in a conversation regarding what we, as a class, felt were the 5 best characteristics of a good leader.
3. Big Picture Thinker
2. Communication Skills, particular listening
As you might imagine, I took special note of these, writing them down and posting on the wall in my office immediately afterwards where it has stayed ever since (yes literally for going on 12 years now).
The ISMHS was caught in a whirlpool. Not only was the institution floundering, but the staff, especially those of us who had endured the revolving door of leadership, was worn down and spinning in slow circles. Before the spinning stopped, we had 8 leadership changes in 9 years. Luckily, our collective stakeholders finally became aware of what was needed and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites has come roaring out of the tail spin, moving forward with renewed vigor.
The author’s office wall with its many inspirational quotes and various facts. The 5 characteristics of a great leader as determined by the SHA class of 2005 are circled in red.
A series of challenges were overcome to get us where we are today. Like many similar state institutions, the history of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites is long and complex. The museum was established in 1869 and state historic sites established beginning in 1917 and continuing throughout the 20th century. A move to the former Indianapolis City Hall in 1967 brought the museum and sites together based on their basic missions of collecting and preserving. Then, in 2002, the State of Indiana built and opened a new state museum building (the first in the state’s history built for that specific purpose). The opening required immense paradigm shifts: quadrupling our exhibition space, moving massive collections, dealing with a sudden, much larger public profile in the Indianapolis cultural arena and adding needed staff, along with everything else that went with such a change.
The Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana
One of the changes anticipated with the building’s opening was a transition from a state agency to that of a quasi-governmental entity, allowing flexibility for such common museum practices such as rental of traveling exhibitions, funds generated from deaccessions used for artifact acquisitions, etc. However, the attempts to create this quasi-governmental entity proved more challenging than anticipated.
In 2009, ISMHS stakeholders began to realize that the struggle required someone who had both an understanding of Indiana’s political landscape as well as extensive fundraising and organizational skills. The selection of Tom King, former CEO with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and also recently retired president of the omnipresent (at least to the Hoosier State) nonprofit, Lilly Foundation, was an extremely wise choice. He worked first to build the board, using extensive communications skills and sharing his larger, long term goals and then establishing a core group of invested and interested individuals from around the state. He firmly and forcefully showed his integrity by ensuring all aspects of the ISMHS were properly represented.
Then came the successful legislation in 2011 that established the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation, as “a public body, corporate and politic.” To say that lots of careful thought and effort went into establishing the corporation is not even half of it. We thoroughly and carefully examined every word, punctuation mark, and so on: from careful wording of what constitutes a quorum to the definitions to the abilities of the corporation. Once again, Tom demonstrated all of these characteristics in that process. And then the real work began…
Very soon after we became a corporation work began on INvision, a capital campaign for the State’s Bicentennial in 2016 and for the museum’s sesquicentennial in 2019. It was no small effort with a $17 million goal, major rehabilitation of the permanent galleries at the Indiana State Museum, and a large project at each of the 11 State Historic Sites. But we are moving forward confidently and surely into the institution’s next chapter. When Tom King retires from the ISMHS this spring, he will have brought about all this transition, this turnaround, through his strong, steady, and sure leadership. With our board, he will also have helped hand pick his successor. He has done all this with integrity, passion, humility, great listening skillsm and by thinking very big about what the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites could be. Unsurprisingly, those 5 characteristics of a great leader that my SHA Class of 2005 identified all those years ago.
A new day dawned Dec. 8, 2016, for the Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site when the ribbon was cut to open the visitor center there. The white building in the photo is the visitor center sitting just north of the Levi and Catharine Coffin Home. The project was one of the highest profile in the ISMHS’ INvision campaign.
Laura Minzes is Associate Vice President of Historic Sites, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation and a proud member of the SHA Class of 2005.
When I attended the 50th Seminar for Historical Administration in 2009, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it. I had 23 years in the profession, mostly as an administrator. Although I heard only positive reviews about SHA, how could I benefit from SHA?
As my historic site was approaching a major management change, I was encouraged to attend SHA. After two decades as an administrator, I was skeptical but excited. I initially concluded that SHA would at least be a good refresher, but ultimately it was much more than I anticipated.
I often compare SHA to a year of grad school condensed into just three weeks. One major difference is that SHA skips all the irrelevant debris professors tend to scatter throughout their classes. Time is precious, and SHA organizers and instructors understand this. As a result, SHA delivers an intense experience that is necessary for each attendee to become a better administrator, including the need for seasoned administrators to move beyond their respective comfort zones.
Throughout my career I’ve attended countless conferences and workshops across the country, listening to “talking heads” regurgitate text books I read as a college student. Contrary to the standard conferences that we’ve all attended, SHA provided ample time to listen to AND discuss issues of our profession with active leaders in the field. In addition to providing new information and unique perspectives, seminar instructors made themselves accessible throughout their brief time in Indy and have continued to be available “post-graduation.” Their in-depth feedback has continued to guide my professional actions.
My SHA classmates had the greatest impact on me personally. Their enthusiasm and fresh ideas reinvigorated my passion for the profession. With their friendships I returned home with the optimism I had 23 years earlier and ready to tackle the challenges ahead of me.
Thus, is there a “right” time to attend SHA? Yes, and that is anytime before retirement.
Mark Harmon is Executive Director of The Gaylord Building, a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He holds a BA and MA in History from the University of Akron. He is an alumni of the 2009 Seminar for Historical Administration and the 2011 Preservation Leadership Training.
In a previous blog post about the evolving role of outreach for historical organizations, one of the points I introduced was the need to better evaluate and document programs. Too often we are seen as a “nice” place where our audiences can enjoy our museums and properties on an occasional basis—or elementary school field trip students come for an annual experience of short duration.
At a time when sources of funding for cultural and humanities organizations are under threat, we have to be in a position to share data that frames our work as a “necessary” component of the social/educational fabric of our communities and states. The History Relevance Campaign is making this argument at a high level, but how are individual organizations building evaluation capacity to make this case to their stakeholders?
About fifteen years ago one of the major corporate foundations in Minnesota hosted a summit meeting for all of the nonprofit organizations that had received funding through their grants program. The key message was that they would no longer support proposals where the metrics of success were the number of people served and anecdotal reports that they “enjoyed it.” There was a lot of consternation in the room as it became clear that a whole new set of skills related to evaluation were going to be required for future funding. Building logic models, defining outcomes, and developing survey instruments aligned to those outcomes were to become the norm.
I think that many of the participants that day were willing to embrace the new challenge, but it was clearly unsettling that their organizations were no longer considered as having “inherent value” to the community. Even if they embraced a new evaluation culture, what could they effectively measure?
Museums with experience in visitor studies had a slight head start in this new world, but the assessments for the impact of exhibits and programs on audiences were a different challenge than the processes that informed the creation of those experiences.
Conny Graft has taken a number of SHA cohorts through the transformative work she organized at Colonial Williamsburg. My key takeaways from her presentation were that you had to approach evaluation with an open mind, embrace findings that challenged your assumptions, and be willing to act upon the data. Too often I have seen evaluation framed as a form of institutional affirmation. Surveys of visitors tried to ascertain whether they “liked us,” “really liked us,” or “really really liked us.” Add all of those percentages together and your “like index” is likely to be really high…but questions of impact, the attitudes of non-visitors, and new ways to better engage audiences can go undiscovered.
The evaluation mantra that Conny shared about challenging yourself to think about how exhibits and programs have an impact on what visitors “Know, Feel, and Do” was also profound as this way of thinking informed outreach evaluation. Working outside the bounds of a historic site or museum makes evaluation more complex as you don’t always have a controlled environment. Schools and public program venues create fluid relationships where, in many cases, the presenter is the guest.
It is that fluidity that also creates unique opportunities for meaningful, and measurable, engagement. Freed from the fixed assets of museum environments, it is in some ways easier to act upon evaluation findings and ask questions the reveal high degrees of impact and relevance.
Here are some examples of both “actionable” and profoundly “reportable” data I have measured over the past ten years:
- A large group of K-12 social studies teachers were asked whether “providing resources that would amplify the traditional narratives of U.S. with state and local examples would increase student engagement?” 92% reported YES.
- 78% of History Day parents reported that their child’s experience with the program increased college readiness.
- 88% of History Day students in Minnesota reported that their projects made them more confident about their future success in school.
- Overall, the academic and social-emotional learning metrics for History Day students of color were higher than those of white students.
With this data in hand we were more confident in our plans to provide supplemental U.S. history resources, and to make a funding case to donors and governmental stakeholders that the Minnesota Historical Society could be seen as an effective agent of change in breaking down achievement gaps.
One of Conny’s final presentation points was that, “Evaluation is not a process…it is a way of thinking about everything you do.” If something is worth doing, it is worth measuring. Because in the end, the essence of evaluation is storytelling. Thoughtfully collected data combined with compelling images and supporting narratives can dramatically change the way people feel about your organization. In turn, it is easier to make the case that historical organizations are profoundly necessary to your communities.
Evaluation will be one of the key topics at the SHA Wednesday Workshop during the 2017 AASLH Annual Meeting in Austin. I hope to see many of you there…and don’t forget to fill out those evaluations.
Tim Hoogland is Director of Education Outreach Programs at the Minnesota Historical Society and Affiliated Instructor of History for the University of Minnesota. He is a member of the SHA Class of 2008.
Periodically, I take out the massive binder that I received my first day at Developing History Leaders @SHA in October of 2012. As my desk groans under its weight, I flip through its pages and look for answers to questions that although may be appearing for the first time for me, have been raised since the first year of SHA – and probably for as long as museums have existed. On this particular day, I turned to the section entitled “Visioning for Impact.” I looked over the article written by (the now sadly retired) John Durel and I reflected on a few of the questions he posed when trying to identify an institution’s core purpose:
“Why does your museum exist? Why is it important? Why bother?”
When I had first arrived at SHA I couldn’t have answered any of those questions. I was in a unique position in that I hadn’t worked a single day at my institution yet. Some time between getting accepted into SHA and arriving on that first day, I had quit my job as Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society in Flushing, NY, and accepted a position at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC) at Queensborough Community College in Bayside, NY. The three weeks in Indianapolis was the transition period between what would be two varied parts of my employment history. While a historical society based in a landmarked house is very different from a Holocaust resource center on a college campus, I feel that no matter where you are and what aspect of history you are preserving, it all comes down to telling a good story. When you are passionate about history, it’s contagious. And if you are somehow able to show your visitor how this history impacted you – then they can be impacted as well.
My “a-ha” moment took place in July of 2015. A friend from high school, who I hadn’t spoken to in years, contacted me through Facebook about a unique object she had found. Jillian, who deals vintage clothing and jewelry as a hobby, went to an estate sale in the suburbs of NYC. In the back of a walk in closet, buried among a lifetime’s worth of clothing, was a striped jacket. She quickly purchased it amid a few other pieces for $10, and when she looked at the jacket once outside in her car, her suspicions were confirmed. The blue and gray stripes, the years of dirt, the distinctive numbers written on the left breast – it appeared to be the jacket of a concentration camp uniform. When she sent me the photos I was stunned that she could have potentially found something this rare at a yard sale. Immediately I thought of the Dachau Concentration Camp, where I had seen photos that showed similar uniform patterns. With that tiny bit of information, Jillian cross-referenced the number on the jacket with an online Dachau prisoner database and she got a name – Benzion Peresecki. She looked up the name of the homeowner from the estate sale – Ben Peres, a name too similar to the prisoner not to be connected.
Jillian donated the jacket to the KHC and that’s when our research truly began. The first step however, was contacting the family running the estate sale to confirm its authenticity and to find out how something this precious might have been overlooked. When we got the owner on the phone she was in disbelief. Lorrie, the daughter of Ben Peres, born Benzion Peresecki in Lithuania in 1926 and died in 1978 of a stroke, was in fact a Holocaust survivor who had been imprisoned at Dachau. But Lorrie was unaware of the jacket’s existence or any other material connected to the Holocaust because her father never spoke of his experience. When we invited her to the Center to see the jacket for herself, she was stunned. Lorrie was surprised that the jacket existed, and overwhelmingly grateful that Jillian happened to discover it and donate it to the Center before it was discarded with other old clothing.
Lorrie was so moved that she returned a few weeks later with over 1,500 documents, photographs, passports, home movies, and other materials that had belonged to her father that she found in the house they were in the process of selling. A story came together. Benzion Peresecki/Prisoner 84679/Ben Peres became one person who lived three very different lives. With the jacket and all these archival materials from Lorrie, we were able to launch an exhibition here at the Center in October 2016 that tells the story of the Holocaust through one man’s unique journey. Every time I give a tour of the exhibit I feel personally connected to Ben Peres, and I know that this is conveyed to the visitor. I feel privileged to have played even a small role in this project’s coming to fruition.
Now, just over four years after attending SHA, I can now easily answer those seemingly “basic” questions about my institution. There’s the more technical answer – To show the community the significance of past genocides, the dangers of prejudice that remain today, and inspire them to become advocates for social change. But then there’s the more personal answer – to remind ourselves that every story of the Holocaust or any human rights violations is our story as well. No matter our race, religion, nationality, when one human suffers, we all do. The more time I spend at the KHC, the more I realize how important it is for this Center to exist and how as an educator, I can impact the lives of visitors through connections made from primary sources.
Throughout your careers in museums, archives, historic houses, and any other type of institution that works to preserve history, you will have many questions. The beauty of having participated in SHA is that you will always be able to find someone who has dealt with that same question at some point or who can point you in the right direction. And you can always take out that huge binder.
Marisa (Berman) Hollywood (SHA ‘12) is the Assistant Director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center at Queensborough Community College – CUNY in Queens, NY. A doctoral student of English at St. John’s University, she is a museum professional and historian specializing in Cultural Studies, Costume and Textile History, Museology, and Historic Preservation. Always seeking new and innovative ways to get people interested in their local history, she has written two recent books about Long Island history.
The Jacket from Dachau: One Survivor’s Search for Justice, Identity, and Home is on view at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center through June 2015. For more information about the exhibit, click here or check out this video about the story of the jacket’s discovery.
Talking with those who have graduated from Developing History Leaders @ SHA you’re likely to hear endless accolades about two key benefits of the seminar: 1. learning from (and conversing with) top leaders in our field, and 2. building a national network of passionate and brilliant “co-conspirators.” I, for one, will be happy to endlessly bend your ear filling you with information on both of these benefits.
However, one thing I don’t normally chat about is the deep bonds of friendship that are built during the three week immersive program. It turns out that breaking away from the day-to-day and diving head first, alongside equally passionate history leaders, into the key concerns of our field has a life-changing effect. SHA creates opportunities for the meeting and bonding between a small group of people that results in lifelong relationships.
When I refer to my SHA-mates as “friends,” I use that term in the most traditional sense. These friends are the people I call on not only for professional advice but have supported me (and continue to support me) through some of my life’s most difficult and challenging times. The friends I know I can call on when the chips are down.
From the professional aspect, these friends are invaluable for their collective characteristics and their unique identities. They work in multiple organizations, in multiple states, and each is on a very different career track. In other words, we’re not all like-minded. They’ve brought the strength of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds to the difficult professional decisions that they’ve helped me make. Each of these friends has served as a mentor for me and openly shared their wisdom and guidance.
From the personal aspect, I’ve laughed and I’ve cried with most of them. They’ve seen the best of me and they’ve seen the worst of me. I’ve broken bread with them, watched their children grow, and been welcomed into their larger families. True friends.
Rebecca Adams (Sociology Professor, University of North Carolina) cites three conditions that are necessary for establishing close friendships—“proximity, repeated, unplanned interactions, and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.” SHA creates all three of those conditions for its seminarians.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that you attend SHA because you’re looking to make lifelong friends (that’d probably be the wrong reason to attend). But, I would say that you should expect that it is very likely to happen. And, I think you should expect those friendships will enrich both your professional life and your personal life. It’s far beyond networking. And that is a beautiful thing.
My plan when I agreed to write the “end of the year” blog post was to give some historical reflections on 2016 that would lead to some good reasons to attend SHA in 2017. Well, the saying goes that “life is what happens when you are making other plans” and that has certainly been the case over the last four weeks.
December 2 began like any other museum workday but by mid-morning the entire museum staff was called into a meeting and informed that the museum would be relocating to New Mexico in the next 12 – 18 months. Our jobs would not be moving with the museum but we would be needed to assist with the transfer. A tight-knit staff of ten, we were all in shock, heartbroken for the museum and each other, and had hundreds of questions to which there are currently very few answers.
As a museum that exists within a parent organization that has a mission that is not preservation or museum-oriented, there are constant challenges with education and gaining support for professional standards. My mind immediately went to the potential ethical and legal minefields that the closing and transfer of a museum could expose. Of course, this was also an area of museum work that, while I had a working knowledge of, I had never actually had to apply to the closing of a museum (this was not exactly a career aspiration!).
Some of the first people I reached out to were my classmates from SHA and the extended network I now have as a result of being a SHA alum. I needed their support – both personally and professionally – but more than that I needed to start assembling my resources and knowledge arsenal for the potential battles ahead. If you are considering SHA, you are likely looking to further build out your network. It is one of the main reasons I made the decision to commit three weeks and the resources to attend three years ago. But what unfolds at SHA and in the years that follow is more than a network of colleagues that you chat with at conferences.
What I was able to tap earlier this month was so much more – as the lists and post-its of issues, concerns, and to-dos piled up around me and my mind was running in multiple directions I began to panic. I did not have the time or energy for the niceties of asking for favors, but I did not need them because when I sent out a rambling list of needs to the SHAwesome class of 2013 (yes that is our name!), the response was overwhelming. Not only did my task list shrink and my list of contacts and resources grow, but also the texts, phone calls, and messages came in filled with support and encouragement.
I don’t know what 2017 holds for any of us, I expect many of us will face challenges and needs from our communities as we face the challenges ahead. I know for the staff at the National Scouting Museum we are heading into the New Year with a lot of uncertainty but the reassurance that I have amazing colleagues that have my back gives me a ray of light to focus on while walking through the unknown.
Jenn Landry (Class of 2013) is currently Curator at the National Scouting Museum in Irving, TX.
The Journey from Thought to Action
Chris Goodlett, SHA Class of 2016
It’s been about a week and half since I returned from SHA. I think about the experience daily and am still coping with the challenge of how to turn thought and discussion into action at my own institution, the Kentucky Derby Museum. Returning to the office during a holiday week allowed some time for reflection, and I spent ample time reviewing things. I went back and listened to the keynote address by John Fleming. I found myself adding key details to my synopsis of his discussion on implicit bias. I reviewed other presentations as well and again found details that I had missed.
Of course, as great as it is to return to the experience that is SHA, at some point you have to think about what it means for your institution. I have an advantage as we are currently going through strategic planning. What better time to introduce some of the concepts I learned from faculty and peers at SHA. Presenting the ideas as action items is the first challenge. As my fellow SHA graduates can attest, your head is swimming with ideas after your three weeks away, and you need to find ways to translate these into something measurable.
Of the many ideas I brought back from SHA, one I keep returning to is community outreach. As I listened to faculty discuss history relevance and asking “so what?” and “for whom?” I felt that KDM can be more intentional in asking these questions in its community. As an entity that looks at the history and culture surrounding an iconic American sporting event, the citizens of Kentucky commemorate the Derby in unique ways. Many SHA faculty related stories of how engaging potential audiences with stories relevant to them transformed their institutions, and it’s my hope that KDM can engage the surrounding community with similar results.
That’s just one small, but important, idea to start. I hope to be able to report successes on the road to relevance. I’m very interested in learning about the efforts of my fellow SHA 2016 alums, as well as others who have taken ideas and thoughts from SHA and turned them into action.