Category Archives: History

The Importance of Great Leadership (cannot be overstated)

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.

They were:

5. Passionate
4. Humility
3. Big Picture Thinker
2. Communication Skills, particular listening

and finally…

1.  Integrity.

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.

Knowing Where to Look for Answers (or Artifacts)

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.

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Image Credit: Kupferberg Holocaust Center

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.

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Image Credit: Kupferberg Holocaust Center

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.

 

 

 

Business for History Professionals

 

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I came to SHA for a variety of reasons- networking, growing my knowledge of the field, and learning new skills relevant to my particular role, to name a few. At the top of my list was a desire to become more savvy about the business side of running a museum. As someone whose educational background is in history, and who works with interpretation and exhibits for a large organization, I arrived eager to learn more about matters that are outside my day-to-day responsibilities. Here are 3 takeaways from our sessions this past week.

 

Every single staff member and volunteer in a museum plays a role in development. I’m focused on the guest experience in my museum, which occasionally extends consciously into the realm of development. Since gifts depend on an institution’s reputation, mission, and the love that a donor has for our work, all departments have an effect on our ability to secure those gifts, just as they do in our ability to provide a positive guest experience. I also had a chance to make my first “ask.” I was deferred because I hadn’t been able to provide data on impact. I won’t make that mistake twice, especially in real life.

History leaders need to be involved in the financial process of their museum, regardless of their department. One of our speakers, Jeff Matsuoka, VP Business and Operations at the Indiana Historical Society described budgeting as “a decision to allocate resources in certain places and not in others.” In order to do this, we need to know our revenue streams and how they compare in terms of percentage of total revenue, develop a cash flow model which includes personnel and operating expenses. No museum is so large that they can do everything they want to do, and, for a mission-based organization, the strategic plan guides both the budget and the program. The preparation I did for the session on finance helped me to better understand my own institution’s business model, and investigate those of other museums.

Business model case studies help leaders train themselves to succeed based on what they would do in a given situation. Disengaged boards, personnel costs dangerously similar to total income, crumbling buildings, lagging attendance. Amidst all of these challenges, my first instinct as the hypothetical advisor to the CEO of “Old Pemberly Village” (a fictitious historic site) was to advise her to seek other employment. But there were also positives, like robust local college programs, positive new hires, and community partners. Working through this for a few hours as a group along with our guest faculty member for guidance, we turned OPV into a viable, vibrant, relevant part of its community…at least on paper.

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There is one benefit that I hadn’t expected of my time here that I am appreciating all the more each day. There is a freedom that comes from being in a room as professional equals with colleagues who are at varying levels within their organizations from the top to the middle, and yet none of whom report to one another. If I don’t know how to approach a problem, I get to hear the directors in the room share how they would, or have solved that problem. It’s kind of like being a freshman and having friends who are seniors.

Kate Morland is Museum Manager at The Henry Ford.

History Relevance answers “So what?” & “For whom”

The beginning of each SHA class is one of the highlights of my year. I look forward to my trip to Indianapolis each year for any number of reasons: reconnect with colleagues in central Indiana, experience a bit of cooler weather, but especially to be around *my* people.

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Tim Grove and the Class of 2016.

By that I mean, a group of history professionals who care so deeply about the profession and their own learning that they take a 3-week break from their lives to attend SHA. These are the kind of people I want to know and be around.

SHA begins with each class member introducing themselves for 8 minutes. This is one of my favorite activities. It’s great to see how people choose to tell about their own paths to history, personal and professional. It’s awesome to see the connections between each other and how much we have in common with each other.

As I remarked to one of the members of the class, “We all share a lot in common with the people in our personal lives, but we typically don’t share with them a deep, abiding love for making the the world a better place through history.” This is what I mean when I say these are “my” people, they are your people too.

Yesterday (Sunday) we also heard a keynote from John Fleming, one of the field’s longtime leaders in the area of Diversity and Inclusion. John is also current Council Vice Chair of AASLH, my own organization and one of the five SHA partner organizations. John’s talk, “How Implicit Bias Hinders Diversity,” gave us much to think about in this critical aspect of our work. Ultimately, John’s message was one of “Intentionality”–how are you/your organization being intentional in its Diversity and Inclusion strategies/tactics?

Today, David Young of Cliveden and Tim Grove of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum teamed up to talk about The Relevance of Public History. Their discussions, included David’s work at Cliveden (read about some of that here) and Tim’s role with the History Relevance Campaign (has your organization endorsed the Value of History Statement yet?)

It is amazing watching the group come together as they discuss two of the fundamental questions of our work–“So what?” and “For whom?”–and how the group answers them in their own work.

SHA and the conversations within remind me of the importance of history; our work; and you, me, our colleagues and peers. It is truly one of the highlights of my year.

Bob Beatty
@Lyndhurst_Group

p.s.: Please share with me how you are answering the questions “So what?” and “For whom?” I’m interested in your thoughts on these questions.

Class of 2015, and a visit with Denny O’Toole

Developing History Leaders @SHA gets underway at the end of this week. The Class of 2015 will gather in Indianapolis to begin three weeks of learning and dialogue about the many ways we bring history to communities across the country. A distinguishing characteristic of this year’s class is its geographic spread, with greater representation from the West than is usually the case. This class includes students from Texas, California, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, and the Yukon Territory in Canada.

While in Santa Fe last week visiting our son, Anita and I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Denny and Trudy O’Toole. For those who don’t know, Denny was the coordinator of SHA prior to my taking the position in 2010. The O’Toole scholarship is named in his honor. Denny was a leader in our field for decades, and inspired and influenced many who now lead and work in history organizations. It has been an honor for me to follow in his footsteps.

Denny was eager to hear about the 2015 class. We talked about what has changed, and what has not, since he passed the baton. Some faculty continue to serve – Conny Graft on evaluation, Barbara Franco and Laura Roberts on organizational change, Kent Whitworth on team building – and we continue to engage with many of the same local organizations – the Indiana Medical History Museum, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum, and Conner Prairie, where we will again participate in “Follow the North Star.” John Herbst and the amazing staff at the Indiana Historical Society continue to host the seminar and provide invaluable support.

Of course, much has changed. Every year there are a few new topics in response to student suggestions and emerging new practices. This year, building on changes made over the past two or three years, we will place emphasis on historical interpretation of contested history. David Young from Cliveden of the National Trust will frame the issues by addressing the role of public history in communities today; Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko from the Abby Museum will present her approach to decolonization in working with the native peoples of Maine; and Sarah Pharaon from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience will engage the students in methods of dialogue when addressing difficult topics.

We will also continue to tackle the basic challenges of leadership of history organizations: building financially sustainable organizations, stewarding collections, engaging communities, and leading change. Also, a number of the faculty have been involved in the History Relevance Campaign, so we’ll have frequent discussions about the value of history in contemporary life.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what this year’s class thinks and has to say about public history and the work we do to bring history to people in our communities. See you in Indy!

Here we go! Class of 2014 is underway.

Today begins the 2014 Class of Developing History Leaders @SHA. Twenty-one public history practitioners from across the nation have gathered in Indianapolis to learn from leaders, and from one another, about changes that are occurring in our field. Increasingly history organizations are finding ways to be more relevant to the people in their communities, states, the nation and the world. Innovative and courageous leaders are addressing tough issues, as the world around us continues to change.

First up will be Jan Gallimore, Executive Director of the Idaho State Historical Society, who will discuss the challenges she has faced in getting her organization “to the table” at the state level, in helping state leaders to address issues of education and economic development. So often history is left out of discussions about the big issues confronting our communities. History is viewed as something nice to have, but not especially useful when it comes to improving the lives of people. This has to change.

Tomorrow David Young from Cliveden will engage the class in thinking about some of the critical and tough issues facing their communities, and how history can be part of the solution, using his own experience in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

But wait a minute, why do we have to change? Can’t we continue to operate our organizations as we always have, caring for the historic collections and buildings, sharing our expert knowledge through exhibitions and publications, and inviting the public to do research and enjoy events at our places? Tomorrow afternoon Susie Wilkening from Reach Advisors will discuss changes external to our field that compel us to change: demographic and economic trends, changing views of the value of museums, new philanthropic priorities, changing expectations of the public regarding leisure and education, and more. Institutions that don’t change will be left behind.

On Tuesday Tim Grove from the National Air and Space Museum and Jamie Glavic from the Ohio Historical Society will present changes in technology. In this case we have begun to embrace change as younger people have entered the field. Tim and Jamie will help us understand what is happening and what is coming in technology.

Stay tuned for more blog posts over the next three weeks.

SHA a “Formative Program”

Part of my job is to follow the trends happening in the field of history organizations. For the most part I get this information from blogs I follow, Twitter or LinkedIn, or just folks sending me an email.

(In the case of this article, “Selling history: Museums, sites find creative ways to attract patrons,” I saw it on Twitter and via email.)

Many of us know all too well the challenge of presenting history’s fascinating stories to an often disengaged public. As the article notes, “That challenge forces the managers of historical sites and museums to be alert to ways of telling their stories that sometimes seem far removed from history.”

What struck me was not as much the content of the article, rather, it’s a quote from Andy Masich, who attended SHA in 1982:

“You can’t force things on an audience,” he said. “You have to match the medium with the audience.”

Masich says such thinking is more common now, but in the late 1970s when he was in graduate school, he never encountered it until he went to a seminar for historical administration at Williamsburg, Va. He calls that event a “formative program” in his thinking of steering a museum.

What the author Bob Karlovits calls “a seminar for historical administration” was actually “The Seminar for Historical Administration”- now Developing History Leaders @SHA.

Thirty years later, the experience still resonates with Andy. How will SHA impact your career?

For the full article go here.

For more information on the Class of 1982, see this article from Andy’s classmate Jim Vaughan.

SHA Class of 2013 Curriculum Taking Shape

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Indiana Historical Society, host site for Developing History Leaders @ SHA

SHA coordinator John Durel is busy finalizing the 2013 SHA schedule. Below are his thoughts on this year’s program.

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The curriculum for Developing History Leaders @ SHA 2013 is taking shape, with continued emphasis on trends and innovations that are affecting the work of history organizations, as well as fundamental skills necessary to be a successful leader in our field. This year Katherine Kane, Executive Director of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, will give the keynote on the first day of the seminar, setting the stage for discussions over the next three weeks. The Stowe Center is more than a traditional historic house. It is a place that uses Stowe’s life and work to inspire others to take action addressing the concerns of today. It is a prime example of making history useful to contemporary life.

Discussions the first week will center on other innovative ways to use history to engage audiences and benefit communities, sometimes dealing with sensitive issues. Among the topics will working with communities to create meaningful exhibitions, the latest use of technology to enhance history experiences, and reinterpreting historic sites using historical research and community engagement. In addition, we are working with SHA partner the National Trust for Historic Preservation to include seminarians in the 2013 National Preservation Conference. (Check out this fantastic video on Indianapolis and the Trust conference.)

Week two will begin with discussions led by five executive directors who are taking different approaches to reinventing their organizations. To varying degrees they have focused on the guest experience, the financial model, community engagement, the collections, the staff, and the board. Their stories reveal the complexity of leading change for a whole organization, and not just a single function or department. Students will have opportunities to talk with these directors, both formally and informally.

In the latter part of the second week we will address questions about audience, specifically demographic trends and evaluation, and end with a field trip to see and discuss the Power of Children exhibit at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, and to participate in Follow the North Star at Conner Prairie.

In the final week we will turn attention inward to organizational development, with sessions on creating a vision, raising money, managing change, leading from the middle, and building teams. Increasingly the conversation will turn toward practical steps and strategies that students can employ when they return home, ready to be stronger leaders in their respective institutions and in the field as a whole.

Applications for SHA 2013 are due May 13.

Class of 2012 gets started

Guest blog post by Maureen Ward, Canadian Museum of Civilization

On Sunday, October 28th, 2012, twenty of us gather from fifteen states and four countries to begin the SHA experience.

Our gracious host, Erin welcomes us to our ‘classroom’ for the next three weeks – the Indiana Historical Society,

…and treats us to a behind-the-scenes tour where we follow the path of a paper based acquisition.

..who knows what story this one will eventually tell.

Bill Tramposch’s keywords from his keynote.

Ready, Set, GO

In two days the 2012 class of Developing History Leaders @ SHA will arrive in Indianapolis for three weeks of intense learning about the issues and opportunities facing public history organizations today. To paraphrase Mark Sundlov from last year’s class, they will be challenged! I’m looking forward to dynamic dialogue and problem solving as the 20 members of the class engage with 33 faculty who will be joining us, one or two at a time, for a day or two each. We’ll cover topics from digital technology to financial sustainability, from managing organizational change to addressing divisive history, from alternative uses for  historic properties to community leadership.

In past years I’ve posted a blog two or three times a week reporting on the topics we are covering. This year I’m going to invite class members to post guest blogs, so that you will hear first hand about what they are discussing, both in the classroom and informally in the evening at the hotel. For those of you who have attended the seminar in the past, this will bring back memories and keep you up to date on the issues. For those who have not yet attended, this will give you a better understanding of the value of the seminar.

We’ll welcome your comments to our posts. Join us in this exciting dialogue and learning for history leaders.

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