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This year’s Seminar for Historical Administration (SHA) is meeting in Indianapolis and all of our hard work in selecting participants and presenters over the past months is coming to fruition. For three weeks in Indianapolis, a dozen people in the history field will be discussing the leading issues facing leaders and debating their solutions. I’ve assembled the schedule and directing the program, so I’m particularly excited to see how it unfolds each day. A big thanks to the dozens of people who are helping to make this extraordinary experience possible.
SHA opened on Sunday with Erin Carlson Mast, the President and CEO of President Lincoln’s Cottage, laying out the trends in the field. She noted how much has changed in the last ten years and that our work is more important than ever. I was particularly intrigued by her insistence that the mission and vision of the organization need to be manifested not only in the public programs and activities but also in the budget and operations. For example, their interpretation of slavery during Lincoln’s era motivated them to examine modern-day slavery (human trafficking) through their award-winning SOS program for teens AND make choices about the restoration materials used in the Cottage. Afterwards, we visited the library and archives at the Indiana Historical Society and had dinner together at a local restaurant.
Please welcome the Class of 2017, who will be participating in SHA in November in Indianapolis:
- Jessica Cyders, Curator and Registrar, Southeast Ohio History Center, Athens, Ohio
- Peter DeCarlo, Digital Content Developer-MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Joanna Hahn, Site Manager, Levi & Catharine Coffin State Historic Site, Fountain City, Indiana
- Sarah Halter, Executive Director, Indiana Medical History Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana
- Jessica Jenkins, Curator, Minnetrista, Muncie, Indiana
- Morgan L’Argent, Web Developer, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Chandler Lighty, Director, Indiana Historical Bureau, Indianapolis, IN
- Jeffery Matsuoka, Vice President, Business and Operations, Indiana Historical Society
- Jessie Nesseim, Interpreter/Volunteer Coordinator, Siouxland Heritage Museums, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Ashley Phlipot, Acting Site Director, Fort Meigs Historic Site, Perrysburg, Ohio
- Matt Schullek, Distance Learning/Multimedia Services Coordinator, Ohio History Connection
- Dawn Weaver, Park Manager, Musgrove Mill State Historic Park, Clinton, South Carolina
To support their participation, SHA awarded Dennis O’Toole Scholarships to Dawn Weaver, Jessica Cyders, Sarah Halter, and Jessie Nesseim. We’ll be introducing them at the SHA Reception at Read the rest of this entry
The AASLH Annual Meeting will offer “The SHA Wednesday Workshop” on Wednesday, September 6, 2017 from 1:30 to 5:00 pm. Workshop attendees will experience the model of professional development practiced at Developing History Leaders @SHA.Tim Hoogland (SHA 2008) and Conny Graft (the longest serving faculty member in SHA history!) will address topics and themes centered on evaluation including data collection and building a culture of evaluation in your institution that guides programs and improves fundraising. Using the group work and discussions that are the hallmark of SHA, we will address challenges in visitor evaluation and how to measure impact through outreach and educational programs.
Fifteen people have registered so far and more are welcome, both SHA Alums who are looking for a chance to work with their colleagues and for people who are interested in SHA but first want a brief taste (it’s hard to commit to three weeks, so encourage them to attend). Registration is $25 and more details are available at http://about.aaslh.org/conference.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The study of history is about more than reading cool stories.
The preservation of history is about more than storing cool old stuff.
The longer that I have been involved with history, the more I have come to grips with these uncomfortable truths.
I say uncomfortable because stories and old stuff are the avenues through which I entered historical practice. It was definitely cool…but that was it. And if I had ever been pressed for deeper reasons about why anyone should be interested in history, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it. Then in recent years I have been exposed to the work in the History Relevance Campaign and was shocked to learn that there were people who believed there was much, much more to history…and not just that, but they were articulating its relevance! Still, it was uncomfortable for me because my head told me that there was something real to this, but my heart didn’t quite get it. And I’ve been struggling with that for years.
Until last week.
The relevance of what we do in our field continues to come up at SHA. As Steve Light observed in an earlier blog post, it was the topic we considered on day 1, and continued to be a major undercurrent throughout the week. And that hasn’t stopped in week 2 – we can’t get away from it! During an intense week, we have thought about the importance of government advocacy for our field, fundraising as the lifeblood of our institutions, the great power of preserved physical spaces, communication with our guests through dialogue rather than lecture, and strategies for inclusive interpretation of race and slavery at historic sites. These have impressed upon me more than ever the necessity of knowing your audience, knowing your story, and being able to connect those in a relevant mission.
And it’s not just the faculty that has helped me see this. But my brilliant and insightful classmates have helped me to make relevant connections of my site-specific history in ways that I have never thought of before. And it’s exciting! Not only has my head come to understand the importance of a relevant message, but my heart has also opened up, so to speak. I finally get it. And I have SHA to thank for making it comfortable to think like that.
We still need cools stories. And we still need cool old stuff. But we need to make those valuable and meaningful and need to articulate that in a clear and concise message. I look forward to trying these ideas out when I get back home.
Aaron Genton is the Collections Manager at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
History workers speak about the power of impact. A researcher’s archival discovery connects an African-American neighborhood with the hidden past of a Revolutionary era house. At a Navy museum exhibit, a colorfully tattooed 19-year-old U.S. Navy sailor describes secretly embroidered early 1900s “liberty” uniforms as “the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
These “wow” moments hold power. But by focusing on the visitors, the sites, the “old stuff,” we overlook ourselves. What about us? To be sustainable organizations, should we focus on history professionals building sustainability through the power of relationships?
Power arises from generosity of spirit. We build power in the history industry when we share knowledge and insights with our future co-workers. We build power by broadening organizational capacity to sector-wide capacity. By nurturing relationships, we develop effectiveness, reputation, and power.
My first week at the Seminar for Historical Administration, it all came together: generosity of spirit builds a powerful network that supports sustainability. Here in Indianapolis, I see institution-building and journeys to sustainable organizations, not zero-sum destructive competition. Generosity of spirit is not transactional giving, but a transformational system of mentoring, teaching, receptive lifelong learning, and openness to new roles. The impacts of transformational leadership have come together for each of us as Developing History Leaders with our readings, lectures, and nighttime discussions.
At SHA for me, I see power from my past. Twenty years ago, I was a graduate student researching African-American coal miners who founded the nation’s first bi-racial labor unions. Wilma Moore, archivist for African-American history at the Indiana Historical Society, helped in the researcher-archivist exchange. But in Wilma’s writings and her presence, she exuded grace, calm, and connectedness. Over time, Wilma became a mentor to me and my research uncovered her ancestor Thomas Washington’s part in history.
Two years later, in 1998, a young northwest Indiana college student named Amy Belcher connected with my employer and me for internship learning. Amy was bright, hardworking, but needed social capital. I pulled her alongside me during the fast-paced workdays and experiences. She thrived. Later, Amy risked a leap to Indianapolis, then pushed through two master’s degrees. Amy landed at the Indiana Historical Society and worked with my mentor, Wilma Moore, as her mentor. Relationships intersected.
In the early 2000s, I saw opportunities in expanding my then-employer’s scope of impact beyond the physical walls of a Midwestern regional archival repository in Chicago. If researchers were to come to the archives, I needed to bring the archives to potential researchers. The Indiana Historical Society was centrally located three hours away. At IHS, Trina Nelson-Thomas (SHA ’96) recognized the possibilities of the two institutions fitting together for focused programs. But Trina went beyond an exchange: she talked about a shared vision, like business partners. Then Trina encouraged me repeatedly to apply to the Seminar for Historical Administration.
But my life got interrupted. And got interrupted more. Fifteen years. Transformations take incredible effort, vision, persistence, and resilience.
New jobs provided me amazing new opportunities and growth. I finally could apply to SHA. Being accepted is thrilling. The learning is intensive and challenging, but instructors and classmates show many common traits. The three most common we share? An indirect, sometimes winding path in a career, generosity of spirit, and a drive to make history professionals powerful.
“My” one-time intern Amy attended the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2010. Recently, Amy rose to become the Director of Reference at the Indiana Historical Society’s special collections library. She also co-edited a major book. Wilma Moore remains the griot of African-American History in the Midwest, an incredibly wise mentor, seeker, questioner, writer. Trina Nelson-Thomas moved outward from IHS a few years ago to become an executive director in Texas, but current SHA instructors name her and cite her transformational impact upon the institution.
And I am the SHA student, learning, listening, thinking, envisioning from SHA teachers, classmates, colleagues. I am grateful for their generosity of spirit.
Your relationships can be transformational, if you allow yourself to build capacity in others and yourself. Be generous in your spirit and build relationships. Build power. Consider developing your own leadership at the Seminar for Historical Administration next year.