I’m a Bad Historian

…and museum professional.

I’ll get into all of that shortly. Let me start by saying, I’m impressed anyone at all is still visiting my blog considering that I’ve left it silent for four years. There are a few reasons why I left this blog behind: mainly it started in grad school and I got bored and busy after graduation. Secondly, I started working in museums and didn’t know how to reconcile some of my professional thoughts about the institutions I worked at. Basically, I was scared of getting in trouble for some of my more critical views of places I was employed. Last but not least, good ol’ impostor syndrome. “Hey, look at all these museum blogs! I haven’t been to that conference before. I don’t have anything to say that someone hasn’t already. I don’t know who they’re referencing. Am I supposed to know this person?” Yea.

Well, I’ve come up with new topics that excite me and have given up any attempts to be what I think I should be on here. Hopefully, some of what is to come is of interest to those who are not history and museum nerds as well.

On this note, let’s get it started — again.

  1. I love Renaissance fair (ren faire — if you wanna be legit). You may not even know what a Renaissance fair is. I only vaguely had an idea what they were until a few years ago when a fellow history nerd friend initiated me. Let me set the scene: you drive out to some rural area in the summer, park out in a sea of cars, and somehow emerge from you vehicle to some vague moment in English history which is both medieval and Renaissance. If you know any of your European history, you already know this isn’t the same time period. I glaze past this and any anachronisms I come past (I’m not always this kind).
    ren faire

    Bristol Renaissance Faire 2017

    Hey, there is Queen Elizabeth I and her court (Elizabeth’s sidepiece – Robert Dudley doesn’t look too shabby either with his shaped mustache and single pearl drop earring)! It’s a place where you can eat a pickle on a stick, watch a joust, and dress up in your early Italian Renaissance inspired gown (which you forced your mother to sew per your detailed design) made of completely historically incorrect polyester blend fabric. It’s historic reenactment lite. I mean, even some public historians side-eye legitimate historical reenactments because how does one correctly recreate the past anyway? But hey, I’m a twenty something year old Black woman, who happens to be a public historian/museum professional, who likes Renaissance fairs. Huzzah!

  2. Confession: I haven’t (completely) read a history or museology book in at least two years. I know it can’t just be me. Other people experienced after graduation reading burnout, right? After the sometimes tedious reads of academia you just can’t be bothered with voluntary reading. You’ve been trained to read on a deadline because of an assignment. I started thinking about how I’d like to read about the people who made up the Harlem Renaissance or about the reality of the “Wild West” considering I grew up enjoying westerns and had even gone to Deadwood and other places out West as kid. Nope. I think Ida B. Wells is one of the most boss women in American history. Have I finished Sword Among Lions which is an epic biography about Wells that I’ve owned for nearly two years? Still nope. In general, I’ve been forcing myself to read more the past few months and don’t fear; there is good news. I’m currently reading Art of Relevance by museum superstar Nina Simon (not to be confused with the also amazing person Nina Simone). In fact, the next post you will see from me will most likely be a review of that book because it’s really spot on.
  3. I’m a disappointment. Alright, I’m being dramatic. Yet, almost  anytime I remotely try to explain what I went to grad school for (public history) or what I do in a museum, people are usually incredibly and instantly confused or disinterested. I have had someone surmise and repeatedly tell me that I was a curator. I get it. Many people have no idea what careers are involved in museums. The one they might know is curator. Curators don’t get too proud; they aren’t quite sure what you do either. I’m sorry I’m just a museum educator aka a museum teacher who also does a ton of other stuff. Sadly, I’m not Indiana Jones either (truly a personal disappointment for child me).  Oh and yea, I have degrees in history, but shockingly don’t know what happened in *insert random year* off the top of my head or about any and every historical topic — most of the time ; )

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Another One Bites the Dust

Approximately five days ago I realized that this would be my last week of graduate classes. It crept up on me and now its a little bittersweet. Am I really getting sentimental about what could easily be described as voluntary intellectual and emotional torment? Who knows?

Anyway, like I said this is my last week of classes and my last blog post related to my Public History and New Media class. It’s been a  journey, for sure, and an experience in quick paced learning. I can safely say that the majority of the things I learned in this class were new to me, a person who still feels sometimes like a tech novice for my age group.

Never thought I’d ever learn anything about HTML beyond my Myspace days and what do you know? I did, thanks to Dr. Roberts and Codeacademy. Dare I say I even liked it a little and I made this through my HTML skills: Image

The simple joys in life.

I learned many other skills that are important in the job market an public history world these days. I’ve been able to dabble in in Photoshop, get acquainted with Omeka (an open source system for online collections), and be bogged down by the basics of copyright law. Frankly, I might be a little lost, when it comes to newest trends in new media, if it wasn’t for this class. I didn’t even know what Creative Commons was. I even had the privilege of working with my group (Chelsea and Emily) on an artifact video for Loyola University Museum of Art that Ken Burns would be proud of. Furthermore, thanks to this class I finally gave in and created a professional Twitter and this wouldn’t be a successful blog post if i didn’t promote it here.

Web of Stories

I’ve already discussed new media and Web 2.0 a little bit here; it is the contemporary version of the internet that is more participatory and user-generated. As usually, the internet has a way of taking on older traditional means of communication and social interaction and making them digital and dynamic. This is no different when to comes to storytelling which is surely one of the oldest forms of communal entertainment. From tall tales to the “back in my day” stories, people have always been interested in each others’ experiences or imaginations.

Author Bryan Alexander’s book The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media explores what are the current relationships between new media and storytelling. In the fourth chapter of his book, “Web 2.0 Storytelling”, he discusses blogs, Twitter, wikis (which are web applications which allow for users to collaborate and create content), Facebook, and “social images” (images that might be on the image-based website like Flickr, for instance). Each of these sites or applications allow for people to create stories or narratives and for people to not only share them but perhaps comment on or adapt them. While I’m not completely sold on Alexander’s belief that Twitter can be a place of storytelling, I suppose it is possible to grasp a story from the short vain messages that make up the site. I’m more convinced by things like blogs (perhaps I am slightly textually biased) but I’m even more certain that images can tell as much of a story as a “tweet”, if not more. Of course, many images have led many people astray, and we all know the fantasy world of computer edited images.

Of course, digital storytelling can be a useful tool in the museum for exhibitions and museum education. Freeman Tilden said that interpretation is “not instruction but provocation”. Interpretation in the museum setting means sharing a narrative to demonstrate meaning, significance, and feeling. In other words, I can hand you a list of factual of historic dates or can I tell you an account from history. One historical story is told on Flickr through the creation of edited photos that are historic World War II images merged with the same location in contemporary times called Ghosts of War. I enjoy many of the images because the creator goal is to show that “history is all around us”. The creator has adapted images to tell another story of change over time while making audiences see locations in a different way. Check out this one depicting a SS recruitment office from the war era merged with a current image of a diverse Amsterdam:

Ghosts of war

Digital Collaboration

Over spring break, in my Public History and New Media course we had a short project that involved reinventing the Glessner House’s website. Glessner House is a historic home in the Prairie Avenue area of Chicago. We were tasked with doing an updated and more functional version of the website on a platform that that was free. My group and I, at my suggestion (I use the site for my own freelance makeup artistry site), decided to use Wix to create a website using Glessner House’s texts and photos (are site isn’t live or used by Glessner House). As always there were some obstacles and positives to doing group work. The challenges of doing a project over the internet is a bit different than working on projects in-person at your job or internship, for instance. I believe collaborating over the internet on projects is growing in popularity everyday and most college students to day are familiar with working on projects in which they rarely meet with one another. Here are some of the pros and cons that we faced:

Pro #1: We didn’t have to arrange to meet.

While there is nothing wrong with meeting in person and indeed it is important, collaborating digitally allowed for us to not have to make time in our schedule over spring break. We agreed at the project’s start who would be responsible for what and then we had some freedom to access Wix and work on our own schedule.

Con #1: Consistency

While we trusted our group members’ judgement, which is vital to teamwork, it is sometimes difficult to make sure that consistency is maintained across the project when people aren’t meeting. When we used Wix we could access the site and see what everyone had done but for me it’s the little details of consistency (especially for something like a website) that is important. Are the font styles and sizes consistent? Is the depth of information balanced?

Pro #2: Teamwork means more creativity.

As with any kind of teamwork on a project, the benefit of more than one person working a project allows for more creativity. Because of a diversity of opinions sometimes is the cause of disagreement but it can also be a means of creative problem solving. If one of us doesn’t know how to fix a problem maybe someone esle does. In other words, we can support each other in the creation process.

History (and Resources) Matters

Since the seventh grade I was convinced that I had decided on my dream career. I was going to be a history teacher. Wouldn’t you know that some people discouraged me from it? In high school I was told that I was too shy, I wouldn’t be paid enough, and that kids were”too bad” these days. Despite, some of society’s current hangups about teachers I thought it was one of the most noble professions and I still do. My junior year of college I changed my mind about pursuing secondary education as a minor because I had some serious problems with my college’s curriculum and advising. By senior year I was intern at Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and I was in love with this new thing called “museum education”. Now, here I am.

In my opinion, public history is very much about education and many times that means reaching teachers and students. More museums are hoping to bridge the gap between schools and their institutions. Museums aren’t the only ones trying to build communities that involve historical inquiry and students of all ages. The web is fully of many things and some of those “things” can be extremely profitable to teaching history in and outside the classroom. Daniel L. Cohen and Roy Rosenweig call the collection of history-based websites online “the history web”.

HistoryMatters

One of my favorite history based websites is History Matters:the US Survey Course on the Web. History Matters is a resource website for teachers and students (high school and college). It was created in 1998 by Pennee Bender, Joshua Brown, Roy Rosenzweig (imagine that) and is part of the George Mason University website. The website is a great example of useful materials including: 1,000 primary resources, syllabi, forums, reviewed and annotated history websites, and much more. Two of my favorite features of History Matters is their Digital Blackboard and Students as Historians sections. Digital Blackboard is a listing of links and descriptions of web-based assignments for students. It includes topics from Immigration to Watergate. Students as Historians is a resource list of students history projects. Some of the projects are student articles online or are projects that involve making informational websites. While the website isn’t particularly visually intriguing but it is straightforward and updated (something that isn’t always remembered). Any history teacher, professor, or museum educator can find something of value from this website.

So Long, Farewell…

As of last Wednesday, my internship with the Field Museum is over. I’m grateful for the opportunities and experiences I had while working there. I really got to see some neighborhoods of Chicago in a new way. I’ve been to the South Chicago and East Side, for instance, and have traveled as far as Porter, Indiana. I wasn’t aware of how involved the Field Museum is involved in conservation within the Chicagoland and Calumet region. My internship has educated me more to the connections that can exist between large museums, historic preservation and environmental conservation.

So what’s next? Classes start for me again for my second and last year of my Master’s degree (yay!). This semester I’ll also be entering another internship, more details on that soon. I also will be a co-mentor to an undergraduate class who is working on an exhibit that will be featured at Loyola’s library (formally the Karlchek Information Commons). Expect to see more posts from me next month and possible a blog name change. This isn’t really goodbye, its auf wierdersehen.

Hot Dog, I’ve Got an Internship!

Today was my internship orientation and official first day at the Field Museum. Overall, the day went really well  (after my mad dash for the Metra train this morning) and I’m looking forward to what’s to come. Plus, who can be mad at the great views from Museum Campus of the lake and Lakeshore Drive?

So what will I be doing this summer? Well, without drowning you in the details (okay I’m still getting a grasp of it too) I’ll sum up the projects I’ll be working on.  The largest and overarching project I’ll be focusing on, along with fellow interns and staff from the The Action Center/Environment, Culture, and Conservation Center, is research for the proposed Calumet Heritage Corridor. Heritage corridors or areas are large geographical areas that have multiple historical, cultural, and environmental assets; their designation comes from the National Park Service. The Field Museum and partners such as the Calumet Stewardship Initiative are working to increase environmental stewardship in a large area stretching from southeastern Chicagoland to northwest Indiana. The Calumet region has a number of notable features from its ethnic communities to its industrial history (which has periodically been detrimental in the community as well). I’ll be working on research of that region through participant observation and interviews. Learn more here: http://www.calumetstewardship.org/

That research, combined with other inquiries into the diverse urban communities of Chicago, will also be used to build what the Field is calling their Contemporary Urban Collection. The collection will attempt to lead ethnological collections towards an examination of modern urban people, not just indigenous peoples. Read more about that here: http://fieldmuseum.org/explore/department/ecco/contemporary-urban-collections

And did I mention my supervisor bought my fellow interns and I each a hot dog for lunch? And not any hot dog, of course a Chicago-style hot dog. Be jealous.