My Career is Cooler than Yours

I mentioned when I restarted this blog that I want this to be a place for museum professionals but also for people aren’t in museums at all. Today, I’m going to explain to you what the heck I do.

Since I was in seventh grade, I was set on my future career. Twelve year old me finally settled on a career after spending my childhood years being convinced that I would be a clown, then a dancer, a DJ, maybe a veterinarian, most certainly a fashion designer — oh and later an architect.  Like many pubescent youth, I finally figured it all out. I was going to be a teacher. Eighteen year old me started undergrad as a history major and secondary education minor and ended up graduating a history major with no teacher certificate but a whole new passion (more on that later).

I’ve had the privilege of being a  museum educator for a few years now. Still it’s a bit difficult to quickly summarize what I do. I usually end up saying “I’m a teacher at a museum.” That’s not too far off actually. Allow me to share with you some of the responsibilites of a museum educator.

Things a museum educator might do:

  • Programming; for almost all museum educators this is what your job mostly entails. “Programming” in the museum world usually means scheduled activities that usually have some educational component. Art wokshops, lecture series, and other museum programs need someone one to come up with ideas to engage visitors, plan it out, and make it happen.
  • We work with our oldest and youngest visitors. Sometimes educators work with a special age group at an institution.
  • Museum educators might also design, book, and/or lead field trips.
  • They may work part-time or full-time.

Things I’ve actually done before:

Ok,  this is actually what being a museum educator has meant for me for me time to time. These are real things I’ve done.

  • Waking up at 3 am and deciding to write a list of all the little details I need to get done for that program or event next week.
  • Googling the weirdest combination of things part because you need to accurately explain this to kids and part because you’re too curious not to. A few things I’ve Googled for my job:  “how old is the earth”, “how to make a cloud”, “what are highland games”, and so on.

    working

    I’m working!

  • Writing lots of label text so I hope you’re reading those little signs in the galleries or online.
  • Tried making an art zine with a bunch of teens.
  • Met awesome people like Wendy Red Star when planning and moderating a sweet photography panel. *name drop*
  • Traveled to New York City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Phoenix for work including nerdy museum conferences.
  • Turned to a mad scientist over time. Did I mention I can make circuits now? Did I mention I’m a history major? I made a circuit with dinosaur toys and LEDs — just for kicks.
  • Designed more things than my non-graphic design self has ever imagined. You want a flyer, a Facebook event cover, a brochure? I got you!
  • Came into work with a bad attitude and, by the end of a program, had an adorable 8 year old hugging my legs then thinking “Yep, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Pretty cool, right? I know what you’re thinking: “How do I become a museum educator?” Far be it from me to think I’m some expert on making it happen but I can give you some advice — but you’re going to have to wait till next for PART TWO *cliffhanger!*

Hey, here’s an idea: maybe you should follow this blog for updates. Seriously, thanks for your views and likes. I hope to keep it coming.

Museum educators, chime in and tell me what you do. Tell me the weird stuff.

Advertisements

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 ; )

Continue reading

Multiculturalism Needs to Work: Public Historians of Color

During my oral exam (the final step in completing my Masters program), my adviser/program director asked me: “Do you think it matters that you’re an African-American public historian?” Before he could barely ask the question I knew where he was going and it had been something in the back of my mind for nearly a year by that time. In an explosion of anticipation, I quickly and loudly said “Yes!” I had a lot to say on the subject. Well that already seems like it was long ago and now I’m officially done with my Masters degree in public history.

Today, public history tends to be sensitive to those it serves and their diversity. Attempts to be inclusive seem to increase every year. During my studies, I learned about indigenous curation which applies the source culture’s reverence and attitude to their objects in museums. In other words: Hidatsa ritual objects might be conserved and interpreted in a way that allows for Hidatsa tribal members to provide their input and cultural tradition. It’s all part of the process of sharing authority and it is a thoughtful idea. Yet, I wonder what is the next step in indigenous curation? How about curators who are indigenous?

I’ll use the term “people of color” here because it best represents the communities I’m talking about; whether they be Asian, Latino, black or identify otherwise. The shift in the 1960s and 1970s towards social history, cultural history, and public history are praiseworthy but there is still a relatively small number of historians of color. The number of and dialogue about professional public historians of color is, by all appearances, miniscule. Historian Miguel Juarez in his article The Invisible Careers for Latinos: Public History and Museum Studies remarks on the subject: “Scholarship of our communities shouldn’t necessarily come from academe. We must not wait for institutions to affirm our history as important and worth collecting, processing, preserving, and presenting.”

No doubt, people of color are involved in public history whether it be as a museum visitor, docents or historic interpreters (NCPH’s recent issue of Public Historian about slavery and public history highlights this) or as non-professional operators of small ethnic historical societies. Public historians of color are needed for their varied perspectives, voices, experiences, and concerns. Furthermore, this does not mean public historians of color should only “represent” their race, ethnicity, or tribal affiliation. In my oral exam, my adviser asked me about this issue as well. Since I began my college career, one my interests is Latino immigration in American history. Should I, as a black person, feel out of place working at a museum focused the Latino experience in the US? Absolutely not! While my opinions and historical interpretation likely would differentiate from someone from a Latino community, my professional input stands.

In fact, I interned last year at the National Hellenic Museum working to promote knowledge of Greek and Greek American history. It was an enjoyable learning experience for me (some visitors asked if I was Greek which threw me off at first). Nonetheless, having a black person tell you about the significance of Greek history is representative of the goals of multiculturalism in the museum. If “their” history can be important to me then it can signal to museum visitors that it might be important to them, even if they aren’t Greek. It works both ways and every other way. We should explore what it means to have a Mexican American public historian creating interpretive labels for an exhibit on the Harlem Renaissance or a Korean American curator over a collection of Native American traditional art. Is it any different than the current situation: mostly white public historians interpreting, conserving, curating, and presenting the histories and artifacts of cultures they aren’t part of?

The obstacles and possible solutions to encourage the increase in public historians of color deserves its own discussion. Hopefully, I and others can address it in the near future.

#PublicHistory

When I first heard of Twitter it didn’t make sense to me. What was the purpose? Turns out there is purposeful use of Twitter. That’s not my personal (read: nonsense) Twitter is full of short tweets about my favorite television shows and insignificant ramblings. The rest of Twitter isn’t much better. Yet, there is a professional side of Twitter and, to my surprise, a growing world of public history related tweets. There are a large number of museums, historic preservation agencies, and public historians on Twitter. Some are useful and others are simply marketing tweets. Here are some of my Twitter public history favorites, where they get it right.:

1) @GetMuseumsJobs
@GetMuseumJobs is a Twitter account that has a running feed of public history related jobs. As a soon to be graduate you could see why this could be of use to my peers and I. Each of the tweets feature a job opening located somewhere in the US along with a link to website where you can apply.

2) @ITweetMuseums
This Twitter account was organized to encourage dialogue between museum professionals on Twitter. It is a helpful part of public history on Twitter because sometimes it can be difficult to find public history related conversations simply through hashtags. Plus, periodically you can find engaging questions related to the field or people live tweeting (tweeting during an event about the event) conferences and lectures. It encourages museum visitors to also tweet about their experiences so it’s it own form of the museum participation. If you’re wondering @ITweetMuseums is not affiliated with any specific museum or other institution.

3) @ninaksimon
Nina Simon (not the soulful singer) is well known to public historians for contributions to museum studies. She is exhibit designer, museum consultant, self-confessed “rabble-rouser for community-driven museums”, and she has her own blog. Her Twitter account can be helpful for finding out about appearances she is making or her new posts on her blog Museum 2.0. She is all about the “participatory museum” which is something many museums need today.

4) #drinkingaboutmuseums
Yes, “drinking”. “Drinking About Museums” was conceptualized when a group of public historians felt the desire to continue the informal conversations they had about their field. The hashtag is used by various people on Twitter to promote the local gatherings. The hashtag is also related to a Google+ account that provides information about the informal gatherings that include alcohol, if that’s what you’re into.

5) @MiningthePublic
Of course, you should check out my Twitter page.

#freeMichaelFrisch