Oct. 23, 2007

Constitutional Matters

This summer Canadians flocked to the Public Archives and National Library in Ottawa to view Library and Archives Canada’s exhibit showing the 1982 Constitution. Well… people did not seem to flock so much as trickle and to be honest, the exhibition space is about twice the size of my kitchen, so I may have just missed seeing people when they went through because you could read everything in about 15 minutes.

I do not want to be too critical of my former place of employment because it truly was a great place to work and learn and because I know that the people working at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) really do care about making Canada’s documentary heritage more accessible to Canadians. In fact, the time I spent speaking with the Exhibit Manager at LAC reinforced my belief that documents can be presented to the public in an engaging fashion. On the other hand, it does not take an archivist working on the inside to see that accessibility to Canada’s documentary heritage is not a well-known fact. The exhibits at LAC may be small, but they are also well-designed and free to visitors brave enough to enter the doors at 395 Wellington St; unfortunately, little money is spent on advertising these exhibits, and so LAC maintains a low profile.

Should documents of legal, historical, or cultural significance really be shown in the exhibit rooms of LAC, considering the small population of visitors that seem to visit these exhibits? LAC should be an institution that both preserves and makes accessible archival documents. Although digitization and internet searches will increase the public’s ability to access archival documents, it is critical that individuals be aware that such documents and such a repository exist. If the institution is unable or unwilling to advance its own cause, then perhaps other institutions that use archival materials (such as museums or history departments in museums or high schools) need to take up the cause of informing the public as to what archives are all about. Of course, this situation would decrease archivists’ control of the message being sent out regarding archives, but that is the price that archival institutions pay for not putting themselves more in the public eye.

Might more people have lined up to see the 1982 Constitution if it had been exhibited at the Museum of Civilization or the Royal Ontario Museum? Archival institutions need to consider the means and venues that might best show off Canada’s documentary heritiage, and in so doing should take a look at what other institutions of public history are doing to attract the public’s attention.

Atlantic Canada Studies Conference

While working for Library and Archives Canada this past summer, my research led me to the website for the Atlantic Canada Studies Conference. As I browsed through the itinerary, I was struck by the number of sessions that related to topics that the 2006-2007 Public History class discussed in Public History, Digital History, Archival Studies, Social Memory, and Museology courses. This year the conference ran at the beginning of May, and it might have been a great opportunity for Public History students to consolidate their learning experiences before heading out to begin the internship component of the program. Conferences are a wonderful opportunity to learn, network, and socialize that this year’s Public History students may want to consider!

Sep. 12, 2007

A New Crew Of Public Historians

Because I am interested in being at the table when Digital Humanities are discussed, I took a few moments yesterday to check out Bill Turkel's new syllabus for the Digital History course at UWO. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a number of this year's Public History students had already posted to their new blogs. It was fascinating to see how some of this year's first posts were so similar to those published by my classmates last September.

Please browse through the list of Public History students found on the side menu. I know that they will appreciate and respond enthusiastically to having an audience outside of their own class!

Good Luck and Best Wishes to UWO's '07-'08 Public Historians!

May 2, 2007

The Museum of Useful Things

Can a store call itself a museum? I thought that was ours!

While visiting Boston this winter, I found myself wandering through a small store called The Museum of Useful Things. This museum/store displays and sells items that are regularly used in everyday life but have been designed to have a pleasing aesthetic as well. Additionally, The Museum of Useful Things has a few small virtual and physical exhibits for interested visitors to gaze upon. By calling itself a museum, this store is imagining itself as more than a retail outlet – it becomes a site of learning.

In a previous post, I suggested that museums might show and sell reproductions of historical artifacts; perhaps this is the first step in that direction. On the other hand, it seems a tad worrisome that a museum-store hybrid is being conceived by a retail outlet first because a business-like orientation of the museum-store could undermine the museum’s mission to collect, preserve, and educate. Museums seem compelled to move to business models for success though, which makes the museum-store a plausible future manifestation.

The Museum of Useful Things does provide two helpful insights to museums though. First of all, the museum-store is small; it is easy to see everything, and the “collection” is easy to curate. Secondly, The Museum of Useful Things has successfully increased its visitors by mixing education with consumerism as a form of entertainment. In fact, because the museum-store focuses on both the aesthetic and the function of a product, The Museum of Useful Things has succeeded in making ideas of design more accessible to the passing shopper. Furthermore, people will return in order to check what new stock/artifacts have come in. Museums might try experiment with brevity and with mixing education and other interests to sustain the interest of their audiences.

Okay… so maybe we can share.

Apr. 8, 2007

Museums’ Return Visitors

During a class visit to the University of Western Ontario’s MacIntosh Gallery last month, the gallery’s curator mentioned that she was committed to create programs that served the university’s student population. This statement got me thinking: A museum that serves its audience successfully is probably one that offers an experience that will make the visitor want to return to that museum. (I suppose that an exceptionally successful museum then would make visitors want to visit other museums as well!)

Interaction with a rotating selection of artifacts might be one way to keep visitors coming back for more. Although it might not be possible for every visitor to physically interact with all the artifacts in a collection, there is the option of allowing a museum interpreter to demonstrate an artifacts use. (Alexander, Museums in Motion, Ch. 11) Open-air museums frequently demonstrate how period crafts and trades were carried out, and perhaps there are artifacts in the collections of indoor museums that could still be operated. If a museum were to come up with a rotation of artifacts in use that changed on a weekly basis, visitors might return to see a particular item in action. This would also create an opportunity for the museum interpreter to convey more information not included on the text panels to those visitors.

Of course, the stress of operation and impact on nearby artifacts must be taken into consideration, showing visitors how different artifacts worked might be a great way to keep people coming back to a museum again.

Mar. 25, 2007

A Funtional Analysis for Oral History

Although she often claims that her thoughts are a disorganized, unpublished mess, Diana Dicklich actually is rather consistent at coming up with brilliant insights during class. When we were discussing the importance of inclusively when planning and presenting an exhibit, Diana mentioned the idea of creating a functional analysis for collecting oral histories. After learning more about oral history this weekend, Kelly and Molly might inform me on Monday that it is very normal to come up with a broad plan before conducting an interview for historical purposes; nevertheless, because I think this is a neat idea and because by butchering her original idea I might spur Diana into blogging action, I would still like to explore this idea of a functional analysis for oral history.

Archivists, who all seem to be inundated with acquisitions that need to be appraised, arranged, and described, carry out functional analyses to determine what stays in the archive and what goes in the circular file. To be very brief, an archivist performs a functional analysis by understanding what activities are most important to a creator’s job; the archivist then keeps only the documents that are the result of these activities.

The idea of carrying out a functional analysis with oral interviews is an interesting one because it assumes that the interview has specific uses beyond what the interviewer is looking for. When I was interviewing 3M researchers as a part of my contribution to the Invention to Innovation exhibit, I was interested specifically in how particular inventions were conceptualized, constructed, and used; though the interviews do contain a good deal of information about the history of the inventions in which I was interested, the interview might be of little use to an engineer or a chemist interest in the same invention. Likewise, a person interested in the interviewees’ respective roles at 3M might find the interview wanting as well. A functional analysis of either the interviewee or subject of discussion might have been an effective way to shape a more useful primary source of information. Although a system of macro-appraisal for oral history might not answer all the questions future historians might ask, such an approach could provide a greater level of consistency in terms of what sorts of information were preserved.

Monuments We Can Argue Over

On February 15th, the Globe and Mail Online reported that Estonia’s parliament voted in favour of removing a monument that commemorated soldiers from the former Soviet Union who died during the Second World War. Although the article generated over seventy comments from online readers concerning whether the Soviet Union played a beneficial or detrimental role in Estonia, not one person questioned the idea that a memorial could be torn down.

Amid accusations that this moves represents an assault on fallen soldiers, Estonia’s foreign minister has responded by arguing that since the memorial is not located in a war cemetery, it is a political monument rather than a monument that helps to remember the deaths of soldiers. The decision to remove the monument is also framed as an assertion of Estonian independence from interference in its domestic affairs, but again it is assumed that memorials are not permanent fixtures.

Does this mean that memorials are of our time? Museum exhibits and permanent collections undergo periodic updating, buildings are re-claimed for alternate uses, and even historical plaques, which are written to last generations, have in some cases been re-written in order to more accurately represent marginalized parties. Memorials, exhibits, and plaques all have the power to educate people about the past, and public historians should be vigilant in ensuring that accurate and balanced information is being conveyed to the viewer. It stands to reason then that a monument can be changed to include up-to-date information; however, the Estonian government is removing this monument as a political gesture and in so doing is depriving its citizens of an opportunity to reclaim and commemorate a challenging part of Estonia’s history.

I wonder what will go in the space where this monument stood. Will the government install a plaque commemorating how removing the Soviet monument served to affirm Estonian independence? Though I have little knowledge of Russian-Estonian relations and was unable to imagine an equivalent situation with which I could empathize, I believe it would be better for Estonia to leave the monument where it stands. Instead of removing the memorial, it could be re-dedicated to commemorate the violence that is experienced by both aggressors and victims during war. In this way, Soviet soldiers could continue to be honoured and Estonians could commemorate their occupation by and subsequent independence from the former Soviet Union.
Like all forums where historical discussions occur, memorials represent a space to argue, discuss, shout, coax, appeal, and move towards a consensus about our history.

Mar. 13, 2007

World's Worst Interview

Is it possible to be your best by acting your worst?

The Public History students are busy searching out and securing internships in our field for the summer, and this week we are talking about selling ourselves to employers and granting bodies. World’s Worst is a game where players take turns coming up with and acting out the most awful scenarios possible. Since most of us will need to be interviewed before getting hired or our internship, this game is going to help us become the best interviewee by getting out in the open all the things that could go wrong if we did not play this hilarious game.

The object of World’s Worst Interview is two-fold: to continuously have individuals standing up and providing examples of bad things that an interviewee could say or do in an interview, and to brainstorm a list of examples that can be de-briefed afterwards.

Participants start by sitting in a circle. When somebody has an idea, she or he stands up, quickly acts out the scenario (no explanations allowed!), and sits back down so that another person can stand up. The facilitator should try to let the game go on long enough to create a good list of bad examples but keep it short enough so that people still want to play for longer. (This is a critical trick about running any activity: Always leave’em wanting more!) Afterwards, participants can look at the list of examples that would not get a job candidate hired and as a group come up with positive actions that would help a job candidate look his best or her best.

A good round of World’s Worst Interview and the subsequent debriefing will probably take at least 45 minutes, but hopefully this activity will help participants to come away with some effective interview tips and to feel a little less nervous about that first encounter with a future employer.

Yah Hoo!

Mar. 7, 2007

Historical Cinema that Succeed

The Last King of Scotland is a compelling film that tells a story of Idi Amin Dada’s regime in Uganda in the 1970s, while also speaking to the political and social conditions still faced by some countries in Africa today. The film has won numerous awards in the past two months, particularly for Forrest Whitaker’s portrayal of Amin, and consequently will likely be seen by millions of viewers. Because I knew nothing about Idi Amin before seeing The Last King of Scotland, when I returned home from watching the film I was eager to learn about the real story of Idi Amin. I expected there to be certain discrepancies and omissions in the film compared to Amin’s real life; however, it was an unexpected surprise to learn that supporting actor James McAvoy plays a character that never existed in real life and was merely based on certain advisors surrounding Amin during his regime.

In spite of my surprise, I have to consider my experience with The Last King of Scotland successful in a historical sense because the film made me want to go home and learn more about Uganda’s past. Although Wikipedia was the first information source I consulted, I discovered that the official movie website also had a (sparse) timeline and (limited) interpretation to expand on (or broadly sketch out?) the story of Amin’s regime; the filmmakers anticipated that movie-goers would be interested to learn more about this man’s time in Uganda! (If only they had more information! Perhaps we can hope the DVD's special features will relate more of the history!)

Historians and theorists continue to debate how the past should be portrayed and interpreted in film, but as a public historian I think that one standard by which films should be judged is their ability to make people curious about the past. If a historical film, be it a documentary or a Hollywood-produced blockbuster, raises no questions and leaves the audience believing that the film is the be-all-and-end-all on that particular subject, then it has, to a certain degree, failed. The five-minute feature or the 12-disc DVD box collection that makes people run to their library or computer thinking “That can’t be right!” or “I wonder what else there is to this story?” is a success because it gets people thinking critically. If somebody films a movie or writes a letter to argue for an alternative interpretation of that history, so much the better!

Anybody who decides to make a living in the field of history probably thinks that History is an important subject for one reason or another. As members of a discipline that teaches critical thinking skills, historians should be as interested in introducing these skills to others as they are in sharing information about the past. A more discerning audience can only compel formal historians to put out more well-argued and well-presented history.

Mar. 6, 2007

The Power Flower

As the Public History class considers the problems associated with discussing the history of different ethnic groups, it might be helpful to think about where we are situated in our society. The purpose of the Power Flower is to help individuals identify whether they are part of the majority of their community or in the minority in order to be sensitive to others with less power in that community.

Each participant needs a Power Flower exercise sheet, which can be found on the Zhaba Facilitator Collective website or from the book Educating for a Change. The group first takes time to fill in each of the small, inner petals of the flower by describing themselves according to each category (ex. Social Class: middle class, working class, etc.; Religion: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc.). Since some information is of a more personal nature, it is important to let participants know that they do not need to share their answers with the rest of the group; this is an activity to help individuals become conscious of their own place in different power hierarchies.

Once everybody has completed their inner petals, the group comes back together and discusses who makes up the majority for each category. The answers go into the outer petals. How many categories can each individual place themselves in the majority?

To bring the activity back to a Public History context, the group might afterwards discuss the influence of power hierarchies on the public history field. How could an individual’s background affect the choice of a an exhibit’s topic or how the information is presented? What could a curator do to ensure that different groups are presented in a fair and inclusive manner?

Although in the Litigious Age, public historians need to ensure that the rights and freedoms of others are not trampled on in museum exhibits, it’s also just a plain shame to hurt somebody else’s feelings because you never considered their point of view. The Power Flower is a useful way to anticipate some potential trouble spots in an exhibit that could anger or offend visitors. Furthermore, this activity should make people more aware of some of the biases that caused the ROM so much trouble in 1990 with the Into the Heart of Africa exhibit.


Mar. 4, 2007

Please Touch, Pick Up, Use, Press, and Pass Around

Three weeks ago I visited Museum London for the official opening of Invention to Innovation, the exhibit this year’s Public History class put together. All of our hard work paid off! As I mentioned in a previous post, the Public History crew needed to be a little more intentional, and in the last week before our contribution to the exhibit was due, we pulled it off! We came to a consensus on our big idea, narrative, and structure, which definitely created a more unified exhibit of which I think we are all pretty proud.

As I walked through the different rooms of the exhibit, I have to admit that I didn’t read all of the text. I was too busy looking at the cool stuff that we were presenting! There are some really great pieces that have a lot of intricate working parts, such as old type-writers, a roller organ, and a massive linotype machine. A plethora of items have buttons to be pressed, cranks to be turned, and levers to be pulled; however, next to most of these artifacts are signs asking the visitor to please not touch. Reluctantly, I demonstrated self-restraint and obeyed the signs.

During the operational life of the artifacts, these items sat in offices, factories, or living rooms where they were touched and used by their operators. In a museum though, the artifacts are cut off from that human interaction, and the visitor loses an opportunity to interact with the past. Did an operator need to be strong to pull a particular lever? How hard was to get clear reception on that radio? The ability to use an item on display would help visitors to relate with individuals in the past who had to use a phonograph or Balopticon slide projector. Perhaps it might be better to have signs saying “Please use with care in order to allow others to learn from our artifacts as well.”

I know… the signs say “Please do not touch” because artifacts are often delicate. If the items are damaged, future visitors will not be able to have the same experience… But what if the items on display could be broken without the consequence of forever losing a piece of our past? Replicas are already a ubiquitous part of many museums: dinosaur fossils, parts of dioramas, the costumes historical actors wear, and even entire open-air museums are replicas that are designed to help visitors interact with and understand the past! If an object looks, feels, and works the same way as an authentic artifact, it can have a much bigger educational impact by being used than the actual artifact that sits protected in a glass case.

In addition to the educational value that using replica items at a museum would have, museum gift stores could also sell replicas as another source of revenue, thus capitalizing on a market interested in items with an antique look.

For now, it is important to obey the “Please do not touch” signs; however, when you come to the Invention to Innovation exhibit, think about how you might learn about the past differently if you could reach out and touch it.

Feb. 20, 2007

The Six-Word Challenge

We’re discussing the encounter of history and fiction this week in Public History. The Six-Word Challenge is inspired by Hemingway’s “best work,” but the concept is easily adapted to fit this week’s topic.

The purpose of the Six-Word Challenge is to write a story that is fictional but refers to a historical event, movement, or figure. Obviously, the story must be six words long… although a Seven-, Eight-, or Eleven-Word Challenge might be more appropriate, depending on the group.

The leader should choose a theme for the group to focus on, and then participants have five minutes to write their own definitive work on the subject. Afterwards, participants can share their historical fictions with the rest of the group.

After playing Encore: History last week, Alan MacEachern suggested that we deconstruct the results of the game and types of films that came up in the course of playing. This was not only a swell way to transition from focusing activity to the day’s discussion, it also made us more aware of where historical film was heavy or light. In a similar fashion, Six-Word Challenge participants might try identifying patterns in the stories in order to understand what literary techniques or elements of history are used frequently or should be employed more often.

Hopefully this activity highlights for historians the challenge that authors face when producing a fictional account of a historical narrative. It will likely also help to identify where individuals sit on the spectrum of how much fiction and fact should be included in the novel based on historical events, which should make subsequent discussion exciting!


Feb. 18, 2007

History LP

After reading Molly MacDonald’s assertion that Canada’s English-singing talent wasn’t putting more effort into singing about Canada’s history, I thought, “Ha! I bet I can prove her wrong.”

Although my two-hour search was by no means exhaustive, it appears that it was I who was wrong. There are a lot of quality Canadian artists putting out music that refers to Canadian culture, but few songs deal with our history. Even Stompin’ Tom Connors’ songs were for the most part historical because of their age!

The lone song that I could that I was sure referred to Canadian History was Sam Roberts’ “An American Draft Dodger in Thunder Bay;” however, there were a number of songs by Sarah Harmer, Susan Aglukark, The Tragically Hip, Classified, Moxy Fruvous and The Weakerthans that could refer, in a poetic, abstract sort of way (Gord Downie – you make good music, but I don’t have a clue where you come up with your lyrics!), to Canada’s past.

So Molly, it seems that you’re right; we need to make some intentional music about Canadian History. I’m thinking we listen to The Guess Who, Sarah Harmer, Sloan, The Hip, Sam Roberts, Sarah Slean, and The Trews for our influences and think about what events have defined each decade since Confederation – that will give us about sixteen songs for our first album. That covers Confederation, every conflict Canada has been in, the addition of new provinces and territories, the expansion of women’s rights, aboriginal rights, and minority rights, prohibition, the evolution of the welfare state… and we can always sing about Prime Ministers if we’re a loss!

Feb. 13, 2007

Invention to Innovation Open!

This past weekend the Invention to Innovation exhibit at Museum London opened! This year’s Public History class has worked very hard to create an exciting presentation of the history of innovation in London, Ontario. We all hope that you be able to take the time to come visit both the museum exhibit and the virtual exhibit!

Encore: History

This week in Public History we are continuing to discuss how film can be used to inform an audience about historical events and movements. This week’s game is simply an adaptation of a classic game called “Encore.”

The purpose of Encore: History is to get the class focused on the discussion for the week, which in this case is history and film. The goal of the game is to think of the greatest number of unique movies, actors, or historical subjects.

Each player needs a piece of paper and a pencil. The leader than chooses a topic; for example, films dealing with history (It might be a good idea to specify a time period). Players then have five minutes to create a list of as many films as possible. At the end of the five minutes, players will share the title of one of the films that they brainstormed, starting with the player whose birthday lies closest to the professor’s birthday on the calendar. Once a film has been used, other players must cross it off their list, and it can no longer be used. The person who can go on listing unique movies for the longest wins bragging rights.

This is an effective focusing activity because it challenges individuals to come up with poorly-known films. As a result, more films are brainstormed than might be thought of by one person, and this larger list can be used in the subsequent discussion!

Have fun!

Feb. 9, 2007

Why Are Special Lecturers Coming During the Day?

Would it be too much to ask guest lecturers give their presentations in the evening rather than during the work day? Western’s History Department alone hosts almost one special lecture a week, and other departments at Western and other post-secondary institutions are likely doing the same. For the most part, these presentations are attended by a mix of students and professors with the odd listener coming from outside the university. For the many people working at the university who have a family to go home to, it is obviously more convenient for guest lecturers to come during the day; however, this arrangement excludes members of the working public who have an interest in a particular scholarly subject, be it the war in Iraq, the history of chemistry, or aboriginal issues.

As long as I have been a History student I have heard people say, “You know, I never liked History when I was in school, but I’ve really become a lot more interested in it as I’ve gotten older.” Special lectures might be a great way to take advantage of that interest; furthermore, inviting the public to these lectures would add value to a university’s presence in the community.

Although some of the special lectures at Western are publicized on posters, departmental mailings, and in the online event calendar, not all lectures receive the same attention and this information more or less stops at the university’s borders. How much more time might it take to place small ads on local community events websites or in a short weekly ad in the local newspaper?

Our Audience(s)

In Shrek 2, Pinocchio swings down into a jail cell to free his friends Shrek and Donkey. Unfortunately, he gets tangled up in his own strings on the way down. The Gingerbread Man, who has slid down to held the hapless puppet, needs Pinocchio to tell a lie so he can walk across Pinochio’s nose. Donkey suggests, “Say something crazy, like ‘I’m wearing ladies underwear.’” “Uh, I’m wearing ladies underwear,” Pinochio mumbles; movie viewers and animated characters alike wait for the nose to grow, but nothing happens! When we discover Pinocchio is wearing women’s underwear, younger viewers shriek with delight because a boy is wearing a girl’s underwear and isn’t that a funny thing Daddy? Older viewers laugh because they realize the irony of the situation: Donkey’s “crazy” statement turns out to be true, and Pinocchio’s taboo cross-dressing habits are unexpectedly and unintentionally revealed. (Gosh it’s depressing to deconstruct a joke!)

This moment exemplifies how film companies like Pixar and Dreamworks have successfully made the children’s movie entertaining for a broader age group. Well-known actors and actresses are now frequently the voices behind animated characters, and there are references made to popular culture that are well beyond the experience of the 4- to 12-year old crowd. What’s going on here?

Film producers have realized that parents will be more willing to take their child to the movie theatre or pop in that favourite video for the umpteenth if the movie being watched is entertaining for both child and grown-up. Consequently, it is a lot more interesting to watch Cars (which plays on NASCAR stereotypes), Robots (On putting together a robot baby: “Making the baby is the best part.”), or Antz (which has insect caricatures of all the people supplying the voices for the characters) than it is to watch The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, or The Lion King (which at best reinforce traditional gender roles, and at worst have hidden messages that earned Disney some negative media attention in the 1990s).

Museums are arguably a more constructive place to bring your kids on a Saturday afternoon than the movie theatre but are nevertheless being used as a form of entertainment. The question of whether History should be educational or entertaining is the subject of another post, but when museum curators and educational officers are targeting their audiences, they might be wise to take a page from Pixar’s book: think of children as the principal audience but remember that adults are present too. Activities should be designed to engage kids and get them interested in the subject, but there should be an added level of depth that will draw parents into the fun too!

Feb. 7, 2007

Shared Expectations and Goal-Setting (2)

I’m pretty convinced that Alan MacEachern eats Funny for breakfast; that or Wheaties, but either way, his Academic Alphabet has had me snickering in my sleeve. In my never-ending search to write Compelling History, I went to ask Alan how to be a funny writer. As I expected, it would appear that practice continues to make perfect. Subsequently, our conversation shifted to broader program goals. Although I sometimes find the broader aims of the Public History program a little elusive, the program’s flexibility is definitely one of its strengths.

It is therefore left up to me, to a certain degree, to set my own goals and then create some shared expectations with Alan. I think that goal-setting is incredibly important in order to maintain focus, stay motivated, be accountable, and measure success. I was surprised to discover in Museum Administration: An Introduction that goal-setting is important enough to be touched on in multiple chapters, but as I have been doing research for a summer internship, I have certainly come across mission statements that set rather unrealistic goals.

Goal-setting is the intentional act of considering your aspirations and laying out a plan and timeline for achieving those aspirations. Some people might think that the saying is cliché, but I’ve always been a “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” sort of guy, so I think that if you follow SMART guidelines, you’re setting yourself up for a success. SMART, by the way, is what all goals should be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-wise. Here are my goals for the rest of my Public History year:

1) Brevity in blog posts. Keep each post to one page in a word processor. Why? To practice being concise; to avoid boring the reader; to save time for other assignments!

2) Keep it positive. For every criticism, give a suggested solution. Why? To aim for humour; to remember that this is an awesome program and a fascinating field to be in!

3) Be consistent. Put up at least one post a week; keep same lines of argument running throughout posts to send overall message about Public History; work on at least one Python tutorial per month. Why? To maintain a steady flow of ideas for my millions of readers in the blogosphere; to develop useful, transferable skills that will make me an asset in a number of fields but particularly in Public History.

4) Play. Come up with an activity for at least one class each week, particularly Public History, that is good as a focusing activity; post a description of the activity on blog. Why? To encourage fun; to have fun; to practice what I preach.

5) Find an internship that gives me breadth of experience by offering a balance of office administration, education, interpretation, and interaction with visitors and the institution’s collection. Why? To develop as many skills as possible for use in the Public History field.

Shared Expectations and Goal-Setting (1)

I remember that when I was younger, my dad seemed to give a lot of presentations on the idea of “Shared Expectations.” At the time, I thought that Dear Old Dad was just throwing around some geeky business term; but after working in groups at school, work, and volunteer situations, I have realized that shared expectations help people with a variety of perspectives share and buy into a common set of objectives. For Dad, managers, employees, and customers needed to agree what the outcome of a particular project would be; likewise, we read this week about how a curator contracting out the installation of an exhibit should continually work to ensure that both museum employees and contracted workers are on the same page.

Since there is a possibility that public historians will be the curator’s position at some point in their career, it might be useful for students in this field to seek out experiences in creating shared expectations. In the Public History program, we have been working under a number of shared expectations; these are the ones that come to mind, but perhaps they need to be fleshed out more:

1) We will develop a quality museum exhibit and accompanying virtual exhibit, and in the process of doing so, learn about the steps necessary to creating an innovative and successful exhibit

2) We will learn about the history, theory, and practice of Public History through readings, discussion, and research in Public History, Archives, Digital History, and Museology

3) We will work in a collaborative environment

4) We will be free to focus our research and blogging on topics that interest us, within the limits laid out by the program and courses

5) We will come away with a good sense of many of the challenges and benefits of working the Public History field


There is a moment in the movie Hook when a square, serious, grown-up Peter Pan finds himself on a basketball court between two Lost Boys. “Play!” smirks one of the boys as he bounces a ball off Peter’s face. As Peter turns around to recover from this assault, he comes face-to-face with the second boy. “Play!” he exclaims as he heaves a ball into Peter’s gut!

Hey public historians!

In my experience, a warm-up game is a tried-and-true way to get a group of people – be they five-year olds, thirty-five year olds, or a mixed group somewhere in between – focused on a particular topic. Play is used across professions too; I’ve seen or heard about games being used to help groups both large and small get focused at conferences, weekly check-ins, workshops, and executive retreats.

Historians, particularly those interacting with publics on a regular basis, might want to remind themselves that they should be striving to relate History to their audience in a compelling way. Developing and playing History games on a regular basis would not only act as a reminder to make History compelling but might also make innovative programming come more easily (practice makes perfect). Meetings are a great place to try out new game ideas. People do their best work when they are motivated and focused, and intentionally-crafted games can help participants recall concepts from previous meetings, get individuals thinking about the day’s topic, and add a little good old-fashioned fun to complement the enjoyment derived from more serious academic discussion.

Some games will be a bust, but those that have promise might be adapted for a larger audience. When we were planning the Invention to Innovation exhibit and website in our Public History classes, we discussed the importance of catching our audience’s attention. We decided to use questions to get visitors thinking; however, activities that touch on the exhibit’s subject might be another way to raise an audience’s excitement about an exhibit.

You know the way you feel after playing a good game of road hockey on a chilly January afternoon? Imagine feeling that way after leaving a museum! Play!

Jan. 24, 2007

Back in the Saddle

At this time of year, it seems important to wish my readers a Merry Chr-- What’s that? Oh.

Well, in that case, please allow me to wish you a Happy New-- Come again? Missed that one too, eh?

Good luck in your studies this sem-- Aw, come ON!

… And we’re off. After leaving my blogging and blog reading to fallow for a month, I can honestly say that it is pretty crumby to have to read 170 posts. I’m also sorry to have missed the opportunity to respond to some of my classmates really funny, thoughtful, and well-written posts. On the other hand, I’ve already been surprised to discover that quite a few posts resonate with themes that we are discussing this semester. Maybe I haven’t missed my opportunity after all.

It was really important for me to get back on top of what my classmates and profs had written before making new contributions. Although I’ve been lucky to have fairly consistent traffic coming through this blog (Thank You to John, Bill, and the AHA), I feel that my thoughts are probably of the most importance to my classmates and professors right now, and I wanted to be caught up on the conversations.

Being an absent blogger has definitely affected my studies to a certain degree this semester. I definitely noticed by the end of last semester that I was better able to recall themes and ideas from class discussions if I had written a post about those themes. Furthermore, blogging was a perfect arena for me to practice being funny (Still trying) and find a comfortable writing style. Conclusion: Blogging can serve as another teaching tool, especially if you’re a person who learns through doing and through repetition, like me! So the next time you need to study, try blogging about what you’re being tested on!

As a side note, I need to mention some of the blog sagas that I follow outside of the Public/Digital History sphere which I dearly hope will studied and enjoyed by some historian in the distant or not-to-distant future.
Matt has been experiencing Love, History, and Adventure in Japan.
Jonathan and Theresa’s reports and pictures of Lucy and Ella’s progress has kept me smiling, hoping, and praying.
Paul’s trek across New Zealand is inspiring!
And Emily and Bryony has the scariest Christmas break ever!

Aussi, pour tout les étudients qui ont besoin apprendre le français, le Noël de Joe était aussi fou! Alors, pratiquez votre français et lisez son "blog!"