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.