Dialogue not Monologue

Last week, I attended the Association of Midwest Museums conference in Indianapolis.  The official conference theme was civic engagement and public discourse.  At the sessions I viewed a broader communication theme emerged:  no museum is an island.  You must dialogue with your public, your fellow institutions, funders, and the government (at the local, regional, state, and national levels).  These dialogues will build the relationships needed to survive in the 21st century.

I will begin with the key points from the sessions I attended and then share the cool details from the various behind-the-scenes museum tours I enjoyed.  Continue reading “Dialogue not Monologue”

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Who Are You?

The philosophical ramifications of the title question are profound.  For memorial or commemoration committees, the question is deeply pragmatic.  Is a person the sum of their achievements?  Should they be recognized for their personalities or behavioral characteristics?  How do you physically manifest those ephemeral concepts?

I don’t envy the task of a memorial designer or artist.  Summarizing a person’s essence must be daunting.  Great memorials do evoke the emotion surrounding the person or event being memorialized.  Last fall, I read about the proposed Frank Gehry design for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. I am neutral about Gehry. Some of his designs are overwrought; some fulfill their aesthetic parameters. I found the Eisenhower design exceptionally overwrought and completely lacking any sense of Eisenhower. While I am not an Eisenhower fanatic (I do respect him and his achievements), I think a person should be appropriately memorialized.  The memorial should invoke the person’s essence, not the artist’s personal aesthetic. Continue reading “Who Are You?”

Commemoration & the Public Historian

The June 2012 issue of Public History News begins with an interview of James A. Banner, historian and author of the new book Being a Historian.  Banner believes that the work of historians includes a moral obligation to society.  He states:

“we … have a moral obligation to struggle to understand the past as the past actually was. … [W]e also have an obligation to present at least some of our knowledge to our fellow citizens in ways that they can understand it, apply it… .”

Banner’s comments are especially resonant for public historians.  I have been contemplating the different ways that public historians can fulfill that obligation, while still respecting the needs of the public.  Continue reading “Commemoration & the Public Historian”

Summer Reading for Historians

Yes, we are all ecstatic that the semester is over.  For those history grad students pondering the link between history and fiction/literature (shout out to Derrida), here are a few non-history tomes to keep the juices flowing over the summer.

As a blanket statement, all historians should read War and Peace.  In 1869, Tolstoy published his rumination on the nature of history.  Believing that history belonged to the people, not just generals, politicians, and kings, Tolstoy was basically trying to write a social history – comparing the life of the military with the life of the civilian.  His humanizing portrayals of the tsar, Napoleon, and the Russian generals will forever alter your perceptions of those folks.  I know W&P can be scary, so our other 5 books are perfectly manageable. Continue reading “Summer Reading for Historians”