As seems to be the ubiquitous question among historians in any field, this week’s readings focused on Public History moving into the future. What will the field become? What does it need to become to best serve and engage the public? What is our role in the processes through which the public learns history within innumerable public historical institutions? These are difficult questions to find satisfactory answers to, but Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski’s Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, seeks to provide tentative answers through some directional suggestions for public historians. This text is a collection of essays from various authors which fall under five main subjects: 1) Authority and the Web, 2) Communities as Curators, 3) Sharing Authority through Oral History, 4) Understanding the Visitors’ Response, and 5) Artists and Historical Authority. These five headings each answer particular kinds of questions. Of these five, the sections devoted to historical authority and the internet and sharing authority through oral history captured my attention best.
Matthew McArthur’s essay, “Get Real!: The Role of Objects in the Digital Age,” harkens back to an issue we in the Managing History class first discussed after reading Presence of the Past: the significance of historical objects in museums to visitors. However, McArthur took a different direction with this subject, asking instead what the role is of the object in digital platforms as opposed to being physically present in the museum. He began by asserting that in the digital age it is much easier for the public to access greater numbers of objects than before because so many more can be presented through an internet platform. He also asserted that the vast space available on the internet provides museum professionals immense freedom in organizing, labelling, and presenting their objects to online visitors, all the while being able to engage in conversations with those visitors online or in-person. As McArthur went on to discuss the vast numbers of previously unknown objects within museums’ collections which, he argued that these typically unseen, and for historians, difficult to access, objects could gain the most from digital presentation. The objects themselves would gain greater appreciation from a public unfamiliar with them, and greater use and study from historians and other professionals who previously could not easily access them. That being said, there is a distinct difference between the online and physical worlds within which these objects can be housed, and McArthur argued that that divide needs to be defined and consolidated into one mission for museums: to use online and physical exhibits as interacting parts of the same presentational strategy. As an example he discussed the National Museum of American History’s exhibit commemorating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. After the attacks, the museum received a large number of artifacts that were both put on display and made available online, and both physical and online visitors were able to leave comments and feedback on both platforms. This approach to utilizing objects in a digital platform in tandem with a physical platform is something we have adopted in our own work on our prospective Spanish Flu historical project in the Managing History class. We’ve collected documents and images in folders that could be put on digital display as well as blown up into larger images for physical displays in whatever final product this project culminates in. Thus, it would at least seem, in practice, the methodology that McArthur advocates in his piece holds merit.
In his essay, “From ‘A Shared Authority’ to Digital Kitchen, and Back,” Michael Frisch began by reflecting on his book, A Shared Authority, interrogating that title and its meaning, and then applying that to Letting Go?. He made the critical point that his book was not called “Sharing Authority,” but A Shared Authority, indicating that rather than claiming historians have some authority and ought to share it, his intention was to convey historians engaging in oral and public history are not the sole authorities, because they are not the sole interpreters; that interpretation and meaning comes first from the interaction of interviewing oral histories’ narrators and from how visitors receive museum exhibits. This, he asserted, is intrinsic to the nature of an oral history interview and how visitors receive exhibits or other public history exchanges. By this very nature, he argued that we need not share authority so much as better respect the extant historical authority already shared between public historians and the public. He provided an example from his own experience of how to respect that shared authority. In working on a recorded documentary series Frisch noticed that there was no interaction between the oral history narrators and the historians who would put their stories into historical context. He argued that it would be better to put these two groups into conversation with one another to examine their different perspectives on the topic and create greater homogenized meaning for the listeners. He found similar issues in digital forms of oral history, wherein historians utilized transcriptions but would not interact with the actual recordings and glean the significant meanings they held. He then asserted that the best way to utilize oral histories in this digital age is to label, index, catalogue, key-word search, as well as transcribe them, to allow for a greater depth of use and interaction with these invaluable primary sources. This concept spoke to me. In my undergraduate career at West Chester University I had the privilege to work on the Goin’ North project under Drs. Charles Hardy and Janneken Smucker, part of which was labeling, indexing, cataloguing, keyword-searching, and transcribing oral history interviews conducted with African-American Philadelphians who migrated North during the First Great Migration around 1918, and subsequently writing biographical sketches based on their stories. At the time I was working on this project it occurred to me on what an intimate level I was interacting with the oral history interview I was assigned, and William Steffens’s story sticks with me today (Listen to his story yourself here). That being said, reading a transcription of such an interview, though doubtless fascinating nonetheless, does not convey the depth of meaning one obtains from this level of interaction with such a narration. In addition, labeling, indexing, etc. affords that narrator greater authority because their name remains on the cover, so to speak.
These two essays from Letting Go? presented two different but equally important perspectives to public history and how public historians should think of their work and how both they and that work interact with the public who receives it. There seems to be ample room to pioneer using objects digitally, and certainly every opportunity to improve the work done with oral histories, as I learned first-hand from my work on the Goin’ North project back in 2014.
 Matthew McArthur, “Get Real!: The Role of Objects in the Digital Age,” in Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, eds. Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, Laura Koloski (Philadelphia: Pew Center for Arts & Humanities, 2011): p. 56.
 Ibid, p. 57.
 Ibid, p. 64.
 Michael Frisch, “From A Shared Authority, to the Digital Kitchen, and Back,” in Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, eds. Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, Laura Koloski (Philadelphia: Pew Center for Arts & Humanities, 2011): p. 127.
 Ibid, p. 128.
 Ibid, p. 129.
The focus for this week’s readings is on Exhibiting History, and I think it fits well with last week’s readings as well. While Andrea Burns’s From Storefront to Monument focuses predominantly on the rise of African American History Museums, particularly how they started in communities as community museums and, amidst the activism of the 1960s and beyond, grew into ever larger institutions. This book also deals, however, in how African American History museums present their history and maintain an audience. It is at this juncture where From Storefronts to Monuments, Edward Linenthal’s “Anatomy of a Controversy,” and Ken Yellis’s “Fred Wilson, PTSD, and Me,” overlap.
In discussing these African American History Museums Andrea Burns’s primary subject of study was the phenomena of increasing numbers of smaller African American History museums within communities beginning in the 1960s, “[b]roadening the chronology and definition of black power … to better understand the black museum movement that began in the early 1960s.” In short, she analyzed what she called the “Black Museum Movement,” in the larger context of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. Later in the text, however, she considers what “community” museums must do to maintain their visitors and gain new ones even as they grow into larger institutions. This is a similar question to one we have tackled before, and one with which all museums must at one point grapple: what must we do to maintain visiting populations and increase it? According to Burns, the answer is some delicate balance between sticking to its original mission and reinventing itself now and again, all while taking care to positively affect the lives of the marginalized and disenfranchised. Part of making that positive impact on those lives comes from figuring out how best to reach out to them as an institution. To do this she ties back to the question of maintaining and increasing visitor presence, and one of the best answers, one which has been presented before and again here, is bringing the museum to the community.
But then how do we bring this to them, and more importantly how do we present history to them? Burns wrote of how African-American political activism in the 1960s gave rise to ever more Black museums, but politics does not tend to lend itself well to museum exhibitions. Or does it? Linenthal’s article on the proposed Enola Gay exhibit for the National Air and Space Museum would certainly suggest not. Although the exhibit intended to commemorate the United States’ use of the atomic bomb in ending the conflict with Japan in World War II, countless parties found fault with both the material selected and how it was to be exhibited. In Linenthal’s words, he and those working on the project were caught between a commemorative and a historical voice. There were those who desired a narrative that celebrated the accomplishments of the United States military in the Second World War, and these tended to disagree with those who wanted to include the portion of the narrative dedicated to remembering the bombs’ impact on the Japanese. At the time, those opposed to that subject treated it as though this were some new left-wing or politically correct take on the issue, but Linenthal asserted that whether to drop the bomb or not was hotly contested before that plane left the hangar. Ultimately, the outrage against this “politically correct” history from the National Air and Space Museum killed the project outright. This then raises the ever popular question, how do we present history to the public, particularly if it is one that challenges and angers them? This is the question that Ken Yellis took up in writing “Fred Wilson, PTSD, and Me.”
In this article, Yellis begins by discussing how, like the former Soviet Union, the United States has become uncomfortable with what he called the “fragmentation” of our society. By this he meant the new and varied interpretations that could be taken on American History. In the museum field, however, he asserted that there are three main reasons to create an exhibit: 1) there is a new story to tell, 2) there is a new way to tell a story, and 3) our culture has changed so dramatically or become corrupted that the memory of the story is forgotten. He asserted that the second is the most important traditionally, but in present, “amnesiac” times, the third becomes a complicating, though no less important, factor. And so the question he sought to answer the aforementioned question: how do we present history to the public, particularly if it is one that challenges and angers them? Yellis cited the Enola Gay debacle as the museum worker’s cautionary tale of what can go wrong, but to show an example of an exhibit that challenged visitors, more or less, for the best he cited Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum Exhibit. This was a controversial exhibit because Wilson, an artist, juxtaposed various historical artifacts that one would not typically associate with one another. One example of this was of a Ku Klux Klan mask in a baby carriage. The point of this exhibit was to have visitors think of the history of these objects in a different way, and many did.
But how does any of this help future museum worker’s and public historians who are trying to craft an exhibit for the public? What I take from each of these three readings this week is a different message, the combination of which might better lead exhibit creators to a better understanding of how to do this. Storefront to Monument impresses the importance of an institution remaining true to its mission while remaining open to new and different ways of attracting audiences, whether through outreach or new and creative exhibits. “Anatomy of a Controversy” explicates the potential pitfalls of trying to present familiar stories in new and historically well-founded stories to an unwilling audience. And “Fred Wilson, PTSD, and Me,” expresses that taking chances, like the Enola Gay or Mining the Museum exhibits, is worth the risk if there is a possibility of altering the public’s perhaps corrupted perceptions of the past for the better. We have discussed in class before that most museum-goers do so as a social event and to have a good time. This week’s readings leave me wondering at what point museums should choose to take a stand and correct public misconceptions of the past, while also risking moderate to severe public displeasure.
 Andrea Burns, From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement. (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013): p. 6.
 Ibid, p. 181.
 Ibid, p. 182.
 Ibid, p. 184.
 Edward T. Linenthal, “Anatomy of a Controversy,” in Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, eds., History Wars: the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996): p. 9.
 Ibid, p. 10-11.
 Ken Yellis, “Fred Wilson, PTSD, and Me: Reflections on the History Wars,” in Curator: The Museum Journal 52 (October, 1999): p. 333.
 Ibid, p. 334.
 Ibid, 335.
 Ibid, 337.
This week’s readings were about locating difficult histories, and what we as public historians need to do to tackle them properly. There are plenty of histories that could make people uncomfortable for one reason or another, but these readings challenged me to consider how I should work with them. How do I present a history that is not necessarily going to please the masses? How can I present things in a constructive way to make the public think and want to address it themselves?
The article “Creating Dissonance for the Visitor” by Jill Ogline Titus presents how the National Park Service dealt with controversial history while building the new Liberty Bell Center in 2004. In the Independence Mall of Philadelphia, adjacent to where the new Liberty Bell Center would stand was once the President’s House, the house wherein Presidents Washington and Adams resided until the nation’s capital moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800. What makes this site controversial in conjunction with this testament to American liberty and freedom is its history of slavery. Washington owned slaves in the President’s House during his tenure, and he furthermore would cycle them between this residence and Mount Vernon in Virginia to get around a Pennsylvania law negating slavery after living a certain period in the state. Titus asserted that part of what made this so controversial for Philadelphians was the symbolism of Independence Park and the Liberty Bell itself. Independence Park, and Philadelphia in general, are accustomed to a noble role in American history, namely that of the American Revolution and early Republic, and the Liberty Bell remains one of America’s strongest symbols of freedom.
Titus considered this juxtaposition between symbols of freedom and slavery almost appropriate in how it challenges perceptions of the past. She stated that, as a society of slaveholders, slave owners had the time to immerse in Enlightenment and Revolutionary thought. In other words, America paid for its freedom with slavery, and this is the American paradox. This paradox is what the new Liberty Bell Center needed to address if it were to truly help Americans question and learn from their history. Titus furthermore argued that only discussing slavery at Civil War historical sites allows for underestimation of how far reaching and entrenched slavery as an institution is in American History. She concluded her article with assurance that the National Park Service pledged to interpret this dissonance in American history but would need to put immense thought into how that would be done. For Titus, how the National Park Service presented this paradoxical history was tied greatly into listening to the constituents it would serve; particularly Philadelphia’s African-American community.
Cathy Stanton tackled a different, but no less complicated, history in discussing the National Park Service museums created in Lowell, Massachusetts, one of America’s most prominent and historical textile cities. The choices that the NPS had to make at Lowell were similar to those made for the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia; what do we include or leave out of this preservation effort? Who do we consult in those choices? And how do we present the more complicated issues in a constructive way that makes the public think and consider it for themselves? If slavery were the complex issue to present with the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia, post-industrialism served the same purpose for Lowell, Massachusetts. After listening to multiple parties in the community, including unions whose participation in the process unfortunately fell through, the NPS ensured that the Boott Mill Exhibit touched, “on the ongoing shift from agrarian to industrial economies around the world, the opportunities for new industrial workers to make cash wages, but also the reality of worker exploitation in many places, and the increasing mobility of capital and its search for ever-cheaper labor.” These are difficult, and often politicized, issues, which complicate how one would present their history and modern-day relevance.
The political nature of these issues prompted Stanton to pose one last, thought provoking question: “Despite the many structural and personal reasons that militate against it, is it possible for public history to be a more active participant in public debates about the kinds of new places and conditions … that are being widely produced in the postindustrial climate? Is it realistic to ask the field to fulfill this function? Can we envision it ever doing so?” This, for me, is one of the most important questions to ask myself as a public historian. How do I, or should I, engage in more political or publicly debated historical topics? Stanton’s answer seems to be yes; we as public historians have an obligation to engage those topics. Her closing thought in The Lowell Experiment resonated with me, and it read as follows: “The public history I would hope to see in Lowell and places like it is one that could foster relationships with a wider, more encompassing set of people and thus a broader vision about what that world might become.”
Public Historians, like academics, have an obligation to tangle with those difficult histories, and present them to the American public in such a way that they can make better sense of their present within the larger context of their past.
 Jill Ogline Titus, ““Creating Dissonance for the Visitor:” The Heart of the Liberty Bell Controversy,” in The Public Historian, 26.3. (Summer, 2004): p. 51.
 Ibid, p. 53.
 Ibid, p. 55.
 Ibid, p. 57.
 Cathy Stanton, The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City, (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006): p. 230.
 Ibid, p. 236.
 Ibid, p. 237.
This week’s readings all had to do with museum education, and how best to meet the educational needs of museum visitors. Across these readings there was a consistent emphasis on how to meet the needs of children, families, and adults as they visit museums. They also discussed why museums should do community outreach, what they can provide to student field trips, what they should do to accommodate family visits, and adult visitors.
The Museum Educator’s Manual by Anna Johnson, et. al., tackles an abundance of things to consider for museum educators and institutions including museum educators. What I found particularly noteworthy, however, was the emphasis given to outreach and museum partnerships with schools. Chapter 7 of this text is devoted to explaining the benefits of museums partnering with local schools and performing community outreach. In explaining why to do outreach in schools, Nancy Cutler argued that museums have a limited impact within their own walls, and reaching beyond those walls into the community to demonstrate their significance is beneficial to both the community and the museum or institution. Two examples of outreach to schools that Cutler outlined were the Traveling Trunks, which contain objects or materials from the museum that schoolteachers can present to their students and with which they can interact, and a Mobile Museum, which is essentially a van or larger vehicle equipped to carry portable exhibits into classrooms or into the community. The idea here is that by bringing these exhibits or materials and making them accessible to children at school they gain an early appreciation for museums, particularly if they are in a school that cannot supply field trips to museums.
Field trips, however, as explained by Alan Marcus, Jeremy Stoddard, and Walter Woodward in their Introduction to Teaching History with Museums, can be much more influential in teaching history to students, both because it is a different environment from their usual classroom and it affords them the freedom to pursue history however they choose to engage it. The job of the museum, however, is how best to engage those students; how to enhance their historical understandings and what their teachers or museum educators need to know for those students to get the most from their visit. To enhance the students’ understandings of the past the authors presented a three-part response for what the museum can do: 1) encourage historical empathy (teach them to understand decision-making in the past), 2) a critical and reflective stance toward the past (provide them the skills to perceive history as a constructed presentation thereof and to analyze it), 3) connecting the past and the present (presenting the past in a way recognizable to them in the present). In following these three guidelines, museum educators can provide their student visitors with the skills to be better historical thinkers and gain more from their social studies education.
In terms of engaging students in history through educational settings, these past two works presented impressive means for museums and museum educators to do so. But what is the museum’s role when students or children visit with their families? Judy Rand’s “Write and Design with Families in Mind,” in Connecting Kids to History with Museum Exhibition asserted that the goal for museums is to consider not what the material is, but who the audience is and how to cater to them. One of the most interesting assessments that Rand put forth in this text is the comparison of families and hunter-gatherers. She argued that for museums to provide the best educational experiences for families, they must realize that families hunt and gather facts separately and come together sharing what they learned. To work along those lines, museums must provide concise and engaging exhibits that allow for swift recovery of information for swift dissemination from parent to child.
These previous texts have thus far focused on what museums can do to engage younger audiences, but Charles Gunther’s “Museum Goers: Life-styles and Learning Characteristics,” focused on what adults look for in visiting museums, and what museums do or should do to accommodate those needs. The bottom line, according to Gunther, is that adults visit museums to have a good time, one way or another, and to categorize what goes into that positive experience, Gunther produced five attributes for such a positive experience: 1) opportunity to learn, 2) social interaction, 3) the challenge of new experiences, 4) participating actively, 5) feeling comfortable in one’s surroundings. Although Gunther described different kinds of museum visitors and their differing needs and expectations, he argued that the most important thing is that museums and museum educators need to work for all of these groups, and recognizing them as varying audiences is a good way to start.
The central point that came to me throughout this week’s readings is that no matter what age group you cater to, you need to find ways to meet the needs of all visitors so that anyone who walks into your museum or exhibition feels comfortable and adequately engaged enough to take from that museum or exhibit what both the institution and the visitor wants them to. It will be interesting in the coming weeks to see how we strive for this with our own hypothetical exhibition project in class.
Although this blog post has already, once again, run longer than I anticipated, I want to take another brief paragraph to describe the two critical things I learned from our oral history interview exercise in class last week. I interviewed one of my classmates with the following questions: 1) What kind of diseases do you generally associate with serious public health concerns? Why? 2) What kind of preventative measures should be taken, and by whom, to prevent serious public health crises? 3) What do you know about influenza? Do you think this is a major public health issue? 4) Do you typically get the flu shot? Why or why not? 5) Do you think that the flu shot is a satisfactory preventative measure in preventing epidemics? From these questions, two of the most important things I learned were 1) how to develop a follow-up question on the fly, and 2) a question that you might think is straight forward and will give you a certain kind of answer might not. Language is not perfect and if the narrator takes your question and runs in a different direction it is imperative to both document what they say, because it is important, but also be able to redirect the conversation in your originally intended direction.
 Cutler, Nancy, “Reaching Out into the Community,” in The Museum Educator’s Manual, ed. by Anna Johnson, et. al. (Alta Mira Press, 2009): p. 87.
 Ibid, p. 88.
 Alan Marcus, Jeremy Stoddard, and Walter Woodward, “Introduction,” in Teaching History with Museums: Strategies for K-12 Social Studies (New York: Routledge, 2012): p. 5.
 Ibid, pp. 25-29.
 Judy Rand, “Write and Design with Families in Mind,” in Connecting Kids to History with Museum Exhibition, ed. by D. Lynn McRainey and John Russick (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2010): pp. 260-262.
 Charles F. Gunther, “Museum Goers: Life-styles and Learning Characteristics,” in The Educational Role of the Museum, ed. by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill (New York: Rutledge, 1999): pp. 118-119.
 Ibid, p. 124.