This New York history blog continues to be our most important source for initiatives and developments in New York’s history community. The blog brings us news every day on historical programs’ exhibits, presentations, and other public events.
Of course, we have some of the strongest and most dynamic history programs in the nation here in New York, good models for each other and for other states. Sometimes, though, it is useful to look beyond New York for examples of things that are happening elsewhere that can provide suggestions for things our programs might consider doing.
A few examples:
* There have been discussions for some time about the need for a group to organize and lead advocacy for history in our state. The Massachusetts History Alliance is a useful example of what might be done.
* Strategic planning is needed to chart a future course. Some of our programs try to get along without a plan, moving forward more or less incrementally. That can limit our vision and ability to anticipate both opportunities and challenges. A good example of a thoughtful plan might be Oregon Historical Society’s new Strategic Plan 2019-2023. Its mission statement is interesting: “The Oregon Historical Society preserves our state’s history and makes it accessible to everyone in ways that advance knowledge and inspire curiosity about all the people, places, and events that have shaped Oregon.” One of their goals is “enhance belonging” which includes as an objective “Continue to collaborate with communities and affiliates statewide to bring increased diversity to the history we gather and present.”
* Plans need specific goals but can also include capital campaigns for upgrades and other initiatives to expand the program. An example might be the Waterbury, Connecticut Mattatuck Museum’s strategic plan and its parallel capital campaign.
* Engaging the public is a constant challenge. Programs search for ways to get people really interested in history and to connect with the public in an engaging way. The Canadian Museum of History, particularly in its new Canadian History Hall, emphasizes the theme of “connect with YOUR history.”
* Historical interpretation of controversial events is always an opportunity as well as a challenge. Edward Ayres, professor of history at the University of Richmond, is hosting a new PBS series, “The Future of America’s Past.” PBS says it will feature “…places that define the most misunderstood parts of America’s past. Visit sites Americans struggle to discuss and learn from National Park Service interpreters, museum educators, and cutting-edge guides how they engage a diverse public with the fullness of our nation’s history.”
*Presenting stories of conflict and exploitation is part of our programs’ responsibility. These are part of our history but sometimes challenging to portray accurately and in a way that engages people. Historica Canada has a knack for doing this. Their newest “Heritage Minute” on “Acadian Deportation,” an important event in Canadian history, is an example.
* Historical programs can help provide historical perspectives on diversity and inclusion. The new exhibit “American Medina” at the Chicago History Museum is a good example. As the museum’s website notes, “this exhibition draws from more than 100 interviews conducted with Muslim Chicagoans sharing their stories of faith, identity, and personal journeys.”
*Historical museums and other programs can help people understand how interpretation and commemoration of the past evolves over time. A good example might be the current exhibit “Monument Avenue: General Demotion/General Devotion” at the Valentine museum in that city. It goes into the history of the Confederate museums in that city.
*Experiencing history can be an adventure and even fun for young people. Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is a good example – it even has “fun” in its website name.
* Sometimes we are so busy saving and presenting history that we don’t have or take time to report on what we have done. An exception is the Minnesota Historical Society which I have cited in previous posts as a leader in public history work, including historical education and a grants program. Beyond that, MHS always reports in engaging ways on what it has been doing. A recent example would be MHS’s Report for FY 2019 which also features a short video presentation.