What has the public museologist been up to lately?

The time between posts has been long, I know. I have not been sitting idle though!

While sifting through job postings looking for the right fit for me, I have been working freelance in the local educational system, tutoring and familiarizing myself with education standards in New Hampshire. This has been great, and I am getting an idea about the kinds of experiences students are having and how schools are accommodating students of different ability levels.

I have also been traveling around a bit, collecting cool photos about public history - it is EVERYWHERE - in places you might least expect it - local restaurants, hospitals, and businesses hosting improvised exhibits of art, local history, and in a sense, maintaining the local culture and identity.

I have also been working on a long blog series that I hope to turn into an article. I have already written much of my own thoughts and opinions on the matter of technology and small museums, and I am working on background research and context. It will likely be a 10 or 12 part series incorporating my thoughts and work over the past five years running a small museum in Texas. Some will draw on presentations I have given at regional museum conferences.

I hope to post the introduction to the series in the next week or so. Then the blog will update once or twice a week until the series completes.

Finally Moved! Now seeking freelance museum/history/education work.

We have finally settled in - we just relocated from Texas to New Hampshire. The past few months have been filled with packing, driving, unpacking, and getting my Texan husband and daughter used to my native New England climate. We are still not completely unpacked (books… it is always the books)

I am currently looking for history freelance work and part time museum things because our main reason for relocating (other than me missing home) was to take care of my disabled family members. I love serving the community in different ways, so I am seeking opportunities that allow me to do so while also preserving my ability to tend to the needs of my extended family.

The wide range of services that I can offer include curriculum design, content creation, writing (creative and non-fiction), historical research, social media content creation, and grant writing.

I would love to get to know other museum folk in the local area, I have joined NEMA, and am currently contracting for part time work with a local school district to keep my hand in history and education skills sharp.

In the meantime - I am learning more about the local history here in New Hampshire, and enjoying participating with the local augmented reality gaming communities, I am looking forward to working with the local schools and students in my new home. I have also joined a flute choir here in the Merrimack Valley and my first performance is next week!

Coming Soon: Posts about cool local sites I have seen in my travels, outstanding wayfinding, and some of my adventures in Augmented Reality Gaming.

Coming Soon - First Guest Post! Also, a follow up on conversations and thoughts

I have been talking to friends, colleagues, and various social media acquaintances about my thoughts on public museology. Some completely get what I am talking about and agree, some see what I am saying and think I should continue to develop the idea if I think it is important, and others just see it as an extension of what they are already doing - which is kind of my point. I didn't event this evolution, I just think it needs a name. 

Isn't this just public history? In some cases, sure, you can clearly call it public history. Of the strains I have seen of public (insert liberal arts profession here) perhaps it comes closer to public humanities, because, surprise! - not all museums are history museums. I think that is what public museology is - a multi-disciplinary approach to engaging the public in museums as co-creators and collaborators in making meaning, and not just a passive audience. It is equal parts public history and public humanities, a few heaping teaspoons of public archaeology, a shaker of community education principles, and probably a whole lot more. 

It isn't just a research and writing principle, or just an exhibit design principle. For me, it is the foundational philosophy behind how I direct my local historical society museum. I think that it is a movement in the museum field that can be lead by small museums - partially out of the flexibility smaller institutions are capable of producing (less moving parts to the machine), and partially out of necessity due to an aging volunteer base, and lower staffing levels. 

This blog is a place for me to explore all things public museology, public history, public archaeology, small museums, museum education, and more. The opinions in this blog are solely those of the author, whether that be me, or the person posting. They are not necessarily the opinions of our institutions (or they could be - that will vary topic to topic). I will occasionally have guest posts, which brings me to the main point of this - to introduce Doug, a dear friend and colleague who upon learning what I am doing here, immediately said he wanted to write for me. The next post is his, and makes sharp observations concerning the struggle of small town museums in gaining access to funding, resources, and support. 

NOTE: Guest posts now have their own section. I wanted to be able to have a section where they all can be found..


On the "public" in public museology...

As I am going through this process and thinking over this content, I am reaching out to friends and colleagues on their thoughts on the concept or phrase public museology.

I would like to start off by stating that these are ongoing issues and conversations in the museum field. I did not invent this concept of democratizing museum curation and content! I am simply proposing a name for it that allows those of us engaging in this practice to identify ourselves and give it an identity perhaps. Amazing work is being done with pop up museums, art in the communities, temporary public exhibitions, Main Street programs, social justice programs, and more. As a former student and current practitioner of public history and public archaeology, I am approaching museology mapping over concepts from these fields.

One friend challenged the concept, essentially, it boiled down to the fact that the practice of museology has a public audience, so why did I feel that adding public to the practice mattered? A respected former professor of mine discussed it along similar lines, that the previously academic centered approaches perhaps made it necessary to separate out a public form of the disciplines, and that since museums have a public audience, maybe the “public” is assumed. I hope I have understood their comments completely, and I am grateful that I have friends that I can trust to ask these questions. A friend that makes you think is a friend to treasure.

So if museums address a public audience, is not all museology—to an extent—public?

I would answer that yes and no. I think you can look to history and archaeology – there are forms of each that I would look at as more “academic” vs. “public.” Of course, especially with archaeology, there is archaeology with neither an academic audience nor a public audience in mind, such as some of the CRM work out there. As an aside, I hate calling it academic, as if public history or public archaeology were less rigorous (they aren’t), but I am struggling to find another term for it – what do you say internet?

To some extent, that “public” describes audience – a more academically written historical work is markedly different compared to public history writing. The biggest difference though, is the practice. In much of my public history work, and in all of my public archaeology work, the public is an intrinsic part of the process. My paper, “Setting the Tone for Higher Education: The Blanco Star School of Hays County, Texas” published in Intersect: Perspectives in Texas Public History an online journal publication of Texas State University, is drawn from just that kind of public interaction. A group of students donated their materials to the University Archives, because they did not want their story to disappear. I set aside my own research interests, because I cannot resist a good story. I worked with that former student body to collect the oral histories that became the paper.

This is what I strive for in my museum work, to at all levels of museum functionality be transparent, work both with and for the community’s needs, and develop exhibits alongside the various members of the community. Nearly every single exhibit that I have created at the museum here is based on a deep connection with the public. I have an open door policy. I know it is a luxury that larger museums may not have. My door is both figuratively and literally open, and over the past three years, the community around me has realized that I really enjoy folks stopping by to ask questions or talk about history. My goal is to have people leaving the museum with the message that history is always being made, and that their story matters.

It is one of the reasons our museum’s collections have finally started diversifying to reflect more of the community around us rather than focusing on a romanticized vision of the mid-19th century. One of our missions, set with the last Board President, was that we would work to make this museum the cultural center of the community and that we would demonstrate ourselves to be a repository that was interested in and capable of preserving the history and culture of our community. Individuals and groups have approached me with interest in creating exhibits. Likewise, I have approached individuals and groups to help create exhibits. I often reach out to the membership and beyond to help make these hyper-local exhibits happen.

In an upcoming blog post, I will discuss my current exhibit, and how I have made use of traveling exhibits from Humanities Texas to start ongoing conversations with the community that turn into future exhibits down the road.