Multi-Sensory Exhibit Design: Jameson Does It Up Right

In May I visited Ireland (again..they can’t keep me away…). On one of our first days in Dublin, my husband and I decided to visit the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.

We started our visit with a trip to the bar housed in the historic building to try a signature drink while we waited on our tour to start. As we took in our surroundings, we noticed the floors were open to show the historic structure and storage areas below the floor. As a fan of all things old, I really appreciated this touch! 

Soon our tour began, and we were taken with our group to a small exhibit of the history of the building and the story of the Jameson family, their endeavors in whiskey production, and the history of the brand. Though this is definitely a corporate tour, the information was still very interesting and the exhibit design is top notch.

Next we visited a room that incorporated primary sources, technology, historic artifacts, and second person interpretation from our guide. The technology used was very similar to what we saw at the Tenement Museum in March, and though we did not each have our own station to choose the artifacts we wanted to learn about, it was still interactive and informative.

From there we entered my favorite part of the tour; a multi sensory journey through the production of whiskey. Now, I am not generally a fan of whiskey, but this aspect of our experience was by far the coolest. In groups of 6, visitors surrounded a table that engaged all of our senses. The guide told us what to do taste or smell and when, and the flow of the interpretation, technology, and engagement was perfect. As you can see in this image, we had the opportunity to smell different types of aging casks (sherry, wine, etc), taste and feel malted grains, watch the process on the screens at the front of the room, and hear our guide talk us through the process.

The last part of the tour was teachable tasting. We compared various whiskeys to the Jameson brand and our guide helped us understand the composition of the whiskeys and the complex tastes. We exited through the gift shop, and got our daily grog!

If you find yourself in Dublin, I recommend a trip to the Jameson Distillery for a specific history of their brand, or the Irish Whiskey Museum for a more comprehensive look at whiskey and its history over time in the Emerald Isle.

New Research Projects, Travel, and… Death?

Lately I’ve contemplated where my research will take me following the publication of my manuscript on accessibility for people with special needs, the publication of a chapter on accessibility in education in The Manual for Museum Learning, 2nd Edition, and continuing my work towards truly accessible museums.

I’ve decided to take a new track based on the historiographical work I did in my dissertation on museum history and the use of human bodies and human remains in museums. My previous work focused on living humans, often billed as “freaks“, in museums and other exhibitions; now I want to focus on the corporeal remains that we still see in museums today: mummies, bog bodies, medical specimens, skeletons, relics, shrunken heads, and so much more.  What laws (aside from NAGPRA) govern the display and collection of human remains? What are the ethics involved here? How does the public react to these remains? These are just some of the questions I hope to answer as I embark on a new research plan.

I have organized a roundtable at the National Council on Public History meeting in 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada to present preliminary findings and bring together a fascinating group of women who study these questions. Our presentation, “Death and Display, Bodies and Boundaries” will explore our own work and also encourage participation from our audience. I’ve invited my former college roommate, Shelby Judge, a modern funeral director; Laura Anderson Barbata, artist and activist; Dr. Trish Biers, osteoarchaeologist at Cambridge University museums; and Kristen Semento from Winterthur Museum and Gardens.

As I planned my most recent trip abroad, I knew I would have the opportunity to visit international museums that are working with these issues. What I didn’t know was the amount of opportunities that would present themselves on my trip. My future blogs will detail some of the places I visited and some of the remains I encountered in Ireland and Scotland.

The first stop on my trip to Ireland was the Irish Museum of Modern Art. I had just arrived in Ireland, my hotel room was not ready, and my husband and I needed to get out and see the sights while we waited. The only problem was: I don’t think I have ever been as exhausted as I was on this museum visit. I was jet-lagged. I was running none hour of plane sleep. It. Was. Awesome.

Image result for living need light dead need music

You may have read my thoughts on art museums in the past; in short, I’m not their biggest fan. IMMA was in a great historic building, and there were some interesting exhibits while we were there. However, there was one exhibit in particular that spoke to me through my sleepy haze and has stuck with me. It also set the tone for my exploration into death and bodies.

In the back of the museum, in a quiet, dark room with benches (the initial attraction, let’s be real), I encountered a film installation. The piece, titled The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music by The Propeller Group is probably the best video installation I have ever seen.  Their description reads:

The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Musicis a visual and musical journey through the fantastical funeral traditions and rituals of south Vietnam. It attempts to engage in dialogue with funerary traditions that pulsate in the same vein throughout the global south. The film merges documentary footage of actual funeral processions with stunning re-enactments that bring the film into the realm of the abstract, poetic and metaphorical – a rumination on death and the lives that pay homage to it.

I encourage you to watch the video in its entirety if you can. It is so fascinating, beautiful, disturbing, scary, and amazing all at the same time. The fact that I was almost at a hallucinatory stage of tiredness only heightened by appreciation for the piece. However, it stands up even as I re-watch it today.

So that’s it! I’m on a new program of research, and I’m so excited to have already been welcomed with open arms by so many Death Historians and Death Academics. Thank you, and I can’t wait to let you all know more about my research!

Reflecting on Wineburg and Core Courses, Continued

Final Thoughts, Lessons, and Musings from 2012 on Wineburg. This is an excerpt from my reflections after my first year of teachingAs I look back on this, students 5 years later still don’t question bias or question me as a source. This is particularly interesting in our current political and media climate. I’ll be interested to see where things are in another 5 years. Here is my previous post about Wineburg’s influence in my classes. 

Image result for the midwife's talePrimary sources are another resource I used in my World Civilizations class.  Wineburg included an anecdote of a teachers’ workshop that explored the classroom textbook and The Midwive’s Tale.[3]   Many students, and surprisingly their teachers, believe that the textbook tells facts and “how things were.” Bias is ignored and students and their teachers do not often think to question the textbook’s story.  The Midwive’s Tale was previously seen as trivial information, in spite of the important bits about daily life and people that can be gleaned from it.  I hope that this will continue to change as we strive to personalize the past.  One of the most important things I tried to get across to my students was that they CAN question everything: the textbook, authors, and even their instructors.

Finally, there are three other concepts from Wineburg’s book that I particularly enjoyed.  Wineburg’s explanation of context and strangeness through Marco Polo’s excerpt on unicorns/rhinoceros is a great example of people interpreting what they see and learn through their own knowledge and ideas.[4]  It is an important thing to remember both in my own personal studies and in teaching undergraduates.

Image result for mayan culture

A Mayan Plaza

Presentism, viewing the past through the lens of today, is another important concept for my students.  Trying to get students to remove themselves from the present and look back is a hard thing to do.  When we covered the Mayans and bloodletting rituals this was particularly evident.  My students were appalled and could not understand why people let mutilation and “torture” happen.  It was hard to explain to them that their worldview and religions were different, and that perhaps the people who were being sacrificed or who were mutilating themselves to give blood to their gods did so willingly.  At the same time, I tried to explain that they were people and not that different from us even though they seem so strange.  I used the analogy of wrestling or cage fighting today and even the ancient Romans and gladiators to explain the allure of seeing executions.  At the same time, there was a difference in Mayan culture because of the religious meanings behind sacrifice and bloodletting rituals.  Lastly, this chapter introduces context; this word is from the Latin “to weave together.”[5]  History and context are inextricable, and historians and teachers must connect the past into a pattern to understand what happened, why it is important, and what we can learn from it.

Image result for craap test

I now use the CRAAP test with my core courses as a way to analyze sources.

The second section of this book is called, “Challenges for the Student.”   Chapter 3 again looks at reading history and understanding the bias that is present in all writing and sources.  Wineburg suggests having the students think aloud as they read.  I have experimented with this to some extent in my own classroom with group primary source interpretation.  Next time we do a similar activity I will try to explain to my students that,  “The comprehension of text reaches beyond words and phrases to embrace intention, motive, purpose, and plan- the same set of concepts we use to decipher human action.”[6]  School texts and their expected level of trustworthiness are somewhat disturbing: students take the text at face value.  They often believe that the textbook is the source.  Students, and sometimes teachers, reason that the text is written by nameless important editors, so it must be true.

Students must be taught how to decode the text and ask such questions as what is the author really trying to say? What is the author’s purpose? Students should engage with the text, and they should not just read it.  This raises a question to myself about my own class and methods.  I require students to read the text before coming to class so that we can engage in discussion about the concepts they read about that relate to my lecture for each day.  I have built in five pop quizzes to the semester to make sure that my students are doing their homework and coming to class prepared.  The tests are made up of five multiple choice questions that cover the bigger concepts and important “facts” from the pages they were supposed to have read.  They are designed to make sure the students are doing the readings and to judge their reading comprehension.  Perhaps they are learning to list useless facts, but perhaps reading comprehension and actually looking at the text is the first step to analyzing the words they read.

Image result for interpretation tildenIn many classrooms it seems that there is no interpretation of history but rather the presentation of a chain of “facts.”  To me this immediately raised the question, “are there really any facts?”  Students also do not ask how something happened, just know that it did.  Instructors and history teachers should strive to explain the implications of each “fact.”

Also in this chapter Wineburg claims that in many classrooms knowledge is detached from experience; how can we incorporate more experiential learning into secondary education and college-level survey courses?  Many students do not come to school with a motivation to learn.  This brought to mind the concept of “edutainment” that has been discussed in museum classes and conferences I have attended in the past five years.  It is still somewhat controversial; are we entertaining or educating our students?  Does it matter as long as students are engaged and learning something?  If edutainment can happen in museums and institutions of informal learning, can it or does it already appear in classrooms? Perhaps some of the experiential learning concepts can be brought into the traditional classroom to engage students and help them learn in another way.

In my own class I have developed four homework research assignments to try to engage students at their level using entertainment.  The first assignment, which was generally well-received and successful, asked students to think of three references in popular culture to ancient, classical, or world history.  Many of their examples were things I had not even thought of, and we were able to open discussion on whether or not we can learn anything from popular culture, the motives of advertisers or writers who use popular culture, and the validity of historical content found in popular culture.  I hope that this, and the future assignments in the class, gets my students thinking about history in the sense of their everyday lives rather than as the distant and strange past that is presented in the textbook.

This book helped spark a lot of thoughts on my own study of history and how I taught the students in my World Civilizations class.  I have often wondered why exactly it is that I study history and what I want my students to learn through my class.  I do not necessarily want them to learn dates or a chain of chronological events, but rather I want them to understand the bigger concepts, critical thinking, globalization and worldview changes, how to study for a test, how to think critically, how to be a citizen in a global world, and to some degree empathy and understanding of difference in culture throughout the world.  I wish I had more time to plan and to give them more resources that are “fun.”  Next time I teach this course I want to give the students more hands-on and interactive opportunities instead of just lecture with powerpoint slides of pictures.

Scotland 2016: Folklore, Legends, and the Highlands

img_20160520_125507229_hdrAfter the tragedy in Invermoriston there was to be no more hiking in our futures.  We were unable to finish hiking the Great Glen Way all the way to Inverness, but we still had accommodations along the way.  We took cabs instead, and still got to experience the beauty and history of the highlands without the hiking aspects.  The good news is, we have an excuse to go back!!

From Invermoriston we took a cab up to Drumnadrochit, where were told, the villagers had already heard all about the man with the sore leg.  Not to be totally hobbled by his accident and to his credit, Charles managed to limp around town to attractions and sites, and we had a whole day to explore the traditional home of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.

Castle Urqhart from the vessel Nessie Hunter

Castle Urqhart from the vessel Nessie Hunter

We started our time in Drumnadrochit with a ride around Loch Ness on Nessie Hunter. Our guide himself claims to have seen something unexplained in the water, and we also got to learn about the history of the area, the geography and geology, and folklore surrounding Nessie.  The guide also pleasingly sounded just like Sean Connery. Back on dry land we headed to the shops to stock up on Nessie gear.

Perfect rainy day with Tony Robinson and Time Team

Perfect rainy day with Tony Robinson and Time Team

In addition to the exploring and good food, we also had a lot of time to experience the awesomeness that is British television.  From the shocking (to our US sensibilities) Embarrassing Bodies, to vet shows, to cop shows, and the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Richard III and my favorite, Time Team, we had plenty of telly time.  Our second day in Drumnadrochit was rainy and perfect for TV times and snacks and hot chocolate and leg recuperation.

img_20160522_114943The next day was our final leg (ahahahahaha) of the Great Glen Way, and we arrived in Inverness not in a triumph having completed the 70+mile hike but instead limping out of a cab.  We still took a picture with the Great Glen Way sign, because one way or another, we traveled it all.

I got a Cafe Nero fix, and we explored the town as best we could.  Our last B&B on the trip, Inverglen Guest House, was a delight, and I’m still thinking about the chai muffins we had for breakfast there, Susan.

Our last full day in the Highlands, I booked a day trip to the Isle of Skye, since everyone we know who had been to Scotland said we couldn’t miss it.  As I was reading the description of the tour the night before, I noticed we would make a stop in Invermoriston to see the Telford bridge and falls.  Charles was not as please, but I was thrilled to have a chance to revisit the scene of the crime and get some more photos.img_20160523_100814123

From Invermoriston (again), we headed west to the Isles of the Highlands. What a simply breathtaking area.  All of our friends were right.  We stopped at Eilean Donan castle by Kyle of Lochalsh, which is one of the most picturesque and most photographed castles in Scotland.  Along the road to the Isle of Skye we saw Wild Goats, which if you know anything about me, completely made my trip. A tour around the island, a stop in Portree for snacks and souvenirs, and before we knew it we were back on the road to Inverness.

img_20160523_113410819-01On our last morning, we explored Inverness one last time, and found the famous Leakey’s Bookshop and a few charity shops.  At a shopping centre I came across a music store and impulse bought a practice chanter so I can learn to someday play the bagpipe.  Or just stick to the chanter to the delight of my dog and cat who LOVE to sing along… so far I can play the Skye Boat Song (Outlander Theme), a few Christmas songs, and the Olympic Theme (which I played at every opportunity last summer.  Everyone loved it).

That Isle of Skye tho

That Isle of Skye tho

After a few hours on the train we were back in Edinburgh where we had a chance to explore more of New Town since our previous visit had confined us to Old Town and the Royal Mile.  A Sainsbury’s run for tea and Mars Bars and Toffee Crisps, one last tea experience, last souvenirs bought, and it was back on a plane to the US before we knew it.

Bye, Edinburgh! Until 2017!

Bye, Edinburgh! Until 2017!

It was a fantastic trip and everything we could have imagined.  The leg injury turned out to be a boon; because of it, I’ve managed to convince Charles that his mistake was going to cost him (us) another trip!  Next week we head back to Scotland, with a side tour in Ireland, to wrap up the Great Glen Way.  From Fort Augustus to Inverness, we will do the last half of the hike and truly earn our GGW hiking patch and certificate. Bon voyage!

 

Scotland 2016: The Tragedy, the NHS, and the kindness of Highlanders.

img_20160519_133805358_hdr-01Invermoriston is a darling village with some beautiful historic bridges, a hotel with restaurant, a couple B&Bs, a public restroom, a tiny shop, and a crafts shop.  And that’s about it.  It is perfect.  We grabbed lunch (and a sticky toffee pudding!) at the hotel, dropped our bags at the best B&B in the Highlands, Craik Na Dav, and headed down to visit the craft shop and see the beautiful waterfalls.

This is where things went bad.  If you are squeamish at all, turn and run. Hide. Don’t read on.

img_20160519_165324610_hdr-01We enjoyed the beautiful falls and woodlands trails, and along the way back I lost the small trail and stepped in some mud.  I made my way through to get some shots of the historic bridges, and called back to my husband to be sure to stick to the trail so he didn’t get muddy.  He didn’t hear me.  Rather than going through the mud, he decided to do something he’d done a thousand times – hop a fence. Only, fences in the UK are much older than the fences here. When he hopped this auld, stone fence, the stones came with him.  I saw him falling, and figured he would be embarrassed. He was. But when I called to ask if he was ok, he tried to stand up. He pulled his pant leg up to check the damage, and from across the street, I could literally see his shin bone [tibia?] (sorry, I told you this was graphic).

Charles and his shame.

Charles and his shame.

Once I made sure he wasn’t bleeding to death, I ran up to the little shop. I said something along the lines of “My husband fell and he’s bleeding, but he’s not dying or anything, so who do we call?  It’s not like a 999 emergency or anything, but we’re also hiking, and American.” They were so nice.  Of course, because this is Scotland where the people will totally judge you and laugh at you, but be so helpful and nice while doing it.  We went back to the injury site, where a few cars had stopped along the road to help. A medic lived across the street, and he came out and diagnosed Charles a need for some stitches. It was decided that we didn’t need the hospital in Inverness, and a local GP was willing to treat this ridiculous accident-prone American. We got him back up to the shop where we waited on a non-emergency ambulance to pick us up and take us to a doctor.

Good ole NHS healthcare.

Good ole NHS healthcare.

Everyone was so nice.  I know the NHS has it’s problems, but everyone was so great. They ambulanced us to Dr. Jill back in Fort Augustus who stitched Charles right back up. After she looked at the wound and realized it wasn’t going to bleed out, she turned to me, Charles, and the ambulance drivers and said, “ok, well, who wants tea?” Perfect!! After 3 stitches, we took our ambulance back up to Invermoriston just in time for our dinner reservations at the hotel (the only place to eat in town).

img_20160519_192151267Small towns, man.  They are the best.  And the smallest.  The lady in the shop had called the sisters who run the (amazing) B&B we were staying in to let them know what happened.  They, or someone, in turn called the (amazing) Mac’s Adventure company who called repeatedly to check on us.  The hotel/restaurant got wind of the accident and canceled our reservation thinking we wouldn’t be back in time to make it. Charles was officially known as (and probably is still known as) “the poor man with the sore leg.”  Luckily, there was room in the bar for us to eat (more steak and ale pie!) and we bought a round for the ambulance drivers once they got off shift as well.

We hobbled up to our B&B where Lindsey and Manda took the best possible care of us.  Nurses themselves, they had a look at the sore leg to assuage any of Charles’ worries, and they also left a few drams of whiskey in the room for us, as well. My favorite quote from Invermoriston was when Charles’ constant apologies and self-deprecation were met with replies of, “well, it was dumb. but these things happen.” or something along those lines.  My thoughts exactly!  They also accused us of vandalizing the village. Thanks, Charles. Now we’ll be banned for life.

img_20160519_133848960

Right before the tragedy

Charles went to bed thinking he’d be fine for the hike to Drumnadrochit the next day. Turns out he was so wrong. He limped around on that leg for a good month after we got back, and I’m pretty sure that bone was cracked or fractured at least a little. He has a glorious scar and can now tell when it will rain via shin injury. After a great breakfast at Craik na Dav, the sisters were so kind to call us a cab to Drum, since there was no way we were scaling highland hills.

Onto Drum in the next episode.  In the meantime, enjoy these photos!

Scotland Travels 2016: History, Hiking, and Heritage; Pt. 3: Highlands

Can we move here please?

Can we move here please? Views from the train

After our adventures in the lowland cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, we hoped on a train and headed to the highlands; first stop: Fort William.

This leg of our trip was devoted to the Great Glen Way. We used the inimitable Mac’s Adventure travel group to plan and make this trip a reality, and I can not recommend them more.  The long-distance trail is about 71 miles long, through the highlands, and links Fort William to Inverness. The trail follows the major natural faultline of the Great Glen which divides Scotland from coast to coast.  We decided to do the hike over 7 days.5932-56-userimage5-500x500

We started with an extra day in Inverness, which gave us the opportunity to hike to the top of Cow Hill and enjoy the continued amazing spring weather. Before we started our hike, we went to a little shop in town and got the most delicious filled rolls. We saw sheep, a couple of dogs, and a cat, but sadly no coo. We also got to see Ben Nevis, the highest point in Britain.  Someday we hope to return and scale the mountain!

Views from Cow Hill

Views from Cow Hill

Inverlochy Castle

Inverlochy Castle

The next day we prepared to start our 71 mile hike.  We stopped in town at the West Highlands Museum to learn more about the Jacobite rebellion and life in the northern reaches of the British Isles.  At the beginning of our hike we got to stop in and explore the Old Inverlochy Castle ruins. Magical! We grabbed lunch on the sides of Neptune’s Staircase loch system, then got to the real business of the walk. The rest of the day was spent walking along the canal towpaths, a real feat of Scottish engineering. We stayed at a nice B&B in Gairlochy, and grabbed the most delicious dinner in Spean Bridge at Russell’s.  I must be hungry, because all I can think about is all these great Scottish meals we had… After dinner, we were exhausted by the first day of hiking, and looking forward to another day on the path.

img_20160518_145631The next morning, we met a great couple, Matt and Sandy, at breakfast.  They were also on the hike, and avid walkers from England. We ran into them at several of our accommodations and along the trail, and they were a delight! The most important thing they taught me was to bring a thermos on the next trip to take tea for a mid-morning hiking break.

We continued on Laggan the next day. This was a memorable day with nice weather at the beginning of the hike, lovely woods and shoreside hikes, and a nice detour into Cameron lands. Sadly the Cameron museum was closed, but we did have the opportunity to take a nice side-tour to see the Chia-aig waterfall, of Rob Roy fame. We crested the hill, greeted by sheep, and headed down the hill into Laggan.  A small town, our hosts were nice enough to drive us to a hotel for dinner (steak and ale pie with chips!!).  We spent the evening in the parlor with some British couples, and rested up for yet another day of hiking.

Charles and Nessie in Fort Augustus

Charles and Nessie in Fort Augustus

From Laggan, we moved on towards Fort Augustus, one of the larger towns in the Highlands.  Most of this day was canal paths, woods, and old train routs.  When we reached the end of the canals, we saw a new, welcome sight!  Fort Augustus is home to the end of Loch Ness, so we immediately began looking for the monster. We stayed in a neat place called Abbey Cottage, built in 1760. Little did we know we’d soon make a return journey to Fort Augustus…

img_20160519_114004242_hdr-01The next morning, the real hiking began. We were no longer on nice flat canal tow paths or gentle hills along the lochs.  We were through the woods, steep steep, up up, all the way to the top of hills just like you’ve seen in the movies.  Below us, Loch Ness, the tiny speck of Fort Augustus and the canal locks behind us, and wilderness all around.  It was perfect and beautiful, and made even better by the bacon sandwich I had saved from breakfast for the moment we crested the hills. We enjoyed the views all morning, and by the afternoon we were headed down the path into the small village of Invermoristen.

More on Invermoristen and the tragedy that occurred there next week!  Here are some photos of the way so far:

 

Scotland Travels 2016: History, Hiking, and Heritage; Pt. 2: Glasgow Edition

After such fabulous adventures in Edinburgh, we headed the next day to Glasgow. What can I say about Glasgow… not as much as I’d like, for reasons you will soon discover.

img_20160512_135053115-01Upon our arrival, we walked to our AirBnB along the River Clyde.  Our trip coincided with the best weather Scotland had seen in a while, and the normally genial Glaswegians were in a particularly rare good mood brought on by the sun and warmth after a long, wet, grey winter. Spring had sprung!

img_20160512_151521We explored the city, and ended up walking to the Kelvingrove Museum, which is a delightful mix of natural history and taxidermy (my favorite!), local history, and world history, with a bit of art thrown in as well.  And the building is beautiful!! We saw a haggis in its natural habitat, a mummy, and some nice creepy floaty heads. After exploring to our hearts content, we headed to the cafe and had a perfect afternoon tea. By this time, the museum was closing, so we headed back along the river for pizza and beer by our flat.

Next day, we were up and ready to explore.  The weather was slightly grayer today, but the people remained the most hospitable I’ve met.  Troublingly so. This day was for Charles’ museums, so we spent the morning and early afternoon scouring art galleries, with the afternoon set aside for me to trace some family history, and maybe see the cemetery and cathedral.

img_20160513_121746226-01We went to the Glasgow Museum of Contemporary Art, home of a beautiful ceiling, and the CCA as well.  The art museums are largely a blur, other than the ceiling pictures I continued to collect, and with the exception of one exhibit at the Glasgow Center for Contemporary Arts that I randomly thought of the other day. Pilvi Takala’s exhibit captivated me for a while, and I could have watched the videos in the exhibit all day.  For some reason, this one about a boarding school in particular stuck with me.

After exploring, we did a bit of shopping and stopped in a pub for a quick snack (all the chips and vinegar, please!!).  In this pub we happened to be seated next to Joe and his girlfriend. Joe really liked Charles’ beard. Joe was a typical friendly and welcoming Glaswegian.  Joe and his girlfriend found out we were on our honeymoon.  And proceeded to buy us ALL the pints and ALL the whiskeys in honor of our trip.  After escaping the hospitable clutches of our new best friend Joe, it was late, we were tired, and we knew we would have sore heads in the morning. img_20160513_161752152

 

As such, we did not make it to see the address where my Great Grandma Greta spent her first five years. It was across the river from where we were staying, but as we had to catch a train into the highlands the next day, we didn’t quite make it there.

Great Grandma Greta and her family at their cabin in Alaska.

Great Grandma Greta and her family at their cabin in Alaska.

That face!

That face!

Here is a good opportunity to talk about my familial “spirit animal” if you will. I wish I knew more about her, and I really need to talk to family about her before I lose that opportunity.  For whatever reason, I feel a special connection to my paternal maternal great grandmother (got that? Dad’s Mom’s Mom).

I know she was born in Glasgow, came to America, married my Great Grandfather, and took up residence as a full-time badass.  She lived in a lighthouse on Dumplin Rock in MA, moved her family including 3 children to the wilderness of Alaska to live in a log cabin as homesteaders pre-WWII, and in photos she always looked like she was happy, funny, and up to something sneaky. She also sewed my grandmother’s wedding dress, which became my wedding dress.  From ancestry.com I learned that she was born in Glasgow around 1910, and at age 5 she immigrated to the US.  The records on ancestry even showed me an address for her aunt who lived in Glasgow. As I said, we didn’t make it to her actual address, but it was amazing to be in the city one part of family had connections to. screen-shot-2016-04-08-at-10-56-28-am

The next day, we woke up to another beautiful, sunny day, and we boarded the train to the highlands…

Scotland Travels 2016: History, Hiking, and Heritage; Pt. 1

And now for something completely different from the most recent series. Travel. Travel that involves history and hiking. Living the dream.

Cemetery times!

Cemetery times!

As soon as our final grades were submitted at the end of our first academic year at Coastal, my husband and I finally left the country on our honeymoon.  #ClaryWeeHighlandHoneymoon2016 was an amazing success. Walked/hiked: over 115 Miles. Spotted: a million sheep and bebe lambs, 1 Elton John twin, a handful of coo, a couple dozen deer and stags, 2 wild goats, 1 Prince, and a hundred black slugs. Gained: 3 stitches and a highland battle scar, as well as a bruise that goes on for days, lotsa tweed, a fancy sporran, one bruised ego, a bagpipe chanter, and lovely memories to last a lifetime. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We started our trip in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Soon after we landed in Auld Reekie we set out on the town to see Greyfriar’s Kirk and cemetery and a quick jaunt up Arthur’s Seat. After a delicious dinner at our hotel (which used to be the old Edinburgh Bedlam Asylum – perfect!) and a fried Mars bar, we rested up for a full day of exploring.

img_20160511_115410160Our second day in Edinburgh, we headed to the National Library of Scotland where we had noticed the day before they had an exhibit on about Plague! Very fortuitous that all my favorite things were happening while we were there.  The exhibit was a great display of documents and records, books, related sources, maps, and a lot of wet specimens the library had for whatever reason (that I highly approve of).  The exhibit cases were especially impressive, as they were coffins you opened to see the info inside!  Marketing for the exhibit, which caught our eye the day before, was also brilliant, as you followed rat stickers up the steps to the exhibit. Perfection.

img_20160511_160324A bit of meandering and lunch at the library, and we were off again.  We caught all the main sites: Edinburgh Castle, the most amazing vintage store ever, Armstrong and Sons in Grassmarket, Elephant House where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, and the Tartan weaving exhibition that explained how kilts are made. We also stopped in the oldest pub in Edinburgh, which became a theme of the trip (oldest pubs in towns, not just pubs in general, though, that, too).

Gorgeous National Museum of Scotland

Gorgeous National Museum of Scotland

Next, we stopped in the National Museum of Scotland, but we only had a short amount of time, as they were closing in one hour.  We did a quick tour of the natural history, saw some Robert the Bruce and William Wallace swords, played with the interactive, and headed on out as the docents closed things down.

After shopping and wandering, we decided to give Mary King’s Close a shot.  I was a bit wary of the set-up, since I’d heard it was a bit cheesy and silly, but I also didn’t want to pass up the chance to see a set-up of a reconstructed close.  The close in Edinburgh was a staple of life for people in the overcrowded city, and still is today to an extent.  Closes today are no longer (usually) cesspools of disease crammed with tenement housing, though if you head off the Royal Mile you may see one.

img_20160512_002531Heading into Mary King’s Close to purchase tickets, we noticed a crowd outside St. Giles Cathedral.  We asked a policeman what was going on, and by the saints, THE PRINCE was inside.  Not Prince William or Prince Harry… and the Queen and Kate Middleton were no where in site… but Charles, Prince of Wales, future king of England (unless EII outlives us all).  We had already purchased timed tickets, so I resigned myself to not getting to see royalty on this trip and headed into eh undersides of Edinburgh.

The Mary Kings Close attraction was actually a delight.  We had a fantastic guide (Thanks Chris. T!!) and the site made good use of personal stories, creepy mannequins, and technologies.  We even got a photo with Chris T. as a souvenir.

The Prince!!

The Prince!!

We left Mary King’s Close to head back to the asylum, er hotel, and lo and behold – the Prince was still at the cathedral.  A very nice officer allowed us to stand with him to watch for the royal to leave.  And I had the absolute best possible view as he drove by and on to Holyrood.  I finally got to see a royal.  He may not have been my 1st, 2nd, or 6th choice, but he was a royal and it made my day.  History!!!

Next day, on to Glasgow, home of my ancestral spirit animal, Great Grandma Greta. Coming up next….

Reflecting on Influences: Adapting Courses Over the Years

I’m currently thinking about how I can adapt my HIST101: Foundations of European Civilizations Part 1 course when my university’s new Core Curriculum plan rolls out in the fall.  As I think about the projects that have worked, or not had the outcomes that I wanted, I looked back to my first year of teaching this course for inspiration.

Here is what I thought, back in 2012, as I participated in my Ph.D. residency colloquium and taught my first college course, World Civilizations: “Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts[1] was the most influential and interesting book that I read not only during my residency year but probably in my entire academic career.”  Wow!  Big claims.  I need to revisit Wineburg’s book soon and see how this holds up. As a resident in the program, I had no intentions to teach full-time, and instead I planned to enter the public history field on the ground, which I did.  Now, however, I’m back in academia, teaching 101, public history courses, and even a graduate course.

What else did I think about Wineburg?  Let us see…

The author approaches several questions I have wondered about both in my studies and in the beginning of my residency such as why people study history at all, what history can teach us not just about the past but about humanity and ourselves, how history should be taught, and what exactly history’s place is outside of the classroom. Wineburg’s analysis of how people learn, and how history has been taught in the past is enthralling.  Additionally, the questions he asks, such as why to study history and what students should learn from their history classes, were intriguing and thought-provoking, I taught my first class in a “traditional” classroom.  I wish that I had read this book a lot sooner, as both an educator in museums and historical sites, and as a new teacher of college-level survey history.

In planning for my own World Civilizations I course, I wanted to introduce my students to the global culture through the class and stories that can be found throughout ancient and classical history. I wanted to focus on the connections of cultures through themes to humanize the people and civilizations we talk about.  Additionally, critical thinking and questioning are ground stones for my course structure.  Explaining to my students that the people in the past are foreign to us and some of the things they did were strange is not difficult; students often bring that up in class and claim that they find something about ancient cultures “weird.”  I often tried to relate the actions and values of people from the past to my students here in the present.

Wineburg claims that “strange” history that excludes people and does not engage others.[2]  I keenly felt this with World Civilizations which many people find to be foreign.  However many people have an inexplicable love for Ancient Egypt as evidenced in popular culture, museum exhibitions, Halloween costumes, and countless other venues.  Perhaps in the case of Egypt the strangeness is what is appealing.  In my class I tried to appeal to the interesting “strangeness” of each culture or group that were studied in an effort to engage  students in conversation and thinking about these people, or even to get them to remember any little detail about these people from the past.  In class we asked such questions as, what will people in the future think about our civilization?  Will we be considered strange by people looking back to the past in which we live?

I love looking back at my old work (even though sometimes it is cringe-worthy), and I can’t wait to re-read Wineburg.  I hope time hasn’t spoiled him for me!

 

Tenement Museum: Technology, History, & Contemporary Issues @ Shop Life

In March I had the opportunity to visit New York City again, and, as is usually the case, booked a space in the (arguably best neighborhood in the city) Lower East Side. There are a lot of things that make the LES the best, including food, architecture, and the relatively quiet streets, but one of the best attributes the LES can boast is the LowerEast Side Tenement Museum.

Reflections: Our wee group outside the Tenement

The Tenement Museum was a staple of my graduate education discussion groups, in part for their innovative interpretation and programs.  As I continued my education as a PhD student, the ground-breaking efforts to include people with disabilities in a (somewhat problematic) space became a focus of my research, and I’ve written about their efforts in previous blogs.

On this most recent trip, I met up with some fellow museum professionals in the city, and we booked tickets for the Shop Life tour.  This is the newest tour at the museum, and also the only tour within the actual historic building that is accessible for people with mobility issues.  The museum website describes the tour: “.. visitors explore the immigrant businesses once located at 97 Orchard Street, where communities worked, shopped, celebrated and struggled for more than a century. The exhibit features a re-created 1870’s German beer saloon once run by John and Caroline Schneider, as well as an interactive “sales counter” where visitors select audio and visual media clips to explore the stories of turn-of-the-century kosher butchers Israel and Goldie Lustgarten, 1930s auctioneer Max Marcus, and 1970s undergarment discounters Frances & Sidney Meda.”

Photo from the Tenement Museum website.

The tour started in the German bar set-up from the 1870s.  Our group was not a particularly lively group of tourists, but our tour guide made the most of it with interactive aspects of the tour as well as inquiry-based learning.  From the story of the Schneiders’ business, we went through the building to see rooms that are in various states of preservation or excavation.

Advertisement announcing the opening of Schneider’s Beer Garden in the LES

One of the coolest aspects of this tour, aside from the interpretation of a range of time periods and personal stories of the people who lived there, was the use of primary sources in the interpretation of the space. On my first tour of the museum in 2012 I noticed the commitment to the use of primary sources and photographs, and this tour was not an exception.  Advertisements, photographs, menus, announcements, and other sources all provided that tangible connection to the past that museums and interpreters seek to impart.

Perhaps the best part of the tour, however, was at the end, when we were able to engage in active learning and visitor choice using some pretty cool (and not distracting or problematic or difficult) technology.  Technology can be the bane of some museums and exhibits as it often needs updates, breaks, or is rife with user errors. We entered the interactive space, where each person was given space at a table with projected instructions.  We each chose an artifact from the shelves behind us that we wanted to know more about.  The artifacts told the stories of the people, businesses, neighborhood, and historical context who lived and worked in the space where we stood.  We could explore as much or as little about these artifacts and their associated stories before moving on to another item/time period/story.

Lately the Tenement Museum has been in the news for their activism (and the subsequent backlash against that activism) regarding immigration.  The stories of the Tenement Museum would not exist without immigrants.  At the end of our tour, the guide played a short film about a current immigrant business owner who lives and works in the neighborhood of the museum.  She encouraged us to visit his and other immigrant shops throughout the city.  This activism and the commitment to the community surrounding the museum is what museums should be all about.  Connecting the past to the present makes the experience more meaningful and impactful.  I hope to explore these themes and topics more in the future.

I can’t wait to go back and try another tour! Have you been to the Tenement Museum?  Which tours did you take, which would you recommend, and why?