DaCNet 2: Day 2

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Day 2 opened with, “Corpses in Cabinets,” my own panel, which included fantastic women scholars from around the world, but also FROM MY HOME STATE!

Imagine my surprise when I realized the first speaker, Melissa Schrift, was from East Tennessee State University, 2 hours from my hometown. How cool to travel all the way to England to meet someone from home who is doing super cool, and in some ways similar work, to my own. Melissa spoke on, “Race, bodies and spectacle in 19th century living exhibitions,” which was super exciting for me, since a large part of my dissertation and previous work was on freakshows and exhibitions of people with disabilities or difference. One of her case studies was that of Charles Byrne, “The Irish Giant,” whose body is still on display and causing controversy at the Hunterian in London. I spoke next on human remains in museums, then Jenny Bergman and Kicki Eldh presented “Death –a concern?” about human remains in Swedish museums.

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Last, but certainly not least, curators Katherine Baxter and Ruth Martin from Leeds Museums and Galleries presented, “Displaying the dead: public reactions to human skeletons in museums.” I loved this one! They shared the museum’s human remains policy as well as photography policies. Leeds Museums have also integrated these big questions of museums displaying and photographing the dead into their exhibitions to involve the museum stakeholders and visitors in the process. Note to self: I have GOT to get myself to the Leeds Museums and want to chat more with Katherine and Ruth on their work.

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I am not exaggerating when I say this conference was basically made for me. The next session I attended was “Bodies on View,” which included a paper on TLC and other television programming (which I’ve written about before as the modern freakshow) and reliquaries and “bone churches.” First up, Agata Korecka tackled “Death, dying and light entertainment” through medical reality television. Shows in the UK like Embarassing Bodies, or US-based shows like My 600 Pound Life, and a variety of other programs depict people with medical issues for entertainment or education. Sometimes, the subjects of those shows die, such as in the case of Robert Buchel, who died soon after filming. Korecka examined public reactions to the show during the airing, and then after the announcement of his death during the program. Kelsey Perreault ended the session with, “The Church of Bones and the human rights of the dead.” She explored a church in that displays the bones of various individuals in patterns across the chapel, and the treatment of these bones as a dark tourist destination. One audience question was about the gift shop offerings and commodification of the dead. Perreault also addressed questions about “protecting the dignity of the dead.” So good!!

20180907_161715My last session of the day was “Digital Reimaginings” with Kelly Richards and Matt Coward. Kelly did an amazing job discussing “Reimagining the personification of Death in popular culture” with a talk that included comics, movies, and other popular culture and their depictions of death. Her multimedia presentation included some fantastic video clips (Bill and Ted! Mighty Boosh!!) and she even finished the session with a great rebuttal of some quite strange questions.. Wonderful job, Kelly! Matt ended the conference with a bang, discussing death and video games. I learned about some new games I want to play (Graveyard Keeper!) and now have a different perspective of seeing death spaces in video games, as well (not cool to ransack graves, God of War).

And just like that, DaCNet 2 was done. I hope to see a lot of the same folks at the14th International Conference on the Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal in Bath next year. Until then…

DaCNet 2: Day 1

img_8ac6ph.jpgAfter such a great night at the pub with the DaCNet people, I was excited to head over to University of York the next morning for the conference. I had a beautiful one mile walk through allotments and a park before coming to campus. My only complaint about this conference, and I’m not sure how it could be fixed, is that there were so many great papers in each session. I wanted to try to hop from room to room for different papers in different sessions, but rooms were always packed (yay!) and it wasn’t really feasible. That said here are some highlights from Day 1;

20180906_115908.jpgHeather Conway and Ruth Penfold-Mounce, “The evil dead: the law and disposing of the criminal corpse.” – Wow. Something I had never given much thought, but now I can’t stop thinking about it! Who cares for the criminal dead, such as Ian Brady or the Manchester concert bomber? The morgue that took their remains has been dubbed “Monster Morgue.”  Similar to this talk was, “(Dis)posing of monsters: justice and the ‘inhuman’ dead” by Daniel Robins and Rosie Smith. I’m still thinking through these issues and trying to decide what rights the dead have, and if those supersede those of the living. Best example: Ian Brady (who murdered children and buried them on the moors) wanted his ashes spread across those same moors; he was denied and instead his ashes were buried at sea, at night, and in secret. So thought-provoking!

tess-margollesAnother one that has really stuck with me: Julia Banwell’s, “Echoes of the absent: Teresa Margolles’ work with afterlives of bodies, objects and spaces.” Art and the dead. Artist Teresa Margolles has some great work addressing. Some of her best-known work is the details of murder victims of the cartels on marquees in Mexican towns and cities. The only thing I learned in this conference that truly bothered me was the piece, En El Aire (In the Air) (2003) which was a room filled with water vapor… from the water used to wash corpses at a morgue. Read more about her work here.

In the afternoon, I attended Claire Wood’s “Ordering meaning in the Victorian memorial card” which looked in depth at these wonderful primary sources used to commemorate the dead. They are beautiful pieces of art, too! Last, Helen Frisby presented on, “Representing gravediggers in nineteenth and twentieth century popular culture” which included some great references to popular culture gravediggers.

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Our evening concluded with a keynote address from Joanna Burke titled, “Carved into the body: forensic science, truth, and the female corpse.” Professor Burke talked about the gendered nature of death and forensics through the story of one of the early forensic mannequins used for training in England. From there, we were treated to a reception and dinner, which included a book launch and celebration by Emerald Publishing’s Death Studies series. Congrats to the new authors! I walked back to the guesthouse, excited for day 2 of DacNet and my own presentation in the morning…

York, UK: Harry Potter, Chocolate, and Richard III

sdfg.jpgYork and our journey there was a study in all of my favorite things: Harry Potter, train travel, that famous glorious son of York, chocolate, tea, and gorgeous architecture. We started our day with time to spare at Kings Cross so we could visit Platform 9 ¾, the start of one’s journey to Hogwarts. My mom and I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was a sophomore in high school, and we loved them and shared them throughout my time in college. Mom is a textbook Hufflepuff, while I am a stalwart Syltherin. How the two biggest hufflepuffs to ever hufflepuff created a Slytherin is anyone’s guess.  Anyway. Platform 9 ¾ was everything we hoped it would be, and the photographers in the line that day were superb and so fun. Even though they made me hold Voldy’s wand since I’m a Slytherin. Obviously we bought all 4 photos, and I got my mom some Hedwig souvenirs, because it was her birthday!

20180905_141107-01Then we hopped on the train and headed north to Yorkshire, home of my boy Richard III. Once we got to York, we dropped off our bags and headed into the ancient town. We started with tea at Earl Grey’s in the Shambles, which was delicious and perfect. I couldn’t finish my caramel cake, but the treats were superb. We wandered around the Shambles and downtown, then headed into York’s Chocolate Story to purchase our tickets.

20180905_141728York has a great history of chocolate and candy making, which automatically puts it high up on my list of favorite places. York’s Chocolate Story is a great example of the interactive, technological, and innovative types of exhibits that money can buy. All tours are fully guided and seem to be heavily scripted, but our guide was a delight. The tour starts with a ride in the elevator to the top floor where you enter a recreated street scene from York’s past.  We had an opportunity to taste chocolate made from one of York’s earliest recipes, and it wasn’t half bad. From there, we headed into a multimedia experience to tell the story of the discovery of cacao beans in the South American rainforests (without glossing over colonialism and the horrors the invaders brought with them). Then we learned about the families of York who founded candy and chocolate making empires in Yorkshire through a multimedia presentation. The next part was the best, though…

20180905_152047On the first floor there is a recreated chocolate factory, where visitors learn the entire process of creating consumable chocolates from processing to wrapping. We tried our hand at tasting the many flavors in chocolate and learned about the science of chocolate as well. Next, we got to decorate our own chocolate lollies! Chocolatiers were also on hand to show the process of making candies and truffles from the chocolate, and of course we got to taste, as well. I’m only sad that we had just had a large tea before our tour. We exited through the gift shop, as per usual, and brought home many treats for our friends and families (and ourselves). This museum really did have it all from multimedia displays, to sensory experiences, to the best possible interactives. I highly recommend it, even though it is totally touristy. We decided to walk off our chocolate and tea for the rest of the afternoon, and we saw all the major sites such as the York Minster church, the York walls, the Norman Clifford’s Tower, and even a pub named for r3.

20180905_161838We headed to our guesthouse and I got mom settled in, and I headed back out for a pub game night with the Death and Culture Net folks at the Eagle and Child. I knew I was in the right place when I walked in and heard people asking, “Are you here for death??” I didn’t end up playing any games, but I met all kinds of people from all over the world working broadly with death; Maggie, a doula and activist from the Bay area, Ruth from York who studies sociological aspects of death and criminology, Janieke from the Netherlands who studies funereal music… and so many more. My next will be all about DacNet, so tune in next time for more!

England 2018: Trip 2 – September 2018

Prologue: If you follow my twitter or Instagram or this blog, you already know this has been a busy year. I’m fully taking advantage of #AcWriMo2018 this year, and with the support of colleagues and friends, I have a goal to write at least 12 blogs that have been sitting here in the draft list pile, along with many other goals for my Academic Writing this year. This is great news for my blog, but it means that my blogs are about to start a time wrap of slowly working their way back to the past. Therefore, you are first going to hear all about my SECOND trip to England this year, and then I will work towards my summer work and travel, then the Spring semester of 2018, etc. My dream goal is to get all caught up so I can begin again to post with some regularity and timeliness as an ongoing goal. Apology/not apology: My new work takes this Anglophile to England a lot, so be prepared for all things mushy peas and tea in the coming months. Ok, enough housekeeping: On to England!

Ok, so where were we…

You’ve already read my quick Fall 2018 update and that I was fortunate to present at the DaCNet II Conference at University of York last week. So what about the rest of the trip to England? I couldn’t very well fly all the way across the Atlantic JUST for a conference; I had to get in some research and planning there, as well.

IMG_20180901_050415_252Because of timing and a twist of good luck, my mom was able to join me on this trip as a research assistant extraordinaire and travel buddy! This was her first trip out of the country, and our first time traveling just the two of us, and turns out that we travel absolutely swimmingly together (unless one of us is slurping a hot drink or smacking gum and then things can get tense for a hot second). My mom was an absolute trooper on this trip; walking miles and miles across London, going to all of the museums and actually enjoying them, taking selfies without complaint, listening with actual interest every time I started off on a “DID YOU KNOW….“ tangent at a museum or historic place. So yeah, all of that to say, my mom is the best and I can’t wait to travel with her again.

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So mom and I headed out from the Myrt early on the first Saturday in September to head for The Big Smoke. After a few delays and a smooth flight, we landed at Heathrow and made our way towards Convent Garden. This trip we stated at the Hilton Double Tree West End, and I highly recommend it for location, but mostly because our room was ready at 11am when we got there to drop off bags.

We napped then made our way out to take a quick open top bus tour of the city before grabbing a pub dinner. I can’t recommend Golden Tours hop of and off bus at all because their routes and times were terrible and an absolute waste of money and time, but at least for our first day it was nice to sit back and see the sites with ease. Same goes for the London Pass: everything is free that we wanted to see anyway, so don’t waste your money.

20180902_155037That said, we got to see Trafalgar, Tower Bridge, the Thames, and St. Paul’s Cathedral while still in a jetlag fog. Then back to rest so we could have a full day of museums and sites the following day… coming up: death tourism in London, Tower of London, Victoria and Albert, Natural History Museum, British Museum (redux), and Museum of London: Docklands!

Side note: my friend Casey made all the arrangements for this trip through her business She’s All Booked, and I can’t recommend her enough!!

Death and Culture Network II: Fall 2018

DacNet UOY RHAlignIn September of this year I had the opportunity to present a paper on Bodies and Display for the Death and Culture II conference at the University of York in the United Kingdom. I have been researching bodies and museums for the past couple of years, and this was a fantastic opportunity to bring that research to an international audience. While in the UK, I also visited several London and York museums, met with other amazing #DeathStudies scholars, and did some good research for what will be my next book! More on that soon.

IMG_mh7wdbAccording to the DaCNet website, “The Death and Culture Network based at the University of York seeks to explore and understand cultural responses to mortality. It focuses on the impact of death and the dead on culture, and the way in which they have shaped human behaviour, evidenced through thought, action, production and expression. The network is committed to promoting and producing an inter-disciplinary study of mortality supported by evidence and framed by theoretical engagement.” This is a true interdisciplinary work of genius, and a fun group of people to meet and collaborate with for sure.

I can not emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this conference and the other presentations and discussions held formally and informally. I will explore those in my next blog in more detail.

IMG_20180907_102201_205In my presentation I explored the legacy of freakshows and cabinets of curiosities on the current guidelines and ethics of museums in regard to the display of human remains. Topics I am brought up included: ethics, public reactions, and responsibilities of public historians with regards to the display and exhibition of human remains. I also presented on the racial, ableist, and class implications of displaying human remains in natural history, history, and medical museums. I also mentioned cultural patrimony of objects, as well as human remains as museum objects. I posed many questions in my talk about how old do human remains have to be to be considered “objects” and no longer people? How do visitors react to various human remains on display, from mummies, to Victorian hair wreath memorials, to skeletons or cremated remains? Human remains have been a part of exhibitions since the first museums opened in various forms; from the case of Sarah Baartman and nineteenth century freak shows, to modern displays of mummies and medical specimens, the human body has often been a source of emotion, intrigue, and education. Have museums moved beyond the “freakshow,” or are current human remain displays merely an extension of the spectacle of the earliest museum?20180907_141938~2

I had a blast doing this presentation, and I even managed to finish my talk with 4 seconds to spare. The audience and other panel members were so accepting and helpful, and they brought so many insights to my talk. I can’t wait to be back in York in 2020 for DaCIII!

Fall 2017 Student Blogs: REARC

This is the second in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This blog is by student Tori Peck about the student trip to REARC in Williamsburg. 

By Tori Peck Earlier this month I attended the academic conference called REARC at Colonial Williamsburg, VA. It was about Reconstructive and experimental archaeology. It was a two day conference consisting of two parts. Friday was the formal lecture day where presenters gave presentations on the work they have been doing in the experimental/reconstructive archeological […]

via REARC Conference — Journey into Public History

NCPH 2016 – Working Group on Accessibility!

Next month, I’ll be presenting work at the National Council on Public History’s annual challenging-the-exclusive-past-ncph-2016meeting in Baltimore!  The working group – MAKING PUBLIC HISTORY ACCESSIBLE: EXPLORING BEST PRACTICES FOR DISABILITY ACCESS – 2016 WORKING GROUP – has created a page on the Public History Commons to foster conversation and ideas before the conference.

The working group introduction states, “Many of our museums and historic sites still exclude persons with disabilities, whether through physical barriers, communication barriers, or the omission of disability from the historical narrative. Public historians have an important role to play in providing an inclusive experience within their programs and institutions. In conjunction with the 25th year of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this working group will discuss and begin to address the challenges public historians face in creating fully inclusive sites and programs for people with all types of disabilities.”

Each participant has posted a case studies on the commons; mine can be found here. Please take a moment to browse the case studies and contribute to the conversation! 

As you may know, this aligns itself perfectly with my research! Here is my case study information:

  • How did I get here, and what did I do about it?

As I started my Public History PhD Program, I knew I wanted to do work in museums, possibly with a concentration in education. During the NCPH conference in Pensacola, FL, I walked downtown where adults with special needs were having a field trip in a park. It struck me in that moment that in my experience, at the history museums I had worked with up to that point, I had never worked with a group of people with special needs. During my dissertation research, I wanted to see how historic house museums and historic sites can create better, more accessible spaces, for all visitors. Specifically, I focused on field trips for high school students in general special education classes. In my experience in museums for several years across Tennessee, I didn’t see historymuseums, specifically, making an effort to create accessible spaces, beyond the typical ADA requirements. As part of my research, I visited several art museums that had specific programming, as well as some leading museums in New York City. I was able to take what worked and didn’t work for those sites, and through experimentation at a historic site in Tennessee I was able to come up with the “best practices” for creating programs for people with special needs at museums. After graduation, I published this manuscript as Programming for People With Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites, which include 7 practical steps for anyone wants to work with groups of people with special needs or disabilities, or frankly with any group in general at a museum. Another aspect of my research is the history of disability in museums – not through access necessarily, but rather how people with disabilities have been portrayed at museums, or “museums,” in the past, as exhibits rather than as visitors with agency.

  • What does it mean to make historic sites and programs accessible for people with disabilities? What challenges do smaller sites face in becoming fully accessible?

I think, and hope, that accessibility is starting to move beyond ADA requirements for wheelchairs, accommodations for hearing and sight impaired, and become something that is embraced, rather than a moral and legal obligation. Universal design is a term often used to describe a one-size-fits-all type of site or program, which should be the best solution for every person. That isn’t always the most feasible solution though, especially at smaller sites with limited staff, resources, and funds. Small budgets, historic buildings, limited time… all those things that staff at historic sites are so familiar with can put accessibility on the backburner to paying the electric bill, running copies for the board of directors, or directing a cider-and-cookies Christmas event for the public. However, even small adaptations to existing tours or programs or even the site itself can help with access for more visitors.

  • What accessibility standards do practitioners currently use?

Until recently, several museums and sites that I worked at did only the bare minimum for ADA, and often not even that. However, there are some good guidelines from the Smithsonian Institute for things like exhibit text and font size for people with low vision, introductory videos are often Closed Captioned, and some historic buildings even have ramps up to the first floor. There are several really great things in the works at museums I’ve visited – 3D printings of paintings or art (great for everyone, not just sight impaired), closed-museum tours for groups of students with autism, the old photos of the upstairs album for historic houses with multiple stories. Hopefully innovations and conversations, like this one, will inspire others to come up with more solutions and standards.

  • How should staff and volunteers be trained to incorporate accessibility standards into their practices?

One of the most striking aspects of my research was the lack of training in accessibility, in all positions at museums and historic sites from the Director to education staff, to security and reception. Even a bit of sensitivity and awareness training of disability and accessibility at a regular staff or board meeting can go a long way. As a part of my department service as a PhD student, I held an Accessibility in Museums workshop for the public. It was an all-day affair, with Morning session speakers, including a Keynote Speaker, Krista Flores, a Program Specialist at Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Program, additional speakers: Karen Wade, Director of Homestead Museum, Los Angeles County, California and Dr. Lisa Pruitt, Middle Tennessee State University.  Additionally, a panel of various experts in the fields of education, museums, special education, recreation and more spoke about challenges and solutions in their own fields. Afternoon Breakout sessions included case studies, information about specific issues, and think-tank opportunities. The workshop was not as well-attended as we hoped it would be, but those who did attend said that they saw the value in such a workshop and hoped that more would be available in the future.

  • In what ways can new technologies assist public historians in making their sites and interpretation more accessible? What new challenges do these technologies pose?

Tablet technology, digital media, and 3D printing are some of the newest and best ways that we can reach more people, “make history exciting,” and create accessible spaces and programs. Apps and tours and videos can especially make accessibility to historic buildings better, but a lot of those sites do not have the funds available to purchase technology that is changing quickly. There are some grants available through local or state governments, for technology for accessibility, but those are limited. In my own experience at a historic house museum, the site received a grant to create tablet tours. Then there were several changes in administration; then new research changed many of the stories that had been told on tours; then the entire focus of the mission of the site changed. To my knowledge, that project is still out there, funding still available, but at this point, the technology that was supposed to be used, 5 years ago, is already out of date, as well as the script that was paid for and written by local scholars.

  • How can we increase the number of visitors with disabilities to our sites?

There are many ways to increase the number of visitors with disabilities – by having a space that they can access, by telling their own stories so they can see themselves in the museum, through involvement from the very beginning, and more. In my own experience, reaching out to communities and telling them that they are even welcome is a big aspect, especially with children with special needs. In a survey I distributed, teachers and parents of children with special needs were concerned that history museums or historic sites (not necessarily science or children’s museums) were supposed to be quiet and still places, where no disruptions or noise would be tolerated. In my experience, by reaching out and inviting students and teachers to a specific program tailored just to their needs through detailed discussion with the teachers and aides, that myth was dispelled, and everyone had a great and educational time at the historic site.

TAM It 2013 – Recap and Highlights

The most wonderful time of the year: TAM 2013

The most wonderful time of the year: TAM 2013

It is once again the time for me to regale you all with tales from the Tennessee Association of Museums Annual Conference.  This year, the meeting was held just up the road in Franklin, which gave participants a great opportunity to visit the sites of near-by Columbia and the rich Civil War history of Franklin.

This year I attended as a conference presenter (twice!), PhD Candidate for MTSU, and as the Director of Collections, Interpretation, and Development for the Sam Davis Home and Museum (that’s a whole other post – if you’ve wondered where I have been, there is your answer – I intend to post more updates in the next week).

In among the sessions, great lunch and dinner breaks, site visits, and of course, hospitality suite shenanigans, I had a great opportunity to chat with and learn from other museum professionals about struggles and triumphs that we all share.  This fit in very well with the theme of this year’s conference, “Against All Odds: Stories of Determination and Resilience.”

Meredith, me, and RKD at the Awards Dinner

Meredith, me, and RKD at the Awards Dinner

The first day we traveled to Columbia, Tennessee to visit the James K. Polk Home, the Athenaeum, and a private residence.  We then had the awards dinner and tons of fun at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall.

Early the next morning, I chaired a panel called, “Acting on Accessibility in a Post-ADA America” with Dr. Brenden Martin from MTSU, Jared Norwood from MTSU, and Ashleigh Oatts from Marble Springs State Historic Site.  We asked such questions as: Is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enough? Is your site targeting and building an important audience by creating new opportunities for visitors with disabilities? The session  discussed ways that museums and historic sites can develop accessibility through exhibits, site layout, and program offerings in a post-ADA world by going beyond the typical “fixes” of ramps and benches.  Topics covered included the historical context of ADA, universal and exhibit design, reaching out to Special Education classrooms and individuals with cognitive delay, and struggles specific to historic sites and historic house museums.  Strategies and tips were provided, and we facilitated a short discussion about possibilities and solutions for specific sites.  Below is my presentation: 

Emerging Professionals Discussion

Emerging Professionals Discussion

The same afternoon, fellow PhD Candidate Rebecca Duke and Rachael South Bogema from the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa joined me for a session called, “Rookie Roundtable: Discussions and Tips for Young Emerging Professionals.”  The session was designed as a group discussion to talk about challenges, issues, and advice for people just getting started in the field, students, or those that are trying to figure out where to go next.  We had a great conversation with people from all over the state, and everyone had great stories and advice to share! Please see Rachael’s blog on the C.H. Nash Museum site for more information!

Table 1 is victorious at the TAM Auction

Table 1 is victorious at the TAM Auction

 

 

Thursday night we visited Carnton Plantation, and then we got to experience the highly-anticipated dinner and live auction!  Table 1 walked away victorious, with every person seated there taking home at least one prize.  I even walked away with the most coveted prize: the Hospitality Suite Painting, which was created in the bathtub of the suite by TAM members the evening before the auction.

On Friday I attended two great sessions: “Against All Odds: Social Media Strategy and Planning on a Shoestring Budget” with Catherine Shtyenberg, assistant curator/web and social media coordinator, at the Frank H. McClung Museum and then a session about commemoration at historic sites which included: Melissa Davis from Humanities Tennessee,  Myers Brown from the TN State Museum, Charlie Rhodarmer from the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, and Jeff Wells from TN State Parks.  I know I took a lot away from both of these sessions, including a great program through Humanities Tennessee that will take place at the Sam Davis Home next month!  More information here.

You can see Shtyenberg’s wonderful and informative presentation on slideshare by clicking this link.

As always, I could go on much longer about how wonderful TAM was this year (as it is every year).  Instead, I will include these pictures from Rebecca Duke and Tori Mason and the official TAM facebook page so you can live vicariously:

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TAM Reflections, 2012

TAM makes us SING!

Last year I wrote a review of my Tennessee Association of Museum conference experience and how much that meeting meant to me.  This year it is coming a bit late, but I did still want to express how wonderful this annual conference is, and what it can mean for you as a museum professional or student.  The event was held in Memphis, which has a dear place in my heart.  Since I essentially started my academic career in museum studies at the University of Memphis, and I worked in several of the community museums, I was excited to get back to the city for a conference devoted to the Rock, Rhythm, and Soul of Museums.

First of all, the entire event I was surrounded by like-minded people who are all working towards similar goals.  The bonding experiences that take place at conferences, especially at special events and in the hospitality suite, are invaluable.  Sessions are obviously places where you can learn and share ideas.

Auction fun-times at the Metal Museum

Q&As during and after sessions and panels are also great experiences for meeting new people and learning about new opportunities.

One of the best things about TAM is the opportunity to visit area museums for social gatherings, dinners, the annual auction, and tours.  This year we visited the Brooks Museum of Art, Fire Museum, Metal Museum, and the National Civil Rights Museum.  These events provided places for professionals to see what museums in the mid-south are doing and talk about ideas and successes.  They also had some fun interactive exhibits, such as the fire pole at the Fire Museum, which was a big hit with everyone.

The Music Tour group at Rock N Soul Museum

Several of us also took advantage of the opportunity to go on a pre-conference tour of the music-related sites that Memphis is famous for.  We went to the Rock’n’Soul Museum, Sun Studio, and the STAX Museum of American Soul Music.  There is never enough time to see everything, but we got a good taste of the great opportunities these museums offer to the Memphis community.  Even though I lived in Memphis for two years, I never had a chance to visit Rock ‘n’ Soul or STAX, so I was grateful for the opportunity to visit these places with other museum people.  Sun Studio will always be one of my favorite sites in the city, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit again.  And we got to see Issac Hayes’ car, AND have a dance party.  Awesome.

One the most essential (and sometimes overlooked) part of the conference was the sessions.  I didn’t go to as many sessions as I would have liked, since I was stressing over presenting my own session for the first time at TAM.   They had many great sessions for small museums, and workshops to share ideas.  A session I did get to go to was, “Help Is on the Way! What MAP Can Do for You” with the American Association of MuseumsMuseum Assessment Program coordinator, Laura Silberman.   The main reason I wanted to attend this session is because Dr. Robert Connolly from Chucalissa shared the experiences he and the staff at Chucalissa experienced when going through this process.  Since I was a part of the MAP assessment team as a graduate student but a graduate by the time the assessment took place, I was excited to hear the changes that came about because of the program.

Natalye, rockin’ the session

The session, “Challenges and Benefits of Community Engagement: Lessons from Three Memphis Museums,” was one that I felt I had to attend.  My former professor, Dr. Leslie Luebbers, and fellow University of Memphis alumni and Chucalissa co-worker Natalye Tate were among the presenters.  The session explored the museums’ challenges, how they were negotiated.  They also talked about how the programs benefited the community and the museum, which is an essential part of museums that many times is forgotten in the everyday operations of the museum.  The Museum Studies program at Memphis has an entire class, taught by Dr. Luebbers,  all about communities and museums.

Sam, presenting like a rock star

As a student of Museum 2.0 and Nina Simon via Robert Connolly’s 2008 Museum Practices class, the session “The Participatory Museum: More Than Just a Hands-on Gig” was a must for me.  The session looked at the different types of participatory visitor experiences.  Presenters, all from the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa also talked about various case studies where visitors play an active role in determining exhibit content and move toward a stakeholder role in the institution.  Samantha Gibbs, my coworker while I was a graduate assistant, did a great job explaining the programs she developed with the participatory museum in mind!

Conference fun times!

Finally, it was a great experience to have so many people who have supported me since I started this path of museum studies at my session encouraging me and my research, as well as so many fellow graduate students and friends from MTSU.  It was a great mix of my “old” friends and coworkers in Memphis with my “new” public history and Murfreesboro friends, and I couldn’t do any of this without them.

Here’s to them!!  Enjoy these photos from the conference and the special events (especially the auction).

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Popular Culture and Public History

Getting ready to present my panelists

I recently ventured to New Orleans to present at the Popular and American Culture Associations in the South annual conference. Rebecca,  another PhD Student at MTSU, and Dr. McCormack, one of my professors who has been super influential in my studies and ideas, joined me on the panel, “Public History and Popular Culture: Use and Abuse.”  Needless to say, we had a fabulous time enjoying the sites (and food!) of NOLA, and I felt pretty good about our panel and presentations.  However, our panel, being on Saturday morning in New Orleans, was not as well-attended as I would have liked.  Therefore, I have decided to present my information to you, my online viewers.

We’ve seen social media impacting movements throughout the world and it has even helped to organize the overthrow of politically figures throughout the world.  Social media is a part of pop culture through its power to unite people and share information across the world as well as with friends.  But can these devices and the internet also teach us anything?  And how can these be adapted to use in classrooms?

My first example is from YouTube – The Historyteachers channel – Amy Burvall is a high school history teacher in Hawaii who believes very much in engaging her students in nontraditional ways.  She uses her own free time to take popular songs, such as Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack, and write new lyrics pertaining to subjects she is teaching in her classroom. She then dresses in costumes and sings the song for a camera and edits the videos using graphics and effects to make them visually appealing.  If you watch the Norman Invasion video, you will never again forget the date of the Norman Invasion. She uses these videos not as the only teaching tool in her classroom, but instead as a jumping off point for her discussions.  Students and teachers alike comment on these videos, and almost everyone seems to enjoy them.  She has 53 uploads to her YouTube channel with everything from the Beatles, to Lilly Allen, to Nancy Sinatra and Blondie.

Drunk History – is an interesting experiment in getting historians drunk and then filming them as they explain an historical event or talk about a historic person.  Whether or not these are completely staged or not is debatable, but their affect remains the same.  The original videos, produced by Derek Waters, have appeared on the Funny or Die website and they permeate Youtube and are shared fiercely on facebook and other social media sites.  The drunk historians narrates an historical event, in this case, the relationship between Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln and its impact on the country and race relations.  Famous actors, in this episode Don Cheadle and Will Ferrell, with a cameo by Zooey Deschanel as Mary Todd Lincoln act out the narrator’s words and mime the words as if they are their own.  The effect these historical figures played by celebrities using popular vernacular of our time is amusing, but at the same time, the stories are generally accepted as true tellings of historical events.  Someone may actually learn something about race relations or the roles that these two historical figures played in the beginnings of civil rights and the abolishment of slavery in the United States.  Other examples include Jack Black as Benjamin Franklin, John C. Reilly as Nicola Tesla (my favorite!!!), and Michael Cera as Alexander Hamilton. 

Tumblr- My Daguerreotype boyfriend – this is something I came across in my time as an educational coordinator at a Civil War historic site.  The pictures are of actual people from history, who some people think are attractive.  This site not only shows the pictures but tells the medium with which the photograph was taken, the year, and sometimes a story about that person.  This may teach people something about these people, such as what people wore in that time period, the history of photography, and a plethora of other things.  However, I believe one of the most important things that this website does is personalize history.  Many people see history as a cold and or dead thing in the past with no bearing on the world today.  Looking at these photographs and pictures can help people to realize that these were people with lives and stories of their own.  And let’s face it… those are some hotties of history.

Blogs –  The National Archives have several blogs that they maintain, but one of the most interesting to me is Prologue.  This site really engages the public instead of just telling stories or listing off historical facts.

On Fridays they have facial hair Fridays – for whatever reason, facial hair, mustaches and beards are growing extremely popular with people today.  Mustache finger tattoos and fake moustache packets are popping up all over the place.  The national archives have pounced on this and now every friday they post a picture from their collections of a historical figure with interesting facial hair.  Not only do they post the picture, but they also tell about that person and his impact on American history.  The gentleman in the lower corners story is as follows, “If you’re planning to travel this Columbus Day holiday (and it was, like, 1835), you might thank this guy for building the first steam locomotive in the US: Peter Cooper—inventor, industrialist, and one-time Presidential candidate. But, most important for our purposes, Cooper was the owner of a truly remarkable beard. Impressive facial hair is an asset to any Presidential candidate, but we are sorry to report that Peter Cooper’s beard did not win him the 1876 election, when he ran for the Greenback Party. Still, at the age of 85, Cooper is the oldest person to be nominated for the Presidential office.”

Not only do we learn about the beard and the person behind it, but we also learn a few interesting historic facts as well.

On Thursdays the blog hosts a “Put a caption with this photo” contest.  They post a photo from their collection that is funny or interesting and then ask readers to come up with a clever or amusing caption.  The winner gets something from their online giftshop, and the following week the pictures’ true story is revealed.  Again this engages people, teaches them something, and they get a prize while the national archives boosts sale in their giftshop.

These two slides are pretty self-explanatory – several historical figures are popping up on facebook and on twitter.  While these are often times amusing or clever, they also do provide snipets of history and biographical information.  As discussed below, I hope to experiment with this more in my class through an extra credit opportunity.

As pop culture for the general populous

With historians these things are generally immensely popular, especially among graduate students.  Youtube videos related to historical events make the rounds among my teacher and student friends on facebook and twitter to enormous response and critique.  Historical facebook twitters and facebooks are generally maintained by those people who study the figures.

However, should I post something on my own facebook or twittwe, historical or related to popculture and history, friends who are not historians or particularly interested also often comment.  Their comments are not as varied or voluminous, but they do exist on some level.  An interesting study of the effect on the general populous would be valuable to see how these things affect people who are not in the history or education fields.

Many comments on youtube videos and articles about twitter and facebook are by people who are interested in the subject matter, are teachers, or are students doing research for a class.  However, many times the students comment on how much they enjoyed learning something new in a way that is not usually used in the general classroom.

Pop culture in the classroom – my assignments and thoughts

I currently teach a section of World Civilizations to 1500 at Middle TN State University where I have a variety of students and only 3 history majors.  While I want my students to learn to appreciate history and what it can teach us, I’m not huge into learning facts and dates, but I believe there are some that are very important.  I hope instead that my students can learn critical thinking and the questioning of sources and ideas.  When my class studied pre-Hellenistic Greek cultures I opened the class asking them if they remembered from their readings on which island the Minoans lived.  No one could answer me until they looked it back up in the book.  I then delivered a short presentation on the Minoans, the geography of Crete, the culture and stories of these people, their art, and the archaeological excavations the site has undergone.  Once I delivered the information I asked how many of them knew the band Radiohead and enjoyed their music.  A large majority of the class was familiar.  I then explained we would watch a youtube video, which received exclamations and praise.  I showed my class “I’m from Crete” by Amy Burvall on the historyteachers channel.  The song is a play on Creep by Radiohead, and the chorus repeatedly sings to the viewer, “I’m from Crete… I’m Minoan…” Interspersed throughout the song are other facts about the culture such as their discovery by Sir Arthur Evans, bull-leaping games, and dolphin fresco art.

At the end of the video I engaged my students in a discussion about this video.  The first reaction from one student was that he thought it was terrible and he couldn’t learn anything from it.  I was not going to let him get away with that explanation so I pushed him to tell me why he thought it was awful; perhaps the singing isn’t the best in the world and the graphics are done by a high school history teacher, not Michael Bay.  I then asked him, well, where are the Minoans from, and he said from Crete.  He then went on to list at least 5 or 6 other small facts about the culture that he had remembered from the video and reneged on his original statement that the video was terrible and worthless.  On my students first test I included the fill-in-the-blank question, “I’m from _____________, I’m Minoan.”  Every student who was in that class remembered Crete and got it correct.  While these facts may not be the most important thing they will learn in my class, I’m still proud that I have been able to use popular culture in the classroom successfully.

We also covered questions such as, what does this teach you? Can you learn better from something like this? What do you like and dislike about it?  These questions get the students thinking historically and questioning, but still they have fun and enjoy the learning environment more than they would reading a textbook or listening to a lecture.


So that was my presentation in a nutshell – unfortunately for you, the internet viewer, you were unable to catch my witty remarks and anecdotes, but I hope this was somewhat beneficial or representative of the content.

In other news, I’m about to assign an extra credit project to my class in which they research information needed to create a facebook profile page for a historic figure we have studied.   Hopefully soon I will have information to report on that!

St. Louis Cathedral and the French Quarter

I will leave you with this picture, of me enjoying the other side of the conference – sight-seeing in NOLA!Crawfish deliciousness