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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Cultural Geography: Toronto, Ontario

Woo Canada!

In the summer of 2011, I was lucky enough to get a MTSU Study Abroad Scholarship to study all the way in… Canada! Through a bit of coordination I was able to create an Advanced Projects in Public History course to get PhD level credits for the trip by doing additional work with the professor who led the trip to the Great White North.

For the main part of the trip I and the other students journeyed all around Toronto. It was a blasty-blast, and we learned so much! Toronto is extremely culturally diverse, so this was the perfect way to learn more about Cultural Geography, heritage tourism, history, and of course history. The undergraduates were required to explore several ethnic neighborhoods and complete a scavenger hunt for various things such as national colors, ethnic food, signs in another language, and other things. I joined in on this and was able to learn a lot from the neighborhoods, have some great Greek (lamb), Italian (gelato), Asian (fried rice) and other foods and drinks (bubble tea – blech), while at the same time working on my own advanced project.

Click for better image of Walking Tour

Street Car

My extra assignment was to create a walking tour of downtown Toronto. This is a huge assignment, but we walked approximately ten hours a day for two days so I had plenty of content to contribute. The best way to experience a place (and stay healthy at the same time) is by walking and observing the various areas you encounter that you wouldn’t see from a car, cab, train, or subway. We did have to take the subway a few times to make the most of our time. The student group that I was with did not specifically plan a route for our exploration but instead wandered to various districts. This was a great way to see the city and the different historic and cultural districts. However, perhaps time could be better used with a loose plan of action. Therefore I created a walking tour brochure for future students.

Here it is!

This guide serves as a guide to several culturally and historically interesting places but also encourages students to make their own route. I chose places for this walking tour that would appeal to a variety of students. The sites visited include government buildings, universities, ethnic and cultural neighborhoods, a museum, a historic house, and city parks. The brochure also includes official links for the sites that are included so that when the guide is distributed online students and others can learn more about the places they will visit on the tour. The distance and time that it would take to visit these sites may seem excessive, but the group of six that I was a part of managed this and more in our time in Toronto. Public transportation is also an option for students who may not want to experience the entire city via foot.

Click for PDF

My favorite places that I visited were the University of Toronto, Kensington Market, The riverfront and boat tour, and most of all, the Riverdale Farm.

...and they had the cutest baby goat I've ever seen...

Riverdale is a part of the Toronto Parks and Rec department, and is a fully functional farm open to the public.  They had all kinds of farm animals, trails, outbuildings, produce, and flowers.  We were lucky enough to be there on a warm day, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to walk through Cabbagetown into a farm in the middle of a huge metropolitan area.  Visitors can buy produce from the farm, and there is also a cafe on site.  While we were there, we accidentally walked into a barn classroom where young students were attending a camp.  Admission to the farm is free, and the site has a farmers market, public programs, and various events.

We estimated that over 2 days we walked approximately 30 miles. In that time we saw trees growing in cars, innumerable Tim Horton’s-es, and countless pleasant, helpful, and kind Canadians.  In the future I will most likely post more about our trip to Canada and the things we encountered.

Toronto is an amazing place to visit for cultural, historical, environmental, and healthy activities. I didn’t get to see even half of what I wanted to see, and I look forward to going back again soon to walk another 30 miles in two days.

Click here to watch the video of students talking about eating PB&J in Niagara, Poolside

During our northern excursion, we also visited Niagara Falls where we ate PB&J poolside, saw the Falls at night in lights, and saw the rest of the Gatlinburg of the north, the Niagara countryside where we took our group band photo, and we had a myriad of adventures in the van including writing a song about our fearless leader, Doug.

All in all, it was a great time, and I would recommend the trip to anyone interested in cultures, geography, history, or any combination of the above.

Doug and the Dougie-Doug-Dougs

Middle Tennessee Museums to Visit List

I move tonight (or tomorrow… maybe), so I’ve been trying to plan a productive and fun week before school starts with as many museum/site explorations as possible.  My wish list of places to cram in to this fun time is as follows:

Sam Davis Home in Smyrna – not only for the awesome plantation and historic house, but also to see the wonderful staff!

Oaklands Historic House in Murfreesboro – I never managed to make it there in my last 4 years in the Boro, so there are no excuses this time!

Stones River Battlefield and Museum – a nice place to revisit, as long as the weather cooperates.

Tennessee State Museum – again, never made it there last time I lived in the area, and it’s free, so why not?? Additionally, I have a friend who works there who may be able to hook me up with a “behind the scenes” tour (fingers crossed!)

Murfreesboro Discovery Center – supposed to be an excellent example of participatory learning and education!

The Hermitage – Home of Andrew Jackson – a giant plantation with plenty of exhibit, and guides in period clothing.

Cannonsburgh, the Pioneer Village of Murfreesboro – I once wrote a scathing review of this site for Museum Practices class at the University of Memphis… we’ll see if it’s improved any.  Perhaps this time I’ll spring the $2.50 for a guided tour. Look for a re-review in the coming weeks!

Murfreesboro’s Heritage Center – hadn’t heard about it until today!  Seems to be a nice local history museum.

Traveler’s Rest in Nashville – TN’s oldest open historic home.

Adventure Science Center in Nashville – an interactive science museum for kids (of all ages!)

There are also countless plantations throughout middle Tennessee, particularly in Franklin.  If there is time, I’d like to try to visit Carnton or the Carter House.

Also – Has anyone out there heard of flood damage at the Fort Nashboro site?  I have always wanted to visit, and I hope it’s not too late now!

If anyone has any other ideas of “must see” places, please feel free to comment and let me know!  Hopefully I will have some reviews up on here after my visits.

Musing on Chucalissa

Today was my last day at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa

Having spent the last year at the museum, I’ve had really strong feelings about leaving it.  I started as an intern last summer, ended up accepting a position as a graduate assistant there, then continued this summer after my graduation as a temporary employee.  As I prepare to leave Memphis for Murfreesboro and the PhD program, I’m leaving behind this great museum and taking with me so many awesome memories, great experiences, and incredible lessons.

After a year of hard work at the museum, I actually feel like I have accomplished something.  Some of you who work in museums may not often get to experience that feeling.  Chucalissa is definitely moving in the right directions under the supervision of Dr. Robert Connolly and

Rachael and I make a stop at Lambert's while on our museum field trip

Rachael South, and I feel like I was very lucky to be a part of those changes.

In addition to general daily museum operations, I spent most of my time at the museum working on educational programming using artifacts with no known provenience and working to improve our teacher information packets.   I definitely benefited from these experiences, and I like to think that the museum did as well.

There was also a fair amount of time spent promoting the museum with videos, such as the one about our musical instruments that Sam and I improvised on a cold, slow, January day, as well as the Relic Run documentary, and the video featuring Sonny Bell and the pow wow drum.  Now I’m just getting nostaligic!

Even though I did accomplish a lot in my time at Chucalissa, I can’t help but feel like there is still so much to do.  I hope to return to the museum to complete my PhD Residency, as soon as I finish my coursework at MTSU.  I left just an hour ago, and I already can’t wait to get back to the museum, the projects, and the people who work there!

I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now without the help of all of the employees, especially my professor/advisor/boss and the director of the museum, Dr. Connolly (insert shameless promotion of his blog here).  He has been a great mentor to me, and I look forward to working with him more in the future. Rachael,the administrative assistant, has also been an essential part of life the past year, and I would probably have lost my mind by now without her.

Not just wolves, but all manner of critters!

The day ended appropriately enough with Natalye buying me the obligatory Chucalissa wolf shirt (much appreciated!).

I also bought myself Nina Simon’s Participatory Museum, which I hope to read before classes start, and post more about here.

So long for now, Chucalissa, with your “hut”-less earthworks complex and NAGPRA compliant exhibits!  I’ll miss you, but I’ll be back to visit and see the improvements as they occur!

Organization and Flexibility in Museum Education

There is something to be said about planning.  However, there is also a whole lot to say about rainstorms, middle-schoolers, and outside educational events.

When one is involved in a museum or public education role, one must always remember that while groundwork and orderliness are important to the planning process, flexibility and improvisation are also essential attributes.

This past week, the Museum of Biblical History’s Archaeology was an excellent example of organization gone out the window for uncontrollable reasons.

I have always been a planner and an organizer.  I run off prioritized lists and goals.  I probably spend more time preparing for things than actually doing things.  This event was no exception.  The detailed daily schedules, worksheets, and activities, attest to fact that our camp was set to run like a well-oiled machine.

Our Happy Diggers

And the first day, it did!  Gracious volunteers and a fabulous director prepped our freshly dug archaeological “excavation”, and the kids were eager to get in that dirt and dig.  After a lesson on the basics of archaeology, we headed out to our “site”, Rome, and got to it.  The kids were a bit hasty and sometimes did not use exactly the proper techniques of a “real” archaeologist, but at least they were getting some good information about how we learn new things without text documents, stratigraphy, and excavations.

Then came the Memphis Monsoon of July 26, 2010.  Monday night brought storms and rains the likes of which we had not seen in this part of town for weeks.  The wind blew away our tarp (which was not going to hold out too much rain anyway), and Tuesday morning we were left with a pit of mud and muddy water.

When the students arrived, we started work on invitations for the opening of our exhibit, “Rome at Home,” which exhibited the artifacts that the students found throughout their days of digging.  After delaying the trek out to the pit in hopes that it just might dry out some for the kids, we finally headed out to the trench with the children to assess the damage.

Jacob and the Mud Pit

Jacob, the director of the museum, is luckily a very good-natured and obliging man, and he jumped right in the middle of that pit to test it out.  After immediately sinking up to his ankles in mud, and becoming a little bit stuck, we decided that it wouldn’t be safe or really even a good idea at all to let the kids in the pit, or too close to it.

Luckily for me, I had a pair of rain boots stowed in my car, so after grabbing those, I jumped right in with Jacob.  To save the kids from potentially cutting themselves on glass or pottery sherds, Jacob and I sifted through the mud as efficiently, yet archaeologically-accurately, as we could.  We put the mud into buckets and let the kids more safely search for artifacts in those

Sortting through mud for artifacts

.  Some kids set to sifting through the mud or recording what had been found.

Overall, the students still had fun searching for artifacts and essentially playing in the mud.  I believe they did still learn something, even if that lesson was simply that archaeology isn’t always fun, and that life doesn’t always go exactly as you had planned.

Once they all made their ways home, Jacob and I returned to the pit to dig through Layer 3 to uncover all of the artifacts that were meant for Thursday.  The trench was so muddy and so wet that we had no hopes of it drying in the night, especially with the threat of more rain and storms clouds overhead.

Wednesday morning, we built a small new dig area with topsoil, and reburied the artifacts so at least the students would have a chance to get in there with their tools one last time before the dig was completed.  After a morning of recording artifacts, using archaeological tools correctly, and cleaning up our dig site, we all returned to the air-conditioning to finish our exhibit for our visiting families.

Building the exhibit "Rome at Home"

The exhibit was, I believe, a success for several reasons.  Students learned how a museum works and deciding what information about an object is important for the visitor to know.  In addition, they had to analyze the objects they chose from their grid-square and decide which are important, and what stories those objects tell.  Teamwork was also an important lesson of this activity, and throughout the whole camp, because of the need to work as a group to figure out what exactly was going on.

As is usually the case with groups of 9-15 year olds, crazy Tennessee weather, and just life in general, our plans and schedules went out the window for the most part.  Fortunately, just about everyone involved in this process was flexible and understanding and willing to simply go with the flow to make sure everything we set out to accomplish was completed.  The students still seemed to learn a lot about Rome, archaeological methods, teamwork, and museum exhibits.

I am by no means saying that the scheduling and planning are unimportant or unnecessary, because without that structure we would have been even more lost than we already were.  However, if you are in this business or hoping to get into it someday, you should be prepared for the unexpected, because Murphy’s Law is inevitable.

When working with the public, especially in an educational role, keep up the planning and organizing, but always make sure to stay flexible!

The happy, muddy archaeology team after a hard day's work

Beginning the process…

Well, the time has come for me to launch my very own professional blog and website!

I realized that once I am no longer a temporary employee of the University of Memphis (next month), I won’t have the ability to host my portfolio on their network anymore.  Additionally, I have a lot to say about museums, public history, informal learning, and so many other topics that having a blog where I can express my ideas was the next logical step.

On this website, you will find information about my work in museums, historical organizations, the museum studies program at the University of Memphis as well as samples of my work from these institutions.

Please feel free to comment on my blogs or pages, and if you have any questions, you can email me at mkatestringer@gmail.com or through this webpage.

I plan to update regularly as my portfolio grows and as I learn more about public history as a PhD student at Middle Tennessee State University beginning this fall!

Happy Reading!