Friday, March 30, 2012

Canadian History via Ian Tamblyn

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Canadian folk musician Ian Tamblyn in concert.  Ian's music has a distinctly Canadian feel to it and a number of his songs recount moments in Canadian history.  Some of the historical topics he touched on last night were the CPR, the Franklin expedition, First Nation/Settler tensions, and exploration of the North. 

Earlier this year Tom Peace wrote a great post for Active History on the relationship of music and historical understanding.  The ability to learn about the past is definitely present when listening to Tamblyn.

Since it's Friday, here is a bit of Ian's music to celebrate the weekend.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mentoring Programs

I signed up for the mentor/mentee program at the NCPH annual meeting.  The mentor program matches students and new professionals with 'veteran' NCPH conference attendee.  Matches are made based on questionnaires and availability. Today I found out who my mentor will be.  I haven't previously participated in a mentoring program, so if been putting some thought into what I want to get out of the experience. 

As part of the conference experience I would like to learn more about professional development opportunities with the public history field, how to cope with being a public historian within a large non history based organization, and general networking tips.  Hopefully insight into these areas can be gained through a combination of sessions, tours, networking, and the mentor program.

A quick Google search of my mentor's name brought up a number of popular history publications written by him.  He has extensive experience writing short and lengthy histories for organizations, the profession, and the general public.  I'm hoping to be able to talk about any advice he might have about both academic and popular publishing.

I think mentoring programs have the potential to be beneficial to both parties.  If both parties are willing to listen and share, there is a pretty good chance both people will end up learning something.  Additionally, bringing professionals from different generations, areas of studies, and geographic locations is always worth the effort in my mind. 

Have you participated in a mentor program before (as a mentor or as a mentee)?  Did you find it to be a rewarding experience?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Newsletters: Outreach and Memory

I've been thinking a lot about organizational newsletters recently.  These thoughts were mainly spurred by having spent the better part of two days digitizing early copies of the Algoma Missionary News.  Like many newsletters the Algoma Missionary News contains information about new appointments, events, holidays, and staff/client interaction. 

More significantly, the Algoma Missionary also contains information from all around the Anglican Diocese of Algoma and was mailed throughout the region.  This newsletter was started in the mid 1870s and was one of the first cross-region communications. Even in the 1800s, newsletters acted as community outreach tools and allowed organizations to share upcoming events and past accomplishments. The early issues of the Algoma Missionary are now great records of early missionary work in the Algoma region.

Paper based mailed out newsletters are on the decline.  But, many heritage organizations utilize email campaigns and e-newsletters. These emails can be used to alert patrons of upcoming events, new donations, heritage risks, and organization accomplishments.  The use of email also makes these newsletters relatively inexpensive to create and send out.  Additionally, newsletters also have the ability to help fill out corporate histories.  Newsletters often contain staff names and event listings, which can help when building institutional memory.

Does your organization have a newsletter? Do you receive any heritage newsletters?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Collection Glimpse: The Manitoba Museum

This is the sixth segment in a series of posts entitled, "Collection Glimpses."  Each post in the series  focuses on a unique collection, innovative repository, or a not well known cultural heritage institution.

 The Manitoba Museum is the largest heritage and science centre in Manitoba.  Founder in 1965, the Museum's collections highlight the heritage of the region, while the planetarium and science centre focus on hands-on learning. 

The most unique thing about the Manitoba Museum is perhaps its emphasis on 3D walk through galleries within a museum setting.  Unlike most museum settings which are two-dimensional spaces, three-deminsional galleries provide a feeling of immersion in a setting. Some of the Museum's notable 3D galleries include: Nonsuch, a full-size 17th century sailing vessel, the Urban Gallery, which takes you back in time to Winnipeg during the 1920′s, and the Ancient Seas exhibit, which includes three screen animation of what the sea was like in Manitoba years ago.  Ancient Seas was featured in the March/April issue of Muse.

The Manitoba Museum also has a number of innovative fundraising programs.  The Museum`s Adopt an Artefact program, an idea similar to the WWF`s adopt an endangered animal program, allows donors to symbolically adopt an artefact of their choice.  The Adopt an Artefact helps make donations a bit more tangible to donors and is allows non-display artefacts to be brought to the attention of donors. Other fundraising initiatives allow donors to donate to a special project.  These projects may include preservation work on a large exhibit, development of an interactive exhibit, or outreach programming.  Similar to the adoption program, special project fundraising helps people visualize and identify what they are donating to.

The Museum`s website provides a great overview of the organization`s educational programs and galleries. Additionally, the museum has digitized part of its collection and made it available via a searchable database.  Each item in the database includes a picture and basic descriptive identifiers.  The collection photographs are a great resource, however I wish more contextual and historical information was available about the collections.

Photo credits: ajbatac and quinet

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Engaging Corporate Heritage: Struggling to Cultivate Institutional Memory

My most recent post, Corporate Heritage: Struggling to Cultivate Institutional Memory, can be seen over on the Active History group blog.  My post looks at the reasons why institutional memory is non existent in so many institutions, why organizations should care about institutional memory, and how to foster a culture which cultivates institutional memory.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Conceptualizing Rural History

Last week a co-worker who is currently reading up on the history of her city asked me if I had ever been interested in the town history of where I grew up.  This simple question had me stumped.  The majority of my life I have lived outside of town, and didn't readily identify with a closest town.  I had no real town history to speak of.

 I grew up on a concession road, part of a rural township that had very little in terms of central services. The majority of the houses on my road were farms with kilometers of fields separating neighbours. How does one explore a community's history when the vast majority of area residents live outside of what most people see as traditional community?

Rural communities are not void of history, but often these histories are recorded and remembered in different ways.  Very few rural areas have written historical accounts or a dedicated 'town' museum.  Many rural communities once had vibrant churches which recorded much of the area's history, but with many of these churches closing due to low attendance rates that recorded history is in jeopardy of being lost.

In the case of farming communities there are years of family history tied into the history of the land.  Looking at land registries and deeds of land can tell the story of a family.  For example, the original McCracken homestead owned by my family was traditionally passed down to the eldest son who then carried on the work on the farm.  However, if you look at nearby land records you can see that often the younger sons would buy farm land nearby, and continue to expand the family farm that way.

Stories of barn raisings, helpful neighbours plowing a field when someone's tractor broke, and calf-cow picnics and many other stories make up the fabric of rural relations.  Oral histories can provide depth to otherwise forgotten relationships and connections.  Rural history definitely exists, one might just have to look beyond published sources to find it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hands-On: Experiential Learning at Heritage Sites

The idea of experiential learning (the process of learning through doing) is being heavily promoted in education systems right now. Hands on activities, active involvement in learning exercises, and anything other than listening to people talk are all types of experiential learning. 

Living history sites are excellent examples of heritage organizations which utilize experiential learning.  Visitors to living history sites are often engaged in what life was like at a certain time period.  This might include learning a period dance, learning a song, baking bread the 'old-fashioned way', helping harvest a heritage garden, spinning wool, or numerous other activities. Living history sites are designed to immerse people in the past and often do so through experiential learning.

How can (and do) heritage organizations other than living history sites engage visitors in types of experiential learning? Art institutions often provide classes which introduce visitors to a particular art form - be it pottery, drawing, or painting.  An example of this is the Whitney Museum of American Art's drop in drawing class, which situates participants in a gallery and provides drawing instruction.

An increasing number of museums are also offering experiential learning based educational programs.  At times these programs take on a feel of a living history and allow visitors to learn a historical skill or participate in a period celebration (eg. Christmas in the 1800s).  Museums also utilize educational reproductions to allow hands on experience with collection material. The Norwegian-American Museum's curator for a day program is an example of a museum program which fully dedicates itself to experiential learning.

Some archives have also moved to providing a more experiential based outreach programs for schools.  These programs often focus on introducing students to the value of historical photographs and documents.  For example, students can be sent on a source 'scavenger hunt' where they search through reproductions of newspaper clippings, photographs, and other material to find particular information. 

Do you have memories of a particularly good (or bad) experiential learning program at a heritage site?

Photo credit: Olds College

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Introducing the Archive: Greeting First Time Visitors

The overwhelming majority of visitors to the archive I work at have never been inside an archive before.  Many of the visitors come from outside academia or are undergraduate and high school students stepping into an archive for the first time.  In addition to being new to archives, many visitors are searching for documents relating to their personal or family history. 

How do you frame the uses and potential research value of an archive to new visitors? 
This is often the 'elevator pitch' for the archive and includes a condensed version of services, resources, and archival holdings. We emphasize that staff are available to help new researchers, that material is available online (and we can provide instruction on navigating the site), and that material can be copied for research purposes. 

If the visitor is a student, we often point out potential research topics in their field of study, suggest relevant publications, and encourage them to ask questions.  We also remind students of hours and that we aren't open weekends.

Additionally, all visitors can take a contact card which has our website, email, and phone information on it.  We also have more in-depth pamphlets for those interested. 

How to you facilitate non-academic research? 
Since the majority of our visitors are not engaged in academic research, our reading room contains material to help people research family history.  We have reproduction photo albums which visitors can flip through, media clip binders (copies of newspaper articles), and copies of frequently used government documents which visitors can flip through at their leisure.

Typically, people researching family histories are able to find necessary material without staff ever having to pull anything from the archive.  This cuts down on staff work and the use of reproductions helps preserve original documents and photographs.

How do you greet new visitors at your organization?

Photo credit: Dublin City Public Libraries

Friday, March 9, 2012

National Council on Public History: Milwaukee Bound

Milwaukee Art Museum
I recently found out that I'm going to be able to attend at this year's National Council on Public History (NCPH) conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I've been thinking (read: dreaming/wishing) about this conference for months now, so I'm a tad bit on the excited side that I'm going to be able to attend.

This year's conference theme is “Frontiers of Capitalism and Democracy” and is being held in conjunction Organization of American Historians (OAH).  The complete conference program can be seen here.

This will be my first time attending a NCPH conference.  The NCPH meeting brings together professionals from museums, archives, universities, historical societies, secondary schools, and many other walks of life.  I'm looking forward to a wide range of sessions, participating in a local history tour, and networking with people from a variety of backgrounds.  I'm also hoping to meet face to face a number of people I have been digitally talking to and working with over the past few years. 

Suggestions of any must see sights while in Milwaukee?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Orphan Photos of a Nation: James MacDonald and Charles Tupper

Melissa Mannon over at ArchivesInfo has produced a number of excellent posts in recent months focusing on orphan photographs.  These orphan photographs are often found in antique stores, garage sales, auction, etc and the people in the images are often unidentified.  Despite this apparent lack of historical context of orphan photographs, each orphan photograph does tell a story and has the potential to be significant to someone. 

The story of Wayne MacDonald's excellent antique store find is a great example of 'orphan photographs' having personal and national significance. In 2003, Wayne MacDonald stumbled across a pile of antique photographs in the storeroom of a Winnipeg Antique shop. 

In a bout of chance theses photographs were of MacDonald's extended family (James MacDonald) and friends.  The photographs include many previously unknown images of well known Canadian figures James MacDonald and Sir Charles Tupper.  To add the serendipity of the find the images were rescued from a dumpster 25years earlier by the store’s proprietor and had been sitting in storage ever since.

Since Wayne's discovery of the photographs, he has had the images restored and is unveiling the images to the public in an exhibit entitled "Serendipity".

Monday, March 5, 2012

Collaborative History: Editing Mayham

The fist Knox Church, ca. 1910
I've recently been working on an editing project that has me simultaneously enthralled and going a bit squirrely.  The project is a church history that highlights a congregation's journey from 1862 to 2012.  As you might have guessed, the impious for this project is that 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the Church's founding. 

Prior to this project beginning, a basic history of the church has been created for the Church's centennial celebration.  So how did the congregation proceed? A heritage committee was established and numerous congregation members were assigned parts to research and write.  The current minister (who has been at the church since 1994) also undertook writing a substantial part of the more recent history.

Knox Church, 2010.
I think it's great that the history is being written at all.  The history of a 150 year old congregation is a huge project and one which often doesn't get undertaken unless there is a congregation member who is very passionate about it.  There are multiple building changes, a fire, and many community accomplishments to be looked at in the Church's history.

However, editing a lengthy document that was written by between 5-10 people (all of who feel their information is crucial to the history) has been a learning experience.  Initially it felt as though I was handed drafts of ideas, snippets of previously written histories, paragraphs about church groups, and a pile of photographs.  After finding my way through all the material, I've managed to force things into a bit more of a coherent story line.  I'm now starting to look at more formal copy editing and eventually layout. 

I'm looking forward to this project's continued development and eventual publication.  It's a huge milestone for the Church and this history has the potential to be something that future congregations look back upon.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Unique User Groups and Heritage Organizations

The users groups of heritage organizations vary greatly from organization to organization.  People who frequent a university archive, a children's museum, and a local history corner at a public library typically have very different needs.  Providing quality programming depends on heritage institutions knowing their users and gearing specific programming to different types of users. 

One of the unique user groups I've been thinking a lot about recently is visitors from outside of Canada.  This group of patrons contains a variety of users but in my case the group is made up of academics from foreign universities, tourists, and international students.

Visiting academics from afar are often undertaking directed research and may require assistance in making the most of their time in the area. Conversely, tourists and international students often know little about the institution or local history.  Tours and basic public programming should be expanded to explain the significance of the heritage held by your institution.  You may also need to incorporate some broader Canadian or regional history into your tour for the information to make sense.

For example, a group of international students receiving a historic site tour of a former residential school may have little understanding of colonialism in Canada.  It would make sense for the tour introduction to include an explanation of the residential school system, the factors that contributed to the creation of such a system, and a general overview of Settler-First Nation relations.  It is also crucial that staff are using language appropriate to the group - using Canadian-ism and jargon isn't going to be helpful to most international visitors.

Thoughtful planning and tailoring tours to specific groups help enhance visitor experiences.  Feedback from visitors and experimenting with different formats can help you decide what outreach methods work best.

What types of targeted user group programming does your institution offer?

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon