Monday, June 23, 2014

Community Driven: Thirty Years of Science North

My most recent post, "Community Driven: Thirty Years of Science North" can be seen over on  The post looks at the history of Science North, its connection to Northern Ontario and the community roots of the organization.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

When You Work In A Museum: Museum Dance Off

The When You Work In A Museum site is in the midst of running a Museum Dance Off contest.  The contest features amusing videos put together by museum staff across the globe.  The contest started three weeks ago with entries from 22 museums in 8 countries from 4 continents.

The final round of the Dance Off  features a Canadian museum--the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology with their steam-punk video of "What Does the Pump Say?"  All the entries are worth taking a look at and voting for the final round of videos can be found here. Voting closes at 8am EDT on Tuesday June 17th, 2014.

Friday, June 13, 2014

NCPH Topic Proposals

This year the National Council on Public History (NCPH) introduced a new element for the conference submission process.  The 2015 NCPH Annual Meeting call for proposals included the option of submitting topic proposals.  This option was geared towards people who are interested in presenting but who might be looking for ideas to more fully develop a proposal or who are looking for co-presenters. 

The results of this initiative were 55 topic proposals that include a working title, abstract, and descriptions of the type of assistance the proposer is looking for.  The list of proposals can be seen here.  There's a wide range of topics and a variety of people looking for collaborators.  If you're interested in getting involved in NCPH this is a great way to connect with others and get started. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Museum Visitor Experience and Learning Styles

The majority of my visits to museums, art galleries, and other heritage sites are undertaken with people I'm connected with through work, by myself, or with my partner.  These visits are normally slow paced and allow for plenty of time for reading and contemplation. 

I enjoy looking at displays, reading text panels, checking out different exhibit techniques and just taking in the whole experience.  It's been a long time since I visited a museum with someone who didn't hold similar interests or explore museums in a similar way to me.

My recent trip to ROM was with my partner and two other people who I hadn't previously visited heritage site with.  The experience reminded me of how individual visitor experiences at a heritage site can be drastically different. The best heritage sites engage visitors in a variety of ways that appeal to different learning styles and different interests.

 For example, one of the people I was with was drawn to anything involving technology or a touch screen.  He seemed to enjoy learning through watching videos and interacting with digital components best.  Long text panels and endless rooms of display cases didn't seem to engage him - regardless of what was in the display case.

Many museums include tactile components or activity stations geared towards children and youth.  Dress up stations and colouring tables are some of the most common examples of simple but effective hands on activities.  But many adults like the interactivity and become more engaged when they are doing something more than passively looking or reading. 

One of my favourite parts of visiting Fort St. Joseph a few years ago with my parents was the dress up station.  In addition to having children sized military uniforms and hats there were adult sized clothes. My 60+ year old dad and I had a grand time dressing up while my mom looked on in amusement.  Not every interactive component has to be digital it just needs to be well thought-out and inviting to visitors.

Visiting a museum with people who were not nearly as excited about museums as I typically am was an interesting learning experience.  The experiences reminded me of the challenges in developing exhibits (interactive or otherwise) that appeal to a wide range of audiences.  It's impossible to please everyone and even more so on a limited display budget. But shifting away from solely using exhibit cases and text to developing different styles of programming is something many effective heritage sites have started to do.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Canadian History at the ROM

First Peoples Gallery. Credit: Cheryl Q
As previously mentioned I recently spent a day at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).  One of the aspects that I struggled with during my visit was the sections of the museum devoted to Canada.  The first floor of the ROM contains the Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada and the Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples

Both spaces address Canada's history, material culture, and roots but they do so from very different vantage points.  The Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada focuses on Canadian heritage from European settlement to present with emphasis on the role of British and French culture within Canada.  The First Peoples gallery space focuses on the cultures and traditions of Indigenous people in Canada both historically and in present life.  This gallery does contain some examples of the impact of colonialism on Indigenous life but it isn't a prominent feature of the space.

The disconnected narratives of these two spaces bothered me.  The galleries overlapped in terms of time period but they didn't tell a cohesive narrative about Canada as a whole. Rather the European side of things was presented and the Indigenous perspective was separated out into it's own space.  The lives of both groups have been interconnected since contact and both are integral to understanding the history of Canada.

In addition to the lack of cohesion in the narrative I didn't see any mention of Métis culture or identity.  My cynical side thinks that perhaps Métis culture was left out because it didn't fit neatly in either the European or First Peoples narrative.  The other half of me hopes that I just missed a display that highlights Métis heritage.

The ROM did involve six Indigenous advisers in design decisions for the First Peoples Gallery. I'd be curious to know how actively involved the advisers were in exhibit design, label creation, and object selection.   The Gallery combines historic and modern artifacts with artwork from Indigenous people. However the flow between material culture objects that are labelled in a Western style and Indigenous artwork isn't clear.  They are mixed together throughout the exhibit and without reading labels closely it is at times difficult to tell what era items are from. 

Despite all of my reservations about the layout and premise behind the separate Canadian galleries there were a number of great items on display and the quality of the individual displays was well done. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Exploring History at the Royal Ontario Museum

ROM.  Photo Credit: It_Paris
I grew up in a rural community that is within commuting distance to Toronto.  Despite this proximity and my love for museums I never visited the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) while living there.  Last week while visiting family in the area I took the opportunity to explore the ROM for the first time. 

Overall my visit was a good but tiring day.  The ROM is huge and by the end of the day I found myself experiencing museum fatigue.  Some of the highlights of my visit were the Samuel European Galleries and the Gallery of Chinese Architecture.

European Gallery.  Credit: Tom Flemming
The Samuel European Galleries walk visitors through changes in decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century.  The majority of the displays in this gallery are setup as rooms or vignettes featuring furniture, instruments, textile and other material culture objects.  Many of these rooms were paired with audio elements which allow visitors to listen to period appropriate music while looking at the displays.  For example the Baroque room had an audio element that played classical music from the Baroque period. 

The European Gallery also included the Arms and Armour and the Around 1914: Design in a New Age displays. The Around 1914 exhibit included an interesting mix of material from designers such as Christopher Dresser, Frank Lloyd Wright, Max Laeuger, and Louis Comfort Tiffany.  It was an interesting capstone to the European Galleries focus on material culture and design.

Chinese Tomb. Credit: FHKE
The Gallery of Chinese Architecture contains numerous architectural artifacts including roof tiles, flooring tiles,
building features, and tomb related artifacts. The Architecture gallery space is relatively small and in comparison to the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of China which focuses on the broader history and culture of China.  However, the large buildings and tombs in the Architecture section were eye catching and a nice variation to the more frequent displays of pottery, tools, and statues.

In addition to the European Gallery and the Chinese Architecture Gallery I enjoyed the hands on elements integrated into the Gallery of Biodiversity and the Earth's Treasures exhibit that focused on the history of mining, precious minerals, and gems.  I had no idea either of these galleries existed and was presently surprised by their quality and uniqueness. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

AAO 2014: Treaty 9 Travels to Northern Ontario

This is the final post summarizing my experience at the AAO 2014 conference. The first post, "AAO 2014: Context and Commemoration" can be seen here

 Closing Plenary
The closing plenary of AAO 2014 was titled "Archives Roadshow: The Journey of the James Bay Treaty to Northern Ontario" and featured talks by Paul Mcllroy, Shannon Coles, and Lani Wilson all of the Archives of Ontario.

Their combined presentations focused on the history of the James Bay Treaty (also known as Treaty 9), the impact of the treaty of past and current events, and the challenges associated with preparing the treaty to be loaned to the Moose Factory community.  Almost 108 years after the Treaty was signed in the Moose Factory area the historical document was exhibited returned to the Mushkegowuk territory for display.  The treaty was on display as part of the Treaty 9 Conference hosted by Mushkegowuk Tribal Council from July 31st to August 1st 2013.

Mcllroy opened the plenary by discussing the unique nature of Treaty 9 and the signing tour that was undertaken to gather community signatures on the document.  Treaty 9 is the only numbered treaty that has a province as a signatory and the Ontario government has been closely tied to the administration of the treaty. A detailed history of Treaty 9 compiled by the Archives of Ontario can be found here.

Cole's portion of the presentation provided an in-depth look at the conservation efforts required to prepare Treaty 9 for travel from Toronto to Moose Factory.  She did an excellent job of breaking down the conversation concerns around the document and explaining why particular conservation treatments were used. It was interesting to see what specific challenges the parchment document presented and how specially designed cases were built for the project.

The presentation concluded with Lani Wilson discussing her experience coordinating the trip to Moose Factory and traveling with the document to the remote community.  She explained the challenges in arranging air travel to a remote community and adapting crates to weight restrictions on the small planes.  Wilson also described the desire of the host communities to have as many people as possible see the treaty while it was in Moose Factory and the emotional impact it had on the community.  Some of the descendents of the original signatories to the treaty were in attendance and participated in the event.

This was a great concluding plenary that focused on an important historical document and work being done to make it accessible to the communities it has historically and presently impacts. 

AAO 2014: Community Collaboration

This is the third post summarizing my experience at the AAO 2014 conference. The first post, "AAO 2014: Context and Commemoration" can be seen here.

I presented as part of the "Community Collaboration" panel on Friday May 30th.  The presentations in this session focused on archives building successful partnerships to highlight archival holdings and bring deeper historic knowledge to the broader community.

Flora Flung a teacher at Oshawa Central Collegiate and Vocational Institute presented on her involvement with the Durham Memorial Project and the Garrow Collection. Flung's presentation focused on bringing local history into the classroom and working with local archives, museums, and heritage organizations to create local history research projects for her students.  This presentation highlighted how local history can help bring historical topics alive for students and inspire student interest in the community they live in.  Flung also noted some of the challenges of integrating local history into the classroom: many students were unable to read cursive writing so some primary source material needed interpretation or transcription before students could use it and often research websites such as Library and Archives Canada were blocked by the school's firewall.  Overall, Flung demonstrated that local history and archival material can be successfully integrated into high school classrooms at a relatively low cost.

Jennifer Weymark of the Oshawa Community Museum and Archives worked with Flora Flung on the Durham Memorial Project and the Garrow Collection.  Weymark described her experience working with high school students and preparing archival resources for their use.  The presentation also highlighted the benefits of working with a teacher to adapt primary source workshops and other resources to meet student needs.  Weymark highlighted the need to teach students about primary sources and to help them gain the skills to analyze and determine the accuracy of source material (eg. the first photograph you find in Google might not be a photograph of the person you're researching).   This presentation illustrated a proactive approach to reaching out to students and working collaboratively with teachers. 

Both of these presentations were great examples of archives being used in community projects and the importance of developing outreach programs.   My presentation which concluded the "Community Collaboration" session focused on the history of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC), the role of community in the establishment of the archives, and the SRSC's involvement in commemoration events.  The presentation focused on the reunions/gatherings and conferences held by the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the role that these reunions had in creating a community archive.  I also discussed the SRSC's creation of exhibits and revamping of displays to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first Shingwauk Reunion and to celebrate the history of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

AAO 2014: Community Remembering and Faith-Based Commemoration

This is the second post summarizing my experience at the AAO 2014 conference. The first post, "AAO 2014: Context and Commemoration" can be seen here

Archives and Remembering 
This session focused on two community museums/archives and their efforts to commemorate community histories. 

The first pair of presenters were Laura Camilleri and Wayne Townsend from the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA).  Their presentation, "Remembering the Wars...Digitally" focused on the DCMA efforts to commemorate Dufferin's veterans.  For the purposes of this project veteran was defined as anyone who had served in any conflict in any capacity.  The project allowed for archival material to be linked to museum collections and placed online via the Duff Stuff portal.  The portal is fee based.  However DCMA members get access as part of their membership fee.  Camilleri and Townsend highlighted some of the unexpected rewards of their project such as: building community partnerships, increased research requests, increased donations to the archive, and collaboration with local schools.  Having grown up near the DCMA and volunteered there it was nice to see some of the positive ongoing work and community outreach occurring within the institution.

The second set of presenters in this session were Mary Gladwin and Patricia Phelps who focused on the Oxford Remembers project. This initiative aims to commemorate the men and women who participated in WWI both at home and overseas.  Oxford County will hold 100 special events and programs from 2014-2018 to remember the 100th anniversary of the First World War.  Gladwin and Phelps highlighted the project's galvanizing force and the enthusiasm of libraries, archives, museums, and community based groups to host commemorative events.  Everything from plays, pigeon shows, art displays, traveling exhibits, and film screenings will be held as part of the project.  Overall the project aims to raise awareness about the rich history of Oxford and the roles Oxford citizens played in the war effort.  This presentation was great inspiration for anyone interested in community engagement in collaboration.  It highlighted the benefits of working with multiple partners and keeping costs low through shared events and promotion.

Faith-Based Commemoration and Archives
This session focused on anniversary celebrations at two faith-based archives.  The presentations both focused on case study examples of successful archival commemoration efforts.

Gillian Hearns presented on "Making the 150th and 175th Anniversaries of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto." Hearns' presentation recapped the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto involvement in the 1991 celebrations around the 150th diocese anniversary.  At this point the Archives was relatively new but the 150th celebrations helped bring legitimacy to the archives and highlight the value of the archives.  Hearn's presentation also looked forward to the upcoming 175th anniversary that will be occurring in 2016.  Building on previous commemoration and history work Hearns described the 175th as an educational opportunity.  She saw the archive being tied to the larger diocese commemoration plan and focusing efforts on promoting the archive to internal stakeholders.  Hearn's talk emphasized the importance of learning from past commemoration efforts and the role that commemoration can have in promoting the use of archives.

Hearn's presentation was followed by Kate Rosser-Davies and her work commemorating the "Jubilee Years at St. Michael's Choir School."  The case study explored by Rosser-Davies focused on the 75th anniversary celebration of St. Michael's Choir School and the commemorative publication of Seventy-Five Years of Service in SongAt the time of the 75th anniversary the archives at St. Michael's was newly established and Rosser-Davies unexpectedly played a key role in the publication process of Service in Song.  The publication was community driven and school alumni were actively involved in the books authorship.  Rosser-Davies highlighted the challenges of managing a community based publication including editorial burnout, inconsistent voicing, factual issues, and managing so many contributors.  Despite these challenges the book's community based nature did allow for stakeholders to learn about the value of archival collections and the importance of preserving the school history.  Rosser-Davies indicated the donations to the school archives increased following the book project.  Service in Song is a great example of school archives being used for commemorative purposes and the challenges of managing a community based publication.

AAO 2014: Context and Commemoration

Last week I attended the Archives Association of Ontario annual conference in Oshawa, Ontario.  The next few posts are recaps of the conference and some of the sessions I attended.

The opening keynote speaker for AAO 2014 was Anthony Wilson-Smith of Historica Canada.  Wilson-Smith's talk focused on his personal experience with history through journalism and working with Historica Canada.  The talk also centered on the importance of context and the role that archives have in preserving context in a increasingly digital age.  Historica Canada is the largest organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Canadian history and citizenship in Canada.  They are perhaps most well known for its Heritage Minutes.  Wilson-Smith's talk touched on the Heritage Minutes and discussed how they are meant to be introductions to historical topics and not complete histories. Despite not having a direct archival focus the keynote was engaging and broached a number of digital preservation issues being faced by archivists.

War And The Public Memory
This session focused on war and civic memorials that have been used to facilitate commemoration.  The first presenter, Alexander Comber, focused on "War Trophies of Canada: Paper Trail to Artifact."  Comber described his efforts to research the history and provenance of war trophies that were brought to Canada following WWI.    Using Library and Archives Canada records combined with photographs, oral histories, and other written accounts Comber aimed to identify the current location of surviving war trophies and document the history of war trophies across Canada.  Much of his research has been compiled in a Google doc and can be seen here.  Comber's project highlighted the potential and short comings of using archival material to document public monuments. 

The second half of this session featured a presentation by Amanda Hill.  Her work "Beyond The Cenotaph" focused on her work with the Deseronto Archives and ongoing commemoration efforts around WWI. Hill's presentation focused on her project to learn more about the 34 men listed on the 1923 cenotaph in memory of WWI soldiers.  This project was later expanded to research all men who served from Deseronto including those who were from a nearby Royal Flying Training camp.  Despite occasional research roadblocks and coming up against pay-walled resources Hill's project has managed to illuminate the personal histories of many of the men from Deseronto.  Some of Hill's research can be found online here.  Additionally, she has plans to share her research via live historical blogging during the WWI centenary and through other social media platforms.  Overall this was a great example of a community inspired commemoration project that has potential to engage a range of community members.