Participation is for History Museums Too…

I want to share this fascinating article with you this morning. It is right on topic with the beginning of our last class discussion. Is a historic museum any place for participation? I think we all agreed yes it is! And here it goes… In the AASLH History News there is an article by Rainey Tisdale, it is in reaction to Steven Conn’s new book Do Museums Still Need Objects? This powerful title made me have to read the article, that second. There were a few key talking points, I was curious to see the group’s opinion on.
If anyone was interested in participating the AASLH is encouraging people to comment in a group discussion on the topic. Add your two cents at
“So what’s the point of expend¬ing our resources preserving these collections if we’re not doing something imaginative, experimental, or amazing with them? We are indeed now in the business of serving our audiences, and we can’t do so effectively with the same for¬mulaic approach, repeated in history museum after history museum, around the country.”

“If we started over in 2011, building our collections from scratch (practicalities aside), what would they look like? And in the interest of building 2.0 museums, should we let the public in on that conversation? What do our visitors (and maybe more importantly, the millions of Americans who don’t visit museums) wish they were seeing on our walls and in our exhibit cases that they’re not?”
“Dan Spock (and others) have suggested that museums are shifting from a position of authority to one of mediation, that our new model “is more conversational, more a set of negotia¬tions and interactions, than a set of mutually exclusive ide¬ologies.” In other words, today’s curator is a subject expert who facilitates the process of creating a collective history by convening the conversation, asking interesting questions, suggesting trusted sources and methods for exploration, gently guiding the discussion, and checking for factual er¬rors. But curators no longer provide the actual answers. Are you comfortable with this new role, and what kind of re¬training do you need to take it on?”13
“As younger generations be¬come a larger and larger percentage of our audience, history museums face an increased expectation that visitors will be able to interact with objects in a variety of ways—tagging, voting, commenting, and even user curation. Not only have we been slow to adapt to these new demands for participa¬tory learning, we still haven’t worked out what to do with the demand for good old-fashioned touching.”9
Some cool projects mentioned in the article:
Streetmuseum London “Streetmuseum allows you to walk around London with your mobile device, pull¬ing up images from another era to compare then with now.”
“Meanwhile, websites like HistoryPin, SepiaTown, andWhatWasThere are creating global Google maps of historic photographs that can be viewed alongside their contemporary counterparts using Google Street View. Anyone, anywhere in the world—including museums—can upload images to these sites for free. WhatWasThere has an iPhone app, and it’s like¬ly just a matter of time before the others create versions for mobile phones. So imagine if all of our collection databases included a field for GPS coordinates, and we either made our own mobile apps or uploaded photos of our artifacts into sites like WhatWasThere. Then members of our communities could understand where these objects came from, and perhaps better visualize the layers of history under their feet.”