To Boldly Go…

I was already excited that our third day in Washington was going to be spent at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian, but both institutions completely blew me away with their thoughtful design, amazing collections, and engaging programs. While it was easy to be swept up in the incredible visual experience of the museums, it was even more special to gain insights into what makes them iconic destinations that are so easily recognizable. 

In speaking with two museum educators and two museum media specialists today, I was able to get a better understanding of how the two departments work together to create an experience that goes far beyond the walls of the institution. Museum presence on the Web or on mobile technology can be so vital to teachers, and that point will really stick with me as it is sometimes discouraging when we don’t see immediate returns on the work we’re doing. If it’s out there and accessible, it is likely making a difference. 

Another key take away of mine from today’s visits is that we don’t have to try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to creating programming. Ann Caspari (NASM) explained some of her educational programming techniques in which she uses PowerPoint presentations to enhance story time activities for children. I love this idea and I think something like this would be a good fit at my museum, where we do occasionally host story time for various age groups. 

I genuinely had a fantastic experience getting to see the processes used by professionals in two of my favorite institutions, one that will resonate with me for a long time to come. 

On a museum geek (and just geek in general) note, seeing the USS Enterprise on display at the NASM is literally one of the highlights of my life. 

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Building A Narrative 

Our second day in Washington, DC centered around the art of storytelling. We all encounter stories every day, whether they are in the books we read, movies we watch, or narratives we follow on social media. Taking large, complex ideas, breaking them down, and synthesizing them into new non-fiction narratives requires every bit of imagination that we might expect of creative writing. 

In his workshop on storytelling, Tim Wendel showed us how writers use scenes and summaries to keep the reader’s attention. Judy Landau taught us the fundamentals of object-based learning and how to find the “big idea.” I was able to pull from both of these presenters today while completing an assignment at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery. 

We were told to choose a portrait that spoke to us before partnering up with a classmate to create a story combining both of our historical figures. I chose scientist Albert Einstein and my partner chose opera singer Denyce Graves. We were able to draw up the lessons from the earlier workshops to help us to connect these two figures not only from different disciplines, but from different time periods. As a museum professional, my take away from today will be the incredible importance of a cohesive and easy to follow narrative. 

Albert Einstein at the SAAM/NPG

It was interesting to see how my partner and I were able to work together to help each other to understand the indvidual vision that we had for our story . This was a bit of a challenge at first, but with a little time, we were able to come up with a linear narrative. This assignment was great practice for pulling together our final group project!

Denyce Graves at the SAAM/NPG

Empathy & Museums

My immediate impression after the first full day of the Washington, DC seminar is that this will be a time that is going to challenge me physically and emotionally. While touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAACH), I was overcome with emotion reading stories and hearing voices that are, in many ways, so far removed from what I am accustomed to. I have had many history lessons about the African American experience, but I have never had such an eye-opening experience in my life. 

In listening to Gretchen Jennings talk about the Empathetic Museum, I believe that rush of emotion that I felt was a thoughtful and intentional move on NMAAHC’s part. As a naturally empathetic person, I absolutely appreciate this effort. As a museum professional, I would love to be able to sharpen my skills at creating empathy in others. I believe that following the Empathetic Museum Maturity Model and looking at NMAACH for inspiration are fantastic ways to start. There are quite a few things that I will be taking away with me from both today’s museum trip and the lecture, including a reminder to myself to be more aware of the sometimes sensitive nature of interpretation, but also an important lesson in how powerful that interpretation can be, even with difficult subjects. Objects, like the wreckage of slave ships (pictured above), are so much more engaging when they are accompanied by the words of a person who experienced these events. While we may certainly intend to take away an educational experience when we leave museums, I believe that a lesson here is that emotions can be used to intensify that experience, hopefully leaving a lifelong impression. 

A Memorable Motto

lifting

When I began familiarizing myself with some of what the National Museum of African American History and Culture has to offer, I explored several categories within the collection, but I was drawn to the topic of Civil Rights almost immediately. I chose this object, the “Banner with motto of Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs,” (ca. 1924) as one that I would love to learn more about. There is at least one other banner like this one on display at the museum, but the thing that struck my interest was the motto “Lifting As We Climb.” As an undergraduate majoring in history, I had many lessons on the American Civil Rights movements, but I am unfamiliar with the role that this specific association played in the fight for equality.

I am particularly interested in learning more about the history of women’s roles during this time period. I have done research in the past on various topics relating to feminism, and I hope that in learning more about this object, I will be able to better understand how different regional African American women’s groups affected changed in the nation. I find it interesting that the sentiment being expressed in this banner, although it is from the 1920s, seems to be incredibly relevant today, as well. I am looking forward to learning the story behind this group’s banner and its motto. I also hope to learn about the women that it represented, specifically how their stories fit into the larger American history narrative. The banner is object number 2010.2.1abc and it is on view in the exhibition entitled Making a Way Out of No Way, which looks at how change comes about, located on the third floor of the museum.

Photo Credit:

NMAAHC. (n.d.). Banner with motto of Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs [Digital image]. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://nmaahc.si.edu/