For those of you whose Scots is rusty or for you younger folk who can’t read cursive, there this standard English translation.
For those of you whose Scots is rusty or for you younger folk who can’t read cursive, there this standard English translation.
If there is one shared belief amongst history and museum professionals it’s that we do important, if at times unrecognized, work. We’re stewards of priceless, irreplaceable collections, we engage, educate, and entertain a broad range of the population. We are keepers and sharers of culture and history. Truly important work.
At least to us.
It can be difficult to know how important we are perceived to be to the general citizenry. Attendance numbers aren’t trustworthy. Besides, every museum has a fan-base (however small) which can lead us to believe we’re relevant. History books are judged by how “important” they are, not how many copies are sold. And, for both historians and the museum professionals, there’s always the belief that it’s not us; that people just don’t get how essential we really are.
One way to gauge importance is to look at how regulated a field is. Usually that comes in the form of professional licensing. Licensing advocates argue that it protects the public interest by keeping incompetent and unscrupulous individuals from working with the public. In the rather open fields of history and museum work there is no mechanism to ensure such performance. Anyone can walk on and call themselves a historian, curator, or educator. Even the incompetent and unscrupulous.
To put it another way, there are more legal requirements for a nail technician to give French manicures than than there is for a CEO to direct a museum. In museums there are laws regarding the appropriate use of our collections and money, but there is nothing governing the professionals. In the eyes of the law, our stuff is more important than our staff.
You might be thinking, “what about the degrees needed to get the job?” A degree in a history- or museum-related field is not a license. Employers may make it a requirement for a position, but not having it does not automatically exclude anyone from claiming and being recognized as, for example, a historian. Some museum folks might point to accreditation as such oversight. However, AASLH’s accreditation is not a license or a guarantee of staff competency. Accreditation is all about collections management and governance. It’s still about the stuff.
What does all of this mean? It may be an indication of why we are an underpaid, underappreciated field. Not enough people take history and museum work seriously or believe our contributions are important enough to their (and, as will be seen, their pets’) finances, health, safety, and sex lives to try to weed out the incompetents. But evidently these fields (licensed by the State of Illinois) are:
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And now a message from our Director-Curator, T.H. Gray…
The Hysterical Society recently awoke from every museum’s nightmare – we went away and no one noticed. There were no comments or emails inquiring after our whereabouts (to be fair we don’t a get a lot emails even during the best of times). We just stopped exhibiting and the world didn’t seem to care. We almost didn’t notice ourselves.
We hardly noticed because we were so busy, we were getting nothing accomplished. You know the feeling. And like most of you, that lack of climax left us frustrated. You definitely know the feeling.
To make up for our lack of originality, we busied ourselves by bringing in traveling exhibits – pieces we had nothing to do with, but they filled space and, hopefully, kept your attention. To make sure we became part of your routine, we also tried to show on a regular schedule, every Tuesday and Saturday (bet you didn’t notice that either).
In looking back, those exhibits were repetitive and ineffective. Traveling exhibits seem to have no real cost. The problem is they were a huge time-suck. By the time we had found enough pieces to fill the next few weeks, there was little creative energy left. So we had to find more pieces to fill in, and on and on and on. This left no time to research and write anything original.
It didn’t help that other colleagues were sharing some of the same pieces, but getting lots more attention. It seemed as though we were all doing the same thing, which means the Hysterical Society wasn’t really contributing anything.
It was all very disheartening. So we stopped. Or rather, we never got around to doing more. We effectively closed for more than a year.
Before it was too late and this became permanent, the staff took a small retreat. We realized several things:
In looking over our visitation records, it became apparent that seven of our top ten shows were original Hysterical Society creations, not copies of other people’s work.
So we’ve made a few decisions. Henceforth(1), the American Hysterical Society will:
Like all museums, the Hysterical Society is chasing relevance so we can be an important part of your life. Our experience shows that the best way to do that is to be ourselves, no matter how silly or profane.(2)
1. Henceforth is used here to demonstrate our seriousness.
2. Experience also shows we’re most popular when we’re profane.
By the way, these are our top ten exhibits, based on discrete visits:
Remember just after the Patriot Act bill became a law when librarians said no to the sitting President? Well now it’s everyone else’s turn. And it seems our National Park Service is leading the way.
If you share this view and want to support them, you can add your name here.
And if you need a moment (and who doesn’t right now?) here are the minutes from the Initial Meeting of the National Parks Revolutionary Coordinating Committee.
By the way, where are the history parks in all of this? Facts matter and you help preserve them. Time to step up and join your natural park sister sites in preventing fear and foolishness from becoming the American way of life!
A little something for those who like to share Pilgrim history on Thanksgiving…
Are you real? Well, yes.
Is it raining outside now?
…I’m in a basement.
The Dali show, from
seven years ago, I missed.
Can I still go now?
Who replaces your
American flags? May I
speak with them? URGENT.
We close at five. If
I arrive at five, when would
I need to leave? Five.
I found a Miro
in my attic. Can you buy
it? Not at all fake.
Picasso found in
gated community yard.
calls about tooth art that should
be in the museum.
I want to bring my
mini horse to the museum.
That should be fine, right?
Curator’s Comments: A full transcrip of these talks can be found here.