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Unlicensed Professionals

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.

Not a license to curate.
Source.

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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Traditional

book12Traditional, adj. A kind of activity which must have been done forever because our grandparents did it.

 

 

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Colonial Williamsburg, Where the Past is Prey

A museum actually had a Superbowl commercial! That’s right, Colonial Williamsburg aired an ad in three major markets hoping to reach their most fertile hunting grounds. While the Game Day spot was 30 seconds long they release this one minute extended-cut version online:

With this commercial Colonial Williamsburg’s attempts at getting attention yet again got attention. Mayhaps not the kind the they were aiming at. And we don’t just mean our past views (here and here) of their advertising campaigns or their new, but questionable public programs. It seems not everyone was happy with how they seemed to undo American history or that they showed the Towers collapsing on 9/11. But those comments miss the mark.

Williamsburg wanted to be provocative. Clearly they were successful, because their three-city ad has become national news. That is not outrageous, that’s marketing. Besides this commercial is far better than some of their earlier attempts. This one is at least grounded in history. Perhaps Mitchell Reiss, President & CEO, described the commercial best when he said, “These ads take you backwards…” And they do, they take you all the way back to 2012 and this

You could call it a reenactment. Everything from the “We the People” intros to the historical footage was similar. In fact the only noticeable differences are the direction the film rolls in and that it’s Tom Brokaw narrating, not a blue-eyed, blonde girl.* Maybe Williamsburg used the premise because the Constitution Center’s ad worked so well. Or perhaps CW is simply uncreative and lazy and hoped no one would notice.

In all honesty let Williamsburg continue to take from others, lest they inflict their old work on us, like the “It stays with you” campaigns of recent memory:

Yep, still creepy.

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* There is a third difference: the Constitution Center called it’s own ad “exciting” despite itself.


Bringing History and Visitors Back to Colonial Williamsburg

Curator’s Comment: In the past the American Hysterical Society has been openly critical of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s 2013 and 2014 advertising campaigns (it seems they have deleted the most egregious; we hope it’s because of something we said). The following is our attempt to make amends and offer some helpful suggestions.

As we have noted before, history doesn’t sell. Just ask any site who offers a well-researched horse engine day or tea party, or if that tight stitch count has got ‘em flocking in. If history did sell then our work would be well funded, we would all be rockstars, and Colonial Williamsburg would still be a historic site.

In case you haven’t noticed, Williamsburg has spent the better part of the last year transforming into a low-rent Busch Gardens. Or to quote President & CEO Mitchell Reiss, trying “to do some things we’ve never done before to make this special place even better.”[1] So with tenuous historical connections and what their marketing folks think has mass appeal, the Foundation has added a shooting range, a petting zoo, a doggy mascot, pirates, and an ice skating rink to their “historic” experience.

As Reiss said, “You’ll notice us paying more attention to first-time visitors and families who have chosen to invest their hard earned vacation dollars for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg instead of [Disney’s] Magic Kingdom.” They’re targeting families because they think that’s where the money is. However, most families are too budget conscious to feed Williamsburg’s voracious coffers.

No, the real revenue is in providing extreme lifestyle experiences for underserved audiences looking for the unique, the challenging, and the thrilling.[2] This audience includes masochists, sadists, body modifiers, and mixed martial artists. There’s a lot of money in pain and blood. And Williamsburg is perfectly suited to simultaneously profit from this growing demand while creating historically-grounded interpretation.

This soon-to-be wildly-popular and award-winning program includes: [3]

  • Public Shaming: Did you ever want to let that loved one know you knew about their lies/theft/infidelity/stupidity? Well now you can all while allowing the whole world to share in your pain and righteousness. It’s the eighteenth-century version of Facebook.
  • Standing the Pillory: The stocks are already a popular stop, this would just add the missing ingredient, human drama. Once a prisoner is locked in, his or her ears are nailed to the stock and they are left standing there. Later, just before their allotted time is up, their ears are first sliced off and then they are released. Siblings of all ages, with their mischievous rivalries, will love this one.
  • Flogging: Depending on your tastes, you or a person of your choice can be publicly flogged. It can be for almost any infraction, real or imagined, or just because the experience is so delicious.
  • Branding: You may or may not have committed a felony, but now you can look like you have. Scarification by branding makes tattoos seem as dangerous as body paint.
  • Dueling: You and an opponent of your choice could rent weapons (swords or the more expensive pistols) and, after a five-minute orientation, take your positions on the palace lawn and have at each other. First blood or death, it’s your choice.
  • Public Execution: We’re already heading toward this in modern America, so why not be on the cutting edge? Executions were popular mass entertainment back in the day, and they would draw even larger crowds (and oodles of publicity) today. The best thing about a historically-accurate hanging is that, unlike later nineteenth-century hanging practices where the neck was broken almost immediately, the show could last for several minutes thanks to the short drop drop and slow strangulation. Popular as this will be with spectators, we suggest brushing up your “not it” skills.

Along with being immersive experiences, they are also a fully interactive ones. And boy will they draw a crowd! This has every potential to be the first truly exciting museum program ever.

Each of these ideas brings to bear all of CW’s resources, historic trades to make the nails, weapons, gallows, and rope, educators to help explain the background of each option to participants and guests alike, living history skills to ensure authenticity, and food service to help keep tummies full and wallets empty.

horse tred - Copy

The choice is simple: Does Williamsburg want public programs that look like this…
Source.

William_Hogarth_-_Industry_and_Idleness,_Plate_11;_The_Idle_'Prentice_Executed_at_Tyburn - Copy

…or like this?

We know what you’re thinking: that doing any, much less all, of this would take real audacity. We say it’s less audacious than opening a skating rink on Duke of Gloucester Street and, with a straight face, calling it a “magical experience.”[4]

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1. We truly thought he was going to say “specialer.”

2. And need we mention they are likely first-time visitors?

3. All  medical or coroner’s bills are included in your fees!

4. The Disneyfication isn’t even subtle.


Embracing Hug a Museum Worker Day?

SM-Hug-A-Museum-Worker-Day-June-29-2016-HAMuseumW-MUSEUMVIEWS-LOGO-300x204

Perhaps next year we can hold “Free Pie For Museum Workers Day” instead.

This past Monday, June 29th, museum workers the world over were suddenly snuggled by their usually-tranquil visitors in celebration of the first annual International Hug a Museum Worker Day (IHMWD). A special day that all museum workers got together and agreed to hold.

Except they didn’t. Because such a day, well-intentioned to be sure, is contrary to the needs of most museum people.

Many museum workers are introverts who went into museums specifically because they did not want to be near, much less touch, regular people. In fact, they often don’t want to be around their own colleagues either. Still, if they are fortunate enough to be at a museum where they appreciate their coworkers, according to most HR guidelines that appreciation must end at physical contact. So an intraoffice celebration of IHMWD is out.

As preservation experience and various training sessions have shown, direct touching is generally fraught with problems. Museum workers don’t know where most visitors have been. Such contact would send the staff into a protective tizzy – the collections folks would be occupied ensuring the collection remains unsullied, while their colleagues would be busy implementing the integrated disease prevention protocol and making sure nothing inappropriate happens.

Besides, organizing such a day presents numerous opportunities for interdepartmental antagonism. If it were left up to the collections people everyone would be sorted and arranged according to hugging style (half hug, full hug, the lingerer, the bear hugger, etc.). Educators would prefer something more random and free-choice. The PR staff would want to hug as many as possible while reminding them to tell their friends how much they enjoyed themselves. The director would want the largest donors (by check, not body size) to be hugged first.*

Perhaps most importantly, museum workers can’t cuddle up to IHMWD because they already have more work than they can reasonably handle and they simply don’t have time for hugging. However, there is always time for pie.

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*Alas, the day is wasted on museum security guards who want a minimum distance of 24 inches between themselves and all potential huggers.


Genealogy

Genealogy, n. A partial list of your ancestors’ sexual partners.

 

 

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The Most Participatory Museum Audience

Have you ever wondered who the ultimate participatory audience is?

Only one demographic seems to seek out and engage with history and historical museums in a consistent, passionate, and often public way: Fundamentalist Christians.

It’s a little known fact that the “H” in His initials stands for history.

This should come as no surprise since their views are derived from a book about history. Unlike most other visitors, not only have they read their history, Fundamentalist Christians actively bring that understanding with them when they visit museums.

Also unlike other audiences, Fundamentalist Christians have their own historians who, despite having no academic training in history, have inspired more historical interest than most museums. The best-known is David Barton, who is reclaiming American history and making it accurate again. Although his work is rife with historical inaccuracies (so much so that his publisher pulled his Jefferson book), he remains a valid historian and truth-teller to many. There is also Glenn Beck. Mr. Beck, through his interest in American history and material culture (which centers around Bibles and guns), has become an exhibition curator whose self-styled purpose is to revitalize misunderstood or forgotten history, as you can see here and here and here and in this clip:

These historians have inspired Fundamentalist Christians to spend time reviewing current history scholarship for what they feel are potential (and intentional) oversights. Former teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron’s current career is built entirely on this. Not long ago, Mr. Cameron delved into the forgotten Christian history of the earliest American settlements. Today, he is back to help us understand the true origins and meaning of Christmas, in his new movie Saving Christmas:

Despite overwhelming evidence that Saturnalia predates the life of Christ and that Christmas was not important to Christians until long after Christ’s death, Mr. Cameron knows through his study of at least one history book that Christmas was stolen by the pagans and has been held hostage by them to this very day. Which is why, as the Christian Post noted in an interview about the film, Mr. Cameron:

…dismisses theories that Christmas is derived in the pagan celebration of Winter Solstice in “Saving Christmas,” offering viewers a Biblical reference to items such as the Christmas tree instead. Furthermore, the film reveals Cameron’s take on Santa Claus, the three wisemen, and why Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 each year.

“We don’t know this stuff, we kinda drink the Kool-Aid and believe pagans when they tell us they have ownership of these things,” Cameron explained to CP.

Perhaps where Fundamentalists exceed all other visitor interactions is in their eagerness to read everything we write. For example, here’s one visitor reflecting upon every thought, fact, and word exhibited, whether she understands what they mean or not:

As you can see Ms. Fox’s visit was so personally moving she even shared her experience on social media. Which is precisely what museums want every visitor to do!

Lastly, Fundamentalist Christians are so deeply engaged in history that they are founding their own museums. The Creation Museum has been open since 2007 (whose overly-honest tag line is “Be prepared to experience history in a completely unprecedented way“). Now the owners of Hobby Lobby are developing the Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in 2017 in Washington D.C. You can’t love museums more than wanting to have one of your very own, can you?

As you can see, Fundamentalist Christians are crazy over history and museums, making them the very model of a modern participatory museum visitor. Right?


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