Field trip day! We escaped the classroom and headed off into Classroom Indianapolis. Being on the bus with my classmates in the early morning reminded me of all the fun we had on field trips in my Historic Site Administration course in grad school. Today we visited the Benjamin Harrison Home and the Eiteljorg Museum. At the Eiteljorg we ran to the children’s educational area and played with all of the interactives: we raised a totem pole, I played with a cup and ball, smashed my head against the low roof of a stage coach, and someone fell off of a fake horse. Conclusion: we need to design galleries for grown ups to play in without having to have a kid around to front for them – no shame! (Also, with more head room so said grown-ups don’t bang their heads against low ceilinged stagecoaches…)
We also went to the opening reception for the National Trust for Historic Preservation meeting. I ran into an old friend and two of my former bosses in the preservation field. They all remembered me after all this time of being away, and were glad to see me. The opening reception was at the Athenaeum, and being in the dark-wood hall in the basement gave me flash-backs to the opening dinner each year of grad school, and meeting my new best friends at those dinners. This got me thinking about how large a professional network I have here in Indianapolis, and how much I miss having that back home. The museum and history community here shares so much information and so many employees, while the community back home seems not very excited about working together. I had forgotten how nice it is to work connections and to feel like an integral part of a professional community. I miss these Hoosier History people! When I get home (boo) I need to try harder to create a community of historians.
Favorite artifacts of the day: the Art-O-Mat. This is a repurposed cigarette vending machine that now dispenses tiny boxes of artwork, everything from glass pendants to woodcuts. Local artists fill the tiny boxes with their miniature pieces and visitors to the Eiteljorg can put a $5 bill in the machine and buy something. It’s a genius idea.
The home gym inside Benjamin Harrison’s home in Indianapolis. Get in shape with the 19th Century Presidents!
This is the third full day of SHA and my favorite so far. Today we talked about objects and collections, which is my favorite museum topic. One of our presenters made me very excited and affirmed when he dissed a certain state historical society that (ahem) is in a large Western capitol city. My state capitol. He is puzzled why this institution has chosen to removed nearly all of their original artifacts only to replace them with replicas, fancy store fronts, silly rides, and cartoon cut-outs. I wasn’t puzzled by this when I saw the newly-reopened museum; I was furious. I thought, “If object-less museums that decide to become theme parks and play houses are where the future of public history is going, I think I need to leave the field.” Happily, based on our presenter’s talk today, this is NOT where the field appears to be heading. I do believe in the magic and power of original artifacts over anything else that a museum has to offer. It’s all about the cool stuff and the story that stuff tells and its interchange with the visitor.
Our afternoon speaker had us do a fun interpretive exercise with several of her own personal objects that she brought in. We got to choose anything we wanted, and we all scoped out the table full of artifacts as she spoke: a stuffed Rafiki monkey from the Lion King, blue willow wear, a stuffed turtle, and a TARDIS/DALEK salt shaker set. When it came time to choose, we historians rushed the table and everyone grabbed for the TARDIS. I doubt anyone was surprised: a group of nerdy history people fighting over who gets to interpret the TARDIS. OF course, only one person got the little blue box, and someone else got the Dalek, and the rest of us contented ourselves with interpreting willow-wear, etc.
Public historian Whovians. I think I found my people.
To echo the words of General MacArthur, “I have returned.” By the grace of Almighty God my feet stand again on Indiana soil. (Okay, so not quite as dramatic as liberating the Philippines, but I do like the dramatic sentiment of the dramatic first line of his speech. You can listen to the rest of the original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wv1PF0tAE1s)
First, I have returned back to the Indiana Historical Society where I spent a year interning and a summer serving as a collection assistant. We toured the vault and I saw parts of the Tom Cochran collection on the shelf, which I had processed when I was here. It was like seeing an old friend. Hi, Tom! (He was a news anchor in Indianapolis and I transferred several of his films to digital format). Also, I got to see the James Allison scrapbook of Riverdale, which I had also processed. Even years after being employed at IHS, researchers still have access to the collections I worked on! That’s a feeling of accomplishment and that my work matters so someone. (I have some suggestions for article topics from the collections I processed if anyone needs to write something)
Second, after two years of being away I am back again in my adopted Indiana home. I’ve been enjoying walking along the canal, gazing at the Statehouse in the purple dusk, looking at the city’s skyline, and seeing White River State park again. Today, on the 2nd day of SHA, we talked about place-making and the connection between human memory and places. Places have the most meaning when directly connected to the human experience. This stretch of downtown Indianapolis is dripping with memories and meaning for me: the bench where my best friend and I ate lunch every day, the library where I studied so often, the South Bend Chocolate Company’s patio on Monument Circle where my friends and I enjoyed cups of hot chocolate. I think that because the canon of my experiences in Indianapolis had been closed until now that my memories remain strong here – at home, where the canon of my experiences is still being written my memories and places are so much more free-flowing. Anyway, I do love my adopted Indiana home, even if I didn’t always love being here when I lived here. (It’s easier to love Indiana when you aren’t dealing with the climate anymore).
Anyway, here’s a quick summary of what we’re learning in SHA: we talked about the kinds of museum people and institutions: essentialists who love preserving artifacts for the artifact’s sake, adaptives who love to connect with an audience, and ideologists who work for the Man and see museums as simply a means to tow the party line. This is a framework that helps me understand the enormous frustration I have with my current employment situation: my institution is very much ideological (wants me to support the party line) while I definitely have essentialist and adaptive tendencies. I don’t WANT to tow the party line. This is helping me put words to a silent creeping unhappiness that I did’t know how to express before.
We also met several of the IHS staff members, and I got to meet a friend of one of my intellectual baby-sisters. (I’m not old enough to have intellectual children yet). I love my family of historians.
I’ve been waiting for this day for six months – it’s the eve of the start of the Seminar for Historic Administration 2013. Tomorrow we’ll begin three weeks of intensive study on public history and administration. My friends at home have been asking me why I’m going to be away from home for three weeks and what exactly I’ll be doing in Indianapolis (of all places) during this time.
This is what I expect SHA 2013 to be:
1)Like doing post-graduate work in history
2)An intensive professional development opportunity
3)A three-week vacation for historians, including getting to talk about the field we love, taking field trips to museums, and meeting other historians. I mean really, if that’s not a historian’s dream come true, I don’t know what is.
On a personal level, I am hoping that SHA will be a chance to clear my head and start the healing process after the last two devastating years. I’m coming in to this program completely broken: my father died unexpectedly three weeks ago, we’ve had severe flooding in Colorado, two horrific wildfires including one that very nearly burned down my historic site, and another death in the family. Really. I didn’t know that life could be so sad and hard. I need this time and am glad that the Lord has blessed me with this opportunity to leave my home for three weeks and to immerse myself in studying my favorite subject. I’m secretly hoping that SHA will be a chance to physically, mentally, and emotionally be away from everything for three precious weeks, to reconnect with old grad school friends, and to generally do some time-traveling to a happier past and a happier future. Also, I’m so glad to be back in my (adopted) Indiana Home.
So, let the games begin.