Museum studies and the Tuskegee Airmen

This fall I am part of a team that is curating an exhibit on the Tuskegee Airmen for KSU's Museum of History and Holocaust Education. The exhibit will be on display Nov. 17 - February, and then will begin to travel to schools for possibly the next ten years. That's a project that turns into our own small legacy within Kennesaw State. I am quite excited about this huge assignment. Below will be, at the end, the journal entries I write each week regarding my thoughts on class discussion, readings, and project development. The brief entries will chronicle each week of the class and the exhibit progress, until its opening on Nov. 17. By that date, I will be more knowledgeable about public history and capable of working on historical projects to benefit the community. And you're invited to the opening.

Week 2:

The more I read about putting together exhibits, the more excited I am to be part of a team that is putting one together. Having never really dug into the field of public history before, I am excited to see the impact public historians can impress on the community in which they work. It it such a subtle art. It is trying to teach people something without them realizing it, really; and it is making the information user-friendly and painstakingly clear. What an exciting challenge.

I have also been met with two separate and equally exciting reactions when I mention this class assignment. The first is, "Who are the Tuskegee Airmen?" This offers the obvious satisfaction of being able to explain, and then invite the friend/coworker/classmate/parent to visit the exhibit when it opens. The other reaction has been, "What a great topic! I know a guy who knows one of them..." While this second one has obviously been less often, I was still able to learn about those several people who were very knowledgeable about the Airmen and learn a little about their perception of and thoughts about them. One of my coworkers in particular knew an Airmen that had lived next door to him in Alabama several years ago, and offered his phone number for a chat. Potential conversation, respectfully declined but with a open invitation should I want to speak with him later. Overall, my discussion with people has given me the inspiration to really make this an exhibit people can take with them when they leave, in the form of a powerful, lasting memory.

I have also been giving the titles some thought, and am looking forward to seeing where everyone else has wound up after mulling over last week's brainstorming session. We made some great progress, and my notes were full of thought-provoking panel topics. Looking forward to developing our plan further on Tuesday.

The "Revisiting the Past: History Museums in the U.S." has been lingering in my mind since I read it several days ago. I did not know very much about Ford's propulsion of his own version of historic preservation, or the formation of Greenfield Village. Neither did I know anything about Rockefeller, Jr.'s role restoring Colonial Williamsburg, VA. The details about their roles in preserving U.S. history (and both the positives and negatives of their projects) were quite fascinating.

I have spent some time studying revisionist historians' role in changing the face of and perspectives regarding American history; I have also studied the movement towards pluralistic, social history that bloomed in the 1960s-70s. But I had never considered those movements to revise historic traditions and perceptions in the context of the MUSEUM-- that proved the most enlightening element of the article. It seems simple to me now, and obvious that the museum world would have to be adjusted as women, African Americans, Native Americans and others were writing a more dynamic American history. But prior to this I had not made that connection. The museum's role is an important element of the story of American history (and its recent revisions), so I found this article very worthwhile.

I found it surprising that prior to the founding, mid-nineteenth century, of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, there was not a large  or well-orchestrated effort to obtain or maintain historic sites and houses. The women who had organized before that were somewhat successful, but I suppose it is taken for granted, in today's world of UNESCO sites and national parks, that spots of intrinsic value have not always been valued as they are now.

The article was well-worth the read, as I have made several connections to other historical trends I've studied; it has also remained in my brain, where I continue to ponder the main points. To me, that is the mark of a strong piece of writing.

On a different note, I have been looking into the photos for my exhibit panels, and have found several that may work for the introduction. I am very interested to visit Tuskegee during our upcoming field trip, particularly now that I am part of the team that is working on the "Why Tuskegee" panel. The history of that area, Booker T. Washington, and the field and institution will all come to life, I feel, when I can see them myself and have the place in my mind. Looking forward to it.

Newseum was a curiosity, to say the least. I am not sure what to make of it, and can certainly see the reason behind the controversy (both the topic being covered and the investors who funded it). Nevertheless, it seems a bit inevitable, albeit sad, that visitors today are lured to flashy, technology-driven exhibits and museums. The average citizen might prefer it to quiet, reading-based, reflective museums. It is a real issue facing the museum world today, and technology will probably never be able to be entirely left out of museums as an element in telling the stories of history. The trick will be making it just as thought-provoking. Well-made videos can do this-- I know I have seen several excellent ones while visiting exhibits and museums in the past.