Exploring History’s Relevance at #AASLH18

By Dulce Kersting-Lark, Executive Director, Latah County Historical Society, Moscow, ID

I was so grateful to receive a Small Museums Scholarship to attend #AASLH2018 in Kansas City. It was my first opportunity to take part in the AASLH Annual Meeting, although I had been hoping to make it part of my continuing education for several years. My curiosity in the gathering first began when a mentor suggested I find a way to attend, noting that it provides the very best learning opportunities for individuals working in small history organizations. The Latah County Historical Society, where I have been director since 2014, certainly fits that description.

While I enjoyed so many aspects of the experience, not least of which was the amazing hospitality of Kansas City, I am most fond of the conversations I had with my fellow historians. It has been my good fortune to have attended a number of museum conferences over the last five years. I did not realize how much I had been missing my fellow historians, however, and the chance to focus solely on the presentation of the past.

The workshop “Demonstrating History’s Relevance in Today’s World” allowed me to begin my experience with a deep-dive into the powerful role my institution can play in our community. I have been a fan of the History Relevance initiative for several years (I even have a copy of the values statements taped on the wall next to my computer) and it was exciting to learn how other museums and historic sites are integrating these concepts into their work.

Visiting the Johnson County Museum was another highlight of the meeting for me. It was inspiring to see a municipal history museum that had created such an impressive visitor experience. My organization frequently grapples with the challenges of having an imperfect exhibit space, and so I dream of having an inviting space like JCM’s. The permanent exhibit, Becoming Johnson County, was wonderfully designed and engaging. What’s not to love about being able to walk through an authentic all-electric model home?

The temporary exhibit was also excellent. The Turbulent Twenties was a thoughtful look at a time in American history that is often overly romanticized and yet poorly understood. The curators clearly had historical relevancy in mind when they created the narrative, and as a visitor, I was invited to draw parallels between my life today and events from the 1920s. The interactive at the end of the exhibit was also popular, another testament to the efficacy of the displays and text in creating a fascinating and immersive experience.

I extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who made my time at #AASLH2018 so wonderful!