We are excited to launch a new biweekly blog series called “Meet a Member.” AASLH has 5,500 fascinating members working hard for the field of history, and we want to show them off. We will feature one organization and one individual each month.
Jackie Peterson: Member of AASLH since October 2015
Alma maters: Georgetown University (BA in English and History); completed graduate coursework in Museum Studies at NYU
Fields of interest: Public History, Cultural Studies, Community Engagement
I’m an independent consultant who works with museums, cultural institutions, and historic sites to develop exhibitions and interpretation. Officially I am the owner of Jackie Peterson | Exhibit Services, but I like to think of myself more as a co-conspirator in creating excellent and memorable museum experiences!
How did you become involved in museum work?
I had been working in the nonprofit world for several years out of college and knew that fundraising/development/administration was not going to be a long-term career path for me. I have been a lover and maker in the fine arts for as long as I could remember and knew that I needed to be in a creative field in the long run. I started Google searching creative careers one day and stumbled upon advanced degree programs in Museum Studies, which led me to research what kinds of work could be done in/for museums. I ultimately enrolled in a degree program, and though I did not end up completing it, I made invaluable connections and discovered how much I love working in exhibit design, where I am now.
Why did you join AASLH?
As I have started my own business and ventured out into working on projects that are of significance to me and to the communities they serve, I wanted to connect to more like-minded people and to learn about potential resources out there that may benefit my practice in the museum world.
Why does history matter to you?
As a person of color, history has always mattered to me. Much of what I have gravitated toward academically and in life are the stories you don’t know, the ones that you will never read about in textbooks or learn about in your average history survey course. But I’ve come to learn that these stories are the ones that tell us the most any historical time period or event. They shed light on so many human insights that you might never understand by just reading a standard textbook. And so we are at a point in time in our nation where history can be of incredible service to us ; we have so many lessons written in diaries, personal papers, photographs, and letters that can show how to create a better society. And it is not just that which was written by leaders or founding fathers or business giants- it is the everyday person who lived and worked and dreamed and feared and overcame. So we as a society would be hugely remiss if we were not to include the history (and the truthful history– no matter how difficult or painful or shameful to talk about) of EVERYONE who lived or experienced it because there is so much there to learn from that is applicable to our world today.
What is the most interesting or challenging change you’ve seen in the field (or that you see coming)?
I think there are several challenges in our field that will be interesting to watch unfold over the next 5 years or so. The first is how we really and truly make a commitment to diversifying our field from a staff/administrative perspective. And the second is how we present “the truth”: whose stories get priority, how can we be more inclusive in our retelling of history, how do we create experiences of historical times, places and people that attract and serve a truly diverse audience, etc.
If you didn’t have your present career, what would you be doing?
Traveling. I would not have a permanent home, and I would go anywhere I could get a cheap ticket and a cheap place to stay as much as possible. Traveling as a young person is probably what (subconsciously) inspired me the most to work in the museum field, and now I can’t get enough. The more I learn about a place I visit and its people and its history, the more I want to know about other places and people and history. It’s a vicious cycle really.
I am pleased and excited to join this community of scholars, history buffs, museum workers, and cultural enthusiasts! We have so much work to do, but we can accomplish so much more together.
These answers were edited for length and clarity. Want to be featured? Email Hannah Hethmon to learn more. Click here to read about more featured members. Click here to learn more about Individual AASLH Memberships.