Webinar: Get Ready to Plan Strategically!

Strategic planning can be a daunting task for many organizations. Lack of time or resources are frequently cited barriers to planning, yet having no mission-driven direction tied to performance measures is risky. This 90-minute webinar will cut through the mystery and (perceived) misery of planning to introduce participants to the process and language of strategic planning.

In “Get Ready to Plan Strategically!” guest speaker Anne Ackerson will discuss the important preparations necessary for meaningful and productive strategic planning. She will also present models for strategic plan formats, address community input and visioning.

This AASLH webinar is part of the StEPs Lab webinar series offered to both StEPs participants and all others interested in the topic of strategic planning. Applying what you learn in a StEPs Lab to your policies and practices helps your organization make meaningful progress. Learn more about StEPs, AASLH’s self-study, self-paced assessment program designed specifically for small- to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions.

This is StEPs Lab 18.


DATE: June 25, 2019

TIME: 3:00 - 4:30 pm EASTERN (Remember to adjust for your time zone)

COST: $40 Members / $65 Nonmembers / $15 discount for StEPs participants with promo code found on StEPs Community website

Closed captioning available upon advanced notice. Please contact [email protected] for more information.


Participant Outcomes:

After taking part in this webinar, participants will:

  • Understand the difference between strategic and long range planning;
  • Learn other planning definitions like vision, goals, objectives, and tasks and understand the importance of being unified and consistent in the terms your planning group will use;
  • Learn what needs to be done before board, staff, and others gather for the first strategic planning session;
  • Understand that there are a variety of strategic plan formats and your organization should choose one that meets its needs, and
  • Be inspired to trust in the strategic planning process, see it through to the completion of the plan, and use it!



Anne Ackerson is co-author with Joan H. Baldwin of the publications Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace and Leadership Matters: Conversations with History Museum Leaders. Ackerson is also a co-founder of the Gender Equity in Museums Movement (GEMM).

A blurry crowd of people walking in front of a white building with columns.

AASLH Receives Grant to Study Americans’ Attitudes Towards History

A blurry crowd of people walking in front of a white building with columns.

By John Marks, PhD., Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, AASLH

AASLH learned this week that we have received a major grant of $479,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for an exciting new project to research American attitudes towards history. The project, called “Framing History with the American Public,” will be completed in collaboration with the Washington, D.C.-based FrameWorks Institute, the National Council on Public History (NCPH), and the Organization of American Historians (OAH). Over the next three years, we will carry out a comprehensive, nationwide study of how the public views, interprets, and uses a wide variety of history activities and will develop new tools to strengthen the field’s communications efforts.

“This project could fundamentally transform the way the history field communicates with the public,” said AASLH President & CEO John Dichtl. “As we approach the nation’s 250th anniversary, ‘Framing History’ will empower history organizations to convey their impact in ways that have been proven to shift public understanding.” Inspired by the work of the History Relevance initiative, this project will equip the history community with a new, more effective communications framework.

The history community in the United States contains more than twenty thousand public history organizations, more than one thousand academic departments, and countless history advocates around the country. “Framing History” will not only provide unprecedented detail about how Americans view these organizations and their work, it will build, test, and share tools that all organizations and practitioners can use to positively affect public understanding of the value of history. Whether it’s a historical society communicating with new audiences, an academic department talking with potential majors, or a museum making their case to funders or legislators, this project will provide history practitioners with tools to frame their messages as effectively as possible.

“The public needs a new narrative—a new core story—about history, now more than ever,” said Nat Kendall-Taylor, CEO of FrameWorks Institute, which received a 2015 MacArthur Foundation award for creative and effective institutions. “History has a deep and profound influence on understanding and solving our social problems and plays a vital role in building and supporting an engaged citizenry. We are excited to be involved in helping to move the field forward by building understanding of and support for history as a discipline and practice.”

To begin, AASLH, NCPH, and OAH will establish a panel of history professionals representing the full breadth of the field to help the FrameWorks Institute identify the shared ideas and principles experts use to explain their work. Next, FrameWorks will conduct interviews around the country to better understand how Americans view history and its value to society and the gaps between their view and that of experts. In phase two of the project, FrameWorks will work with AASLH and partners to establish framing devices that can help overcome these gaps in understanding and empirically test their effectiveness through focus groups, experimental surveys, and on-the-street interviews.

In phase three, AASLH, NCPH, and OAH will help develop and share tools and educational materials to ensure professionals across the history community adopt the project’s findings. We will share the project’s findings through conference sessions, workshops, webinars, and other means as we help the history community understand and use these new framing devices. The project is scheduled to begin this later this summer. We plan to report about our findings as often as we can along the way, so stay tuned for more from this exciting project!

Want to know more? Contact John Marks, Ph.D., Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, AASLH: [email protected]; 615-320-3203.

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Webinar: Writing for History Publications

Every project has a story, and the field want to hear yours! Public history publications offer a way to share your research and experiences with others, gather feedback from across the field, and make connections for future partnerships. But how do you get started? Join editors from AASLH, NCPH, and Nursing Clio to learn about sharing your work through magazines, journals, and blogs. We’ll cover the basics of submitting work to History News, the AASLH blog, The Public Historian, [email protected], and the Nursing Clio blog, with tips on choosing your platform and focus.

Readers across the country look to public history publications to gain ideas and inspiration for their own work, so sharing new techniques, hidden history, and challenges and opportunities in digital or hardcopy print is essential for a diverse and thriving field. Join us to find out how you can become a resource for the field and share your public history work by writing for history publications.


DATE: May 30, 2019

TIME: 3:00 – 4:15 pm EASTERN (Remember to adjust for your time zone!)

COST: $40 Members of AASLH and NCPH (NCPH members should contact NCPH for a discount code) / $65 Nonmembers

Closed captioning available upon advanced notice. Please contact [email protected] for more information.


Description and Outcomes:

Participant Outcomes:

  • Learn about different kinds and requirements of publishing opportunities
  • Understand publishing outlets are accessible and that writing about public history is not just for professors, senior level folks, etc.
  • Know their work matters, and the field benefits when it hears from diverse voices outside the usual crowd
  • Be inspired to share to share their research on publishing outlets discussed


Sarah Handley-Cousins, Editor of Nursing ClioSarah Case, Managing Editor of The Public HistorianNicole Belolan, Co-Editor of The Public HistorianJohn Marks, Editor of History News, and Aja Bain, AASLH blog editor and Associate Editor of History News. Each brings a unique perspective on the world of history publications and the process for writers, which we look forward to having them share as presenters in this webinar.


AASLH has partnered with the National Council on Public History (NCPH) to produce this webinar. NCPH members can contact their membership organization and request a promo code to receive discounted pricing on this webinar.

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Webinar: History Relevance Coffee Break with Detroit Historical Society

Take a coffee break to think about the relevance of history with Kalisha Davis of Detroit Historical Society and Max van Balgooy of Engaging Places, LLC and the History Relevance Initiative. During this thirty minute interview and Q&A session, Kalisha and Max will discuss Detroit Historical Society's ongoing project Detroit '67: Looking Back to Move ForwardThey will focus in particular on how to build and sustain relationships with individuals and institutions in your community.

This webinar is part of the History Relevance Coffee Break webinar series. Each webinar in this short-form series showcases projects by history organizations that are making history relevant to their communities in meaningful, measurable, and replicable ways. Webinar participants will glean practical tips for how organizations can connect issues of the past to issues of the present and meet their relevance goals.


DATE: May 9, 2019

TIME: 3:00 – 3:30 pm EASTERN (Remember to adjust for your time zone!)

COST: Free AASLH Members / $5 Non-members

Closed captioning available upon advanced notice. Please contact [email protected] for more information.


Description and Outcomes:

Participant Outcomes:

  • Learn how Detroit Historical Society makes history relevant in measurable and replicable ways
  • Feel motivated to think creatively about how they can make history relevant through projects at their own institution
  • Learn practical tips for how organizations can connect issues of the past to issues of the present


  • Kalisha Davis, Director of Community Outreach & Engagement, Detroit Historical Society
  • Max van Balgooy, Principal, Engaging Places, LLC; Steering Committee Member, History Relevance

The StEPs logo, in which the letters of S-T-E-P-S are typed above a curved brush stroke that is lower on the left and higher on the right. Text below logo reads Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations.

Webinar: Is Your Organization Ready for StEPs?

Assessment programs like AASLH’s StEPs program are road maps. They are a valuable tool for moving an organization forward along a path and helping paid and unpaid staff, volunteers, and board members stay focused as they travel together along that path toward a set of common goals.

Organizations that can connect planning and fundraising to an assessment program gain credibility. Funders like to know that your proposed project is based upon goals that are supported by an assessment program, and that your organization’s progress can be measured.

StEPs is a self-study assessment program open to any museum, historical society, historic house, site, or related organization. It is intended for small- and mid-sized organizations that do not feel ready for other assessment programs, but larger museums may find it useful for prioritizing and as a refresher checklist or training tool. Enrollment in StEPs is a one-time fee of $175 for institutional members of AASLH.

Is your organization ready for StEPs? Join us for this free, one-hour webinar to hear how StEPs can help your organization create a road map for meaningful change.

Note: This webinar is for organizations that are considering using the StEPs program. Organizations already enrolled in the program should register for the free webinar, “StEPs Welcome or Refresher" on June 19, 2019: https://learn.aaslh.org/p/event-stepswelcome-2019jun.



Date: May 1, 2019

Time: 3:00 – 4:00 pm Eastern (Please adjust for your timezone!)

Cost: Free for AASLH Members and Nonmember

Closed captioning available upon advanced notice. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

About the Instructor:

Cherie Cook is AASLH Senior Program Manager. Prior to joining the Association, Cherie worked with museums in Oklahoma for more than sixteen years, first as field services coordinator and then as executive director of the Oklahoma Museums Association. Much of Cherie’s work at AASLH focuses on smaller history organizations and is influenced not only by her years in Oklahoma but also her experience as a county historical society curator.

AASLH's 2016 Annual Report (PDF)

Here at AASLH, 2016 was a year of building upward and outward. In order to best share all the changes and growth, we've put together our first ever stand-alone Annual Report. You can read it using the PDF reader below or download the Annual Report using the link below:

Download the 2016 Annual Report


[gview file="https://cdn.aaslh.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/23/2017/01/Final-2016-Annual-Report.pdf"]


AASLH New Member Orientation Webinar

Are you a new member of AASLH? Interested in AASLH membership? Eager to make the most of your important role in this community? Join AASLH staff for an interactive orientation on the services, programs, events, resources, and networking opportunities available to AASLH members. (Scroll down for more details)


Date: Decemeber 6, 2016

Time: 3pm EST

Cost: Free for AASLH Members and Nonmembers


Full Description of the Webinar:

Are you a new member of AASLH? Interested in AASLH membership? Eager to make the most of your important role in this community? Join AASLH staff for an interactive orientation on the services, programs, events, resources, and networking opportunities available to AASLH members.

As your home for history, we want to ensure you are getting the most value possible from your membership. This webinar will help you become more connected with the AASLH community and find out how we can support your practice of history. There will be plenty of time for any questions about AASLH or our services.

This webinar is free and open to all, but pre-registration is required. A recording of the webinar, slides, and notes will be sent to all registrants after the event.


About the Instructor:

web-headshot-9-200-wideHannah Hethmon is the Membership Marketing Coordinator at AASLH, where­—among other communication and marketing responsibilities— she runs all the official social media accounts. Before entering the public history/ museum field, she worked for eight years doing marketing, copywriting, and sales in the for-profit sector (primarily small businesses). In addition to a degree in English literature, she holds a master’s in medieval Icelandic history, philology, and manuscripts.


AASLH Aspirations

aaslh_tree_resource_thumbnailTo shape AASLH’s future, the Council and its Aspirations Task Force have outlined four key ideas. We are interested in knowing what you think. You can share your comments using the “Leave a Reply” box below or by emailing AASLH President & CEO John Dichtl or me.    

Over the summer, the AASLH Council organized the Aspirations Task Force, which includes representatives from Council, staff, the Leadership Nominating Committee, and the membership at large, to guide a strategic thinking process that is nimble, responsive, and open. The task force is working across committees and within Council, and is reaching out to the standing committees and to the membership at large for input.

I encourage you to share your ideas and comments today.

Katherine Kane
AASLH Aspirations Task Force Chair and Council Vice Chair

Executive Director
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

Strategic Thinking about AASLH’s Future

The Aspirations Task Force leads AASLH’s strategic thinking process so that the Association reaches its goals, and can be nimble, responsive, and accountable. The task force is composed of individuals on Council, including the chair, vice chair and the president, and several members of AASLH at large. After initial brainstorming and analysis at the June 2015 Council meeting with the help of consultant Laura Roberts, the task force began drafting an aspirational philosophy statement as a touchstone for conversations with membership and in Council about the AASLH’s future. During the 2015 Annual Meeting in Louisville, the task force presented the version below and now seeks comments from AASLH members and others in the history community.

To achieve programmatic and service success and effectively lead the field, AASLH aspires to the following:

AASLH promotes the relevance of history:

  1. Insists on history rather than heritage, on the provocative rather than the palliative
  2. Identifies history as the essential shaper of the present and as context for each individual
  3. Recognizes history as always complex, often contested
  4. Promotes the methods of history and historical thinking

AASLH acts to build diversity and inclusiveness:

  1. Finds the creativity, the resources and the will to change (internally) and advances diversity and inclusiveness in the history field
  2. Recognizes and defines the inequities in the history/cultural profession and addresses them by dedicating intellectual, financial, emotional and structural resources for building a diverse and inclusive field
  3. Seeks to develop the capacity of member organizations and for itself to build relationships based on mutual trust, balance of power, and recognition of expertise within diverse communities to democratize the historical narrative and sustain the relevance of history organizations to a rapidly changing demographic
  4. Collaborates with organizations that have successfully developed inclusive policies and programming
  5. Encourages telling the stories that have not been told

AASLH cultivates an experimental and creative spirit within AASLH and among constituents and partners.

  1. Leads, models, and is a source for imaginative problem solving, openness, and resourcefulness, while also looking to other fields for inspiration
  2. Supports a culture of creativity and informed risk-taking in its programs and publications
  3. Encourages constituents and partners to create laboratories for new methods of attracting and engaging audiences, members, and funders, understanding that failure is an inherent part of experimentation
  4. Cultivates and supports knowledge-sharing among constituents and partners, encouraging honest reporting and analysis of programmatic and managerial experiments, so that we can all learn from each other's creative efforts, successes, and disappointments
  5. Models an adaptive and nimble, yet reflective, culture to address change and quickly take advantage of opportunities

AASLH increases its financial stability and builds trust

  1. States financial goals publicly, encourages questions, and meets those goals in a timely and organized fashion
  2. Acts transparently and consistently, focusing on outcome and process; by being transparent and consistent, membership and the larger community will see our motives and learn to rely on us
  3. Will be a role model for other non-profits in financial decisions, processes, and reporting


Empty Spaces: Interpreting without Furnishings at Gunston Hall

It was a balmy and hot day in July. Fear and anxiety were in the air as the moving truck slowly backed up to the land-side porch and door at George Mason’s Gunston Hall.  The professional art/antique movers were staged and ready. Packing materials were carefully organized. The truck stopped and the crunching of the gravel beneath the heavy tires of the 18-wheeler ceased. For a minute, all was quiet and then the large doors on the back of the trailer swung open, the metal ramp screeched out of its secure compartment, and the movers got to work.

Soon, the collections and furnishings slowly, carefully, methodically, and professionally began leaving the mansion.  One by one Mason’s writing table, the Mason family silver, the portrait of Mason and his wife, and hundreds of other artifacts and decorative arts left. Then the ramp slide back into its compartment, the doors closed, the gravel began to rattle again and the truck pulled away.  The entire move was over faster than we realized and then, emptiness.

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At first, we stood in silence. Wow, this was different. What were we going to do? How were we going to interpret this space, a space devoid of furnishings?

Much like when you arrive in a new place, or like a pet when you bring it home for the first time, we began walking through the house, checking out the space, following walls, peering into corners. There were no furnishings, no barriers—physical or mental—and soon, still mostly silent, we began to realize that although we had all been in Gunston Hall countless times, at that moment, everything about the space was brand new.

By virtue of walking on floors previously inaccessible, we heard new creaks, which when combined with the birds outside created a joyous and lively noise. Without barriers we looked through windows and saw views of the gardens the grounds previously impossible.  Without furnishings, our eyes were powerfully drawn to the details of design and craftsmanship previously unknown.  From every angle in every room, colors exploded off walls and each space burst with a vibrancy and energy offering perhaps the best perspective on Mason’s vision for his home.  Most interestingly, despite the lack of furnishings, our ability to walk through the entirety of every room and every space inside this glorious home created an intimacy and a sense of humanity which was both unexpected and unparalleled. It was truly an amazing experience!  Then, collectively, we all realized, what an opportunity, this is going to be great!

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By way of explanation, the replacement of the eighty year old slate roof at Gunston Hall commenced in August 2014 and in preparation for this large project, we removed all the furnishings from the house. Leading up to the removal of the furnishings, we developed a plan for how we were going to interpret the mansion during the period of the roof replacement. We visited other historic homes which are interpreted without any or with only minimal furnishings. We trained staff and docents and we promoted this “once-in-a-life time” opportunity to our guests.

But, none of us really knew how it was going to work when the first tour or school group arrived. Equally important, none of us knew how the house, or how we, would feel when empty and when surrounded by the emptiness.

Well, as noted above, for us the experience was powerful, evocative, and impactful. The feeling was one of discovery, opportunity, and freedom. In many ways the interpretative space became a home again, even without furnishings, as one was able to intellectually move-in without any pre-scripted interruption.

All in all, it was very cool and while I am not recommending everyone go out and empty their home, the furnishings will be moving back in when the roof project is complete, I do encourage everyone to find opportunities and ways to provide this access and this experience. Overwhelmingly our guides and docents, who at first were largely unsure of how this would work embraced and enjoyed the house being empty. Several have even indicated that they prefer the house being empty. Perhaps most importantly, as evidenced the vast majority of our surveys, our guests loved the house being empty.

So, should find yourself staring at the back of a moving truck as your furnishings drive away, here are several things we ultimately did to leverage and capitalize on the opportunity.

  1. We placed one or two large format photos of each room during different time periods. These photos showed what the house looked like when furnished now, but also during different time periods in the past. The opportunity to stand in a space and compare settings was very popular and very impactful.
  2. We allowed and promoted the opportunity to take photographs in the house. We also implemented a photo contest which resulted in over 100 images. The top three images were used in our 2015 calendar.
  3. We hosted events, even with food and drink, in the house. These “open houses”, designed for specific groups of individuals like the local citizens association, attracted new guests and generated memberships and contributed income.
  4. We documented the spaces while empty, at different times and during different seasons, and now have photos of the empty space to use in future interpretative efforts.
  5. We piloted and experimented with interactive activities in the empty spaces.


These are just a few ideas that worked for us and I welcome your thoughts and ideas about how empty spaces enliven the experience in your historic house.



Why I LOVE Gunston Hall

When I was a young boy growing up in suburban Philadelphia, two of the things I loved most were baseball and history. Baseball_Baseball History_3

I loved watching my Phillies on TV, scouring packs of baseball cards for Phillies players, and reading box scores every morning in the newspaper. The players were my heroes and all of these activities allowed me to connect with my team in ways there were personal, but also communal because my family, friends, and neighbors also loved the Phillies.

The best part of this shared, yet personal experience was going to Veterans Stadium to see a game. I will never forget the feeling of the summer sun, the sight of the green Astroturf and the brown base paths, the smell of hot dogs, and the sounds of the organ, conversations among fans, and the ball either hitting a bat or pounding a glove.  It was magical as a child and is still magical for me as an adult, particularly now that I get to take my two daughters to the ballpark and share my love of baseball with each of them.

GunstonMy second, but certainly equal love was history.  In this case my heroes were trappers and fur traders of the west, explorers of the oceans and continents, Civil War generals, and the founders of our nation.  I clearly remember going to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Franklin Court in Philadelphia, multiple battlefields throughout Maryland and Virginia, and countless museums and historic sites up and down the East Coast. What could be more fun!

I also read voraciously and enjoyed the complete set of the old Landmark Books series that covered a full range of fascinating historical topics.  As with baseball, these activities were deeply personal, but also communal because I experienced all of these amazing places with my family, and I remember this time as a family as much as I remember the exhibits and programs at the specific sites. Even the books had a communal element because I could not wait to share what I had read with anyone willing to listen, even if it was just the family cat.Bored_77f48c_153233

The difference between my love of baseball and my love of history, however, was that the baseball players and the action on the field was live and in the present.  My love of history and my ability to connect with my heroes of the past, therefore, relied on places like museums and historic sites, and, it depended on books.

Fast forward to July 8, 2013. It is my first day on the job as Executive Director of Gunston Hall.  I had been to Gunston Hall on several occasions before this day, but this day was different and it is also one I will never forget.

Turning off Gunston Road, I began driving up the entrance road.  The surrounding forest is almost mystical. I turn off NPR and even though it is hot, I roll down the windows of my truck. I even stop for a minute.  I hear an assortment of noises—birds, squirrels rustling on the forest floor, a slight breeze barely moving the canopy above.

45 landscape_3149 I continue driving and emerge from the forest. Before me, on either side, lay vast fields of green.  Several families of deer quietly enjoy breakfast, while also perking up at my presence.

As I slowly continue, driving over a slight crest, the very top of the mansion appears followed by a full view of this awe inspiring structure. The mansion is framed by towering cedars and magnolias, which serve to enhance the mansion’s majesty and also draw you closer both physically and emotionally.

Now I can literally feel the power and the presence of this place.  It is indescribable yet you can’t help but try because the power is so strong and so special.

After parking, I walk towards the mansion, drawn by the power of the place to get closer, to touch the brick, and I ascend the steps to the porches.  I don’t yet have keys, so after enjoying this vantage point, I walk around the mansion, meander through the boxwood gardens as I have read George Mason loved to do, and soak up the breath taking view of the river and forests below the ridge.

Later in the day, I go inside the mansion and then a new feeling overwhelms me. This place, this amazing place, is about more than a defining landscape, beautiful views, and an awe-inspiring structure. Once inside, despite the obvious grandeur of the architecture and craftsmanship, I am reminded that this place is about and defined by people, and that this place’s true power is derived through personal and communal connections with people.

And connections with stories.

Inside the Little Parlor as I look at the original furnishings I am awed by a connection to the place where Mason ran a vibrant plantation, where family occasionally dined, and perhaps most inspiring, the place where Mason contemplated and wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  Upstairs, I can almost hear the same sounds of my household, children getting ready for the day, playing, and preparing for bed.  Back outside in the kitchen yard, I am confronted with the reality of slavery. I can feel the power associated with the toil of work by enslaved peoples. I feel the challenging irony of a place where visionary statements of freedom and equality were developed and expressed, but also a place that was home for close to 100 slaves.4 George

In thinking more about these feelings, I begin to comprehend why I love Gunston Hall.  First, this place is uniquely capable, at least for me, of re-connecting me with my childhood love of history and of reminding me, on a minute-by-minute basis, why I love history and why I am blessed to work as a museum professional.

But perhaps most importantly, as I watch guests—some families, some individuals, and some groups of friends—walk by my office window on their way to the mansion, I love Gunston Hall because of its diverse and compelling humanity.  This humanity is defined by stories of freedom and slavery, education and learning, family and community, citizenship and patriotism, entrepreneurialism and innovation, and by preservation and stewardship.  This humanity, and Gunston Hall, is also defined by passion and love. This is truly why the spirit and feel of this place is so powerful and so compelling.

These personal and communal connections, powerful feelings, and compelling human stories are why I love Gunston Hall--and why historic houses and sites remain so relevant and important today.  As you think about your love of such places, I would love to hear your stories of your favorite place!

-- Scott M. Stroh, Executive Director, Gunston Hall