Webinar: Introducing the Inclusive Historian's Handbook

This webinar introduces The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook, a new digital resource co-sponsored by AASLH and the National Council on Public History launching in August 2019. Participants will be provided with an overview of the Handbook’s contents as well as suggestions for how to incorporate it into their practice. The facilitators will also gather feedback, ideas, and suggestions from participants regarding future additions to the Handbook’s content.

Details:

DATE: September 19, 2019

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

COST: FREE

REGISTER HERE

 

About The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook

The main objective of the Handbook is to support inclusive and equity-focused historical work in public settings by:

  • Sharing a knowledge base that invites more people to engage in history projects.
  • Providing concrete examples of how to make history work more relevant.
  • Centering equity, inclusivity, diversity, and public service.
  • Offering accessible windows into the many ways public historians work.

The Handbook is for individuals and groups engaged in historical work in a wide range of settings—not just paid professionals or academic scholars. It is intended to provide community groups, educators, museum professionals (paid and unpaid), students, scholars, activists, historical societies, preservationists, archivists, and others with easy-to-find information that is directly applicable to inclusive history practice. We hope that the content is accessible to all people who are doing historical work, including those who may not identify as historians.

The process of creating the Handbook is ongoing. As a digital resource, it is a living document. One of the key advantages of creating a digital resource is that we can easily make changes and additions to the content and respond in a timely fashion to reader recommendations as well as new developments in the field. From the project’s inception, we have tried to focus squarely on the interests and needs of the Handbook’s audience, so your voice is important to us. Over the past three years, we have benefited immensely from the generous contributions of many public historians, especially members of AASLH and NCPH. If this project is to succeed and realize fully its potential, however, we need more individuals and organizations to share their insights, experiences, and perspectives with us.

Speakers

Kimberly Springle, Executive Director, Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives

Kimberly E. Springle is an Historian with a focus on community history.  Her research interests include 20th Century African American History, the history of public education, and capturing the untold stories of lesser known contributors to society.

Kimberly presently serves as the Executive Director of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, the official museum and repository for DC Public Education. In her capacity, she is the steward of the Historic Museum site and serves as the Historian and Archivist for the DC Public School System. Kimberly is also the Founder and Principal Consultant of K.E. Springle Consulting, serving communities and individuals nationwide in preserving their cultural assets and lecturing on topics related to cultural heritage.

Will Walker, Associate Professor of History, Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Study

Will Walker is associate professor of history at the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, SUNY Oneonta. He is editor of The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook and a lead editor of [email protected], the blog of the National Council on Public History. He is also the author of A Living Exhibition: The Smithsonian and the Transformation of the Universal Museum.


The Way We Do the Things We Do: Making History-Making Visible

By Benjamin Filene, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC

Sometimes being on unfamiliar ground leads to new perspectives on one’s home turf. Through a Fulbright fellowship, I spent this winter and spring exploring the public history scene in Finland. Toward the end, I was invited to Bergen, Norway, to give a keynote for the annual meeting of the Nordic Association for American Studies, whose conference theme was "Monuments." I titled my talk “Etched in Stone vs. a Fluid Past: Monuments, Museums, and History-Making in Public.” My point that was that the Confederate monument wars in America have not only surfaced lurking racism but have shown that we history professionals have failed to convey to the public how history really works: that history-making is an act of interpretation and assembly—that these statues are not eternal statements, but historically contingent ones tied to power. How, I asked, can historians “pull back the curtain” and reveal the process of history-making in action? I shared some thoughts about how we might do so in scholarship, in the classroom, and in museums. But at the time, I worried it might all sound too theoretical or idealistic.  Then I went on to Stockholm and saw striking examples of what I had in mind in three different museums!

Of the three, the Swedish History Museum most directly explores how museums construct the past. Its exhibition History Unfolds introduces the museum itself as a “Reality Machine,” one that creates history and reflects contemporary ideas of identity and power.

The exhibition then offers visitors tools and case studies for thinking about how that process of reality-formation works. For instance, it displays a helmet from 600 C.E. When the helmet was unearthed in the nineteenth century, its elongated form was used to bolster a theory of the racial distinctiveness of the Swedes. Then in 1915, the exhibition notes, artist Carl Larrson incorporated these helmets into a painting showing the sacrifice of a Swedish king at a mythical “heathen temple.” Larsson felt that the helmets “make us believe in the original nobility and greatness of our race.”

Larsson's painting contributed to a national origin myth, one that entered the museum itself. In the 1970s or ‘80s, History Unfolds tells us, the Swedish Museum created a model to depict the “heathen temple” in an exhibition at the museum. Curators recently found it in storage and put it on display again—this time to illustrate the museum’s complicity in mythmaking.

Detail from Carl Larsson's “Midwinter Sacrifice.” The exhibition’s caption reads “An Artist's Construction of a Nation.”

With this one neat example, History Unfolds has shown how the same artifacts can carry very different meanings in different times, shifting as historians gain knowledge, bring new frames of reference, and ask different questions. The museum's tagline on its website nicely signals the contingency of the historical constructions that the museum as "reality machine" produces: “Based on True Stories.”

Across town, the Nordic Museum addresses the power of history-making in an exhibition on the Sami, the indigenous people of the Nordic region. The mistreatment of the Sami, the exhibition shows, is not only a question of land rights and economic hardship but also of representation. In the latter, the museum itself has played an uneasy role, one that it now seeks to address directly. The exhibition begins with a series of big questions about storytelling and perspective: “Who is Swedish?” “Whose history?” “Whose eyes?" "Whose voice?”

The exhibition extends the lesson about the slipperiness of identity into the present day. It invites visitors to listen to excerpts from interviews with some members of its advisory committee, and asks us to consider, “Is that...Sami?” Throughout, the museum is not just a reporter but an actor in this story of representation and power.

A long thin display case runs through the center of the gallery. It holds the museum's catalogue records for Sami-related objects. Visitors can flip through the entries, see what the museum owns, and consider how, why, and to what end. These cards don't come with labels; the museum resists the temptation to have the last word.

In my final Stockholm encounter, the Vasa Museum took the approach to history-making that may carry the most weight with visitors—not just talking about it at a meta level but experimenting right before our eyes. The museum is built around a massive reconstruction of a seventeenth-century shipwreck, a boat that sank in the Stockholm harbor in 1628 almost immediately after it was launched, in front of hundreds of residents who had come to see it off on its maiden voyage.

 

Vasa's latest exhibition asks a new question: Where are the women in this story? Traditionally, the exhibition tells us, they have been absent. It was easy to say that they rarely traveled on these kinds of boats or that, anyway, sources don't exist to document their lives. The museum now rejects both of those assertions, and takes the opportunity to explain to visitors why:

Seventeenth-century society depended heavily on the work and presence of women. The image of women in history is strongly influenced by the historical vision of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That is why research on women less commonly reaches the public. Popular history, the media, and textbooks have seen women's history as something to one side of “real” history.

In short, the text concludes, “The lack of focus on women's history has been a greater problem than a lack of sources.”  “Always Present—Often Invisible,” reads the exhibition's subtitle, and Vasa's Women sets out to rectify that invisibility. It analyzes the clothing and jewelry found on the two female bodies recovered in the excavation for insight into their class position. It examines the teeth and bones of their skeletons for clues to their nutrition and signs of injuries. It interprets court records and diaries. It shows video interviews with passionate archaeologists and women's historians.

One vitrine prominently features an absence. A small case shows handles made from antler. The handles were recovered from the sunken ship, but the leather bag that they would have held is long gone. Instead of shelving the handles, the museum here displays them along with an image of what the bag might have looked like, and it offers a metaphor: “Working with bone and antler was seen as a male craft, while leatherwork was seen as a female craft. Therefore, the handles could perhaps symbolize the presence of males and the absence of females in the writing of history. However, this does not mean that women were invisible or unimportant in the 17th century.”

By looking with new eyes at old evidence, the women of Vasa begin to come into focus, as this graphic suggests:

The museum itself appears astonished and invigorated by the process it has gone through—"we see the whole of the 17th century more clearly”—and it pledges to put its new lenses to work in other places, too: "In the coming years, the Vasa Museum will be revising and renewing its exhibitions. From our own collections and sources we will look for new narratives and perspectives...."

The work of history, in other words, is an ongoing creative act. By acknowledging that historians don't have all the answers and by allowing visitors to see the process of knowledge-creation in motion, these museums are building institutional trust. They are also opening doors to conversations whose importance extends far beyond the gallery walls: about what constitutes a shared past, about who gets to tell that story, and about when—and when not—to etch that story in stone.


Benjamin Filene is Chief Curator at the North Carolina Museum of History and can be reached at [email protected]. For additional blog reports from his time in Finland, see https://bfilene.wixsite.com/website/home.


Historic Preservation and The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook

“Women Barbers at Tule Lake Segregation Center,” Library of Congress.

By Priya Chhaya, National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook Advisory Committee

In considering The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook as a resource, two significant phrases come to mind. The first, the layered past, offers a glimpse of how I approach inclusive historical thinking.  While I know the field is often awash in metaphor, this idea of layers, helps me to visualize how the histories we share did not occur in a vacuum. Rather, they live one on top of each other, bleeding across boundaries, identities, communities, and borders. Understanding these layers, not just in the historical record itself, but also in the practice of telling stories is critical to creating an inclusive historical practice.

The second concept centers around trust. So much of traditional practice comes from a place of authority. After all, as practitioners we have spent much of our lives learning the tools, skills, and tactics to research and tell these histories. However, in doing our work, historians have willingly (or unwillingly) obscured narratives of a wide swath of the human experience, and as a consequence, we have lost the trust of those communities whose histories were ignored.

With these two ideas in mind, when I was approached to produce a piece for the handbook that focused on historic preservation, I immediately asked myself: What is an inclusive historic preservation practice? I knew that it wasn’t about the process of preservation, of the important laws and regulations, or the act of designation and landmarking. Rather I wanted to write an entry that went further, examining the very root of preservation practice—the places we save.

My entry for the handbook chronicles not just the basic history of the preservation movement but also looks at strides that have occurred in the field in the just over fifty years since the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. Central to this conversation is a focus on people over place, which includes a shifting of authority in identifying what places are preserved, and also who is making the decisions around preservation projects. While most of the piece looks at preservation from the national perspective (I am an employee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), I tried to include voices, ideas, and experiences from many working at the state and local levels.  

Also, much like my layered metaphor of history writ large, this conversation goes beyond saving actual places to building an inclusive preservation practice, where multiple voices are empowered to be a part of the professional community rather than separate from it.

Above all else, it is critical that we rebuild trust. Without the essential element of community engagement we will always be seen as a movement that merely steps in to save one place at a time without acknowledging the broader impacts preservation has on the larger contexts in which places exist. While this may not be happening everywhere, it is definitely a part of the overall perception of preservation practice.

So how do I see The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook being used? I see it being used to build connections; to reveal through entries about “Historic Preservation,” “Heritage Tourism,” and “Public Folklore” (for example) that various types of historical practice do not occur in isolation from one another; to illustrate that inclusion, equity, and service are threaded across all forms of our profession; to urge discussion and provide practical examples of how these practices can be put into place.

I specifically hope that my entry illustrates what modern historic preservation practice is moving towards—where the tactics and tools that have worked for over fifty years, coupled with the newer strategies my fellow authors and I describe will continue to build forward momentum to forge a more inclusive preservation movement in the years to come.


Learn more about the The Inclusive Historian's Handbook, and join the authors and Advisory Committee at #AASLH2019.


Creating Inclusive Environments for History Practitioners: #AASLH2019 Conference Sessions

By Stacy Klingler, AASLH Diversity and Inclusion Committee 

Diversity and inclusion work in history organizations goes beyond inclusive history content and audience development.  We have to consider how our organizations operate and how we function in the larger world. AASLH’s newly created Diversity & Inclusion Committee’s role is to educate and empower AASLH members with the ability to think, discern, and create inclusive environments for history practitioners. In the AASLH Annual Meeting program, the Program Committee identified many incredible sessions about how to do inclusive history (noted with “DI” for “Diversity and Inclusion.")

Below, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee has identified several sessions where the primary focus is on how we change the field and our institutions to function more inclusively, as well as sessions that ask what roles history organizations can and should take to increase inclusion within and beyond the history field. If you are interested in how we change our systems to be more inclusive and our roles in the larger society, be sure to put these sessions and events on your conference schedule!

Wednesday, August 28

  • Women Leading with Power and Authenticity (8:30-12)
  • Presenting, Interpreting and Discussing Difficult History: How to Build Organizations’ Capacities to Respond to Opportunities and Challenges (8:30-5)

Thursday, August 29

  • Drawing the Line: Gender Equity and Facing Sexual Harassment and Mistreatment in the Cultural Field (10:45-12)
  • Museums as Site for Social Action (10:45-12)
  • The Future is Female: Championing Women in Museum Leadership (4-5:15)

Friday, August 30

  • Afrocentric History Museums—Shall We Start an Afrocentric Museum Resistance Movement? (8-9:15)
  • Making a Statement: Bringing Transparency to Institutional Point of View (8-9:15)
  • Managing a Public History Career with Chronic and Invisible Illness (8-9:15)
  • The Warm-Minded Museum (8-9:15)
  • Advocating for Equity: How to Talk about Salaries in Your Museum (4-5:15)
  • Imagining a Reparations Movement for Racial Justice in Museums and Historic Sites (4-5:15)
  • Diversity and Inclusion Mixer (5:30-7:30)

Saturday, August 31

  • #KnowBetterDoBetter: Measuring DEIA Impact at Your Organization (9-10:15)
  • Deferred Maintenance: Investing in the Upkeep and Care of our Frontline Staff (9-10:15)
  • Bringing the Past into the Present: Immigrant Storytelling through Museum Tours (10:30-12)

If you identify other sessions that focus on how we create inclusive environments for history practitioners, please share them in the comments below!


Learn more about #AASLH2019 and register by July 26!


The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook: Creating an Open Digital Resource

By Sheila A. Brennan, Advisory Committee Member, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook

As a member of The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook advisory committee, I eagerly await the release of this valuable resource. Beginning with the committee’s first meetings in 2016, we wrestled not only with defining the Handbook but also raised issues related to selecting an appropriate format for it. Initially envisioned as a printed encyclopedia that contained short essays defining terminology and methods related to public history work, the final product differs in significant ways through the efforts of our collaborative team.

We mulled over the ethics, opportunities, and challenges of creating and launching a resource for both experts and non-experts with issues of inclusivity and openness at its core that only existed in the world as an expensive, fixed volume. As a group, we decided we wanted The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook to be as accessible as possible and available online where most users begin their research. Pivoting in this direction prompted discussions with AASLH and NCPH’s leadership to make the free online Handbook a reality.

From their work with historians, editors, and technologists developing best practices for online state and regional encyclopedias, AASLH was aware of the changing nature of ready reference material. Both AASLH and NCPH have active blogs and have issued various digital publications in recent years. Moreover, other models existed for publishing edited collections primary geared to scholarly audiences through the University of Michigan Press’s Digital Cultural Books and the University of Minnesota Press’s Debates in Digital Humanities series. Publishing online on a common platform, such as WordPress, shifted responsibility of design to us but also gave the editors and others familiar with blogging platforms the ability to add and update content. That meant the Handbook could debut in August with twenty essays, rather than the planned one hundred, and we could release additional articles in planned phases, something not possible with a printed “companion.” By sponsoring the Handbook, AASLH, together with NCPH as co-sponsor, placed this publication among its rich library of resources freely available for practitioners across the historical enterprise.

With a publication plan in place, we turned our attention to writing and peer reviewing the Handbook’s content. As fellow advisory committee member Denise Meringolo recently wrote about the project, the goal was “not necessarily to provide a definitive understanding of each term, but rather to raise questions and facilitate dialogue to help foster more mindful historical practices.” This is where engaging in an open and collaborative peer review process helped me as I wrote the Handbook’s “Digital History” entry in working through some of the challenges I faced in trying to discuss and contextualize digital history for non-specialists. Where would I pinpoint its origin story? How best could I acknowledge the breadth of digital history work without overwhelming the reader? Was I seeing my own biases in the projects I highlighted? How could I re-center the narrative of digital history to showcase work outside of the academy and large institutions? It was important for me to demonstrate how digital methods help historians to access and share marginalized and silenced voices and how to incorporate them into our work in ways not possible in print or the space of an exhibition gallery. In different essay sections, I highlighted projects in digital collections, teaching and learning, exhibits and publications, collaborative public history, and computational analysis that further demonstrated how historians have been engaging in these approaches for decades.

My essay will connect readers directly to the digital projects mentioned, and the essay itself will be linked to others in the Handbook with subject tags. Tags and links will allow readers to follow pathways throughout this resource and develop their own reading lists relevant for their peers, volunteers, or students. Our goal is that these peer reviewed essays will become an integral part of your organization’s ready reference materials and will remain relevant as the Handbook continues to grow as a free and open access digital publication.


Learn more about the The Inclusive Historian's Handbook, and join the authors and Advisory Committee at #AASLH2019.


The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook: A Resource for Collaborative History-Making

By Denise D. Meringolo, UMBC, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook Advisory Committee

In order to achieve broader relevance in the twenty-first century, both the historical landscape and the history profession itself must become more diverse and inclusive. But what precisely does this mean?

A quick survey of major history organizations’ mission statements, long range planning documents, and standards of practice indicates we have adopted a common vocabulary, but we are not always speaking the same language.

Diversity. Community engagement. Inclusion. These terms entered into our professional lexicon after thoughtful dialogue, careful study, and reasoned ethics. Over time, however, the complex meaning of each term has been obscured by its popularity. In fact, each represents an enormous set of goals: to establish, nurture, and maintain a truly diverse profession; to facilitate the co-creation of knowledge through the promotion of lively dialogue among people from a variety of backgrounds; and to build multiple pathways for groups and individuals to access, participate in, and transform our disciplines, our practices, and our institutions.

Public historians have long struggled with—and sometimes against—the need for clear definitions. While we are tied to the discipline of history by our interest in change over time and by our preferred research methods, most of us operate in a fundamentally interdisciplinary field of practice. We work alongside colleagues from a wide variety of professions and with an array of stakeholders and audiences, each of whom may hold different understandings of the key words we use to describe our work. Public historians tend to walk a particularly narrow tightrope: on the one hand, we strive to remain flexible and open to a variety of methods, interpretations, and processes. On the other hand, we recognize the need to identify and work towards a common set of goals. Different understandings of core terminology—particularly when they remain unexamined or unspoken—can dampen creativity and disrupt communication among collaborators.

The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook can help us gain a firmer foothold. The digital handbook aims to demystify historical practices by providing background, definitions, and illustrative examples of key terms. The editors and members of the advisory committee—on which I am proud to serve—envision the handbook as a resource for anyone engaged in history-making in a variety of settings. It is a point of entry for non-experts, a spark for discussion among multi-disciplinary teams of experts, and a place where seasoned historians can go for a fresh take on key terms and best practices. Some entries describe the meaning, origins, and applications of concepts like “Accessibility” and “Diversity & Inclusion.” Other entries provide historical background, critical analysis, and contemporary examples of projects in areas of practice such as “Digital History” and “Historic Preservation.” The goal is not necessarily to provide a definitive understanding of each term, but rather to raise questions and facilitate dialogue to help foster more mindful historical practices.

My contribution to the handbook provides food for thought on the term “Civic Engagement.” Since the 1990s, museums and universities alike have adopted civic engagement as a goal, but the term has lost both its history and its complexity as it has gained currency and become formally institutionalized. It has become shorthand for any effort to reach beyond institutional walls to connect with people as audiences or research subjects. Too often in the early years of the twenty-first century, the success of civic engagement was measured from the perspective of institutional growth and success—by the achievement of student learning, by an increase in visitors, or by an increase in grant awards. Civic engagement originated, however, as a radical, highly contested, and often experimental set of practices by educators, museum professionals, and others who aimed to build new forms of historical practice that might serve social justice objectives. When viewed through a longer lens, it becomes clear that civic engagement need not reinforce institutional hierarchies. Rather, it can challenge deeply ingrained beliefs about how expertise operates and who creates knowledge. Civic engagement can help create more flexible, permeable, and transparent cultural and educational spaces.

Our hope is that The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook will help historians of all stripes move toward similar goals.


Learn more about the The Inclusive Historian's Handbook, and join the authors and Advisory Committee at #AASLH2019.


First Group of Entries in "The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook" Coming in August

By Modupe Labode, Will Walker, and Robert Weible, Editors of "The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook"

We are excited to announce that the first group of entries in The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook, a free and open digital resource co-sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) and the National Council on Public History (NCPH), will be publicly available in late August. The Handbook’s roll-out will coincide with AASLH’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, and the editors and advisory committee members will be on hand to discuss the project and offer tips on how public historians, museum professionals, and other history practitioners might utilize it in their work. They will also be collecting feedback and ideas for additional content from conference attendees.

Phillis Wheatley statue, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. Photo by Will Walker.

Authored by experienced practitioners, the Handbook’s entries on topics ranging from “Accessibility” and “Civic Engagement” to “Outdoor History Museums” and “U.S. Founders” combine practical advice with critical reflections and telling examples. Because it is a multi-author project, it does not speak with a single, authoritative voice. Rather, authors offer their perspectives and share ideas and recommendations drawn from experiences in the field. It is our hope that the Handbook will serve as an entry point for many different types of history practitioners who are looking to center equity, inclusion, diversity, and service in their work. To this end, each entry offers multiple links to resources as well as suggested readings, such as articles in History News, Technical Leaflets, books, and websites.

The process of developing the Handbook began three years ago with a session at the 2016 AASLH conference in Detroit. From the beginning, the editors and advisory committee strove to model an open, collaborative, and responsive process. At several AASLH and NCPH annual meetings, participants contributed valuable feedback and ideas regarding content. In addition, we have consulted with authors and others who have provided recommendations on how to frame the Handbook and connect it with multiple audiences.

This process is ongoing. As a digital resource, the Handbook is a living document. Throughout 2019 and 2020, we will be regularly adding content until there are approximately one hundred entries in total. By the end of 2020, the “first edition” will be complete. Future “editions,” however, will follow as content is updated and the field continues to shift. The editors and advisory committee have intentionally built flexibility into the project’s design. Although the basic structure will remain in place, we have the opportunity to augment the number of entries and easily revise the content. The advantage of a digital resource is that the Handbook can be both iterative and responsive. As the field evolves and more practitioners contribute to the Handbook, it will grow and change. We look forward to sharing this exciting new resource with you and discussing how its content can be tailored and refined to best support historical work that is equitable, inclusive, and service-oriented.


Continue this discussion at the 2019 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia at the AASLH booth and in the Community Conversations Area, and stay tuned for a September webinar. Annual Meeting Early Bird pricing ends July 9!


Shapell Roster Project Seeks Jewish Civil War Sources and Descendants

By Eliza Kolander, Outreach Specialist, Shapell Manuscript Foundation

What began as an endeavor to corroborate a long-antiquated list of Jews who served during the Civil War has become a monumental work that will significantly contribute to the scholarship on Jews in America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Over the course of ten years, Shapell Manuscript Foundation researchers have unearthed a treasure trove of information on Union and Confederate Jews during the Civil War era, giving life to a buried record of the Jewish immigrant experience and American patriotism. The body of research is amassed from hundreds of primary and secondary sources, descendants, historians, and genealogists.

Shapell Roster researchers Alex Apito (left) and Caitlin Eichner (right) at the National Archives and Records Administration Research Room in Washington, D.C. Photo by Vonnie Zullo.

The Shapell Roster will be of interest to descendants, Civil War enthusiasts, and scholars of military history or Judaica. More than just a roster of names, ranks, and regiments, the records in our database include each soldier's detailed military history, as well as genealogical information about their lives before and after the Civil War, illustrated with photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, diaries, and more.

Taken together, these materials create a unique and illuminating perspective on the Jewish military experience, individual Jewish soldiers, and Jewish life during the Civil War. For example, many Jewish American soldiers served in the Civil War under an alias, and many who are knowledgeable about Jewish American history have assumed that the use of an alias was in response to anti-Semitism. Our research reveals that the overwhelming majority of Jewish soldiers who served under an alias during the American Civil War did so to avoid recriminations by family and friends, or simply to keep their families from worrying about their well-being.

An old studio portrait of a young man wearing a Civil War uniform.
Private Samuel Cline served in the 26th CT Infantry (Company E) and the 20th NY Infantry (Company G) under the alias Samuel Newmark. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Shapell Roster will be in the format of an online, searchable database and archive, and will go live with a limited set of records in 2019. As the research team completes additional research, more records will become available.

Our researchers need your help to build this database. We specifically want to hear from historical societies and descendants who have information and primary source materials not available in larger repositories such as the National Archives or the Library of Congress. This is where your institution, community, or members can really make a difference. Does your institution contain documentation relating to Jewish communities or the service of Jewish American Civil War soldiers? A certificate of enlistment or discharge, newspapers, a letter sent home from the front, or even a name can be helpful.

Contact Eliza Kolander at [email protected] for more information.


Research is Respect: the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund for Cemetery Preservation

By T. DeWayne Moore, Executive Director, Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, Oxford, Mississippi

The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund is a research and historic preservation group founded in 1989, dedicated to memorializing the abandoned graves and maintaining the cemeteries in which America's most seminal blues artists were laid to rest. Across the nation, so many grave sites of African American musical treasures have gone unmarked, neglected, and forgotten for decades, paralleling the fate of many other rural and abandoned African American cemeteries.

MZMF serves as a conduit to provide financial and technical support to black church communities and cemeteries, and we save rural cemeteries by any means necessary, whether by erecting memorials to musicians, engaging legal remedies in the courts, or filling the vast silences in important historical landscapes. Our work is about more than the blues. Recognizing where these burial grounds are and doing what needs to be done to restore, preserve, and maintain them is a way of repudiating, rejecting, and overcoming the legacies of American racism.

The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund maintain the ethical standards of inclusive practice and responsible research as they pertain to the memorials for blues artists buried in abandoned cemeteries in Mississippi and Memphis. Sometimes we are approached by the families to help out, and other times we have to track them down wherever they are, but it is their input and wishes that we put first regarding the content of the memorials, the nature of the dedications, and the efforts to tell their stories. We are willing to take as much time as needed to track down the descendants, conduct the needed research, and get support in the community.

Most of our fundraising is done online through social media, but we have also received support from popular musicians, as well as the occasional grant. These projects can take a long time, and require a great deal of research to get the families and the community involved in the projects. But we have never failed to complete one. The research also allows us to compose biographies couched in historical context, which provide more accurate histories that humanize these artists outside the gendered cultural construct of the "blues man."

In conjunction with the Burse family and the Little Pitcher Project, we are proud to announce Charlie Burse's headstone dedication on March 9, 2019, at Rose Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. Learn more here.

Charlie Burse, 1901-1965

Charlie Burse was known for his work with the Memphis Jug Band in the 1930s, and became a well-known local musician, recording at Sun Studios and for music historians such as Alan Lomax. Burse died of heart disease in 1965 and was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery. Although the cemetery's records were lost in the 1970s, Bill Pichette, MZMF's Memphis affiliate, located the Burse plot and Charlie's unmarked grave and organized preservation efforts. Perhaps most importantly, Bill managed to track down the current caretakers of the cemetery and develop a relationship with them to ensure the future maintenance of the burial ground.

Although we seek to honor the oft-repeated lyric—yet more often ignored request—of blues artist Lemon Jefferson, “Please see that my grave is kept clean,” the work of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund is about much more than just putting down markers in abandoned cemeteries. We believe that research is respect, and that preserving and caring for these burial grounds is instrumental for honoring the legacy of those who laid the foundations of America's musical heritage.


You Start By Meeting Your Audience

A visitor touches a 3D miniature model of the Statue of Liberty.
NPS photo.

By Mike Hudson, Director, Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, KY

When I started working at the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind, I immediately knew something was wrong. The display cases open up to allow their contents to be touched, and there is not a single “Don’t Touch” sign in the building. I had a fairly conventional museum studies education and a fairly conventional job at a state history museum before this one, so it all seemed very unorthodox to me.

Years later, I see things differently. Our museum is located in the original 1883 building of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky. APH was founded in 1858 to supply accessible learning materials for students who are blind or visually impaired. Today, it is the largest such company in the world. How could we possibly justify exhibiting tactile globes and braille writing machines, teaching tools meant to be used by touch, under Plexiglas covers so that the very people they were designed to serve cannot “see” them?

For people who are blind or visually impaired, many museums remain extremely sterile places, despite years of plans and programs to make museums more accessible. APH opened its museum in 1994 with a different perspective.

Instead of justifying why one or two pieces of sturdy sculpture can be used on a touch tour, our museum has to justify why an artifact can’t be touched.

If we have several Hall Braillewriters, why wouldn’t we install one in a case that can be opened? We do still have artifacts under glass, items too fragile or rare to be touched. In those situations, we rack our brains trying to figure out how to represent them with a tactile reproduction.

A blue Braillewriter typing on pink paper.

My colleagues at other museums often ask us for help improving their accessibility and inclusion. For me, it simplifies down to three steps. The first step is both the most obvious and yet the most daunting. We believe that you start by meeting your audience. You need to get to know some people who are blind or visually impaired. Groups like the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind have chapters in most of the larger cities. Reach out to their leadership and work with them to identify people in your area who are already excited about your museum’s mission.

Bring the group in, pour them a cup of coffee, and get to know them. Ask them about their museum experiences, what they liked and what they didn’t about other museum visits from their past.

Take your new advisory team on a tour of your site. Talk about the decisions you make to preserve your community’s history, and find out what excites them about your community. In those conversations, you will start to understand the barriers to navigation and content delivery that you face, and hopefully, you start to get excited about what your museum or historic site could offer to make people like your team feel more welcome there.

A diagram explains how much space to leave in exhibits for cane users.
From the Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design.

The second step is staff training. At APH, our training program is called Blindness 101. We help our new guides understand what blindness is, how it affects people, and proper etiquette and language. We explain about white canes, dog guides, and how people with vision loss get around. We teach them how to serve as a sighted guide and how to give useful directions. We explore how we use words to describe our surroundings—what the field calls audio description—and how much and how little detail to include. In short, we give them tools, so that when a visitor with sight impairment walks in the door they are ready to provide an outstanding experience, just as they would for any visitor. And our training program is ongoing. Blindness is not common, nor is visual impairment a monolithic experience. We need to train and retrain to keep our interpretive staff sharp. Fortunately, the skills we learn to improve accessibility improve the experiences of all.

Our final step is to introduce accessibility features into our interpretation, using ideas from conversations with our intended audience. Some additions are relatively simple, like making sure that there is a descriptive guide to our front door from the taxi or bus drop-off posted on our website. And while we’re there, let’s post our exhibit script in a format accessible to a screen reader, a program that turns text files into the spoken word so visitors can download the material and either read it in advance or as a follow-up to their visit.

Let’s look at our exhibits and see if there are protruding cases that might not be detected by a cane, or case or stanchion supports that might trap a cane. How easy it is to find bathrooms, and are they clearly marked in braille? Are all of our labels in large print, preferably 18-20 point or larger? Could we get our gallery guide translated into braille and stow a few copies behind the desk?

A diagram explains how much space to leave in exhibits for cane users.

Now let’s think about making artifacts meaningful for those who can’t visually understand them. What about interpreting a portrait with reproduction fabric? Letting visitors get a feel for a pioneer kitchen with touchable pots, firewood, and ingredients? Authentic artifacts are fair game as well: items deaccessioned into an education collection, obtained specifically to be handled, or protected with microcrystalline wax will help us transform a sterile and empty experience into a memory, an “I was there and we did this!” kind of moment.

Several visitors touch a 3D relief map of the Grand Canyon.
NPS photo.

We will never truly make meaningful progress until we kick the doors down and let people who are blind or visually impaired into the decision-making process in our museums.

What would happen if folks from your advisory team served on your governing board? We try to hire summer interns with visual impairment—what would it mean for your interpretation if a member of your curatorial team was blind or visually impaired? Last year we organized a small team, about ten or so, that we call our education associates. All have a visual impairment of some sort. Every education program that our museum educator delivers now has support from our education associates, and we are training our associates to help improve accessibility in other museums in our city. Four or five associates will visit a museum, and then sit down with staff to discuss their experience and how it can be improved. Our museum staff leads Blindness 101 training for interpretive staff as a follow-up. We are still in the beginning stages of what our company president calls the “accessible cities project.” I think the next few years will be pretty interesting, as we learn more about what is possible when we open our doors and our minds to real accessibility.


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This column originally appeared in the autumn 2018 issue of History News as part of our "The Whole Is Greater" series.