White text against a darkened facade of the bay window of a historic house.

Workshop: Reinventing the Historic House Museum

Workshop Description

The one-day workshop, Reinventing the Historic House Museum includes an analysis of the most important opportunities and threats facing historic sites in America based on the latest social and economic research, with a discussion on how they may relate to the participants’ house museum. We share a series of field-tested tools and techniques drawn from such wide-ranging sources as non-profit management, business strategy, and software development. Drawing from innovative organizations, we profile historic sites that are using new models to engage with their communities to become more relevant, are adopting creative forms of interpretation and programming, and earning income to become more financially sustainable. A key component of the workshop is a facilitated brainstorming session to reinvent an event or program. Working with an actual house museum not only puts theory into practice but demonstrates the value of multiple perspectives for analysis.

Why should I attend?

Historic house museums face a wide range of challenges in today’s continually changing environment. Traditional methods no longer seem to be as successful but new approaches seem uncertain or risky.  By the end of the workshop, participants will be able to analyze their operations, programs, and events to make better informed decisions, learn how to use a variety of tools and techniques that can be applied to a wide range of activities at museums big and small, identify ways to make their house museum more distinctive and relevant, and feel more confident to try new and different approaches.

Indeed, the workshops have been incredibly helpful to the host sites, who serve as the case study for the brainstorming session:

“Reinventing the Historic House Museum sparked many great ideas on how we can use our historic homes in dynamic, innovative ways. Since attending the workshop, we have implemented many changes, including a new self-guided tour with interactive elements that have increased our attendance and engaged the public in brand new ways.”

Sarah Bader-King, Director of Public Programming & Events,
Wornall/Majors House Museums, Kansas City, Missouri

Reinventing the Historic House Museum helped us visualize how the Margaret Mitchell House could connect with the community around us. While the site was very popular with tourists, we were hidden in plain sight from our own community. Our goal was to discuss the challenges we faced and to pursue practical solutions. The workshop allowed us to collaborate with area professionals and hear from colleagues facing similar challenges. We left the workshop with good ideas and a commitment to reimagine our site. As a result of that work we have increased visibility in the community, created programming relevant to the neighborhood, and are partnering with area organizations to become a community resource and connector.”

Jessica Van Landuyt, Director of 20th Century Houses,
Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, Georgia

Topics include:

  • Recognizing the Myriad Challenges Facing House Museums Today
  • Conducting a Holistic Assessment of Your House Museum’s Public Programs
  • Analyzing the Five Forces that Affect Public Programs and Events
  • House Museums That Are Successfully Reinventing Themselves
  • Discovering Your House Museum’s Unique Value and Distinctiveness


FORMAT: In-person group workshop

LENGTH: One day (8:30 am - 5:00 pm)

DATE: Friday, October 12, 2018

LOCATION: Glessner House Museum, 1800 South Prairie Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60616

MATERIALS: Workshop materials will be provided upon registration and in-person at the event.

LUNCH: Lunch provided

COST: $30 per person

This workshop is made available at a reduced cost thanks to the gracious generosity of our funders and sponsors. 


Our support

Thank you to our gracious funders and sponsors for supporting this workshop. 



Who Should Attend This Workshop

Boardmembers, staff, and volunteers who manage house museums and historic sites or who develop public programs and events. This workshop is designed for organizations large and small who are seeking to increase the impact and sustainability of their house museum, as well as for paid or volunteer staff who want to expand their professional skills.

Register Here


Max A. van Balgooy is president of Engaging Places LLC, a design and strategy firm that connects people and historic places.  He has worked with a wide range of historic sites on interpretive planning and business strategy, including James Madison’s Montpelier and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. He is an assistant professor in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University, directs the History Leadership Institute (formerly known as the Seminar for Historical Administration), serves on the editorial board of Curator, the Museum Journal, and regularly leads workshops at regional and national museum conferences. He is a frequent contributor to professional journals and books, and with Ken Turino of Historic New England, he is preparing an anthology on reinventing the historic house museum for publication by Rowman and Littlefield in early 2019. These experiences provide a rich source of ideas for EngagingPlaces.net, where he blogs regularly about the opportunities and challenges facing historic sites and house museums.

Kenneth Turino is Manger of Community Engagement and Exhibitions at Historic New England, the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive regional heritage organization in the country. Ken oversees community engagement projects throughout the six New England states and is responsible for the exhibitions program. Prior to coming to Historic New England, Ken was Executive Director of the Lynn Museum, an active local history museum in Lynn, Massachusetts. He has worked at a number of historic houses including the Paul Revere House in Boston and is a Trustee of the House of Seven Gables in Salem. He frequently consults on interpretive planning and community engagement projects at historic sites. These include Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee,  James Madison’s Montpellier, Orange, Virginia, Connecticut Landmarks, on the Palmer Warner House in East Haddam, Conneticut and with Donna Harris the Charnley-Norwood House in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Ken is on the faculty of Tufts University in the Museum Studies Department where he teaches a course, Revitalizing Historic House Museums.

AASLH & NPS Host Workshop on Historic Houses in National Parks

At the beginning of this week, AASLH hosted a special workshop with the National Park Service to discuss ways that two historic houses in National Parks,  Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller in Vermont and Saint-Gaudens in New Hampshire, could revitalize their historic house interpretation. AASLH COO Bob Beatty attended the workshop, which was led by longtime AASLH members Ken Turino and Max van Balgooy .


Historic House Staff at the Reinventing Historic Houses Workshop onsite at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.
Max van Balgooy leads a discussion with NPS staff at the Reinventing Historic Houses Workshop onsite at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.


On his website, Engaging Places, van Balgooy writes about the ways he and Turino guided the staff of these two house museums in rethinking their tours, specifically for visitors under age 35:

Using such tools as the Five Forces and a Double-Bottom Line Matrix along with a smorgasbord of ideas from other sites, we explored possible processes and projects that could improve and enhance their tours.  Our goal wasn’t to provide solutions but to raise many useful questions, including:

  • Would treating tours of the house as an educational program encourage alternative approaches to their planning and development? By calling them “tours,” do we limit the possibilities through our assumptions about the tour experience?
  • Is there a sufficient market for visitors under 35 years of age? How many people under 35 live in the local community? Why is this site relevant to them? 

Read the entire article on the Engaging Places blog.

The framework of this workshop was the curriculum of a recurring AASLH Continuing Education course, Reinventing the Historic House Museum. This workshop, typically a one-day symposium, is designed to offer current thinking, practical information, and solutions to the challenges facing historic sites. The Vermont workshop's focus was tailored to the specific needs of these two historic houses operating in National Parks.


A past AASLH Workshop on Historic Houses


At the heart of these workshops is the idea that the Historic House Museum in America is not dead nor are most of them dying. The field, however, needs to take time to reflect and renew as the world around our historic sites continues to change. Reinventing the History House Museum aims to facilitate this necessary reflection. The next of these workshops open to the public will be held in St. Louis on April 4, 2016. Learn more and register.