Workshop: Focusing on Visitors: Public Programming and Exhibits at History Institutions

Focusing on Visitors: Public Programming and Exhibits at History Institutions

An AASLH Workshop

Workshop Description

This workshop provides a broad overview of public programming and exhibits with a focus on active learning. Themes are based on The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques, coauthored by one of the workshop instructors.

Keeping visitors at the forefront of our thinking, participants will explore a wide range of topics including audience types, volunteer management and training, tour techniques, active learning with people of all ages, developing/updating exhibits, demonstrating relevance, marketing, evaluation, planning, and collaboration. Case studies and interactive activities provide excellent opportunities to engage with fellow participants and our host site. Attendees will leave the workshop with information, ideas, and materials they can take back to their organizations to adapt and apply.


FORMAT: On-site group workshop

LENGTH: Two days

DATE: September 23-24, 2019

LOCATION: James J. Hill House, St. Paul, MN

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

COST: $230 AASLH Members/$345 Nonmembers

** Save $40 when you register by August 23, 2019 and use promo code EARLYBIRD19 at checkout! **


Who Should Attend This Workshop

This workshop is ideally suited for early-career museum educators, curators, volunteer managers, museum studies students, or dedicated volunteers who play a role in education, interpretation, exhibition planning, and/or public programming. Mid-career professionals can also benefit from revisiting the content covered in this workshop to help update and rethink programs and exhibits and gain insights on how to train and support newer staff.


Tim Grove recently started a new consulting business after twenty years at the Smithsonian. He focuses on education strategy, exhibition development, and increasing relevance. He is author of 4 books including The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques. The 2nd edition of the book was recently published.

Alexandra Rasic is the Director of Public Programs at the Homestead Museum in City of Industry, CA, and a member of AASLH’s Council. In addition to working with the public in a variety of history organizations as a volunteer, she worked as a freelance corporate archivist for over a decade in Los Angeles.

Seizing the Power of the Pen at #AASLH2019

By Tim Grove (

Calling all writers! Whether you write on the job or are working on a manuscript on the side and harbor secret dreams of publication, a session at the upcoming AASLH conference is for you. At last year’s conference in Kansas City, I ended up in quite a few conversations with people working on personal writing projects who wanted to talk about writing. This year, we’ve made it an official session.

With history so much a part of the news today, we need talented writers who understand history to engage with the many people who consume history. As public historians, we can do more to promote a national dialogue about the value and relevance of history. We in the public history field can take a lead from our academic colleagues and use the power of the pen to provoke, argue, defend, entertain, educate, inform, and propose. We should write about more than just content, and include our process, stellar projects we encounter or produce, and opinions about why history is so important. There are more ways to get the message out than ever before and we can utilize our writing skills to share our passion for history content and value.

Did you know that librarians are begging for more history nonfiction for young ages? Did you know that Scholastic (the publisher of Harry Potter) and W.W. Norton have both launched a new imprint focused on middle grade (ages 8-12) nonfiction? The publishing industry is swamped with fiction, but it wants more nonfiction. Who better than those of us in the history field to write these books?

Our panel of experts will cover all kinds of issues, including:

  • The tension between writing scholarly history and popular history. How do we find a balance?
  • How can the public history field write to raise the profile of history in society?
  • How can we reach younger audiences and promote a love of history at an early age?

We’ll also cover a variety of formats, including:

  • Magazine articles
  • Books (for practitioners and armchair historians)
  • Books for young readers
  • Op-ed
  • Blogs

This session’s panel of experts approaches the topic from multiple perspectives and all panelists are published authors. Trevor Jones, Director and CEO of History Nebraska, just wrote a book for ages 5-8. Josh Leventhal runs the Minnesota Historical Society Press and has worked in the trade publishing field. Rebecca Shrum teaches public history at IUPUI and serves on the AASLH editorial committee.

As the final panelist, I’m a seasoned public historian who somewhat unexpectedly has fallen deep into the publishing industry. I seized an opportunity to pitch a book idea for ages 10-14 a few years ago. The book received a lot of attention, and next year my third history book for that age will be published. I’m now represented by an agent in a large New York literary agency and maintain a list of future book ideas. With every book I write for this age, I try to teach the historical thinking process and foster an interest in the past.

Whatever your writing ambitions, if you are a good writer, you can help promote history. Don’t put history writing in a box. There are many audiences who consume history writing and many formats to reach those audiences. We have power to help shape the national dialogue on history. What are we waiting for?

Come join in the conversation.

Seizing the Power of the Pen
Friday, August 30
12:30-1:45 pm

Learn more about #AASLH2019 and read more about sessions in the Preliminary Program.

Six Qualities of a Relevant History Experience

By Tim Grove, History Relevance initiative

Museum educators and other staff that produce products for public consumption are trained to assess whether or not their programs are successful. They know educational techniques to use that will engage various audiences. As institutions, we measure success in various ways: how long people stayed at a program or in an exhibition, how many people came to an event, how much press coverage we received, and how many people asked questions or interacted with interpreters. We often collect quantitative data rather than qualitative data.

We regularly produce content that is fascinating, but is it relevant? Engaging an audience does not automatically mean we are relevant to them. As we grapple with how to make our organizations and products more relevant to their communities and to the people who walk through their doors or click through their websites, we must keep looking for new ways to measure our success.  Assessing relevance is a longer-term goal of the History Relevance initiative (HR).

In the shorter term, HR continues to work on various projects to raise the profile of history in society. It is trying to encourage more history organizations to ask: How are we relevant to our audiences? Can we be relevant to everyone? Should we try? These are hard questions, with no easy answers.

As a starting point, we need to consider what defines a “relevant” program or product.  HR is working on a new tool to help organizations do this and has just rolled out a draft of a new framework: “Six Qualities of a Relevant History Experience.” A working group drawn from the HR steering committee grappled with what this framework might look like. While it will ultimately be a rubric format, at present it is a list of six qualities that HR thinks make a product relevant to an audience.

The six qualities are being:

  1. Connected
  2. Responsive
  3. Memorable
  4. Applicable
  5. Current and Timely
  6. Rooted in Historical Quality

The challenge with creating this list was separating qualities of relevance from characteristics of an effective educational program. What unique qualities make something relevant? HR readily acknowledges that relevance is a moving target and changes depending on the person, but this list is a starting point to think about relevance. Not all qualities are necessary to develop a relevant program.

As it did with "The Value of History" statement,  HR is asking the field to review “Six Qualities of a Relevant History Experience" and to fill out a brief survey to provide feedback to HR. The goal of the framework is to offer a tool that anyone developing a product for public consumption can use.

HR now turns to the history field to help us refine these, to question them, and to mold this document into a useful tool that assists us in striving toward being more relevant. Please take some time to review the document and offer your feedback at the short survey provided. Discuss it with your staff, your volunteers, your board, and all of your many stakeholders.

Read the document and take the survey here.

Learn more about the History Relevance initiative.

History Relevance in Canada

Tim Grove is Chief of Museum Learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, a founding member of the History Relevance initiative, and Chair of the Program Committee for AASLH’s 2018 Annual Meeting in Kansas City, “Truth or Consequences.” This post also appears on the National Council on Public History's [email protected] blog.

Photo: Brittany Gawley

Recently I ended a trip to Canada a bit jealous that Canadians have figured out how to give history a national spotlight, something that has proven more elusive in the United States. While we do find ways to award excellence in history, they are not concentrated and diverse and on such a national stage.

I had been invited to Canada to represent the History Relevance initiative and to share a little of the history, motivations, and goals of this national effort. Stephanie Rowe, executive director of the National Council on Public History, and I participated in several events during Canada History Week 2017, an annual showcase of Canada’s rich history. Three big events of the week revolved around the Governor General’s History Award winners from across the nation.

Janet Walker, president and CEO of Canada’s History, the organizer of the event, welcomed everyone, saying “History is essential for understanding the complex issues that face us today. As individuals, communities, and nations, we engage with the past to help navigate the present and contemplate the future. History stimulates us to be thinkers, innovators, leaders, and engaged citizens.”

At the Canada’s History Forum, held at the Canadian Museum of History and hosted in collaboration with NCPH, the theme was “Making History Relevant.” In my presentation during the morning session, I discussed why History Relevance was founded and how it produced the Value of History Statement. In particular, I emphasized the effort within History Relevance to strengthen history’s “brand,” using the Value of History Statement to develop and share a common language for use by history practitioners. I also highlighted the need to gather solid data to show effective history projects that impact their communities. Other speakers included Jean-Pierre Marin, staff historian for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and former NCPH board member, Andrea Eidinger, creator and editor of the blog Unwritten Histories, Dominique Trudeau, head of education at the McCord Museum in Montreal, and Lindsay Gibson, assistant professor of social studies education at the University of Alberta and participant in the Historical Thinking Project. All speakers highlighted the challenges of presenting complex history.

The evening featured a gala dinner in the great hall of the Canadian Museum of History, next to the towering totems. The enthusiastic guests included the history award winners, members of Parliament (MPs) and the museum’s president and CEO. The day before the award winners had traveled to Parliament Hill to meet with MPs, less to advocate than to brag about their projects.

Credit: MCpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall, OSGG

The second day was the big awards ceremony at Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada’s governor general, the Queen’s representative. Governor General Julie Payette, a former astronaut, presided over the formal ceremony that honored students, teachers, authors, and public historians for their excellence in making history accessible to Canadians. Their ages ranged from about seven to seventy. Eight teachers received awards, including a teacher whose students created a museum that has grown to six hundred items and one thousand visitors, two teachers who created an oral history program matching students with veterans, and two teachers who developed a program for high school students at the First Nations University of Canada focused on treaty history and education. Museum practitioners were honored for opening a new permanent gallery called Hodul’eh-a—A Place of Learning in the Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre in Prince George, British Columbia. This gallery is a model for how Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities can work together to preserve, understand, and respect Indigenous history and experiences. Exploration Place  is located within Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park—the site of the traditional hunting grounds and village for the Lheidli T’enneh Nation.

Thinking back on my visit to Ottawa, I am encouraged by the potential power of shared efforts and common goals. The history communities in both countries strive to demonstrate history’s relevance and the power of teaching historical thinking skills. The Historical Thinking Project is a national Canadian effort to give attention to promoting critical historical literacy in the twenty-first century at learning venues across Canada. As Stephanie Rowe said in her opening and closing remarks for the Forum, “we hope this is just the beginning of more collaboration between public historians in the US and Canada. There are many of us working to move the study of history from nice to essential and our efforts will only be strengthened by our awareness of one another and our efforts to work together.” I also invited attendees to ask their organizations to endorse History Relevance’s Value of History Statement and actively articulate the seven values it features. Together, we can work to raise the profile of history.

Workshop: Focusing on Visitors: Public Programming and Exhibits at History Institutions

This workshop provides a broad overview of public programming and exhibits with a focus on active learning. Seasoned educators will direct conversations about museum education and the role of museum educators.

Participants will leave the workshop with information and materials they can take back to their organizations to adapt and apply.Through interactive activities and case studies, participants will gain knowledge and tools for a wide range of relevant topics, including audience types, volunteer management and training, tour techniques, active learning with people of all ages, developing exhibits with visitors in mind, technology, evaluations, planning, and working with others to build programs.

The themes of this workshop are based on the publication The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques, coauthored by one of the workshop instructors.



Date: March 30-31, 2017

Location: Atlanta History Center | Atlanta, Georgia

Cost: $280 AASLH Members/$405 Nonmembers
*Get $40 off registration if you book by February 23, 2017!*


Who Should Attend:
This workshop is ideally suited for staff (first-time museum educators, tour guides, volunteer managers, and mid-career professionals), museum studies students, or dedicated volunteers working in all types of museums who are given the responsibility of education and public programming.

Click here for a sample agenda for this workshop.

tim-grove-2-final-smaller-fileTim Grove is the Chief of Education for the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and co-author of The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful TechniquesThe 2nd Edition of the book is coming out this spring.

Alexandra Rasic is the Director of Public Programs for the Homestead Museum in City of Industry, CA.


The History Relevance Campaign Moves to the Next Step

Having laid the groundwork, the History Relevance Campaign (HRC) is ready to take a big step forward and needs your help. The HRC started a little more than two years ago, with early conversations taking place at AASLH’s annual meeting in Birmingham and continuing at last year’s annual meeting in St. Paul. Since then, organizers have been talking with many people in the history field in the US and refining a “Value of History” statement. Many AALSH members have contributed to the HRC efforts thus far.

Several weeks ago the HRC unveiled a new website, The website offers information on the variety of projects underway to raise the profile of history in our society. As we’ve said all along, this is not a new conversation, but unless we create a unified voice, shout more loudly, and demonstrate our relevance, history will continue to stay nice but not necessary. We want people to value history for its connections to modern life and to use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.

We invite people to become involved in any or all of these ways:

  • Endorse “The Value of History: Seven Ways it is Essential -- HRC’s Value of History statement is a message that can be used by history practitioners around the U.S. as a basis for discussing seven essential ways that history is valuable to society. With a unified message, our voice gets stronger. HRC is asking history organizations of all shapes and sizes to discuss this with their staff and boards and to first endorse the message. Then, take the value statement and adapt it to your needs and integrate its messages into your programs, activities, and conversations with elected officials, funders and other stakeholders. Please consider joining the many organizations that have already endorsed it, then ask other groups or institutions to sign on as well.
  • Join the LinkedIn group -- Join the History Relevance Campaign LinkedIn group and contribute to the conversation by adding articles and comments about where you’ve seen history’s relevance demonstrated in an effective way.
  • Widen the conversation -- Either start or continue talking about the idea of “history relevance” on your various social media channels. Educate business leaders and initiate conversations throughout your community based on the “Value of History” statement. Propose sessions about history relevance at the conferences you attend.
  • Help with the Impact Project -- One major project of the HRC is the Impact Project. This effort seeks to help history organizations learn from each other and offer best practices for making an impact in our communities. We have begun a first round of interviews about outstanding projects in the field and plan to expand this effort in the future. We seek people to help with this initiative as well as suggestions of projects that are demonstrating history relevance in the community.
  • Contribute to a task force -- The HRC is in the process of forming task forces to accomplish the work ahead. Besides the Impact Project, these include: development of an online toolkit, coordination and promotion of sessions relating to history relevance at conferences, development of communication strategies for engaging various audiences with the message, and the promotion of the “Value of History” statement at the state governor level. Look for more information about this on the website and/or send an email to the HRC expressing your area of interest.

If you believe that history is crucial to the well-being of individuals, communities, and the future of our nation, stay in touch with the History Relevance Campaign and offer your ideas and suggestions for expanding the conversation. This movement is only as strong as the passion of the people behind it.

Tim Grove is Chief of Museum Learning, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and member of the HRC steering committee.

Know a Museum or Site Making an Impact with History?


At the AASLH annual meeting in St. Paul, the History Relevance Campaign presented an update on their work to a packed audience. During the session, we presented the Impact Project, a year-long process for identifying and studying historic sites and history museums that are making history relevant in their community. The goals of the Impact Project are to:

  • Increase the use of history as a way to understand and address critical community issues.
  • Help board members and staff make an impact in their communities by integrating best practices into their strategic and interpretive plans
  • Encourage AASLH and other professional associations to include standards on community relevance and impact
  • Encourage academic programs in history, public history, and museum studies to include community relevance and impact in their curriculum
  • Encourage elected officials, funders, and communities to provide more support for history organizations that are making an impact
  • Provide every Governor with at least one example of history organizations that are making an impact in their state

We Need Your Help

We are looking for history museums, historic sites, and similar organizations that are making an impact on their community using history. After we’ve collected a list of suggested history organizations, we will interview them to begin to identify exemplary practices and model programs to share with the field.

If you have suggestions for museums, sties, or organizations for this study, please send us the name of the organization as well as the name and contact information (if you have it) of the staff person we should interview to one of the following individuals by October 22:

To learn more, read “What is the History Relevance Campaign?” or join the LinkedIn History Relevance Campaign group.

How Did You Get Hooked?

Tim Grove, a long-time AASLH member and author of the “History Bytes” column in History News recently published a book called A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History (University of Nebraska Press, 2014). I was pleased to get to attend Tim’s first book reading and signing at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, NH last week. Tim is also one of the faculty for the AASLH Focusing on Visitors workshop and got to debut the book while we were holding the workshop.

I read Tim’s book while flying from Tennessee to New Hampshire. In A Grizzly in the Mail, Tim writes of his many adventures in the history field including the story about how he got interested in history as a boy while visiting Colonial Williamsburg. He was captivated by the music, the smells, and other special things from America’s past. He writes, “A sense of curiosity about that past gripped me and has yet to let go.”

For many of us who work or volunteer in the field of history, we are also gripped by the past. A place connected us to the past and hooked us for life. What was the place that made you take a vow of poverty and commit yourself to a career in history?

For me, it was The Hermitage: Home of Andrew Jackson outside of Nashville, TN. As a fourth grader, I loved reading a kid’s biography of Rachel Jackson. (Can you say History Geek?) After seeing me reading it for the umpteenth time, my mother said, “You know we can go to her house, right?” I made her take me right away.

Hermitage Tomb

It blew me away to know I was walking on ground where my favorite heroine walked. I remember visiting her grave and thinking it was so cool that I was actually standing above her (ok, I was a bit of a morbid kid). Once I found out you could work at a historic site, I was hooked for life.

So, Tim said he hoped his book will inspire other public historians to tell their stories. What stories can you tell? What special historic place helped hook you? What meaningful experience have you had while engaging the public with history? What artifact can you not believe you got to touch (with white gloves, of course)?

Think about how you can tell your stories. Publish a column in your newsletter. Put them on a blog. Submit them to your newspaper. Let’s follow Tim’s lead and share our “history geek” stories to help show the public that history is anything but boring! After all, in what other field can you receive a grizzly in the mail?

Bethany L. Hawkins is the Program Manager for AASLH.

Renew and Refresh

Sometimes two days away from your normal routine can help generate fresh ideas and reinvigorate the mind. If those two days Museum Educators Manualare spent with history professionals from a variety of organizations, all gathered for the same reason, the result can lead to great new contacts and a network of colleagues struggling with the same issues. They might help you look at challenges in a whole new way. They might even help you solve a problem or create a brilliant new program. The upcoming workshop Focusing on Visitors: Public Programming and Exhibits at History Institutions, taking place April 3 and 4 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a great opportunity to get away and take a look at some of the many strategies for reaching different audiences.

Five seasoned museum educators, including me, wrote a book several years ago titled The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques. Our goal was to produce a practical reference that could serve staff at many types of institutions. We had accumulated many tips over the years and wanted to share them with the field. I wrote a chapter about the role of educators on exhibition teams. How can educators contribute to making exhibitions more active experiences that will engage a greater number of visitors and address their various learning styles? I have seen first-hand that cultivating a mindset that places emphasis on visitors needs and learning styles can result in a more powerful and accessible product.

Creating an active learning environment, whether an exhibition, program or tour, takes effort. It requires the recognition that visitors learn in many different ways and that their motivations for a visit can be very different. We will talk about various approaches to engaging multiple audiences. No matter how many visitors come through your doors each year, if you don’t give them a reason to return, they won’t. Join us in Portsmouth for an exciting exchange of ideas.

Tim Grove is Chief of Museum Learning at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington,D.C. and co-author of The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques. He serves as co-faculty of this workshop with Alexandra Rasic. See more at

Read a blog post Tim wrote about a visit to Portsmouth.

Focusing on Visitors: An Investment in Your Organization’s Future

People in our field are actively engaged in conversations about relevancy. Why? Because we need to rethink the way we do things.exploration Many history museums, historical societies, and related institutions are struggling to survive, stand out from the crowd, and make meaningful connections with visitors. Part of the reason is that many of us have become stuck in our ways—not because we are lazy—we are far from that as a field—but because we are overwhelmed. We don’t spend enough time thinking about visitors’ needs and wants. We have not thought enough about how we need to change the way we do things to better relate to and engage current and potential visitors.

What can you do to create advocates for history and your organization? How do you rethink what you’ve done day in and day out (for years, or even decades!) with a fresh set of eyes? And how will you train staff to better focus on the needs of visitors? These are just a few of the things that we’ll discuss at Focusing on Visitors: Public Programming and Exhibits at History Institutions, a two-day workshop taking place on April 3 and 4, at the Governor John Langdon House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

We know it can be hard to justify taking time off or sending more than one staff member to participate in professional development opportunities, but whether you are a first-time museum educator, tour guide, volunteer manager, or mid-career professional, this workshop will be time worth spent.

Through interactive activities and case studies, you will learn more about audience types, volunteer management and training, tour techniques, active learning with people of all ages, developing exhibits with visitors in mind, technology, evaluations, planning, and working with others to create programs. Participants will have an opportunity to tackle some of their greatest challenges and concerns as they work with instructors and colleagues. Better focusing on visitors can transform your organization. Join us in Portsmouth to set the wheels in motion!

Alexandra Rasic is the Director of Public Programs at the Homestead Museum in City of Industry, CA. She also serves as co-faculty of this workshop with Tim Grove.