Tag Archives: Museum

SS United States Conservancy Announces Partnership and Inventory Initiative

A few weeks ago, the SS United States Redevelopment Project announced a partnership with New Canaan Advisors LLC. New Canaan has worked on large projects in the past including Grand Central Terminal in New York and the World Trade Center site. The expertise brought by this group is a welcome addition as the Redevelopment Project tries to determine what to do with the SS United States.

The same day, The SS United States Conservancy launched the first phases of their museum planning and inventory process. The inventory process is the most important at the moment because the Conservancy would like to rediscover the objects from the ship that were sold at auction in 1984. This is not an effort to recollect the items, but just to have an inventory of the SS United States‘ existing artwork, furnishings, and other artifacts. The Conservancy has created a survey for those who have these items. For a pdf version of the survey, please click here.  If you’d prefer to complete the survey online, click this link.

As always, I fully support the efforts of the SS United States Redevelopment Project and the SS United States Conservancy. These efforts are even more important as time is running out. The Conservancy only has fund to preserve the ship until August. Please donate to the Conservancy today. That being said, I would like to call on the Conservancy to be more open about its plans and finances. Those making donations deserve to know what is going on.

Keep up with the latest Conservancy news by visiting their website or by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

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Saab: Good News/Bad News

The Bad: Autoblog revealed that Saab North America will be liquidated as part of the bankruptcy. Although there are bids to save Saab in Sweden, it seems that Saab North America would not be included in the purchase. The dealers will have to decide if they wish to file for bankruptcy as well or wait for Saab’s liquidators to take care of their interests as well.

The Good: SaabsUnited reports that the Saab Museum in Trollhättan, Sweden has been saved! The museum was purchased for 28 million SEK by the city of Trollhättan. The collection will remain in tact. The fear was that individual collectors would pick and choose cars from the collection and break it up. If Saab is not able to continue, at least its history will be preserved.

Source: Autoblog, SaabsUnited

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The End for Saab

Trollhättan Saab Gathering

As hard as it is for me to admit, Saab seems to be done. This past weekend, Saab supporters met world wide to show their support, and they turned out in droves. But today was the last day of work for the employees of Saab, and it was announced today that all cars still in the Saab factory in Trollhättan, Sweden will be crushed. Instead of selling the cars, they will just be disposed of.

Saab Museum

It has also been announced that all the cars in the Saab museum, also in Trollhättan, will be sold. Offers are due by January 20. Sadly, Saab is breaking up as is its history. There is still some hope, but the doubt is growing.

I hope Saab’s history is preserved, and I want to highlight the work of one website, SaabsUnited. They have been working hard to spread the word, especially about saving Saab’s museum. Preserving the history of Saab is important to me as well. I just hope someone steps up and purchases the entire museum so that all the cars can stay together.

It is hard to believe that all this is happening because General Motors refused to allow Chinese investors to invest in Saab. Unfortunately, the company needed this investment to survive. Saab filed bankruptcy on December 19, 2011 and there are no plans for a new Saab to emerge. I am disgusted with GM’s handling of the whole Saab issue. Just a few years ago they themselves went through bankruptcy and received millions in bailout money from the United States’ government. How quickly they forget what it was like being in the position Saab is in now. Maybe it isn’t right to blame GM, but when they stopped supporting Saab in 2010, it was clear Saab was going to need an investor to survive, but GM would have to approve of the investment because Saab still used GM products. It seems to me, that GM had to have known they held the key to Saab’s future and felt they would be better off ensuring a competitor’s death. I know one thing, I am proud to drive a Ford!

As always, I will update the blog as the story continues to develop.

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Public History Series: Memory

I could not think of a better post to conclude the Public History series with than one on Memory because it plays into EVERY aspect of the discipline.  The key word in public history is “public.”  We create a link between academic history and the public by making history accessible by everyone.  Memory, in this case, is not a singular term, but a collective term.  The term most often used is “American Memory” and it is very important for public historians to understand.  The knowledge that slavery was bad and immoral is pretty common, and it is a negative memory within the American population, but that does not make it, and other controversial topics, easy to display.

Slavery, and other controversial topics are difficult to deal within a museum.  A museum that chooses to ignore the topic tends to enrage a portion of the population, but those that demonize slaveholders anger yet another part of the population.  Presenting such a controversial topic has been done in many ways.  One way, which causes a great amount of publicity, took place a few years ago at Colonial Williamsburg.  They held a mock slave auction in the town square.  This would have been a common occurrence in the Colonial Era, but was not something the public was interested in in the early Twenty-First Century.  It caused a lot of controversy and they have not attempted to do it again.  Slavery is still discussed within Williamsburg and they even offer a tour that focuses specifically on slavery within a colonial town.

Enola Gay

The other, and more famous, example of a controversial museum display was the Enola Gay.  In 2003, the Enola Gay went on display at the Smithsonian and was presented in such a way that angered those who were against the use of the bomb as well as Japanese-Americans.  The Smithsonian did correct the display, but the results upset veterans whose lives were, arguably, saved by the use of the atomic bomb to end World War II.  The Smithsonian solved the dilemma by taking down the display and leaving the aircraft on display with no interpretation.  The Smithsonian took the easy way out.  The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is controversial, but they have not close their doors in response to protests.

The key to remember when it comes to memory is that there are two sides to the same story.  The Civil War is a great example of this.  It is nearly impossible to make everyone happy when displaying any controversial topic in history; therefore, it is important to display the history in a way that is truthful and unbiased.  Allow the visitor to draw his/her own conclusions.

Memory is such a great topic to complete the series because it really does play a key role in how we present the history in all the sub-disciplines of Public History: local/regional history, oral history, historic preservation, documentary editing, museum studies, documentary film and visual arts, historical archaeology, and archival work.

It is important to remember that Public Historians are ultimately working to educate the public and should be wary that some events could be painful or offensive to a portion of the population.  This does not mean, however, that it should be brushed over or ignored.  This is, I believe, where public historians differ from academic historians.  Academic historians write for each other, and there are not many within the public that read academic journals or books.  It is important for public historians to use the academic techniques to present history to the public in a way that is accurate and unbiased.  That is the goal of myself and the goal of Public Historians.

-Eric

NOTE:  This is the tenth and final post in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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Public History Series: Museum Studies

Many Public Historians choose to work where the public is most likely to encounter history, museums or historic sites (I will use the general term “museum” through out the post, but the same is true for historic sites).  There are a wide variety of positions available in museums from curator to interpreter.  There are also several types of museums from private to those within the National Park Service.  No matter which museum you choose, you present history to a large audience.

The different positions available within a museum is numerous.  Aside from administrative positions, historians often occupy many of the major positions.  At the top is usually  curator and an advanced degree in history usually required.  The curator oversees all tasks within the museum, but most of the front-line work is done by other staff members.  Behind the scenes there are archivists at most museums.  A typical museum has a large collection of artifacts, and it is not possible to display them all at once.  The archivists job is to keep inventory of the museums collection.  There are also collection specialists that work on this as well.  Many museums will also employ preservationists/conservators to ensure the documents and artifacts are properly preserved.

One the front lines within the museum there are those who design the exhibits.  Exhibit designers usually are not employed by a museum, but they are hired by the museum from outside firms.  Smaller museums may have their staff design the exhibits, but this is often done by a group of professionals.  The most important members of a museum are the interpreters.  Most often they serve as a guide for visitors through the museum.  What the visitor remembers will most likely be what they are told by the interpreter.  There are many different kinds of interpreters.  The Park Service uses rangers and many small museums use volunteers to guide visitors.  The museums that get the most attention, however, are the ones that use interpreters and re-enactors.  A great example of this is Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.  All the interpreters are in period costume and work to create a living city environment for the visitors.  Williamsburg is not the traditional museum, but it is very effective.

The city street of Colonial Williamsburg

The different types of museums are also important to take into consideration.  Private museums are more common than public museums, but both do well at interpreting history.  The main difference between the two is funding.  Private museums are often funded through donations and that can cause issues with what is displayed in the museum.  As I discussed in the post about Local/Regional History, a local museum relies heavily on donations and if a prominent family gives a substantial amount, they may want their family’s history displayed in the museum or not displayed depending on the family’s past.  Public museums, like the Park Service, do not rely as heavily on donations, but they still have to be concerned about offending the public.

All museums have to be concerned about how they present history.  It is nearly impossible to display artifacts from an event without angering a portion of the population.  This is especially true when displaying artifacts from controversial historical events such as slavery, the Holocaust, or the use of atomic weapons on Japan.  These topics are difficult to begin with, but displaying them in a way that does not offend is nearly impossible.  I will discuss this more in a later post about memory.

Museums are the most important and most common way that the public comes into contact with history.  That is why it is important that the displays be accurate and tell a clear story.  Even if the topic is difficult for the public to deal with, it still needs to be told.  Public Historians often work in museums and many work for the National Park Service.  While in school, museums are a great place to intern and get a feel for life in a museum.  The Park Service has excellent internship opportunities and I interned for them last year.  Museums are important because they tell the story in a way a book cannot.  Bringing the pubic into contact with the artifacts is key to allowing them to understand history.

NOTE:  This is the sixth in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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Public History Series: What is Public History?

I have been asked this question many times and it really annoys me when people assume it is just the “study of old barns.”  In fact, there are many facets to Public History that are used by historians of all interests.  Over the next nine weeks I am going to break down Public History into its many subcategories and explain how everything works.

Before I get to the subcategories, this post is merely a brief look at Public History and is meant to introduce the readers to the two main organizations that exist to assist Public Historians,  the National Council of Public History and the Public History Resource Center.  These two organizations make up the bulk of the Public History information available to those interested in the field.  Their websites provide information about educational opportunities as well as employment opportunities.  The most important thing is the make the discipline and its resources availabe to those interesting in pursuing a degree, and eventually a career, in the field of Public History.

The National Council of Public History is a professional organization much like the American Historical Association.  Members of the organization pay dues and receive updates, discounted rates at the NCPH Annual Conference, and the journal The Public Historian.  Like most professional scholarly organizations, the NCPH is a way for those in the profession to share their work and ideas with each other.

The Public History Resource Center has a very different purpose, however.  They primarily provide up-to-date information on degree programs for Public History as well as employment opportunities.  This site is a must visit for anyone interested in pursuing a degree in Public History or those seeking employment in the field.  They also provide reviews of history websites which provide information and documents for research.  These reviews are not only intended for Public Historians as they cover a wide variety of topics.

So what is Public History?  The National Council of Public History defines Public History as a discipline in which “historians and their various publics collaborate in trying to make the past useful to the public.”  This can be done in a wide variety of ways.  Museums are the most common form of Public History in practice, but there are others including local/regional history, oral history, historic preservation, documentary editing, museum studies, documentary film and visual arts, historical archaeology, archival work, and memory.  I am going to spend the next several weeks covering all nine of these topics in more detail.  I hope this series of posts will serve as a guide for anyone interested in the field. Until then…

-Eric

NOTE:  This is the first in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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