Archive for Consulting

History Exhibit Opens at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater


Picture of exhibit

Exhibit opening at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, February 3, 2017

Last week, an exhibit I’ve been working on for a number of years opened at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater“A Thing of Beauty and a Joy Forever”: The History of Bloomington’s Community Theater recounts the history of a nearly-century-old venue just off the downtown square in Bloomington, Indiana. Today, the building is known as the Burkirk-Chumley Theater, a six-hundred-seat performing arts venue that has played a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Bloomington over the past fifteen years. Before that, the building housed the Indiana Theatre, an 1,100-seat movie palace built in 1922.

The designer and the researcher in front of an exhibit panel.

Jennifer Hottell (right) and I in front of the opening panel of our exhibit.

 

The roots of the current exhibit go back about ten years, when I conducted preliminary research into the history of the building, which is part of the Bloomington Downtown Square National Register District. From this project came a much more basic exhibit designed to answer some common questions from visitors about the history of the theater, which–after a period of decline–was renovated to reflect its 1930s heyday as part of its conversion into a contemporary performing arts hall.

A few years ago, the theater received funding from Indiana Humanities to conduct further research into two aspects of the Indiana Theatre’s past: the desegregation of the theater in the 1940s and the immigrant history represented by the Indiana Sweet Shop, a candy store housed in one of the building’s storefronts, which operated for over sixty years. The effort involved the expansion of the original history exhibit to include both the new research and more of the original research than made it into the first exhibit.

I was brought on as the project historian, performing documentary research, conducting oral histories, and creating the text for the ultimate exhibit. Jennifer Hottell, a Bloomington-based graphic designer, joined the team to reconceptualize the visual presentation of the information. The final result–incorporating my research, Jenn’s design, and oversight and input from the Buskirk-Chumley’s executive director Danielle McClelland–is a multi-media exploration of this theater, Bloomington history, and the movie palace era in general. It will be on permanent display at the Buskirk-Chumley until the theater’s hundredth anniversary in 2022.

One of the exhibit panels.

The exhibit panel discussing the theater’s desegregation.

The technology panel of the exhibit.

The exhibit panel exploring the changing technology of showing movies.

Year in Review: 2016


As is my habit at the end of the year, I took a few minutes this morning to reflect on the past twelve months–to note the achievements and ponder how to make next year even more productive and full of joy. (Happily, when you love your work, those two goals tend go hand in hand!)

Personally and professionally, for me, 2016 was great. I reached a number of milestones, expanded my client base, and began applying my expertise to a wider range of historical endeavors.

Perhaps the most exciting news of the year was that my book, Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites, won the 2016 book award from the National Council on Public History! It was such an honor. And, coincidentally, for the next few days, the book is on sale at the publisher’s website. You can save 35% by using the code RLWEB3516.

In other publication news, the National Park Service released its LGBTQ Heritage Theme Study, to which I contributed (and about which you can read here). I published a book review (and just submitted another one!) in CHOICE and an exhibit review in The Public Historian. In addition, I published three articles:

This year, I also co-facilitated a learning lab–“LGBTQ for Me and You”–at the PastForward conference, the annual gathering of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Speaking at this conference is by invitation only, so it was an honor to be invited. In addition, this past year I served on the plenary panel of the Hoosier Women at Work conference; presented at the American Association for State and Local History, The Future of History Graduate Education, and the Organization of American Historians conferences; and gave talks at the University of Massachusetts, IUPUI, President Lincoln’s Cottage, and the Van Abbemuseum.

When I wasn’t writing or speaking, I was consulting, and 2016 saw me begin working with a number of new clients. They include:

I look forward to writing more about these projects in the new year! I also did some pro bono consulting with the Congressional Commission on an American Women’s History Museum, which recently submitted its report to Congress and the President of the United States.

Finally, during 2016 I began to stretch myself a bit intellectually. Although much of my work the past few years has focused on women’s history and LGBTQ interpretation in museums, I am in the process of reaching out to encompass other areas of expertise. I served as acting executive director of the National Council on Public History for three months this past summer, and I am currently working on multiple historic preservation projects as well as an article on the history of sexuality more generally (that is, beyond LGBTQ expressions).

What a year! I can’t wait to see what new adventures 2017 brings along.

A Stint as Acting Director of the National Council on Public History


“NCPH INSPIRES PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WITH THE PAST AND SERVES THE NEEDS OF PRACTITIONERS IN PUTTING HISTORY TO WORK IN THE WORLD BY BUILDING COMMUNITY AMONG HISTORIANS, EXPANDING PROFESSIONAL SKILLS AND TOOLS, FOSTERING CRITICAL REFLECTION ON HISTORICAL PRACTICE, AND PUBLICLY ADVOCATING FOR HISTORY AND HISTORIANS.” – NCPH MISSION STATEMENT –

 

Last week, I wrapped up three months as acting director of the National Council on Public History (NCPH), a professional organization that supports practitioners putting history to work in the world. I’ve been an active member of the NCPH for about fifteen years–regularly presenting at annual meetings and volunteering on numerous committees, most recently on the Local Arrangements Committee for the 2017 NCPH annual meeting, which will take place in Indianapolis in April 2017. The opportunity to further engage with the organization arose when the NCPH Board of Directors and executive director, Stephanie Rowe, approached me about filling in for Stephanie while she was out on maternity leave.

As many of you know, I worked for thirteen years at the Organization of American Historians, the largest professional society devoted to United States history. My recent time on staff at the NCPH allowed me to once again get behind the scenes at a historical organization and support the profession by fostering community among practitioners and providing assistance as they carry out their important work.

The NCPH is an extremely well-run institution, so jumping into such an important role proved to be easier than I was anticipating. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations of the non-profit, my projects included collaborating with the NCPH vice-president, Marla Miller, to appoint volunteers to the NCPH’s numerous committees; enhancing the NCPH’s partnership with the International Federation for Public History as the IFPH prepared for its annual meeting in Bogotá; and responding to input and advocacy requests from the organization’s members.

I enjoyed this chance to apply my skills and experience in an executive capacity while also assisting a historical organization with a short-term staffing shortage. I hope to take on similar efforts in the future, so please do let me know if you are aware of such opportunities.

Stephanie Rowe and Sue at the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Stephanie Rowe and Sue at the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Upcoming Workshop: Job Seeking Beyond the Professoriate


It’s a wonderful time to be a history graduate student thinking about careers outside of the academy! Our discipline’s major professional organization, the American Historical Association, has launched a Career Diversity Project, aimed at gathering concrete data about where people with History PhDs work and what the employers who hire them are looking for. The AHA’s advocacy is sparking a larger discussion within the profession about moving graduate education beyond simply vocational training for the professoriate. In addition, an exciting number of entrepreneurial historians have started businesses, blogs, and websites providing a wealth of information for job-seekers with PhDs.

By Kit from Pittsburgh, USA (Grads Absorb the News) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kit from Pittsburgh, USA (Grads Absorb the News) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This conversation is not new, of course. Since at least the 1970s, a sizable percentage of graduates from history PhD programs have worked in a variety of careers. And many people (such as myself) entered graduate school never planning to pursue an academic career. What’s changed is that career diversity is gaining wider acceptance within the field as a whole. Job seekers can now much more easily find information about a broad range of careers for historians, and academic graduate programs are increasingly supportive of students who choose a less-traveled career path.

On Friday, April 3, I will be at Indiana University, leading a workshop for graduate students on “Job Seeking Beyond the Professoriate.” This event is sponsored by the Indiana University Department of History and all Indiana University graduate students in the humanities are welcome to attend.

I’ll be tailoring much of the workshop to the specific needs and questions of the attendees. In addition, we’ll cover the following general topics:

  • the range of jobs humanities PhDs are qualified for
  • the types of skills non-academic employers are looking for
  • tips for repackaging academic skills for a wider job market
  • the basics of résumé writing (as opposed to C.V. building)

The workshop is the first of a series of efforts related to career preparation beyond the professoriate that I’ll be undertaking in collaboration with Indiana University. Check my website often to learn more.

“Job Seeking Beyond the Professoriate” will take place Friday, April 3, 2015, 1:00pm to 2:30 pm, in Ballantine Hall 209, Indiana University, Bloomington Campus.

 

Blithewold Mansion, Garden & Arboretum: Request for Proposals


Water Garden at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum

Water Garden, Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For the past few months, I have been consulting with Blithewold Mansion, Garden, & Arboretum as the organization prepares to undertake a National Historic Landmark (NHL) nomination of its historically significant landscape. Overlooking Narrangansett Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island, Blithewold is a Country Place Era estate that magnificently blends landscape design, architecture, and decorative arts into an integrated whole. In addition to representing a outstanding example of this era of landscape design, Blithewold also allows for an exploration of the work of designer John DeWolf and the role of women in American landscape history, an aspect of the project I have particularly enjoyed.

Together with the excellent staff at Blithewold, Inc., we have now completed a plan for the nomination and posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for parties interested in completing the NHL nomination. We seek individuals or teams with experience evaluating historic designed landscapes and expertise in American landscape history and women’s history. If you are interested in learning more, you can find the RFP posted at http://www.blithewold.org/news. Deadline for proposals is July 1, 2014.

One Year Since “Telling the Whole Story”


Participants of "Telling the Whole Story"

Participants of “Telling the Whole Story.”

Last week, we passed the one-year anniversary of “Telling the Whole Story: Women and the Making of the United States,” a meeting of the minds held at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington, DC, December 10-11, 2012. The symposium was a joint effort by the National Park Service and the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) and brought together an exciting array of women’s historians from both inside and outside the park service. I served as one of the organizers and facilitators of this event, and I deeply enjoyed seeing the passion and creativity generated by this gathering.

The event was part of a larger initiative by the NPS, assisted by NCWHS, to expand women’s representation in the history being told by the agency. And this initiative in turn is the outgrowth of a call made by then Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar in March 2012. You can see a video of Salazar’s announcement at the end of this post.

The purpose of this symposium was to develop a specific set of recommendations for park service staff to strive for as they move forward with their goal of expanding women’s history. By the end of the two days, the group had developed nine recommendations, which we presented to Secretary Salazar. These suggestions were later distilled to eight concrete goals for the park service to pursue, addressing women’s history in NPS programs, national parks, agency policy, and community outreach. Catch all the details in the symposium report.

Two elements of the women’s history summit seemed to me to be particularly important. First, while the goals we developed are far-reaching in their potential to expand women’s history within the NPS, they intentionally dovetail with other efforts underway within the agency. For example, one of the goals calls for an NPS interpretive framework that is inclusive of the wide range of women’s experiences, a vision that is all the more likely to be accomplished because a revision of the framework (an official NPS document) is currently in process. By linking our goals to other initiatives within the agency, the team sought to accomplish substantive changes despite the current government climate of sequestration and scarcity.

A second noteworthy element of this effort was the substantial contribution by both the interpretive branch and the cultural resources branch of the NPS. The NPS lovers among us will remember that Imperiled Promise, the recent report on the state of history in the NPS, specifically called on these two divisions to work more closely in telling the American public about its past. “Telling the Whole Story” was an early example the agency putting Imperiled Promise into action.

“Telling the Whole Story” was just the first step in the park service’s larger women’s history initiative; work continues, guided by the recommendations developed a year ago.

 

Watch a two minute video about Secretary Salazar’s call to expand women’s history interpretation:

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