Where are blacks & women? Liv­ing his­tory mu­se­ums re­think past

Ripon Bulletin - - On The Road -

BOS­TON (AP) — A Mas­sachusetts liv­ing his­tory mu­seum that de­picts life in the early 19th cen­tury is look­ing to over­haul the way it presents the past in an ef­fort to stay rel­e­vant to a 21st cen­tury au­di­ence.

Old Stur­bridge Vil­lage has re­ceived a $75,000 grant from the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties it will use to part­ner with schol­ars and other con­sul­tants for a mul­ti­year study into how it por­trays four ar­eas: agri­cul­ture and food, civics, in­dus­try and econ­omy, and race and gen­der.

It’s a mod­est grant, but it could have a ma­jor im­pact.

“What this grant will al­low us to do is look at the en­tire pic­ture and re­ally dive deep into mak­ing sure that it’s a co­he­sive, pur­pose­ful ex­pe­ri­ence for the vis­i­tor as they progress through the mu­seum,” said Rhys Sim­mons, Old Stur­bridge Vil­lage’s direc­tor of in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

The re­boot, the mu­seum’s first in about 40 years, is sorely needed, Sim­mons said. Old Stur­bridge Vil­lage hasn’t up­dated its staff train­ing ma­te­rial since the 1970s, and vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence sur­veys have found that peo­ple, while gen­er­ally pos­i­tive about their visit, feel some­thing is miss­ing.

Many mu­se­ums are deal­ing with sim­i­lar is­sues, said Jeff Hard­wick, deputy direc­tor of the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties Di­vi­sion of Pub­lic Pro­grams.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port by the Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Sciences Hu­man­i­ties In­di­ca­tors project, vis­its to his­toric sites have been on the de­cline since 1982.

“Many his­toric site in­ter­pre­ta­tions have lagged be­hind schol­ar­ship, so they have to be­come more rel­e­vant to a more di­verse au­di­ence,” Hard­wick said.

Old Stur­bridge Vil­lage, on 200 acres (81 hectares) in cen­tral Mas­sachusetts, de­picts life in a small New Eng­land town of the 1830s, with 40 to 50 em­ploy­ees dressed in period cloth­ing go­ing about daily rou­tines in the home, work­shops or farm and in­ter­act­ing with visi­tors. It gets about 250,000 visi­tors a year.

The early 19th cen­tury was a time of so­cial up­heaval, and the role of mi­nori­ties and women was chang­ing. Slav­ery no longer ex­isted in most of New Eng­land, and the abo­li­tion­ist and tem­per­ance move­ments were in full swing.

Yet the mu­seum hasn’t done a good enough job of pre­sent­ing those sto­ries, Sim­mons said.

“We un­der­rep­re­sent the African-Amer­i­can and the Na­tive Amer­i­can story dra­mat­i­cally,” Sim­mons said. “You leave here with the sense that it was an al­most ex­clu­sively white- and male­dom­i­nated pic­ture of what life was like.”

The role of women also needs to be re-ex­am­ined, he said. While men held jobs in the fields, or in work­shops, women held the house­hold to­gether.

A woman do­cent milks a cow.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.