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Public History

Last Build Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2018 12:48:10 +0000


Princeton and Slavery

Tue, 07 Nov 2017 15:15:00 +0000

Getting ready to teach a digital history course on the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the spring, the director of our public history program here at KSU brought this amazing research project to my attention:

Princeton is my home town, and the university has a long and complex history with regards to racial politics.  It is exciting to see such path-breaking work coming from the history faculty and students at Princeton.  I will certainly use this work as an example in my class in the spring.

Barriers, Real and Imagined

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 21:54:00 +0000

Yesterday, I took a long walk with my new baby along the western border of the city of Decatur and through the former Beacon neighborhood. As David Rotenstein has documented in his ongoing research into the effaced African American history of Decatur, the Beacon neighborhood was a segregated African American enclave with an active business and cultural district and a variety of housing options, many of which were substandard.  The neighborhood was built through the mechanisms of segregation and "red-lining" and dismantled during the era of "urban renewal," with the last remnants of its architectural history, the former all-black "equalization" schools Beacon Elementary and Trinity High, removed to make way for a new municipal complex in 2013.On a January morning, the area feels like a "no-man's land," marked by dead-ends, fences, and private, no-outlet streets. Despite the rows of parked cars and occasional passersby, quiet covers the landscape like a blanket. I thought, perhaps as a pedestrian, I would be able to navigate the entirety of Atlanta avenue from Trinity Place to Howard Street, but I was mistaken. The low-income Park Trace apartment building marks one terminus of Atlanta avenue. It is surrounded by a metal fence that I can only assume is intended to keep residents from wandering into the market-rate housing development right behind it. To get back to the other side of Atlanta Avenue, I had to traverse a marginal landscape behind the Ebster pool fence, through an Ebster Park that seemed utterly disconnected from the rest of the city of Decatur except to an empty athletic field adjacent to the more modern low-income apartments along Commerce Drive, beside Decatur High School, and out past a gated townhouse community at the corner of Commerce and Howard. Fences, criss-crossing this entire route, are discouraging to a pedestrian if not downright exclusionary. This is a marked contrast with the Oakhurst neighborhood where you can walk for miles along streets that connect with each other.To me, and of course I speak from my own experience and position of privilege, the former Beacon neighborhood lacks friendliness, even if it feels safe and well-kept. Of course, it is the prerogative of private property owners to bound their property with fences if they so choose, but the ones in this area feel particularly obstructive.  Most are metal and spiky. These fences mark barriers both real and imagined between particular communities and the "public space" of downtown Decatur.I've been thinking a lot about barriers lately, especially with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump happening in Washington tomorrow. I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a Webinar sponsored by the American Alliance of Museum's EdComm about how museums should respond to the presidential election earlier this afternoon, and we spent a lot of time talking about the courage needed to stand up for and in solidarity with marginalized communities in a Trump administration, just as we did in the Obama administration.  Now is not a time to be timid in our convictions.  At the same time, we talk about bridging political gaps made more apparent by the results of this election. We argue that this work must be done, or we are doomed to inhabit echo chambers and fade into irrelevance.But what does it mean to do this work, truly? The words we use act like the fences I encountered on my walk yesterday.  Groups of people speak in code, signaling whether to listen to each other even before any ideas have been exchanged in a dialogue. On the right, people talk about the "constraints of political correctness." They talk about authenticity and being "real." They distrust the "mainstream media" and "liberal universities" and other institutions, including museums that they claim are all controlled by "social justice warriors." On the left, people talk about the dangers of "micro-aggression" and "triggers." They talk about "intersectionality" and creating an "inclusive culture," yet they continue to place a g[...]

Georgia Journeys Coverage and Research Aids for the Next Exhibit

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 15:13:00 +0000

Just in time for Veterans Day, I wanted to share this wonderful profile on Georgia Journeys from Michael Jacobs and the Atlanta Jewish Times:

I am also finding this new website on Mapping Inequality in New Deal America extremely helpful as I work on researching our next exhibit on the impact of World War II.

Warm Springs and Georgia Journeys

Tue, 25 Oct 2016 21:25:00 +0000

View of Georgia Journeys with FDR's Georgia mini-exhibit on the rightAfter working for the past year on a new permanent exhibit, Georgia Journeys, at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education, Matt and I took a weekend break for our anniversary (and babymoon). We traveled an hour and half southwest of Atlanta to Warm Springs, home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Little White House. There, he regained his confidence as he worked to coax life back into his polio-paralyzed limbs in the 1920s, inspired his "companions" and neighbors in the 1930s while honing the New Deal, and ultimately passed away, exhausted, in 1945.Little White House, Warm SpringsWarm Springs is definitely a pilgrimage site for Roosevelt enthusiasts. It is also an ever-aspiring tourist town, and home to the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation which includes a vocational rehab school as well as a more traditional facility for individuals recovering from traumatic injuries and illnesses. It is a place that is neither poor nor prosperous, and through that economic limbo, it maintains a timeless quality.FDR State Park, Office built by the CCCHistoric Pools, Warm SpringsWhile in town, we enjoyed our stay at Hotel Warm Springs, visited the historic pools and Little White House museums, went for a brief hike at FDR State Park, and took a swim in a spring-fed pool at the rec center on the rehab facility campus.  The excitement of the swim in such buoyant waters was marred a bit by modern chlorination, but, in some ways, the use of chlorine is a legacy of all those years of polio research funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (March of Dimes).Wilson Pools at the Rehab CenterMe seated in FDR's pew at the Rehab Center ChapelThe story of FDR in Georgia is not as well known as one might expect, but it begins to take on familiar dimensions, ones we reiterate in our Roosevelt mini-exhibit in Georgia Journeys. Beside the twelve stories of veterans, home front workers, and Holocaust survivors featured in the exhibit, FDR's becomes the thirteenth "journey."Perhaps it will be worthwhile to include him eventually in the digital exhibit.  In the meantime, please enjoy the website which is now live:[...]

Teaching the art of exhibition development

Thu, 21 Jan 2016 13:24:00 +0000

Yesterday, in a warm conference room in Albany, Georgia, I had the privilege of attending a workshop at  the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries (GAMG) conference entitled "Enhancing the Exhibitions Development Process."  The workshop was beautifully presented and well-paced, passing the torch from Kathy Dixson of Emory University MARBL (overall project management) to Don Rooney of the Atlanta History Center (new exhibitions proposal worksheet) to Todd Rivers of the Georgia Museum of Art (design and installation) to Jose Santamaria of the Tellus Science Museum (dos and don't of exhibit label writing and display). I had had the privilege of working with Kathy and Don this past semester, as both had agreed to speak to my GSU HIST8730 Exhibition Planning and Development Students. As museum folks well know, it is invaluable to encounter the same information again and again in slightly altered contexts.Beside the artifact case at the Wells Brown House in Stone MountainApplying the principles of sound project management and the tips and tricks of the sages of exhibition development proved challenging in the truncated time frame of a semester-long graduate course. My students invariably commented on the necessity of unprecedented levels of communication with their group members, the difficulties of coordinating efforts to produce content needed for different groups to accomplish their tasks, and the unique compromises necessary when working with a client. All-told, we produced an exhibit that met the needs and expectations of the Stone Mountain Historical Society. The medicine cabinet was an exercise in label placement.Teaching the class was an invaluable learning experience for me, especially because I will likely teach similar classes in the future. Even now, I am working with a group of interns on a project to produce an exhibit about WWII in Morocco in partnership with the Ben M'Sik Community Museum in Casablanca. It is significantly easier so far with a group of four interns, but we will be joined by 25 Moroccan students in March. In a teaching environment, it is not only important to produce a sound project that pleases your audience, client, and partners, but you must also provide a solid and rewarding learning experience for your students. In the case of our exhibit for Stone Mountain Historical Society, The Doctor is In:: Medical Practice in Stone Mountain 1900-1950, the students all wished they'd had more time and help doing initial research before honing in on the exhibit's "big idea," and they all wished they'd had more time to work with each other writing label text. I had made the decision when creating the syllabus for the course to divide the students into groups each responsible for different tasks, but the greatest responsibility for research and writing fell on the curatorial, education, and registration teams. Different levels of experience in historical research and universal inexperience in exhibition writing led to some difficulties in translating research efforts into exhibit text in support of our big idea.We were fortunate in that we had access to some very compelling artifacts, and the Stone Mountain Historical Society was comfortable displaying them under less than ideal security and climate conditions. The Stone Mountain Historical Society also had a clear idea of the historical content and tone they desired for the exhibit, so they ended up taking a heavy editorial hand. This was a disappointment to some of the students, but overall, I think it was an important and positive learning experience.[...]

An autumn of exhibits

Fri, 08 Jan 2016 17:12:00 +0000

In this new year, I'm looking forward to a busy exhibit schedule at work starting with a partnership with the Ben M'Sik Community Museum in Casablanca, Morocco, to produce an exhibit about Morocco during WWII. As I work on putting together my research and production schedule for the next several months, it seems like a good time to reflect on the the past few months of exhibitions viewed and created here in Atlanta.Standing beside Oscar the Grouch in the Jim Henson collection exhibit at the Center for Puppetry Arts on opening night!Right after I started my new job, I created a template for reviewing exhibits with an eye toward how they were produced, their effectiveness, and their sustainability. It's easier to be a critic than a creator, so I tried to be sensitive to the balancing act that is exhibit conception, production, fabrication, and marketing.  I reviewed a number of exhibits with content or style relevant to my biggest task at hand: creating a new exhibit focused on WWII from a Georgia perspective.  For that reason, it has been nice to take a break and look at a few exhibits with no specific content or style relevance to my work.  Of those viewed this fall, the cream of the crop include the new Worlds of Puppetry exhibits at the Center for Puppetry Arts, Habsburg Splendor  and Seriously Silly at the High Museum, and Women of Vision at Fernbank. Fernbank's higher profile exhibit, Searching for the Queen of Sheba, was disappointing.Women of Vision and Queen of Sheba contrasted greatly with each other. Queen of Sheba tried too hard to capitalize on the exotic allure and mysterious legend of the South Arabian queen. The real essence of the exhibit was a collection of artifacts related to the incense trade that sustained a civilization that existed in what is now Yemen.  "Dating from at least 1050 BCE, the Kingdom of Saba played an important role in the early development of ancient South Arabian civilization and in the trade of locally produced and highly prized aromatic resins, known generally as incense." (Quoted in Occupy My Family.) The parts of the exhibit actually about the legend of Sheba consisted mostly of reproductions of Sheba legends from four different cultures: Jewish, Christian, Ethiopian, and Muslim.  Although these divergent tales are interesting, I found myself wishing that the exhibit could have attracted attention without all the History Channel-style hype  as a detailed exploration of an ancient middle eastern civilization...Women of Vision put photography front and center.  It was more of an art exhibit than a science exhibit which led to some visitor orientation issues given its location at Fernbank.  However, some simple design choices including monochrome white frames around gloriously large full-color photographs, biographical panels featuring only on the eyes of each photographer, and ceiling banners with the full-size body of each photographer delineating sections helped to bring coherence to an exhibit whose content might otherwise be too divergent.  This exhibit avoided the pitfalls often associated with exhibits highlighting the contributions of a particular gender or ethnic minority. It didn't try too hard to make a big deal about the identity of the group.  Instead, it focused on each photographer as an artist with a unique vision. For that reason, each photograph was permitted to stand alone aesthetically while also grouped comprehensively with other examples from the photographer's body of work.  I found this approach refreshing.Reflections on my experiences teaching my first exhibition development class deserve their own blog post, so I will leave my dear readers here.[...]

Recent History@Work Posts

Tue, 13 Oct 2015 10:56:00 +0000

I recently published two posts on History@Work that are follow-ups to previous posts about the AP US History Curriculum and about my recent relocation to Atlanta from Lansing.

My AP US History post looks at the process that led to the re-revision of the curriculum framework in July of this year. 

My relocation posts discusses my decision to leave consulting in favor of a full-time job as a curator.

I hope you enjoy!

Rules to Live By

Tue, 11 Aug 2015 10:48:00 +0000

These argiope aurantia spiders who live in our garden
epitomize the idea of "being where you are"
In a recent job interview, I was asked whether I have a personal motto.  At the time, I couldn't think of anything other than my favorite Kermit the Frog quote, "It's not easy being green," which was a bit of a non sequitur.

Of course, as soon as I went home and started talking to my friends and family members, I was reminded of past conversations in which I had articulated some pretty good rules I try to live by:

1) Leave more than you take.

(My husband and I came up with this rule on a long hike on Mackinac Island in Michigan's northern lower peninsula when we were considering what we might put on a family "coat of arms." We were inspired by the park's "carry in/ carry out" policy, but we wanted to extend it to contributions of time and energy in the world.)

2) Be where you are.

(This rule is even older.  I began thinking about this idea during my daily commutes on the PATH train from Jersey City to Manhattan when I worked at the 9/11 Memorial.  Usually, I'd listen to music or podcasts, but occasionally my battery would run out and I'd realize that I was standing on a train full of other people, and I had an opportunity just to think about where I was in the world and in my life with no other distractions for an hour of my day, every day.  From a practical perspective, this rule would eliminate annoying behaviors like texting while driving and walking into people on the sidewalk...)

3) Any time you ask a question, have a genuine interest in hearing the answer.

(This last rule comes from Nina Simon's The Participatory Museum. But I realize that I have tried and will continue to try to apply it in my work and personal life.  It is the key to communication.)

Something Missing at the Georgia Aquarium

Sat, 08 Aug 2015 18:09:00 +0000

Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, GA, USA. Photo by Scott Ehardt, c/o Wikimedia CommonsI love the Georgia Aquarium.  My family has held a membership there since before we moved into our house last July.  So it is with a great deal of love that I offer this critique.  It is not easy to learn at the Georgia Aquarium.  Interactions with docents are a notable exception, but those can be more challenging to come-by during peak traffic times.  Shoulder-to-shoulder with a rainbow of tourists, I find myself longing for information about the fantastic animals I see on trip after trip. Last Wednesday, I hoped that my wish would be fulfilled when I finally had an opportunity to visit Aquanaut Adventure: A Discovery Zone. According to the Aquarium website, "this new addition invites guests of all ages to embark on an exciting, educational journey through the Aquarium’s upper levels while completing a series of entertaining challenges." Upon entering the exhibit, visitors are invited to work in teams and given an iPad device loaded with a program set to navigate the teams through the exhibit, giving them a challenge to complete in each of the exhibit's gallery spaces. The iPad program is promising, using a gps to guide visitors to their next challenge, overlaying animations on the physical walls of the exhibit and using the device's camera technology to record images of completed challenges, issuing teams virtual "badges" in a progress bar. Other challenges consisted of multiple choice and true-false questions that could be answered on the device, with "free passes" available for missed answers. Game mechanics can be a great motivator for learning, and this exhibit setup had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it failed to live up to this potential on a number of counts.First, for the information-based iPad quizzes, it was unclear where visitors were expected to actually learn the necessary information.  The multiple choice and true/false questions felt like a guessing game which seemed odd to me given the potential for lots of interesting information to be loaded on the device or available in the physical interactives in the exhibit.  Second, many interactives were broken or missing pieces. The aquarium did not seem to plan for the shear volume of visitors coming through the exhibit.  Third, and most importantly, the iPads were largely a distraction from the most engaging features of the exhibit-- simply being above the primary exhibits of the aquarium.  Above River Scout, we could see the tops of the rivers and the smaller tanks interspersed.  There were tanks featuring smaller animals which we almost missed because our eyes were glued to our screen and we were being directed to move onto the next challenge.  The most amazing spaces in the gallery offered an additional touch-tank and a view of the beluga whale tank where trainers were working with the animals.  If we hadn't put our iPads aside, we would have missed these experiences entirely.Since so many aspects of Aquanaut Adventure already seem to be in need of maintenance and repair, the Georgia Aquarium staff should consider adding more information to the game, inviting visitors to dig deeper if so inclined without an artificial time-limit compelling them ever onward.  A discovery zone should give visitors the needed white space to direct their own experiences and the depth of information to facilitate connections and true "discovery" visit after visit.Georgia Aquarium does offer an "Animal Guide" on its website, but this feature is buried. I first stumbled upon it by viewing a webcam of the Ocean Voyager exhibit and then finding a separate link to the animal guide for the gallery.  This guide is fantastic, offering a wealth of information about every animal in the aquarium, answe[...]

Georgia Capitol Museum

Thu, 28 May 2015 20:15:00 +0000

Closeup of the Georgia State Capitol by Connor.Carey on the Wikimedia Commons, 2009
Taking advantage of an extra hour after a meeting at GSU library, I decided to visit the Georgia State Capitol before my MARTA trip home. Although not quite as friendly upon entry as the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, the Georgia Capitol is a remarkable building to explore on your own. Decked out with the usual pomp and circumstance, with large paintings of former governors and busts of famous personages throughout the first floor lobby, the capitol exemplifies the high Victorian style of its inception. Completed in 1889, the capitol became a symbol of the New South. Intriguingly, a museum space was part of the original plans for the capitol, and the fourth floor corridor has served as a museum since the capitol was built.

The Capitol Museum is a hidden gem with a delightful consciousness of its own history.  There are exhibit cases that detail the changing focus of the museum over time and the ways in which museum aesthetics have shifted.  There are fantastic vintage dioramas on native flora and fauna and on key industries including peach packing and turpentine production.

Each museum case, especially in the large natural history section of the fourth floor, stands alone, inviting browsing and contemplation.  I hope this museum is not as under-appreciated as it appeared on this quiet Wednesday afternoon.

APUSH Post on History@Work

Wed, 04 Mar 2015 14:38:00 +0000

For all of my readers, I'd like to make sure you don't miss my post on the AP U.S. History framework published last Friday on History@Work.  Please add your thoughts and comments.

Why I love Roy Rosenzweig

Mon, 02 Feb 2015 15:42:00 +0000

(image) One of my greatest scholarly regrets is that I never had the opportunity to meet Roy Rosenzweig before he passed away in 2007. The year that he died, I had just started an exploration of digital history methods that has since become a passion of mine.  I was introduced to his work in graduate school by NYU's Peter Wosh.  I came to appreciate his efforts on a deeper level through my curatorial work at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, especially when the museum became a joint repository of the September 11 Digital Archive.

Since striking out on my own in 2012, I have devoted more time and energy to mastering some of Dr. Rosenzweig's legacy projects including Omeka, and Historical Thinking Matters. And, now that I am teaching my own digital history class at Georgia State University, it has been my pleasure to read through Clio Wired, a collection of his most iconic essays.

I began my class with an exploration of the nature of history, thinking about the work of the earliest historians, especially Herodotus. In his 2005 essay, "Collecting History Online," Dr. Rosenzweig compares the work of contemporary internet-based history collectors with that of Herodotus.

"Upon reflection, it appears that these online collections of the future are not unlike the very first history of Herodotus, which the potential to promote an inclusive and wide-ranging view of the historical record. In this travels around the Mediterranean region, Herodotus recorded the sentiments of both Persians and Greeks, common people in addition to leading figures, competing accounts, legends s well as facts. He wanted to save all of these stores before they were forgotten so that the color of the past would not be lost.  And as he told his audience, he was also cataloging and recounting it all because in the future people might have different notions of what or who is important...Using the internet to collect history shares this vision: it is undoubtedly a more democratic history than found in selective physical archives or nicely smoothed historical narratives, and it shares democracy's messiness, contradictions, and disorganization -- as well as its inclusiveness, myriad viewpoints, and vibrant popular spirit."

Here's to trying to keep Dr. Rosenzweig's vision of the potential of digital history alive!

Reflections on relocation (part 1)

Tue, 16 Dec 2014 20:57:00 +0000

Please take a look at a post I just published on History@Work about my experience relocating from Michigan to Georgia.  I welcome comments and additional advice.


Fri, 12 Dec 2014 21:11:00 +0000

Given recent events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and Staten Island, NY, I would like to join with my museum blogger colleagues in posting a statement about the appropriate role of community museums and historical sights in promoting understanding among people of different races and backgrounds:Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related EventsThe recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?Schools and other arts organizations are rising to the challenge. University law schools are hosting seminars on Ferguson. Colleges are addressing greater cultural and racial understanding in various courses. National education organizations and individual teachers are developing relevant curriculum resources, including the#FergusonSyllabus project initiated by Dr. Marcia Chatelain. Artists and arts organizations are contributing their spaces and their creative energies. And pop culture icons, from basketball players to rock stars, are making highly visible commentary with their clothes and voices.Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, allmuseums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission.We are a community of museum bloggers who write from a variety of perspectives and museum disciplines. Yet our posts contain similar phrases such as  “21st century museums,” “changing museum paradigms,” “inclusiveness,” “co-curation,” “participatory” and “the museum as forum.” We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish to serve.There is hardly a community in the U.S. that is untouched by the reverberations emanating from Ferguson and its aftermath. Therefore we believe that museums everywhere should get involved. What should be our role—as institutions that claim to conduct their activities for the public benefit—in the face of ongoing struggles for greater social justice both at the local and national level?We urge museums to consider these questions by first looking within. Is there equity and diversity in your policy and practice regarding staff, volunteers, and Board members? Are staff members talking about Ferguson and the deeper issues it raises? How do these issues relate to the mission and audience of your museum? Do you have volunteers? What are they thinking and saying? How can the museum help volunteers and partners address their own questions about race, violence, and community?We urge museums to look to their communities. Are there civic organizations in your area that are hosting conversations? Could you offer your auditorium as a meeting place? Could your director or other senior staff join local initiatives on this topic? If your museum has not until now been involved in community discussions, you may be met at first with suspicion as to your intentions. But now is a great time to start being involved.Join with your community in addressing these issues. Museums may offer a unique range of resources and support to civic groups[...]

The exclusive campus

Fri, 07 Nov 2014 21:16:00 +0000

Lullwater Preserve on the Emory University campus. Photo credit: Alans1948, flikr.comThe term "exclusive" is bandied about willy nilly these days by credit card companies and tourism boards. Every day, millions of people are enticed with direct mail promising exclusive access, an exclusive preview, an exclusive deal. All you have to do is pay and you, too, can join the "exclusive" club with all the millions of other cool people willing to fork over the dough.In our capitalist society, exclusive is synonymous with "cultured," "fashionable," "desirable," "superior." Advertisers wouldn't use it nearly as much if they thought it rubbed people the wrong way.And yet, it has always made me uncomfortable. Perhaps it comes from being the great-granddaughter of Jewish immigrants.  Perhaps it comes from being the cousin of a lynched freedom rider. Perhaps it comes from being a die-hard believer in the American ideal that we can create a better nation from uniting and cross-pollinating our cultures.  So many of us fled from places seeking to exclude us from the potential for prosperity and freedom.Of course, freedom is a double-sided coin. Freedom is affirmative, sure. We want to be free to travel, to speak our minds, to be protected equally under the law, to have our legal tender treated the same as everyone else's.  But for many, true freedom comes with the ability to keep other people out.  Such is the freedom that comes with property ownership.  Owning property means safety from encroachment, protection for our self-expression, (yes, I really meant to paint those lawn chairs bright orange!), a space for our children to play. People own property, and so do institutions.There are all kinds of entities and institutions in this country.  There are businesses with hours of operation, churches and synagogues with members and visitors, government offices, and of course, universities.  Universities are noble of purpose: they are institutions of higher learning.  Their goal is to advance the human project of understanding the universe in which we live and to train people for valuable roles in society. Some universities are public, and some are private, but all claim to contribute to a "universal" endeavor toward socio-cultural advancement.It seems to me, though, that interpretations of public and private are regional and cultural.  Universities tend to own large swaths of property and play an unusual role in the communities that support them.  Community engagement can take many forms.  On the basic level, it includes paying appropriate taxes, observing local laws, sponsoring charitable events.  On a greater level, though, it can include providing a welcoming space, an inspiring space for friends and neighbors.I grew up in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, on the "other side of the tracks" from the fabled halls of Princeton University.  However, I always felt welcome on Princeton campus.  I spent many a pleasant afternoon perched in the elbow of a large metal statue in front of the campus art museum, reading novels or dreaming of music.  We paid for parking, sure, but there was enough parking in the town of Princeton to enable this kind of interaction with the university.  I could pretend I was a college student, admire all the perceived intellectual activity going on around me. (Of course Princeton has a history of exclusion, but it's been doing pretty well on the inclusion front in recent years.)Atlanta seems to be structured differently. Two weeks ago, I set out on a Sunday morning with my husband and son seeking a quiet forest in which to walk for a few hours on a beautiful fall day[...]

Playgrounds post #1

Thu, 09 Oct 2014 19:54:00 +0000

When I was a little girl, I considered myself to be something of a playground connoisseur. Everywhere I traveled with my family, we would be sure to check out the local playgrounds. Favorites would warrant a return visit.Before my son could walk, playgrounds would tantalize us with their bright colors and promise of a joyful public realm just beyond our reach.  Now that my son is a bonafide toddler, we are free to begin exploring the glorious array of playgrounds on offer in greater Atlanta.  Future posts will highlight special places we go out of our way to visit, but this first post will outline our go-to playgrounds guaranteed to provide at least an hour of diversion for the two of us in Decatur.  Next post will cover some of the Atlanta playgrounds we've visited thus far.1) The Decatur Toy Park is owned by First Christian Church of Decatur.  Although it is not technically a public park, it is free to enter and enjoy and is a frequent haunt of stay-at-home moms and dads, babysitters and nannies with babies and toddlers in tow.  Although its centerpiece is a traditional playground and swing set most likely rated for 2-5 year olds, the park is the final resting place for every Little Tikes, Fisher Price, and off-brand plastic playhouse, kitchen, riding tractor, push-mower, and mini-slide you can imagine. The etiquette of the park ensures that "everything belongs to everyone" and children must learn to share as best they can, refereed by adults on the spectrum of checked-in to checked-out. The park is a proving ground that kids don't mind second-hand toys and that our cultural tendency toward gendering ("kitchens" for girls and "workshops" for boys) is rendered meaningless when toddlers are given a chance to explore all options. Ground cover: sod, blacktop, and mulch. Play structure: plastic slides with metal steps and platformsSwings: two big and two baby/toddlerOther features: plastic toddler toys and riding toys scattered throughoutSetting: Part shade/part sunIdeal age range: 1-52) Although not a traditional playground, the Wylde Center Oakhurst Garden on Oakview Road, has a play area featuring a sandbox with digger toys and slides, and a unique Cobb playhouse made from earth and fitted with attractive nooks and crannies.  The garden also features a pond home to frogs, a chicken coop with very friendly residents, and beehives.  This is a peaceful destination for parents and young children offering many features to explore with few opportunities for real trouble.Ground cover: sod, mulch, sandPlay structure: Cobb playhouse and two old plastic slides (close supervision for the youngest children recommended)Other features: many different plants and animals. Natural trails to explore in addition to raised garden beds.Setting: Part shade/part sunIdeal age range: all3) Scott Park is located in downtown Decatur, right next to the library and right behind the recreation center. This park is compact, located in a beautiful setting and very convenient to downtown. The play structure has bars that encourage young climbers to hold on tight as they ascend (and especially descend) the steps.  The play structure also features musical drums and bells which are very popular with kids of all ages.  There is a medium-sized slide just right for beginners and a higher tandem slide.  There is also a great oval track around the whole park and picnic area that makes for a great place to stroll a sleeping baby until he/she wakes up.Ground cover: mulch, blacktop, sod on the outskirtsPlay structure: metal and plastic. On the safer side for a new walker but with a few nerve-wracki[...]

Atlanta museums: month one

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 21:02:00 +0000

Through a combination of family visits and afternoons with the manlet, I've had a chance to visit six of Atlanta's museums so far this past month.  We have become members of the Georgia Aquarium and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History and have already visited both institutions more than once.  Since the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta History Center both honor AAM memberships and let kids under 2 in for free, we will probably not purchase additional memberships for those, and since both Fernbank and the High are remarkably kid-friendly places, we probably won't return frequently to Imagine It! the Atlanta Children's Museum.  I will likely return to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, mostly to view the changing exhibits derived from the Morehouse College MLK archive. In the remainder of this post, I offer quick reviews of the Georgia Aquarium,Fernbank and the High and a ,more in-depth review of the Center for Civil and Human Rights.Leo and the author at the High Museum of Art. #MiCasaYourCasaThe Georgia Aquarium straddles a line between carnival-like tourist attraction and bastion of marine science.  When it comes to aquaria (and zoos) I tend to be a bit of a purist.  Animals are beautiful and fascinating.  They do not require embellishment. The Georgia Aquarium has an astonishing array of marine life exhibits. Some of its most exciting denizens include beluga whales, sea otters, and a large coral reef.  However, the aquarium seems to feel the need to up the ante with Disney Princess giveaways in the lobby and advertisements everywhere for "exclusive" events and tours sponsored by a dizzying array of corporations.  I find myself longing for a quiet space for contemplation.  To be fair, we've only visited so far on weekends, so the place has been packed.  And my one-year-old son has no problem gluing his eyes to the fish, pointing and grinning and vocalizing, whether from shoulder-top or backpack or baby k'tan.  So I'll give the place a break.Leo loves Fernbank as well.  The natural history museum has a classic array of dioramas depicting Georgia's deep history, an enormous light-filled lobby containing a dramatic dinosaur display complete with pteranodons ready to take flight, a changing exhibit gallery, and an IMAX theater.  For Leo, the highlight is the NatureQuest gallery, a huge space for exploration of scientific themes and methods.  I anticipate many happy hours with Leo climbing up the tree house, rebuilding ancient walls, and discovering geological wonders in rocky enclaves.  The fun has just begun.The High Museum of Art also offers a remarkably fun atmosphere for small children.  The courtyard lawn of the institution is dominated by a whimsical art installation, Mi Casa Your Casa featuring bright red metal "house frames" most of which have hammocks strung invitingly across from corner to corner.  Leo and I spent a good hour walking around from similar structure to similar structure and swinging on the hammock chairs.  The museum also boasts a fantastic family education center with a walk-through painting, foam sculpture building blocks, a magnetic wall populated by "found objects" and more traditional dress-up clothes and kid-scaled, touchable artwork.  However, the appeal of the High goes beyond its installations designed specifically for families.  The complex's architecture is bright, airy, and fun to explore, offering unique vistas and approaches from every angle.  It also features one of the best contemporary art galleries I've ever explored with meaningful  exp[...]

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum

Mon, 18 Aug 2014 22:18:00 +0000

Last Thursday, at the tail end of a family vacation that took me to New Jersey, I visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum for the first time since its opening last spring.I visited alone, without my former colleagues, friends, or family, although I did stop first at the new offices of the Museum staff in the former One World Financial Center, now 200 Liberty Street. I had been careful not to read too many reviews before my visit. Adam Gopnik's contextual piece in the New Yorker was an exception. My immediate emotional response was one of relief. I found myself relieved that the museum has been built, that a place with such heavy potential energy has been realized. No longer is there a tremendous build-up of pressure and possibility. There is a museum. It is full of things, and sounds, and images, and people. The people are participant observers. They have come to learn and they appear respectful, introspective, intrepid. I observed numerous positive encounters between visitors and education staff. The space to cover is vast, dense in places. Where there is sufficient space for reflection, the impact is at its greatest. Where there is too much space, the pacing feels off, uncertain. The entry ramp that leads from the lobby level to bedrock unfolds with an odd pace, almost a punctuated equilibrium.  It is not unlike memory, but not quite like it either. The overlooks (areas where the wall dips to the tower volumes and vistas below), with the exception of the glass wall over Foundation Hall, are too high for clear viewing by a person of my proportions (short), let alone a person in a wheel chair. Spencer Finch's art installation, photo by Adina LangerHowever, the space from the survivors’ staircase through the memorial exhibition unfolds beautifully. Spencer Finch's art installation on the east wall, surrounding the famous Virgil quote “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” is a slow reveal of emotional intensity. The piece is the only artwork commissioned for the new museum. At first I did not understand what I was looking at – blue tiles? Post-it notes? And then I read the description of the piece, “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky That September Morning.” 2983 water-color paper squares. Each a different, unique shade of blue. The impact was complete, like a flood of water over a wall. The paper an echo of the fallen paper on 9/11 and the missing posters that appeared everywhere afterward. The color, subtly variegated. One for each human life extinguished. The act of repetition, an impossible task of remembering an impression – perception different for every individual. I didn’t know what I was  viewing at first, but now I am glad for having viewed it.  I cannot think of a better cladding for a wall separating the museum from the repository of human remains. The memorial exhibition, the part of the museum for which I was responsible for four of the 6 years I worked at the Memorial, was like slipping inside a model I knew like the back of my hand. The faces are bathed in a warm glow, and we were successful in obtaining so many images. I saw hardly any oak leaves, the symbol used when a photo could not be obtained, and most of the images were clear, colored, and lovely. It was not easy to view the names on the top rows, but they could be read easily in the interactive tables which worked beautifully, with only a few issues with the speed of loading content. The audio quality was clear and warm in tone, not tinny or harsh, even for the remembrances which originated with “Call toRemember.” My only complaint, somethi[...]

Georgia on my Mind

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:09:00 +0000

Yesterday marked the one-week anniversary of my arrival with my family to our new home in Georgia.  We purchased a beautiful renovated house in Decatur, a near-eastern suburb of Atlanta. Hopefully, this will mark the opening of a longer chapter in my professional life, after sojourns in New York City and Lansing, Michigan.Five years ago, when we moved to Michigan, I knew that there was a built-in sunset to our stay. I had accompanied my husband who was enrolled in the accounting PhD program at Michigan State University.  With the achievement of his doctorate, we felt the proverbial boot on our backsides.  Time to move on. It turns out that five years is just about the perfect amount of time to feel like you've become a part of a community. We had our friends, our synagogue, our favorite restaurants and shopping routine.Now we are in unfamiliar territory. Every day is a new exploration of a place both very old and very new. Atlanta's trees tower over the streets, shading modest homes built when Jim Crow reigned supreme and Jews were viewed as foreigners. Those same trees hold in their arms ropes for children's swings; Indian-American children of CDC employees, African-American children of nurses and software designers, southern children of midwestern and northern expats, play together in the busy childcare facilities at the Greater Atlanta YMCA branches throughout town. There is a deep undercurrent of memory and a surface veneer of present-mindedness. Hipster thirty-somethings open artisan coffee shops where twenty-somethings jack into their favorite social networks. Here and not here.There is a sense of pageantry. B*ATL concluded just as we arrived in town. The organization sponsored a week of celebrations, readings, reenacting and other family-friendly activities to commemorate a devastating time of sectarian tensions in the nation's past. There is a feeling that amnesia lurks around every corner. If we can't make history fun, no one would want to learn about it.I don't know whether this is true. And I have much exploration ahead of me. I am looking forward to meeting colleagues in Georgia State's Heritage Preservation Program, to dipping my fingers and toes into the shadowed waters of the Atlanta-area history scene.Posing with the Colonel Sanders statue at the Sanders Cafe in Corbin, KYI will report what I find along the way. In the meantime, I can reflect on a strange and wonderful journey southward. Watching my son enjoy french fries at the original Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe in Corbin, Kentucky, for example.  The Sanders Cafe is a museum and also a working, modern KFC restaurant. A most unusual combination. Of course, the museum's displays are hagiographical, but it does come across quite clearly that Sanders' primary innovation in the 1940s was that he could cook fried chicken fast. And what's more American than that?[...]

Family restrooms deserve a history

Mon, 16 Dec 2013 20:04:00 +0000

Having taken two big trips so far with my husband and our baby son, I have grown highly appreciative of the "family restroom." The rest areas along the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes have lovely family restrooms, as does the Detroit International Airport. Changing a baby and managing multiple travel bags is no picnic, and I am grateful to have my husband's assistance, as I'm sure he is grateful to have mine.
My son, Leo, at the family restroom near the entrance of the McNamara Terminal at the Detroit International Airport

At the same time, it's amazing to me how something so logical can be so rare. Gender segregation remains the norm in this country, and, at least partially as a result, gender stereotypes.  In most places, if a changing table exists, it can only be found in the women's restroom. Problems are only compounded as children get older and different-gender parents or grandparents must choose whether to take children in the restroom with them or risk having them go into the other restroom without them. I can only imagine how challenging this system must be for transgender people.

It seems to me that the time is ripe for someone to write a history of public restrooms and gender segregation.  Public restrooms force individuals to confront gender questions every time they leave their homes. As public spaces, they are certainly not neutral, and they deserve to be examined with a critical eye.

Government and Business

Fri, 18 Oct 2013 14:09:00 +0000

Like most Americans, I spent the last couple weeks following the shut-down debacle with a mixture of bemusement and disappointment. It's hard to get excited about a reasonable end to an entirely avoidable crisis. Thinking about the history of government in the United States, it's hard not to wonder whether the legislative quagmire we find ourselves in today could have been avoided through systematic tweaks back in the days of the original constitutional convention. We find ourselves in a bad equilibrium state, and perhaps our founders neglected to see the ways in which voters and politicians would feed off of each other's fears and short-term desires, and the ways in which they would throw away traditions of respect in favor of procedural allowances.  That being said, this seems like the right time to post a video that was shared with me by the Online MBA organization, emphasizing the ways in which government and business do (and should) differ in how they are run. Perhaps now is the time to rethink how our government should be structured in order to allow it to solve problems. Our generation will not be able to keep kicking the can down the road.

Personal history: Annie's Ghosts and the writing of historical memoir

Tue, 13 Aug 2013 21:05:00 +0000

In the heady days immediately before and after the birth of my son, Leo, I picked up this year's Great Michigan Read, Annie's Ghosts by Detroit native Steve Luxenberg. Annie's Ghosts is billed as a "journey into a family secret," but it is also described as an exploration of early 20th century views of mental illness in the Detroit immigrant Jewish community. For that reason, it has been enthusiastically embraced by my synagogue, Congregation Kehilat Israel (KI) in Lansing, which is sponsoring a number of programs around the book in the fall. KI has also taken the book as inspiration for focusing on the theme of "personal history" for the coming year.

Reading this book, on its own merits and in the context of the birth of my son, I find myself thinking critically about the concept of personal history. Personal history, written in the form of a creative work of nonfiction or memoir is at once public history as well as private history. While the author digs into a theme of deep personal significance, there is an assumption that the resulting story will be of interest to a "greater public" as well. Luxenberg certainly makes this assumption, never shying away from analyzing his feelings about his investigation of his mother's mentally disabled sister who died in an institution, kept secret from his mother's husband and her children. In fact, Luxenberg assumes that the public will be fascinated as much by his investigative process as by the outcome of his investigation. At the same time, he assiduously avoids generalizing his research beyond the context of his family history. Luxenberg is fascinated by the personal aspects of his search (his emotional responses, questions about whether such a secret should be aired at all) and by the web of connections that enables him to find answers, a notably journalistic preoccupation.

As a historian, I am troubled by the lack of generalization in this book.  The narrative vacillates between a how-to manual of investigative journalism and a memoir that questions the meaning of familial relationships and shifting centers of control over information and story. These are interesting themes that every historian should be aware of when conducting research, but they feel hollow to me when they are not placed in a larger social context.  Without that, I often find myself asking, why should I care?

Victuals, Vehicles, and Violence at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Tue, 09 Apr 2013 22:34:00 +0000

Having a day to myself in Washington, D.C. last Friday enabled me to do something I've always wanted to do: spend an entire day at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Even with an entire day at my disposal, I didn't come close to seeing everything, or even to giving what I did see as much attention as it probably deserved. With some pleasant moments strolling along the artifact walls (yay! artifact walls!) to punctuate my day, I focused primarily on three exhibits: FOOD: The Exhibition, America on the Move, and The Price of Freedom: Americans at War. Food: The Exhibition opened only recently, in November 2012. Although Julia Child's kitchen had long played an important role in the museum's corner devoted to post-1950s, America, this new exhibit gives it pride of place and a great deal of context. Since I am currently working on a food exhibit, Lansing Eats! for the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, I visited this exhibit hoping to draw inspiration for our much smaller, but similar, endeavor. Of course, with a national audience, Food can afford to look at trends in production, distribution, and consumption of food much more broadly than we will in Lansing. Given my general knowledge of the subject, I enjoyed the way in which the NMAH tackled topics from mass production and farm labor to grocery store technological innovation, to TV dinners and the Gourmet Ghetto. I only wish that the exhibit had included some kind of introductory text that summarized food culture in America prior to 1950, just to lay the groundwork for all the change evidenced throughout the exhibit. Many of the trends shown, from convenience foods to ethnic diversification, have their roots in much earlier waves of immigration and migration across the country.  Although I found the extensive section on the US wine industry a little bit baffling (why not beer?), I really enjoyed the open table section that formed the centerpiece of the exhibit. Who knew there have been quite so many variations on the food pyramid over the years?Living within driving distance of The Henry Ford, probably the best transportation museum in the country, I was a bit surprised by just how well-done America on the Move  was within the NMAH. Aside from enormous (and therefore fun!) artifacts with truly impressive ADA compatibility (labels with audio readers in more than one language), I thought the exhibit did a great job of highlighting particular American cities that illustrated certain national trends within US transportation history. For example, New York City got its moment in the sun during the transition from a maritime economy to one based on connections between shipping, canals, and ultimately railroads. Greater Chicago was featured in a section about suburbanization, de facto segregation, and integration, and an enormous glowing map of Los Angeles dominated the concluding section about cities shaped by automobiles. I hope that the Smithsonian can invest in a continuation of this exhibit in the next decade to look at some of the challenging questions raised by our reliance on fossil fuels and long-range shipping networks for consumer goods around the world.  I'm hopeful the curators would find an appealing yet provocative way to delve into these challenging topics as well.If you've hung in this long, dear reader, you probably understand what I felt like when I decided to visit The Price of Freedom toward the end of my day[...]

Musing on the Musee des Beaux Arts and Grande Bibliotheque in Montreal

Sat, 06 Apr 2013 14:56:00 +0000

Tomorrow marks the end of a two-week long circular trek along the East Coast, from Michigan to Montreal, down through New England to New Jersey and Pennsylvania, to Virginia and Washington, DC, and then back to Michigan. Although we were in Montreal primarily to visit my brother for Passover, we had a few hours to spend touring the city. Two destinations worth highlighting are the Grande Bibliotheque and the Musee des Beaux Arts.The Grande Bibliotheque combines the convenience of a lending library with a truly vast array of research resources in social and natural sciences, math, literature, history, music, and fine arts. The library is accessible directly via the metro, for those cold, cold Montreal winter days, and on a Sunday in March, it was packed with users of all ages. People were seated in sunny alcoves reading books and magazines, using computer terminals, browsing a large collection of CDs and DVDs and wandering in and out of the shelves in search of   new and classic materials in French and English. Although the library's archives and special collections were not open when we visited, I enjoyed the way they were separated from the general collections areas only by glass walls, seemingly designed to pique visitors' curiosity. Particularly intriguing objects could be found in display cases on every level, creating a continuum from circulation to limited use to preservation that seemed logical and non-contrived.On the other end of the conoisseurship spectrum, the Musee des Beaux Arts, which I had visited previously a number of years ago, boasted some singular objects with virtually inscrutable labels and no greater narrative to speak of. In our visit, we stuck with the permanent or semi-permanent exhibits, opting not to visit the blockbuster Peru exhibit (about which we heard nothing glowing). In the museum's contemporary art building, angst seemed to be the order of the day with large-scale works in the conceptual art tradition. Unfortunately, we were not even given the benefit of artists' statements to point our way toward meaning. Instead, labels included only titles, the names of the artists or art-collectives (with possibly some general biographical information about the artsits) and, of course, the name of the donor/patron.Giovanni Rufi, La Cova Sofa, 1973, on display at the Musee Des Beaux ArtsThe design exhibits across the street were more to my taste, but I still found the labels and navigation supremely disappointing. I can't help but want to know more about how artistic traditions evolved in a historical context.  Why are particular materials used more at different times than others. What makes some designers break with functionality while others innovate to create objects of beauty or significance that can still serve the functions for which their inspirational objects were originally intended? Once I turned off these probing questions in my head and resolved to experience the exhibit with the only sense allowed to me, my eyes, I found a great deal to enjoy. Favorite pieces included the "Mama Chair" by an Italian designer, made to look like a large inviting lap complete with a very comforting-looking bust, and a "birds' nest" couch with some very soft-looking eggs nestled among brown fabric.Gaetano Pesce, La Mamma Armchair and Ottoman, 1969 (examples of 1984) On viewIt is a rather strange sensation to have to experience furniture entirely with your eyes. This was made e[...]

History of a Company Town

Wed, 13 Feb 2013 20:17:00 +0000

One of those nifty things about growing up in New Jersey is that every era of U.S. history is represented within a few square miles. You can witness a reenactment of George Washington Crossing the Delaware on Christmas Eve, and visit the homes of well-to-do 19th century academic luminaries in Princeton. Roebling, New Jersey, around a bend in the river about ten miles south of Trenton, provides a unique glimpse into the area's late 19th and early 20th century industrial heritage.A view toward the Roebling plant's cable-looping infrastructureJohn Roebling, a Prussian immigrant engineer with a knack for designing suspension bridges, brought a highly successful innovation to the United States: twisted wire cables. Roebling's new technology enabled him successfully to construct bridges over Pittsburgh's precarious gorges, and eventually landed him the commission of a lifetime: to build New York City's Brooklyn Bridge in the 1860s. Sadly, John Roebling died in 1869 of Tetanus contracted as a complication of a foot injury he sustained while surveying one of the bridge's towers. His son, Washington, with help from his wife, Emily, saw the bridge's construction to completion. Washington, along with his brothers, Ferdinand and Charles, went on to build their father's wire rope company into a thriving business.In 1904, they opened the Kinkora Steelworks on privately owned farmland, and founded the company town of Roebling for factory workers and their families to live in. The Roebling Museum, a small gem of a museum housed in the former Kinkora gatehouse, tells the story of the Roebling family, the Kinkora Works, and the town of Roebling. The relationship among these three entities is deeply intertwined and fascinating. The museum does a stellar job of giving voice to the workers through videotaped oral history, artifacts, and images, explaining the engineering innovations that made possible many of America's most iconic bridges (including the Brooklyn Bridge, George Washington Bridge, and Golden Gate Bridge), and narrating the Roeblings' family story.To most people familiar with labor history, the words "company town" send shivers up and down the spine. I immediately think of exploitative bosses and unfair credit systems in a company story turning free employees into indentured servants. Although planned and built with clear class delineations (basic laborers' row-houses closest to the noise of the factory, semi-detached homes a few blocks back for skilled workers, and large riverside homes for the foremen and their families), Roebling did not follow the more exploitative practices of its cousins. Although the company owned all the land and reserved the right to evict disruptive tenants from the factory and their homes in town, the workers were given access to stores, restaurants, and saloons accessible with cash, and every immigrant group was given space to build their own church and social clubs. To an immigrant used to squalid tenement apartments on the Lower East Side of New York City or similar, Roebling, with its green yards and decent-paying jobs, must have looked like a small slice of heaven. At least that's the story conveyed by the museum. Roebling's factory, which remained open for 70 years, epitomizes an industrial brand of Americana made possible by special circumstances of the 20th century.[...]