Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Museum Topics (page 2 of 12)

Interpreting the Charlestown Navy Yard in Context

Today’s post comes to you from Carlos Lu, current Tufts student in the Museum Education Master’s program. Here, he discusses an experience he recently had at the USS Constitution Museum.

As part of training for my new position at the USS Constitution Museum, I visited the Charlestown Navy Yard’s Visitor Center. There, a National Park Services Ranger named Patrick Boyce proceeded to inform us about the position of the Charlestown Navy Yard as the “black sheep” of Boston’s National Park Services family.

The National Park Services (NPS) of Boston focuses primarily in handling and preserving sites important to the American Revolution, rightfully so as Boston is the inception of America’s choice to cast off its chains of colonialism and become its own, independently governed state. But that means the design of Massachusetts’ NPS interpretation is seen through the lens of the American Revolution. Where does this leave a shipyard that wasn’t built at the time of the American Revolution and saw its highest levels of use during the Second World War? If the responses from the park ranger is any indication, it leaves the still culturally significant, government run service feeling excluded, neglected, and pretty confused.

Let’s step back for a second. For those who don’t know, the Charlestown Navy Yard was built in the 18th Century to build ships capable of defending the United States’ merchant fleet from those who would do it harm, in particular the Barbary pirates from Algiers.  It was the construction site of the USS Constitution, one of the original six frigates that made up the United States Navy. Since that time its employment reached its peak during the Second World War when it employed women to support the “boys overseas” with their welding prowess.  In 1974, the Navy Yard became a National Historic Park of Boston.

Currently the red bricked path of the Freedom Trail leads right to the front door of the USS Constitution Museum and the Charlestown Navy Yard Visitor Center, both essential fonts of information for those wanting to learn about important times in Boston’s history. However, they are totally unrelated in time period to the other sites on the Trail.  Already as an educator at the museum I have had to field questions from visitors asking me the relevance of the USS Constitution to the American Revolution.  No, she did not fight the British during the Revolutionary War, she was actually built much after.  Yes, the British landed nearby during the Battle of Bunker Hill, but the Navy Yard wasn’t built yet at the time.  No, this is not a museum for the Constitution the document, but for the ship.

So how does the Charlestown Navy Yard highlight its important place in Boston’s history while distinguishing it from the Revolutionary War?

The Navy Yard does not have a concrete mission statement that encapsulates its importance to the city’s history.  Instead it falls under the greater NPS of Boston’s mission statement to encourage visitors to “Discover how one city could be the Cradle of Liberty, site of the first major battle of American Revolution, and home to many who espoused that freedom can be extended to all”.  Instead, the Navy Yard should focus its interpretational efforts on its role as a protector of American Liberty.  The USS Constitution and its five sister ships defended American interests across the seven seas, ensuring that along with the goods traded on board merchant vessels came American ideals of freedom.  The employment of women and African-Americans without a difference in pay during World War II speaks volumes to Boston’s history of racial and gender equality. This history could easily be interpreted throughout the Navy Yard, yet buildings like the Charlestown Ropewalk Complex, the oldest rope factory in the country, currently on its way to being turned into rental space for residents and commercial services, has nary a sign of historical interpretation in sight.

The Charlestown Naval Yard is a government run institution that has active Navy sailors, National Park Rangers, and civilian museum educators like myself working through its grounds.  That means that at least three institutions are working with varying goals to utilize the historic site, and yet despite this, or perhaps because of this, the Naval Yard does not get the attention in the public eye that such a historic landmark deserves. Utilizing resources from all three sites could lead to clearer interpretation and a stronger site.

 

Free Access to Journal of Museum Education Special Issue

Today’s announcement comes to you from Cynthia Robinson, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Museum Education and director of the Tufts Museum Studies program. Free to everyone!

 

For its first Virtual Special Issue, the editorial team of the Museum Education Roundtable chose articles highlighting the breadth and scope of the JME over the past four decades. They reached out to Museum Studies colleagues at John F. Kennedy University, the University of San Francisco, George Washington University, and Tufts University to see what JME articles they return to again and again, whether on their class syllabi or for their own personal inspiration and growth.  Access it here: http://explore.tandfonline.com/page/ah/rjme-vsi

Special Tour Opportunity at the Tufts Art Gallery

Join a special tour at Tufts’ Art Gallery Thursday, April 14th, 5 – 6:30, related to interpreting violent histories. The current exhibition includes artwork by Marcelo Brodsky and Jorge Tacla addressing the legacy of violence in Argentina and Chile, in particular, and the tour will also include commentary by the Gallery’s Liz Cantor and Noe Montez, in Tufts’ Theater program. Dr. Montez’s new work is focused on survivor-tour guides at former torture sites in Argentina. He is exploring how traumatic history is performed for visitors, and he and Liz have devised a way to weave those issues into the exhibition tour.

If you’re interested, please send an RSVP to bridget.conley@tufts.edu

FREE Event: Museum Conversations: Curating Data/Challenging History

Museum Conversations: Curating Data/Challenging History

Date:

Monday, April 11, 2016, 6:30pm

Location:

Northwest Building, B-103, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA
Free event parking is available at the 52 Oxford Street Garage.

Left: Fred Wilson Photo by Andrew Walker; Right: Laura Kurgan

Fred Wilson, artist and Laura Kurgan, Associate Professor of Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation, and Director of the Center for Spatial Research and of the Visual Studies curriculum, Columbia University

In this year’s seminar on innovative curatorial practice, Laura Kurgan of Columbia University and artist Fred Wilson will, from different perspectives, reflect on their work to reimagine how museum exhibits present information, often by juxtaposing the unexpected to create new insights. Their short presentations will be followed by a moderated discussion.

Public Lecture. Free and open to the public.

Co-sponsored by the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture and the Harvard Art Museums as part of the Harvard Museums’ Seminar on Innovative Curatorial Practice

Keep Up Those Connections

Today’s post was written by Ken Turino, Manager of Community Engagement and Exhibitions at Historic New England, and a Tufts professor. Ken is currently co-instructor of the Tufts courses Exhibition Planning and Revitalizing Historic House Museums. Here he offers insights to career development and shares stories from his own fascinating path.

Over the years, I have found networking to be a great way to stay in touch with classmates, colleagues, and Tufts students. You often don’t know where these connections may take you so it is important to keep them up. Thirty-four years after completing graduate school, I am still in touch with my professor, the head of the Museum Education Program at George Washington University and over the years she has served as a reference for me and we have co-written an article together for History News, gotten together at conferences, and socialized. These many years later I am still in close contact with several of my classmates (we rented a castle together in Scotland for a big birthday two summers ago).  Over the years, we have offered each other support and advice. Some have left the field but our experience together has bonded us, and we have used each other as consultants for projects, sounding boards, and served as references for each other.

It is also important to keep up your further education which leads you to new contacts.  In my case, the contacts I made while attending The Seminar for Historic Administration, led many years later to my current job at Historic New England. One of my GW classmates and I participated in the seminar and I became friendly with one of the faculty, Bill Tramposch. Subsequently, I had him speak for the Museum Education Roundtable in Washington, DC, and we kept up over many job changes in both our careers. I even visited him when he ran the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Subsequently, he came to Historic New England and asked me to come work with him to create an Exhibitions Program. Although I was director of my own museum, this was an opportunity I could not pass up on.

The point is these connections can lead you in many different paths but you have to keep them up and yes this takes effort but the benefits can be both personal and professional. I am happy to pass on job announcements, internship opportunities, etc. to my friends, colleagues and students. You should too. I have found our museum community particular warm and inviting. So go to the national and regional conferences and talk with people, keep up with your professors and classmates, take seminars and make new acquaintances. All are a great way to make new connections and keep up older acquaintances. It paid off for me.

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