Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Category: Museum Topics (page 3 of 13)

Preservation & Presentation: Tourists at Historic Sites (Part I)

Today’s post comes to you from current Tufts Museum Education student Carlos Lu. Please check back next Monday for Part II of Carlos’ post. Check out these posts for more of Carlos’ writings.

Earlier this summer two students from the U.K. were punished for attempting to steal from the museum at Auschwitz, the famous former Nazi extermination center.  Rather than an elaborate museum heist, these two teens on a school trip attempted to pocket a button, two pieces of glass, pieces of a hair clipper, and pieces of a spoon.  Convicted of a crime that typically carries a 1-10 year imprisonment sentence, they were released with a 1000 polish Zloty fine as a reduced sentence as they were both minors.  The two boys apologized profusely and claimed they picked up the items “without thinking”, not considering their act to bear as much significance as it did.  The museum curator confirmed that visitors often try to pilfer artifacts for souvenirs. Trying to bring a piece of history home, large or small, is virtually part of human nature.  This part of human nature, though, can mean a huge amount of detritus for historic site museums.  The Coliseum in Rome averages an annual 4 million visitors; if only .1% of these visitors decide to take a single pebble from the premises, that’s 4 thousand pebbles of the Coliseum lost a year.  These small numbers add up over time and result in some of the major wear historic site museums must face.

But tourism plays a major part in museums’ place in world society. As globalization increases, the importance of sharing the lessons and experiences of local heritage sites to foreign audiences grows with it.  Tourism invigorates local communities to shine a greater light upon their traditions, turning the familiar and mundane into showpieces to be relished by newer audiences. Old customs can be reborn as periphery celebrations to historic sites.  A sense of identity in the face of an increasingly homogenous world can be reinforced when the homogenous world comes to a community’s doorstep.  For tourists, visitation to historic sites broadens personal understanding and helps to reshape perspectives; learning about heritage and applying the feelings and experiences to your own life is the explicit purpose of heritage tourism.  Both parties strengthen their own cultural individuality while sharing their commonalities. This mating of cultures is only possible via heritage tourism, allowing cultures to share and mingle the memes that embody them.  As more of these memes are expressed and shared, they form the genes of the future, globalized society.  In order to ensure a healthy balance of cultural diffusion, proper conservation efforts must be made to ensure authenticity to the memetic exchange.  That is to say, a historic site museum’s objective includes the proper representation of the history embodied by its site, uninfluenced by the preconceived notions of its visitors.

While this may be enough motivation for the museum educator, the more promising result for a museum administrator is the financial benefits tourism provides.  The financial advantages of tourism for historic sites benefit and encourage conservation efforts in a self-perpetuating cycle to increase more tourism. In short, conservation efforts require funding and heritage tourism provides a means to this end.  In Peru, tourism funding is the primary source of income for the restoration efforts of the UNESCO world heritage site Machu Pichu. In Japan a concept called “green tourism” is used to divert funds to more rural areas.  By using historic sites in rural areas of Japan as the focus, townships plan to provide proper maintenance and care for the very sites they are using to lure tourists in.

So in the face of these problems, how can historic sites and historic museums perpetuate the restoration and conversation of their stewardship when the very process they use to fund this perpetuation causes even more damage?  Next time I’ll expand upon a few case studies of ways tourism and historic locations can coexist in peace.

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

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