Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Category: Personal series (page 1 of 31)

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

Today’s post comes to you from current Tufts Museum Education student Carlos Lu. Please check see last weeks’ post for Part I. Check out these posts for more of Carlos’ writings.

Last time I wrote about a common paradoxical issue that faces many historic site museums: how to present history to the public while maintaining the site from the wear that very public inflicts upon it.  While the natural inclination may be to focus on the maintenance of the site as the wear builds up, that approach is a purely reactive measure.  Instead I present to you readers two examples of sites that use active attempts to prevent the wear to their sites, both primarily focusing on the tourists themselves.  Additionally, I want to highlight a slightly controversial trend in how the detrimental effects tourism has on historic sites is perceived.

With the expectation that the wear caused by tourism will negatively affect the area, taking a preemptive approach to how tourists flow in and out of an environment can mitigate those affects before they happen.  In Gulyang, China students of architecture and civil engineering used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in order to map out the movement and development of tourism over the past century within their hometown.  By tracking the development of street patterns, buildings related to tourism, and using an algorithm tracking the literal ‘flow’ of tourist movements, GIS software can predict the most economically likely places for future development and where this development might conflict with heritage sites.  If certain services such as hotels or restaurants can be used to direct tourism around particular locations rather than through them, archaeological sites and the governments that want to utilize them can help ensure their survival.  Then it becomes just a matter of modifying zoning laws.  Understanding the inherent morphological evolution and how space is utilized allows local governments to better plan more sustainable tourism at historic sites.  While the technology is still relatively new, it provides positive benefits for historic site museum preemptive care.

Another way to involve tourists in the preemptive care of historic sites is to educate them on what their visitation actually does.  By disseminating information to tourists about the detrimental effects tourism has on historic sites, tourists themselves can play an active role in conservation.  In Hwange National Park of Zimbabwe, tourists were given a survey about their knowledge on the safety of the animals in the preserve.  Using convenience sampling, the park was able to determine that more than two thirds of visitors had knowledge of the potentially hazardous materials their visitation could expose to the animals.  More importantly the survey revealed that while local visitors received their knowledge from newspaper media, and foreign visitors received their knowledge from internet sources, the biggest source of conservation knowledge was from word-of-mouth; a general awareness from their communities, family, and friends that careless tourism could negatively affect the wildlife in the park.  This indicated an increased need for awareness programs instituted by the park.  While a natural park reserve is not a historic site museum, care of the animals within present much the same concerns of human involvement seen at historic sites.  As such, the same conclusions can be drawn about the need for awareness programs, word-of-mouth advertisement, and ensuring visitors are aware of the potentially negative effects tourism has on historic sites.

Probably the best example in recent memory of the role of public awareness plays with the preservation of historic sites is the public media’s response to an incident at Luxor Palace in Egypt.  In 2013 a tourist named Ding Jinhao wrote in Chinese “Ding Jinhao was here” on the walls of Luxor Palace, scraping his message into the millennia old building.  This teenager has since been eviscerated on the Chinese social media tool Weibo, an analogue of Twitter in the States.  This mass social shaming extended to the governmental level when the Chinese government issued a public statement warning Chinese citizens to behave whilst overseas.  While we certainly wouldn’t endorse any form of social media browbeating, the incident triggered an important shift in how Chinese tourists treat the various sites they visit.  An alternative approach to inundating visitors with a sense of shame would be to offer more awareness to visitors on the lasting effects tourism has on historic sites, highlighting how past events have effected sites today.

The two teenagers from the U.K. who visited Auschwitz had a desire to cherish cultural heritage that is admirable.  The natural predilection to wanting to own a piece of history got the better of them, though, and is representative of a mistake on the part of the Auschwitz site itself.  Visitors need to be better educated to the effects their involvement at historic sites have.  History is ephemeral and a historic site museum, and any other museum for that matter, struggles in futile against the tide of time in order to preserve what little of the past it can.  But at the same time, tourism is an integral part of the maintenance and care of a historic site museum.  Aware of the problems that come with tourism, such as the regular use or the attempts to bring home trinkets, can better prepare a museum to face the issues as they arise.  The best thing a historic site museum can do is educate its visitors of not only the history the site has, but also the part tourists play in keeping that history alive.  That means not just the metaphorical way their experiences keep the stories of the past alive, but the actual, real way their efforts of preservation while visiting can keep a site going.  By being aware of this problem, museums and tourists can better manage their collections for future generations.

 

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.

 

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.

I Am an Anthropologist

In addition to being a student at Tufts, I also work at an archaeology/anthropology museum working with school programs. One of our most popular programs for elementary school students begins with me telling them that we will all be anthropologists during the program, examining artifacts to discover how people live.

Last week, I was teaching this program when a student asked me during an aside if I was an anthropologist. I hesitated; my training is in education and history. I have not specifically studied anthropology, as other staff in the museum have (and still do). I was unsure how to answer her question, and ended up fumbling my way through an explanation of being a teacher first and a social scientist second. This exchange took probably thirty seconds, and I don’t think the student gave it a second thought. But it has been on my mind ever since it happened. I’ve had many discussions about the fact that kids often have trouble accepting the fact that anyone, including themselves, can be considered a scientist without the training that they associate with science. Originally, I pushed that argument to the side, recognizing its importance but also thinking the idea was obvious. But clearly, putting this idea that anyone can be a scientist into practice is much more complex.

Museums work hard to show visitors that they can be scientists (or historians, or mathematicians, or any other skills sets that museums help visitors practice in their everyday life). Yet I balked when answering that question about myself. I thought, “Well, sure, I can be considered an amateur social scientist, but at what point can I call myself an anthropologist? I haven’t had the in depth training that others in the museum have.”

How is being an anthropologist different than being a scientist, in the context of every day life? Yes, the training is vital to being a professional anthropologist, but if I am telling the students that we can all be anthropologists at an amateur level (both during and after the program), why can’t I also consider myself to be one? What message am I sending when I hesitate in confidently saying, “Yes, I am an anthropologist just like you!”?

After a lot of thought about this interaction, I realize that I have experienced what I assumed I already knew (but only theoretically): change has to first come from the museum itself. If we don’t treat ourselves the same way that we expect visitors to treat themselves, we are not being authentic – essentially, we are negating our own claim. If I, as the leader of the program and the public face of the museum in that moment, cannot see myself as an anthropologist, how can I expect the students to believe that they can be anthropologists?

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