J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

I Am Intrigued

The Historic Site Management Professional Affinity Group (don’t you love phrases made up almost entirely of nouns?) of the New England Museum Association and Historic New England (that’s S.P.N.E.A. for diehards) are co-sponsoring a one-day conference next month called “Beyond Desperate Housewives: Inconvenient Truths at Historic Sites.”

Now the house where I live has just turned (wait for it) eighty years old. Yes, it goes all the way back to the Coolidge administration. I think the most historic thing about it are the piles of magazines I have yet to read, and I’m not about to display them to the public. But I love inconvenient truths!

This session takes place on Monday, 4 June 2007, at H.N.E.’s Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts. Here’s the write-up:

Do you feel that your site glosses over the harsh realities of life in the past? Do personal details shared with the public threaten to dishonor the legacy of your donors? What happens when a story that needs to be told clashes with American iconography, or simply with popular perceptions of a simpler, kinder—and thus more alluring—past? What if your site is built on a lie?

10:00 A.M. Welcome
PAG Co-chairs: Elaine Clements, Director, Andover Historical Society, and Bethany Groff, Northern Regional Site Manager, Historic New England

10:15 A.M. Keynote: Public Image vs. Private Reality
An overview of the issues involved in integrating intimate history, whether it be sexuality, interactions across class and culture lines, illness, death and dying, etc., into our interpretation, with sensitivity and in context. This is a subtle and complex topic that is relevant to all museums.
[Especially subtle is the lack of a name for the keynote speaker.]

11:00 A.M. Slaves in the Gallery
Christine Baron, Director of Education, The Old North Church
Learn about the research currently being done at the Old North Church, including sources for uncovering information about the slave population and the process involved in adding a new dimension of interpretation to this National Landmark.

12:00 P.M. Lunch

12:45 P.M. Body Servants - Intimate Lives Across Class and Race
Jennifer Pustz, Historian for Historic New England
Join us for an exploration of images and realities in the lives of servants in the home. Sign-up for a future planning session for historic sites that would like to incorporate their servant stories in their interpretation.

1:45 P.M. Roundtables (choose two)
• Interpretation plans – strategies for updating
• Training interpreters to share new information
• Exhibit labels – rewriting with sensitivity
• Marketing – striking the right balance
Registration Fee for NEMA members who want lunch or non-members who’ll bring their own is $45. NEMA members can save $10 by bringing their own food while non-members can reserve a lunch by adding $10. Registration Deadline: 25 May 2007.

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