Tuesday, July 25, 2017
July 25, 2017: Talks and Events: The Gardner Museum
[On Tuesday July 25th, I’ll be talking to the Central Massachusetts Genealogical Society on the topic of “Remembering the Salem Witch Trials: The Limits and Possibilities of Public History.” So this week I wanted to highlight five recent talks and events I’ve given or been part of—please share your own experiences in comments!]
On two reasons to visit—and celebrate—a wonderful local museum.
On June 1st, I had the chance to talk about “Exclusion and Inclusion in American History and Culture” at the Gardner Museum in Gardner, Massachusetts. (Not to be confused with Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.) My talk was pretty similar to the one I gave on the same topics in February at the Monadnock Inn (although it has continued to evolve as I’ve moved into work on the book manuscript, of course), and so I would say many of the same things about the talk that I did in that hyperlinked post. As always, audience questions and thoughts helped me continue to develop and push my ideas, one reason why every talk I’ve ever given has been at least as meaningful for me as (I hope) it has been for the audience. But another reason is that with every talk I’ve ever given I have had the chance to connect with and learn about a new setting and space, and this time was no exception: I had never been inside the Gardner Musem before, and learned a lot about what makes this local museum an exemplary historical site.
I would contend that every town in America has local histories that are both worth exploring in their own right and have a great deal to tell us about American history more broadly; perhaps I’m biased, having lived most of my life in either Virginia or Massachusetts (the two states that most consistently fight for the title of “The Birthplace of America”), but I would bet that the same could be said of towns in any and every state. While local libraries and historical societies can certainly help us remember those histories, no institutions or organizations are better able to do so than local museums, and the Gardner Museum is a great case in point. Gardner is known as the “Chair City of the World” due to its extensive history of furniture manufacturing, and the museum does a wonderful job representing and engaging with the many histories and contexts for that defining attribute. But local museums should also challenge and extend our sense of a town and community, and the Gardner Museum does that on a number of levels, from a small but compelling Civil War collection to a fascinating new exhibit on the many different immigrant communities that have arrived in and helped constitute the town over the centuries. I’ve taught just down the road from Gardner for a dozen years, but I learned far more about the community in my brief time in the museum than I had in all those years at Fitchburg State.
Even the best museums can’t afford to stay static or complacent in our 21st century moment, however. Having had the chance to talk at length with Gardner Museum Coordinator (and talented artist) Marion Knoll before and after my lecture, I can attest that she and the museum are working hard to evolve in technological, digital, and interactive ways. The museum has recently added a compelling UniGuide audio tour to its collections, offering visitors a chance to experience and engage with all of the museum’s items and exhibits, and the histories and stories behind them, far more fully. Marion is also in the process of securing a couple of iPads for the museum, which would both allow all visitors to utilize the audio tour (even if they don’t have smartphones) and will make the addition of other digital and multimedia resources and options possible as well. Balancing the digital and virtual with the material and personal is never easy for any institution, but Marion and the Gardner Museum are working to do so thoughtfully, one more reason to celebrate and support this great museum.
Next event recap tomorrow,
PS. Events or experiences you’d highlight? I’d love to hear about them!