Over the last month or so my UNCW public history colleagues and I have been busy. Those still in coursework have been busy at work on the Still Standing project, taking the visitor evaluation data we gathered last semester and applying it to a new exhibit opening next month at the Bellamy Mansion. While they’ve been hard at work on that, I have been working on thesis revisions and continuing my positions as assistant in University Archives and as archivist at the Bellamy Mansion. However, even in the midst of all of this, we have also found time to attend a couple of conferences and write some guest blog posts about our work.
At the end of March a group of us attended the North Carolina Museums Council annual meeting in Durham, NC where we presented a poster on the Still Standing visitor evaluation project and attended sessions on a variety of topics, including collections management, graduate training and job skills, and exhibit techniques and collaboration. The conference and the poster session offered excellent opportunities to meet other North Carolina museum professionals and share our work while learning about other successful projects across the state. While there we were asked by North Carolina Connecting to Collections to turn our poster presentation into a guest blog post. The post can be read here: Collections Conversations Guest Blog Post. Both the poster presentation and the blog post described our methods and results in the visitor evaluation project conducted last semester. The visitor surveys and focus group interviews revealed a need to interpret slavery and slave dwellings more fully, better contextualizing the wide variety of experiences of slavery. Many visitors had a limited view of slavery and slave dwellings based on movie portrayals of large, rural plantations. Slavery in other locations, such as urban areas, looked a lot different. Our visitor evaluation data points to this issue as a gap in need of being filled. We were happy to share our project at the poster session where we had many engaging conversations and to expand the conversation via the Connecting to Collections blog.
More recently, several of us also attended the National Council on Public History’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. This national conference offered many interesting sessions and the opportunity to meet renowned public historians from all across the U.S. and Canada. I attended several interesting sessions, including one entitled “Edging in Women’s History” which offered case studies of museums and sites working to further their inclusion of women’s history in collections, exhibits, and programming. This session offered some inspiration and interesting ideas for me to ponder as I finish my thesis on women’s history in the collections and exhibits at the Cape Fear Museum here in Wilmington. Most interesting to me was a presentation on finding women in collections, which pointed to some similar challenges as I have noticed at the Cape Fear Museum, including cataloging methods that focus on the obvious physical description or donor without acknowledging more nuanced connections to women or issues of gender.
Another session explored issues of race and gender in leisure culture and how histories of segregated recreation spaces or histories of concert venues can be used to highlight and better understand these issues. Recreation and leisure activities offer easy access points to today’s visitors. These topics and spaces offer a way to make history of race and gender relatable to today’s public.
At the conference Leslie Randle-Morton and I were also able to accept the NCPH Student Project Award Honorable Mention for our work with Jayd Buteaux on Push and Pull: Eastern European and Russian Migration to the Cape Fear Region. Prior to the conference we were also given the opportunity to write about the exhibit development process and share our experience working with the community who helped bring the project to life. That post can be read here: NCPH Guest Blog – Push and Pull.
In addition to the engaging sessions and the opportunities to hear from and meet interesting public historians, NCPH offered a chance to see Nashville. Rich in history and music, it was a great host city for the conference.
Both conferences were such wonderful experiences. Moving forward, I am focusing on my thesis revisions and preparing for my summer thesis defense and graduation. I am also wrapping up my time as graduate assistant in University Archives, a position that ends with the semester next week. However, I will be continuing to work at the Bellamy while I complete my thesis this summer and continue my search for a full-time position.