Shared Authority: Lowell and Avondale Estates

Reflecting on our experience over the past semester sharing authority with the interpretation of historical resources in Avondale Estates, I found many parallels in our reading, “The Lowell Experiment,” by Cathy Stanton.  Working at the Morgan Center, Stanton found that long-time community members distinguished between “locals” and “outsiders” not by residence, but rather by a web of characteristics associated with residency, some of which included socioeconomic status and ethnic background of residents and length of time spent living in the community.  In Stanton’s experience implementing public history projects in Lowell, she found that attempts to incorporate newer residents into heritage discourse was impeded by long-time residents, who were crystallized in public memory, by means of the national park and its partner programs, as the embodiment of Lowell culture and heritage.  Long-time residents used this cultural capital to claim proprietary ownership over the community’s representation and wanted to portray Lowell as an ethnic, working-class, industrial city as it existed in the 19th century.  In contrast, the newer residents of Lowell, many of whom were working-class residents who had recently immigrated to the United States, were otherized or silenced with regard to their experiences in the community.

It is interesting to me that Stanton’s experience working as a public historian in the Lowell community correlates so strongly with our collective experience working in Avondale Estates.  There is a dichotomy that exists between newer versus older history with the older residents of Avondale Estates having more agency in the way that the community is represented to the general public.  Long-time residents of Avondale Estates possess culture capital through their civic positions in municipal government that dictate decisions about the way history is represented or through the aspects of community life that they choose to record and preserve in the archives (e.g. scrapbooks filled with pictures, souvenirs from community events, etc.).  In the process of establishing an interpretive plan for Avondale Estates, I’ve realized that public history projects are always a compromise between stakeholder groups with capital (whether it be social, cultural, or financial!) and the democratization of history, which involves giving a voice to those who have been silenced.  I think we, through oral histories, attending community events, implementing surveys, pouring through archival material, and talking to as many individuals as we possible could, laid the groundwork for an authentic representation of Avondale Estates.  I hope, through our efforts, old and new community members in Avondale Estates will eventually come to terms with their history and their heritage.

Posted in Best Practices, Case Study, community based history, Discussion, heritage, Interpretive issues, living history, Public history profession, Reviews | 1 Comment

Social Media and Museum Culture

I recently read this article, which describes ways that museums and public spaces have taken advantages of social media apps, especially Instagram. Here’s one section of the article that stuck out to me:

The Hirshhorn Museum is another popular draw for the Instagram generation, especially its recent exhibit of Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” (now in Los Angeles at The Broad). Kusama’s shows attract large crowds, and her work’s transfixing repetition seems to promotes selfie-taking among visitors.

But allowing visitors to craft the perfect selfie has risks, as the Hirshhorn discovered when one such selfie photographer lost his footing in one of Kusama’s infinity rooms, damaging one of her iconic polka-dot gourds and requiring the room be closed for repairs.

While I think it’s great that museums are starting to embrace social media, it can be challenging to ensure that visitors are both entertained and educated.

What do you guys think? Could incorporating apps like Instagram into a museum experience be positive? What are ways you have seen “digital experiences” in action?

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Museum of The Bible Opens

Recently, the Museum of the Bible opened its doors in Washington D.C. Many who have visited it have said that the museum have called it “peaceful and serene”. However, it has also been criticized for only displaying some (but not all) interpretations of the bible.

What do you guys think? What other interpretation issues does Museum of the Bible have?

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Pratt-Pullman Yard repurposed

I saw this article in Atlanta Magazine about the purchase and repurposing of one of Atlanta’s largest historic sites to a couple who hope to make it into a mixed-purpose facility with shops, restaurants, hotels, and movie studios. In light of reading Hurley’s book about historic preservation in urban areas, this article seemed very timely. While the developers seem to understand the historical significance of this site and do not want to tear down the buildings, but rather repurpose them, I do wonder what their tangible experience is with projects like this one.

Pullman Yards is one of the most prominent historic sites in the city and I hope that they can succeed in preserving the buildings, while also giving the site a new purpose and giving the community of Kirkwood something that they can use and enjoy. I will be interested to see how this plays out. I hope they will be involved with the community as they begin this work.

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Southern Comfort Levels

This was an interesting reading.  The challenges that Richmond faced during the postindustrial era and efforts of the healing process from the Civil War and Jim Crow.  Just as some southerners had issues with the placement of the Lincoln statue with his son Tad, other groups took issue with the Robert E. Lee mural.  I recall whenever I drive through Richmond I see that it was once a city that had prosperity.  But now there are just ran down roads and buildings which do not speak to the heritage of the town.  But as more and more cities and towns are recognizing, tourism is a way to stimulate the local economy.  Museums that speak to the past, but also addressing concerns of primary stakeholders are one form of healing.  By Richmond being the capital of the confederacy, they are taking steps to heal.  But not without some controversy as is obvious with the decision of where to place the Arthur Ashe statue and the taking down of the Lee banner.

Broxton Harvey



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Interdisciplinary Collaboration

I enjoyed the fact that Andrew Hurley’s “Beyond Preservation” discussed the merits of public archaeology and how the discipline related to public history.  As someone who comes from an archaeology background, I find that public history and public archaeology have the same general goal – to involve living or descendant communities in the production of their historical narrative.  While public history and public archaeology may have originated from disparate fields of study, they employ the same methodological tools, namely, oral histories, material culture, the built environment, archival records, and ethnographies, to involve the public in the shared process of historical production.

One of my favorite parts of public archaeology that Hurley touched on is the power of artifacts to invoke past memories.  During the revitalization of the Old North community of St. Louis, public archaeologists used material culture excavated from local digs to incite memories among older residents about different aspects of quotidian life during the first half of the 20th century.  In my experience on public archaeology projects, material remains possess the ability to make people open up about past experiences – particularly among individuals who might not be keen to share past memories that may be contentious in the present.  They also have the unique ability to recall specific moments that otherwise may have been forgotten, particularly moments that were so commonplace – like playing with glass marbles in the backyard or drinking tea out of a porcelain cup in the parlor – that they do not always stand out as being notable or worth sharing.


As someone who has my feet in both disciplines (so to speak), I wish that public archaeologists and public historians would collaborate together on more interdisciplinary projects as they did in efforts to revitalize Old North St. Louis.  In my experience, public archaeology is advantageous in its capacity to highlight everyday life and mundane experiences that help to interpret a community’s social identity or a sociocultural group’s particular lifeway.  In summary, interdisciplinary collaboration is good for postindustrial cities and the soul.

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