I encourage you to browse these interesting posts created in preparation for a workshop on the future of history museums being held now at Brown University, organized by Steve Lubar and Kym Rice. Dan Spock suggests that perhaps “in pursuing our trade with relentless logic, we’ve cauterized something in our own souls,” and, as an antidote, encourages museums to embrace nostalgia. Ron Chew raises important questions facing history museums, including the impending demise of fixed category museums and the need to create shared collections. Bill Adair celebrates playful and innovative behavior in history museums, including the integration of beer into the culture of the National Trust’s Cliveden (they now have a curator of collections and fermentation), and comic webisodes about Abe Lincoln presented by the Rosenbach Museum & Library.
Explaining the background of the workshop, Lubar tells me “We would like the meeting – someplace between a conference, a conversation, and a workshop – to address a range of aspects of history museums, including collections, interpretation, and audience. We are interested in the high-tech future and new forms of institutions as well as in more traditional presentations and connections. We’d like to look at the past, to learn from successes and failures, as well as to the future. We think that it might be time to reconsider the goals and purposes of the history museum, or at least to think hard about what those are. We’re interested in reconsidering the boundaries of the history museum, how it might collaborate with other institutions.”
I hope they publish the proceedings. Anyway, it already makes for good reading. You can also follow the progress of the conference on Twitter–#historymuseums