AASLH Conference 2015
by Jane Lindsey
This September 16-19, I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to attend The Power of Possibility American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) Annual Meeting. I sit for hours on multiple flights to arrive at my destination and wonder about Kentucky — race horses, rolling green hills, Wendell Berry, bourbon, and the South. Wedged in my seat for hours, I know that coming from Alaska will be a conversation starter for all I met.
Boat ride on the Belle.
As a current member of the AASLH board, we meet to discuss membership business, governance, board diversity and aspirations. We discuss the Seven Ways in Which History is Essential, a new initiative to help us value and advocate for our field www.historyrelevance.com.
An evening reception at the three-story Culbertson Mansion, built in 1867 is incredible. The care of the mansion through partnership by a non-profit Friends group and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites reflects success in the stellar condition and care of the site.
I pick and choose from sessions related to historic houses, small museums, public programing, visitor evaluation, military history, and education practices and initiatives. The session topics I choose, Is it Possible that Remembering Local History Can Help Heal Old Wounds? Diversity Conversations, New Ways to Read Old Objects, and The Flags are Down, Now What? Grappling with Monuments and Iconography energize my thinking about how we pick exhibit topics, approach controversial history subjects and collect. Keynotes, Sam Wineburg author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past, asks us to question the notion of expertise, especially on the World Wide Web and “sponsored sites”. Wendell Berry, Dr. James C. Klotter, and Renee Shaw are charming in their conversation, poetry of thought, and elegant but unpretentious observations about their home state, Kentucky.
A visit to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby and the Run for the Roses
Unique to AASLH, the Seminar for Historic Administration (SHA) operating for 50 years, of which I am a graduate, hosts a conference reception for former graduates and prospective students. Based out of Indianapolis, SHA is a 21-day seminar for mid-career history professionals to become effective leaders in the field. I re-connect with two of my 2005 SHA classmates, and although we live and work in different parts of the country, we relate so well. I reflect on how much I grew after attending SHA and how helpful it has been for me and my work at the Museum.
The last night of the conference, I attend the Leadership in History Awards, a dinner celebrating recipients from across the nation with five types of awards such as the Award of Merit for excellence in history programs, projects, and people when compared with similar activities nationwide. At dinner, I sit with two women who will receive an award; they have conducted the first major study of blacks in northern Wisconsin. Another award goes to a museum that opened its doors just twelve hours after Superstorm Sandy, feeding people and collecting community memory in the moment. These awards have nothing to do with budget, institution, staff size or resources; these awards are about people who do the work, good work.
Muhammad Ali Center
On my own time I choose the Muhammad Ali Center, hometown of my generation’s iconic athlete and social activist. Walking through the history this man made at a time of conflict and turmoil in our country is awe inspiring and so clever. A trip to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby and the Run for the Roses, is more intoxicating than I think as I win $3.40 a $2 bet and shell out $10 for the famous mint julep.
As I wedge back into my seat, ready for take-off and home, the conference and Kentucky has been much more than race horses, rolling green hills, Wendell Berry, bourbon, and the South, much more.
Jane Lindsey is the Director of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and President of Museums Alaska.
Learn more about AASLH at www.aaslh.org