Thursday, December 8, 2011

Drum roll please…Developing History Leaders has a NEW WEBSITE!!!

SHA Alumni, Blog followers, PLEASE TAKE NOTE…

The sponsors, SHA Alumni Committee members and all of those involved with Developing History Leaders @ SHA are very excited to announce the launch of the brand new Developing History Leaders website at Please visit to see the many new opportunities to learn about Developing History Leaders@SHA, download a video or application and keep up with the latest issues faced by our fellow leaders.
There is one small issue that we need your help with. The current blog, which has about 75 followers, was imported into the new website however it isn’t working right. If you are a follower of the current blog , you must sign up as a follower again for the new blog on the new website in order to receive updates. You can do this very easily! Just go to the new website ( and fill out the “Subscribe to our blog” form in the sidebar. We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience, however, we want to make sure everyone is kept up to date with the latest blog entries. Thank you for your patience!
If you are new to the site, WELCOME!!! Please take this opportunity to learn more and follow the blog…just fill out the “Subscribe to our blog” form on the website.


Laura J. Minzes,
SHA Alumni Committee

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What's my payback for SHA?
I had the opportunity to attend the Seminar for Historical
Administration last year and have since considered the question "what's the
payback for SHA?" I am a director of a mid-size community's historical society
and it never fails to amaze me how vast and varied our methods and approach to
history are all over America and even in the next town. Unlike many other
professions, you do not need a license to practice history and
that leads to a public that does not know what to expect from its local museums
because they have probably seen both the best and the worst of us. That is, in
essence, the payback to SHA for me- it set the bar for best practices in
the history field in a way that no other program has come close in the field of
public history. I know as I approach the wide variety of problems and
challenges that historical societies face that I have an edge over the rest
because I attended SHA and discussed and learned and argued and discovered the
complexities of being a public historian.

As the director of a small museum, I am very grateful for the
opportunity that SHA afforded me and will pay it forward by encouraging my
fellow small museum colleagues to consider attending SHA. I also know that the
program is not possible without the generous underwriting from its sponsors, and
I am eternally grateful for those organizations that donate resources of all
kinds to its success. Due to the sponsors of SHA, the program is available to
not only staff at the large, national institutions, but also those at the local
level, and as we all know, local museums can play a key role in a community's
culture. SHA never made my issues seem small or insignificant, and that attitude
is critical for the success of our field as a whole. On behalf of the small,
local museums all over America, we appreciate the sponsors of SHA for
understanding the importance of best practices in history organizations and
thank them for funding this critical endeavor. Since attending SHA last year,
our organization has a new mission, new vision, and has adopted a strategic plan
for the first time in its history. Our work has lead to greater public
awareness of heritage in our community, which has a ripple affect outward-
raising all of us up with it. After attending SHA, I now feel I have a license
to practice history and a whole network of people that I can turn to for
support. Onward!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is the role of the historian in the age of shared authority and radical trust?

We began the 2011 seminar focused on relationships with communities and groups, seeking to understand how history organizations can become relevant and hence sustainable. We discussed community engagement, facilitated dialogue, shared authority, and radical trust – approaches that enable others to find their own value in the past. Examples range from simply using historic sites as a place for community gatherings, to the rigorous examination of a community’s contentious past.

In this milieu, I see two essential roles for the expert who has spent considerable time researching primary evidence and acquiring a body of knowledge: (1) tell a good story and (2) enable others to think critically about the past.

As interpreters of history, we have become very good at telling stories. History organizations around the country are using narrative in exhibitions and tours to enliven the past, capture the imagination of listeners, heighten emotions, and create an experience that is more than a recitation of facts and a display of stuff. When told well a story can reveal the nuance and complexity of history. “Follow the North Star” at Conner Prairie, now in its fifteenth year, continues to be one of the best examples of this genre.

But storytelling is not enough. At one point the seminar discussions touched on the general naïveté of the American public when it comes to understanding history. With rare exceptions, people seem to want simple answers. They prefer affirmation of what they already believe, rather than thinking critically about evidence and grappling with contradictory interpretations.

Jody Blankenship and others at the Kentucky Historical Society think the answer lies in education. They say that the public has little awareness of history as a discipline of knowledge. The public’s interest in history is based on the enjoyment of good stories rather than an appreciation for the critical thinking, weighing of evidence, reasoning, and knowledge of multiple perspectives that goes into an interpretation of the past.

Sharing authority with others carries an obligation on our part to teach the discipline of history. We do this in some of our programming for schools; National History Day is a prime example. But such programs are usually viewed as peripheral to the core work of producing exhibitions and new interpretive experiences.

It is time to put the teaching of critical thinking at the center of our work. We must do more than tell a good story. We must do more than open our doors and minds to the stories of others. We must teach them to be historians, to practice the discipline of history.

Ford Bell talked with the class about AAM’s efforts to unify the various types of museums – art, history, science, children’s, zoos, aquaria, etc. He suggests that in spite of the many differences, what we have in common is an educational purpose. Marsha Semmel talked about the work of IMLS in bringing museums to the table in the national conversation about education reform. Museums can play an important role in helping citizens develop crucial 21st century skills such as critical thinking and civic literacy.

This educational function may well be our greatest relevance today. This may be the way to make involvement in history not simply an enjoyable pastime, but a useful tool for building stronger communities and individuals.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Time for a Kykuit-type Conversation about Historical Objects

It is time to do for objects what we have done for historic structures and sites. For decades we assumed the “best practice” for such a property was to set it up and present it as a historic house museum, historic village, or historic farmstead, with priority placed on historical accuracy over visitor needs. Authenticity – defined as the real thing portrayed just as it was at some point in the past – was deemed the highest value.

In 2007, at the second Kykuit conference organized by Jim Vaughan, then the VP for historic sites at the National Trust, we redefined the value of historic places in this way:

Sustainability begins with each historic site’s engagement with its community and its willingness to change its structure, programs, and services in response to the changing needs of that community.

Serving the needs of the local community (not the tourist audience) is the most valuable and most sustainable goal for most historic sites.

Claiming community relevance as the highest value led to a significant shift in thinking. Instead of the importance of history, we started to think about the power of place. This simple shift in focus unleashed a wealth of fresh thinking, innovation, new programming, and community involvement at historic sites around the nation.

Until recently our conversations about collections have mostly addressed how rather than why? We’ve had lengthy discussions about deaccessioning, and standards of care, and access. But what is the real value of historical objects?

We may be starting to have a different conversation now. Rainey Tisdale, in “Do History Museums Still Need Objects?” (History News, Summer 2011), claims that the value of historical artifacts lies in their authenticity – here defined as something tangible, in contrast to virtual representations of objects online. To quote Reach Advisors, as cited by Tisdale, people value such objects “because real authenticity is increasingly hard to find in our crazy world.”

I fear that simply claiming authenticity as the defining value of historical objects doesn’t get us very far. In a sense it just makes us an alternative or antidote to modern life. We need to dig deeper.

Reach Advisors (thank you again, James and Susie) has other intriguing data that suggest that an encounter with an object at an early age (mean age 7) and crafting one’s own story about the object, leads to avid museum participation as an adult. Others are researching what actually happens during object-based learning. We’re getting a better understanding of the developmental value of tinkering with objects, figuring out how something works, and coming up with ways to improve it. Nina Simon in The Participatory Museum describes “social objects” that by their nature prompt dialogue among the people viewing them. (p.129 ff) We are starting to see the ways in which objects impact our lives.

What if we bring together people who can help us discover and articulate a new value statement for historical objects? Can we arrive at a simple statement that opens up innovation? As I read and think about this I suspect the answer will relate to our function as institutions of learning. We will come to see historical objects primarily as tools for understanding ourselves and others.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

History Leadership and Community Engagement

I believe people long for history, that they demand the truth, and they are eager to talk about the tension in the past.

David Young, the executive director of Cliveden in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia

History is complex. So are communities. The big challenge in history organizations today is to find ways to make history, in all its complexity, relevant and useful to its community-at-large, and to the many sub-communities therein. This requires leaders who are passionate about both history and community, who are committed to helping others have better lives, and who believe that increased understanding of the past can contribute to this goal.

The leader’s first job is to show up. The history leader must be in the community, present at community events, participating in community organizations, and taking a lead in addressing the community’s concerns. By being present, the leader learns what people want and need, and begins to build relationships with other community leaders.

Without this preliminary work, the history organization is likely to encounter resistance when it approaches a community group with an idea for an exhibit or program. In the seminar last week Dan Spock, from the Minnesota Historical Society, had the class role play several cases. Those who were playing the role of community members had concerns: What does the organization want from us? How will our needs be addressed? Can we trust them? Will they listen to us? Will they believe us?

There are many ways that a community (groups and individuals) can become involved in the work of a history organization. Over the course of the first week the faculty introduced and we discussed many of these, including community input into deciding what to collect, community generated exhibits, and community participation in events and programs. Benjamin Filene, who teaches public history at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, is one of the editors of a new publication that addresses the same issues we discussed: Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Philadelphia, 2011)

A good place to start is to help a minority community tell its own story, take pride in its heritage and celebrate its achievements. Many history organizations originated with this impulse, focused on the group in power at the time. It is worthy now to help other groups have their turn. History becomes relevant when it enables people to share their stories, instill pride in their culture, and affirm their values.

Once you have built relationships and given a community an opportunity to tell its own story, it may be time for tackling some of the more contentious stories.

Here is some guidance for working with community groups, especially around controversial issues.

1. Be aware of your own biases and expectations. What is your motivation for engaging communities and the public around contentious issues? Others will be suspicious; they will want to know what you want from them.

2. Be pragmatic. Be honest with yourself with how much you can do. You may not be able to change others’ minds; at most you may be able to affect their thinking.

3. Expect to be challenged. Recognize that American history is difficult history. There are no straightforward answers. There are many perspectives. We haven’t got it all figured out yet. Don’t take it personally (this is the hardest thing.)

4. Retain the sacred while adding the forum. In the process, and in the final product, be it an exhibit or program, give people space and times to reflect and be inspired, as well as analyze and engage in dialogue.

5. Use concentric circles, start with those closest to you and move outward to engage others. Use both process and content to engage their interest.

6. Facilitation is crucial. The Tenement Museum trains its staff to facilitate tough conversations about immigration. David Young has used facilitators with expertise in group dynamics and psychology to bring blacks and whites together to discuss slavery. Dan Spock is using resources from Healing Through Remembering, an organization in Northern Ireland, to facilitate dialogue around the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War in Minnesota.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Benefits of Community and Public Participation in the Presentation and Practice of History

We have been discussing relationships between history organizations and the people and communities they serve. I am pleased that we did not dwell on concerns often voiced about inviting others to participate in our work: can we trust them, will they follow the rules, will they damage the collection, and will they respect my expertise?

Although I still encounter such objections around the country, the discussions in the seminar have been not about whether we should engage others in active participation, but rather how to best do it, and toward what ends.

What are the benefits of community and lay participation in the practice and presentation of history?

1. The practice of history is about making sense and making choices. Historians know that history is complex and nuanced; that we haven’t got it all figured out yet; that interpretations of the past must be rooted in specific evidence; and that the discovery of new evidence can be really exciting, especially when it helps us answer a question. Yet our practice in history organizations has been to keep the fun of discovery to ourselves and just give the public answers. As a result many people think of history as simple. They come to us for answers and not for solving problems. And yet we lament that the public has a naïve understanding of the past. By involving them in the process of historical research and interpretation, we can help them think critically and appreciate the complexity of the past.

2. By engaging others in our practice we can give voice to underrepresented groups. There is strong interest in doing this in the class, and we have discussed many examples of working with minority communities to tell their stories through exhibits and programs. We have talked about the benefits and risks of sharing authority, the challenges of establishing trust, the distinctions between memory and history, the role of the expert, and the value of multiple perspectives. In spite of the challenges, it is clear that there is great benefit to both the community and the institution in doing such work.

3. Involving others in out work also occurs via social media. Again our conversation centered on the benefits and strategies for doing it well. This year’s students are fully engaged in the opportunities and challenges of using Web 2.0, although some of their institutions are lagging.

4. Engaging others in the practice of history can potentially help people come to grips with aspects of the past that make us all uncomfortable. I say potentially because this can be hard, time consuming and risky work. We discussed contentious cases dealing with slavery and race relations, and U.S. government treatment of American Indians. In my next post I will go into greater depth on this topic, and lay out some of the strategies that are working.

5. Finally, active engagement of a community in understanding its past can help people see the relevance of history in their lives today. They can discover the historical context for the problems they face in building a better community. Every present-day concern has a history, which if known and understood, can inform dialogue and potentially lead to better solutions.

We recognize that there are many ways in which communities and individuals can participate in the practice of history, from contributing their own stories and photographs, to full participation in the interpretation of evidence and presentation of an exhibit.

At its best, involvement can lead to critical thinking, greater understanding, and commitment to preservation of historic places and historical collections.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BIG Questions for Leaders in History Organizations

On Sunday I will be traveling to Indianapolis to spend three weeks with fifteen practitioners of public history, the 2011 class of Developing History Leaders @SHA. We will engage in deep discussions with many leaders in our field, probing some of the BIG questions about the relevance and future sustainability of our work.

Every two or three days I’ll post a summary of what we’ve been talking about. If you’d like to follow and comment on our discussions, sign up to follow this blog by clicking on the button to the right.

During the first week our questions will center on the nature of our work in relationship to the people and communities we serve. Why is it that so many Americans find history, for the most part, boring and irrelevant? Why is it that they think of visiting a history museum, historic site, or any history organization as something nice to do occasionally, if at all, and certainly not on a regular basis? Is it because history is really not so important in today’s world?

Here are some specific questions we’ll be asking.
1. Whose history is it? Do we decide what’s important about the past, or do we let the people we serve decide? How do we share authority with them? How do we get them “involved” in history and still maintain standards of accuracy and authenticity?
2. What if they have different points of view among themselves? Do we take sides, or do we take a neutral stance? What is our role, and how do we best fulfill that role? This is an especially relevant question when one group of people has oppressed another group in the past.
3. Is it enough that we make history engaging by telling great stories and displaying evocative and provocative objects, or should we find ways to make history useful to present-day concerns? What roles should we play in our communities?
4. How can we be more creative in using authentic objects to involve people in exploring the past? For decades we have used objects to illustrate an interpretation of the past, displayed in cases, on platforms, and in room settings. Are there creative ways to use objects, not as illustrations, but as sources of evidence to enable others to develop their own interpretations?
5. How can we best use technology to enhance a person’s involvement with history? What are people already doing outside of our field? How can we take what’s out there and use it to our advantage?
6. Is there a limit to what we should do? Should that limit be determined only by available funding? Does everything old that comes our way have to be saved for the benefit of the public? How do we make choices?

Remember, if you’d like to follow our discussions, sign up for this blog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Three weeks without (insert name here)! How will I cope?

As November draws closer and a new DEVELOPING HISTORY LEADERS @ SHA class is gearing up to move to Indianapolis, I am preparing my staff and my museum to be without a key staff member for the same three weeks. While it will be difficult to make sure the museum runs smoothly without one third of the staff, I know that having a colleague have the opportunity to learn and grow at SHA is well worth the effort and planning it takes to send someone.

This is the fourth time in five years that I have prepared for someone to attend DEVELOPING HISTORY LEADERS @ SHA – the first was my previous Director, the second a Senior Curator of Collections, then my own journey to Indy, and now a member of my small staff. Each time has needed a different preparation. When my boss left, I had been on the job just six short weeks. While he was gone, I stumbled my way through the largest traveling exhibit the museum had ever hosted and learning how to work within the structure of a city government. I survived and so did the museum. When it was over, the Director came back with new ideas and a new direction to take the organization.

Before the Senior Curator of Collections attended, I made sure that I had all the collections items and files I needed to work with while she was gone. I also prepared my volunteers and staff for the questions and problems that might arise as they worked on various projects. They knew that they would either have to come to me for help or wait until she returned and sorted through three weeks of back-logged emails and inquiries. She returned with a new enthusiasm for museum work and using material culture to enhance exhibits.

When I spent my three weeks at SHA, I was at an institution with only one other employee – a part time person at that. With the help of my division head, I was able to work it out that the part timer became a full timer. Also, as soon as I knew I was going, I made arrangements for volunteers to help my one staff member as much as possible – especially as I was missing out on the preparation for the museums largest annual public program. Being prepared helped immensely and things went smoothly while I was gone. A few questions here and there via email and things were solved. Knowing that all was going smoothly at home, I was able to concentrate on the knowledge offered by the program and my classmates

Now that one of my Curators of Education is gearing up to go, I am in planning mode once again. I have decided to change my work week to match my colleague’s normal schedule to insure that staff is available during all public programs. I have looked ahead at the calendar and decided what extra volunteer help is needed. I have also been offering advice about Indy, coursework, and the amazing people who share their expertise with each SHA class.

Planning is important in everything we do – but planning for someone on your staff or in your department to take the time they need to attend DEVELOPING HISTORY LEADERS @ SHA is key. Take a deep breath, a long look at the calendar, and then realize everything will be just fine. As you send a staff member off to SHA, know that they will come back with great new ideas, a revved up enthusiasm for their work, and a greater appreciation for the leaders in our field – and that makes any inconvenience during their three week journey totally worth it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Announcing the Class of 2011

The SHA partners are pleased to announce the SHA Class of 2011. These individuals will join a select fraternity of history professionals who have attended SHA throughout its more than 50-year history.

The 2011 Developing History Leaders @SHA program will run October 29-November 19 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (For the full program curriculum, CLICK HERE.)

Congratulations to the Class of 2011!

  • Andy Albertson, Curator of Education, Branigan Cultural Center, Las Cruces, NM
  • Becca Loofburrow, Coordinator, Indiana Junior Historical Society, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN
  • Bob Hart, Executive Director, Lane County Historical Society and Museum, Eugene, OR
  • Cynthia Capers, Associate Director of Education and Changing Exhibits, Holocaust Museum, Houston, TX
  • Danielle Hamelin, Program/Policy Advisor, National Historic Sites Renewal, Parks Canada, Gatineau, Quebec
  • Haley Tallman, Sectional Archaeology Program Developer, Angel Mounds State Historic Site, Evansville, IN
  • Jamie Glavic, Marketing & Web Communications Manager, Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, OH
  • Jason Crabill, Manager, Curatorial Services, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, OH
  • John Elder, Guest Experience Manager, Conner Prairie, Fishers, IN
  • Kyle McKoy, Director, Museum at Papago Park (Arizona Historical Society), Tempe, AZ
  • Lillian Choy, Assistant Public Programs Manager, Homestead Museum, City of Industry, CA
  • Mark Sundlov, Historic Site Supervisor, Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site (Historical Society of ND), Cooperstown, ND
  • Patricia Lessane, Executive Director, Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at The College of Charleston, Charleston, SC
  • Sarah Milligan, Administrator, Kentucky Oral History Commission, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, KY
  • Travis Zimmerman, Indian Affairs Liaison and Site Manager, Minnesota Historical Society, Onamia, MN

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't Think You Have Time to Learn From the Best?

“I don’t have time to eat lunch let alone attend a three-week seminar.” Sound familiar? As site directors, grant officers, education directors, et. al., we keep mighty busy work schedules. It sometimes feels like we can’t take time off to attend SHA. After all, it is a three week commitment away from work, site, and family. However, I think when you consider what you will learn, the access you get to the top minds in the field, and the experience you gain, three weeks is not that long to learn from the best.

I had the opportunity to attend SHA in 2008 and I come from a small site, so making the commitment to participate was a big decision. At first, I was apprehensive about attending, wondering if I could afford the time away, but further reflection led me to what I feel was the right choice. When I considered the number of talented individuals who were giving of their time and knowledge to educate me, I knew there was no way I could afford not to attend the Seminar.

Talk about efficient use of time. SHA gives you access to experts all in one place not only in the classroom, but also one-on-one during lunch and gatherings. I think about how long it would take to meet these individuals if I tried to do it on my own, and realize three weeks is a drop in the bucket. So if you are considering SHA, but are worried about being gone for so long, take a moment to consider what you will gain during your time at the Seminar. Attending SHA is one of the best decisions you will make.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Masterclass In Museum Leadership

Last summer, online music retailer eMusic invited 25 listeners to a masterclass in rock’n’roll tastemaking with none other than “Little” Steven van Zandt – music collector, DJ, and guitarist for the E Street Band.

This past spring, Harvard dance students panted to keep up in a masterclass with Antonio Douthit of the Alvin Ailey dance company.

And as I write this entry, animators from Pixar Studios are leading a tutorial in technique and story development for experienced and aspiring animation artists.

As diverse as these learning experiences are, they’re all building on a tradition in arts education that started more than a century ago: the masterclass.

The masterclass format brings small groups of serious students together with an accomplished professional widely respected for his or her achievements. Masterclasses begin where textbook learning, drill and practice and lecture-style teaching end. They’re for advanced students, those who have acquired the fundamentals of their art forms and tested themselves onstage or in the field, and are now ready to take charge of the more subtle kinds of learning they need to further their careers. Masterclass students are developing their own ideas, but are open to receiving the wisdom and guidance they can get from masters of their craft. The direct power of the student-teacher relationship results in customized feedback, informed by experience, that can help students make a leap to the next level.

So is there such a thing as a museum masterclass? That’s what SHA is. Only students get not one master teacher, but a a dozen or more – and an outstanding peer group of professionals as serious as yourself.

Instead of musical instruments or dance shoes, SHA students bring their varied observations from their early experience in the field, their recurring questions, and their ideas about the future of museums and the leadership work that lies ahead. In discussions, interactive sessions, and fieldwork, they study with “masters”: experts in fields central to history organization leadership, people whose working lives and significant achievements have given them the perspective and that helps students step up their professional thinking skills.

Individually and as a group, students test their ideas, question assumptions, and form ever bigger questions. Master instructors offer responses – individualized, personal, real, and specific – that make for targeted learning to promote rapid professional growth.

SHA’s masterclass instructors are dynamic and varied, all selected from the top ranks of the field. Individual sessions and presenters are too many to name, but they run the gamut of specialties in the museum field and touch on all major areas of mission and management With leaders like Spencer Crew and David Young, debate questions of community engagement and institutional response, honestly exploring the tensions that arise when long-established views are challenged. Wrestle with the increasing demands for relevance and meaning in historic sites with preservation leaders Jim Vaughan and Ken Turino. Take on the challenges of leading change in case studies posed by museum management gurus Barbara Franco and Laura Roberts. With an impressive roster of equally talented educators, explore finance, interpretation, visitor research, management, and many more vital topics.

As a student at SHA, you’ll find yourself acting just like students do in arts master classes: listening attentively. Questioning intently. Jotting down bits of wisdom to draw on later. Experimenting with new ideas. Trying on new presentation styles and leadership tactics. You’ll sometimes argue passionately, think critically, and even change your point of view. SHA’s masterclasses produce leaps of insight and open up new avenues of inquiry. You’ll often get a few good laughs in, too.

It's this “masterclass” approach to teaching the skills of historic administration that makes SHA distinctive and powerful. Day-to-day working life rarely allows the extended, targeted dialogue between accomplished and emerging museum leaders that SHA provides. That intense and customized focus allows students to grow in professional skill by leaps and bounds in a short three weeks – the same way a dancer’s expressive motions can be transformed by an intense afternoon with a dance master, or a guitar player’s imagination can overflow with new melodic ideas after hearing a master musician break down his approach. Experienced artists know the master class is the most efficient tool for move to the next level of performance – it only makes sense that, in the world of museums, SHA knows it too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gearing up for AAM and hoping to see many SHA Alums at this national conference.

Whether they call it S_H_A or 'Sha' many Seminar for Historical Administration alums will be attending and presenting at AAM. It is at conferences such as AAM that one gets to catch up with fellow SHA Alums and to encourage the future of the Museum profession.

When I was first starting out in the museum field, I volunteered to work a national conference in order to meet people, and to start that frequently mentioned buzzword “networking”. Later in my career, I heard stories of ideas that sprung up at conferences that the museum director attended which led to projects I was working on.

Now I look forward to attending national conferences for renewal and a creative reboot. I also greatly enjoy seeing people from across the country that I only see at such events. They may only be phone call or a short click away, but to see them and to talk face to face, sometimes late into the evening, is priceless. Whether you are in a big museum with many professional colleges or in a small museum with few professional peers, a conference is a great opportunity.

I attended the Seminar for Historical Administration (SHA) in 2004, the first year it was held in Indianapolis. It is the longest-running professional development seminar in the country and the only one sponsored by six major history and museum organizations. First held in Williamsburg, Virginia, and now located in Indianapolis, Indiana, A three week, residential program, SHA is a bit like the best of grad school and multiple national conferences rolled into one. The formal part of the curriculum is intense and can take some time to fully absorb, but that is only part of it, the rest is learning outside of the classroom, from other students and from the presenters after hours.

In the spirit of SHA, there is nothing better than combining meeting up with fellow SHA alums and a national conference! With fifty-two years of SHA, there are hundreds of alums and many attend national, regional and local conferences.
If you are a graduate of SHA or you would like to learn more information about the seminar, mark your calendars and/or your program books!

On Sunday, May 22nd SHA will be featured in the idea lounge from 2:45 to 4pm. Meet Bob Beatty, Vice President of Programs, American Association for State and Local and some SHA alums to talk about the program.

On the evening of Tuesday, May 24th, from 5:30 to 6:30 pm, all SHA alums and other interested parties are invited to a reception to discuss the program and network! Meet Coordinator John Durel, Organizational Coach of QM2/ Durel Consulting Partners out of Baltimore, MD.

Wear your SHA pin to Houston and introduce yourself!
(And if you can’t make it AAM in Houston, we’ll see you in September at AASLH in Richmond, VA!!)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why You Should Attend SHA

I had the privilege of attending the Seminar for Historical Administration in the fall of 2010 and it was one of the best professional decisions I've ever made. Many people look at the three weeks away from work as a large commitment, but it should really be viewed as an opportunity. It's an opportunity to step away from everyday responsibilities and look at the bigger picture in the history field.

It was an opportunity to meet some of the best and brightest in our field. In 2010, John Durel, the coordinator for our class, assembled a tremendous group of instructors including Spencer Crew, Sal Cilella, David Crosson, Tim Grove, Kent Whitworth, and Trina Nelson Thomas, to name just a few. It was an opportunity to experience some truly dynamic educational programs such as Follow the North Star at Conner Prairie and The Power of Children at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and have lively discussions afterward.

It was an opportunity to share a class with other history leaders from around the country. My class had nineteen participants hailing from Kentucky, Illinois, Hawaii, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and New York. Additionally, the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Alberta were represented. The participants were directors, curators, education specialists, exhibits specialists, archivists, marketing specialists and public program specialists. Our home organizations ranged in size from one-person operations to large state historical societies. We took the opportunity to get to know each other andto learn from each other. We had lively after-hours conversations and unscheduled weekend trips to see Ohio and Kentucky. I now have an enlarged professional network from my classmates and from the hundreds of other alumni that have graduated over the last 50 years.

Finally, SHA was an opportunity to get my enthusiasm back. In the day-to-day grind of our lives, we can sometimes get lost in the myopia of our institutions. Taking a three-week step back from everyday life and focusing on why I entered this profession has given me a renewed energy. I feel better prepared for the the challenges and changes coming to our profession. The opportunity was well worth it.

Cindy Olsen
Minnesota Historical Society and SHA Class of 2010

Monday, February 14, 2011

Developing History Leaders @ SHA

Apply now for SHA

The field of public history is experiencing rapid and major change, and a new generation of leaders will soon be stepping up to set the course for the future of America’s history organizations.

We are seeking leaders at all levels – executive directors, curators, educators, archivists, historians, interpreters, marketing and development professionals, and others – who want to improve their knowledge and skills, who want to become better leaders in their own institutions, and who are ready to part of the larger network of history leaders around the country.

SHA is a three-week, post-graduate level seminar that provides seminarians the opportunity to examine and discuss issues facing the practice of public history with some of the most experienced and knowledgeable leaders in the field.

Some of the hot issues we will be addressing this year are:

  • The relevance of history in American life today.
  • How to engage and share authority with communities and audiences, especially around sensitive topics.
  • The impact of demographic, economic, technological, and cultural changes on our work.
  • How to best engage people in learning about and from history through collections, exhibits, and experiences.
  • The role of collections in an era that places high value on storytelling and virtual experiences.
  • How to align the work of an organization to its mission and strategic goals.
  • How to generate and manage financial resources in order to build a sustainable organization.
  • How to reinvent an organization and manage institutional change in light of the many economic and societal pressures we are facing.
  • How to develop leaders at every level in an organization and in the public history field.

If you aspire to play a greater role in your institution and the field, if you want to improve yourself as a leader, if you want to help shape the future of public history… then apply to the Seminar.

For details, contact Bob Beatty at or check the SHA website

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It’s the New Year and the 2010 SHA graduates are back in their offices, but rest assured that achieving healthy, engaged boards, forming brand new visions and, best of all, exploring new possibilities are among their New Year’s resolutions!

As is typical this time of year, a little reflection on the previous year’s accomplishments is in order:

First of all, Congratulations to the 2010 SHA class! May your SHA experience be pivotal!

Next, a hearty congratulations to SHA Coordinator, John Durel, on the very successful completion of his first year. May this be the start of a wonderful run!

Another item that comes to mind is to thank the founding chair of the SHA Alumni Committee, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, for her leadership and guidance of such a new committee. Thanks to her, we have a good list of SHA graduates now compiled, a presentation available (for your use if you would like to be a SHA advocate) and a survey which will soon yield valuable information to help guide the Alumni Committee’s work in the future. Most importantly, she oversaw a very successful fundraising effort to honor former SHA Coordinator, Denny O’Toole, and provide a scholarship for the 2010 class. Thank you, Cinnamon!

Finally, sincere gratitude to the SHA partners for another successful year: American Association of Museums, American Association of State and Local History, Colonial Williamsburg, the Indiana Historical Society, National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It cannot be done without you! Thank you!

The natural thought process then begins to lead us into what we hope to accomplish in 2011. Here are a few items on my list as the new Chair of the SHA Alumni Committee:

Continue to be active and engaged as a committee in order to attract well-qualified applicants for the 2011 class.

Continue the wonderful O’Toole scholarship for 2011---with the generous support of the SHA Alumni, Faculty and Friends of course! Watch for your donation letter to arrive soon...

Engage ANY willing SHA graduate with new opportunities to advocate for the SHA program. If you are interested in being a mentor for new attendees, presenting a session at state or regional meeting, organizing a SHA regional meeting or a variety of other fun opportunities, please contact me at

Finally, continue to give back to the SHA program in new and innovative ways.

Happy New Year!