By Savannah Lore
This weekend was our first annual Artisan Fair and it was my job to give the half hour tours of the home. With the amount of people that stopped by, I was able to give a lot of shorten tours back to back and I learned a few things about how I give tours and about giving tours in general. Here is a list of some things I found important to understand about giving shorten tours.
- When you do a shorter tour, you just don’t cut things out of your script. I realized this when I was giving multiple tours. You need to change the way you give the tour because there is a different pace to how you are showing the home. You have you give the main points sooner and more often. In a longer tour, I have time to introduce ideas and build on them. A shorter tour demands that guide need to pick a clear theme or one idea and rework the tour so the facts support that. This gets the visitors an idea to grab on to in the short time that you have to work with them.
- Pay attention to the numbers. The more people on the tour, the more time it takes to move them through the house. This follows that idea of pacing but in a physically sense. With larger groups, it takes more time for people to move through rooms and to settle. This means leaving time to some silence for them to enter the room and look around. If you move too fast, some people do not have time to process your interpretation. There is more talking and less people listening when you rush them through the house.
- Read the crowd. I think this a skill that every tour guide learns to do. I could see this much more clearly when I had tours back to back. Different groups react to different things. Experienced tour guides can read a group and can see how to approach certain topics. A shorter tour gives you less time to know the group so you have to get a quicker read on the situation.
by Savannah Lore
This phrase tends to get people shocked or interested in a millisecond. I show them the door to the root seller that is in the kitchen pantry, and tell them they we don’t tour it but we have pictures for them to view. I usually get question about the pictures because they clearly show the shackles on the wall. When I explain, “No, those are shackles.” I get a varied amount of looks, ranging from “Really?” to a loud gasp. (I always follow up with what they were used for and stories about African Americans freeing themselves in Missouri in this period.) I bring up these stories because this week I have been focusing on the book Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites edited by Kristen L. Gallas and James DeWolf Perry.
I was lucky enough to attend an Interpreting Slavery seminar at the Alexander Majors Barn in May put on in joint effort by Freedom’s Frontier, University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Center for Midwestern Studies, Wornall/Majors House Museums, and the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery. This book was a resource material from that seminar. I learned so much just about how to talk about slavery with visitors and how to share slavery in a meaningful but proper way. One of the great things I took away from the seminar was that as an interpreter, I am a guide, and I am not there to force them to think or believe what I think they should know or feel. My job should be to introduce them to this narrative and guide them in the learning process (or crisis depending on their perspective and background knowledge.)
Interpreting Slavery is also helping me with my tours at the Majors house. I use some of the practices talked about in the book, such as using narrative storytelling to easy them into the topic they thought might be uncomfortable. I also learned to purposefully speak about enslaved African Americans in the active and not in the passive voice. It is such a simple thing but it creates a new perspective and gives African Americans agency in there own stories which is what I want to do as an interpreter. One thing that I found to be very important advice was that I should recognize and explore what baggage I have (and everyone has some) about race and racial identity. It is important for me to figure out what conscious and unconscious ideas I have about race that effect my interpretation and how I can help visitors work through their own ideas. I am recognizing and working with these ideas to create a better experience and interpretation of slavery at the Alexander Majors House Museum.
By Savannah Lore
My name is Savannah Lore, and I am a graduate student in the Public History program. During the summer semester, I will be doing my internship with the Wornall-Majors House Museums. My time will be spent conducting the weekend tours at the home and building a tour script for the Alexander Majors House. For a little historical background on Majors, he was nationally known for his part in the large freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell in the 1850s and 1860s. His other main contribution to history was starting the Pony Express in 1860. With this history in mind, I am trying to create a script that can tell this story but not leave out the story of his life in this home.
Majors’ story is obviously a national story that deals with Westward Expansion, but we also have a house that tells a great story about life in Missouri during the 1850s and 1860s. I know that one of the issues I will have to take into account and wrestle with in my tour script is trying to balance out the stories to create a solid narrative. One of the reasons I wanted to do this project was to understand and experience writing in this way. Also, I wanted to dig up some great stories and answer questions I already have about Majors and this house. For the next few weeks, I will also try to find the balance in my posts to discuss not only my progress with my tour script but also my experiences working with the public at the Majors House. Trust me, giving tours are an experience. I do not want to deprive you of the stories I have about tours and the things I have learned giving them. I experience a new question, a new perspective or a new challenge from visitors every time I open those doors.