I’ve finished compiling all the gathered information about the objects in the Alexander Major’s House into an Excel spreadsheet, which I believe will then be imported into PastPerfect (the museum’s collections management software). There are several required fields that must be filled out when adding object records for accession.
One is the Collection field. I decided to have each room of the house be its own collection. For example, there’s a painting of Alexander Majors in the house’s entry hall, so it will be part of the Entry Hall Collection. Objects are given both a less descriptive Object Name, as well as a more descriptive Object Title. The Object Title would be “Oil Painting of Alexander Majors,” while the Object Name would simply be “Painting.” The Object Description includes even more details about an object, including information about the object’s specific location in the room, it’s composition, place of origin, etc. For instance, the Object Description for the Major’s painting contains details about the artist and painting, like how it was painted by local artist Mary Campbell and was based on a tintype of Majors at age thirty-six. Other information required in an object record include the date the object was made, the name of the donor, the catalog date, and the name of the staff member who cataloged the object. The most difficult part has been finding out who the donor of an object was, which I am currently working on by looking through old newsletters and organizational papers.
by Savannah Lore
My internship has come to an end today. I will still be working with the Wornall-Majors House Museum but this is my last post for the summer internship. I have had the opportunity to do some very interesting programs with Wornall-Majors. I have to thank our director Kerrie Nichols, program director Sarah Bader-King and Leah Palmer for all the help and advice. I think my time would not have been as worthwhile with their help. I got the chance to work events, give tours, research for a tour script (which is in the final stages of editing as we speak), and so many other experiences. I think I learned so much through the hands on experiences and I think it is so much easier to visualize all of these public history theories/ideas with that context. I also like that I became much better at talking to the public. I learned so much from just being with the public and interpreting history through tours. I got to experience sometimes one-on-one what works in interpretation with smaller tours. I think I took so much away from working the summer camps as well. I realized what goes into this: lesson plans for activities, planning presenters, and keeping great records. I think I never realized how much work it takes or planning. (Leah Palmer deserves more praise for her amazing work at the summer camps, and how much she taught me about what goes into creating this venture.)
So, thank you for the experience. I am glad to share some of the things I have learned. I have learned so much more but I feel I wrapped in up in a nice presentation for all of you.
By Savannah Lore
I have come full circle in my time working the Wornall-Majors Summer camp. I have worked a full camp though it was parts and pieces of different camps. Today’s theme was Frontier Living. It was all about things people had to do and make to survive on the frontier. We did chores and activities like butter making, candle making, weaving, dance games and rope making.
Here are some of our campers making butter. Some silliness is required to making very long task enjoyable.
So, a little about what I learned. From my entire experience, I have noticed a few things about interpreting history with children. The first is that doing interpretation is hard. Very Hard. Some of the times, I could just tell that they did not care. Either they got sidetracked by the activities or the just thought it was boring. And itt was hard to tell exactly what activity they would find interesting. I think it is also hard to talk seriously when they are doing projects that are a lot of fun. One day we had a presenter talk about the Underground Railroad, I think the presenter was good but the kids had to sit and listen without a craft to do. So, they lost focus easily. I think that the group also effects what they listen to or what they like because some times they do not focus or need more information. (We had young kids aged 6-12, some of the younger ones had way shorter attention spans.)
The second thing is I found it very hard to make something they thought was only one way but inform them of another idea. The first day was all about Native American cultures and I found myself wanting to talk much more seriously and at length about somethings that I thought needed to be explained to them, like why we use Native American and not “Indian.” This was also the only day that did not have a presenter (for scheduling reasons and other difficulties) and I think that would have given us a chance to talk more about the history of Native Americans and their culture. I think that this is not the problem of the program but a difficulty with interpreting history with children. I have also saw problems about teaching sensitive subjects like Native American culture. I think it is hard for the kids to understand that this isn’t a costume or a game and these are part of a culture and a people’s identity. So, at times, I can see that kids will unintentionally take the activities to that cultural appropriation line when we are trying hard to get them to respect and understand a culture.
The main lesson here is that it is very hard to get children to understand and focus on the history you are interpreting and making them respectful towards that information.
By Savannah Lore
As I write this, we have finished our second day of the last session of the Wornall-Majors Summer camp. The theme of day two was Western Expansion and we talked to the kids about people in the 19th century traveling to the western United States. This was a great theme for the Alexander Majors House Museum as Majors’ history is so ingrained in this topic. We did activities that explained how people traveled and why. We also had presentations about how people lived in this period and how certain things were made. One of the favorites was the 19th century toy presentation, which offered the kids a chance to play with replicas of period toys.
(Pictured is the toys brought by Jay Clasen of Friends of Missouri Town, who is demonstrating a toy in the right hand corner.)
This was a great way to get them to understand what toys looked like and how much of toys in this period was easily made, but still fun. This allowed us to go into an activity about making your own toys if you had to move west and left your toys behind (If you were lucky enough to have these kinds of toys or a lot of toys.) We made corn husk dolls and dressed them in period clothing.
Also as I write this, I have finished the first draft of my tour script. I wanted to talk a little about what I did with the content of the script in this post. The script for me was a challenge. I decided that I would create a master guide. A script that could be the go-to for a guide if they needed to know anything about the house. It was written in a narrative style to help guides talk about the information even if they could not include everything in the hour long (or half hour in some cases) tours. (Every tour is different.) I focused on two majors things: how the Majors lived in the house and how Majors could have the house built. This is to have multiple ideas without it seeming disjointed. The family history, Majors’ history and 19th century history is throughout the script to help form connections to the information without being repetitive. This means using the Majors and the enslaved African Americans as the focus to direct the content and tell a great story to engage the visitors.
I still have a few days of camp and more edits to make on the script. What I have so far informs what I know of public history. I hope I am explaining history, which is complex and varied, to people and to children in a easy way, either quickly for tours or clearly for children.
by Savannah Lore
Every third Saturday, The Alexander Majors House Barn houses a little childhood fun. We have partnered with the Kansas City Public Library WestPort Branch, to give a free Saturday Story Time for children ages 3 to 8. I really love working this event because the children have a lot of fun with the story time and the activities that we do, but the parents/guardians are also interested in the house and history. We work to make sure that the activities on our end are fun, informative and deal with history.
The last Story Time (July 18) was around the theme of gardening. We brought in herbs from the Wornall House’s herb garden, and I discussed with the kids what people would use them for in the 19th century. We even had some mythical uses or ideas of what the different herbs did. Did you know that basil was thought to prevent lightening strikes? The kids and even the parents liked these little fun facts. I tried to uses these myths to drawn the children attention so I could talk about the real uses for herbs and how they acted like medicines for different conditions or illnesses in this period.
I have learned more about talking and interacting with many different groups of people at the same time. I also learned about working with different institutions. It was a lot of work to set up these events, and one family actually came back to take a tour of the house. So, I call that a successful program.
By Savannah Lore
I had the opportunity to help out with the Wornall-Majors children’s summer camp. I will be working for a full week long session and make more posts but I will talk about my experiences helping out with the last day of our second camp session. (We had four week long sessions, this was the last day of the third.)
It was interesting to work with children and teach them about history. I think that this group of kids was actually interested in the activities and history, which made interpreting information to them much easier. I think that working with children can both be easy and a challenge. When they are excited, they have great questions and are learning some things for the first time. So, they do not usually try to challenge what you say. I think the challenge comes into play when they are not engaged or don’t care.
We had two presenters today. The first was a confederate reenactor with a group called Elliott’s Scouts named Carl Listron. I think people assume a certain bias with people who reenact as a Confederate but Carl was very historically accurate and discussed the war how I think it should be, which is without bias and factual.
The second presenter was a Civil War medical reenactor who showed the kids period medical equipment and discussed what doctors did in the military during the war.
Here is his little bag of “goodies.”
The presenter talked about what doctors did not know (spreading disease through germs) and also what other skills a doctor would have. The picture shows he talking about how dentists (military did have dentist who had medical licenses to do other procedures) removed teeth with certain tools.
I think the most important thing I learned today was about how kids respond to history and how to work with them in this setting. It was also a great experience to help lead a group of kids when a presentation was happening. I could help the kids direct their questions and help the presenter when things needed to be simplified or cleared up.
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
Museums have to have diverse programming. It is how we stay relevant to to our communities and get visitors interested in our content. Since I have worked with Wornall-Majors House Museum, I see a lot of great diverse programs and events planned. From slavery in museums workshops to children’s morning story time to civil war reenactments, Wornall-Majors does a lot. I think this mixing of programs helps us get people in the door and even learn things about our content, even if that was not the main reason they come. I think that is the great thing about all different kinds of programming, you attract people who might not have an initial interest and you inspire one in them.
This is a screenshot of our upcoming calendar of events. There are many different things on this list that bring people to our house and get them interested in our museum. There are also things planned at our space that are not on this list. The Alexander Majors Barn is also a rental space for people to have events, such as weddings. It is always interesting to be working when a wedding is happening. It never interferes with my job of giving tours and so many more people show up just to see what all the activity is about. (The house is not a part of the rentable space, only the barn. And there is an attendant to help with rented events so I do not do that work.) There have also been paranormal investigations at both the Wornall and Majors homes which get people really excited. (If one does show up at Majors, I will definitely write a post about that experience.) I do not know how many times I have been ask about ghosts when on a tour so many people really like to talk about the previous investigations.
I have noticed something great about these events, especially if they are not focused on history: people always ask about the history. They may have not come for the history (vendors of a craft fair, the wedding party) but they always ask, “So, tell me about Majors. What is important about him and the house?”
And isn’t that our goal, inspire interest in our history and get them coming to us?
By Savannah Lore
Intellectually, I have understood that Public History is not interpreting history everyday, all day. There are other task that have to be done to keep the museum open and visitor-friendly. I did not think this was such a major thing until I was actually working at the Alexander Majors House Museum. I think it is a frame of mind where when you starting out learning about public history, you are thinking about all the exciting ideas or skills and not so much about all the day-to-day that is a part of the the job. I have decided to call this the Indiana Jones effects. No one watches Indiana Jones to watch him teach or grade papers. In fact, Indy hates that part of the job as much as we would be bored watching an hour of him plan a lesson. The excitement and the adventure are what people talk about and think about when they think of Indiana Jones. However, the audience is aware of the fact that he is Dr. Jones, a professor of archeology, which has job requirements of its own but no one watches the films for the teaching scenes.
I use that long winded metaphor to say that I have realized that without the day-to-day task (sweeping sidewalks or picking up trash for example) that a museum will not have the visitors so I can interpret history. It would not be a functioning place and no one would visit a museum that is not properly maintained or want to tell others about us. When a tour slot is empty, I still have some work to do around the museum to make it a place that visitors can enjoy. So, while sweeping the sidewalk might not be as important as what I learn from interpretation, I think that it (and all the other little tasks I do) is a bigger part of the job then I use to think it was.
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.