Musings from a First-Time Attendee at AASLH
C2C’s Disaster Preparedness Coordinator, Lyn Triplett, shares her thoughts…
We just got back from attending the American Association for State and Local History conference in Minnesota. Because my background is in Education, FEMA, and the arts this was my first time to attend a national conference with so many historians. I was surrounded by sharp, learned, and interesting people, all of whom had a very high level of expertise in their chosen passion and career. The best part of most professional conferences is being able to immerse yourself with peers who really speak your language and know the ins and outs of the professional world of your career. People were always willing to share information, display new ideas and approaches, chat, vent, problem-solve and cheer each other and their institutions onward and upward.
The best part was learning that stumbling blocks in our area are the same in other areas. Getting small and medium museums to write disaster plans, update inventories, and document artifacts are challenges across the country. Not all ideas at AASLH were met with cheers and confetti. The ideas of gearing education programs to specific styles of learning (traditional schools vs. home schooled), contemporary approaches to media (Zombies and comic books), interactive collaboration between fields of study, and cross categorical implementation of the arts still makes many museum, library and conservation professionals uncomfortable. However, I think that it can be said that we need those folks to make us get out of our ruts, view our sites and collections with a new prism and encourage fresh ideas in order to keep the funding, the audience and, most importantly, the educational enlightenment that arises from attending the state and local history sites and museums at a peak.
The one component that everyone could agree upon was that the local group of dedicated individuals, upon which every historic entity depends, is absolutely paramount to the continued success of preserving history for the future. That unique group of people gives their time and their money to keep the doors open and are the backbone of sustainability for tens of thousands of museums, sites and libraries across the United States.
A friend once told me that every event depending on participation from others was a risk. Whether it was a birthday party, an open house, or a black tie charity ball, in order for the attendees to say “Yes” to that event, they had to say “No” to something else; even if that something else was just getting off the couch and not watching TV. Her point was that we should always appreciate, with genuine and deep gratitude, the people who choose to support us with their hard work and devotion. They could easily choose to do something much more glamorous, fun or relaxing. Thinking of this, I realized that many historical institutions and museums are hanging from a very thin thread. When that connective filament breaks down between the custodians of the sites and artifacts and the local community, the worst disaster possible will occur. The doors will close and the history will be locked away. That will mean no more stories, no more education, and especially, no way to learn lessons from our past to create a better future.
From developing new attendees, to filling the financial coffers, to showing admiration for the work-horse-volunteers, we must do whatever it takes to keep the doors open. If that means dressing up as a super-hero, or learning a new computer system or spending money for a professional consultant, then it simply must be done. It will also mean that I might be a little uncomfortable in the process. But I learned something very important at the AASLH Conference: that history and artifacts do not belong to just one group or individual – we are simply the temporary custodians. It is our responsibility to entreat others and inspire the next group of learners who happen along. And we must make sure that those people are welcome and willing to say “Yes” to history and its importance to our cultural growth.