tv Public History and Museum Exhibits CSPAN February 25, 2017 4:44pm-6:01pm EST
about this. about this. -- no one asked him any questions. nobody had the gravitas, in who had done as much for alabama, and could step in and take on some unlike george wallace -- there was no one like von brown to do that. host: on history bookshelf, here from the country's best-known history writers from the past decade every saturday at 4:00 p.m. eastern. watch any of our programs anytime when you visit www.c-span.org/history. you are watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> authorn history tv, a describes his lifelong interest in museums and historic sites with the brooklyn historical society president.
the conversation focuses on his new book "curating america: journeys through story scapes over the past." over the past 45 years, richard developed exhibits and new museums over the entire united states. this 75 minute program is hosted by the brooklyn historical society. sunday 29 will be the 50th anniversary of a trip i tired, a disgruntled, bored graduate student in history. i went out to an outdoor history museum in central massachusetts called old sturbridge village. some of you have been there. it was a day like today, but 30 degrees colder. instead of rain, it was a lot of snow. i pretty much had the whole
museum to myself that day. i walk around and told the story. it was kind of a revelation. i was in graduate school discovering new england history. i was shocked at my ignorance. i had no idea what the people i have been studying for years looked like or where they left -- where they lived, how they carried themselves around. i went that night and could sleep. -- could not sleep. i got up the next morning and decided i had to do something else. $1.10 anelf a job for hour. i have a couple people in the audience that ever for me. i always told that story. i worked as one of those costume interpreters with a funny hat.
meetingthe idea of visitors and talking history. the passion of my life is telling us stories. i thought i would read a little bit of what happened to me at sturbridge. gatherings,nal passingorkers remark on through the marble floors at night, and the dim lamps barely catch a glimpse of a bronze sculpture. thecan see the appeal of "night at the museum" movies when the old precious objects, life. sturbridge was never like that. it was already alive with light and shadow, bernard, song, and animal calls.
there was something new to notice, how different people looked as they crossed the village common in their winter affectedw a dry april the gardens, and how the ice melted in the morning sun. being outdoors in historical environment generated new angles of vision, new phenomena to see, and a new life pattern to explain. opening myself to the sensuality of the past, i discovered how time and space, light and color, and the stillness and sound matter. the touchable past abolished and arbitrary boundary between the historical and contemporary. in my university classes, everything we knew about the past, including its persistence into the present, had to be interviewed and to some kind of -- be attributed to some kind of footnote.
these sources are still resigned in the archives or cooked concoctions of well reputed scholars. the outdoor museum hinted at a truth that our forebears share a complex commonality of sensory engagement with the universe around us. accessing the touchable past vastly widened and deepened when i considered to be historical phenomena, words spoken and written, stuff that was made, used, discarded or preserved, the ambience of human life, and its daily, seasonal, and annual irbbons. tactility brought me closer to the everyday past. that was the impulse of that experience, kind of experience that feeling that the past was still accessible to us, and the feeling we had that we could
still hear the sounds of the morning, of the birdsong in the morning, and feel the way in which the ground under our feet gave way in that time. it was a transformative experience for me. when i went to teach there, i realized that -- for example, i was a schoolmaster. my visitors would come in and slide into these old desks. there was no artificial light in the room. i would get out copies of a textbook, a 19th century textbook. people would hold it up and try to catch the light. they would also feel the snow of the room - -the smell of the room, the kind of way in which if you didn't get the right answer, you might shrink behind someone to not be called on again.
people begin to talk back to me as an interpreter. although they may have once been silenced in class, in the museum they were filled with words. i realized that the museum was also a place where people would talk back, or i could hear the visitor, where i could understand their experience of history as well. those experiences of understanding how much their history was around us in everything, in every way we looked and walked down the street. every building was a testament to a whole set of historical actions and decisions. also the way in a museum that we could teach by putting people into situations where basic human skills, the knowledge and experience they brought as children -- suddenly they could talk back to you. they could tell you things they
themselves were part of the story we were telling. that is the transformation, that coming into this field a half-century ago -- god, that is amazing. it was just after my bar mitzvah. [laughter] >> richard, as you talk about this i can't help but tie to some of the issues we were all thinking about in the present day. we are accused occasionally in new york of living in a bubble. work -- i amdone wondering if you have had some particular moment or example of than in a different place the new england, which you started deeply, or new york
where you grew up, better striking examples of what you learned -- that were striking examples of what you learned because they were in that context. richard: that is a good question. we worked in 34 states. it is always a question of walking, finding someone to take a walk with in a salmon cannery in puget sound. to talk with a filipina cannery filipino cannery worker, and having him explain the dangers of the work, the family stories. i would be able to ask russians. i would be able to bring to him the kind of conversation. let me tell you what i think this would be like 75 or 100 years ago, and we would have conversations about that. or walking along a rice field.
in a day like today in january in south carolina when you are in the rice fields and are working with somebody -- i did not know the history of all these places. to meetsure i had was people that had deep roots. for a new yorker, it is surprising to learn it is january that is the real horror st,the rice fields, not augu if you are a 17th or 18th century enslaved person that has to walk through the cold water and pull up the weeds around the rice plants. slavery isand that not an obstruction. it is not -- an abstraction. it is a human crisis. i would sit there and try to
say, what did it feel like with the cold? how did people talk to each other? the africans that were there came from so many different places. africa is a much more heterogeneous liquids to clean than europe -- heterogeneous europe, solly than you might have six or seven different indigenous languages. when people came to south carolina, they had to find a way to talk to each other and construct a language. the language that emerged in that culture. dnessing that with a roote in that place became tremendously important. in the 1970's and 1980's, a lot of the work we were doing and out of the fact that a lot of american industrial towns in the northeast and midwest with the
industrializing. -- midwest were de-industrializing. it was clear there was a whole architectural heritage threatened. there was no longer an economic use for those militants. -- those mill towns. we got hired to figure out what to do with those places. we constructed programs in new york and massachusetts and ohio and pennsylvania to create heritage parks. in every case, it was a matter of locating the memories of people from that place and trying to find out, what was the investment they had in the place? capitalism is a great powerful energy. it has the power to take a steel mill or con no and move it it acotton mill and move
thousand miles in one month. but it leaves behind an enormous investment of a community. in a lot of ways, the work of the public historian is to figure out how to treasure what that investment is, and to find a way to preserve, not to allow it to simply become fungible, something that gets tossed into the ash heap because the factory is gone. what to do with those churches and synagogues, the stories, all the commercial districts left behind that need to be repurposed and reconstructed as sites for a new civilization. that often means bringing in a new immigrant population. this is an amazing country because we have this churning in our lives. we are no longer a young
country. we are no longer a place where things are first generation. over many generations later on the land -- there are many generations layered on the land here. our job is to argue for those multiple layers, right? i hope i am not offending anybody here. but that the developer can come in and simplify this place by describing it as someplace that is totally new. -- thatind of mistake is a kind of mistake. our job is working to restore the idea that the brooklyn waterfront -- it wasn't ornamental or a workspace. it was a working waterfront that was traditionally important. this was one of the great ports in the united states. history inwhole
.emembering that for years, these people made a living, sometimes dining places. -- dying in these places. they often get bypassed in the telling of history. >> we have a wonderful story. our director of public history, who i don't think is with us tonight, but who was driving the project at the waterfront -- she and her team discovered an laborer who worked in the empire stores, lifting bags of goods, and who, starting with the obituary, because this man was killed by a bag of seeds
that fell on his head, work backwards and learned about him. where he worked, how long he worked, his wife was, where they -- whereser situation they lived, what their situation was. out of it came this full-blown story. richard: i think the point is that all of us have full-blown stories, and it history is reduced. sometimes social historians like me reduce history to statistical measures. life expectancy or income per year, but the real pleasure of history is to reconstruct full lives. to understand that men and women in the past had a view of nature, they were philosophical about things. they had long family lives.
it is easy to simplify and reduce people to statistics. i think our job, to find the human stories everywhere, just as a way of seeing ourselves as connected with that great chain is important is important. >> i am allowing myself one slightly nerdy museum question, which has to do with the juxtaposition of storytelling to objects. it,thus, stuff, as you call that many museums are made of. which is to say, we often start out and continue to be collections of objects, sometimes artifacts. in art museums, it is a more obvious relationship.
is storage space is -- our slightly upgraded storage spaces are full of these objects. i would love for you to talk about your relationships with these objects and what you have come to understand from them. richard: i was not a museum rat as a kid. the museum ofp to natural history every year from east new york. i never thought i was particularly interested in that. i didn't come from a family that were really collectors. withinbegan to realize the object, just as a teacher, you an object to
allown your hand, and to you to have a bodily relationship to that object -- i have two beautiful and brilliant grandchildren. i can show you pictures. i am having the pleasure again grandparent to watch the way in which the cognitive process of a toddler. grandparent to watch the way inso much of what is learnes just by this physical process of learning how to manipulate. that is why i use the term sensorimotor engagement. it is a big fancy term, but it is not just physicality of the object. when a child put something on top, the develop an idea of the metaphor, the top is the good thing, but the thing on the top is good.
they will say tomorrow we are going to have a big experience, we are going to top it off with something. you get that sense of metaphor that comes out of that physical experience. as a student of history, i think it came down to the fact that my --her, who died last year she was in the middle of her a woman that was came to new york and brooklyn from poland. she had very little schooling. she was the most intelligent person that i have met. her intelligence was in her fingertips. she had an amazing kind of wisdom. if she dealt with anything dealing with the physical world, especially food, she had a sensitivity to the story of that object.
she wouldn't buy green beans at the public market in deerfield without understanding -- was a fresh? what was she going to do with it tonight and tomorrow? she had a storytelling ability about every thing. nothing spoiled in her refrigerator, to say the least. , i had to many years figure out to get it phd -- i had to get a phd to figure out how my mother made an apple pie. that was a kind of revenge. i felt that a lot of my teachers and colleagues were focusing only on the way in which history was captured in documents and texts. i really wanted to value the that wasnowledge
hosting -- this was not just brawn. there was a tremendous amount of skill and danger involved. objects immediately generate a kind of story. --da and i went to paris somebody had to do it -- we want to do research for an exhibition on the haitian revolution at the new york historical society. , archives fromr the defense department. it was a letter from the polling -- from napoleon. he says "no honor is greater for you to be a citizen of the great french republic." "by the way, i am sending my brother-in-law to take over
power in the island. you will be subordinate to him." immediately after that he writes a letter to his brother and thought and says, i want you to get in and master his soul, and insinuate yourself and twist him to power. this guy is a son of a bitch. forigns a big "b" bonaparte. the physicality of that letter is something that you can't substitute. that letter has been quoted in more history books, sure. but it is one thing to read the text, nice times new roman in a textbook, but when you see the thing physically and really feel it, you can feel the hate coming into that moment. sitting in his palace and has this kind of quill and this kind of inkwell,
and the paper has been made. you dig deep and find the whole story. is set onagination fire by that kind of stuff. >> great. .ou are a storyteller at heart this is one of the things i am struck by when i talk to you. your command of historical knowledge is extraordinary. of anu have the soul educator. that is essentially what i have seen that you combine. richard: in which we share. deborah: right. that is from whence i come as well.
before i came to brooklyn historical society, i ran the education department at the museum of modern art, and before that at the brooklyn museum. it is in my heart as well. one of the things you are eloquent about in the book, which i think then manifests itself in the exhibits you create, is not just a passion, but an understanding of educational philosophy. you have studied the great educators. you have studied john dewey. and you work with that constantly. i wonder if you could talk a little bit about where that came, how you came upon that, and how you have maintained it in your practice. you have these experiences. in college i was reading wordsworth's long wonderful:
called "a prelude." tries to capture the experience of a small child. i think the adventure of how the human mind grasps onto something in the world is the most wonderful miraculous thing that could ever be discovered, could ever be looked at. i just became so interested. if you could slow that down, what actually happens biologically and intellectually and physically? it is all of those things happening to us as we engage the world, as we pick something up. we feel the need for balance. my arm moves out here. i am already conducting a physics experience -- physics experiment of sophistication, but i just don't know it.
i don't know the words of what to call it until i am much older. down athe museum slows its best the kind of engagement with something that is alien and gn, not part of our world. even things that seem to be familiar to us. museumgo to a tenement -- as new yorkers, we have been in a kind of space. but something is different. the way the wallpaper is set, the chairs -- you begin to become, frankly i got very excited by my own process of learning, but especially by the way in which i could work with a group of kids. at sturbridge, i had this very lucky thing. i was the head of the baby boom
generation by 10 minutes. there was a good job open when we were waiting for the rest of the baby boomers to finish college. i had this experience first day i was education director. -- ought a group of kids brought a group of kids in. i taught them the recipe on making rice cakes. they had they not on a bus -- had been on a bus for hours to come to sturbridge. i said, we are going to make rice cakes today. one child said, we need a pound of rice. one said, where do we get the rice? someone looks at the map and said we can go to this farm. they said, mr. freeman, can we have a pound of rice? he said, this is massachusetts, we ain't got no rice here.
god bless this one little girl, she said, well what do you have? he said he had some cornmeal they could have. they spent the whole day making it. what is a cup of water? before pyrex cups, it is a matter of judgment to what is an actual cup of water. we had volunteers to churn the butter and all of this stuff. this was the worst cornbread i ever had. [laughter] it was dreadful. the cornbread crumbled and it was all over their face. it was the best learning those kids have ever had, i think. i learned just so much that day. the pleasure of watching learning take place is the joy of this kind of work still.
it is hard to recapture that innocent in yourself, and to keeps attracting all of the things that you think you know to get back to the core experience touching the raw experience of life. that experience builds itself up into important meanings. me, is this tremendous passion. i can do this in the streets. i sometimes frustrate my friends because i just start telling stories as i am walking down the street. anyway, it is a deep excitement, that amazing biological phenomena that we call learning. did you -- it sounds
like you had that revelation and direct experience, then backed into some of the more scholarly -- richard: when we do an exhibition, we have to reconstruct the process. stuff, but ilot of have to bring you into this process. the first thing i have to do is tell you that you are exactly the person for whom we did this exhibition. i have to make you feel this way, that you are the right person. you have all the skills you need. unlike many other learning experiences that you have, where you walk in and say whoa, this is not for me because i know nothing about the haitian revolution. we want to reinforce your sense of confidence. years ago we did an exhibit in philadelphia at the bicentennial
of the constitutional convention. we did testing and discovered a life people to not know whether the declaration of independence came before or after the constitution. we set it up so that there was a little timeline and everyone could remember the right sequence. then you have to create -- people don't come to museums to get a masters in history. there are plenty of other good places to get a masters in history right in brooklyn. -- andn't come there books are great things. we all love books. what museums to is they give you the power to transform a basic understanding of who you are. when we did the slavery in new york show, a glut of visitors -- lot of visitors, white visitors
said, i do not know there were black people in new york before world war i. african-americans born in new amsterdam, not in the textbooks i read in fourth grade new york history. black visitors -- one black woman came to me. i don't know if any of you were at that show. great.e of people, we had a video talkback station at the end of the show. we collected 10,000 interviews with visitors. it was great. a very lovely well spoken well-dressed woman said she was leaving a show -- i lived here all my life, went to public cornell,re, went to went to wall street, and i never thought of myself as anything
other than an outsider in this town. reconstructions or re-orientations of the self. when you ask people, what got you interested in history? was myes they say, it teacher in the second grade. sometimes they say, i read all of the lower angles books. many times they say, i went to gettysburg with my dad, and that was amazing. i wentwoman said to me, to the summation education building at all sturbridge village. have you ever been there? [laughter] that was great. -- power to put people because they are physically in that space, they are more
vulnerable to that basic orientation of their relationship to the past. i hope you have had that experience yourself. siteseasier in historic than it is in calories museums. -- gallery museums. we try very hard to introduce one of the great achievements of our generation, to make the beleries, which used to cases and rows of arrowheads. without the use of audio -- now the use of audiovisual and tactile experiences in the gallery is much more powerful as an instrument of teaching then it was. it has changed the world of museums, i think for the better.
usually my graduate professors say, you have cheapened this, you have dumped this down. we underestimate the drive of our visitors. i i am always assuming that people can lift themselves up to grasp the most interesting and difficult questions in history. i have never been disappointed in that expectation. hesitate to put you on the spot. i have to ask this question, very straightforward, but maybe not easy to answer. other than the shows you have worked on yourself, do you have a top 2 all-time favorite exhibitions? i'm so critical of the work. wes is a very hard artform
are involved in. exhibition at king's college chapel in cambridge, england. it was an exhibition on the construction -- the design of the windows in that amazing building. it gives me a good chance now to think about why that was such an impressive experience for me 35 years ago. part of it was that because of the exhibition, i sort of lingered in that space. theirroup came in to do choral practice, so i got this extra bit of audiovisual help. one of our goals is just to hold
people, with people stopped moving -- let people stop moving. let them go through the passage of time, and hold people in a space that is somewhat unusual. that is a powerful experience. i can't member anything supposed to have learned in that stained-glass. it was a very profound experience. it was a sticky experience. i don't know if you know this, wqxr, christmas day, on they play the nine lessons. the choir in that building sings it every year. when i hear that music, i am revisiting. part of what i think is important in learning is having
this experience that generates a kind of stickiness for you, so that you can keep putting things that and tourself that initial experience -- add to that initial that and to experience, and allow you to grow out of that kind of thing. experience is a very powerful one. the very first day at sturbridge, i never had a road to damascus experience in religious terms, but it was an amazing day, to go into a building and realize all those sermons i had been reading and analyzing were delivered orally in freezing cold spaces, where people were shivering. was studying the puritanism and hyde language and
thinking, -- high language, and thinking these people's teeth are chattering. it is freezing in this building. sense.anged my whole every time you read hawthorne or melville, you should be thinking about then sitting withevery tir gloves on their fingers, with ink freezing in the inkwell, trying to write these books. they didn't pull out a pen like down, or just scroll it a computer to say the least. those are the things that i think connect us to the past. deborah: that is great. as you were talking, i was thinking about one of my experiences, which had to do with going to a series of caves
tochina along the silk road the very far west. earlyin those caves, very in 1981 before there was any tourist trade there. it was a very privileged moment i was having. as someone took us through the caves with a flashlight, many of covered forhich are those of you that don't know, with these exquisite beautiful and thef buddhists stories of buddha. they are elaborately painted and will present. what struck me was walking into one of these, where the whole cave was covered with black ash. written byk ash was a russian soldier who had fled
there during the revolution, basically the equivalent of "kilroy was here." for whatever geography i had learned in the world, all of a sudden my understanding of the relationship between the soviet union and china was forever changed. i completely understood something i had never understood before. those caves were the ticket for me. richard: esq -- let me ask you, when you came out, did you talk to someone about this, write about this? how did you fix the memory of that event? deborah: i did both. i talked to many people that i was with, many were art historians. they were filling me with all sorts of information i didn't have. but then i kept a journal in
this remarkable journey i was taking, and still have the journal. writing it down helped to fix that into my mind. richard: that is so important that you externalize your experience in some object or conversation. i think our ability to recover these things, it's so easy for us to keep moving on and on. the holocaust museum in washington discovered much to that the's horror identity cards where you were supposed to connect to somebody working discarded at the end of the visit. havese people didn't something to do with those things. ways important to find a just to register.
one of the great lessons for me as a teacher -- people remember what they do, they don't remember what you tell them. that means we should actually let you talk, right? deborah: we will do that in one minute. i think perhaps the last question i would throw to you is -- you and i have talked a bit about the issue of difficult subject matter. there are people in the museum field that are proud of the fact, and refer to our exhibits and spaces in these museums as safe places, as neutral places. it is something i have some questions about, the whole notion of neutrality is one that i struggle with.
connectse things that to that is this notion that our museums are places where we can tackle difficult subjects, and where there is a role that is not played by a book that you are reading in isolation at home , that you can explore in a more social setting. i would love to hear your thoughts about that. richard: when i started, every american museum was kind of a cheerleader center. the national culture in 1960's, we were only beginning to come to grips with some very dark and difficult issues in american history. i remember in the kennedy assassination when i was in horriblethere was this debate -- what kind of people hardly if we can have -- people
are we if we can have an assassination of our president? that was the beginning of a set of understandings. vietnam was the real turning point. in the museum world, our willingness to confront violence -- there wereon no exhibits of working-class life in america. america, no buildings and neighborhoods of working-class people were being preserved in the united states. there were no exhibitions of slavery or slave trade. ellis island and angel island were in ruins. really come along way. it's interesting. the public has really responded, i think. the holocaust museum is jammed.
to be honest independence hall and the freedom trail are not jammed. engages want to difficult issues. in difficulty is all around us. wood, i trained myself to see the wood and the buildings like this. how did that get here? a mahoganyi see object, i think of who actually cut that tree in believes or -- belize. canive in a work where we be oblivious to difficulty. fortunately, i think we are getting more honest. so, for me, this is really a great opportunity. this is a field where we can really open up conversations about difficult and challenging things. and every dark or difficult
.istory there is another story there is a story of people who waysted, people who found a ,o survive and tell their story every bit of information we know has come from people who were able to do that. sense, a double there is, in a sense, a ness in american history. we thought that this arc of tending towards justice. president obama says it is two steps forward, one step back. i have another view. there is a certain sense where
there is a very the recognition -- very deep recognition we have to make about the way in which the society has developed over the years and we have to take for teaching our children, recognizing that they , not just ofees thomas jefferson, but also of the hemmings family at monticello. i'm working with the folks at monticello to figure out how to storyally hemmings' there as well. we are the legatees of the pain as well as the promise. me as ait is what, for historian, what really gives me great pleasure, that so many of come into who have this field have a brave, an exhibit-- this is here of a very difficult, tough
time in brooklyn. we know about the draft riots in manhattan. well, there were draft riots right over here. that's right. in tobacco. was it the liggett tobacco company? which some of you may remember when it was on television. so, anyway, i think it is a subject that really gives me some interest and encouragement, i think. deborah: thank you. so, let's turn it over to you for a few minutes. microphone, and we would love some questions. not a shy audience. good. >> i would like to know have you run into any problems putting up exhibits where people say, no, you can't do that, we won't allow you to exhibit that?
and what is your response? well, i have had very little of that experience. there are legendary examples in the museum field, especially the enola gay exhibition. most of the american historical agencies like the brooklyn historical society are legally nonprofitlly they are organizations. although i'm an advocate of in manynt in many ways, ways i'm glad the government does not own this institution. we go to staff meetings and we say this is what the history says. i think the smithsonian is vulnerable. australia three years
ago and that is really a case where a conservative government came into power in 2001 and stripped out an entire national museum in canada, to get the exhibition. they built a new museum. they started by telling the story of the aboriginal peoples. to be right-wing government, that was not a subject they wanted to have at the core of their museum. , at the cost of $10 million, 20 million dollars, they stripped out the whole thing. we have not had that experience i think part because -- it is a stretch to say we have for the most part private, nonprofit organizations, and i have worked all over the united states. i have dealt with really tough , and i just haven't run into it. i know there are cases.
the enola gay was a particularly difficult one. the 50th anniversary of the end of world war ii. the museum decided in addition to the museum exhibit about the dropping of the bomb, they would get into the whole question about whether or not it was done ine damage hiroshima and not a sake -- hiroshima and nagasaki, and there was a group of people just sitting and waiting for this to be broached and they just -- they just brought out all the guns, so to speak. nothing the museum had done could really have worked. ofhink the 50th anniversary world war ii was probably a moment to say thank you to the troops. it was not best time to raise
the most difficult and painful issues. so, i think the ambivalence of people who were calling me a murderer because i dropped an atomic bomb, it was the disconnect between that and the celebration of the 50th anniversary was very touchy and very difficult. but that is really, in many ways, an unusual case. now, who knows what will happen at the national museum of american history this year. we don't know. turn it into another hotel? we don't know. deborah: i think there certainly thereeen moments where have been serious questions were museums have made the decision
to withdraw shows, the kirkland gallery, the mapplethorpe show. it was about a group of politicians who were sort of waiting to pounce right here in brooklyn. many of us know the story of the brooklyn museum and the sensation exhibition which was a of sortlash of a group .f fanatical catholics and the mayor's of joining forces in a moment to say this exhibition, this art exhibition was entirely inappropriate and disgraceful and should come down. decided he was going to withdraw the cities tour on from the museum. .e lost that case and the museum had greater attendance than it ever had before. paidhere was a great price
in the process, having answered myself, i can testify to that. i think one of the issues that will come up for people periodically and certainly perhaps in the next few years is the issue of censorship -- self-censorship. when is it the moment to pull softer or aa little little more subtle and what may be our interpretive work? that is something i think about a great deal, how to make sure that the bravery that richard refers to remains? audiences about our understanding that putting together some of these stories, things takes
complicated things where you do not get it exactly right and you are vulnerable to criticism. it is probably the moment and just to and the program let all of you know one of the possibilities that has recently been put forward in the last is the national endowment for the humanities and the arts be defunded. those are two of the very funding sources for museum work. we don't know that that is going to happen. these are all things we are going to be, i think, dealing with as a field, that the of our wanting to tell stories that are significant, that help people understand where we are coming
from becomes more and more important as the days go by. >> first of all, i think it is very easy to define neutrality. do you agree with me, or are you neutral? semester -- i teach a second semester history class and i cannot help but observe how the younger generation are several younger generations are becoming more and more two-dimensional. where all of their information is coming from the screen and front of them and they are selecting what they want to see on that screen, just not being exposed to other things. i heard very clearly what you .ere saying my question is in the world as , including they
notion of facts itself being bringoned, how do you more and more people into museums and other places where they can have the tactile experience and maybe get them away from the two-dimensional screen? do you want to -- deborah: [indiscernible] richard: yeah. deborah: one of the things i observe very frequently at this institution and, frankly, when i go to other museums is how much people enjoy the social time that they have in our museums. are actually incredibly good at pulling people away from the screens and putting them into a context where it's not just a place to
to be with your friends, havetch up with people, to something to drink, to enjoy a very different context, then the one you are describing. that doesn't seem to me that it is really letting up at all. heartened to see people coming here, not just to enjoy these programs or exhibitions, but we do a free anday night once a month, the idea is to be very playful within the confines of this institution and to surprise people with what they might learn in this context. and i think that that feels very positive to me and feels as if,
you know, it's only getting stronger. maybe because people know they've got to take a break from the screens. think the trick of our business is to create a a set ofat will link disparate experiences, so a lot of these kinds of programs are very much related to age, stagesnt developmental for children, but also the people in their 20's and 30's have a very different sense of how to construct the art of and experience, and so the conventional ones we work with do not necessarily apply. says, peopleborah come to spend a good time with their friends. they don't come necessarily the way, you know, our curators used to tell them, in order to learn
exactly what the particularities of the field are. i think figuring out how to turn the visit into a useful experience for people, trying to define that in terms of a one hour, one and a half hour experience, i have been thinking a lot about the new african american museum in washington which is very crowded and very hard to sort of digest in the have.that people really one of our mottos is it's never too early to sit down. a museumg to design sounds beautiful, but i think trying to design the exhibit -- the experience -- well, the food in the museum has gotten a lot better, but thinking about rewarding people for the sing
gauge how you're going to make that work, you're still going to have teenagers who are surly and are just clicking around their smartphones. i don't know. equivalent of that, i suspect. we can always exaggerate. almost every new medium that is introduced to is accused of being corrupting teenagers. i found an article that said the sunday newspaper in 1815 was corrupting young people. [laughter] richard: because it was keeping them away from church. for us, the sunday paper is the most serious moment. so, since gutenberg, there has been this continuing complaints and media change. eventually this, too, shall pass.
i think when people started to be able to take photographs with their smartphones, right, it was not all that long ago. the museums were just beside themselves. this is not allowable, this is terrible, this is dangerous. it would send our copyright hell because nobody would be pictures anymore, by our pictures from us and you would disrupt everybody's experience in the museum. now pretty much everywhere you go people understand that that is one of the ways, you know, it is sort of like my journal keeping, right? it is one way i capture these images that i love and take them home with me and then they will have a longer life and it will be part of mice tori -- my story and i will share it with other people. an experience last may. i went on a student tour tracing
the holocaust starting in munich and going to ukraine and up through poland. i went with a group of south carolina college students, which was great. because if i had gone with some serious holocaust scholars, i would have had a miserable time. but these kids, they knew the story. they had all taken courses in holocaust history and they were very serious. but at the end of the afternoon, after a full day of pretty dark stuff, they would go shopping. and it was interesting to me. at the end of the thing, they an essay. to write the writing was not terrific. but their photographic record of their experience was astonishing to me. they just have a different facility, and they were able to put together a kind of record of their time, which was so
of the anxiety they felt, the detail they were confronting. i just thought this was a lesson they were teaching me things that i didn't know. i don't take those kinds of good pictures. i don't know how to do that as well. interestingy lesson. deborah: i think one more question. >> thanks a lot. i thought this was very interesting. you discuss the object. i'll is think of history more in nd socialgeography a political structure spirit going of what you said about getting people engage to museums, why do you think people so often have trouble connecting with history and feel so removed from it and
feel so sort of -- uninterested in the past and our own past and other people's past? what is it that prevents people from feeling the sort of drive that people share? the question is, why are people not enthusiastic? in st.ber going to work mary's city in the very southern part of maryland. capital ofe colonial maryland before the capital moved to annapolis in the 16 90's. 90's -- 1690's. they tried to restore it. the only thing that they lacked was a rockefeller, which
.irginia had these people got a mess. people,o these museum do you understand colonial history is the second leading genre of film in the united states? and they said, no. it's the third leading genre of books in our bookstores. and they said, no. you are crazy. get this guy here. let's send him back to brooklyn. i said, well, if i told you the story of some people who came to a remote land and met a strange andp of people and created planted a new altar and had to do the kind of biological engineering to survive in that
new land and to maintain their cultures, and they had to construct new political structures and all of these kinds of things, you know, what is that? .hat is called science fiction what is colonial history? it is science fiction. but we tell it in the worst possible way, right? we tell it -- we talk about the reformation and the protestants in the catholics. we get into the weeds and we missed the drama -- miss the drama of that confrontation with alien cultures and alien environments, right? our history the way we tell science fiction -- and of course, this is not a historical accident because the very first piece of science fiction, i think is fair to say whichmas more's "utopia," 1516, about the
ideal of creating a new civilization. so, science fiction and colonial history are kind of joined together at the hip. so, a lot of it has to do with the fact that we don't get these until a bigecially change occurred in the 1980's in my work when -- well, i will tell you a story. i was working for museum. we decided we were going to have one apartment for german-american immigrants, one apartment for irish-american immigrants. one forthe jews, the italian-americans, etc. everyone would get one apartment. we would have a different story for each of these groups. we would hire smart historians to come in and invent these composite narratives for us.
group came in and said, we've got a great story. a catholic girl from cork marries a protestant man from belfast. he is a longshoreman from the docks. a crate falls on the shoulders. smashes them up. he can't work anymore. he can only do our jobs. they have three kids. the oldest one gets into tammany hall politics. the little child marries outside the irish community. the youngest boy is given over to demon drink, two from -- to rum. it talks about the politics of this community and the democratic party and all of this stuff. that sounded really good. two weeks later the german-american scholars came in said, we've got a great story. said, we've got a greatman
story. without this protestant man from brandenburg, marries this catholic girl. bigshot. the middle girl marry someone who is not german and the youngest son goes to milwaukee. p.d we thought, oh, cra this is awful. this is going to sound like the same drivel in each of these cases and just at that moment, if you up into the museum, it call fromwe got this a genealogist. we historians do not have faith in genealogists. but this woman found a petition in the surrogate court in lower manhattan that said this woman was trying to get her husband julius declared legally dead. he ran away from home 90 years earlier and she received a letter from germany saying that
he has inherited $600. now she needs to get him declared dead so she can get the $600. it's not a story that people felt exactly -- you know. we would never have invented a crazy story. especially a jewish man would leave his wife like that. couldn't happen. but from that point on, the museum was built out of real stories, real people stories. it changed the way we work. this exhibit is not about typical people. it's about real people in brooklyn and it was a real turn away from the idea away from charactersinvented and toward the idea that each of us has a story that is completely implausible in some way, right? and that is the pleasure of history. people have an easier time identifying with your wacky
story than with some invented composite story. is the ticket,t right? to get those particular stories and really run with them, because there is a bottomless quality to our fascination with other lives. excellent. thank you, richard. [applause] it is my great pleasure to have this time to talk with you and to share it with all of .ou i highly recommend richard's books. he will stay here for a bit and sign books. there is a movie coming out. deborah: [laughter] movie, right?" thank you for coming and i hope
to see you sometime soon. ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> you are watching an american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. >> watch c-span as president donald trump addresses his first address to a joint session of congress. president trump: does congress is going to be the busiest congress we have had in decades. at 9 p.m. eastern tuesday on c-span and c-span.org and listen for free on the c-span radio app. c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1970 nine, c-span was created as a public service by america's public television companies and is brought to you today by your
cable or satellite provider. authorthe civil war," and lincoln forum founder frank williams talks about the politics and culture after president lincoln's assassination and the rep -- reconstruction era that followed. this talk was part of the lincoln forum symposium and is about 45 minutes. >> good morning. welcome to the lincoln symposium. our next guest needs no introduction. he is the founding chairman of the lincoln forum. he is also the president of the grant association, a former member of both the abraham lincoln bicentennial commission and the abraham bicentennial foundation and he did all of w
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