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A First-Time Attendee’s Experience at #AASLH17

by Azha Simmons, Staff Assistant, California History Center, Cupertino, CA on

As a winner of one of the Douglas Evelyn Scholarships for Diversity, I felt extremely honored and excited to attend my first AASLH Annual Meeting. I have been to other museum conferences before, but attending the 2017 AASLH Annual Meeting was unlike anything I have experienced. Everyone was warm and friendly from the start to end, and willing to share their knowledge with each other. I started the conference off with the Wednesday evening event Texas Beer, BBQ, and Boot-Scootin’. The food and the live music were amazing, and were followed by a stroll through the LBJ Presidential Library and the Briscoe Center for American History.

I enjoyed all the sessions and the amazing discussions that followed each of them. The session that left the greatest impact on me was the Engaging Programs=Engaging Communities? presentation on Thursday. The panelists presented successful examples of how history museums and historic sites can implement practical steps to help engage with their community. I found each panelist discussed a very hands-on program that their community could participate in, which also gave them a sense of ownership and pride in the institution. Community engagement brings in not only revenue and repeat visitors, but also helps an institution become the heart of their community.

Another session I enjoyed was History Has Its Eyes on You: Lessons Learned from Broadway’s Hamilton on Friday. The panelists gave examples of how the Broadway play influenced their museums and historic sites to make meaningful connections to the pop culture hit. They also talked about how the musical pushed their museum and historic house to diversify stories and audiences, and showed how history museums and historic houses could leverage Hamilton’s lessons to move toward a more inclusive future for their visitors.

Diversity, relevance, and community/audience engagement were a few key areas I noticed were emphasized at the conference. The sessions spoke to these concepts in various ways. I really enjoyed my time at the 2017 Annual Meeting and making new connections. I walked away from the conference feeling inspired and empowered to take these practices back to my own museum. The conference also inspired me with possible thesis topics and I hope to return next year to present at the poster session.

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