What A Small Museum Scholarship Recipient Learned at the 2015 AASLH Annual Conference

by Brian Failing, AASLH Small Museum Scholarship Recipient on

I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to the Small Museum Committee for awarding me a Small Museums Scholarship to attend the 2015 American Association

Brian Failing in front of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory

Brian Failing in front of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory

for State and Local History Conference in Louisville. This was my first time attending AASLH’s conference and I cannot not think of a better topic than the “Power of Possibility” for my first time.

From the time the 2015 Conference was announced, I was determined to attend. I had heard that Carol Kammen and Wendell Berry were going to be some of the feature keynote presentations during the conference. I had the opportunity to read their works as an undergraduate and graduate student and have learned a great deal from their writings. As a young professional and a graduate student, I wanted to attend the conference to network with other professionals from across the country and see where I fit in among the variety of professional organizations available to museum professionals. Throughout my stay in Louisville I was challenged to think critically about issues facing local historians and museum professionals through the sessions I attended and sights I saw as I traveled throughout Louisville.

One of the most memorable sessions to me was the session “The Extraordinary of the Ordinary: Challenges of Building a Collection for the National 9/11 Memorial Museum”.  The presentation by the staff of the museum was my favorite session of the conference. While many of us will never work in a museum like this, it is important that we understand cultural sensitivity and understand how to deal with tragic events. This session showed that it is very hard to build a collection, exhibits, and programs from tragedy; however it can be done and needs to be done. Museum exhibits that deal with topics such as these helps us heal and provide ample space for reflection. This session pushed me to think about the work I was doing as Project Assistant for the project Voices of DuPage through the West Chicago City Museum. The work of the 9/11 Museum provides a case study to follow when collecting oral histories in our own communities that evoke emotion and capture what may not be considered history today, but will be in the future.

Storefront inside Evan Williams Experience

Storefront inside Evan Williams Experience

In addition to a variety of sessions, I was glad I had the opportunity to explore Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row. I was impressed by all off the museums I visited, but the Evan Williams Experience was by far my favorite part of my wanderings through Louisville. The experience combines a variety of physical and digital displays that create a truly immersive experience. Next to the bourbon tasting, I really liked the way in which they were able to recreate the storefronts that once occupied the area and make them functional to meet their need for a tasting room.

Small museums are the life and blood of the field. Beginning my career in a small museum with a single staff member, I will always have an appreciation for professionals who work in these institutions. Small museums prove that though we may be small, we are mighty and bring big ideas to life. Thank you again to the Small Museum Committee for making this a conference I will not soon forget. I left the conference with a renewed excitement for the work I do. I look forward to seeing you all in Detroit in 2016.

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