One of the trends in public history programs these days is to re-examine program mission, reach out to new audiences, and reach back into the histories of groups that have been neglected or marginalized.
There are lots of examples here in New York. For instance, the mission statement of the Brooklyn Historical Society says it connects the past to the present and makes the vibrant history of Brooklyn tangible, relevant, and meaningful for today’s diverse communities, and for generations to come.” The Society features exhibits and public programs that delve into the historical roots of contemporary issues.
Looking beyond our borders can also sometimes be helpful.
*The tagline of the Historical Society Of Pennsylvania’s strategic plan is “HSP Reimagined.” Its Strategic Vision and FY 2017-2019 Business Plan document includes a number of strategies for engagement and raising the profile of its relevance. “To HSP, history and the stories that are told in historical documents remain highly relevant to the social, political, and cultural discourse of the nation. HSP believes that it can make a significant contribution to that discourse by connecting more people to history and do it in ways that themselves are relevant to current methods of research.” One of its objectives is “Being a voice that catalyzes informed dialogue on contemporary issues and inspires curiosity to delve into history and share its stories.”
*One of the most interesting new examples is the Oregon Historical Society’s new Strategic Plan, 2019-2023.
Like many history programs, OHS has been buffeted by changes in technology and resource issues. But its new strategic plan, the result of a good deal of analysis and reflection, goes well beyond those issues to strike out in new directions.
“Working with new community partners, we have prioritized bringing increased attention to the history of peoples that OHS, like many historical organizations, has long ignored,” the plan notes.
The new mission statement presents a broad sweep: “The Oregon Historical Society preserves our state’s history and makes it accessible to everyone in ways that advance knowledge and inspire curiosity about all the people, places, and events that have shaped Oregon.”
Three of its “Values” are particularly notable.
– “Equity and Inclusion:” – “OHS seeks to address historical exclusion by embracing an inclusive understanding of the Oregon experience. In partnership with multiple communities, we educate the public about inequities as we work to change our own institution.”A striking term,
– “Cultural Humility” – “OHS believes that history cannot be contained within a single story or point of view. We respect the validity of different perspectives and are committed to exploring and embracing multiple ways of knowing.”
– “Learning” – “OHS values questions, new ideas, and unexpected connections and discoveries that arise through inquiry. We welcome challenging conversations and the opportunity to learn from mistakes. We recognize that willingness to change our minds is crucial to understanding history and applying it to the present.”
One part of its Vision Statement is to be “A diverse and inclusive statewide institution that reflects the histories of all Oregonians.”
One of its “Strategic Directions” is to “Enhance Belonging” and an objective there is “Continue to collaborate with communities statewide to bring increased diversity to the history we gather and present.”
The Canadian government sponsors Canada History Week each year. The general goal is to engage Canadians in learning more about their own history. There is a different emphasis each time. Last year, 2018, it was “Science, Creativity and Innovation: Our Canadian Story.”
Nina Simon, proprietor of the Museum 2.0 blog, author, director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History has launched the Of/By&For All project. The objective is “to help civic and cultural institutions become more representative OF, co-created BY, and welcoming FOR their diverse communities.” The initiative is designed to assist museums (and other cultural institutions) in reaching out to and engaging broader communities; drawing on them for ideas and cooperation; and broadening the cultural programs to include forums for exploration of current topics.