Oberlin Heritage Center Blog


OHC Volunteering Experience

February 17th, 2015

William Yin

My name is William Yin and I am a volunteer at OHC. I lived in Oberlin a few years during high school and have always had an interest in history. In 2014 I graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in History. Currently I am working on my commercial pilot license out of Lorain County Regional Airport.

I started volunteering for OHC in fall 2014. My first project was to write a feature article for the World War II Memorial Garden south of Finney Chapel. The project involved photographing the memorial and research. The Oberlin College Archives helped me with my research by providing correspondence letters and photographs. I was able to dig through the abundant information and write a brief history for the War Memorial. The final product, along with some photographs, was posted on the Oberlin Heritage Center website.  (Link to World War II Memorial Feature)

My second project was transforming an old database of photographs and descriptions from an internal server to pinterest.com. Most of the the photos are taken within Oberlin City limits, documenting people, architecture and events. I learned much about the city’s history through this project. It is fascinating to see how businesses and people transform with the passing of time. I came to the realization that we are all transient beings that are just a slowed down form of light, radiating energy to our surroundings. I take pride in documenting local history and making it more accessible to the public, so that more and more people could reach out for their common past.

Was Abolitionism a Failure?

February 4th, 2015

by Ron Gorman, Oberlin Heritage Center volunteer docent and researcher

Last week the New York Times published a blog posted by Jon Grinspan that asked the question, “was abolitionism a failure?”  The author answered the question with the assertion that “as a pre-Civil War movement, it was a flop.”  It probably won’t come as a great surprise to anybody that the Oberlin Heritage Center doesn’t necessarily share that view, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to reply to some of the specific issues raised in that blog, and to let one of Oberlin’s most esteemed historical figures reply to the question in general.

The basic premise of Mr. Grinspan’s blog is that abolitionism was unpopular before the Civil War, and it was only the war itself that turned Northern public opinion decidedly against slavery.  To demonstrate the unpopularity of abolitionism, the blog points to the scant support for the country’s first national abolitionist political party, the Liberty Party, and to the meager 3,000 subscribers to The Liberator, which the blog refers to as “the premier antislavery newspaper.”

Mr. Grinspan is indeed correct that the abolitionist Liberty Party, which existed in the 1840s, only garnered a paltry number of votes (6,797 in the 1840 Presidential election).   But  it should be remembered that prior to the Civil War many abolitionists were opposed to political action altogether, and very few advocated nationwide abolition by the federal government.  Instead, the majority of abolitionists looked to “moral suasion” to convince the public that slavery was wrong, believing that government action, to the extent it was necessary, would naturally follow the shift in public opinion.   This position was explained in 1835 in the Anti-Slavery Record, published by the American Anti-Slavery Society (which by 1840 would have almost 200,000 members): [1]

The reformation has commenced, both at the North and at the South.  The more the subject is discussed, by the pulpit, by the press, at the bar, in the legislative hall and in private conversation, the faster will the change proceed.  When any individual slave holder is brought to believe that slavery is sinful, he will immediately emancipate his own slaves.  When a majority of the nation are brought to believe in immediate emancipation, Congress will, of course, pass a law abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.  When the people of the several slave states are brought upon the same ground, they will severally abolish slavery within their respective limits. [2]

However, in the closing years of the 1840s the threat of slavery’s expansion caused many abolitionists to take a more active role in politics.  The old Liberty Party was dissolved and was supplanted by the Free Soil Party, which received exponentially more votes, and which in turn was supplanted by the Republican Party, which took control of the Presidency, the House of Representatives, and most Northern governorships by 1860.  And while the Free Soil and Republican parties were pragmatic political coalitions in contrast with the purely abolitionist Liberty Party,  they both espoused opposition to slavery as their core issue.  The 1860 Republican Party platform contained 7 (out of 17) planks that directly advocated anti-slavery principles and policies.  To be sure, it also included a states’ right plank leaving the legality of slavery to the individual states to determine for themselves, but the 1844 Liberty Party platform left slavery to be “wholly abolished by State authority” as well.  Pledging federal non-interference with slavery in the states where it already existed was a sentiment shared by the vast majority of abolitionists throughout the antebellum period, and was in no way an attempt to “abolish abolitionism”, as the blog describes it. [3]

As for the characterization of The Liberator as “the premier antislavery newspaper”, this is also taking a partial snapshot of the early abolitionist movement and applying it to the entire antebellum period.  The Liberator, published in Boston and edited by William Lloyd Garrison, was arguably the premier antislavery newspaper in 1831 when it was first published.  (See my William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass debate in Oberlin blog.)  But its strident disunionist, “no government” message, despite grabbing national attention, was too radical to ever develop a large subscribership, even as scores of anti-slavery newspapers proliferated throughout the Northern states over the next 3 decades, including The National Era (with a peak subscription base of 28,000),  Frederick Douglass’ Paper,  the Tappan brothers’ American Missionary (which was “read by twenty thousand church members”), and Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune (with a peak weekly circulation of 200,000).  Ohio had numerous anti-slavery newspapers of its own, including the radical Garrisonite  Anti-Slavery Bugle (with Oberlin College student Lucy Stone as a correspondent), the Cleveland Morning Leader, and the Oberlin Evangelist (which itself  had a peak subscribership of over 4,300).  Thus by the start of the Civil War hundreds of thousands of Northerners were subscribing to unabashedly anti-slavery newspapers.  So it’s no wonder that William Lloyd Garrison, despite his own newspaper’s scant subscription base, could declare in 1860 that “a general enlightenment has taken place upon the subject of slavery. The opinions of a vast multitude have been essentially changed, and secured to the side of freedom.” [4]

 

Garrison & Stone

But even in the lean years of the 1830s and early 1840s, abolitionists had enough clout to make a significant impact.  In 1835 they launched a mass mailing campaign, sending hundreds of thousands of anti-slavery publications to clergymen and prominent leaders nationwide.  Southern slaveholders felt so threatened by this campaign that they began a program of postal censorship, with South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun advising them to “prohibit the introduction or circulation of any paper or publication which may, in their opinion, disturb or endanger the institution” of slavery.  Even President Andrew Jackson, himself a slaveholder, asked Congress in his Annual Message to censor the mail “in the Southern states”.  Some of the less politically inhibited early abolitionists also  flooded Congress with tens of thousands of anti-slavery petitions – so many that slaveholders tried unsuccessfully to prohibit (“gag”) anti-slavery petitions in the Senate and did succeed in gagging them in the House of Representatives from 1836 to 1844. [5]

Although the leaders of the South did indeed manage to squelch the abolitionists in the southern states, their assault on free speech and constitutional rights only served to strengthen the abolitionist message in the North, where many Southern-born abolitionists emigrated and added their voices to the chorus.  (See my William T. Allan – Lane Rebel from the South blog.)  One of these was Oberlin’s John Mercer Langston, born in Virginia to an emancipated slave, sent to Ohio in his youth to escape the growing racial repression in the South, and educated at Oberlin College.  On August 2, 1858, now a successful attorney and political leader, Langston delivered a “very stirring and excellent” speech to a Cleveland audience describing his impressions of the American abolitionist movement.  Here are some excerpts: [6]

The achievements of the American anti -slavery movement since that time have been such as to impart hope and courage to every heart. Of course, I do not refer to the achievements of any separate and distinct organization. I refer to the achievements of that complicated and stupendous organization composed of persons from all parts of this country, whose aim is the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of the colored American. What, then, are some of its accomplishments? In the first place, it has brought the subject of slavery itself distinctly and prominently before the public mind. Indeed, in every nook and corner of American society this matter now presents itself, demanding, and in many instances receiving, respectful consideration. There is no gathering of the people, whether political or religious, which is not now forced to give a place in its deliberations to this subject. Like the air we breathe, it is all-pervasive. Through this widespread consideration the effects of slavery upon the slave, the slaveholder, and society generally, have been very thoroughly demonstrated ; and as the people have understood these effects they have loathed and hated their foul cause. Thus the public conscience has been aroused, and a broad and deep and growing interest has been created in behalf of the slave.

In the next place, it has vindicated, beyond decent cavil even, the claim of the slave to manhood and its dignities. No one of sense and decency now thinks that the African slave of this country is not a man…

More than this, the anti-slavery movement has brought to the colored people of the North the opportunities of developing themselves intellectually and morally. It has unbarred and thrown open to them the doors of colleges, academies, law schools, theological seminaries and commercial institutions, to say nothing of the incomparable district school. Of these opportunities they have very generally availed themselves; and now, wherever you go, whether to the East or the West, you will find the colored people comparatively intelligent, industrious, energetic and thrifty, as well as earnest and determined in their opposition to slavery… In the State of Ohio alone thirty thousand colored persons are the owners of six millions of dollars’ worth of property, every cent of which stands pledged to the support of the cause of the slave. Animated by the same spirit of liberty that nerved their fathers, who fought in the Revolutionary war and war of 1812, to free this land from British tyranny, they are the inveterate and uncompromising enemies of oppression, and are willing to sacrifice all that they have, both life and property, to secure its overthrow. But they have more than moral and pecuniary strength. In some of the States of this Union all of their colored inhabitants, and in others a very large class of them, enjoy the privileges and benefits of citizens. This is a source of very great power…

Another achievement of the American anti-slavery movement is the emancipation of forty or fifty thousand fugitive slaves, who stand to-day as so many living, glowing refutations of the brainless charge that nothing has, as yet, been accomplished…

But the crowning achievement of the anti-slavery movement of this country is the establishment, full and complete, of the fact that its great aim and mission is not merely the liberation of four millions of American slaves, and the enfranchisement of six hundred thousand half freemen, but the preservation of the American Government, the preservation of American liberty itself. It has been discovered, at last, that slavery is no respecter of persons, that in its far reaching and broad sweep it strikes down alike the freedom of the black man and the freedom of the white one. This movement can no longer be regarded as a sectional one. It is a great national one. It is not confined in its benevolent, its charitable offices, to any particular class; its broad philanthropy knows no complexional bounds. It cares for the freedom, the rights of us all… [7]

John Mercer Langston

John Mercer Langston

Of course Langston would be among the first to tell you that race relations in the North were far from perfect in 1858, but they had clearly come a long way since the advent of The Liberator and the Liberty Party.  As a gauge of just how far they had come, consider this:  in 1837, an abolitionist journalist named Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by a mob in Alton, Illinois, for expressing anti-slavery sentiments.  Two decades later, in October 1858, an Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln took the podium in that same town and said this:

I have said, and I repeat it here, that if there be a man amongst us who does not think that the institution of slavery is wrong in any one of the aspects of which I have spoken, he is misplaced, and ought not to be with us…

Has anything ever threatened the existence of this Union save and except this very institution of slavery? What is it that we hold most dear amongst us? Our own liberty and prosperity. What has ever threatened our liberty and prosperity, save and except this institution of slavery? If this is true, how do you propose to improve the condition of things by enlarging slavery,-by spreading it out and making it bigger? You may have a wen or cancer upon your person, and not be able to cut it out, lest you bleed to death; but surely it is no way to cure it, to engraft it and spread it over your whole body. That is no proper way of treating what you regard a wrong. You see this peaceful way of dealing with it as a wrong,-restricting the spread of it, and not allowing it to go into new countries where it has not already existed…

It is the eternal struggle between these two principles – right and wrong – throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle. [8]

But far from being lynched, Lincoln was applauded for these words in 1858, and this and similar speeches gained for him the national recognition that would help elect him to the Presidency two years later.  It was the heroic efforts of people like Elijah Lovejoy, John Mercer Langston, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone, and thousands of other abolitionist teachers, preachers, lecturers, authors, journalists, politicians, Underground Railroad agents, and parents (many of them educated at Oberlin College) that made that possible.

LovejoyMonument

Elijah Lovejoy monument – Alton, Illinois

Just six weeks after Lincoln’s election, South Carolina would secede from the Union, stating as the cause that the Northern states had “united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery” and who believed that “the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.” [9]

As it turns out, it was.  The attempt to avoid that reality via secession only served to hasten its demise.

SOURCES CONSULTED:

Jon Grinspan, “Was Abolitionism a Failure?“, New York Times, January 30, 2015

John Mercer Langston, “The World’s Anti-Slavery Movement; Its Heroes and its Triumphs

Abraham Lincoln, “Last Joint Debate at Alton; Mr. Lincoln’s Reply

The Anti-Slavery Record, Vol 1, No. 1, January 1835

Republican Party Platform of 1860“, The American Presidency Project

Free Soil Party Platform (1848)“, Teacher’s Guide Primary Source Document Collection

1844 Liberty Party Platform“, Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project

The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States“, Civil War Trust

William Lloyd Garrison, The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison: From disunionism to the brink of war, 1850-1860

John C. Calhoun, Speeches of John C. Calhoun. Delivered in the Congress of the United States from 1811 to the present time

James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1907, Volume 3

William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek, John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1829-65

1840 Presidential Election Results“, Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

Robert S. Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College from its Foundation through the Civil War

Stanley Harrold, The Abolitionists & the South

About New-York Tribune“, Library of Congress

Blacks and the American Missionary Association“, The United Church of Christ

American Anti-Slavery Society“, Encyclopaedia Britannica

 All photos public domain.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] “1840 Presidential Election”; “American Anti-Slavery Society”

[2] Anti-Slavery Record

[3] “Republican Party”; “Free Soil Party”; “1844 Liberty Party”

[4] Harrold, p. 142; “Blacks”; “About New-York”; Fletcher, Chapter XXVII; Garrison, p. 698

[5] Calhoun; Richardson, p. 176

[6] Cheek, pp. 325-326

[7] Langston

[8] Lincoln

[9] “The Declaration of Causes

Oral History: Christmas Traditions

December 20th, 2014

(Part Three of a Three-Part Holiday blog series) by Melissa Clifford, 2014 Kent State MLIS graduate student

christmas-clipart-borders-MKTndBLiq

While scouring through the oral history transcripts, I have stumbled across quite a few stories about Christmas in Oberlin’s past. To me, Christmas has always been a two-part celebration. First there is the religious celebration/observation that occurs but there is also a celebration of family and the spirit of giving. Of course, I cannot forget the fabulous decorations either! I worked at a shopping mall for six years, and during that time my favorite time of year was always the Christmas holiday. I remember being amazed at the joy people obtained by finding that perfect gift for a loved one, although there was the occasional Scrooge who seemed to be dissatisfied with everything. More than anything, though, I loved the decorations that were put up in the mall. I must admit, however, that I am glad that some Christmas decorations have gone out of fashion, I’ll let Delores Carter explain why.

 My early Christmas trees you put candles on. I remember in one of my wild exuberant Christmas moments I flew down to get a package, I bent down and my hair caught on fire. I lost my hair, my eyebrows, and my eyelashes. I was lucky—I could have lost much more. But that was an exciting experience. I haven’t seen trees with candles clipped on in many years. I don’t care if I ever do. That was a bad experience.

speaker-clip-art1–Delores Carter, January 24, 1987

Another thing I fondly remember of my childhood Christmases was the way that my brother would snoop out every single one of his presents ahead of time. He was always able to find my parents’ latest hiding place, and even if the presents were wrapped he could still tell you what the package was. In fact, even at 26 years old my brother still has an uncanny ability to “see” through wrapping paper! It is such a problem that our family has to go to extra lengths to try to surprise him because he can guess all of his gifts before he opens them. While reading transcripts I learned that peaking at Christmas presents really isn’t a new tradition at all:

 One Christmas we were at my grandparents and the cousins were there, which meant there were three boys and I was the only girl. And the doors to the din-, to the living room would shut with sliding doors here and sliding doors over on this side and we couldn’t see anything. Mother took pity on us, she let us peek through that door. Oh, I saw the doll—the baby doll I still have upstairs—and I knew it was mine. And then she felt rather guilty and she said, “Well you know, it might just belong to somebody else.” [laughter] So I had to eat my breakfast all up before we could go in and really have things around the Christmas tree. speaker-clip-art1–Stella Dickerman, January 17, 1987

As some of the other oral history interviewees described in their interviews, sometimes the best part of opening gifts is not the gift itself but the process you go through opening it. In my house my brother and I always opened our presents side by side, and sometimes he would have a few very large gifts and I would have much more smaller gifts. My husband had a much different experience because his parents always made sure that each child had the exact same amount of presents. Some families try to match up number, while some match value. Some children open their gifts at the same time, and some take turns. I found a few very interesting stories about these types of traditions that I would like to share with you.

 Usually sometimes on Christmas Eve and sometimes on Christmas that we would just have all the gifts wrapped and under the tree. That we would have sort of a ritual. Our son Bill likes to give out the gifts and one at a time so it takes a very long time. That person opens his gift and everyone admires it before another one is passed out. Sometimes it actually gets pretty tiring by the end of several hours of opening a series of gifts. But the nice thing about it is everyone tries to get gifts that they feel have meaning or something this person would particularly want. As well as fun things, like maybe bubble pipes and little children’s games that everyone gets. It seems as though everyone enjoys everyone else’s Christmas so much. Because everyone is so aware of what everyone else gets. speaker-clip-art1–Millie Arthrell, February 21, 1985

 

Well, one time when we got up our stockings were hanging on the top post of the chair and my sister found money in theirs. I didn’t find any and I put my stocking on and shoes and oh my shoe hurt me! I took it off and there was money in there after all. We went to my grandmother’s for Christmas and here my great-aunt had given myself and my cousin that was my age a doll that would open and shut its eyes and had a bisque body and it was jointed so it would sit up or stand. I thought, oh a nice doll, and it fell off the chair and cracked down the neck! But they fixed it with glue and my sister who liked to sew made some new clothes for it so I thought that was a wonderful doll and now my sister has it for her grandchildren. speaker-clip-art1–Mabel Brown, April 17, 1984

Much like Thanksgiving, stories of Christmas are not complete without some descriptions of food. What I have found out about Christmas dinners is that they all seem to have one element in common (and it isn’t food): family. I was pretty lucky growing up, I spent Christmas Eve at my aunt and uncle’s house where we would open up presents and have a delicious dinner. On Christmas morning, my grandparents would typically come over and we’d have another huge dinner. I had two parties in two days for Christmas! Looking back, holidays were one of the few times that my family would sit down at eat dinner together. It was difficult to get everyone in one place at the same time because both of my parents worked.  Sitting down and having a big family meal was a treat. I found a story in our interview collection that I’d like to share because I feel like it truly explains the Christmas spirit, from the idea of family, celebration, and surprise.

 And I remember particularly one year, when my cousin Earl was a Santa Claus, and whether we really didn’t recognize him, or pretended that we didn’t, I’m not sure, but that afternoon we had been to his home and had our supper there and I think that that was the first time that I had ever had pressed grapes. Now, they were not raisins; they were like pressed grapes and his mother had served them in connection with the dinner and so this was to throw us off so that we wouldn’t know, you know, and then we came on home and he followed afterwards and did his part. Another thing that was followed all the days, I think, that as long as my grandmother lived, on Christmas Eve she would always be at our house for supper and we always knew what was going to happen. The plates would always be turned over, and when we sat down at the table, we had to lift our plates up to be served and under each plate there would be a silver dollar. And that was our surprise and we were all surprised, even though we knew what was going to happen. speaker-clip-art1–Mildred Haines, November 23, 1982

 

spoiler-alert

SPOILER ALERT: Do not continue reading if you are a believer in Jolly Old Santa Claus!

Finally, to end this blog post I have some new information to share with you. Recently we received information from Marianne Cochran who used to own and operate the Ben Franklin Store in downtown Oberlin. She shared with us the history of Santa in Oberlin. Did you know that since 1940 only 5 different people have portrayed Santa Claus in Oberlin’s Christmas festivities? It is true and here is a summary of those gentlemen.

1940-1941: John A. Cochrane

1942-1948: John Van Bloom who started the tradition of Santa arriving via train in Oberlin

1949-1969: John Maclaughlin who was also known as Mack the Birdman due to his talking parrot Polly who would call out for Mack while children were visiting Santa.

1970: John R. Cochrane

1971-1980: Art Salo

1989-Present: John Cole as Santa along with a Mrs. Claus portrayed by Patti Brubaker

Thus concludes my holiday Oral History blog series. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed researching and writing it! Happy holidays to you and your family from all of us here at the Oberlin Heritage Center.

Kelsey’s Photo Scanning Project: Do I Know You?

December 10th, 2014

Here I am organizing photos  and putting them into binders.

This is Kelsey Voit’s first blog post.

Hello everyone! My name is Kelsey Voit and I am a volunteer at OHC. I have lived in northeast Ohio all my life and have always had a deep interest in history. I like to poke fun of the fact that I live in Elyria now, since Oberlin was founded because Elyria was considered a den of sin in the 1830s. In 2012 I graduated from Ohio University with a BA in Political Science and History. Currently I am a student at Kent State University working towards a Masters degree in Museum Studies through their Library and Information Sciences program. For those of you who have read the blog, it is the same program as the great oral history transcriber, Melissa Clifford. I started volunteering at OHC back in March 2014 and have been enjoying every minute of it.

The reason you may not know I exist is because I am a basement dweller, which is more exciting than it sounds. Here in the basement of the Monroe house I am surrounded by objects, pictures, files, and people that I learn from every Wednesday I come in. And I have learned quite a bit! Learning about the history of Oberlin has become a great past time of mine and I look forward to eventually becoming a docent. A large part of my volunteer hours are spent on organizational projects that the staff of OHC simply does not have the time to get to. My first project here was preserving the museum’s pictorial history. What started out as a box of hundreds of loose photographs became an organized system of binders that told the story of OHC’s past. I should explain the process. I started this project by looking through the binders that the museum already had and just getting a feel for the pictures. These binders were organized by year and event. For example, in the 1990s the museum would put together an elaborate gingerbread house contest and this event is represented throughout the binders. After I took a look at the pictures in the binders I started organizing the loose pictures by year. This was either found by the developed date on the back of the pictures, comparing the pictures with those already in the binders, or using context clues from the content of the picture. After they were grouped by year they were organized by event. When placed in the binder it would look like a calendar that the viewer could navigate through by event (events from January in the front, December in the back etc.) After that was all said and done then the fun part began. I started to digitize photographs that were pertinent to the historical preservation of the museum itself. This means good quality photographs of people at museum-sponsored events.

This was a perfect project for me because I really did not know much about OHC when I started volunteering. Through the photo project I learned not only the events that have shaped this organization, but I learned about the people who were contributing and leading those events. I have scanned in pictures of old board meetings, of the Little Red Schoolhouse being moved to where it sits now, living history tours, parades, family fun fairs, annual meetings, and renovation projects. I had the privilege to see how the organization was born, how it changed, and the steps that were taken to make it what we see today. I had the honor of getting to know some of the people that were not only involved with OHC but truly loved it. Some of them are no longer with us and I wish I could have met them because they seem like real characters. I feel I got to know those who I was scanning in on some level because I could eventually see a picture of a large table of people from an annual meeting and pick out those I have seen before. This project did make meeting some people a little awkward because I would lead with, “Nice to finally meet you. I have scanned so many pictures of you!” Not the best way to meet someone.

My SHA Experience

December 3rd, 2014

By Liz Schultz, Museum Education and Tour Coordinator

I wish to thank the staff, board, and supporters of the Oberlin Heritage Center for encouraging and supporting my participation in the three week workshop “Developing History Leaders @ Seminar for Historic Administration,” which ran from November 1 to November 22, 2014 in Indianapolis. Organized by the American Association for State and Local History, “SHA” is widely regarded as an exceptional training experience for individuals in the history museum field. For me, the experience was both informative and inspirational. I returned to the Heritage Center with a better understanding of the wider history museum field, the Heritage Center’s capacity to have a meaningful impact on individuals and the community at large, and my own abilities and responsibilities within the organization.

Black and White Group Shot

SHA Class of 2014

There were twenty-one participants in the seminar who came from varied history institutions, large and small, independent and government supported. It was a unique opportunity for me to share ideas and discuss challenges among peers. Daily morning and afternoon sessions were led by over 30 visiting leaders in the field, including CEOs of museums and managers of national organizations, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Council on Public History. It was amazing to meet so many passionate, experienced leaders. To a person, they were approachable and more than willing to answer questions and teach from their own past successes and failures.

The sessions were varied and intense. I include a quick list, although it does not do justice to the depth of our discussions:
Week 1: History Relevance Campaign, Changing Demography of America and Museum Visitation, Technology Trends, Models of Leadership, Strategic Thinking and Managing Change, Object-Based Experiences
Week 2: Exhibitions and Community, Fundraising and Boards, Earned Revenue and Entrepreneurship, Advocacy, Evaluation, Live Interpretation
Week 3: Engaging Communities, Financial Sustainability, Leadership & Followership, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, Historic Preservation, Service to the Field

As much as I learned from the classroom sessions, I have to admit that the occasional evening dinners with the speakers and the few field trips we took were a welcome change of pace. (After all, I do work in an informal education setting). Either through the seminar or on our own time, I visited the Indiana Historical Society, Indiana State Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indiana Children’s Museum, Indiana Landmarks, Indiana Medical History Museum, Indiana War Memorial, and Conner Prairie Interactive History Park’s Follow the North Star UGRR program. (Okay, I also visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.)

I came back with Powerpoint copies, journal articles, and a notebook full of notes, but what I really came back with is less obvious. I return with new understanding gained from the materials, talking with peers, and discussing multiple case studies. My professional network increased exponentially and I now know that whatever challenge I am facing, someone out there has the know-how to help out. I have color-coded lists of ideas – things I need to do, things I would like to see the Heritage Center try, ways I can improve my work habits and project planning, and lists of books I should read.

I also returned with a new frame of mind. I particularly enjoyed our sessions discussing the necessity of organizational flexibility and change, balancing different leadership strengths, and the need to step back and look at larger goals. I think it was great that I was able to participate in this just as the Heritage Center prepares to review its five-year strategic plan and launch into development of a new plan. I especially hope to weave in my new thinking about reaching new audiences and re-examining our interpretive goals and what exactly we want visitors to leave with.

The experience also gave me new perspective on the impact of historical organizations, and the Heritage Center in particular. There were many moments I was able to think to myself, “Ha! We’re already doing that.” Of course we’re not supposed to rest on our laurels, but it was still very encouraging knowing that we are already an organization that plans for long-term stability, tries new projects, realizes the importance of professional development, collaborates with community partners, shares significant stories, strives to be transparent, and is driven by community-minded, caring people.

Thank you to everyone who supported my participation in this program, whether through financial support, allowing me work time to go, taking on my daily duties, supervising projects, and leading tours in my absence.

I hope you are all able to attend my public program on December 17, 2014 (7:15 p.m., at Kendal at Oberlin) about my SHA experience and highlights of what I learned. I also had the opportunity to be a guest blogger during the SHA experience and you can read my post, “Ready for Change,” as well as other posts about the seminar.