Given our topic for today’s class, I thought that this blog post from the NCPH History At Work blog was particularly relevant: “On unpaid internships, professional ethical standards, and the NCPH jobs page.” We can talk in class about the way in which this represents an evolving code of ethics within the field, both in terms of our relationship to our many publics/communities and within our own professional ranks.
The Tallapoosee History Museum located in downtown Dadeville, Alabama. It is staffed and managed by volunteers from the Tallapoosee Historical Society of Tallapoosa County. Walking into the museum on a Wednesday or Saturday, the only days they are open, you are not instantly greeted by a staff member at the front desk as is common in most traditional museums. The layout of the museum does not include a front desk at all. The museum consists of the two large open rooms, the Bank of Dadeville donated the main room. In the back of the room, there is an opening that flows into a second large spacious room that the museum purchased and installed additional exhibits. Both rooms are filled with items of all sizes, age, and historical meaning. The museum features items such as an old wooden and castiron school desk, an iron wood-burning cook stove, a chair from a local barbershop, uniforms from the Civil War through the Vietnam War, and a large wooden delivery wagon that was used by Duncan and Sons Furniture.
The artifacts are arranged into loosely constructed exhibits of related artifacts with free-standing wooden latticework that serve to divide individual exhibits and the utilitarian purpose of creating additional display space.The interpretation and exhibit labels are minimal throughout the museum. Often simply telling what the artifact is, the year it originated in, and the name of the donor or original owner. The focus of the museum is entirely on the local, by locals and primarily for locals. The museum does not attempt to weave exhibits together into an interpretive narrative that connects to national significance, as National Park museums do. Instead, exhibits focus on old towns, historical structures, important individuals, and local schools from the county, some of which no longer exist. The artifacts have mostly been acquired through donations of items that span a wide range of time periods, subject matter, and arguably historical value.
In a local museum that is run by and funded by volunteers and donations, there are many differences from a traditional formal museum that is supported by an institution or government agency. The goal of the museum is not to interpret a particular event or person, or to emotional connect visitors with a site. The goal of the museum is to “preserve the history of Tallapoosa County for the current and future generations.” While professional curators and museum designers could criticize the museum, it achieves its purpose by sharing the stories, memories, and pieces of the history of Tallapoosa County. It is an excellent example of what public history looks like when it is done by the public for the public.