I spent most of the first week in October in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the American Association for State and Local History conference. Salt Lake City is beautiful, clean and friendly. I heard an organ recital at the Mormon Tabernacle and one night I ate at Squatter’s Brewery, a fun local joint. I had a red quinoa tabouli with a lime and ginger vinaigrette. Really good but different!
But I also attended presentations and meetings about a lot of different history topics. I learned about new ways to run meetings, what field services offices like ours are doing in different states, how to use new media technology and many other things.
One main theme that kept emerging as a kind of undercurrent in many of the presentations, speeches and hallway discussions with colleagues was that people who visit history organizations are expecting more of us. When I was growing up, my parents were history geeks. We visited more Civil War battlefields and house museums than I could count. Most of what I learned left me shortly after the trip. What remained were a few impressions, perhaps a rare fact but otherwise nothing else. Not so today.
People who visit history organizations today want to be engaged, excited, leave wondering about a subject and have a discussion with their family on the way home. What changes can we make to our exhibits, programs, newsletters and other points of public contact to excite visitors, challenge them or just make them wonder and want to learn more?
What do you think? What do you do?
Jeff Harris is director of Local History Services. He constantly
travels the state for his job, giving him the opportunity to pursue his
dream of finding the perfect mashed potatoes.