Directed Reading: Living History Museums


Directed Reading: Living History Museums



I did this directed reading as part of my minor/certificate in Museum Studies. I was studying how a museum was run along with the various aspects of a living history museum including theory, reasoning, and a few of the nuts and bolts like clothing and cooking.

1. A Living History Reader by Jay Anderson
This is a fantastic resource, unfortunately the only volume of its kind with no recent updates, but still very valid today just the same (Published 1991). This book is a collection of articles written by various people in the living history field organized under a selection of topics:

Introduction - Living History
Beginnings
Forts
Farms
Villages
Experimental Programs
Concerns
Afterword - Serious Play

Just as a side note, this book is a serious commitment to read. The layout is in double-columns. Whew! It took me awhile to work my way through it, but it was so fascinating. It was definitely worth the time commitment.

2. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
This book was the one book required for me to read selected by my professor. I thought this selection was a little weird until I read it and it made total sense. This book is a memoir of the author's journey into the why of Civil War reenacting. He brings out fantastic concepts and arguments and digs deep into the psyche of reenactors and the people of the American south who still talk about The War like it happened yesterday. The concepts presented in this book parallel a lot of the why of living history museums. This was a psychologically moving book; it would be a bit much to call it "life changing", but still some pretty awesome stuff.
This book does have some language and a few crude passages. (I always like to know stuff like that myself, so I try and pass it on.)

3. Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning by Gerald George & Cindy Sherrell-Leo
I actually enjoyed reading this book. I found had a straight-forward simple approach to starting a museum. You're probably thinking, "I don't ever have plans of starting a museum", but I've always felt that if I moved to a tiny town with a rich history and no museum I would like to start a tiny one to preserve their heritage and it would be good to know the basics of starting and caring for a museum the right way! (It's a pipe dream, I know, but it's still cool, right?)

4. What Clothes Reveal by Linda Baumgarten
This book was totally amazing! The author focuses primarily on Revolutionary War-era clothing, but she gets into the nitty gritty details of how they reused fabric as much as they could, where the cloth came from, and who wore what and why, etc. My favorite tidbit picked up from this book explained why Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his hat and called it "Macaroni"! The book is filled with delicious color photos and is a great look at original clothing.

5. Recipes from America's Restored Villages by Jean Anderson
(This one is a little harder to find in the 1987 edition, but there are more copies available of the 1975 edition.)

This book is a fabulous collection of recipes from selected living history museums/restored villages throughout the United States. It's by no means comprehensive, but it's a great selection to whet the appetite! I have so many bookmarks in mine of recipes I want to try, it's ridiculous. I'm dying to try the "Hoosier Biscuits" from Conner Prairie (I used to work there and I'm a Hoosier, so go figure!), and "Mary Todd Lincoln's White Almond Cake" from Lincoln's New Salem, Illinois. Almond cake - mmmmmm!

Each village has a brief summary of its history. What a great way to learn about our country's restored villages, try some historical recipes, and find some new destinations for future road trips! After all, it's all research, right?

6. Time Machines: The World of Living History by Jay Anderson
I really enjoyed reading this book written by my professor. As it's easier, I'll just post my review as I published it at Amazon:
Jay Anderson provides a very valuable look into the world of living history, museums, and reenacting by analyzing the different aspects of living history and how and why it is used. He does this by breaking the study into three different parts:

1. Memory Machines: Living History Museums
2. Time Bandits: Living History as Research (experimental history)
3. Doin' the Time Warp: Living History as Play

Anyone who is a student of Museum Studies and/or living history must read this book! Anderson is known as "the Father of Living History", being a pioneer in the field, and is very qualified in what he has to say. His writing is intimate, weaving in his own experiences with living history, thus making the book more personal, insightful, and enjoyable to read.

The only negative thing I'd have to say is that there isn't a more recent, updated edition, as these hobbies, museums, and such have evolved so much since 1986 when this book was published.

I found this to be one of my most valuable reads in this study. There are some really fascinating concepts presented about living history. I'd have to say the section on experimental history was my favorite. :-)

7. Intro to Museum Work by G. Ellis Burcaw
This book is a good book to follow Starting Right as mentioned above. It is more in-depth and includes end-of-chapter exercises. It is more of a dry read and seems to focus the most on art museums, which isn't always helpful. I think it's still a valuable book, especially if you want to work in the museum field or to just understand how (successful) museums are run. Believe me, I've been to a few museums that could have benefited from reading this book!

That's the end of my list, but here are a few more titles that were not apart of my directed reading, but are on my to-read list:

The Living History Sourcebook by Jay Anderson (probably very out of date, but still worth a look)

Past Into Present: Effective Techniques for First-Person Historical Interpretation by Stacy Flora Roth (I've got major mixed feelings about this one, since my personal opinion of first-person interpretation is very low. I'm still a bit curious though...)

The Interpreter's Training Manual for Museums by Mary Kay Cunningham. (See above! However, if a museum is going to do any form of interpretation, this book looks like it would be a good resource. No interpretation is better than bad interpretation, in my humble opinion.)

America's Kitchens by Nancy Carlisle (This book looks so fascinating and discusses the histories of various types of American kitchens and the introduction of various technological advances - COOL!)

Travels Into Our Past: America's Living History Museums and Historical Sites by Wayne P. Anderson & Carla Lee Anderson (This was just published in 2013! So bonus for being so new. It looks to be a fascinating look at the history of our country's cherished historical sites along with tales of memorable experiences at 50 of the sites by the authors.)

The New History in An Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg by Richard Handler & Eric Gable. (Just read the book description - whoa! This one looks really interesting - not only a history of the museum, but it's evolution and balancing act in today's highly commercialized world.)

Old Clothes: But All I Wanted To Do Was Wear Old Clothes and Go Back to the Past by Richard N. Pawling. (This looks like an interesting look at how living history is far more complicated than just wearing old clothes and "going back in time". AMEN to that! Unfortunately, the author seems to totally be in favor of first person interpretation, however I would like to read what he says about the other things mentioned in his book.)

Seeking the Historical Cook: Exploring Eighteenth-Century Southern Foodways by Kay K. Moss. (This book is perfect for the "rocking chair historian". It teaches you about 18th century ways of cooking, how to decipher old receipts, and is considered "a practical guide to historical techniques" all adapted for a modern kitchen. Interesting!)

Okay, this list could go on and on, so I'll stop here! Happy reading!

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