Thinking…

Something about this time of year makes me want to sit around and think deep thoughts.

Right now, it’s:

-Quaker simplicity/moderation: These thoughts really crystallized for me earlier this week, when The Boy and I went out for a wonderful, but rather expensive, six-month anniversary dinner. Afterword, we spent the whole bus ride home wondering if such spluges are okay because we only do them occasionally, or if we should still be finding more economical and simple and moderate ways of celebrating. My pondering of Quaker simplicity has been slowly bubbling away more generally, though, in relation to how I dress and how I decorate the apartment. Of course, because we’re moving to a new place next month, I’m coming up with all sorts of new ideas for how to decorate the new place. But in the back of my mind, I keep wondering “Is this necessary? Isn’t there a use I could be putting this money and effort toward that would benefit more people, that would contribute to the common good instead of just making two peoples’ apartment pretty?” This is a fairly recent conundrum for me, since up until about 6 months ago, I was living paycheck to paycheck with very little extra money. Now I’m finally financially stable, and I’m having to deal with what I do with the little bit of extra money I have and how that reflects me and my values. I’ve been pulling back a fair bit on how I dress, simplifying my wardrobe, especially during the week, to a few black skirts and slacks and mostly solid color sweaters. I think I’ve largely been so successful with simplifying how I dress because I’m so massively underwhelmed with most current styles. Also, it helps make dressing in the morning and getting out the door to my bus go much faster, which means more sleep! 😀

-The catch-22s of house museums: The Boy went to a museum symposium last week (he just started grad school in museum studies) when there was the usual moaning that house museums need to get away from guided tours because visitors “don’t want them/aren’t interested”. But also as usual, no viable alternatives were offered, beyond the useless “make an app!” *eyeroll* Such “discussions” are totally useless and really starting to get on my nerves. Yes, house museums need to think critically about what they’re doing and why when it comes to the visitor experience, and what audiences they’re serving. But simply saying that they should throw out what they’re doing, while offering no ideas for alternatives, is totally not productive. We need to move the discussion beyond finger-wagging “You’re doing it wrong!” to “Here are some alternative ideas that we can build upon”. (I’m extremely critical of the reliance on the self-guided tour or a podcast that are pretty much the only alternatives that are ever offered to the “evil” guided tour–how is the visitor supposed to ask questions? how does the visitor know what they’re looking at? how exactly is the visitor learning anything beyond “look at the pretty old shit”?)

And somewhat related, there’s the overall issue of long-term viability of many house museums. Many are in isolated areas, and might have trouble explaining how their story is important and unique beyond the minutia of local history. There has been a lot of talk within the field recently about how perhaps it’s better for the field overall if some (many?) of these tiny sites did close so that resources could be concentrated at the larger, more viable sites. There’s also the criticism of house museums that they’re all focused on rich white men. While many site are doing interesting, innovative things to combat this perception, it still runs rampant, even within the museum field. So how do we get away from the houses that focus on rich white men, to presenting a more well-rounded view of American history, while also dealing with the natural inclination to just open new sites that focus on different stories (and thus even further diluting the limited resources that are available to small sites?). And then there’s our own defensiveness of our sites–I know that my hackles go up the instant someone walks into the Awesome Historic House and demands to know why the house is important or why they should be interested (some visitors are good at asking these questions in a curious manner that indicates that they genuinely want to know, while many others take an extremely aggravating confrontational tack.)

Unfortunately, no one seems to have the answers to these issues in the museum field. But I’ve definitely been thinking long and hard about them recently, and I hope others are too.
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