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Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World

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Letting Go? investigates path-breaking public history practices at a time when the traditional expertise of museums seems challenged at every turn—by the Web and digital media, by community-based programming, by new trends in oral history and by contemporary art. In this anthology of 19 thought pieces, case studies, conversations and commissioned art, almost 30 leading practitioners such as Michael Frisch, Jack Tchen, Liz Ševcenko, Kathleen McLean, Nina Simon, Otabenga Jones and Associates, and Fred Wilson explore the implications of letting audiences create, not just receive, historical content. Drawing on examples from history, art, and science museums, Letting Go? offers concrete examples and models that will spark innovative work at institutions of all sizes and budgets. This engaging new collection will serve as an introductory text for those newly grappling with a changing field and, for those already pursuing the goal of “letting go,” a tool for taking stock and pushing ahead.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Opening a capacious window onto today’s core challenge to history museums—situating historical authority—the chapters in Letting Go? range from the scholarly to the eminently practical. … [It] reminds us that no matter its theoretical appeal, public curation still must be examined from the visitor’s perspective. An ambitious collection, Letting Go? will be valuable for scholar/practitioner/student of the museum field as its continues to define, address and advocate for greater public engagement in our digital age.”

— Leslie Bedford, Director, Leadership in Museum Education Program, Bank Street College of Education

“This wide-ranging collection of perspectives from some of public history’s most innovative practitioners doesn’t so much reject the idea of authority as expand it. Each one shows us how we can develop new expertise for enacting inclusive processes, which not only raise the visibility and social value of what the public may contribute, but simultaneously cultivate the strong community relationships sustaining our institutions into the future. It’s both an essential and energizing set of examples, putting this vital ethos into completely practical terms.”

— Daniel Spock, Director, History Center Museum, Minnesota Historical Society

“User-generated content -- it’s the cutting-edge idea behind everything from Facebook to Wikipedia. And it’s making a huge impact on museums and other public history venues. In this volume you’ll catch some of the sparks shooting off of this exciting new work. And also discover some of the principals that are emerging: how good boundaries paradoxically make for better creative expression, and why historians’ traditional strengths—context, editing, presentation—are needed even more in this new world.”

— Tom Hanchett, Staff Historian, Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte

“Our values direct what we do and how we do it. Letting Go? recognizes power structures in existing models and challenges us to articulate our values, reflect on our work, and sharpen our practice. Are we truly living out our values? Letting Go? provides fresh directions for meaningful, responsive and strategic community-based work.”

— Cassie Chinn, Deputy Executive Director, Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

“Technically, historical authority has always been shared with the public, but the expert public voice has not always been able to break through the practiced illusions of monumental scholarship and hallowed history. The marvelous and inspiring examples in Letting Go? will shape the aspirations of the future history museum as its practice leaders readjust their grip on ideas of authority. It will also guide institutions as they fulfill the next steps after letting go: reaching out, embracing lives, and reflecting, in the presence of the past and each other, on the complex beauties of our culture. This is a book about becoming something together, our most important process as human beings.”

—David Carr, author of Open Conversations: Public Learning in Libraries and Museums

“Authority. What is it and who has it? Or better, Who used to have it and who has it now? Museums generally, but history museums especially, have been wrestling with these questions for two decades. This useful and intelligent offering from Pew, with contributions from 21 artists, educators, and museum practitioners, may help us get closer to some answers. Or even refine the questions, which seem to be along the lines of What is lost and what is gained when we invite the public into the once-sacred realm of interpretation?”

— Museum Magazine

“The central premise of Letting Go is that the museum generation of the 21st century is defined by shared authority and collaborative making of meaning with the public.... The essays and conversations in Letting Go are accessible and share important insights, best practices, and hard-won experiences with readers. Together, they would be of use to students and scholars, especially those in museum studies, history, material culture studies, anthropology, and art.  Letting Go... fills a need for guides on sharing authority for new and established museum professionals and those who work with museums.”

— Museum Anthropology


"Thought-provoking….The contributors are museum educators, exhibition designers, public-history specialists, artists, cultural activists, and others who present or evaluate new ways of thinking about public history and how knowledge is acquired."?

—Illinois Heritage Association Newsletter

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780983480303
  • Publisher: Pew Center for Arts & Heritage
  • Publication date: 9/15/2011
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 742,929
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Adair is director of the Heritage Philadelphia Program, Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. Benjamin Filene is director of public history and associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and author of Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music (New York Times Notable Book 2001). Laura Koloski is a senior program specialist with the Heritage Philadelphia Program, Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Paula Marincola, Executive Director, Pew Center for Arts and Heritage
The editors
1. Participatory Design and the Future of Museums, Nina Simon
2. Where Are the Best Stories? Where Is My Story?—Participation and Curation in a New Media Age, Steve Zeitlin
3. Online Dialogue and Cultural Practice: A Conversation, Matthew Fisher and Bill Adair
4. Get Real! The Role of Objects in the Digital Age, Matthew MacArthur
5. Whose Questions, Whose Conversations?, Kathy McLean
6. The “Dialogic Museum” Revisited: A Collaborative Reflection, John Kuo Wei Tchen and Liz Ševcenko
7. Moving Pictures: Minnesota’s Most Rewarding Film Competition, Randal Dietrich, “Introduction”; Matt Ehling, “From Book to Film—The Artifacts of Wartime History”; Tom Drube, “Remembering Grandma Lucy”
8. Community as Curator: A Case Study at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Deborah Schwartz and Bill Adair
9. From A Shared Authority to the Digital Kitchen, and Back, Michael Frisch
10. Make Yourself at Home: Welcoming Voices in Open House: If These Walls Could Talk, Benjamin Filene
11. The Black Bottom: Making Community-Based Performance in West Philadelphia, Billy Yalowitz, with graphic art by Pete Stathis
12. Listening Intently: Can StoryCorps Teach Museums How to Win the Hearts of New Audiences?, Benjamin Filene
13. Public Curation: From Trend to Research-Based Practice, Tom Satwicz and Kris Morrisey
14. Peering Behind the Curtain: Artists and Questioning Historical Authority, Melissa Rachle
15. Mining the Museum Revisited: A Conversation, Fred Wilson, Paula Marincola, and Marjorie Schwarzer
16. “The Fever Dream of the Amateur Historian”: Ben Katchor’s The Rosenbach Company: A Tragicomedy, Melissa Rachleff
17. Embracing the Unexpected: Artists in Residence at the American Philosophical Society, Laura Koloski
18. Fred Sanford Meets Sun Ra, Otabenga Jones
19. A London Travelogue: Visiting Dennis Severs’ House, Mary Teeling
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