Next Practices: Discussions on the Future of Interpretation

Virtual Summit
August 6 – 7, 2024
$60 AASLH Members / $75 Nonmembers
Registration Includes Access to All Live Sessions and Session Recordings


Join the AASLH Educators and Interpreters Committee as we investigate new and developing models of history and museum interpretation, considering all sides of the big questions facing our teams and organizations. Representatives from sites across the country will share their successes, tips, and strategies for adapting to our rapidly changing public history landscape.

Virtual Summit
August 6 – 7, 2024
$60 AASLH Members / $75 Nonmembers
Registration Includes Access to All Live Sessions and Session Recordings

All times are Eastern.

Tuesday, August 6

Opening Plenary: Building a Sustainable and Relevant Future, Noon – 1:15 p.m.

Public history professionals are experienced in managing change, especially after the last few years of radical reimaginings in how we serve our audiences. In this opening session, we’ll explore the big questions facing our sites and organizations with professionals who have analyzed and managed big changes in interpretation.

Moderator: Nicole Moore, Director of Education, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia

Panelists:

  • Richard Cooper (he/him), President & CEO, Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Kevin Maijala (he/him), Senior Vice President, Education & Interpretation, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Melissa Prycer (she/her), Principal, Prycer Consulting

Getting Your Board on Board: Communicating What Interpretation Is and Why It Matters, 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

History museum professionals are well-versed in the research, terminology, and best/next practices informing our day-to-day work and big picture planning. We all “speak the language” of historical interpretation. Yet, one of our most critical stakeholder groups—our board—is often composed of professionals from outside the field who are unfamiliar with some of the foundational concepts guiding our work. In this session, we will explore the challenges of and share successful strategies for engaging our boards in meaningful conversation about what interpretation is and why matters.

Presenters:

  • Dr. Mariruth Leftwich, Senior Director of Museum Operations & Education, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Tracie Liberatore, Executive Director, Bradford House Historical Association, Washington, Pennsylvania
  • Elisabeth Nevins, Seed Education Consulting, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Dr. Noelle Trent, President & CEO, Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket, Massachusetts

The Art of Change: Successful Strategies for Evolving Interpretation Plans, 2:45 – 3:45 p.m.

Navigating changes in interpretation plans and strategies can be challenging. It’s essential to have a crystal clear understanding of the why, what, and how to chart the best course of action. This involves carefully planning how to effectively communicate these changes to staff, volunteers, docents, and your audience. In this engaging session, we’ll dive into real-world examples from the Ohio History Connection and the Office of Historic Alexandria. Discover how these organizations tackled significant shifts in their interpretation plans through strategic planning, comprehensive training, and thoughtful communication. Join us to gain valuable insights and practical approaches that can help you manage and implement transformative changes in your own organization.

Moderator: Carla Mello, Department Manager, School and Teacher Support, Ohio History Connection, Columbus, Ohio

Presenters:

  • Andrew Hall, Manager, Ohio Village Programs, Ohio History Connection, Columbus, Ohio
  • Michele Longo, Director of Education and Museums Operations, Office of Historic Alexandria, Alexandria, Virginia

The “So What” of Interpreting Slavery with Young Audiences, 4:00 – 5:15 p.m.

How do we encourage young audiences to connect to the country’s history of slavery, develop empathy for those who were enslaved, and find relevance in the history of slavery? This session will help education and interpretation staff gain skills to become confident and competent in using inquiry learning methods (including hands-on objects, activities, and documents) to inspire critical thinking and encourage compassionate, active citizenship.

Presenters:

  • Kristin Gallas, Principal, MUSE Consulting, Medford, Massachusetts
  • Krystal Gladden, Manager of School Programs, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

Wednesday, August 7

Discussion Group: Preparing for the Future, Noon – 1 p.m.

Join the Educators and Interpreters committee for small breakout group discussions on summit topics and interpretation challenges.

On the Front Line: Supporting and Caring for Staff, 1:15 – 2:15 p.m.

How do we care for front line staff knowing visitors are more challenging, difficult, irreverent, and even dangerous than ever before? How do new approaches to interpretation on our sites and integrating histories of enslavement and conflict shape how we hire, serve, and retain volunteers and staff? This session will help participants explore options and approaches to adapting to the rapidly changing visitor services and education landscape.

Presenters:

  • Kathleen Ford, Interpretive Supervisor, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, Virginia
  • Kelvis Hernandez (he/him), John Brown House Museum Manager, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, Rhode Island
  • K. Allison Wickens (she/her), Vice President, Education, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, Virginia

First-Person Interpretation: What’s Working, What’s Challenging, and How Are We Evolving?, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.

We will explore what’s working well in the field, the challenges interpreters face, and how this dynamic form of storytelling is evolving. Through firsthand accounts from experienced interpreters and museum professionals, attendees will gain insights into the power and challenges of living history, innovative practices, and strategies for overcoming obstacles.

Presenters:

  • Richard Cooper, President and CEO, Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Elizabeth Keaney, Youth and Family Programs Coordinator, Office of Historic Alexandria and Board Secretary, International Museum Theatre Alliance-Americas, Alexandria, Virginia
  • Ryan Spencer, VP & Chief Programs Officer, Conner Prairie, Fishers, Indiana
  • Gretchen Johnson, Living History Manager, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia
  • Jay Templin, Content & Training Supervisor, Jamestown Settlement, Williamsburg, Virginia

Post-Pivot: Virtual Interpretation in 2024 and Beyond, 3:45 – 4:45 p.m.

Four years after the pandemic, visitors are back onsite at historic sites but virtual interpretation and programming is still going strong at many institutions. While started out of necessity, many sites now see virtual programming as a vital part of educational outreach, especially ahead of the celebration of the 250th birthday of America. This session will explore how virtual interpretation (virtual tours, programming, field trips, etc.) has evolved over the past four years, and look to the future of virtual interpretation at several historic sites.

Presenters:

  • Melanie Holland (she/her) Curator of Digital Programs and Content, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Meredith Leonard (she/her), Senior Curator Learning and Interpretation, Planning and Economic Development Tourism and Culture, City of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  • David Silvernail (they/them), Professional Learning Coordinator, New-York Historical Society, New York, New York
  • Sadie Troy (she/her), Education Director, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum, Independence, Missouri

Closing Session: What’s Next, 5:00 – 5:30 p.m.

Wrap up the summit with the Educators and Interpreters committee as we discuss how to bring all that we’ve learned back to our communities, colleagues, and audiences!

Updated: July 9, 2024