This past June, we attended the Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums’ (ALHFAM) 39th Annual Conference at Old Salem Museum and Gardens in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. ALHFAM is an organization of people who bring history to life. They achieve this through the exchange and sharing of ideas, information, tools and experiences centered around accurate, active, participatory, object-based historical interpretation. ALHFAM’s membership includes museum interpreters, educators, researchers, administrators, curators and volunteers. The Annual Conference is hosted by member institutions in the United States and Canada, and includes formal papers, interactive workshops, site visits, and networking.
This year’s conference was hosted by Old Salem, a museum of the 18th and early 19th century Moravian community in Winston-Salem, NC. Their unique site includes original and reproduction structures, costumed interpreters, craft demonstrations, and formal exhibit galleries, including MESDA, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Visit their website at www.oldsalem.org. Pre Conference Workshops included hands on baking, a tour of the Seagrove area potteries, apple grafting, 18th and early 19th century men’s tailoring, and many more. Justin attended a historic plowing workshop, which allowed attendees try their hand at using replica plows from the 18th through the 20th centuries brought by ALHFAM members.
The conference theme was “From Strangers to Friends”, and was opened with a keynote address by Robert Morgan. Presentations and lectures included:
· A report on ALHFAM Farm Schools in which ALHFAM members promote the sustaining of historic agricultural skills for fellow ALHFAM members through intensive, hands-on workshops at an ALHFAM agricultural site.
· An insightful look at what surveys and studies of museum visitors show to be the “Best Practices in Live Interpretation”.
· A formal paper presented by Dr. Danae Tankard on “Representing the Medieval Past at UK Heritage Sites”. Dr. Tankard is a historian at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex, UK. Weald and Downland have several exhibits that are relevant to our 1627 English Village site. Check them out at http://www.wealddown.co.uk/.
· Other presentations included topics that ranged from Collection Management to Utilizing 21st century technology in museum exhibits.
A full day was dedicated to exploring Old Salem. The museum was opened especially for conference attendees on a day on which the museum is typically closed, where Old Salem’s staff offered their fantastic, regular public programming, as well as behind the scenes tours. We were very impressed with the effort made by the entire museum and staff. The breadth and variety of programs offered and the welcoming attitude of the staff was inspiring. The Conference also included several opportunities for social networking (face to face, not face to Facebook), including an opening reception, “Salted, Smoked, and Pickled”, in which members can offer foods distinct to their region, (jar of pickles, salt fish?), an evening at Old Salem’s 1789 tavern with games, music, gingercakes, and a kiln firing, and a Live Auction to benefit ALHFAM. The Auction is an ALHFAM tradition in which Rebecca’s father Blake Hayes is the official auctioneer who recruits lovely ladies (Rebecca), as auction “Vannas” who assist Blake display and sell items donated by members and museums. I (Justin) took home a great reproduction 18th century buttonhole cutter made by Old Salem’s blacksmith.
The Conference closed with a panel discussion on the future of Living History by representatives from several different museums. We left the Conference thinking about what we do here at Plimoth Plantation, how we do it, and how we can continue to improve our ability at making the 17th century colonial experience meaningful, relevant, and personal for our museum’s visitors.
Next year’s conference will be returning to Old Sturbridge Village for it’s 40th Anniversary on June 20-24, 2010. ALHFAM’s beginnings were at OSV, and this year’s conference theme is “Roots and Branches of Living History”. We’re very excited for next year’s conference which will include visits to Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, NH, historic Lowell, MA, and an opening keynote address by Harvard professor and Pulitzer Prize winning author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who’s research helps inform our understanding of 17th century New England. Visit www.alhfam.org for more information about the organization, conferences, and membership. For more information contact New England Regional Representatives, Kathleen Wall and Rebecca Gross.
Hope to see you at the conference in 2010,
Rebecca Gross and Justin Squizzero
Colonial Interpretation Department