The Empathy Gap: An Ethnography of Volunteer Tour Guides and the Language of Affective Interpretation

Tour guides at historic sites are increasingly recognized by heritage and place studies as important agents of place creation and re-creation. Guides at Civil War sites repeatedly preform official and vernacular historical narratives for school groups, military staff-rides, and general visitors. At Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Southwest Missouri, the interpretive division relies on a reciprocal relationship with dozens of volunteer educators who make it possible to keep the Ray House, a homestead site used as a field hospital during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, open for visitor tours. Using the analysis of surveys, in-depth interviews, and tour observations, this study seeks to illustrate that volunteers act as important conduits for channeling and reinforcing certain cultural heritage identities and promulgating certain national values and popular myths. In this paper I will discuss the politics of attachment and discomfort as volunteer guides create narratives that are often far removed from the objects or stories established by the museum and park management. I will focus on the way guides create the stories designed to make an impression on visitors and why those stories regularly exclude difficult histories of enslavement and violence against women.

On Practices of Inclusion and Exclusion: Exhibiting Native American, Maya, and African Objects at the Field Museum and Art Insti

The Field Museum’s anthropology exhibit “Ancient Americas” and the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibit “Indian Art of the Americas” represent two of the newest permanent installations in their respective museums as of August 2016. “Ancient Americas” opened in summer of 2007 to high acclaim. The renovated “Indian Art of the Americas” exhibit moved to a new hall in late 2011. Both exhibits feature somewhat comparable collections of objects from the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. However, the divergent histories of these different institutions, one a natural history museum and the other an art museum, create significant differences in how viewers perceive and understand such objects. Distinctive institutional exhibition designs and differing didactic approaches, based on methods of inclusion or exclusion, provide more or less information regarding the objects’ meanings as they are re-contextualized as either artifacts or as high art.

Personalisation and Playlore: Intangible Cultural Heritage and Childhood History in Museums

Children are everywhere; we all are or have been children, and some of us have children of our own. So why are they largely invisible in so many aspects of cultural heritage? This article examines the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of children and childhood in Western cultures, a specific aspect of ICH relating to the youngest in society. It asks what we mean by “child” and what might be their intangible heritage, considering aspects such as oral traditions, social rituals, folklore, playlore, and children’s skills in crafting their own toys. It provides an overview of the literature relating to ICH and childhood in museums, arguing both for greater recognition of children’s intangible heritage and for the value of incorporating it into exhibitions, considering some examples of where this has been done. While examination of the archaeology, history, and material culture of children is growing, there has been limited consideration of how intangible cultural heritage might be developed in the museum context with regard to presenting childhood, something this article aims to address.