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My history, your history, our history: Developing meaningful community engagement within historic sites and museums

  • Jessica Stroja (a1)

Abstract

Varying models of community engagement provide methods for museums to build valuable relationships with communities. These relationships hold the potential to become ongoing, dynamic opportunities for active community participation and engagement with museums. Nevertheless, the nuances of this engagement continue to remain a unique process that requires delicate balancing of museum obligations and community needs in order to ensure meaningful outcomes are achieved. This article discusses how community engagement can be an active, participatory process for visitors to museums. Research projects that utilise aspects of community-driven engagement models allow museums to encourage a sense of ownership and active participation with the museum. Indeed museums can balance obligations of education and representation of the past with long-term, meaningful community needs via projects that utilise aspects of community-driven engagement models. Using an oral history project at Historic Ormiston House as a case study,1 the article argues that museums and historic sites can encourage ongoing engagement through active community participation in museum projects. While this approach carries both challenges and opportunities for the museum, it opens doors to meaningful and long-term community engagement, allowing visitors to embrace the museum and its stories as active participants rather than as passive consumers.

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1 All names of participants in the Ormiston House Oral History Project are pseudonyms.

2 Syd Lee, M.A. Taylor and Sylvia Webster, in Historic Ormiston House visitor book, 1998–2007, Historic Ormiston House Research Library.

3 ‘New monastery for Ormiston’, Courier-Mail, 25 September 1959, 11; Sister Katherine, ‘History of Ormiston House since we purchased it’, email to M. O’Driscoll, 23 May 2013.

6 Margaret O’Driscoll, ‘Annual report delivered to Carmelite Community and volunteers’, 2011.

7 For example, Historic Ormiston House and its volunteers have received nominations and/or awards in the following programmes and categories: Gallery and Museum Achievement Awards; Museums & Gallery Services Queensland Gallery and Museum Achievement Awards (Organisations); Redlands on Moreton Bay Tourism Awards (Heritage and Cultural Tourism); Redlands Tourism Award (Outstanding Contribution by an Individual); Redlands Tourism Award (Outstanding Contribution to Tourism); Redlands Tourism Award (Special Event or Festival); Redlands Tourism Award (Tourist Attraction); Redlands Tourism Awards (Historic House); Volunteering Redlands Greg Cook Volunteering Recognition Award.

8 Onciul, Bryony, Museums, heritage and Indigenous voice: Decolonising engagement (New York: Routledge, 2015), p. 71.

9 Everett, Michele and Barrett, Margaret, ‘Benefits visitors derive from sustained engagement with a single museum’, Curator: The Museum Journal 54(4) (2011), 432, 441; Onciul, Museums, heritage and Indigenous voice, pp. 71–2.

10 See, for example, a growing emphasis on museum engagement at events coordinated by Museums & Galleries Queensland, one of the most significant industry bodies for museum professionals in Queensland: Museums & Galleries Queensland, ‘M&G QLD Past Events’, 2017, http://www.magsq.com.au/cms/page.asp?ID=5129, accessed 3 October 2017.

11 Everett and Barrett, ‘Benefits visitors derive from sustained engagement’, 432; Onciul, Bryony, ‘Community engagement, curatorial practice, and museum ethos in Alberta, Canada’, in Golding, Viv and Modest, Wayne (eds), Museums and communities: Curators, collections and collaboration (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 92.

12 Ashley, Susan, ‘“Engage the world”: Examining conflicts of engagement in public museums’, International Journal of Cultural Policy 20(3) (2014), 262; Onciul, Museums, heritage and Indigenous voice, p. 71. For further examples of working definitions of museum engagement, see Everett and Barrett, ‘Benefits visitors derive from sustained engagement’, 432, 442; Welsh, Peter, ‘Re-configuring museums’, Museum Management and Curatorship 20(2) (2005), 106.

13 Everett and Barrett, ‘Benefits visitors derive from sustained engagement’, 432; Welsh, ‘Re-configuring museums’, 106.

14 Aerila, Juli-Anna, Rönkkö, Marja-Leena and Grönman, Satu, ‘Field trip to a historic house museum with preschoolers: Stories and crafts as tools for cultural heritage education’, Visitor Studies 19(2) (2016), 144; Young, Linda, Historic house museums in the United States and the United Kingdom: A history (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), p. 256; Deborah Ryan and Frank Vagnone, ‘An anarchist guide to historic rooms and house museums’, in Culture: New ideas, minor voices, and topics on the margins — ARCC 2013: The visibility of research, Conference Proceedings (2013), p. 165.

15 Morris, Martha, Managing people and projects in museums: Strategies that work (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), p. 22; Crimm, Walter, Morris, Martha and Wharton, Carole, Planning successful museum building projects (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2009), p. 236.

16 Galla, Amareswar, ‘El museo inclusivo’, Museos. es: Revista de la Subdirección General de Museos Estatales 9 (2013), 40.

17 See, for example, Kumpulainen, Kristiina, Karttunen, Marianna, Juurola, Leenu and Mikkola, Anna, ‘Towards children’s creative museum engagement and collaborative sense-making’, Digital Creativity 25(3) (2014), 233; Barron, Paul and Leask, Anna, ‘Visitor engagement at museums: Generation Y and “Lates” events at the National Museum of Scotland’, Museum Management and Curatorship 32(5) (2017), 473, 482–3; Munro, Ealasaid, ‘“People just need to feel important, like someone is listening”: Recognising museums’ community engagement programmes as spaces of care’, Geoforum 48 (2013), 56–7, 61; Smith, Laurajane, ‘Visitor emotion, affect and registers of engagement at museums and heritage sites’, Conservation Science in Cultural Heritage 14(2) (2014), 125–6.

18 William Alderson, ‘Foreword’, in Sherry Butcher-Younghans, Historic house museums: A practical handbook for their care, preservation, and management (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. v; Young, Linda, ‘Major case study: Welcome to our house — satisfying visitors to the historic house museum’, in Rentschler, Ruth and Hede, Anne-Marie (eds), Museum marketing: Competing in the global marketplace (Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007), 134.

19 Butcher-Younghans, Sherry, Historic house museums: A practical handbook for their care, preservation, and management (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 184–5; Chhabra, Deepak, Sustainable marketing of cultural and heritage tourism (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010), p. 111.

20 Merritt, Jane and Reilly, Julie, Preventative conservation for historic house museums (Plymouth: AltaMira Press, 2010), pp. 910.

21 Ryan and Vagone, ‘An anarchist guide to historic rooms and house museums’, 165.

22 ibid.; Chhabra, Sustainable marketing, 112.

23 Young, ‘Major case study: Welcome to our house’, 133.

24 ibid., 133–4.

25 Chhabra, Sustainable marketing, 113.

26 Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Gabrielle and Daley, Samantha, ‘Providing access to engagement in learning: The potential of universal design for learning in museum design’, Curator: The Museum Journal 56(3) (2013), 307; Smith, Laurajane and Waterton, Emma, Heritage, communities and archaeology (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), p. 112.

27 Chhabra, Sustainable marketing, 114.

28 For literature that addresses the unique position of historic house museums within the museum sector, see, for example Mårdh, Hedvig, ‘Re-entering the house: Scenographic and artistic interventions and interactions in the historic house museum’, Nordisk Museologi 1 (2015), 2539; Leijonhufvud, Gustaf and Henning, Annette, ‘Rethinking indoor climate control in historic buildings: The importance of negotiated priorities and discursive hegemony at a Swedish museum’, Energy Research & Social Science 4 (2014), 117–23; Merritt and Reilly, Preventative conservation for historic house museums; Young, Historic house museums; Rebekah Beaulieu, Financial fundamentals for historic house museums (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

29 See, for example Christensen, Kim, ‘Ideas versus things: The balancing act of interpreting historic house museums’, International Journal of Heritage Studies 17(2) (2011), 153–68; Adinolfi, Maria and van de Port, Mattijs, ‘Bed and throne: The “Museumification” of the living quarters of a Candomblé priestess’, Material Religion 9(3) (2013), 282303; Hodge, Christina and Beranek, Christa, ‘Dwelling: Transforming narratives at historic house museums’, International Journal of Heritage Studies 17(2) (2011), 97101; Vinson, Isabelle, ‘Editorial’, Museum International 53(2) (2001), 3; Pinna, Giovanni, ‘Introduction to historic house museums’, Museum International 53(2) (2001), 49; Deborah Ryan and Frank Vagnone, ‘Reorienting historic house museums: An anarchist’s guide’, in Re-disciplining: The rise, fall and reformation of the disciplines history, theory, historiography, and future studies: ARCC/EAAE 2014: Beyond architecture: New intersections & connections, CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS, 2014, pp. 97–8; Pavoni, Rosanna, ‘Towards a definition and typology of historic house museums’, Museum International 53(2) (2001), 1621.

30 See Aerila, Rönkkö and Grönman, ‘Field trip to a historic house museum with preschoolers’, 144–55; Chan, Alexandra, ‘Translating archaeology for the public: Empowering and engaging museum goers with the past’, International Journal of Heritage Studies 17(2) (2011), 169–89; Young, Linda, ‘Is there a museum in the house? Historic houses as a species of museum’, Museum Management and Curatorship 22(1) (2007), 5977; Howett, Catherine, ‘Grounds for interpretation: The landscape context of historic house museums’, in Donnelly, Jessica (ed.), Interpreting historic house museums (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2002), 126; Sinclair, Janet, ‘Expanding family access and engagement in an historic house museum’, in Decker, Juilee (ed.), Engagement and access: Innovative approaches for museums (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 6170.

31 Cameron Brothers (auctioneers) and R.A. Hamilton and James (surveyors), ‘Ormiston Estate’ (Brisbane: H.T. James Lithographers, 1918), Record Number 21104989870002061, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland; Cameron Brothers (auctioneers) and J. Wynne Townson (surveyor), ‘Ormiston Point Estate: On the Cleveland Railway’ (Brisbane: Will H. Clarke and A.M. McLaren, 1919), Record Number 21188580250002061, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland; ‘Memorial to sugar pioneers: To be built on Ormiston Plantation’, Courier-Mail, 29 June 1935, 14; Queensland Heritage Register, ‘Ormiston House Estate’, Queensland Government, https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600775, accessed 4 September 2017; Historic Ormiston House, ‘Home’, http://ormistonhouse.org.au, accessed 12 September 2017.

32 Redland City Council, Redlands visitor guide, 2016, p. 10.

33 Queensland Heritage Register, ‘Ormiston House Estate’.

34 A.A. Morrison, ‘Hope, Louis (1817–1894)’, in Australian dictionary of biography (Melbourne University Press, 1972), http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hope-louis-3791, accessed 4 September 2017; Queensland Parliament, ‘Members of the First Parliament – 1860’, https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/members/former/first-parliament, accessed 15 September 2017.

35 Claudius Whish, ‘Claudius Buchanan Whish diaries 1855–1906’, Reference Code OM65-33, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

36 ‘Telegraphic’, Brisbane Courier, 16 September 1864, 2; ‘Cultivation of sugar (from The Guardian)’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, 28 September 1864, 4; Kerr, John, ‘Establishing Australia’s sugar industry at Ormiston: A Hope and a Whish’, Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal 17(8) (2000), 337.

37 Morrison, ‘Hope, Louis’; Patrick Briody, ‘Ormiston House’, Australian Sugar Journal December (1985), 349.

38 ‘Monday 9th October’, Brisbane Courier, 20 September 1882, 8; ‘Departures — October 19’, Australian Town and Country Journal, 28 October 1882, 36; ‘R.M.S. Verona’, Argus, 16 December 1882, 9.

39 ‘For royal guest’s country visit: Picturesque Ormiston House’, Telegraph, 26 September 1934, 17.

40 H.J. Gibbney, ‘Macartney, John Arthur (1834–1917)’, in Australian dictionary of biography (Melbourne University Press, 1974), http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macartney-john-arthur-624, accessed 4 September 2017; Henzell and Cameron Estate Maps, ‘Plan of the valuable properties of the Honble. Louis Hope’ (Brisbane), Record Number 21112815920002061, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland; Cameron Brothers (auctioneers) and R.A. Hamilton and James (surveyors), ‘Ormiston Estate’; Cameron Brothers (auctioneers) and J. Wynne Townson (surveyor), ‘Ormiston Point Estate’; ‘Ormiston Estate’, Morning Bulletin, 19 July 1913, 6.

41 Gibbney, ‘Macartney, John Arthur’; ‘It’s older than the State… historic home is sold by family’, Courier-Mail, 22 January 1959, 13.

42 ibid.; Sister Katherine, ‘History of Ormiston House’.

43 ‘Queensland Parliament record of proceedings (Hansard), Legislative Assembly’, 5 September 1865, p. 595; Briody, ‘Ormiston House’, 349; ‘“Birthplace of the Australian sugar industry” celebrates 150 Years’, in Australian Canegrower: The Flagship of the Sugarcane Industry June (2012), 5.

44 Onciul, Museums, heritage and Indigenous voice, p. 72; see also Onciul, ‘Community engagement, curatorial practice’, 84.

45 ibid., 79

47 Margaret O’Driscoll, ‘Annual report delivered to Carmelite Community and volunteers’, 2010.

48 Welsh, ‘Re-configuring museums’, 105–6.

49 Everett and Barrett, ‘Benefits visitors derive from sustained engagement’, 431.

50 Margaret O’Driscoll, ‘Annual report delivered to Carmelite Community and volunteers’, 2010; Margaret O’Driscoll, ‘Annual report delivered to Carmelite Community and volunteers’, 2011; Margaret O’Driscoll, ‘Annual report delivered to Carmelite Community and volunteers’, 2012.

52 Rappolt-Schlichtmann and Daley, ‘Providing access to engagement in learning’, 307.

53 For a recent example of the increased importance of oral histories in Redland City, see: ‘Redland Cultural Heritage Network meeting minutes’, February 2017.

54 Leavy, Patricia, Oral history: Understanding qualitative research (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 34.

55 Perkin, Corinne, ‘Beyond the rhetoric: Negotiating the politics and realising the potential of community-driven heritage engagement’, International Journal of Heritage Studies 16(1–2) (2010), 107.

56 ibid., 108, 116; Dragouni, Mina and Fouseki, Kalliopi, ‘Drivers of community participation in heritage tourism planning: An empirical investigation’, Journal of Heritage Tourism 13(3) (2018), 2.

57 A top-down approach to engagement and museum work sees the development of projects that are driven and led by the institution itself, rather than a collaborative-based approach, which involves active collaboration between museum organisations and communities.

58 Perkin, ‘Beyond the rhetoric’, 107, 109, 112.

59 Onciul, ‘Community engagement, curatorial practice’, 83.

60 Onciul, Museums, heritage and Indigenous voice, p. 75.

61 Black, Graham, ‘Embedding civil engagement in museums’, Museum Management and Curatorship 25(2) (2010), 136–7.

62 See David Mould, ‘Interviewing’, in Donna Deblasio, Charles Ganzert, David Mould, Stephen Paschen and Howard Sacks (eds), Catching stories: A practical guide to oral history (Athens, OH: Swallow Press, 2009), pp. 76, 82, which discusses the various stages of the oral history interview.

63 Personal communication, Jessica Stroja and Sarah Smith, 4 April 2013; Personal communication, Jessica Stroja and Jane Jones, 22 March 2013.

64 Alfred, Zibiah, ‘Sharing oral history with the wider public: Experiences of the refugee communities history project’, in Kurkowska-Budzan, M. and Zamorski, K. (eds), Oral history: The challenges of dialogue (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2009), 180.

65 Perkin, ‘Beyond the rhetoric’, 110–11.

66 Smith and Waterton, Heritage, communities and archaeology, p. 103.

67 Mould, ‘Interviewing’, 81–2; Ritchie, Donald, Doing oral history: A practical guide, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 114–15.

68 ibid., p. 114.

69 Alderson, ‘Foreword’, v; Young, ‘Major case study: Welcome to our house’, 134; Butler, Patrick III, ‘Past, present, and future: The place of the house museum in the museum community’, in Donnolley, Jessica (ed.), Interpreting Historic House Museums (Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2002), p. 37.

70 While Historic Ormiston House has applied for various grants and funding opportunities throughout its time as an historic house museum, there are a number of applications that cannot be submitted solely on the basis of exclusion from eligibility criteria. Inclusion in the relevant criteria would only have been possible as a small museum, rather than a privately owned historic house museum. While the issue of funding opportunities for historic house museums and small museums is an increasingly relevant topic, further discussion of this concern remains beyond the purview of this article.

71 Rentschler, Ruth, ‘Museum marketing: no longer a dirty word’, in Rentschler, Ruth and Hede, Anne-Marie (eds), Museum marketing: Competing in the global marketplace (Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007), 15.

72 Historic Ormiston House, ‘Home’.

73 Personal communication, Jessica Stroja and Wendy Parks, 8 March 2013.

74 Personal communication, Jessica Stroja and Dianne Waters, 9 July 2017.

75 Rentschler, ‘Museum marketing’, 15.

76 Bulger, Teresa, ‘Personalising the past: Heritage work at the Museum of African American History, Nantucket’, International Journal of Heritage Studies 17(2) (2011), 136.

77 Ritchie, Doing oral history, second edition p. 46.

78 ibid., p. 30; Starrm, Louise, ‘Oral history’, in Dunaway, David and Baum, Willa (eds), Oral history: An interdisciplinary anthology, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 1996), 40–1.

79 Welsh, ‘Re-configuring museums’, 106.

80 Mary Brown, interviewed by Jessica Stroja, 8 June 2013, Ormiston, Queensland.

81 Donald Ritchie, Doing oral history, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 249.

82 Pam Burnett in ‘Historic Ormiston House visitor book, 2015–2017’, Historic Ormiston House Research Library.

83 Margaret Milton in ‘Historic Ormiston House visitor book, 2015–2017’, Historic Ormiston House Research Library.

84 Everett and Barrett, ‘Benefits visitors derive from sustained engagement’, 431; Onciul, ‘Community engagement, curatorial practice’, 92; Bulger, ‘Personalising the past’, 139.

85 Susan Bell in ‘Historic Ormiston House visitor book, 2015–17, Historic Ormiston House Research Library.

86 ‘Historic Ormiston House visitor book, 1998–2007’, Historic Ormiston House Research Library.

87 Everett and Barrett, ‘Benefits visitors derive from sustained engagement’, 431; Bulger, ‘Personalising the past’, 139.

88 While some of these benefits are clearly limited to those within the identified project cohort, the oral history process and outcomes of oral history projects can still provide benefits to other members of the public. At Historic Ormiston House, additional oral history projects are currently underway to engage with a wider cohort using the methods discussed in this case study, including a project that involves volunteers — both past and present — at Ormiston House.

89 Barbara Little and Paul Shackel, Archaeology, heritage and civic engagement: Working towards the public good (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2014), p. 131; Black, ‘Embedding civil engagement’, 129.

90 Little and Shackel, Archaeology, heritage and civic engagement, p. 131.

My history, your history, our history: Developing meaningful community engagement within historic sites and museums

  • Jessica Stroja (a1)

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