Additions to Historic House Resources

As we enter the dog days of summer, the Greater Hudson Heritage Network is gearing up for fall with major improvements to our website, www.greaterhudson.org.  Our three year historic house practicum came to a close this spring, with a symposium and workshops about the historic house as container (as envelope, site, and landscape).  Visit the Historic House Resources page on our site for links to the presentations made this year.  In addition the Historic House Resources page is soon to be expanded with new resources on issues dealt with at this year’s historic house practicum.  Here is a sampling of some of them:

The workshop held on April 20 at Lyndhurst, a National Trust property in Tarrytown, dealt with historic houses and green facilities management.  A great resource on this subject is found at the website for The National Trust for Historic Preservation at www.preservationnation.org/issues/sustainability.  This section of their website includes case-studies of rehabilitation projects that included “green” aspects, speeches on sustainability, facts about the costs of new construction versus preserving historic structures, and news and blog entries dealing with green facilities management.  There are also a couple of excerpts on-line from the Trust’s latest Forum Journal, “Positioning Preservation in a Green World.”

One of the more exciting projects the National Trust has been involved with is the Preservation Green Lab, located in Seattle, Washington.  According to the Trust, the Lab will, “coordinate demonstration projects and provide technical assistance and model policies – all in an effort to encourage municipalities and states around the country to fully consider historic preservation and the existing building stock in formulating their climate change action plans.”  Instead of just talking about what should be done, the Trust has decided to actually take action itself. 

Much of what the Trust and similar organizations have been doing recently with green facilities management has been inspired by the Pocantico Proclamation for Sustainability and Historic Preservation, developed in November of 2008 by a team of preservationists, architects, and energy experts.  The proclamation, which can be found on the National Trust website, acknowledges problems such as climate change and energy overuse and offers ideas on how historic houses can deal with these issues. 

Another issue dealt with at this year’s May 4th  workshop was master planning for historic sites and their “campuses”.  At the workshop, The Pocantico Center and Woodstock’s Byrdcliffe master plans were presented. 

The Historic Preservation Field Services Bureau of New York State is just putting the finishing touches on The New York State Historic Preservation plan for 2009-2013.  In the making of the plan, the bureau sought input from a broad range of New York residents, from visitors to the State Fair in Syracuse to historic house experts.  A number of issues were identified from this input, and this master plan gives suggestions on how to deal with these pressing issues, such as the fragmentation of state agencies and the unawareness of the public about the historic resources of New York State.  A draft of the plan can be found at http://nysparks.state.ny.us/shpo/planning/index.htm.

Historic Sites are more than the buildings, as our historic house practicum acknowledges, and a major part of many of these sites is the landscape.  For historic house landscapes a great resource is The National Park Service’s Heritage Preservation Service’s Historic Landscape Initiative, which lives on-line at http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/hli.  The Initiative’s website includes the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes.  These guidelines are useful to those just entering the field, as they make distinctions between preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction, while also being in-depth enough to be useful to veterans of cultural landscape treatment.  The website also includes a preservation brief from 1994, entitled “Protecting Cultural Landscapes” as well as links to other publications put out by the National Park Service that deal with historic landscapes. 

In my mind, the most interesting part of the website is Cultural Landscape Currents, an on-line journal of case studies of the stewardship of historic landscapes.  The most recent case study posted deals with Minnesota Highway facilities, such as scenic overlooks and picnicking grounds, created during The New Deal of the 1930’s. 

Turning towards the future, as the historic house practicum comes to a close, the Greater Hudson Heritage Network has more exciting ventures on the horizon.  Come and join us on October 2nd for our annual meeting at the Overlook Lodge at Bear Mountain to see and hear what we have been doing and what lies ahead of us.  We hope to see you there!

- Ansel Lurio, GHHN Resource Assistant

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WebWise 2009

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the 10th Annual WebWise Conference in Washington, D.C., co-sponsored by the Wolfsonian-Florida International University (WFIU) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  The theme of this year’s conference was Digital Databases and explored the issues, concerns and most importantly, the opportunities, new technologies offer museums and libraries in the 21st century.  The keynote speeches and panel discussions touched on a variety of issues including: audience collaboration with institutions via social networking communities, the rights and responsibilities of museums and libraries with an online presence and the legal repercussions of virtual endeavors, how collaboration between museums, users and peer institutions made possible by technology can effect an institution’s integrity and identity, and the ways in which institutions must respond to the increasing demand for innovation and the appropriation of new technologies in order to effectively do so.

While I don’t intend to recap the entire conference here, I thought I’d highlight one of the discussions that I found to be especially interesting and of particular use to historic sites and house museums. One theme that continually surfaced throughout the three day conference was the idea that museums must no longer be fearful or apprehensive of Internet technologies and instead, should embrace them wholeheartedly.  In his keynote address, “The Cloud, the Crowd, and the 3-D Internet – Implications for Cultural Organizations,” Michael Nelson, Visiting Professor of Communications, Culture and Technology at Georgetown University, emphasized this idea by discussing the Internet’s unprecedented ability to facilitate collaboration and sharing among its users. Discussing how the ‘Internet revolution’ is only 15% complete, he stressed that museums and libraries should embrace the opportunities afforded by ‘cloud computing’ (i.e. computing in which data programming and interacting is done entirely on the Internet through social networking programs like Facebook and Twitter and sharing tools like Flickr and Google Docs). Not only are these programs rapidly gaining user-ship and attention, they are free tools that museums can use to reach their audience and beyond. The consensus of Nelson and conference participants was that museums and libraries should not be intimidated by these new technologies, but rather absorb them into their mission and become pioneers in the next phase of the Internet. Nelson also recommended a good book that explains online computing and the Cloud: The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr.

Michael Edson, Director of Digital Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution picked up where Nelson concluded in the following panel discussion “Online Communities and The Institution.” He presented a witty cartoon depicting the quintessential pessimistic ‘old school’ museum director/curator/board member who dismisses the Internet and its potential out of fear that it will compromise the institution’s authority and integrity. Edson countered such myths as “people will say untrue things about our collection,” “we will lose visitors,” etc., and argued that this position impedes progress. Not only are these myths untrue, they are obsolete and counterproductive. Edson argued that online communicates, such as Facebook and Flickr, have the power to increase an institution’s audience and get people excited. In the same panel discussion, Shelley Bernstein, the Chief of Technology at the Brooklyn Museum, provided a fantastic example of how museums can significantly benefit from harnessing Internet technology in a discussion of the Brooklyn Museum’s experience with Flickr. Flickr is an online photo sharing network that allows users to create a profile and upload personal photos to share either with the world (public) or with their virtual ‘contacts’ (private). The Brooklyn Museum has used Flickr to allow museum visitors to post images taken at the museum and to create online exhibitions with the images. The Museum quickly discovered that visitors were eager to comment on one another’s pictures and began to use the site as a way to communicate directly with the museum. By creating a Flickr group, audience and museum were able to have a fruitful back and forth exchange. Utilizing Flickr’s “The Commons” (an initiative created in 2008 in partnership with the Library of Congress, which enables institutions to share their photographic archives with the public and allow virtual visitors to comment and contribute information, insights and knowledge) the Brooklyn Museum has actually been able to learn more about their own collections and archives. In one instance, a virtual visitor was able to help the Museum identify a photograph and provided extensive information on it, thus becoming a part of the museum’s research team and benefiting the museum tremendously.

I think that for a historic house museum with a small staff and modest budget, on-line tools and social networking communities like Facebook, Flickr and Google Docs, can be a great way to connect with the public and strengthen the relationship between museum and audience. While the Internet can never replicate or replace the experience of actually visiting a historic house, it can provide virtual visitors an equally stimulating and educational experience. With the number of membership to social networking sites escalating, a historic house museum with a virtual presence could find itself making more ‘contact’ through these means. Of course, house museums should continue to aim for an increase in real life attendance, but during these tough economic times and a moment when house museums may be facing a drop in attendance, the Internet should be seen as an ideal way to keep connected. Furthermore, as seen in the example of the Brooklyn Museum, Internet technologies can benefit museums in ways other than attendance and marketing. For a historic house with a staff of two or three, the use of an information sharing platform like Flickr could help solve the problem of not having enough hands on deck to do things such as research one’s collection and evaluate holdings. Lastly, the use of these technologies can effectively bring historic house museums into the 21st century, as more and more people of diverse ages and backgrounds are incorporating these virtual platforms into their daily lives.

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2009 Practicum for 21st Century Museum Professionals: The Container

Greater Hudson Heritage Network has just announced the schedule for its 2009 Practicum for 21st Century House Museums, The Container.

In its third and final year, the Practicum for 21st Century Museum Professionals in Historic House Museums looks to re-invigorate mission, initiate change, invited new audiences, encourage professional collaborations, and improve presentation and planning in historic house museums and sites so as to provide benefit to the public and sustain their value to local communities. This year, the Practicum will touch upon issues regarding the historic house as envelope, the site and its surrounding landscape.

Here’s an outline of the Spring Schedule. Please view our website, www.greaterhudson.org for further information and registration.

April 6, 2009 Symposium: The Historic House Container, Envelope, Site and Landscape
Host Site:
Locust Grove Estate (The Samuel F.B. Morse Historic Site)
Location: Poughkeepsie, NY (Dutchess County)

April 20, 2009 Workshop: Retooling the Historic House Envelope for Sustainability; Green Facilities Management
Host Site:
Lyndhurst (NTHP)
Location: Tarrytown, NY (Westchester County)

May 4, 2009 Workshop: Master Planning for Site, Buildings and Public Audiences
Host Site:
Pocantico Center (The Kykuit Carriage House)
Location: Sleepy Hollow, NY (Westchester County)

May 11, 2009 Workshop: History Preserved for the Urban Community
Host Site:
Weeksville Heritage Center
Location: Brooklyn, NY (Kings County)

June 1, 2009 Workshop: Impact of the Landscape on the Historic House: Embracing Trails and Gardens in Interpretation of the Cultural Landscape
Host Site:
Olana State Historic Site and The Olana Partnership
Location: Hudson, NY (Columbia County)

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Greater Hudson’s New Weblog!

As part of on-going efforts to facilitate dialogue and create an online network among its constituents, Greater Hudson Heritage Network is pleased to launch this blog — a resource for museums, historical sites and heritage keepers throughout the greater Hudson Valley and metropolitan region. Intended to serve the field and enhance the work of house museum staff, trustees, interpreters, curators and consultants, this blog will

·      Identify and track historic house planning and preservation resources

·      Post reference materials

·      Circulate news and information related to the field

·      Provide a timely and efficient mechanism for linking users and promoting the exchange of ideas and innovations.

Postings will include resources developed by Greater Hudson staff, information regarding the up-coming 2009 Practicum for Museum Professionals in 21st Century Historic House Museums, as well as links, re-postings and musings on relevant information, news and events.  

We hope that our blog will also function as a forum for the exchange of ideas, concerns, resources and current events. If you have information or resources that you would like to share, an announcement of an up-coming event or project occurring at your institution, or would just like to pose a question or idea to our audience, please email them to intern(at)greaterhudson.org, and we will post them on the site.  

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