June 16, 2015
Be inspired: Visit a Museum!
Note: This is a transcript of a podcast series called “6 Fun & Easy ways to be inspired by history.” You can find this podcast series in the podcast section of this website or on Stitcher.com.
Hello history friends and welcome back to rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history!
Today we are continuing with our 6-part wiki history series called “6 Fun & Easy ways to be inspired by history.” This series has proven to be amazingly inspirational; I hope that you’re having a great time. I know I am. Inspiration is all around us but sometimes it is difficult to see. The same applies to history—it is everywhere yet we often don’t realize that history is being made every single day. We don’t want to miss these inspirational moments. And that is what this series is all about and how to be inspired by history.
Let’s briefly review:
In Part I, we discussed how books can be amazingly inspirational. Remember that history is a collection of stories about people. I keep saying that the history textbooks that many of us have read in high school or college only relate history as names, dates and death counts. They don’t tell stories. Don’t let them put you off learning history or being inspired by history. Just find other books—remember the non-fiction novel—that teach history in a relatable way, in a way that many people can relate to. Many people can also relate to biographies and autobiographies—again stories of peoples’ lives.
In Part II, we made the small jump from books to movies. Movies bring stories to the big screen and can also be amazingly inspirational. Movies and documentaries (please don’t forget documentaries) show the triumph of the human spirit and many people prefer watching movies to reading books. That’s just fine. I’m not here to judge. Everyone learns differently and can be inspired by different things.
We discussed another way to be inspired by history in Part III which focused on getting history directly from the source: from people who were there, who actually witnessed history. This is a great way for anyone because it allows you to ask questions and to get the small details and feelings that are often overlooked in books or left out of movies. And it is a great way to connect with the elders and show how much they are cherished and respected.
On to Part IV. One great and often overlooked way to be inspired by history is to actually visit historic places. Go to the battlegrounds, visit the homes of famous people from the past, visit churches, monuments and statues. Remember I visited restored slave quarters, which was an educational and very emotional experience to see where slaves lived, slept, ate, worked and generally spent their lives. It was a life-changing moment for me. And inspired me to learn more and to have the confidence to fight against modern day slavery. Remember to take an hour or day to acknowledge and visit great historic sites. It will definitely be worth the effort.
So, this brings us to Part V of the great and groundbreaking series called “6 Fun & Easy ways to be inspired by history. What is Number 5?
Go to museums!
As much as I love visiting historical sites, I do understand that all the great historic sites cannot be visited. Common problems: Too expensive, too far away, too dangerous, too risky. Or it could be that the site no longer exists, perhaps it was not restored or it has been destroyed.
So now what? Enter the museum—literally. Museums contain so much of the world’s knowledge and experiences. Experts make the explanations, exhibits and programs. They present the information in interesting and informative ways. Some museums are large and broadly based. Others are small and specialized. Both offer great information and knowledge.
I remember when I was a child, my mother really wanted me to see an exhibit by James Van Der Zee in Oakland I couldn’t say no—this was in the days when kids couldn’t say no—so I went and hoped to get through it quickly or even better that it would be closed. Neither of those things happened. Thank goodness! .Mr. Van Der Zee was an African American photographer who specialized in portraits of African Americans in New York during the Harlem Renaissance. I found myself transfixed in the art museum, surrounded by elegant and stylish portraits of Black people. Some names were familiar like Langston Hughes and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (yes, even as a child I had heard these names from my parents, my elders). Others were completely foreign to me. But I was inspired that day. I witnessed how someone could make such beautiful art and such beautiful expression with a camera. One name that I never forgot was James Van Der Zee. And I never forgot going to that photo exhibit at the museum. It inspired me beyond words. My mother didn’t need to drag me to museums or exhibits after that time. We travel together a lot and always find ourselves at a museum.
One of my favorite museums is the British Museum in London that contains artifacts from around the world—literally every continent on the planet. I’ve seen real mummies, jewelry from the Aztecs, masks from the Ibo, tools by the Cherokee and statues from the Tang dynasty. There is much much more. It is huge and would take a month (or longer) to see everything but it is my “go to” museum.
However, Frederick Douglass House is another favorite; I have learned so much about the famous abolitionist and orator that it has given me an additional understanding of slavery and the abolitionist movement. And I learned about life during the 1800s for men and women (very different lives), for Blacks and whites (again, very different experiences) and about the great man himself. So, please don’t groan and pass by your local museum; there is so much to see and learn. And I strongly urge you to visit the African American history museums that are opening around the country. They need your support and you will definitely learn a lot about your history. And you’ll definitely be inspired.
Also remember that many libraries double as museums. The African American Museum and Library of Oakland is an amazing place with a great collection of resource materials, including – and this is my favorite—original documents by leaders of the Black Panthers! It also has letters by other black leaders like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Other African American history museums have a great collection and a special theme. Boston has an African American history museum that focuses on the Underground Railroad. Detroit has the Charles W. Wright Museum, which has special exhibits about the Obamas—America’s first family. As I said previously, Oakland’s African American museum has a special collection of documents by the Black Panthers. And the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta (of course) should not be missed—it has so much to see and learn about the civil rights movement.
Now, I do know this audience and some of you are probably rolling your eyes about the thought of going to a museum—after all, how many Venus de Milos can a person see in one lifetime?! Okay, I have also seen to my share of classical museums, but today I focus on specialty museums like the Picasso Museum in Malaga and in Paris (Malaga’s is better though) the Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Houston, San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum and the Bishop Museum about ancient Hawaii in Honolulu. By the way, that’s an amazing museum! Find your interest (historical or otherwise) and there is definitely a museum, library or exhibit where you can pursue and indulge it.
Well, I hope that I have convinced you that museums can be amazingly inspirational. This includes libraries and exhibits—all so inspirational. Don’t miss them! But choose them wisely and you will reap the benefits.
So, we now have 5 fun and easy ways to be inspired by history! There is just one more—actually, I’m sure that there are many more—but this podcast series is only going to discuss one more. One more. And, no, I’m still not giving any sneak peeks!
In the last session—coming tomorrow—we’re gonna examine that final fun and easy way to be amazingly inspired by history. It is a bit of a surprise but I think that it’s the most fun way of them all though perhaps not the easiest way. (That’s the hint that I’m giving since I’m feeling so generous!)
We will also wrap up the 6-part series with a short Q and A session. These are questions that have been sent to the website and I would like to take a moment to answer them. Perhaps I will answer one of your questions!
I hope that you are enjoying this series as much as I am. And I will be sad to see it end. But let’s face it; history never ends—it is a truly never-ending story. Remember that you can listen to the podcasts on Stitcher.com—just download the free app, sit back and enjoy.
I look forward to seeing you for the final part of fun and easy ways to be inspired by history. See you next time at rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history!
Bye for now!