In collaboration with museum educator Beth Maloney, the Homewood Museum of the Johns Hopkins University and the university archives, students from the Program in Museums and Society recently developed temporary interpretive signage on the university’s Charles Village campus (Homewood) that considered the stories of the people who lived and worked on the land in the past.
Students mostly focused on the nineteenth century occupants of the property, i.e.: before the university acquired it in 1902. Among ten signs, one interprets the site of now lost slave quarters. The interpretive work of this particular sign became a focus of conversations that revealed what can happen when a painful tale from the past touches upon more recent and present concerns about equality, race, and very wide ranging issues of social justice.
In light of this experience, we’d like to hear of other examples where working with the past brought to the foreground, present tensions and concerns within our communities. How did the project address the ways historic interpretation resonated in the present? What worked, what didn’t work, and what you would do differently? Were there any surprises? How do you characterize our responsibility to the present as public interpreters of the past? How might our work with interpretation serve to improve existing conflicts within our communities?