Towards New Museum Futures

Throughout the summer, I have had the fantastic opportunity to serve as an Obermann Public Scholar at the African American Museum of Iowa. Through the generous funding of the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the help of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, I was given the space to research the ethics of slavery education and create designs for an underground railroad education program. Through this process, I gained a critical awareness about the fraught dimensions and history of teaching slavery in the United States, alongside having the room to learn how to create ethically sourced curriculum.

On the last day of my internship, which sadly was today, I gave a final presentation previewing the major report I created for the museum. I wanted to ensure the research I conducted outlived my time at the museum. As a result, I provided the AAMI a 25-page document titled, “Critical Approaches to Museum Pedagogy.” In essence, I intend for the text to act as a spark for inventive, decolonial, and anti-racist ways to inform how the museum approaches developing education programs. I also crafted it in such a way to teach the staff at the museum, along with new education interns and volunteers, about how to best orient themselves towards educating the public about racial history. During the presentation, I offered a critical perspective for how to think of the role of the museum, the role of the museum educator, the need for liberatory pedagogies, and arguments for divesting from slavery reenactments.

I was pleased to engage in a robust conversation with the staff of the museum about how my findings might impact the current education programs the museum runs, along with how it could influence approaches to curation and museum operations. We talked about white fragility and ways staff members could decolonize their privilege. By the end of the exchange, it was clear the report had done its job. I was thrilled to see concerned faces excited to attempt to implement the recommendations, templates for reflexivity, and challenges I made for ensuring the museum functions as a site of liberation, humanity, and struggle.  

A sign you see in the entry way to the exhibit hall at the African American Museum of Iowa.

While I am sad for my time at the museum to end, I am excited for what the future holds. The African American Museum of Iowa is a profound testament to the presence of African Americans in the state, but also the continued need to tell their stories. I hoped this summer to support and uplift the efforts on behalf of the museum to tell the story of black humanity. My humanities training was a vital part of creating a report that accessibly digested the plethora of academic literature I drew upon. Building the bridge between the museum and the academic conversations I discovered reflects the need for the humanities out in the community. I’m thankful for Obermann and their continued efforts to envision alternative worlds and professional relationships that sustains the importance of humanities work. Cheers, to new futures!