Jason Hogstad is a PhD student in the History Department at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he studies the environmental history of the U.S. West. His academic work focuses on the environmental aspects of the urban/rural divide – which means he spends much of his time trying to understand how and why westerners in cities and in the country have argued about pest control strategies ranging from ritual rabbit slaughter to prairie dog poisoning. He has worked as a museum educator to develop and lead tours, oversee volunteer training programs and participate in all phases of exhibit curation. Hogstad is interested in engaging with communities who seek to share their histories with the broader public and he will bring his extensive background in developing and training others for public presentations, years of archival research experience and a familiarity with graphic design software to such endeavors.
Students in the Engaged Arts and Humanities Graduate Student Scholars program participate in the development of a community-engaged scholarship "partner" project. Below, please read about Hogstad's project and his approach to this work.
Hogstad is working with the Museum of Louisville for his community-engaged scholarship project. The purpose of the project is to improve the ways that the City of Louisville’s History Museum engages with, reflects, and includes the perspectives of Louisville’s residents. Since its creation in 1982, the City of Louisville’s Museum has collected, preserved, and shared the city’s history. Yet, the institution currently sits a crossroads. As Louisville grows and fewer and fewer of its residents are descendants of immigrant coal miners, the Museum must change how it selects, interprets, and shares elements of the town’s past to better reflect its current demographics. This project, then, seeks to broaden the community the Museum engages with by practicing principles of community curation and the participatory museum.
I’m going to separate the skills I’ve learned in my academic training from what I’ve learned working in museums. The primary tool I am using from my discipline is the ability to take complicated information and make it interesting and bite-sized, and to present it in a manageable form. Perhaps more importantly, my academic training has convinced me that it is imperative that we make people aware of that very process. History, is by definition, narrative, there are narrative choices that historians and the public make when we make histories that privilege some voices over others. To tell the story of Louisville is a process of selecting some voices over others. By the end of my project, ideally everyone involved, the volunteers and the staff, foundation members and the city, will be aware of the way that we all construct histories and that how we do so matters. For example, concepts like nostalgia can be powerful, potent, as well as dangerous.
Most of the scholarly threads I’m drawing from are from museum professionals who are writing not as scholars in the academy, but as scholars and professionals thinking about the theory and practice of producing museum content. I’m a big fan of people like Nina Simon, who wrote The Participatory Museum and The Art of Being Relevant. These are two books that capture a trend that has come to the fore in museums these last couple of decades. Simon and others demand that museums should be places of inclusion, not exclusion. Practically, this means that museums need to actively seek out and include multiple perspectives and stories. That is where the word participatory comes in— museums should be places where the public participates in curation and content development. That does not mean that museum staff completely abdicate any responsibility. Staff are professionals who have training and experience in curation. But, in the participatory museum, their role shifts. Staff become facilitators or guides. They work with the public to determine what stories are told and how they are framed.
I’ve worked in museums before, and a lot of my approach to museum curation stems from a commitment that a museum staff member should not be the only expert in the room. Rather, museum staff should be guides who help frame things. For example, a staff person might ask questions to get a conversation started. But, in no way are museum staff the sole owners of expertise. We can, and should be constantly learning from visitors. In terms of positionality, I check most privilege boxes, so personally for me this is a way to constantly be exposed to other ways of living, viewing the world, experiencing the world, and checking my own assumptions about normativity. I’d say that putting participatory theories into practice is good for me and good for the museum.