Saving the Future by Preserving the Past

“A museum isn’t just a quick fact from the Internet that you search to prove a point and then forget about later,” says Richard Pickering, deputy executive director at Plimoth Plantation. “It’s an interactive experience that puts a face to the facts at hand.”

But with museum attendance steadily decreasing, professionals like Pickering are on a mission to revive museums’ important, even essential, role in culture.

On April 5 and 6, Pickering and six alumni of Gordon’s Public History and Museum Studies program who work in the field will be on campus for Gordon’s first annual History and Vocation Symposium, “Museums and the Future: Challenges and Careers.” Pickering will present a keynote address on April 5, “Making Museums Relevant in a Global Age,” and moderate an alumni panel the morning of April 6. The event is hosted by the Department of History, the Career and Connection Institute, and the Caleb Loring, Jr. Institute for Museums and Public History.

Pickering, who specializes in 17th-century history, says his primary role is to preserve history and make it relevant for future generations. Because understanding events of the past helps culture prepare for the future, Pickering says, it’s important to address the current decline of interest in museums and places that preserve memory of the past. “We need to look backward if we’re going to go forward,” he says.

“I think my purpose [in the field] is to find new ways to make history relevant, accessible and engaging for new audiences,” says Cheri Grishin ’99, who works at the Marblehead Museum and Essex National Heritage Area. “We are there to preserve history for future generations, while helping current generations to better understand the past and how it can relate to them today.”

Sarah Larlee St. Germain ’17, who divides her time between the Wenham Museum and the Gordon College Archives, is optimistic about her field’s capability to remain relevant—and even push boundaries—by utilizing technological advancements. “Museums have gone through a revolution of sorts,” she says. “They’re becoming a place of conversation and cultural connection . . . It’s allowing museums to become more accessible for more people with disabilities and diverse backgrounds.”

“Museums are not merely communicating facts and data, but functioning as hubs for creativity, innovation, curiosity and reflection,” echoes Katie Willeman ’18, who works at Dartmouth University’s Hood Museum of Art.

The visiting museum studies alumni share some goals for “Museums and the Future: Challenges and Careers”—for attendees to rethink their conception of museums, engage in the past to create a stronger future and, of course, take advantage of nearby museums.

“I hope those who attend this event,” says Willeman, “leave with a sense of the importance of museums for education and enjoyment, both now and in the future.”

“Museums and the Future: Challenges and Careers” events will take place in the Ken Olsen Science Center Chairman’s Room. Friday begins with a reception at 6:30 p.m. then the keynote lecture at 7 p.m., and Saturday begins with a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m. then the panel discussion at 9 a.m. Both days’ events are free and open to the public. Students should register in advance.

Ellian Chalfant ’22, communication arts, also contributed to this article.