Keynote Speakers

Museums Alaska Keynote Speaker: Marieke Van Damme

Keynote Address: The Joy In Our Work

We museum workers know (and studies confirm) that our institutions directly contribute to the well-being of a community. We provide education, but we also give opportunities for social interaction, beauty, understanding, and so much more. There is great joy in our work. Unfortunately, while the product the public sees is inspiring, behind the scenes the work can be grueling. Many issues haunt some in our field: perpetually under-resourced staff, no professional human resources department, low pay with poor benefits, and more. The result is often burn out and high turnover. How can we get our joy back? Join Marieke Van Damme, founder of the Joyful Museums project, for a look at the role we all play in promoting positive workplace culture in our museums.

About the Speaker

Marieke Van Damme has worked in non-profits for over fifteen years, starting as an Americorps VISTA volunteer in Alaska right out of college. She worked in collections management for the National Park Service in Sitka, Alaska, and in Salem, Massachusetts; managed an 18th-century historic site in Peabody, Massachusetts; and served as Deputy Director at the Bostonian Society/Old State House. She is currently the executive director for the Cambridge Historical Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2014, Marieke launched Joyful Museums, a project studying workplace culture in museums, and in 2017 was a co-founder of GEMM (Gender Equity in Museum Movement). She proudly serves as a member of the New England Museum Association board.

Marieke is collecting data that will be used in her keynote address. The survey monitors the engagement of museum workers. More information about Marieke’s surveys can be found on her website. You can take the survey here.

Alaska Historical Society Keynote Speaker: Dr. Lorraine McConaghy

Keynote Address: Thinking Together About Public History

Everyone does history; human life itself is about remembering. And we are in the midst of dramatic transformation of public history, finding both new questions and new answers, new ways of remembering. Historical research and interpretation were long restricted by the narrow perspective of practitioners, the limited audience which the practitioners addressed, and the elitist archival collections on which they based their work. Archival collections have grown to include oral histories, personal narratives, and many digitized sources from newspapers to public documents that have encouraged new narratives. Participation in public history has widened as the Web has opened up access and conversation about historical topics and research methods. New digital approaches to storytelling in museum galleries, in programs and on the Web have engaged new historians in the interpretation of the past.

Against this context, Dr. Lorraine McConaghy will review some touchpoints in her public history career. When she began in 1975, historical museums mounted exhibit shrines to a founding white pioneer whose wife “gave birth to the first baby born west of the Rockies.” As recently as the 1980s, Seattle’s major historical museum did not mention organized labor, people of color, or religion in its exhibit text. No gallery discussed slavery in Washington State or pro-Confederate, Ku Klux Klan, or John Birch Society sympathies there. Native people were faceless, cardboard, colorless characters in a drama starring pioneer heroes and heroines; they were interesting only for their culture, which was ruthlessly looted. Are things better? Yes. Have we finished? No. McConaghy will present one set of public history stories, to inspire thinking about the next set.

About the Speaker

Our featured speaker will be Dr. Lorraine McConaghy, public historian at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry and Washington State History Museum, who has many years of experience wrangling with questions of whose stories are told and how we tell them.