A Lesson in Cultural Heritage Relevance on Veterans Day
In my last post I talked about accountability in reporting cultural heritage studies to the public who often both fund and are the subject of the research. As an example I used the public response and request for copies of a recent issue of the journal Museums and Social Issues that summarized the last five years of community outreach by the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. My colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Bollwerk offered an interesting challenge to my blog post. She noted that while certainly impressive that ten members of the community paid 19.00 for copies of the journal, she also questioned if publication in the journal really qualified as pubic accessibility? She asked about the responsibility to truly disseminate the report as a readily accessible public resource and not one that required paying 19.00 for an issue of a professional journal. I noted that I offered to make pdf copies of the article available, but that the community members wanted the actual “book” and not a xerox.
With that exchange fresh in my mind, this past Friday I attended the annual Veterans luncheon sponsored by the Westwood Neighborhood Association (WNA) in Southwest Memphis. Approximately 30 African-American U.S. Military Veterans attended this year’s event. At last year’s gathering, members of the Delta 9 NCCC AmeriCorps Team who were working on home maintenance and rehab projects in the area presented the attendees with a banner that featured the names and photos of WNA veterans. At this year’s event, members of the River 4 NCCC AmeriCorps Team presented the veterans with another banner to honor their service. A focus of the River 4 Team’s current work in Memphis is repair and maintenance on the house of 88-year old WW II Veteran, Mr. Ford Nelson, who has lived in his home for 60 years. The AmeriCorps Team presentations each year are incredibly meaningful to the Veterans present.
The President of the WNA, Mr. Robert Gurley, often comments to me that the community’s military service was never properly recognized in the past and the memory has begun to fade. As an aid in reviving that memory, the role of African-Americans in the U.S. Military was the theme chosen by the community for the 2012 Black History Month celebration hosted at the C.H. Nash Museum. When we first discussed the idea of putting together the banners as a physical reminder of veteran service, the WNA community went into high gear to find the photographs for the banners. That process was not easy as for many the mementos of that period lost their relevance upon their return to the Jim Crow era South, the rising anti-Vietnam war movement, and the assassination of civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
At this past Friday’s meeting, as the 30 veterans introduced themselves, Mr. Gurley pointed with pride to the photographs of those present that were represented on the banners created by the AmeriCorps Teams over the past two years. Mr. Gurley made special notice that the group photo of veterans at the bottom of the this year’s banner was reproduced in the Museums and Social Issues journal that ten community members had purchased.
In reflecting on these events, Dr. Bollwerk’s challenge makes a good bit more sense to me. The fact is, although an article published in a national peer-reviewed journal has meaning to the community, copies are not really all that accessible. The AmeriCorps banners are very accessible and will be hung in the community hall. Traditional academic values do not reward working to produce banners about military veterans. Nor will the production of a website such as Southwestmemphis.com where such content can be curated “count” on traditional professional career paths. Only the process of creating these products might be of interest from the professional perspective.
However, if a museum’s mission is to truly educate, present, and preserve cultural heritage to and for the public, the museum is obligated to present and report research products in venues that are truly accessible.
How does your institution assure public accessibility to research project results?