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#iSTANDfor: MUSEUMS AND HISTORY

 

By Heather Shelton

Without a doubt, I stand for museums. For the last twenty years, I’ve worked with museums and for museums—in roles as diverse as you can imagine—education, publications, marketing, exhibit writing, design, web and new media, collections care.  

And, every one of those positions taught me something about myself, about other people, and about the importance of listening. A museum is a place where you can listen and think, reflect. My first full-time museum job was at a historic house, a monumental brick mansion built in 1773. My office was in the original kitchen, a well-worn space with pitted brick floors, a winding staircase, and the lingering smell of rosemary and smoke.  

The small room was silent as a tomb in the early morning hours and was ripe for quiet contemplation. Sitting down at my old oak desk, I never forgot that real people had been there in that room—hardworking people who were almost always in motion, from the first light of morning to the last flicker of rush lights late at night. There was never a time I didn’t think about them, what they looked like, how they survived in the bitter cold and the sweltering heat, how they managed to go on after the numbing loss of children, husbands and wives, how they felt during the chaos that became the Revolutionary War and later the Civil War.

It was their house, and I was only a spectator, tasked with safeguarding their invisible legacies. I took that responsibility very seriously as I shared with visitors the personal stories of the people who’d lived and toiled in that stately house.

I stand for museums because they teach you that we are all keepers of memories, and that we are only passing through. Life goes on, despite political turmoil, despite war, despite whatever trend you’re following, despite the media. Life goes on, and museums have the evidence to prove it. That sense of continuum—displayed in millions of collections and buildings all over the world--offers me comfort that we will get through this moment, and that one day, the story of our moment in time will be shared for others to learn from and reflect upon. 

Heather Shelton is Digital Curator at MuseWeb Foundation.