What’s In a Name?

In a world where things change so rapidly, one can always depend on history to comfortingly, placidly stay the same—right?  Wrong.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.   It is only the facts of the past that remain unchanged. The truth of what happened, when, who was involved, who gained and who lost—these facts are irrefutable. Whether those facts are accurately retold—or told from all perspectives—is another matter entirely.   It’s an important distinction because this retelling of facts—or parts of them–is what we call history.  What we know as history is subjective. It is a view of the past told through the eyes of an individual or group of individuals. Usually, that group is the one which holds the power to disseminate information. As such, what we call “history” can be one sided or lacking holistic depth.   History can be imperfect, but the facts of the past are neither perfect nor imperfect, they simply exist. Standards for museum interpretation as outlined by national accrediting agencies guide us to offer visitors all the facts that we have available to us so that they may draw their own conclusions based on truth versus conjecture. In other words, historians and history organizations are charged with providing as complete a factual view of the past as is possible.  This is particularly important when we work with local schools to provide learning opportunities for students of all ages.  This modern view of the work we do is actually one that has evolved over time and one which has guided many organizations similar to ours. Like them, we have moved toward creating exhibits and programs based upon facts. In so doing, we’ve also moved toward a clearer understanding of the work we do and its place in the world.  In 2014 Fairfield Historical Society changed its name to the Fairfield Museum and History Center and in 2018 Stamford Historical …

What Are We Really Winning?

By Ramin Ganeshram, Executive Director, September 3rd, 2019 This past Labor Day weekend, while folks were rushing to and from vacation spots we at WHS were taking a trip of a different kind: Myself and board chairperson, Sara Krasne, headed to Philadelphia to receive a prestigious national award for excellence in the museum field. The award was for our 2018/19 exhibition Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport which told the story of the significant contributions, achievements and struggles, of black Westporters to the town from its 17th century settlement as enslaved people through to the present time. By examining our colonial New England town, we were able to tell a story that resonates nationwide It was particularly special to receive this award in Philadelphia—the heart of America’s movement toward Independence and its second capital city. Perhaps what was most awe-inspiring was being in the same company as museums across the country doing excellent work unearthing the hidden histories of a wider group of Americans than ever before—women, people of color, LGBTQ Americans and differently abled individuals. Together we are following the charge of cultural organizations—particularly history museums—nationwide to re-examine the past in a holistic way, using primary source material and rigorous research to tell those stories that have been erased. For many this begs a bigger and quite legitimate question: Why? Why, many have asked us, not leave well enough alone? Why re-examine a history so many have come to know and love? Why drag “skeletons” out of the closet? At the simplest level, we are following the standards of the most respected governing institutions in our field such as the American Alliance of Museums which advocates that organizations like ours “conducting primary research do so according to scholarly standards.” In other words, we use original documents and …