Journalists, historians, museums

Springfield's newspaper, the State-Journal Register, notes a divide between historians and the press on the Lincoln Museum. The press seems to hold history and historians to a higher standard than historians themselves are comfortable with.

Surprise, surprise.

The paper says,
... simplification is an accepted practice among historians, according to the American Historical Association, the main professional society for 15,000 historians in universities and museums. The AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct states that "Public discussions of complex historical questions inevitably translate and simplify many technical details."
Context and facts are "technical details"?
During "Lincoln’s Eyes," a shadowy Booth spews his hatred of Lincoln. The words are made up, but Schwartz says Booth’s actual words would require too much annotation, which would either ruin the narration or add too much time to the show.
The museum’s White House kitchen, for example, is based on an 1890s-era photo from the Benjamin Harrison administration. The photo is included in the exhibit.
Another is the closed casket in the Lincoln funeral scene. A photo in the exhibit demonstrates the casket was open, but museum officials say even the advising historians recommended keeping it closed.
To be trite about it, those journalists who write about history and museums are, like you and I, consumers of "the product." Even as tourists, our visits can be ruined by short cuts and fakery. This is because on our end, we want more, better, deeper stuff that is reasoned, reads well, and tries harder to be "true."

On their end, the fast and loose AHA types by and large seem to want to have a nice day.

That's a broad brush to paint with, but the dominance of amateurs in Civil War and Lincoln publishing is a market indicator - demand is not being met. The ratio of amateurs to professionals suggests demand is not even close to being met by professionals. There's even a deeper story in the wave of revision by amateurs of doctrine developed by professionals over decades.

Let's translate that into tourism. Aside from hostile newsmen, indicators that the Lincoln Museum is not meeting needs are few, but indicators will come. If I were running one of the competing Lincoln attractions in Illinois, for instance, truth and accuracy would be my differentiator vis a vis the Lincoln Museum. That would resonate with "history consumers."

The yellow buses full of little captives would still roll into Six Flags Over Lincoln for their school-sponsored entertainment, but at least alternatives would be available for bona fide history tourists.

Meanwhile, if you're a credentialled historian, here's an income opportunity for you: the Lincoln Museum will need more fake dialog written for their seasonal exhibitions. And if you are willing to authenticate new fake exhibits, there's money in that too.

And do have a nice day.