Julie Rose headshotNote: Julie Rose, director of the West Baton Rouge Museum and AASLH Vice Chair, has shared some thoughts on her latest Technical Leaflet, “Three Building Blocks for Developing Ethical Representations of Difficult Histories.” This is Part 2 of Julie’s thoughts on the topic and the messages she hopes the field garners from the discussion. Read Part 1.

Here are Julie’s takeaway messages for the Technical Leaflet:

  • The challenge for museum workers to develop ethical representations of difficult histories is finding an equitable equation for combining the three building blocks, Faces, Real content, and Narratives.
  • By acknowledging a difficult history, the visitor provides the world with his or her empathetic response that this history matters and that the visitor cares.
  • The Face is constructed with multiple descriptive dimensions about the Others’ lived relationships to families, communities, cultures, places, and nations.
  • Brushing history against the grain is a critical method to select the Real content for ethical representations.
  • Difficult histories are shocking and the power to shock visitors can range from productive to unproductive and from supportive to harmful.
  • Narratives explain how the experiences of the historical Others were the result of ideologies and organized actions in an historical context. Narratives ask visitors to consider the circumstances and limitations of the lives of the historical Others, the injustices of such limitations, and how visitors can respond with empathy.
  • Effective ethical representations do not resolve all visitor conflicts in learning difficult histories. The Narrative can make the moral tensions visible and problematic.
  • Including expressions of hope in narratives is not a ubiquitous call to free society from all discrimination and oppression. Nor do hopeful messages or conclusions in narratives need to articulate expectations for swift transformations or universal peace. Rather, the pedagogical work of developing ethical representations fundamentally demonstrates to visitors how and why they should care, a crucial first step to social justice education.
  • Museum workers have the responsibility to commemorate difficult histories through ethical representations. Visitors have the responsibility to learn and respond to the difficult histories, and ultimately to find connections between the histories and the conditions of everyday life.
  • A kind of courage emerges from museum workers and visitors who are compelled to develop and respond to ethical representations.
  • The implicit purpose for ethical representations is to remind adults and inform children that violence, oppression, and trauma are what human beings are capable of doing. Museums take risks to represent difficult histories to awaken a kind of passion in visitors by challenging the taken-for-granted historical truths that can reveal the struggles for a more just and compassionate moral order. Developing ethical representations engages museum workers in addressing the challenges of prompting this passion in visitors and developing the knowledge needed to direct and sustain visitors’ empathetic responses to difficult histories.

In Part 3, Rose shares her Questions for Readers of the Technical Leaflet.