boycott1-150x150Last year I became our site’s first full-time historic house manager. I’ve been a member of AASLH for several years and with Birmingham so close, I wanted to attend the annual meeting.  Knowing funds were tight, I applied for and won an AASLH Small Museums Committee scholarship. I was thrilled!

This was my first national history conference, so I was looking forward to networking with fellow history professionals from across the country. This is one of the best benefits of attending a conference.  I wasn’t disappointed. I met so many diverse and interesting people, folks from Alaska to Massachusetts, from Arkansas to Michigan, all sharing an intense passion for history.  Members of the Small Museums Committee were some of the best connections I made; they’ve definitely become permanent contacts for me.

It was hard to decide which of the many great sessions I’d attend.  The most helpful sessions focused on issues affecting small museums, especially the session “Creating Meaningful Outcomes for Programs and Exhibits.” I learned from that session to plan programs and exhibits with the end result in mind, and to write your text and labels last! Also, learning has to start at the heart; it should touch emotionally for it to stick…so true!

Another valuable session was “Practical Solutions for Re-thinking Our Collections,”  available here for audio download. I’ve been writing a Collections Policy for our site, and this session got me thinking about other ways to look at the objects we have, why we have them, and why maybe we don’t need some of them.

I took the pre-conference “Civil War to Civil Rights” tour to Montgomery and saw some of the era’s most important documents at the Alabama State Archives and Museum, including Rosa Parks’ trial records, the handout that started the Montgomery bus boycott, and the original Order of Secession for the state of Alabama. We also toured the Capitol building and Old Alabama Town. Montgomery certainly rolled out the red carpet for us!

Back in Birmingham we all experienced the power of raw emotion as we heard survivor Carolyn McKinstry speak at the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of the horrific bombing that killed 4 innocent girls during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

For my first AASLH conference, I felt like a sponge soaking up everything I could. I made lasting connections, learned valuable and practical information, and experienced real history, all in one place.

Thanks to the Small Museums Committee for this opportunity. I can’t wait for the next one!

Tori Mason manages the ca. 1810 Croft House museum. This 5-generation family home and farm was deeded to the city of Nashville to be a nature center and is now part of the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere. After a 20+ year career as a zookeeper and 12 years managing the Grassmere Historic Farm at Nashville Zoo, Tori became House Manager in August 2012. She enjoys the challenge of wearing multiple hats, including collections manager, grant writer, interpreter and program developer.