Tim Grove is Chief of Museum Learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He recently wrote about his twenty-year (and counting) public history career in his new book A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History. He is an active participant in the History Relevance Campaign, an effort underway to work toward demonstrating that the study of history and the skills involved are vital to a healthy society. He is also originator and writer of the History Bytes column in History News.
Do you work in a museum? If not, where do you work? Tell us about your job.
Yes, I work at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. I’m Chief of Museum Learning, responsible for various education spaces in the museum. I develop exhibitions and websites and alternate reality games. Recently I wrote a children’s book about one of the lesser known artifacts in the museum – the plane that made the first flight around the world. The book comes out next year.
What’s your educational background?
I earned an MA in history from George Mason University and completed my graduate internship at Colonial Williamsburg. My undergraduate degree is in journalism and public relations. It’s a useful combination.
What was your ‘sticky’ moment?
I’m not sure there was a moment as much as a place. I visited Colonial Williamsburg various times in childhood and loved it. At some point I figured I would end up working at a historic site, but thus far my career has been at history museums. I write about my history inspiration in my new book A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History.
What is the name of your blog? How long have you been blogging?
Historyplaces; I’ve been blogging for about three years.
What do you blog about? Why?
I started a blog because I write a column (History Bytes in the quarterly History News) about technology and decided I needed to get some experience with blogging. I also use the blog as an excuse to make myself write. So, I knew I had to pick a topic that would keep me motivated. Since I visit many historic sites, I decided to write about something I do often. Mine is not a philosophical blog by any means, but I enjoy describing historic sites through my lens as a public historian. I contribute to other blogs including the National Air and Space Museum blog and the National Council for Public History blog.
What’s your most read blog post? Tell us about it.
It was a blog post about the recent demolition of the Hershey Chocolate Factory. It apparently struck an emotional nerve and went viral. It received over 90 heartfelt comments, many memories of visits to the factory in childhood. Wonderful stories. I ended up writing a column about this post and my thoughts on why it went viral.
What’s the last exhibit you saw?
I visited Gettysburg battlefield and went through the exhibition in the new visitor center. Powerful with lots of amazing artifacts. Not very interactive though.
Night at the Museum: love it or hate it?
Well, since Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was filmed in part where I work and “depicts” my workplace, I was definitely fascinated by it. It’s not the type of film I’d normally go to see, but was fun to see someone’s portrayal of a museum and various roles of museum staff. They copied the colors of the Air and Space Museum, down to the worn patina of the brass handrails. I can assure you that Able the space monkey does not come alive at night! I sometimes wish I had half the imagination of those screen writers.
What do you see as the biggest challenge (or opportunity) facing museums today?
The biggest challenge and opportunity facing museums is the desperate need for a deep understanding of technology. Unfortunately many in leadership positions don’t think critically about the use of technology and don’t recognize that it needs to be part of strategic planning and the operating budget. There is a huge gap in knowledge of technology at many museums. Keeping up with the shifting technology landscape can be exhausting, but focus is important. Technology, in all its shapes, has the potential to transform all museums and broaden and engage new audiences. Technology touches every function of a museum. [Can I get an amen?! -Jamie]
Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the museum field:
You’ve heard it before but I can’t underestimate the power of networking and of internships. Be flexible, you will probably not get your dream job at first, and it could take time to work toward it. Perseverance is the key to working in the museum field. Let your passion shine through your work.
Thanks for participating in Meet a Museum Blogger, Tim!
In case you missed it, Tim blogs at Historyplaces. Do you have additional questions for Tim regarding his profile above? Start a conversation in the comments below!
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