Message from the Director: Notes on Objects

The recent publication by the British Museum of the book A History of the World in 100 Objects (available through the MHS store) has drawn much attention to how objects—items in museum collections in particular—can be used to tell stories and craft history.

This past weekend the New York Times ran the article, “A History of New York in 50 Objects,” asking notable citizens and readers which objects they would use to tell the history of New York City. Our 2004 exhibit Amazing! Maine Stories featured this approach, and, in fact, historical objects and documents are the foundation for virtually all of our work here.

In the coming school year, our current museum exhibit Wired! will help students explore their own relationships to historical objects. Local History, Local Schools, one of our most popular and effective school programs, is an intensive museum program that enables students to interact with diverse materials in our gallery exhibit, explore the connections between historical items and objects in their own lives, and apply and present their learning by creating their own mini-exhibits which are displayed here on our campus.

Third graders from Lyseth Elementary School in Portland create cardboard frames inspired by miniatures, silhouettes, daugerreotypes. and painted portraits in last year’s “Dressing Up” museum exhibit.

Local History, Local Schools, led by Education Coordinator Bridget McCormick, enhances classroom learning with active, authentic learning experiences deeply grounded in the community. The program has developed a fervent following in classrooms in the greater Portland area, currently serves more than 900 students per year, and has a perpetual waiting list. The exhibit “openings” that culminate the program are inspiring, and often draw 200+ family members and friends of participating students.

We are very interested to hear what items in our collections mean to you. An MHS trustee recently told me how powerful it had been for him to see treasure from Richmond Island (ca. 1623) when he visited MHS as an elementary student many years ago. If you’d like to share a story about an historic object, please send me an email. I’ll include highlights in next month’s blog post.

As MHS’s looks to the future, we are committed to actively mining and sharing our collections—to finding flexible new ways to give you the opportunity to see and engage MHS collections—on our campus, online, through blogs and Facebook, in programs, and in any other venue that can help make the connection between history and our own lives.

– Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

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