I am a hyper-curious person, and curiosity is an important value in my life … as well as an important impact of museums.
But curiosity isn't limited to museums, and can be hard to sustain through adulthood. By sharing some of my curious paths through reading, I'm hoping to reinforce how important wide-ranging curiosity is to our practice and spark new conversations that may seem unrelated to museums, but deeply matter to how we do our work. After all, as museums we cover a variety of topics. Our curiosity should also be as omnivorous!
To that end, here's a new installment of some of my wide-ranging reads (mostly non-fiction) I hope to hear recommendations from you!
Visionary Women, by Andrea Barnet.
The 20th century saw radical change, and four women were crucial in helping us rethink how we used chemicals, thought about our cities, viewed animals, and considered what we ate. A collection of mini-biographies of Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters, this book helped me think about how these women were radical in their time, yet deeply influenced mainstream behavior today. May their influence continue. (BTW, this book was well-written, making it an effortless read as well.)
Born in the USA: Birth, Commemoration, and American Public Memory, ed. By Seth C. Bruggeman
This volume, published in 2012, feels a bit quaint as it didn't imagine the extreme nationalism that the election of 2016 gave voice to. Reading this in 2020, it also felt like a constant talking about everything but the elephant in the room, the elephant being that historic birthplaces were often founded to honor white men and as a fearful reaction to a diversifying America. The introduction did acknowledge this, "… each one was born of the fear that its story about the past might be eclipsed by a competing narrative," there was an essay about the W.E.B. DuBois birthplace, and the conclusion addresses gender. But overall what a lost opportunity to think more critically about why so many of these places are preserved as museums. I wish that writers in this book had been brave enough to address this directly.
A Generation of Sociopaths: How The Baby Boomers Betrayed America, by Bruce Cannon Gibney.
It is so tempting to blame the ills of American society on a single generation. Wouldn't it be nice and convenient (especially if one is, say, a Gen Xer like the author … and me)? Tons of data is thrown at this primary thesis, but the central premise fails to convince because there are external factors that come into play and because it is dangerous to lump a single generation together in this (condemnatory) way. Additionally, while there are many ills we can blame on the Boomers, it is an open question if another generation, given the same circumstances, would behave differently. So read it for the provocation, consider the merits critically, and remember: people are idiosyncratic and everyone (and every generation) is going to respond to their environment and situation differently. Learning and progress are not linear. And we all have to take responsibility and roll up our sleeves to solve our problems.
(I also noted that the author extols younger generations for all the good they do … such as the unmitigated good of social media. Yeah, you read that right. The author also was an early funder of Facebook, so he may be a bit biased. And clueless.)
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.