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!
Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England, by Jared Hardesty.
For most people, including many history museum-goers, slavery = the South. But slavery thrived in New England, and this book frames the expanse and depth to which it took and how New Englanders profited mightily from it. I found this book to be an easy-to-read survey of a complicated and challenging topic … and illustrates how much more there is to learn from the past, especially when it comes to topics some would prefer to ignore.
Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Fraud, by Peter Charles Hoffer
The first half of the book is deeply appreciated for laying out the history of American history. That is, what historians of the past were trying to accomplish, what their standards were, and why the white celebratory history they recorded was so deliberate and purposeful. Of course, that has become the canon for many, making it an obstacle to having more people accept a more inclusive history that is also more fraught (in that it lays out how white Europeans were not always the benevolent masters of those they enslaved, for just one example). Understanding this history of American history is extremely helpful for understanding the viewpoints of many of our visitors, as well as what is at stake for those visitors when a more inclusive history is shared. If we can't navigate their fear, our work is much harder. (Second half of book explores case studies of historians who have broken ethical rules; interesting, but not why I picked it up.)
The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey
I loved this novel so much, as it hit me just right as a mind-opening book to another country and its culture, religions, human rights, and past. Perveen Mistry is a female lawyer in 1920 Bombay, restricted by her gender, yet finding a pathway to assist women in need of help. There's mystery, there's unfairness, and there is hope. I loved stretching my worldview and empathy. It was a delight to read and I can't wait to read the sequel. Additional note: Perveen's experiences also give us a different view of quarantining that is downright horrifying. If you read it, you'll see exactly what I mean.
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 lands of the Duwamish people, whose ancestors have lived here for generations. I thank them for their ongoing care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.