Taking history outside the classroom

This is a re-post of the June 23rd installment of the Whistler Museum’s weekly column in the Whistler Question newspaper, Museum Musings.

As Leah Batisse is currently frolicking around in jolie Paris, the arduous task of writing this week’s Museum Musings falls to me, one of those three summer students she mentioned in this column a few weeks ago. If this is what she had in mind by “diabolical plans” for us seasonal reinforcements, I’ve got more than a little sympathy for the devil.

If the whole point of summer job programs like Young Canada is to provide valuable on-the-job experience to complement our academic background, then my few weeks at the museum have so far exceeded expectations.

Studying history in university, I developed an appreciation for how important knowledge about the past is for socially engaged individuals and vibrant, healthy communities. And while I also believe that universities should serve as more than mere job-skills factories, the fact of the matter is that the basic skills taught in most Canadian history programs — reading, writing and archival research — have hardly changed over the last century. While I consider these to be valuable, under-appreciated skills, the curriculum is becoming a little old-fashioned for anyone who doesn’t intend on a career as a university professor.

In my first few weeks here at the museum my overlords have provided me with a good mix of pre-defined tasks such as writing PR releases and delivering walking tours (which we offer every day, all summer long, departing from the Whistler Visitor Center at 1 p.m.), as well as the opportunity to develop some self-directed projects such as designing and creating content for our new blog (blog.whistlermuseum.org).

In the process I’ve been gaining first-hand experience in how to make historical research more relevant beyond university, not to mention a crash course in a variety of practical, in-demand skills such as graphic design and web publishing. This experience will be crucial in my hoped-for jump from over-educated snowboard instructor/carpenter’s assistant to a challenging career that builds on the skills and knowledge I gained in school.

Meanwhile, Bridget (events) has been neck deep in crafts and event planning, while Brad (collections) has had a full run of archival work from transcribing audio interviews to poly-wrapping furniture in our super-secret underground lair. Glorified coffee runners we are not.

In other news, in the vein of community engagement we are excited to announce three upcoming events. First, the Whistler Museum’s annual general meeting will be taking place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday (June 29). Come get the inside scoop on what happened in 2010 and what we will be focusing on in 2011.

All are welcome, though only members have voting privileges. If you aren’t a member yet, you can always purchase a membership for just $25. Our AGM is a night to mingle with your friends, meet the museum staff and board of trustees, check out the exhibit, eat fantastic grub — there will be a free barbecue and a cash bar — and generally celebrate with us.

The festivities continue the following night (June 30, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.) during the ArtWalk reception. This is the best time to come see some great work by Pemberton-based action/landscape photographer Andrew Strain, but the art has already been mounted so you can check it out anytime, all summer long.

Our three-day bender culminates on July 1 with Whistler’s annual Canada Day celebration. As always, we will be entering a float in the parade, and we aim to win! Afterwards, come visit us at our tent in Village Square for an afternoon of arts and crafts. The museum will remain open all day long by donation in celebration of our national holiday.

Stay tuned to this column, our website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed for up-to-date info regarding upcoming events and our ongoing efforts to make the museum as innovative, engaging and relevant as possible for the local and global communities that we serve.

Jeff Slack is the summer program coordinator at the Whistler Museum.

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