Julie Rose headshotNote: Julie Rose, director of the West Baton Rouge Museum and AASLH Vice Chair, has shared some thoughts on her latest Technical Leaflet, “Three Building Blocks for Developing Ethical Representations of Difficult Histories.” Over the next week, we will share Julie’s thoughts on the topic and the messages she hopes the field garners from the discussion. 

Difficult histories include the recollections of trauma, oppression, and violence.

The challenge for museum workers to develop ethical representations of difficult histories is finding an equitable equation for combining the three conceptual components: Faces, Real content, and Narratives. When combined, these three components are the building blocks for developing ethical representations of difficult histories.

Commemoration is one kind of pedagogy that is extolled through ethical representations. Commemorating human experiences in museums provides visitors with opportunities to learn how particular histories are relevant today, thereby engendering empathy, courage, respect, generosity and compassion in visitors.

The notion of the Face is a theoretical framework to develop personhood within interpretations that provide visitors with opportunities to recognize and respond empathetically to someone who was or is human.

The Real includes the empirical content made from the authentic, measured, and relevant materials that museums collect and assemble. Narratives help to develop the Face by describing personhood with the components of the Real.

Narratives explain how the experiences of the historical Others were the result of ideologies and organized actions in an historical context.

A kind of courage emerges from museum workers and visitors who develop and respond to ethical representations. When museum workers help visitors develop a sense of belonging to a moral culture, the power of community allows visitors to consider how they can imagine how they might bring justice to others in the present day.

Ethical representations remind and inform visitors that oppression and violence are what human beings are capable of doing.

Museums take the risks to represent difficult histories to awaken a kind of passion in visitors by challenging the taken-for-granted historical truths and revealing the struggles for a more just and compassionate moral order.

The three building blocks enable museum workers to develop ethical representations needed to direct and sustain visitors’ empathetic responses to difficult histories.

In Part 2, Rose shares her Takeaway Messages from the Technical Leaflet.