“History is an unending dialogue between the present and the past.” -E.H. Carr
The subject of history has a reputation as dusty as the objects studied by historians. Regurgitating names and dates and events conjure up fond memories of afternoon naps taken on the hard top of a high school desk for multitudes. I’m a little different. History has always held my rapt attention. While my peers were counting the minutes until the end of class, I sat eagerly leaned forward, entirely focused on the stories of my high school history teacher. You know that moment when you first set sight on the Sawtooth Range? The way you couldn’t take your eyes off of them and you knew deep down that the grandeur of the striking peaks would remain in your memories for a long time? That’s how I feel about history, and how I want other people to connect with history.
Every time the 86-year-old deck of the Stanley Museum creaks under the feet of a new visitor, I get excited. But not for the reason you’d think. Sure, every visitor counts in the operation of a non-profit interpretive and historical association. However, I’m excited because with each new visitor that walks through the door, the opportunity presents itself for what I like to call the “light bulb moment.” This moment occurs when a visitor truly connects with the history in the museum. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the visitor sees the milk bottle lids and remembers playing the game POGs (milk caps) when they were younger.
Or maybe they see the grizzled pictures of Trapper Fisher and Trapper Green that reminds them of their grandfather and the time he took them out to check a snowy trapline.
Maybe the visitor loves learning about the Civilian Conservation Corps and is ecstatic when told that the building they are in is the product of the New Deal program.
Whatever object or story is the cause of the “light bulb moment,” the key is that a personal connection was made.
When a visitor experiences that connection between the history they are learning about and themselves, their whole countenance lights up! Their eyes widen, their smile brightens, and their speech accelerates excitedly. That’s the “light bulb moment!” As if a switch inside their subconscious was flipped on, the visitor now is on the lookout for more connections to be made, more memories to resurface, and to chase more “light bulb moments.” Witnessing the “light bulb moment” is the highlight of working at the Stanley Museum. Because the history of Stanley is relatively recent, the collection in the museum is alive in memories of the most recent generations. There is no better reward in the museum world than to watch as family members representing four generations experience the “light bulb moment” at the same time.
Have you had a “light bulb moment” yet?
-Matthew Bingman, Museum Docent