Who I am, in one formal paragraph:

Leslie Madsen-Brooks, Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, professor, public historian, and mentor to an emerging generation of public history and museum studies practitioners.  She brings to her museum consultancy extensive experience in both formal and informal education. She is a specialist in the teaching and learning of history and science, and understands as well the ways technology can be deployed thoughtfully to enhance learning and democratize this knowledge. She assists individual and institutional clients with educational programming, exhibition research and development, professional development, new technologies, outreach, and evaluation. She is an expert in the history of women scientists’ contributions to natural history institutions—primarily museums, gardens, and zoos—in the 19th- and 20th-century United States.

What you might also want to know:

What I believe

Knowledge should be democratized. Everyone should be able to access high-quality information about how their world works and what resources might be available to improve their lives.  Similarly, everyone should be granted the metaphorical and physical tools necessary to think critically and creatively, and to generate new knowledge.

It might not surprise you, then, to discover that I’m redefining “public history” to mean the broad intersection of history and the public, and especially the attempt to understand how the public “does history” instead of merely a field in which professional historians produce history for a general audience.

Museums are much more than exhibition halls and storage facilities.  (But you already knew that.)  Museums are, or ought to be, resource clearinghouses, think tanks, community hubs, mediators and moderators and provocateurs.  Museums should empower their visitors and their communities.

What I refuse to accept

Intellectual limitations (mine or yours.)  The absence of curiosity and play.  Humorlessness.

I am fascinated by

  • Miniatures of all sorts, but especially model railroad landscapes and model horses.
  • Habitat groups in natural history museums, as well as the new generation of taxidermy displays in mammal halls.
  • The epiphanies, large and small, generated by the incredibly humbling and empowering practice of Shiva Nata.
  • Sesquicentennials and their commemorations.  (See especially: the Civil War.)
  • . . .and, really, pretty much anything.

A quirky intellectual past: I have one.

Very few of my colleagues know this, so shhhhhhh! I have a Master’s degree in writing poetry.  It’s partly a source of secret shame, but mostly delight.  It helps me better see the useful, beautiful fragments of things that are otherwise broken.

More secret shame: I have four academic degrees, which is really just silly.  Besides the poetry degree from the University of California, Davis, I have an undergraduate degree in English from Grinnell College and a Master’s and Ph.D. in cultural studies from UC Davis.

(What’s “cultural studies”?  Ask 100 cultural studies scholars and you’ll get 100 different definitions, and possibly some shrugging of shoulders.  For me, cultural studies is about identifying the continuities and discontinuities in a cultural system, asking where the power lies and determining how it came to be consolidated in those places, and then seeking to spread the power more equitably throughout that system. Usually this means democratizing knowledge consumption and production. See also: citizen science, public history, museum exhibitions and programming.)

In addition to my work as an informal educator, exhibit developer, and program evaluator, I’ve served as a history professor, an educational technologist, a university teaching consultant, a reporter for community newspapers, an arts (symphony) marketer, development communications writer, and as an editor for an educational publishing company.*

Hang out with me in cyberspace?

I’m @lesliemb and @MuseumTherapist on Twitter.  I’m also sometimes on Google+.  My personal blog is The Clutter Museum.  Sometimes I write at The Multicultural Toybox.  You can also check out my Facebook page.

Want more?

You can hire me as a consultant/coach/”therapist” for your institution.
*I once had a job that regularly called upon me to braid ribbons into ponies’ manes and tails; I mention that because you never know—especially in an unpredictable field like ours—when you might need an expert pony braider.