Keynote speaker urges museum to engage community, prove relevance

Friday, January 24, 2014 4:42 PM | Webmaster BHM (Administrator)


Stan Deaton of the Georgia Historical Society, delivers the keynote address during the Beaufort History Museum’s annual meeting Jan. 23, 2014, at its future home in The Arsenal on Craven Street.


Museum directors, historians and archivists cannot content themselves to work with relics, dusty manuscripts and crumbling buildings.

They must engage their communities and explain why knowledge and preservation of the past is relevant to the future, according to Stan Deaton, senior historian for the Georgia Historical Society.

Otherwise, those make the past their vocation might become relics themselves.

“All of us in the field of history, as opposed to propagandists, had better be able to tell a room full of  bankers and businessmen and women  why it’s important,” Deaton said Jan. 23 at the Beaufort History Museum’s annual meeting. “We need to be able to explain to foundation boards and corporation and politicians why we in the public-history realm are indispensable to a free and democratic society.

“Because we are.”

Deaton, the evening’s featured speaker, noted that those who deal in history have often leaned on government funding to do their work, but that work often is first on the chopping block during lean budget times, as has been the case in recent years.

“Scientists can always tell you why what they do is important and it’s always about the future,” he added.

But the arts and humanities are equally important to the future, Deaton argues, a fact sometimes realized only by propagandists who seek to control the future by manipulating the past.

“No one will every be served by factually inaccurate pejorative distortion of the American past,” Deaton said. “Indifference to history isn’t just ignorant, it’s dangerous.”

His prescription?

“We must prove constantly that we’re not just relevant but vital.”

Educational programs, pursuit of private funding, and ensuring documents and artifacts are seen, not squirreled away in archives, are part of that effort. So is historical interpretation grounded in honest assessments of primary documents.

Deaton spoke to an audience of about 40 people at the museum’s future home, The Arsenal on Craven Street. He is the writer and host of “Today in Georgia History,” a joint television and radio production of the historical society and Georgia Public Broadcasting. He also is managing editor and book review editor for the Georgia Historical Society’s “The Georgia Historical Quarterly.”

Deaton helps secure materials for the society’s archives and library, leads teacher-training workshops and helps write historical markers.

Also at the meeting, the museum’s board of directors elected officers, including new president Anna Powell Schaffer. She replaces Katherine Lang, a founding member of the board that reinstituted the dormant museum three years ago.

Schaffer is a native of eastern North Carolina who moved to Beaufort in June 2011 after completing her bachelor’s of arts in history and political science at Elon University, where her capstone project was a study of the decline of African American farmers in the southeastern United States. Schaffer joined the museum board in 2013, and organized and conducted the museum’s first docent-training program.

Libby Holloway was reelected board secretary, and Gwen Myers returns as board vice president.

The board selected its officers after the general membership seated new board members.

Lang returns for a second, three-year board term. During her tenure, the museum reopened in Beaufort City Hall and negotiated with the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce and the city of Beaufort to return to its former home. The museum in City Hall remains open, but a move to the second floor of The Arsenal is anticipated this spring.

D.C. Gilley and Mary Lou Brewton also were reelected to three-year terms, and the board welcomed two new members.

Jeff Evans moved to Beaufort County in 1992 and the city of Beaufort in 1999. He owns the video company SeaGate Productions and Lowcountry Weekly. He has served six years on the board of the Arts Council of Beaufort County, has produced 15 of Shakespeare’s plays in Waterfront Park and the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Performing Arts Center, and recently finished a seven-year chairmanship of the Beaufort City ATAX Committee.

David Lott is a retired businessman from Chicago who, along with his wife, have lived in the Pigeon Point neighborhood for the past few years. He has a passionate interest in Beaufort history and has given talks about local history. He currently serves as chairman of the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority board.

The candidates for board and board offices were recommended by a board committee before the meeting. After no nominations were made from the floor, the slate of board members and officers were accepted by acclamation.

Our mission is to preserve, promote and interpret the experiences of our past that influence us now and in the future.

The Beaufort History Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. 713 Craven Street, Beaufort, SC 29902

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