When future archeologists excavate future Plymouth, what will they find?
November 26, 2017 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Hard Times At Plimouth Plantation, Michael Hare
“We,” Richard Pickering said, meaning America, “need to look backward if we’re going to go forward.” We need to study, he told me, moments in which our national experiment “actually worked.” Doing so, we can learn “behaviors that may make us capable of listening and speaking to each other again.” I didn’t tell him this at the time, but I disagree. History is not a tidy sequence of events, tidily unfurling in time, trailing behind it a tidy scroll of legible, ready-to-apply lessons. It is as vast and as complicated as life, which is to say it’s a mess.
PLIMOTH PLANTATION: Workers unionize, demand contract
Plimoth Plantation employees don’t like 17th-century working conditions
Plimoth Plantation workers protest at Plymouth Rock
posted by the man of twists and turns (13 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks, that first link is great, and fans the flames of my generalized (and doubtless overly subjective) hatred of management. Unions forever!
posted by languagehat at 5:23 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]

Yeah. I’ve been a member there for 25 years. The main problem? The director is a clueless bully (following a national trend I guess). The interpreters love, love what they do. They would never unionize unless the situation were desperate, which it is. Bleah.
posted by Melismata at 5:29 PM on November 26 [12 favorites]

I visited Plimoth Plantation as a child, probably 20 years ago or more. I still remember it well. I wouldn't say it changed the course of my life, but it stuck with me in a way that more traditional museums I visited around the same age didn't. I do think it was worth the trip and would have been even if I could have watched YouTube videos of all the same stuff at my house.

Ultimately, I believe these experiences do have value for children and it's depressing to think so many people disagree that they won't be around for my children to enjoy in a comparable way to how I got to enjoy them.
posted by potrzebie at 9:43 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]

History is always being weaponized. The difficult thing is to make such interpretation attractive and engaging for visitors without Disney-fying the stories into feel-good pablum. I'm amazed that these type of places can be self sustaining without a generous endowment, and still offer valuable historicity. More power to these employees to be true to their mission and fight for reasonable conditions.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:12 PM on November 26 [4 favorites]

I have a lifelong fascination with reenactor interpretation and have visited Plimouth and Williamsburg on multiple occasions. I was most recently at Plimouth on Thanksgiving Day* 2011, and I am very sorry to learn of the working conditions. The interpreters are, in a sense, artists, and it is an aspect of our culture that artists get the short end of the stick, which sucks.

Thanks very much for this link.

*The National Day of Mourning gathering was in effect that morning when on our way to Plimouth we stopped in town to also revisit the Mayflower replica, which has a great deal of interpretive material in the waiting area that I was delighted to see. The gathering is on Cole's Hill and overlooks the location of the replica's mooring site and of Plymouth Rock. The evidence of both contested views and changing pop-historical display were clear that day and I was much encouraged for our country that morning. I was less optimistic, overall, this Thanksgiving.
posted by mwhybark at 10:12 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]

One other point: both Plimouth and Williamsburg were created in the service of a viewpoint concerning the narrative of American history which was explicitly sexist, misogynist, racist, white-supremacist, and against the idea of unions, socialism, and so forth. The tourist crap for sale at Williamsburg in 1999 included a smattering of yellow "Don't Tread on Me" coiled-snake flags. The tourist crap there in 2012 was *heavily* oriented to Tea Party racists, even as the mix of interpreters on the grounds had noticeably and in my opinion fantastically expanded the number and roles of people of color, who were very definitely providing a counternarrative. It was terrific. I am pretty sure that is a hell of a hard gig, as your racist Uncle Bob the Tea Party goon would find it trying. I sincerely hope both of these institutions can make it through this current crisis of national identity.
posted by mwhybark at 10:24 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]

er, Plimoth throughout rather than Plimouth. although 17th c. speling axomodates varyunts, yea?
posted by mwhybark at 10:26 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]

The interpreters love, love what they do. They would never unionize unless the situation were desperate

Hmm, I like working where I do, but damn sure I'm member of a union. Doesn't mean the end is nigh or anything, just that I acknowledge that management by default are already organised to protect their interests and it is healthy and just for us employees to do the same.
posted by Harald74 at 11:58 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]

One of the worst things about teaching high school in Massachusetts is that by the time I get the kids, they've already been to Plimoth Plantation, it's their favorite field trip ever, and nothing tops it.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:40 AM on November 27 [8 favorites]

Plimoth Plantation is my absolute dream job, and I've never even been. I feel like it's THE place for people like me who are interested in early American experimental archaeology. It sucks to hear that the working conditions are so lousy. It sounds like a terrible mix of cost-cutting and bad management.

I always imagined that they had more money than they do, although I can't say I'm surprised that they're struggling, given the state of museums and education right now. In the America that exists only in my fantasies, places like Plimoth Plantation would be fully funded and free to visit. At this point, I'm just hoping they'll survive long enough for me to visit someday.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:55 AM on November 27 [5 favorites]

shapes that haunt the dusk and others, myself included, who want(ed) to work there: one of my first inklings that something was up was several months ago, when they had a public job fair. For the creative staff. Who the hell has a public job fair for the creative staff? Gift shop workers, yes, but museums go to other museums and trade publications for their experts, not the local classified ads. I don't think the Met says to the public, hey, we're looking for an Egyptologist!

When I went to it and chatted with the staff, I wasn't able to figure out if they'd just blatantly fired people and were desperate, or something else, but the vibe I got instead was "we're losing staff since the director is a clueless asshole, and the asshole clueless director seems to think that a public job fair is the way to get new staff, even though we told her that was not appropriate." Now that I've read about the unionization efforts, I'm sure that there's way more going on. My heart aches.
posted by Melismata at 6:45 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]

And to continue the story, since I'm blathering about this place: before the job fair, my friend and I went to the museum, and we noticed some changes to the village that we didn't like. They'd appropriated a couple of the houses as teaching places by modern staff. We're a couple of old fogies and we don't like change, but it seemed to us that it was really breaking up the magic of the village to suddenly have some modern stuff there. (They've had modern staff for a while now, but they've been unobtrusive; having a couple of the houses suddenly transformed into modern classrooms seemed very jolting to us. The purity of 1624 was compromised, and it totally took away from the experience.)

We also noticed that it was understaffed, and poorly maintained. Even though it was the height of the season, it looked like my yard at the end of February, full of twigs and debris.

Additionally, the awesome orientation film, produced by the History Channel, was gone and replaced by a short, soundless slide show that contained a few typos.

So, we decided to do the right thing and leave comments on the comments cards. My friend filled out one then and there; I decided to wait until I got home to comment online.

On my computer, I filled out the form and wrote a thoughtful, respectful comment, saying "yes, I know I don't like change, but it seems to me..." and was not rude in any way.

Within ten minutes, literally, I got a rude personal response from the director. It wasn't just the polite "thank you for your input, we're sorry you don't like change, but we're trying this new thing anyway." It was quite blatantly "you're a close-minded fogie who doesn't like change, deal with it, and you're a bad person for suggesting this was a bad idea."

I was quite baffled that a director of a major, million-dollar museum would not only be so rude, but find that she had to answer the comment personally within minutes, not delegate an underling to reply.

But because I've been going there several times every year for the past 25 years, I dismissed it and thought (much like a long-time church parishioner who has no use for a clueless new priest), this was my home long before it was yours, you're an idiot, I'm just going to ignore you.

Little did I know. Sigh.
posted by Melismata at 8:38 AM on November 27 [9 favorites]

It was quite blatantly "you're a close-minded fogie who doesn't like change, deal with it, and you're a bad person for suggesting this was a bad idea."

In my 20 some-odd years in nonprofit land, history-oriented and education, this kind of rhetoric is often a prelude to expensive, grievously self-injuring catastrophe. Often followed by the death of an institution or program.

Meanwhile, the smug asshole responsible lands in another high-paying gig, continuing the cycle.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:17 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]

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