This title explores the interpretation of servants and other hired help in historic house museums. Museum historian Jennifer Pustz explores the interpretation of servants and other hired household help in historic house museums, one of the most prevalent types of history museums in the country. Although these museums have long depicted the owners of the house and their families, representing the servants has introduced a unique set of challenges. In recent years, museum professionals have increasingly incorporated women, immigrants, African Americans, and other mirities into portrayals of the past. But, whether out of deference to the family who once owned the house or because of the awkward issues raised, these portrayals often show an idealistic world, without class antagonisms or ethnic conflict. Through her examination of the pitfalls of interpretation, Pustz offers advice for museum professionals on programming accurate and compelling depictions of those who lived their lives in the back stairs and kitchen rather than in the parlor. Based on extensive surveys of historians at historic house museums, Voices from the Back Stairs presents examples of successful interpretation programs, including those that have made the kitchen and servants' quarters the most popular stops on the tour. Exploring the domestic conflicts that may have existed between mistress and servant often creates a more vivid and believable experience for guests. Pustz also discusses the very real difficulty in interpreting the lives of those who have left behind few records. She encourages museum curators to look beyond the archives of their own institution and explore other era-appropriate sources, including advertising and housekeeping guides, when trying to create a complete picture of the house's servants. This study is a valuable resource for historic house museum curators and historians. Museum volunteers and graduate students will also appreciate Pustz's accessible approach and engaging style.
JENNIFER PUSTZ holds a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Iowa and has worked as a historian in historic house museums for more than a decade. She is the museum historian at Historic New England where she conducts and presents research for the organization and its historic sites.