History, Storytelling and Why We Matter

by Allyson Lazar


Bob Welch, Keynote #wma09

This morning's keynote address by journalist/storyteller/author Bob Welch was a rousing feel-good, inspirational affirmation of all that we, as museum professionals, do and love. In his address, he answered the question, "Why is history important?" Certainly the old adage holds true that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, but Mr. Welch's comments went far beyond this idea to give a more complete and robust answer to the question.

I cannot begin to try to adequately capture all that he said and shared in one short blog post, so instead I will just recount little snippets that I found particularly resonant. Some may be direct quotes, others are paraphrases but all are his ideas. I just think they are worth parroting.

  1. The past informs us to be better caretakers for the future. We do not live in a vacuum; we have inherited a legacy and we will leave a legacy for those who come after us. As keepers of our cultural heritage, it is our duty to leave "the campsite better than we found it."
  2. History inspires us and thereby changes us. When we feel inspired, we are motivated to act in new ways that are in accord with our inspiration.
  3. History dispels myths and corrects misconceptions of and from the past.

keynote-webMr. Welch went one step further, too; he spoke about how to present history through storytelling--and after all, storytelling is really the business that we are in. Here are some of his pointers on storytelling:

  • You need the confidence to know you have a story to tell and the humility to ask people to help you tell it better.
  • Storytelling can and should be used to unlock other people's (the audience's) stories (create resonance).
  • The object is not important. What the object represents is important. What the object represents is dreams. The object fuels the imagination.

Finally, Mr. Welch gave us a vital equation that we should all take to heart as we struggle through these tough economic times:

desperation + imagination + dedication = Good Things.




Allyson you've done a great job of summarizing a moving and thought-provoking session. I was amazed at Welch's ability to take us from the poignant story of an American nurse killed in a field hospital in the Allied invasion of Normandy to the hilarious story of his own childhood memories of his Tudor True Action football game. One other great thing is that some of Welch's stories are available in his books.

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