May 27, 2018

Scott Harris: Keeping History Alive

Scott Harris graduated from Mary Washington in 1982.

Scott Harris is executive director of the University Museums.

Scott Harris ’83 got firsthand history lessons as a boy growing up in Staunton, Va. His grandmother, who was born in 1898, was a gifted storyteller who could transport Harris to life in Virginia at the turn of the 20th century. Historical sites were all around him. When Harris’ parents took him to the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park at age 9, he never imagined he’d grow up to be its director decades later.

Nor did he foresee returning to his alma mater, from which he received a B.A. with honors in history and historic preservation in 1983.  In 2011 Harris became director of the James Monroe Museum, the world’s largest repository of artifacts and archives related to the nation’s fifth president.  Earlier this year he was named executive director of University Museums, overseeing the James Monroe Museum, the Papers of James Monroe, and the Gari Melchers Home and Studio. In his new role, Harris remains focused on a mission that that has motivated his 30-year museum career: “Our job is to remind people today of the importance of those who went before them.”

Q: Tell us about your new role.

A: I get to advocate for the museums from a broader perspective. I help secure funding to keep the Papers of James Monroe active and figure out how we can best position the museums for the future.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: Every day brings a new challenge. I get the opportunity to make a big impact on all these components of University Museums and hopefully help them thrive.

Q: What do the James Monroe Museum and Gari Melchers Home and Studio have in common?

A: James Monroe and Gari Melchers were well known and respected in their times, each at the top of his game, and yet they are not household names today. The challenge is to reintroduce them to the world.

Q: Why are these two people important?

A: James Monroe played a significant role in our early national history, from the Revolutionary War to the generation before the Civil War.  Gari Melchers brought skill and passion not only to his own art, but also to advocacy of the arts generally.  The contributions of both men are useful in providing artistic and cultural content to balance the contemporary emphasis on STEM education.

Q: How do the museums connect to the UMW community?

A: Mary Washington has administered both museums since the 1960s. While both relationships began as “marriages of convenience,” the museums’ affiliation with UMW, and that of the Papers of James Monroe, provide valuable learning labs for our students in history, historic preservation, museum studies, and other fields. Working with these entities allows students to hone practical skills that will help them in the future careers.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the Gari Melchers Home and Studio, and of the James Monroe Museum?

A: Melchers’ studio contains one of my favorite paintings of his, titled “In Holland.”  Painted in 1887, it shows two young women crossing a field, one bearing two heavy buckets on a yoke.  Their expressions convey a wealth of emotions.  Melchers had a knack for making the ordinary extraordinary in his work.  My favorite spot in the James Monroe Museum is in front of his large portrait painted by Rembrandt Peale around 1825.  It shows Monroe at the end of his presidency and political career, and again, the expression on his face speaks volumes.

Q: Any mantras you tell yourself every day?

A: Don’t screw up

 

 

Harris Co-Edits Special Issue of Journal of Urban History

Associate Professor Steven E. Harris (HISA) recently co-edited with Daria Bocharnikova (University of Leuven / Center for the Fine Arts BOZAR) a special issue of the Journal of Urban History, volume 44, no. 1 (2018).

The special issue, “Second World Urbanity: New Histories of the Socialist City,” features five research articles by scholars who participated in one of three conferences co-organized by Harris and Bocharnikova as the conveners of the Second World Urbanity project (http://www.secondworldurbanity.org).

Launched in 2012, this interdisciplinary project explores the architecture, urban planning and everyday life experiences of socialist cities past and present. The special issue of the Journal of Urban History is the first publication to come out of the Second World Urbanity project.

Bocharnikova and Harris’s introductory essay, “Second World Urbanity: Infrastructures of Utopia and Really Existing Socialism,” is also included in the special issue.

Harris Presents Paper at Airport Culture(s) Conference in London

Associate Professor of History Steven E. Harris presented his paper, “Soviet Airports: Futuristic Gateways to the Socialist City,” at the interdisciplinary conference, “Airport Culture(s),” held at the University of London, April 28-29, 2016. Harris’ paper is based on the research and writing for his current book project, “Wings of the Motherland: Soviet and Russian Cultures of Aviation from Khrushchev to Putin.”

Harris Wins Verville Fellowship at National Air and Space Museum

Steven E. Harris, Associate Professor of History, was recently awarded an A. Verville Fellowship at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The 12-month fellowship will allow Harris to work full-time on his second book project, “Wings of the Motherland: Soviet and Russian Cultures of Aviation from Khrushchev to Putin” while in residence at the Museum. Harris will also use the fellowship to conduct research in archives in Moscow.

Harris talks to The Source about Soviet Aviation, Putin’s Russia

The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 might have been expected to make Russia a liberal democracy; instead we see broad popular support for Putin’s undemocratic regime. Historian Steve Harris turns to aviation to offer new ways of understanding the Soviet past and Russia’s present. See the full interview at The Source.

Harris Presents Paper at University of Pennsylvania

Steven E. Harris, Associate Professor of History, presented his chapter, “Cold War Friendly Skies: Pan Am, Aeroflot and the Political Economy of Détente,” at the Russian History and Culture Workshop at the University of Pennsylvania on March 18. Harris was invited to present this chapter, which is part of his current monograph project, “Wings of the Motherland: Soviet and Russian Cultures of Aviation from Khrushchev to Putin.”

Preston and Harris Featured in Monroe-Related Media

Daniel Preston, editor of the Papers of James Monroe, and Scott Harris, director of the James Monroe Museum, are featured in a new documentary film titled Monroe Hill. The movie traces the evolution of Monroe’s Albemarle County farm that is today the University of Virginia, and the events that shaped the destiny of the fifth president of the United States. Monroe Hill premiered at the Virginia Film Festival in November. It will be shown at the Richmond International Film Festival on March 6, and at UMW’s Hurley Convergence Center on March 7 at 7 p.m. (popcorn provided).

Preston and Harris

Preston and Harris

Preston and Harris also discussed Monroe recently as part of a Washington Post presidential podcast series: https://soundcloud.com/washington-post/james-monroe-the-forrest-gump.

Harris Presents Paper at Slavic Studies Conference in Philadelphia

Department of History and American Science Professor Steven E. Harris presented his paper, “The Soviet Martyrdom of an Aeroflot Stewardess in the Age of Détente,” at the 47th Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies in Philadelphia, Nov. 19-22, 2015. At this same conference, Harris was also a panelist on the roundtable titled “Motion & Urbanity: Visual Symbolism, Sites of Mobility & the Built Environment in the Tsarist and Soviet Empire,” where he discussed his current work on the history of Soviet airports.

Harris Presents Paper at the University of Zürich

Associate Professor Steven E. Harris from the Department of History and American Studies was recently invited to present his paper, “The Martyrdom of Nadezhda Kurchenko: Murder of an Aeroflot Stewardess and Cold War Displacement,” at the conference “Verschiebung/Displacement/Вымещение im Kalten Krieg,” at the Slavic Department of the University of Zürich, on Nov. 6-7, 2015. Harris’ paper is based on a chapter for his current book project, Wings of the Motherland: Soviet and Russian Cultures of Aviation from Khrushchev to Putin.

Harris Presents Paper at Moscow Conference

The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow invited Prof. Steven E. Harris to present his paper “Soviet Airports: Futuristic Gateways to the Socialist City” at its recent conference, “A Long, Happy Life: Building and Thinking the Soviet City: 1956 to Now,” held Oct. 30-31, 2015. This conference is the first event in a three-year project at the Garage Museum to examine the history and legacy of Soviet modernism in architecture and urban planning. Harris’s paper is based on a chapter of his second book, which he is currently researching and writing, Wings of the Motherland: Soviet and Russian Cultures of Aviation from Khrushchev to Putin.