Wages of History by Amy Tyson focuses on the emotional labor of working in a historic site, particularly as a site interpreter. This is honestly not something I had considered before now, but is incredibly important both for the people laboring in these sites and for the way history is portrayed. Specifically when discussing difficult history, emotional labor and interpreting the reactions of people comes into play. We often don't think of people working at historic sites as laborers, but expectations about their emotional portrayal of characters is important in people's experience. Tyson contends that interpreters are devalued both intellectually and labor wise in interpretative sites (Tyson 172). Tyson uses this analysis to argue for better wages, working conditions and hours but also wants institutions to foster a love of history. While this seems overtly optimistic, that environment will produce better working conditions and an environment more conducive to doing good history. Tyson connects this study with discussions about graduate student unions and the treatment of workers in the historic profession more generally. While I don't foresee myself as going into Historic Interpretation, many of these concerns about historic interpretation can be translated to other public history jobs and even academic history jobs. The idea of interpreters as "customer service," and its emotional toll, can be translated to many different careers. Are academic historians more likely to confront labor issues in their work than people at the Minnesota Historical Society? As Temple Adjuncts attempt to unionize, it is interesting to think about these issues of labor and emotional labor in a context across history.
Tyson asks how one can bring dignity to these cultural workers, but I don't know if there is any easy answer to that question. Tyson interestingly argues that poor working conditions don't simply hurt the workers, but hurt that history that is being made. This raises the question, do our working conditions as graduate students effect our work or interpretations of history? How will these labor issues effect us students as we go into the workforce? Are these issues more of a problem for women? And for people of color? And how do we address them?
Sadly, I think much of the answer to that question concerns funding and is not something controlled by historians or people who run historic institutions themselves. While people can certainly lessen the emotional labor placed upon a worker, they cannot give them more "dignity" if they receive little funding or compensation as a whole.
Beyond questions of labor, Tyson discussed interpreters engagement with "difficult history" including African American history. Tyson makes clear how difficult it was for interpreters to engage in this kind of history if the visitors were not inclined to engage in it. This site was not structurally set up for this discussion, so it became emotional labor of interpreters (Tyson 157).
These questions about labor and diversity are relevant for our interpretations of the Powel house. We need to keep Tyson's work and conclusions in our mind as we write our tours and think of ways to deal with these complex issues of labor and difficult history.