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Meet Erik: NRF’s Director of Museums

Sometime during my first week serving as the NRF’s Director of Museums, our Marketing Manager suggested that I write an introductory blog post. I said, “Sure, in fact, I think I’ll write two, an introduction and something about my favorite room at Rough Point.  And I should have both pieces to you in about two weeks.”

Perhaps the above anecdote gives you some sense of my excitement about serving as the Director of Museums for this unique and significant organization.  Others might rightly see in the same story my ability to foolishly bite off more than I can chew.  Nevertheless, I promised to introduce myself, which I really should do, so on to the introductions!

I am a public historian and museum professional with some twenty years of experience in the fields of museum education, public programming, departmental leadership, exhibition curation, and other forms of museum practice and historical interpretation.  I hold a Ph.D. in American history from UCLA, and I have taught American history, world history, public history, and American Jewish history on numerous campuses across Southern California.

Undoubtedly, my deepest commitment as a scholar and museum professional is to the field of public history, which I would define as the practice of sharing scholarship and other historical practices (historical preservation, for example) with as broad a public as possible. I believe that a general understanding of the work of historians and others in the historical profession is vital to the foundation of a civil society, and I have committed most of my professional life to bridging the gap between working historians and the public.  My commitment to public history is very much in keeping with the goals and programming of the Newport Restoration Foundation.  Indeed, the Foundation’s mission statement makes clear that it does not simply promote preservation for preservation’s sake, but rather for the “enjoyment, education, and inspiration of all.”   Whether you live in an NRF home, visit an NRF museum, or just observe our beautiful restoration work on the streets of Newport, you are learning or experiencing something about the past and the work of those who study and interpret history.  Needless to say, I am thrilled to work for an organization that shares my interests and passions in such tangible and clear ways.

Prior to joining the NRF team, I worked the Autry Museum of the American West, an institution dedicated to the history and contemporary culture of the trans-Mississippi West (broadly construed).  Over a nearly twenty year career at the Autry, I served as a museum teacher, a public programs manager, curator, and most notably as the Director of Education and Visitor Engagement.  As I noted above, much of my practice revolved around making the work of academic historians visible and accessible to the general public, but I also spent a great deal of time building bridges between the museum and the diverse communities of Los Angeles.  I instituted an award-winning program that empowered students from grades K-college to curate public history projects that ranged from student art exhibitions to the production of short films, plays, and beyond.

Early on in my career, I brought former gang members, representatives of the LAPD, and western historians to the table to discuss the history of violence in Los Angeles and the broader American West, and over the past decade, I have spent a great deal of time working with California’s diverse Native-American communities.  I did so, because I believe deeply in the power of museums and other historical sites to serve as places of learning, engagement, and understanding.  To be sure, the museums of the NRF are very different from the sites I worked at in Southern California, but I still believe they have the power to educate, engage, and unite individuals and communities, and I look forward to exploring how we might achieve those ends in Newport and Southern New England.

In addition to my work at the Autry, I have also spent much of the past twenty years doing consultation work for other institutions, pursuing and completing my Ph.D., and teaching in the university classroom (still more examples of my willingness to bite off more than I can chew).

Twenty years is a long time to work at and in one place, but I found the Autry and the scholarly community of Southern California to be a valuable and nurturing training ground and a supportive environment in which to pursue my public history practice. It really took the prospect of working somewhere as special and valuable as the Newport Restoration Foundation to get my wife and I to pick up stakes and move across the country, but we are delighted to be here, and I am thrilled to be the Foundation’s Director of Museums.

To be clear, I am not a complete stranger to the Northeast or New England.  I was born in Mt. Auburn Hospital up in Cambridge, MA more years ago than I care to admit, and I was raised in suburban New York, where I lived until 1987.  So my new position and new location represent a kind of homecoming for me.  There is much in my return to the Northeast that I have found very familiar and very comforting.  Yes, I will have to get used to the winter cold again, but I appreciate the eastern greenery (made possible by regular precipitation) as well as the access to real pizza. I look forward to experiencing four seasons (in LA there are only two—hot and less hot with a little rain).  I enjoy hearing New England accents. And I appreciate living closer to my family in New York.  I will admit that as a New York Giants fan I find it tough to be surrounded by so many Patriots jerseys, but that’s a small price to pay for joining such a wonderful institution and working with such a talented and committed staff.

Those of you who read these blogs will read more from me from time to time (Remember that second blogpost? I still have to write it…), but the truth is that I would rather meet you in person at one of our museums. So when the season begins, please come to Rough Point, Whitehorne House Museum, or Prescott Farm.  You might find me walking around.  In fact, I spent most of my first Friday morning on the job walking the grounds of all three sites, and I loved it!  If you would really would like to meet me, send me an e-mail and let me know you’re coming. I will do my best to find the time to say hello.  You can reach me at

See You in Newport!

By Erik Greenberg, Ph.D., Director of Museums, Newport Restoration Foundation

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