Natural History does not include SHOES!

[This comes from an email thread on a mailing list, where I reported an overall positive experience at the well-known Harvard museum.  I'm rating this one "green" for now since we were allowed to stay, although it took a bit of persuasion.  A followup test has not yet been performed to my knowledge.]

Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2017 21:14:41 -0500
From: *Hobbit*
Subject: Education at Harvard

Harvard University is all about learning, and I made my own little contribution to that last Sunday.  A friend and I went to visit its Museum of Natural History, which includes the completely amazing Glass Flowers preservation and one of the largest collections of mineral samples on display anywhere.  In the decade or so in which I hadn't been there, the presentations have definitely gotten upgraded, with better lighting and updated "interpretive" information.
mentions nothing specific about footwear, but neither do a lot of other online policy statements.  We weren't quite sure what to expect, but the admissions-desk people were quick to say "oh, we require shoes in the galleries".  Somewhat prepared for this, I asked for the Director, and they called for her on the phone.  Kristen eventually emerged, and we had a rather nice chat.

This was a totally new one on her, and she freely admitted to being a bit flummoxed by it -- even at a college, nobody had expressed a desire to come in barefoot before to her knowledge.  We assured her that we were fine in just about any kind of terrain and that neither the Museum or the University held any possible legal liability for our feet.  We expressed confidence that their gallery floors were pristine and it was no problem for us at all even if they weren't.  She really didn't want to turn us away, especially as visitors who knew something about the place already and were clearly intelligent, well-meaning, and enthusiastic to get a fresh look at what it had to offer.  She gave us our little clip-on tickets, and we spent a lovely few hours padding quietly around taking it in and blazing away with cameras.  No other staff who occasionally passed by made any hint of disapproval, which was interesting because I don't think Kristen had time to frantically run around behind the scenes assuring all of them that we were okay.  But maybe she tried, just for completeness?  It seemed that they really didn't care either way, which is nice if true because usually it's the uppity underlings who cause the problems.  I even had a couple of completely positive and instructive interactions with other visitors whose eyes were definitely opened.  There I was, a living piece of "natural history" right in front of them.

I snagged an amusing timed-selfie in the "mammal room", which I'm tentatively captioning "This is *evolution*?!" ...

I've been making a habit of standing around on one foot when not actively walking, because it's great balance exercise and brings into play even more of the fun attributes of being free from the barrier of shoes.  The live cousins of the unfortunates in the case wouldn't give such things a second thought, of course.  And toward the end of our visit I found an amusing and somewhat analytic comparison:

I would highly recommend this place as a destination to anyone local to Cambridge MA or visiting the Boston area, and maybe the desk folks could see a few more barefooters wandering in and become that much more used to it.  It is free to Massachusetts residents on early Sunday mornings, and late afternoons on Wednesdays.  [Sundays are about the only time when it's *possible* to park around there.]  I didn't get any impression that the Museum staff intended to make some contrary response by cracking down harder once we were gone or anything, but it's eminently worth reinforcing their reasons to never even consider that.  We emphasized that choice of footwear including "none" should simply not be viewed as anything special, just like wearing a funny hat or no hat at all.

And that day there would be plenty of funny hats around town, as it was the weekend of the Honk! festival which took over Harvard Square with excellent "activist" brass bands from all over.  In my afternoon of cruising around that busy urban environment I sort of kept an eye out for more bare feet ... among thousands of people, I only spotted *one* other pair the entire time and congratulated its owner on his choice to walk correctly, and made sure to point him to and the group, which he hadn't heard of.

[There was a little bit of followup traffic specifically about the museum, after which things devolved into another "should we ask for permission or forgiveness" thread.  Overall consensus seems to favor just going into somewhere barefoot, because we're doing nothing wrong in the first place, and then having "the conversation" only if intercepted -- at which point we have a valid discrimination complaint to escalate if needed.

So yes, a number of the pages in my collection arguably chronicle taking the wrong approach up front, but again, the point is education and factual knowledge either way.]

From: "Matthew"
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2017 04:46:27 +0000
Subject: Re: Education at Harvard

I went to the Harvard museums last winter.  They're overwhelming!

It's always shocking to see skeletons of extinct animals.  I hope humans are not added to that list any time soon.

From: *Hobbit*
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2017 08:44:44 -0500
Subject: Re: Education at Harvard

Heh, well, they *do* have a human skeleton, which was my comparison shot.  Next to that in the same case is an orangutan or something, in the room with the "diversity of evolution" displays and such...

I really appreciate when an organization makes no bones, so to speak, about just how *old* everything is.  Natural history museums, the National Park Service, etc ... none of this shortsighted view of only a few thousand years nonsense that pervades so much of human culture.

On a big wall chart of hominid evolution, I realized that we've been wearing shoes over about the thickness of one dot of the ink at the end of the long bargraph...

From: "Matthew"
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2017 01:06:50 +0000
Subject: Re: Education at Harvard

  The director at this Harvard museum seemed to be very receptive to the logic presented to her.

  Does we have any templates for approaching public and private establishments in a proactive versus reactive way?  For example, in addition to letters and business cards presented as defense, is there a way to take the offensive with a specific proposal?

  The current method employed by barefooters appears to be to go about their business in the same manner as footwear folks.  Then, only if hassled, defensive counter-measures are enacted.

From: "Kriss"
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2017 11:08:28 +0000 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Education at Harvard

Exactly.  We are doing nothing wrong.  Why create an issue where no issue exists?  If there is an issue, we should handle it.  In the majority of places we go, there's not going to be an issue.

_H*   171023

Read more barefoot advocacy