The Indiana Historical Society President and CEO John Herbst has been awarded the Association of Midwest Museum’s 2017 Distinguished Career Award. Each year, AMM presents the award to an individual who has worked or volunteered in the museum industry for more than 10 years and made significant contributions to the field.
Recognized as an influential shaper of historical practice, Herbst has led three of Indiana’s most prominent historical organizations. In 2006, he was named president and CEO of the Indiana Historical Society, an organization whose public presence has changed dramatically under his leadership.
The Indiana Experience, which opened in 2010, now brings to life IHS’s two-dimensional collections and draws tens of thousands of people every year. Over the past decade, IHS has won national awards for innovation in exhibits, programs, educational outreach and publishing. In addition, IHS has become a Smithsonian Affiliate and member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
Before assuming his current position, Herbst served as president and CEO of the Indiana State Museum. Prior to that, he served as president of Conner Prairie Interactive History Park for five years, where he helped to advance Conner Prairie’s ultimate separation from Earlham College, ending a 30-year dispute between the museum and its trustee over management of a bequest from philanthropist Eli Lilly.
Herbst’s career in public history began in 1974, when the 22-year-old social studies teacher started a junior historian club program that earned state awards for exhibits and publications, as well as coverage by The New York Times. He took a position as curator of the Paterson Museum, in Paterson, New Jersey and later served as director of education at the New Jersey Historical Society for four years. Herbst became founding director of the American Labor Museum in Haledon, New Jersey, which opened in 1983.
From 1986 through 1997, he served as executive director of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, during which he was the lead professional in developing the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. During this time, a number of large, significant corporate collections of artifacts and archives were acquired from Alcoa, H. J. Heinz, Mellon Bank and Westinghouse, and ethnic collecting initiatives documented the waves of immigrants and African Americans who settled in the Pittsburgh region.
AMM’s 2017 Distinguished Career Award recognizes Herbst for his efforts to make the visitors and their experiences central to every museum visit, as well as for his aspirations to ensure historical organizations tell everyone’s story and reflect diversity in all its forms.