National Council on Public History Putting History to Work in the World 2016-05-02T17:26:45Z http://ncph.org/feed/atom/ WordPress editors <![CDATA[Project Showcase: Black Quotidian]]> http://ncph.org/?p=16596 2016-05-02T00:28:13Z 2016-05-02T09:30:12Z Black Quotidian_Front Page Image

Screenshot credit: Matthew Delmont

When 2016 began, I had never heard of Juanita Blocker, Blanche Thompson, or Helen Short. That changed once I started working on “Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers,” a digital project designed to highlight moments from ordinary lives in African American history.  Read More

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Black Quotidian_Front Page Image

Screenshot credit: Matthew Delmont

When 2016 began, I had never heard of Juanita Blocker, Blanche Thompson, or Helen Short. That changed once I started working on “Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers,” a digital project designed to highlight moments from ordinary lives in African American history.  Each day I post at least one black newspaper article from that date in history accompanied by a brief commentary. In this way, I hope to call attention to people and events that are not commonly featured in textbooks, documentaries, or Black History Month celebrations, while also casting new light on well-known stories from the African American past. The goal of the Black Quotidian project is to make these histories more familiar to more people. While I have posted on Black Quotidian about Carter G. Woodson, Rosa Parks, and Shirley Chisholm, I am most excited to learn and share the stories of people like Blocker, Thompson, and Short. Each individual’s story contributes to our understanding of the complexities of African American history and the everyday pleasures and sorrows of black lives.

The Black Quotidian project is now in its third month. The most frequent question I get is how I select articles for the daily posts. In some cases I choose a historical newspaper from a specific date and look for something interesting. I was browsing the February 20, 1969 issue of the Los Angeles Sentinel, for example, when I stumbled across a column called “Bowling Around L.A.” by Juanita Blocker. After searching through ProQuest’s Sentinel database, I learned that Blocker was the first black member of the Professional Women’s Bowling Association and that she wrote a bowling column in the Sentinel for over two decades. Who knew that the Sentinel had a regular bowling column written by a trailblazing athlete? Similarly, I was surprised to learn about dancer Blanche Thompson when flipping through the digitized issue of the Norfolk Journal and Guide from February 25, 1939. Thompson performed with the “Brown Skin Models,” a Ziegfeld Follies-style music and dance revue that featured African American dancers. Thompson was a star in the 1930s, but her name and the history of this black burlesque troupe were new to me.

I have also delved into newspaper accounts of less pleasant aspects of history. My February 14 post was on an African American family who died after their house was set on fire in Fontana, California in December 1945. I first learned about this history several years ago from Hisaye Yamamoto‘s autobiographical short story, “A Fire in Fontana.” But it was an article on the seventieth anniversary of the murders published in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (and tweeted by UCLA historian Genevieve Carpio) that prompted me to find a Los Angeles Sentinel article on the case. I knew from Yamamoto’s story that O’Day Short and his family were killed in the fire, but until I started writing the Black Quotidian post I did not know the names of his wife, Helen Short, or their children–nine-year old Barry and Carol Ann, aged seven. Learning these names and seeing pictures of the Short family made this tragic story more immediate–and troubling.

By using the Scalar multimedia web-authoring platform, Black Quotidian aims to bring African American history and black newspapers to new audiences in a novel format. When we teach history we make difficult choices about what to include and exclude. Black Quotidian is my small act of rebellion against the pressure to fit African American history into a single month or a fifteen-week semester. Taking the ordinary aspects of African American history seriously means recognizing the richness and diversity of black lives, cultures, and communities. I continue to be surprised by the amazing stories that live in the archives of black newspapers. With Black Quotidian, I hope to bring several hundred of these stories to web audiences and, in the process, change how I think about, write about, and teach African American history.

I welcome guest contributors to Black Quotidian, so please e-mail me if you are interested in contributing.

~ Matthew Delmont is associate professor of history at Arizona State University. He is the author of The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia (University of California Press, 2012); Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation (University of California Press, 2016); and Making “Roots”: A Nation Captivated (University of California Press, forthcoming August 2016).

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Jason Steinhauer <![CDATA[Building an interdisciplinary discipline]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17385 2016-04-26T23:18:23Z 2016-04-27T09:30:50Z hand-drawn map

Amanda Lyons of Visuals for Change was the visual note-taker at the March 2016 history communicators summit at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Image credit: Amanda Lyons

When I put the words “history” and “communication” together nearly two years ago, I never imagined it would elicit as much discussion and controversy as it has. Read More

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Amanda Lyons of Visuals for Change was the visual note-taker at the March 2016 history communicators summit at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Image credit: Amanda Lyons

When I put the words “history” and “communication” together nearly two years ago, I never imagined it would elicit as much discussion and controversy as it has. Some have asked whether history communication is just public history—or an extension of public history. Others have suggested it is what all historians do already. It is also what some journalists do. And documentary filmmakers. In fact, history communication as I envision it intersects all of these disciplines and more, but is bounded by none of them. Bringing this expertise under one umbrella has been part of the agenda.

Recent interdisciplinary conversations have challenged our assumptions about what history communication is and how it needs to move forward. A March 2016 summit at the University of Massachusetts Amherst laid these questions on the table before academic historians, public historians, journalists, and filmmakers. Moreover, panels at the National Council on Public History conference in April 2015 and March 2016 and at the American Historical Association conference in January 2016 have offered opportunities to learn from historians about existing initiatives and gain feedback from students about what they wish to do with their careers. I also learned a lot from students and faculty at Wayne State University during my visit there in February. All have been instrumental in fleshing out what history communication in the twenty-first century is and could be.

My original intention was to help solve a particular challenge, namely the disconnect between the vast amounts of historical scholarship produced within the academy and cultural institutions such as mine, and non-experts. Bridging this gap was—and remains—paramount among my motivations for history communicators, though there are others.

There are numerous barriers to accessing new historical scholarship, among them pricey journal subscriptions, articles behind pay walls, jargon, and lack of attention from the popular press. Museums, national parks, libraries, historic sites, films, and classrooms are some of the venues where non-experts encounter historical scholarship but increasingly they also encounter it on Wikipedia and in Google Doodles, in books by media personalities, in popular movies and theater, including Lincoln and Hamilton: An American Musical, and on social media platforms, such as Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube. New modes continue to emerge.

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Image credit: Amanda Lyons

We do not uniformly prepare our history students to work in all these arenas. Not all masters and PhD students learn to design or write for the Web. Not all receive media training or are pushed to experiment with storytelling through theater and film. Not all practice using creative tools to disseminate scholarship or learn how to exploit social media.

Not all students wish to learn these things. But in my anecdotal canvassing of masters students and PhD candidates, there is wide interest in being introduced to these concepts and a wide discrepancy on how much–if any–of this is currently covered in existing programs. So while some historians may, indeed, be doing these things in a number of professional settings, cultivating such a well-rounded literacy in the next generation under the term that we call history communication is the near-term objective.

The time is ripe to innovate, to unify these practices under the umbrella of history communication, and to enhance it with best practices from history, journalism, communications, advocacy, business, and the Web. That is where we are headed, with the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Purdue University as the willing co-pilots. Soon students at these universities will be able to take an undergraduate or graduate course titled “History Communication” in which they might:

  • Take an academic journal article and turn it into a blog post, infographic, series of social media posts, or YouTube video series
  • Learn to pitch journalists on a new historical work or a new history project
  • Put together a fundraising proposal for a history-related project to a foundation that does not specialize in history
  • Learn to brief a federal, state, or local policymaker
  • Learn how to apply marketing techniques to communications about history
  • Extend existing public history museum practices (such as writing label texts and designing tours and educational programming) into the digital realm and other non-traditional venues
  • Become more conversant with the tools and ideas of the digital humanities, including coding, web design, and computer science
  • Learn to craft a compelling historical narrative using audio and visual storytelling
  • Learn to speak on camera and to the media, and to be a “history pundit”
  • Integrate theater and improvisational skills into history
  • Ruminate on how to be an ethical historian in today’s communications landscape

Such a course could easily be nestled within existing history or public history frameworks—or even general coursework requirements within a PhD track.

My sense in talking to students is that many would be eager for such a course—and that it would be valuable to their careers. As UMass and Purdue develop these courses, we will continue to gather insights from those doing this work on how to integrate existing expertise. We will also draw on the expertise of journalists and those working in communications, marketing, theater, film, and business to make this a truly interdisciplinary offering. We have heard that there is great interest from other schools in adopting our pilot and expanding upon it. Eventually we hope there will be history communication courses nationwide.

The formation of this new field continues to be informed by discussions within the field and beyond. I encourage you to get involved by joining the conversation on Twitter at #histcomm–and check back to History@Work (and other sites) for more pieces by participants in March’s history communication summit at UMass. Nearly two years since I first introduced the idea, and after nearly a year of public conversation, the first significant deliverable is in sight. Coming soon in 2017: a new course in history communication!

~ Jason Steinhauer is a public historian at the Library of Congress and creator of the term and concept “history communicators.” For 2016 he is also a Visiting Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On Twitter: @JasonSteinhauer.

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editors <![CDATA[Project Showcase: Beyond Footnotes]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17725 2016-04-24T21:10:33Z 2016-04-25T09:30:01Z Beyond Footnotes_Pic 1

Beyond Footnotes logo. Screenshot credit: Department of History, Portland State College

Beyond Footnotes is a history-themed podcast sponsored by Portland State University’s Department of History. The goal of the project is to move conversations about history from the hallways to the airwaves. Read More

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Beyond Footnotes logo. Screenshot credit: Department of History, Portland State College

Beyond Footnotes is a history-themed podcast sponsored by Portland State University’s Department of History. The goal of the project is to move conversations about history from the hallways to the airwaves.

The bi-weekly program debuted on the campus radio station, KPSU, in October 2015. Co-creators and hosts Joshua Justice and Ryan Wisnor, both PSU students, conceived of Beyond Footnotes as a forum for local historians to share their work with each other and with the community. In addition to the live radio broadcast, Beyond Footnotes is also archived on the Department of History’s website.

On the most recent episode, Melissa Lang­–who recently received an M.A. in history from PSU–discussed her study of women’s civil rights activism in twentieth-century Portland. Lang conducted her thesis research in the Verdell Burdine & Otto G. Rutherford Collection housed at PSU. The collection documents one hundred years of African American life and culture in Oregon from the 1880s-1980s. Lang is the current Oregon Women’s History Consortium fellow and secretary of the executive committee of the Portland NAACP. Listen to this episode and their complete archive here or on iTunes. Beyond Footnotes is also on Twitter and Facebook.

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Brian Joyner <![CDATA[Whither diversity?]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17466 2016-04-21T22:18:50Z 2016-04-22T09:30:22Z NCPH Diversity Task Force logo. Image credit: Kesha Bruce

NCPH Diversity Task Force logo. Image credit: Kesha Bruce

Ask people what diversity within an organization or institution means and you’ll get many answers–responses so disparate, you wonder how anyone can identify a common thread or focus.

In 2015, the National Council on Public History created a Diversity Task Force to address the paucity of professionals of color engaged in public history in general and NCPH in particular. Read More

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NCPH Diversity Task Force logo. Image credit: Kesha Bruce

NCPH Diversity Task Force logo. Image credit: Kesha Bruce

Ask people what diversity within an organization or institution means and you’ll get many answers–responses so disparate, you wonder how anyone can identify a common thread or focus.

In 2015, the National Council on Public History created a Diversity Task Force to address the paucity of professionals of color engaged in public history in general and NCPH in particular.

Kristine Navarro-McElhaney of Arizona State University and I were asked to co-chair the group, made up of Aleia Brown, Middle Tennessee State University; Alima Bucciantini, Duquesne University; Kathleen Franz, National Museum of American History; Blanca Garcia, California State University, San Bernardino; Modupe Labode, Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis; and Mary Rizzo, Rutgers University-Newark.  Rather than leave that discussion among the earnest, but decidedly few, individuals in the task force, the group decided to open up the topic  at this year’s annual conference in Baltimore. The task force set out to answer the question of what NCPH means by diversity through a series of events held throughout the conference.

In Baltimore, the Diversity Task Force sought to do several things

  1. Let the NCPH membership know there was a group looking at ways to acknowledge and amplify the profile of under-represented segments of the public historian community
  2. Engage the conference with discussions of what diversity might look like for NCPH
  3. Question whether the work should be about “diversity” or “inclusion”

On Thursday, March 17, the task force organized a Twitter chat, #HistoryInMyImage, hosted by Aleia Brown (@aleiabrown).  Nearly 300 tweets responded to and expounded on a series of questions directed at understanding how professionals of color view NCPH, what diversity and inclusion mean to NCPH members, and what they expect as members. The tone of the responses mirrored much of the debate occurring through the conference. (Here is a Storify of the chat.)

The Twitter chat segued into the task force’s first face-to-face meeting in the afternoon.  After a presentation from Sangita Chari from the National Park Service about their Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, the discussion quickly moved from whether we defined diversity  primarily as race and ethnicity  or whether we should expand to include gender, sexuality, and ability.  The group identified opportunities for further engagement with membership by submitting a proposal to the NCPH Board of Directors to make the task force a standing committee, proposing a mini-con on diversity and inclusion, connecting with other committees dealing with related issues (such as accessibility), and hosting future Twitter chats. Several interested individuals attended the meeting, providing useful feedback and perspective. There was a call for increased transparency around the task force’s work as it moves forward.

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Sticky notes and social media helped to broaden the conversations at the NCPH conference in Baltimore.

Later that evening, the task force hosted an UnConference on #HistoryInMyImage at Teavolve Cafe to continue the dialogue the social media chat initiated. Attendees shared, in groups, their experiences at the conference to that point. More people requested increased transparency as the task force moves forward. Participants were asked to write one or two words on sticky notes to describe what diversity should mean for NCPH and the public history field. Many of the issues surrounding inclusive practices–panel diversity, session slotting, accommodations for the differently-abled–arose as the group teased out this question. I proposed starting an online group as an additional step toward transparency.  

So what’s next? More intentional engagement around diversity and inclusion, as social media and informal responses to other sessions indicated, is necessary. Well-intentioned people at the conference indicated that “diversity is important” while failing to invite people representing those groups into the room when the conversations occur. Still others are tired of the discussion and want to “see change happen” without knowing what that looks like or what their responsibility is to that change. The collected one-word responses from the UnConference plus the Twitter chat results will shape the dialogue with the NCPH Board as to how NCPH incorporates diversity and inclusion as a core value.  Finally, expanding participation of NCPH members in the task force seems critical. Baltimore proved to be a good first step, but persistent effort and engagement is crucial to achieve the shift that so many see needs to happen.

In the immediate future, the task force will 1) work toward gaining standing committee status, and 2) outline the scope of the task force and plan its future direction. This blog post is the first in a series that hopes to answer the question of what diversity is and why it’s important to NCPH. 

Brian Joyner has worked for the National Park Service for many years and currently serves as a legislative specialist.

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Lara Kelland <![CDATA[Digital community engagement across the divides]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17397 2016-04-20T12:40:16Z 2016-04-20T12:30:26Z "A Conversation," by Khalid Albaih. Posted on Flikr, CC BY 2.0 license.

Image credit: A Conversation, Khalid Albaih

In 2008, the Journal of American History published a conversation among several historians regarding the future of digital history. William G. Thomas III  said, “We might imagine a more proximate collaboration in which historians team up with [community] groups.  Read More

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"A Conversation," by Khalid Albaih. Posted on Flikr, CC BY 2.0 license.

Image credit: A Conversation, Khalid Albaih

In 2008, the Journal of American History published a conversation among several historians regarding the future of digital history. William G. Thomas III  said, “We might imagine a more proximate collaboration in which historians team up with [community] groups. The Web 2.0 movement might allow historians and the public to make history together rather than separately. The professional barriers are significant, but our professional relevance is also at stake in the digital age.” [1]

Thomas spoke primarily to academic historians, to those working in the ivory tower who had begun to venture down the road into public history via digital tools. But his optimism regarding the participatory potential within digital tools surely echoes public history’s embrace of digital work and fundamental commitment to collaborative history making.

Andrew Hurley’s thought-provoking article in the February 2016 issue of The Public Historian provides public history practitioners a glimpse into one innovative project that uses digital tools for such collaboration in place-based history. This work offers potential for digitally inflected (to borrow a term from Jeff McClurken) public historians to advance the field’s promotion of community engagement and the toolkit of shared authority. His analysis of the Virtual City Project offers an account of successes and failures in using immersive environments to provoke conversation about the past, present, and future of a historic neighborhood.

Hurley’s account usefully engages the question of community agency in the planning process, especially as it pertains to historic nomination standards. Restoration Group’s innovative strategy for crossing a digital divide (which Hurley insightfully points out is as much about culturally specific digital behavior as it is access to hardware) involved docent-led explorations in a community space. Such creative practices are central to the kind of inclusive work that public historians seek to do with digital tools.

After reading the piece, I wondered about the potential impact of this technology on community and individual memory. In my experience with community-based history projects, visuals as low-tech as photocopied newspaper images can elicit a wealth of memories for long-time community residents, and immersive environments, such as 3D imaging, ought to prove much more evocative. Indeed, Hurley mentions that “members of an older generation who had some familiarity with the neighborhood” brought their own memories into the group dialogues. I suspect that 3D modeling of historical places would provoke a flood of memories in most communities. Such visualization holds great potential, it seems to me, in nurturing recollections in oral history projects and other public history endeavors—especially as we strive to be a part of community revitalization that also nurtures long-time residents.

One of the most vexing and important challenges facing those doing redevelopment work in urban historical neighborhoods is the process of gentrification. As public historians, we must be mindful of the ways that market forces respond to our work, especially when it means the potential displacement of working-class communities or people of color. The Virtual City Project successfully brought a cross section of the neighborhood into the planning process, an important first step towards the goal of nurturing historic resources and developing interpretive projects while also protecting more vulnerable members of the community. Perhaps the conversation inspired by this project can extend such dialogue into other projects that struggle with digital community engagement.

Parkland History Project

Homepage of Parkland History Project. Courtesy of Lara Kelland.

Homepage of Parkland History Project. Screenshot credit: Lara Kelland

In May 1968, the Parkland neighborhood of Louisville, KY, was the site of an urban disorder. Like so many other cities, activists and residents fed up with police brutality took to the streets to protest a variety of frustrating issues: the slow pace of policy change in response to the activism of the civil rights movement, displacement policies such as urban renewal, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other social, economic, and cultural problems. Currently, the Parkland neighborhood struggles with a host of issues that are common in many urban neighborhoods comprised of low-income residents and people of color. Population drain, food deserts, crime, empty lots, and a lack of services inspire uplift efforts such as community garden projects, grassroots arts initiatives, and myriad efforts by a dedicated group of local activists and social service organizations. Indeed, we imagine our history work as a complement to such revitalization efforts

For the past two years, I have directed the Parkland History Project as part of my graduate courses and my own research efforts in the public history program at the University of Louisville. In our work, we have used oral histories to ensure that a diverse set of experiences is inscribed into the historical record. In partnership with the Parkland Neighborhood Improvement Association, we have conducted over thirty-five oral history interviews and have incorporated these memories and archival documents into a variety of digital history projects and student-curated exhibits.

Although traditional archival documents comprise a portion of the sources used in the project, oral histories and lived memory make up a significant portion of the historical materials through which we are telling neighborhood and Black Freedom Movement history. While this approach should ensure that we foreground community members’ voices, we have also sought to gain community input at the project-curation level. So far, however, we have failed to secure meaningful input in response to interpretive projects.

During the oral history interviews in 2014, narrators responded in a wide variety of ways to the question of whether the events of May 1968 ought to be remembered as a “riot,” “uprising,” or “disturbance,” sometimes providing their own terms. As students in my public history courses at the University of Louisville have worked with the oral histories as raw material for interpretive projects, they have extended this terminology debate into their work in an effort to honor the lived experiences of residents. In most cases, they have handled the matter with sensitivity and have managed to represent multiple viewpoints. To this end, we feel that the project has successfully shared authority at the level of co-creating oral histories.

Yet our attempts at gaining community input into the final projects have generated little constructive criticism. A community survey asking for responses to the project website that features various student projects garnered few responses, as have similar invitations we have issued on social media. Those who have contacted us have been supportive of the digital work we have done, but our hopes for engaged and sustained dialogue about the neighborhood’s past, present, and future have yet to materialize. We plan to more richly engage digital maps as we continue the project, but we will have to be innovative to ensure that such projects elicit a deep level of community participation.

Like Hurley, we have speculated that the digital divide in its many forms has contributed to this silence. As we move into the second half of the project, we plan to increase our community engagement strategies to include more programming in the neighborhood, and we will likely take cues from the successful strategy deployed by the Virtual City Project to blend face-to-face methods with digital tools. The “build it and put it on the web and they will come” model for digital history is insufficient, but I feel confident that if we continue to share strategies for civic engagement in the digital era, we will craft a set of practices that will further the goals of democratized cultural production.

~ Lara Kelland is a scholar of twentieth-century social movements and collective memory practices. She teaches public and US history at the University of Louisville.

[1] William G. Thomas III, “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History,” Journal of American History 95, no. 2 (2008): 472.

 

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editors <![CDATA[Around the field April 19, 2016]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17727 2016-04-20T00:47:45Z 2016-04-20T00:47:09Z newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: New Routledge textbook on public history practice; reflecting on a massacre in Memphis, Coventry/Dresden reconciliation project in London, and maritime memory in Massachusetts; in search of “the middle” for 2017 National Council on Public History conference. Read More

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newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: New Routledge textbook on public history practice; reflecting on a massacre in Memphis, Coventry/Dresden reconciliation project in London, and maritime memory in Massachusetts; in search of “the middle” for 2017 National Council on Public History conference.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

CONFERENCES and CALLS

FUNDING

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

PUBLICATIONS

To submit an item to this weekly listing, email us at historyatwork[at]ncph.org. Please make sure to include a URL where readers can find more information about your posting.

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editors <![CDATA[Ask a public historian: Mike Hollander]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17014 2016-04-14T12:01:16Z 2016-04-15T09:30:28Z Mike Hollander with Kermit the Frog. Photo credit: Image courtesy of Mike Hollander.

Hollander with Kermit the Frog. Photo credit: Mike Hollander

Mike Hollander is currently the acting museum director at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. He has been at the Wisconsin Historical Museum for five years and in his current position for nearly a year. Read More

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Mike Hollander with Kermit the Frog. Photo credit: Image courtesy of Mike Hollander.

Hollander with Kermit the Frog. Photo credit: Mike Hollander

Mike Hollander is currently the acting museum director at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. He has been at the Wisconsin Historical Museum for five years and in his current position for nearly a year. Previously, Hollander was an associate curator at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for four years, followed by two years as exhibitions manager at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. He has a BS in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in public history from Loyola University Chicago.

What was your career trajectory?

After graduating college, I was positive I wanted to work in politics, not necessarily as an elected official, but working for the legislature at some level. It didn’t take long to realize that I was wrong. I started to look at other options. I volunteered at a museum to see if I was interested in it, and was hooked. I decided to pursue a graduate degree in public history. One of the requirements of the program was an internship, and I chose to intern at the Museum of Science and Industry. I was fortunate enough to be involved with a great project–the U-505 Submarine exhibition. When my internship ended, I was kept on as a part-time employee and then moved to full-time associate curator. After four years at MSI, I took a position as exhibitions manager at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. After two years at CAF, my family relocated to Wisconsin and I took a part-time position as financial assistant at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. This led to a full-time position as business manager and eventually museum deputy director. When the museum director was promoted, I was put into the position of acting museum director.

If someone wants to be “you” what advice would you have?

First, learn a variety of skills, particularly financial and project management. If you have a particular skill, and the need for that skill goes away or changes, it is good to be able to shift into another area. Also, there are skills and knowledge that can be used in a very specific instance and others that can be used universally. I know a lot about the U-505. That’s great when you work at the Museum of Science and Industry, but not so much at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. I also know how to manage a budget, which can be used at any organization. If you can help out anywhere within your organization, you will make yourself invaluable.

Second, be open to the opportunities in front of you. Maybe you really want to be an archivist but there is a museum educator position available. Learn how to be the best educator you can be and other opportunities will open to you (or maybe a new path that you didn’t know about).

What is your favorite question to ask in interviews and why?

Tell us about yourself. This is usually the first question I ask. It gives people the opportunity to start the interview by telling me something they should know very well and hopefully makes them more comfortable and less nervous. The right answer is the one that gives me insight into the interviewee. It can be anything. Their personal story, their personality, their education, their work experience. I want to know if this person is a good fit with our team.

Any good resume tips specific to the field?

Some of this is specific to the field and some of it is general. First, take the time to put together your cover letter and resume. Get rid of all misspellings and extraneous words. Read your cover letter and resume aloud to yourself before you send it. If you can, have someone else read it. Second, it is really easy to identify an applicant that is firing off generic resumes. Find out about the organization you are applying to. Spend time combing through their website. If you can, make time for a visit. Then make your application as specific to the position as you can. Third, make your work history relevant to the position. The visitor experience is extremely important in the museum field right now. What have you done in your previous work that has improved someone’s experience? What did you do to help someone, whether a co-worker or the public? How can you apply your experience to the duties that are listed in the job posting? Finally, and this is the hard one, what can you do to make the organization you are applying to successful?

~ This post is part of our series “Ask a Public Historian,” brought to you by NCPH’s New Professional and Graduate Student Committee. Follow the committee on Twitter at @NCPHnewgrad. You can find more “Ask a Practitioner” posts here.

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Deborah Boyer <![CDATA[Finding the intersection of technology and public history]]> http://ncph.org/?p=16826 2016-04-13T15:55:41Z 2016-04-13T09:30:59Z Photo credit: The Tire Zoo, on Flickr

Photo credit: The Tire Zoo

Digital technology has enabled public historians, cultural heritage professionals, and history students to collaborate with diverse audiences and explore history’s role in civic engagement in ways previously unimagined. The partnership between the Virtual City Project and the Restoration Group described by Andrew Hurley in “Chasing the Frontiers of Digital Technology: Public History Meets the Digital Divide” demonstrates the exciting possibilities as well as challenges advanced digital tools provide, especially in the face of limited budgets, long software development cycles, and varying levels of digital access. Read More

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Photo credit: The Tire Zoo, on Flickr

Photo credit: The Tire Zoo

Digital technology has enabled public historians, cultural heritage professionals, and history students to collaborate with diverse audiences and explore history’s role in civic engagement in ways previously unimagined. The partnership between the Virtual City Project and the Restoration Group described by Andrew Hurley in “Chasing the Frontiers of Digital Technology: Public History Meets the Digital Divide” demonstrates the exciting possibilities as well as challenges advanced digital tools provide, especially in the face of limited budgets, long software development cycles, and varying levels of digital access.

While creation of a 3D-model viewer and editor may be beyond the scope of many digital humanities projects, many face issues similar to those Virtual City encountered when released to the public. Among those challenges are the difficulties of connecting both with populations with limited digital access and with those accustomed to viewing and sharing online content through social media. Public historians must keep both challenges in mind from the beginning of project development if they hope to reach a diverse audience who will share the project with others.

The Virtual City team is not alone in discovering that attracting an online audience can be difficult—particularly if the target audience of the project includes socioeconomic groups who tend to access online resources through mobile devices rather than from a desktop or laptop computer. A 2015 report compiled by the Pew Research Center on smartphone use in the United States found that 19 percent of Americans “rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services.” The same study found that individuals with low household incomes, lower levels of educational attainment, who are under the age of twenty-nine, and are non-white rely most heavily on smartphones for online access.

Even individuals with multiple options for accessing the Internet frequently use smartphones to view social media, check email, and receive texts while away from their home or office. While this is anecdotal, many smartphone owners can likely attest to how often they reach for their phones to fill the small gaps of time—waiting for a bus, stuck in the school pick-up line, at the doctor’s office. The portability of smartphones makes them ideal for quickly viewing information or scrolling through a list of social media posts.

They are less useful for viewing digital history projects that use sophisticated technical tools or encourage viewers to thoughtfully engage in discussion of complex issues. Individuals who primarily access the Internet via smartphone thus may have significantly more difficulty viewing technically complex digital history projects. Projects that require installation of other software or even just a larger screen size may be completely inaccessible.

Homepage of PhillyHistory.org.

Homepage of PhillyHistory.org.

I serve as the project manager for PhillyHistory.org, a website featuring historic photographs from the Philadelphia City Archives. Since the project launched in 2005, we have seen a dramatic shift in how people discover our site and how they engage with the photographs. In 2012, 13 percent of visits to PhillyHistory.org were from mobile or tablet devices, according to Google Analytics.  By 2015, that number had risen to 34 percent, and we expect that trend to continue in 2016. The increase in visitors accessing the site via mobile device is likely linked to the Facebook mobile app, the third highest source of visitor traffic in 2015. The origin of four percent of all sessions, Facebook mobile is a minor source of referrals to PhillyHistory compared to Google searches and direct visits to the site URL, but it still was responsible for over 8,000 visits.

Why is Facebook generating so much traffic? It is difficult to pinpoint exact posts, but we have some individuals and groups who regularly share PhillyHistory.org photos and blog posts on Facebook. Visitors increasingly use social media as a place to keep abreast of current events and learn about new projects. They then help spread the word about the material on PhillyHistory to new audiences.

The downside is that visitors who come to us through clicking on a Facebook post may discover the source of the image or read the blog post but then quickly move onto something else. Visitors on mobile devices spend somewhat less time on PhillyHistory, though they may engage in discussions about the photos on Facebook or Twitter. While we are glad to see the photos sparking discussions about the past, it is difficult to capture the information and stories shared in those social media conversations.

A social media presence and mobile-friendly website are two means of increasing the likelihood that diverse audiences will find and use a digital history site. However, such initiatives require both financial and human resources that may not be included in the funding for the project. The full PhillyHistory site is usable via mobile device and a web app is available, although both could use  an update to improve user experience. While each image on PhillyHistory includes a button to allow visitors to share it on their Facebook pages, we currently do not maintain our own Facebook page.  Regularly posting helpful content and responding to Facebook comments can be time consuming and is beyond the resources we have available at this time. We have opted, instead, to maintain a Twitter account.

At its core, PhillyHistory is a photo database with an accompanying blog. Both can be easily shared on social media and are accessible via mobile devices. What about digital history projects that cannot be easily transitioned to such a cross-platform experience? Must public historians forgo the use of new technology that requires more computing resources or will not work well on smartphones? Not at all. But we need to understand, as the example of the Virtual City project demonstrates, that supporting interaction with a digital project will require many of the traditional community-engagement activities familiar to all of us and that our projects may become opportunities for teaching digital literacy as much as for sharing historical information.

Understanding the digital divide and how people access the Internet are only two of the issues facing digital humanities projects. The pace of technological change can cause grant-funded projects with limited time for software development to fall behind digital trends. Educational sites that lack funding for regular design upgrades and enhancements can feel outdated and less engaging than other websites. We may be excited about a new software tool, but by the time the grant is written and the funding awarded, it may already have been usurped by something else.

Despite these challenges, we should continue to focus on building projects that enable our collaborators to grow their digital skills, that share history with new audiences, and that encourage communities to work together to actively engage with the development and preservation of their neighborhoods. While we will almost never have a team of dozens of software developers, web designers, social media specialists, and writers on a digital humanities project, we can focus on providing a “classic,” well-organized, informative user experience that demonstrates how well the digital aligns with the values of public historians.

~ Deborah Boyer is the project manager for digital humanities and urban forestry projects at Azavea, a geospatial software company based in Philadelphia. She received her M.A. in public history from Loyola University Chicago and teaches digital history classes at Temple University and Villanova University.

Editor’s note: In “Chasing the Frontiers of Digital Technology,” published in The Public Historian (38.1), Andrew Hurley discusses the implications of the digital divide when working with diverse audiences and striving for public engagement. This is the fourth of five posts that will be published by The Public Historian responding to Hurley’s article.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the field April 12, 2016]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17322 2016-04-12T21:38:33Z 2016-04-12T21:37:43Z newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Registration ends tomorrow for public history boot camp on collections assessment in Camden, New Jersey, U.S.; Visitor Studies Association takes on the Data Revolution; international symposium on Cultural Heritage Conservation and Digitization in Beijing; learning from LGBTQ lives in Oral History Review. Read More

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newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Registration ends tomorrow for public history boot camp on collections assessment in Camden, New Jersey, U.S.; Visitor Studies Association takes on the Data Revolution; international symposium on Cultural Heritage Conservation and Digitization in Beijing; learning from LGBTQ lives in Oral History Review.

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

PUBLICATIONS

To submit an item to this weekly listing, email us at historyatwork[at]ncph.org. Please make sure to include a URL where readers can find more information about your posting.

 

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Will Walker <![CDATA[Ask a consulting historian: Jan Dilg]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17007 2016-04-04T00:15:03Z 2016-04-08T09:30:52Z Jan Dilg leads a women's suffrage walking tour in Portland. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jan Dilg.

Jan Dilg leads a women’s suffrage walking tour in Portland. Photo credit: Jan Dilg

Jan Dilg is an independent historian and the principal of HistoryBuilt, a historical consulting firm. She works with public agencies, non-profits, and historical organizations on a variety of public history programs, events, and products. Read More

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Jan Dilg leads a women's suffrage walking tour in Portland. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jan Dilg.

Jan Dilg leads a women’s suffrage walking tour in Portland. Photo credit: Jan Dilg

Jan Dilg is an independent historian and the principal of HistoryBuilt, a historical consulting firm. She works with public agencies, non-profits, and historical organizations on a variety of public history programs, events, and products.

How did you first become involved in historical consulting?

I went back to school as an older student. I wanted to finish my degree and I found myself drawn to the history courses I was taking, so I decided to pursue history as my major. I did both my undergraduate and master’s work at Portland State University. While I was in school, I secured a Rose Tucker Fellowship at the Oregon Historical Society. I got started consulting because I wanted to get keep going in the field of history, even after the fellowship at the historical society had ended. I talked to other consulting historians and based on that, I put together a small consulting business.

How did you handle the business aspects of starting consulting work?

I eased into it very haphazardly. I did not incorporate initially. I didn’t find that to be an issue until I was contacted about working on a project with some city agencies and not being incorporated became a make-or-break issue. That spurred me to leap into stricter business practices.

Has History Built always been your company name or is it a recent rebranding?

It was a more recent rebranding. Part of that came about when I decided I needed to have a bit more of a presence. I would say that the majority of my business comes from referrals, but I still wanted more of a presence. I decided to build a brand and I had a website built. I think that’s been very effective.

Jan's oral history recording equipment set up in the Harmony pod of the ISS mock-up at the Johnson Space Center waiting for astronaut, and OSU alumni, Don Petit to arrive for his interview. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jan Dilg.

Jan’s oral history recording equipment set up in the Harmony pod of the International Space Center mockup at the Johnson Space Center waiting for astronaut and Oregon State University alumnus Don Petit to arrive for his interview. Photo credit: Jan Dilg

Describe your work and a few recent projects.

In the last few years, I’ve been doing a lot of oral history. It’s always been a component of my business, but my work is about 75 percent oral history. I’m working on three major projects. One that I’ve been involved with since I started consulting is the US District Court of Oregon oral history project. They have their own historical society and they’ve been doing an ongoing oral history project, in collaboration with the Oregon Historical Society, since the mid-1980s. I’ve continued to manage that project, as well as conduct oral histories with federal judges, members of the federal court system, and probation officers. We collect and archive oral histories with people who make the federal courts function.

I’m almost finished with a project with Oregon State University that took about three years. It was an oral history project to document the university’s history in anticipation of their sesquicentennial anniversary that’s coming up in a few years. I interviewed alumni, administrators, faculty, and staff on a wide variety of subjects, from someone who graduated from OSU in 1939 to someone who retired last year.

I’m also doing a project with the Oregon State Capitol Foundation, which is a group that tries to highlight the history of the state capitol building and the people in the legislature. They’re trying to revive a previous oral history project. We’ve been interviewing some people who held elected positions of various kinds.

Do you collaborate with other professionals on projects?

Absolutely. One project that I did a couple of years ago was a park, Dawson Park, that underwent massive renovations that included integrating history into the design. In that, I worked with a landscape architecture firm and a graphic design firm. That was a pretty interesting and unique collaboration.

Jan Dilg at Dawson Park in Portland. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jan Dilg.

Jan Dilg at Dawson Park in Portland. Photo credit: Jan Dilg

It sounds like the majority of your clients are in the public sector. Do you have to bid on projects?

Most of my projects come from referrals, but I still have to put together bids to outline costs. In a couple of projects, I’ve been the person responsible for contacting archives and knowing what any image reproduction and usage costs will be up front. And those costs become part of the bid, so I need to put enough money into the budget to cover those costs.

When you’re putting together a budget for a project, are you working on primarily an hourly fee or a project fee?

It varies. With oral histories, I’ve done that enough that I’m pretty clear what the time requirements are going to be, so I give a per recorded hour price. If it’s something that’s pretty unique, I either add an hourly component or add overhead that would cover quirks that may come up that aren’t obvious because it’s a one-off project. One important skill I’ve learned over the years is how to recognize when a client is expanding the original scope of work, and to negotiate additional compensation to cover new, additional work. Not always an easy discussion to have, but essential to running a successful consulting business.

Is there such a thing as a typical day at work for you?

I would say typical in the sense there’s a portion that includes correspondence and communication and the other portion that includes public history work, whether that’s doing research for an upcoming oral history or research in an archive for some project. Each day varies some, but I’d say each has sort of a framework to it.

What are some of the challenges as well as some of the rewards of consulting work?

The challenge is never really knowing whether another project is going to come along. There isn’t a lot of repeat business. As I start to get towards the end of a project, I feel anxiety about what I will be doing next. I think the other challenge is managing the business part of it. What keeps me really engaged is that I can, to a certain degree, control what I work on. I generally do projects that are of interest to me. I also like the independence and the flexibility–I can work ten hours one day and then the next day do something during regular work hours that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to do if I worked in an office.

~ This post is part of our “Ask a Consulting Historian” series, brought to you by the NCPH Consultants Committee. Follow the Consultants Committee on Twitter at @NCPHconsultants. You can find more “Ask a Practitioner” posts here.

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