National Council on Public History Putting History to Work in the World 2018-07-19T17:14:11Z http://ncph.org/feed/atom/ WordPress Adina Langer http://www.artiflection.com <![CDATA[Editors’ conversation on interpreting immigration, Part 1]]> http://ncph.org?p=37822&preview=true&preview_id=37822 2018-07-18T15:52:55Z 2018-07-19T12:30:00Z Editors’ Note: Four years ago, outgoing NCPH president Bob Weyeneth called on public historians to “pull back the curtain” on their process. Turning topics of contemporary relevance into public history involves numerous collegial conversations which usually remain behind the scenes. The History@Work editors thought our readers might be interested in the following conversation prompted by Adina Langer’s development of a new exhibition at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University. Read More

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Immigrant family viewing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, ca. 1940. Photo credit: Library of Congress

Editors’ Note: Four years ago, outgoing NCPH president Bob Weyeneth called on public historians to “pull back the curtain” on their process. Turning topics of contemporary relevance into public history involves numerous collegial conversations which usually remain behind the scenes. The History@Work editors thought our readers might be interested in the following conversation prompted by Adina Langer’s development of a new exhibition at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University. Set to open on August 30, Refuge or Refusal: Turning Points in U.S. Immigration History was inspired by a consideration of the effects of U.S. immigration and naturalization policy on people caught up in World War II and the Holocaust both at home and abroad. Immigration and refugee policy remain relevant today, and the goal of the exhibit is to elucidate the historical context for contemporary debates. Will Walker, who teaches a course on “Migration and Community” at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, kindly served as an early reader for the exhibit and helped to hone its focus on the broad American experience. Adina Langer, who worked on the exhibit while also teaching a course on histories of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, found herself confronting questions at the heart of American national identity. These questions—about the relationships between immigration, citizenship, and policy development; power and moral responsibility; science, language, and human categorization—led to the conversation you see below. Modupe Labode provided additional insights based on her work with students participating in the Humanities Action Lab‘s projects States of Incarceration and the Guantanamo Public Memory Project, and on her experiences using the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new History Unfolded project with undergraduate students. We invite you to contribute your own answers to these questions in the comments section of this post or to reach out to the editors directly.

AJL: What makes immigration such an important topic for public historians to take on right now?

WW: Immigration policy, especially regarding undocumented immigrants, is the epicenter of the struggle over the soul of America today. Trump catalyzed his candidacy by calling Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists” and demanding a border wall, and he began his presidency by issuing a sweeping Muslim ban and dramatically cutting refugee admissions to the United States. Along with Republican members of Congress, he has used the plight of DACA recipients (or “Dreamers”) as a bargaining chip to achieve sweeping anti-immigrant, nativist goals, and he has unleashed the repressive and often inhumane forces of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to punish those migrants who would dare seek an escape from violence and poverty by crossing the border. Trump’s xenophobic ideas and policies are part and parcel of a broader white nationalist effort to reduce both documented and undocumented immigration to the United States, especially from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Public historians have a critical role to play not only in contextualizing xenophobia and U.S. immigration policy but in supporting the efforts of activists, policymakers, and aid workers as they struggle to defend human rights and support some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. Observing from the sidelines is simply not an option at this moment.

ML: We are also witnessing a strong reaction against immigration to Western Europe. Brexit weaponized the issue of refugees from Syria and other countries, and Angela Merkel’s governing coalition is increasingly vulnerable to attacks from nativist groups within Germany. Regarding the U.S., it is also important to understand the contemporary moment as a repudiation of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. Many of the toxic, dehumanizing assertions about immigrants echo statements made prior to the 1924 National Origins Quota law and the retention of those quotas under the McCarran Walter Act of 1952.

AJL: What are some examples of effective immigration interpretation in public history?

Cultural Festival at the Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History, Kingston, New York. Photo credit: rehercenter.org

WW: I’m based in New York State so most of my current observations come from here. For example, I continually look to the Tenement Museum for inspiration. Their “Your Story, Our Story” project along with their newest tour at 103 Orchard Street, bring post-World War II stories of migration to the United States vividly to life and encourage people to share their own contemporary narratives. They complement very well the older histories of migration that the museum has long conveyed through their original building at 98 Orchard Street. I was also a fan of the New-York Historical Society’s 2015 exhibition “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion”, which effectively told the sweeping story of Chinese immigration to the United States while analyzing the consistent theme of exclusionary ideas and policies from multiple angles. Of course the Museum of Chinese in America also does this well while also highlighting Chinese contributions to U.S. society. The Jewish Museum’s new “Scenes from the Collection” exhibition is similarly effective at sparking reflections on issues of migration and identity related to ethnicity and culture. Another great place to explore transformations in American Jewish identity is the Museum at Eldridge Street. This is a particularly good spot to reflect on U.S. immigration history because this beautiful historic synagogue now sits in the heart of New York’s Chinatown. And, finally, Ellis Island continues to be an excellent place to explore U.S. immigration history, although admittedly I have not been there since the repairs following Hurricane Sandy. One thing I’d like to see more of is better interpretation of New York’s Latinx history in the city’s public institutions. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio, the New-York Historical Society, and the Museum of the City of New York have all done exhibitions that have addressed aspects of this history. However, the city (and state’s) Latinx history is too important to be left to the occasional exhibition.

AJL: North of New York City, I also know of a passionate effort to establish the Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History in Kingston, showing that immigration stories are not only central to large cities. Here in Georgia, the Atlanta History Center’s “Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta” exhibit foregrounds a rotation of neighborhood and community histories, including those of predominantly immigrant communities. Private community organizations, such as We Love Buhi, are also taking the lead in launching oral history projects and other efforts to preserve cultural heritage.

~ Adina Langer is the curator of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University. You can follow her on Twitter @artiflection

Modupe Labode is an associate professor of history and museum studies and public scholar of African American history and museums at IUPUI. She is a member of the NCPH board of directors.

Will Walker is associate professor of history at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta. You can find him on Twitter @willcooperstown.

Tune in next Thursday for Part 2 of this conversation!

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Megan Smeznik <![CDATA[Clicking is Learning? Musings on Crafting a Holistic Digital History Pedagogy]]> http://ncph.org/?p=37782 2018-07-17T14:09:33Z 2018-07-17T12:30:41Z “Click here. Click once more. And once more…” As an educational technologist at an undergraduate liberal arts college, I hear these words frequently. I often call on my skills as a public historian when it comes to solving problems related to digital pedagogies and understanding the context of technology in the classroom and beyond. Read More

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“Click here. Click once more. And once more…” As an educational technologist at an undergraduate liberal arts college, I hear these words frequently. I often call on my skills as a public historian when it comes to solving problems related to digital pedagogies and understanding the context of technology in the classroom and beyond. In many respects, my position is similar to my colleagues in museums, academia, and other sites, as I regularly find myself in the position of guide and teacher. It is my responsibility to encourage and gently focus students’ and faculty members’ attentions as they utilize technologies, develop and implement digital pedagogies, and explore the learning process in meaningful ways.

Learning in today’s digital environment should not simply be a “clicking game.” Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Now, truth be told, even for someone who is a bit of technology junkie, it often amazes me how many clicks it can take to perform a task. I like to refer to this affectionately as the “clicking game.” It is a game that we have all played, sometimes daily, during our educational, professional, and personal lives. A recent experience called on my skills as a public historian more than ever.

After leading a workshop for students in a history course, this “clicking game” produced a question I was not prepared to answer as an educator, public historian, and technologist:

“So, I understand why you are telling us what to click on and why to click on it. But what’s the point? You know, the purpose?”

I doubt that I could contain my sigh or my wide-eyed expression as I stood in front of this student, trying to process this question. A million questions raced through my head. What was the purpose? Why did it matter that they learn it at all? By leading this single workshop, these students only received the basic instruction that they would need to complete their assignment at hand, but what about beyond this workshop? Would this workshop help them in their future careers? How did it fit into the larger student learning experience? In leading this workshop so that they could merely complete their assignment, had I failed as an educator and as a public historian?

All dramatics aside, though, these simple questions prompted me to contemplate more expansive questions and challenges in relation to digital public history for those undergraduate students involved in digital history or digital humanities-related courses and projects. It should not shock any public historian that digital projects are becoming the norm in humanities classrooms. However, from the viewpoint of educational technology, I witness daily challenges with regard to implementation and overall holistic thought about the student benefits gained from these types of projects and assignments. In doing so, these projects and assignments are in danger of being overshadowed in favor of the “doing” aspect of digital projects.

Now, this is not to discredit the “doing” aspect of digital projects, because even as an Educational Technologist, I understand the critical aspect of student exposure and of participating in completing the motions of “doing” the steps necessary in working with digital tools and methods during the course of a digital project. The danger comes, though, when students are expected to create and curate digital projects with little guidance or oversight towards the development of the skills to learn and understand the context of technology within their assignments. For example, my colleagues and I often find that we are consulted last in digital pedagogy and often receive less than 30 minutes to provide ample instruction and support. It is in such moments that, as a public historian and educator, I worry about students and other learners employing the use of digital resources and tools without fully possessing those skills for assessment and contextualization.

To be frank, the need for digital literacy training within and outside the academy grows with each technological development. Defining digital literacy has multiple meanings and objectives. Generally, digital literacy is a concept that helps individuals build the skills—and eventual fluency—to understand, comprehend, contextualize, and recognize the use of digital resources no matter whether one merely accesses content or develops it. In their 2017 Digital Literacy Impact study, the New Media Consortium examined how three different types of digital literacy—universal, creative, and literacy across disciplines—influenced students in the workplace. The study asked educators to think critically about how learners interpret, make meaning, and share information digitally, but to also “recalibrate expectations and applications” of digital literacy (NMC Horizon Report, 16). Many scholars and organizations are discussing digital literacy and strategies when it comes to education, both within and outside of higher education.  See, for example, Brandon Locke’s “Digital Humanities Pedagogy as Essential Liberal Education”; Shannon Kelley’s “Getting on the Map”; Museum, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills, and the AAM’s Museums and Digital Strategy Today.

With individuals absorbing and experiencing information through new technologies like virtual, augmented, and mixed realities, digital literacy takes on a whole new meaning beyond the scope of the classroom. If students are prepared to engage with and assess technology more fully, then our shifting society’s knowledge base and workforce will be further enriched. Furthermore, the work of museums, which are at the center of many issues facing higher education institutions, complicates the narrative about our relationships with technologies and digital literacy. We must understand not only how individuals receive training for these digital environments, but also how the museum situates itself within communities to ensure accessibility and inclusion within these digital spaces. One only has to look at the most recent Pew Research Center study on the use of mobile devices to see how the digital divide is still alive and well, affecting rural and minority communities disproportionately. As technologies continue to effect policies, we, as public historians and others within the information community, will need to redesign what it means to communicate and engage with growing and diverse communities, groups, and individuals.

If we return to that workshop, learning in today’s digital environment should not simply be a “clicking game.” Providing meaning and the foundational skills for learners continues to be reconsidered in the context of digital skills and evolving technologies. In order for digital projects and the fostering of digital literacy skills to move forward, the information community, which includes academics, museum professionals, educational technologists, and others, will need to come together to work towards crafting digital pedagogies that are holistic, inclusive, and diverse, no matter the discipline. In doing so, scholars, museum professionals, and others can provide learners with the best possible opportunity to understand, evaluate, and comprehend digital materials in an age that relies so heavily upon them.

~Megan Smeznik is the Educational Technology Associate for the Arts and Humanities at The College of Wooster. She is formerly the World War I projects assistant at the Massillon Museum. Her research interests include public history, digital history, women’s history, and accessibility.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the Field July 11, 2018]]> http://ncph.org/?p=37750 2018-07-11T14:45:37Z 2018-07-11T14:45:17Z From around the field this week: Session and workshop proposals for the 2019 NCPH Annual Meeting are due Sunday, July 15; applications for the Smithsonian’s Travel Research in Equity Collections (TREC) fellowships also due July 15; registration is now open for the Slave Dwelling Project conference; upcoming workshops on Charleston monuments aimed at a local teenage audience (July 12, 17, and 19); De Gruyter seeks online peer review on the text Public History and Schools by next week. Read More

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From around the field this week: Session and workshop proposals for the 2019 NCPH Annual Meeting are due Sunday, July 15; applications for the Smithsonian’s Travel Research in Equity Collections (TREC) fellowships also due July 15; registration is now open for the Slave Dwelling Project conference; upcoming workshops on Charleston monuments aimed at a local teenage audience (July 12, 17, and 19); De Gruyter seeks online peer review on the text Public History and Schools by next week.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

  • Two exciting humanities resources launched this week: an updated and final version of the American Historical Association’s Where Historians Work database and the National Humanities Alliance’s website Humanities for All.

AWARDS and FUNDING

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

PUBLICATIONS

To submit an item to this regular listing, fill out the form at http://ncph.org/around-the-field-form/. Please make sure to include a URL where readers can find more information about your posting.

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Kimber Heinz <![CDATA[A new way to be with one another]]> http://ncph.org?p=37365&preview=true&preview_id=37365 2018-06-25T22:53:08Z 2018-06-26T12:30:00Z Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of pieces by recipients of NCPH’s 2018 best in public history awards.

From this year’s annual conference, one thing seems clear: as public historians, we want our work to make a difference. Read More

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Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of pieces by recipients of NCPH’s 2018 best in public history awards.

“Lotus Blossom” activity from a workshop with GrowingChange youth leaders about the mission of the prison history project. Photo credit: Kimber Heinz.

From this year’s annual conference, one thing seems clear: as public historians, we want our work to make a difference. Not just on a personal level, but on a community, and even national, level. This was the first conference planned from start to finish after the 2016 election. Its theme was “Powerlines,” and I was honored to attend as a recipient of an NCPH New Professional award.

Like many others following Trump’s election, the flood of fear-based, extractive policies and executive orders, along with the increasing visibility of white supremacist violence, have spurred me to action. I find myself asking, “What can I do to stop this? Is being a social justice-minded public historian enough? How can my history work concretely support progressive social change?”

One of the books that most moved me in 2017 was Hegemony How-To by Jonathan Matthew Smucker. Sociological theory meets community organizers’ manual, it speaks to the need for progressives to recruit like we mean it. It speaks to how framing our work as “activism”—rather than the things we stand for (e.g. democracy, sanctuary, justice, freedom)—keeps us small. Though not the first person to do so, Smucker points to the articulation of a new, collective “we” as an expression of grassroots power. People in power often speak for “us” as Americans, but what if “we,” the people who live here, spoke for ourselves, together?

This book made me think of the the potential of public history to support social change. As a former full-time community organizer, what got me interested in public history was my assessment of its capacity for transformation; history provides an opportunity for connection with others, across differences, about what it means to be human.

Postcard of prisoners working on the railroad in Scotland County, NC, circa 1900. Photo credit: Thomas McKinnon.

In addition to Bull City 150, a local history project to contextualize the roots of present-day inequalities in Durham, North Carolina, I am working on a project based in Scotland County, North Carolina, a rural area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. It partners with a youth-led organization, GrowingChange, that is transforming a former chain gang prison into a farm and community center, to interpret the history of the site. This project, which has started out as a traveling exhibition, weaves together stories about the prison’s history from many different perspectives, from those of people who were incarcerated there, to those who grew up at the prison as children of chain-gang-era staff, to those of former prison guards and superintendents. (See History@Work’s coverage of the Guantanamo Public Memory Project for some similar perspectives.)

One thing that I have (re)learned while trying to create a compelling exhibit narrative, one that draws on many disparate historical voices and current-day opinions about the U.S. prison system, is that people are complicated. Most people’s stories do not fit neatly into boxes, or into catch-all categorizations of Right and Left. I have been surprised to find opposition to the dehumanization of mass incarceration coming from a former prison superintendent, and support for the prison system coming from some who have lost people to incarceration, because prisons provide jobs. As a self-identified leftist, it took me time to come to this realization, and to acknowledge these complexities.

As public historians, we have the opportunity to leverage the power of history to bring together people across differences to listen to each other’s stories. We can facilitate spaces where groups of people who do not know each other can be guided towards discussing major issues like mass incarceration through shared reference points, such as memories of a former prison in Wagram, North Carolina. We can support social change through striving to create public spaces where people can encounter each other in new, potentially transformative ways. Public history can be a vehicle for a new, collective “we.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything is relative. White supremacy was the foundation of the southern prison system, a system that continues to disproportionately lock Black and Brown people in cages. How can material evidence of the white supremacist roots of prisons support a correct telling of what happened without shutting down dialogue? How can we use primary sources as evidence-based touchstones during difficult conversations? One of the terms that came up in many conference sessions in April was “non-negotiables,” which allow public history practitioners to articulate our political stance and name the limits of “shared authority.”

GrowingChange youth leaders grow food at a former chain-gang prison in Wagram, NC. Photo credit: GrowingChange.

Across political differences, many people in Scotland County support GrowingChange’s work to transform a historic site of confinement and torture into a place where people can thrive. GrowingChange’s youth leadership, a multiracial group of young men who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, are farming this site and transforming former prison cells into a community center and recreation area. Local supporters acknowledge the need for an alternative to mass incarceration and this as a way forward.

In addition to the direct benefit to the local community, what draws people, myself included, to support GrowingChange is its story, and the stories of the people connected to it. Board chair Noran Sanford often tells GrowingChange youth leaders, “You have to tell your story, otherwise someone might tell it for you, and get it wrong.” My public history partnership with GrowingChange aims to amplify those stories of local youth leaders, along with with those of the formerly incarcerated, and to invite the larger community to join the conversation about alternatives to mass incarceration. I hope that others will join, too, to help envision a new, collective “we,” a new way to be with one another.

~ Kimber Heinz is the exhibition project manager for Bull City 150 at Duke University in Durham, NC. She is also the museum coordinator for GrowingChange, a youth-led organization based in Scotland County, NC working to transform a former chain gang-era prison into a farm and community center. She is the former national organizing coordinator of the War Resisters League, based in New York, NY. She holds master’s degrees in Women’s and Gender Studies and Public History with a concentration in Museum Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She lives in Mebane, NC.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the Field June 20, 2018]]> http://ncph.org/?p=37551 2018-06-20T16:54:38Z 2018-06-20T14:45:54Z From around the field this week: Topic proposals for the 2019 NCPH Annual Meeting are available for comment through July 1; the South Asian American Digital Archive is seeking applicants to join its inaugural Archivists’ Collective; the deadline for the “Digital Hermeneutics in History” conference has been extended to June 30; AASLH presents “Speaking Truth to Power: Why Transparency and Accountability Matter” webinar on June 27. Read More

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From around the field this week: Topic proposals for the 2019 NCPH Annual Meeting are available for comment through July 1; the South Asian American Digital Archive is seeking applicants to join its inaugural Archivists’ Collective; the deadline for the “Digital Hermeneutics in History” conference has been extended to June 30; AASLH presents “Speaking Truth to Power: Why Transparency and Accountability Matter” webinar on June 27.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

AWARDS and FUNDING

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

PUBLICATIONS

To submit an item to this regular listing, fill out the form at http://ncph.org/around-the-field-form/. Please make sure to include a URL where readers can find more information about your posting.

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Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan <![CDATA[Campus history as public history: Interpreting slavery through historical walking tours]]> http://ncph.org/?p=37355 2018-06-20T11:13:00Z 2018-06-20T12:30:32Z Can campus history be public history? NCPH members and others, both inside and outside of the academy, have been grappling with this question for years, considering the often-fraught town/gown and faculty/administration relationships many of our colleagues face. The ways that we answer this question have changed significantly over the last decade, however, as dozens of colleges and universities have endeavored to reckon with the reality of their histories, many in response to institutional connections to slavery. Read More

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Public history students guiding tour participants through campus, including the oldest extant building on the New Brunswick campus, Old Queens. Scarlet and Black researchers uncovered records noting that an enslaved man named Will laid the foundation of this building in 1808. A footpath between this building and the rest of campus has since been named “Will’s Way.” Photo credit: Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan

Can campus history be public history? NCPH members and others, both inside and outside of the academy, have been grappling with this question for years, considering the often-fraught town/gown and faculty/administration relationships many of our colleagues face. The ways that we answer this question have changed significantly over the last decade, however, as dozens of colleges and universities have endeavored to reckon with the reality of their histories, many in response to institutional connections to slavery. Brown University’s Slavery and Justice report from 2006, and Craig Steven Wilder’s 2013 book Ebony and Ivy have been particularly influential in motivating these investigations because they have provided many universities a blueprint for research on these subjects that institutions have previously ignored or thought too challenging to uncover.

In 2015, several undergraduate students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, joining in an ongoing movement by their peers across the country, raised concerns that the university’s relationship to, and benefit from, slavery was hidden from the public eye. In response, the university’s administration, under the leadership of then-chancellor Richard L. Edwards, assembled a team of historians, archivists, students, and researchers, into a Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History. Professor Deborah Gray White was appointed to chair this committee, as well as a subcommittee dedicated to researching this history, which was co-chaired by Professor Marisa Fuentes. Over the next year, dozens of researchers uncovered the deep ties between Rutgers and the institution of slavery as well as questions of Native American sovereignty and land possession. The committee published its findings in a book, Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History (available on JSTOR here) in late 2016, which traced the university’s early history, uncovering how the university benefited from the economies of slavery and how Rutgers came to own the land it inhabits. Like other institutions, the Rutgers report included a list of recommendations to begin answering the questions the committee identified as central to this subject: “What can the institution do to acknowledge and reconcile with its role in benefiting from slavery? . . . How can it make this history accessible to students and other community members?”

To begin to answer those questions, the committee argued, monuments and historical markers should be erected, and the public should be made aware of this history in a variety of ways, making the research accessible through diverse digital formats and historical walking tours. This latter point reflected a deeper commitment to ensuring that the landscape of the campus itself could become legible in new ways, and the contributions of Native Americans and African Americans in the university’s earliest years could be witnessed within the physical spaces they had occupied, constructed, and affected.

Faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students collaborated, with the guidance of committee members and project leaders, to develop a historical walking tour highlighting key locations on campus where the marks of slavery and disenfranchisement were readable. They identified a suitable script, route, and talking points. Ten undergraduate students were recruited to develop and conduct the tours over the Fall 2017 semester through our public history internship program. These students learned not only about the university’s history through the committee’s research, but were trained in the public historian’s tools of stakeholder consultation and reflective practice along the way. To date, dozens of tours have been conducted, and nearly 200 participants reached.

The biggest takeaway reported by the tour guides and tour participants was the profound impact of sharing and learning this information on the actual physical landscape of the campus, with the ability to see past the surrounding twenty-first-century structures and into the nineteenth-century context. On a few occasions, passersby joined in on tours, drawn in by the guides’ narratives. Nearly all involved reported that encountering this information in person and in situ deepened their understanding, a nod to the value of experiential learning and public history environments.

As the project continues to develop, answers to questions about the role of campus historians in public history projects may change. Professors White and Fuentes continue to co-chair the Scarlet and Black Project, which is currently carrying its research forward into the twentieth century. A virtual version of the walking tour is in development. Along the way, this project has addressed questions which the Campus Histories Working Group at NCPH annual meetings has been grappling with since its inception in 2015: What are the tools we need to propose or contribute to campus history efforts? To what extent is campus history public history versus “insider history”? What methodological models seem to work best for campus public history projects? Historical walking tours seem to bypass some of the challenges that arise when treating campus history as public history—especially in providing access to campus spaces for members of the public and avoiding implied or inherent hierarchy in academic spaces. Perhaps most importantly, projects like this one create the opportunity to fulfill one of the working group’s goals of documenting contemporary struggles over the presence of the past and the power of place in the campus context.

Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan is a public historian and scholar of early American social history at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She researches poverty, slavery, mobility, crime and punishment in the early American northeast, and public historical and commemorative representations of these subjects. Her book Vagrants and Vagabonds: Poverty and Mobility in the Early American Republic will be published by New York University Press in 2019.

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Kathryn E. Wilson <![CDATA[Exploring approaches to civic engagement through “Kitchen Conversations”]]> http://ncph.org/?p=37246 2018-06-18T12:35:59Z 2018-06-18T12:30:44Z Editor’s note: In this final post in our series on teaching with articles from The Public Historian, Kate Wilson discusses her experiences using Ruth Abram’s essay, “Kitchen Conversations: Democracy in Action at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum” (The Public Historian 29, no. Read More

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Editor’s note: In this final post in our series on teaching with articles from The Public Historian, Kate Wilson discusses her experiences using Ruth Abram’s essay, “Kitchen Conversations: Democracy in Action at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum” (The Public Historian 29, no. 1 [February 2007]), in the classroom. We welcome comments and further suggestions of articles you have used! If you have a TPH article that is a favorite in your classroom, please let us know. 

Sign outside the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Sign outside the Tenement Museum. Photo credit: Shelley Panzarella licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I teach public history in a master’s of heritage preservation program in a large urban university in Atlanta, where the legacies of civil rights and Civil War coexist daily. My students, many of them from this region, are directly engaged with dilemmas inherent in interpreting and confronting the southern past.  Some work and intern at sites still struggling with the representation of slavery or devoted to interpreting southern history as a white-dominated narrative. While the “Moonlight and Magnolias” image is declining, many sites are still reticent on the issue of race, such as historic plantations or farmsteads that do not represent slavery or the lives of the enslaved. These patterns persist even as the demographics of these sites’ surrounding communities are changing and diversifying.  How can a site attract local African American visitors, for example, if the Sons of the Confederacy still hold their annual meeting there? How can a small historic town in the Atlanta suburbs attract community development and celebrate a sense of place while being honest about and confronting its segregationist past as a “sundown town”? Often class discussions lead students to question: Who are the stakeholders in this past? Can we conceive of an interpretive arena that incorporates fundamentally incompatible perspectives (such as African Americans and whites celebrating Confederate heritage)? Do we even want to try? Should we offer politically neutral spaces or seek to advocate for historically marginalized voices?​ 

We have no definitive answers as yet, but one article that helps us think through such questions is Ruth Abram’s “Kitchen Conversations: Democracy in Action at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.” I use this essay in my introductory graduate seminar on public history. “Kitchen Conversations” details a program the Lower East Side Tenement Museum debuted in 2004 to help visitors make a connection between our immigrant past and present. Kitchen Conversations is an add-on to the standard site tour, a facilitated discussion that uses “history as starting place for dialogue on related contemporary issues.” Its end goal is civic engagement through dialogue that challenges assumptions about immigration, connects the site history to contemporary issues, and catalyzes further learning about those issues. The facilitated discussion model establishes ground rules for all participants in order to support mutual sharing and hearing, a spirit of inquiry, and respect for diversity and for the individuality of everyone’s voice. The museum carefully trains docents to be neutral, encouraging facilitators who ensure inclusion and safety. One important lesson that emerges is that it is important that participants all go on the same tour together before engaging in facilitated discussion. Students agreed that the shared interpretive experience was a precondition for the program’s success, providing a common knowledge base and reference points for conversation. Likewise, the fact that the program was self-selecting and strictly voluntary contributed to its success.

Of all the readings I assign, “Kitchen Conversations” is consistently among the most popular. Student response to the article is almost always positive and they often mention the piece in final oral exams as very influential. Students are excited by the possibilities offered by the facilitated discussion format, even if they are a little uncertain of how to specifically realize it effectively. I have always valued the essay because it pushes students to think outside the box of the usual exhibition and programming offerings, to consider how public history interpretation can provoke (in the words of Freeman Tilden) visitors to make a connection between past and present. The reading comes about midsemester, after we have established other key concepts such as shared authority and shared inquiry, the nature of memory, and ideas of relevance.

Earlier in the semester, the students read Jürgen Habermas and explore the conception of the liberal public sphere. We discuss ways in which the Habermasian ideal of the public sphere implicitly underlies much of public history programming. We often assume that if we expose people to history and give them a space to come together and discuss or share, then we will have generated some kind of mutual communication and shared understanding. But critiques of Habermas—and indeed of this idealized notion of public discourse in a democratic society—focus on the fact that this sphere is not a level playing field for diverse actors and speakers. Are we basing our programming models on assumptions that amount to chasing a liberal chimera?

97 Orchard Street, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Lower East Side, Manhattan.

97 Orchard Street, Tenement Museum. Photo credit:  Wally Gobetz licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

We also consider whether a museum devoted to the immigrant experience can be neutral on the subject of immigration. One student critique called out the “disingenuousness” of the Kitchen Conversations program. The museum is obviously pro-immigration, they claimed, and the program emerged from a need to get people to think about their stance on new immigration and current issues. They asked: Do the staff secretly hope that people’s attitudes will change? And we considered: Do we, when we mount programs on controversial issues, claim we want to create a space for dialogue but actually hope to move participants to a specific understanding of whatever social issue we are addressing? How do we balance larger civic engagement with our other role as community advocates and champions of hitherto unheard voices and perspectives?

On the other hand, students are excited by the way in which the Kitchen Conversations seem to offer an alternative to a more passive consumption of historical content, creating a space for visitors to process and reflect on what they have experienced at the site and explore a usable past. In the current political and social climate, such an idealized public sphere seems further away than ever. Media is fragmented and we experience a heightened polarization of society. The idea that facilitated discussion offers a way for people who normally wouldn’t talk to one another to engage with each other face to face is a compelling one. Yet politically neutral facilitation carries risk and may not appeal to marginalized visitors or others who seek a more definitive account or perspective, particularly related to histories of injustice. When we consider how the Kitchen Conversations format might manifest in our local context, it is challenging to consider what past-present connections could be made neutrally, although civil rights sites seem to offer the most natural setting for experimenting with the format and encouraging visitors to reflect on the meaning of that history in the age of Black Lives Matter.

To that end, “Kitchen Conversations” has inspired some students to design projects that create an arena for exploration and dialogue around race and the legacies of Jim Crow in Atlanta. One recent student project, for example, drew on the facilitated discussion model to create a post-tour program for visitors to the Ebenezer Baptist Church at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. Teaching public history in the fall 2017 semester in particular, with the debate over Confederate memorials raging in our own backyard, we gratefully turned to one model for how to pursue relevance and promote dialogue between multiple perspectives, even as many of us took a firm stand in the public debate. Whether in the kitchen, the classroom, or county courtyard, conversation was imperative.

Kate Wilson is associate professor of history at Georgia State University, where she teaches public history.

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Joana Arruda <![CDATA[Summer exchange program: International collaboration in public history]]> http://ncph.org?p=37279&preview=true&preview_id=37279 2018-06-13T14:15:19Z 2018-06-14T12:30:00Z “What I would like to see in the future is more of an emphasis on cooperation between museums in the international community. In an increasingly connected world, it only serves [to] the benefit of the American public history sector to create bridges with other institutions.”

The above statement is excerpted from the blog I kept during graduate school where I sought to answer the prompt: “The Future of Public History—Where is it Going?” I spent much of my time as a public history student curious about collaborative public history work done across international lines. Read More

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2017 ICOMOS IEP Participants. Photo credit: Richa Pandy

“What I would like to see in the future is more of an emphasis on cooperation between museums in the international community. In an increasingly connected world, it only serves [to] the benefit of the American public history sector to create bridges with other institutions.”

The above statement is excerpted from the blog I kept during graduate school where I sought to answer the prompt: “The Future of Public History—Where is it Going?” I spent much of my time as a public history student curious about collaborative public history work done across international lines. This research turned into my M.A. thesis on the National Park Service (NPS) Division of International Affairs, which was founded in 1961 to provide both technical assistance to nations seeking to build national parks and exchange information about conservation internationally. (I wrote about this research in a previous History@Work post.) Just four years later, in 1965, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) was created “to promote the conservation, protection, use and enhancement of monuments, building complexes and sites.” I was fascinated by what the similar frameworks and philosophies of postwar organizations could tell us about the emergence of public history as a field of practice.

In the recently published Oxford Handbook of Public History, several public history scholars and practitioners analyze the field’s methodologies from a global perspective. In particular, Serge Noiret and Thomas Cauvin’s “Internationalizing Public History” chapter introduces this discussion by re-imagining the origins of public history methodology. They focus on the forms it has taken in recent decades, specifically through international collaboration and engaging the local through the lens of the global. Noiret and Cauvin explain that while the concept of “public history” emerged in the English-speaking world, particularly in the United States, it is possible to identify related perspectives by examining countries such as France.[1]

Armed with knowledge of these historical precedents and a minimal understanding of the current state of international projects, I had an opportunity to engage in public history work in a global, transnational context. In the summer of 2017, I spent ten weeks in Paris, France at the ICOMOS International Secretariat. In addition to its overarching mission as outlined in the Venice Charter of 1964, ICOMOS works with UNESCO in evaluating culturally significant sites on the World Heritage List and assists in designating this status at the annual World Heritage Convention. Over 100 nations have ICOMOS national committees responsible for engaging with issues of preservation at home while collaborating within a larger network of heritage professionals.

My time at ICOMOS was facilitated through US/ICOMOS. Based in Washington, D.C., it participates in this network through its annual International Exchange Participant (IEP) Program. Since the program’s founding in 1984, it has placed American and international graduate students and young professionals in cultural institutions in the United States and other countries. As a professional development program, its goal is to foster dialogue and cultural exchange internationally. Along with twelve other IEPs from five countries with backgrounds in archaeology, architecture, and historic preservation, I spent time in Washington before my assignment to Paris discussing how ICOMOS defines “heritage” work. We spoke with professionals in the NPS and the National Trust for Historic Preservation regarding international collaboration, climate change, sustainability, and community-based activism. We supplemented these conversations with visits to institutions including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Building Museum, and President Lincoln’s Cottage.

Through my interactions with professionals from closely related fields, I was intrigued by their rigorous engagement with issues of community, preservation, and heritage. While public historians are likewise involved in these questions, I was surprised to be the only historian in the group. What is the role and benefit, then, of historians in these types of international cross-cultural exchanges?

ICOMOS International Secretariat, Charenton-le-Pont, France.
Photo credit: Joana Arruda

Following orientation, I traveled to France to begin my assignment at the ICOMOS Documentation Centre, located in Charenton-le-Pont on the outskirts of the Parisian twelfth arrondissement. Inaugurated in the 1970s, the Centre disseminates information in various languages about issues ranging from conservation science to archaeology, architecture, and local development. One of its primary goals is to serve as a central archive for professionals developing in these related fields.[2] Most importantly, it serves as a repository for the documentation that nations submit to ICOMOS to have their historic and cultural sites considered for the World Heritage List. ICOMOS then sends experts to evaluate these sites, whose analyses are used to determine a site’s significance in the context of World Heritage criteria. Using the WINISIS digital cataloging system developed by UNESCO, I cataloged maps, interpretive plans, landscape designs, and digital media sources from the sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2016. On my second to last day, ICOMOS received the files back from UNESCO of the sites inscribed in 2017 at the World Heritage Convention in Krakow to be archived on-site. I began the process of copying digital files according to ICOMOS standards for archival purposes.

The other major project that occupied the summer was my work to compile a bibliography for consultants hired by ICOMOS to evaluate sites on the 2018 World Heritage Tentative List. The works I selected for each site were used by scholars conducting site visits to understand the context of each site’s region, history, and political climate. Other projects I worked on included processing collections of books and reports, managing the ICOMOS PhotoBank, and translating a variety of French-language documents into English.

UNESCO Archives at ICOMOS Documentation Centre. Photo credit: Joana Arruda

My work at ICOMOS served as more than just an experience traveling overseas. Thinking about and discussing the preservation of these documents on-site and online in different languages was a foray into examining what public history looks like in a linguistic context where this term does not exist in the same way as in the English-speaking world. My role as a public historian was to preserve ICOMOS’ intellectual authority on conservation and to think critically about how this shapes its institutional memory.

This work left me thinking about the relationship that experts evaluating World Heritage sites have with the local communities who are seeking this status. The complex relationship between experts and communities relates to Noiret’s and Cauvin’s ideas about how public historians are actively engaging the local through the global. Perhaps serving as critical analysts and facilitators is the niche where public historians fit best in this type of “heritage” work, as they are well-equipped to engage with questions of community and the past in intricate and compelling ways. Furthermore, they possess the perspective to critically question the extension of American power overseas. This power dynamic is complicated by the United States’ official departure from UNESCO in 2018. The U.S. government has not paid UNESCO dues since 2011 due to the UNESCO’s extension of membership to Palestine, and its recent departure may affect the future of the work I have described here.

I would like to see public historians engage further with these types of questions. However, I see international public history as not only about the literal movement of practitioners. I envision examples of local projects that engage global issues in a post-national moment to identify and build connections in unexpected ways. Formed in 2010, the International Federation of Public History is a positive starting place for these conversations. As Noiret and Cauvin write, exploring the local through the lens of the global is a fascinating way to address issues that matter historically wherever you are. Ultimately, incorporating these methodologies is another niche that would allow public historians to learn about how our field understands place in a more global context.

Joana Arruda is a public historian whose research interests include the twentieth-century United States, material culture, and the National Park Service. Most recently, she served as the international exchange participant in Paris, France with the International Council of Monuments and Sites.

[1] Serge Noiret and Thomas Cauvin, “Internationalizing Public History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Public History, eds. James B. Gardner and Paula Hamilton (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017): 25-43.

[2] For more detailed information on the Documentation Centre’s history and role, please consult: http://www.icomos.org/en/about-the-centre/documentation-centre-s-history.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the Field June 6, 2018]]> http://ncph.org/?p=37193 2018-06-06T14:23:38Z 2018-06-06T12:08:52Z From around the field this week: Topic proposals for the 2019 NCPH Annual Meeting are now available for comment; Funding is available the 2018 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums; The Oral History Center is offering an Advanced Oral History Summer Institute (Aug 6-10); Twenty-four articles from The Public Historian are available free for the rest of the year; Berghahn is releasing several new books in the “Making Sense of History Series”

ANNOUNCEMENTS

AWARDS and FUNDING

Read More ]]>
From around the field this week: Topic proposals for the 2019 NCPH Annual Meeting are now available for comment; Funding is available the 2018 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums; The Oral History Center is offering an Advanced Oral History Summer Institute (Aug 6-10); Twenty-four articles from The Public Historian are available free for the rest of the year; Berghahn is releasing several new books in the “Making Sense of History Series”

ANNOUNCEMENTS

AWARDS and FUNDING

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

PUBLICATIONS

To submit an item to this regular listing, fill out the form at http://ncph.org/around-the-field-form/. Please make sure to include a URL where readers can find more information about your posting.

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Beatrice Gurwitz <![CDATA[Study the humanities: Help us make the case]]> http://ncph.org?p=36871&preview=true&preview_id=36871 2018-05-28T18:12:38Z 2018-05-29T12:30:00Z Editor’s note: This piece from the National Humanities Alliance is being circulated in a variety of relevant venues.

Think pieces abound on how best to make the case for the value of studying the humanities—should we as a humanities community emphasize the quite respectable career and salary outcomes of humanities majors or do we then fall into the trap of suggesting that higher education is necessary only for economic gain? Read More

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Science can tell you how to clone a T. Rex; Humanities can tell you why this might be a bad idea. Image credit: National Humanities Alliance

Editor’s note: This piece from the National Humanities Alliance is being circulated in a variety of relevant venues.

Think pieces abound on how best to make the case for the value of studying the humanities—should we as a humanities community emphasize the quite respectable career and salary outcomes of humanities majors or do we then fall into the trap of suggesting that higher education is necessary only for economic gain? Should we make claims that extend beyond the marketplace and emphasize preparation for citizenship and living the good life or do we then ignore the real economic concerns of first generation college students and many others? These are difficult questions, especially when the audience is theoretical.

At the National Humanities Alliance, we have the benefit of hearing about the concrete and creative approaches that faculty and administrators employ on their specific campuses. We learn about efforts to make the case to a variety of audiences, from high school students, to local employers, to upper level administrators. In these efforts, humanities faculty and administrators draw on broad arguments for the value of the humanities, and, often, data to support those arguments, but they also rely on sustained engagements with particular audiences. Through these engagements, they identify concerns and misperceptions about the humanities and respond to them in targeted ways. They are often successful in recruiting additional students to humanities courses and majors, but knowledge of their successes rarely extends beyond their campus.

Study the Humanities: Make the Case toolkit. Image credit: National Humanities Alliance

This May, we are launching our Study the Humanities toolkit, designed to aid our college and university members in making the case for the humanities on campus. The first phase of Study the Humanities aggregates resources for higher education faculty and administrators to use in making the case for the value of studying the humanities as an undergraduate. The five main sections of the online toolkit are organized around overarching arguments for studying the humanities, and they provide the data—packaged into charts, data points, profiles, and articles—that can be used to bolster those arguments. These arguments cover the career-centered benefits of studying the humanities along with the benefits that extend beyond the marketplace.

This component of the toolkit is, and will continue to be, a work in progress: the website solicits feedback on the data we’ve used and any data that we have missed so that we can add and edit as new data emerges. In addition, we are hopeful that the presentation of the data in this fashion will help identify questions that still need answering through additional research. For example, the toolkit currently focuses on the outcomes of those who major in the humanities in large part because available quantitative data uses majors as the category of analysis. We are eager for the research on the value of taking humanities courses regardless of major.

We are also working towards phase two of the project: a clearinghouse of creative and concrete ways that faculty and administrators have engaged with different audiences to make the case for the value of studying the humanities. The clearinghouse is designed to share knowledge about successful strategies across the NHA community.

Humanities faculty and administrators will likely be interested to learn, for example, about Paula Krebs’ efforts when she was dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bridgewater State University. She worked with local employers to better understand what they looked for in entry-level employees. In doing so, she noticed that although employers were advertising for specific majors such as marketing or management, the skills they were describing as desirable were actually the skills taught in humanities majors. Once the employers learned more about the humanities, they changed their ads so they would welcome, rather than discourage, humanities majors.

Others will find the efforts at Case Western Reserve University—a university with a traditional focus on engineering and medicine—worth emulating. On that campus, Peter Knox, the director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, identifies students in the applicant pool who indicate an interest in studying the humanities and offers them a place in a cohort-based scholars program to cement their interest. The program introduces these young scholars to the best humanities resources on and around campus, with an emphasis on experiential and collaborative learning, providing firsthand interactions with and special access to galleries, collections, archives and events at Case Western Reserve University and partner institutions such as the Cleveland Museum of Art. Additionally, it provides career workshops and facilitates paid internships with local cultural institutions and businesses. Perhaps most importantly, the program cultivates a community among the incoming students with an interest in the humanities. The program served ten first-year students in its first year, thirty in its second, and in the current year has achieved its target goal of forty.

As we build toward the next phase of the project, we are collecting stories through our survey on Study the Humanities. We hope you will participate. By doing so, we can bring a higher profile to your successes and share concrete stories of what works with the humanities community.

Beatrice Gurwitz is deputy director of the National Humanities Alliance.

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