National Council on Public History Putting History to Work in the World 2017-05-26T14:59:07Z http://ncph.org/feed/atom/ WordPress David Rotenstein <![CDATA[Public art and history: Silver Spring’s Memory Wall]]> http://ncph.org/?p=25936 2017-05-23T18:06:49Z 2017-05-25T12:30:27Z

The Silver Spring Memory Wall was completed on the exterior wall of a Caldor department store. Photo credit: David Rotenstein.

In the 1990s, Silver Spring, Maryland, was desperate for economic investment and an image makeover. Next door to Washington, D.C., the Montgomery County suburb had suffered from two decades of disinvestment and white flight. Read More

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The Silver Spring Memory Wall was completed on the exterior wall of a Caldor department store. Photo credit: David Rotenstein.

In the 1990s, Silver Spring, Maryland, was desperate for economic investment and an image makeover. Next door to Washington, D.C., the Montgomery County suburb had suffered from two decades of disinvestment and white flight. Once a thriving community with a booming commercial district and sprawling inner-ring suburban neighborhoods, Silver Spring had become blighted by vacant storefronts and empty parking lots. In their efforts to revive and rebrand the municipality’s struggling central business district, Silver Spring’s boosters ignored troubling racial dynamics in producing an imaginary depiction of the community’s history.

One of the earliest attempts at remaking Silver Spring began in 1994 and it included a public art and placemaking project that used images drawn from the community’s past. Conceived as an amenity to allow a developer to exceed land use limitations for a proposed department store, the “Silver Spring Memory Wall” included five murals depicting Silver Spring during critical points in the community’s history. Arranged chronologically, the murals show Silver Spring’s antebellum rural origins, the Civil War, the armory illustrating early community life, the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train station during the interwar years, and an Art Deco movie theater and shopping center depicting Silver Spring’s commercial boom period.

Detail from the mural depicting passengers awaiting the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train at the Silver Spring station between the world wars. Photo credit: David Rotenstein.

Although the murals were loosely based on historic photographs, the train station scene portrays something that could never have occurred in the years between World War I and World War II: African Americans standing side by side with whites waiting for an arriving train. That mixed-race use of space would have been unthinkable before the mid-1960s.

Silver Spring is a former sundown suburb, a place where African Americans could not live. Prior to 1948, most of Silver Spring—more than 10 square miles—included residential subdivisions where developers and individual property owners prohibited African Americans from buying, renting, or otherwise occupying properties. The only exceptions were for domestic servants living with their white employers. After the Supreme Court ruled racial restrictive covenants unenforceable in the 1948 case, Shelley v. Kraemer, housing discrimination persisted by way of redlining, steering, and so-called “gentleman’s agreements” among realtors to not show properties to prospective African American home buyers. Apartment building owners openly discriminated against African American renters. Silver Spring became the first stop for whites fleeing Washington’s neighborhoods where African Americans had begun buying homes. A generation later, as civil rights laws and court decisions removed barriers to racial discrimination in the suburbs, Washington’s African Americans followed their former white neighbors into the suburbs.

In Silver Spring’s businesses, Jim Crow segregation remained the rule until the early 1960s. After multiple surveys by the NAACP documented discrimination in restaurants and after the Department of Labor moved 600 office workers (including about 200 African Americans) from the District of Columbia to office buildings in Silver Spring, Montgomery County enacted an open accommodations law [PDF] in 1962, prohibiting discrimination based on race in the county’s licensed businesses. It took another five years before the county passed an open housing law. Before these laws, African Americans who lived in lower Montgomery County could not attend movies in Silver Spring’s two movie theaters, eat in most of the community’s restaurants, attend dances and other civic celebrations at Silver Spring’s armory, or shop freely in the locally-owned and regional department stores doing business there.

African American residents of Washington board a bus that allowed them to get from their homes in the District of Columbia to jobs in Silver Spring and elsewhere in Montgomery County. Image credit: The Washington Afro-American, September 3, 1966.

Silver Spring’s racialized residential, commercial, and civic life imposed social costs well beyond Montgomery County’s border with the District of Columbia. As federal agencies dispersed their integrated workforces into the suburbs during the Cold War, managers struggled to find ways to get African American employees from their homes in Washington to Silver Spring. in the early 1960s, the United Planning Organization, Washington’s federally designated anti-poverty organization, began offering bus service from the city’s African American neighborhoods to Silver Spring.

Much of Silver Spring’s white supremacist past has been erased by community branding efforts and it has been omitted by official histories produced by Montgomery County’s historic preservation office. Likewise, many academic historians researching housing, businesses, and commercial architecture have omitted the African American experience from their studies of Silver Spring.

Within this context of structural and institutional racism that defines Silver Spring’s past, community leaders embarked in the 1990s on a campaign to restore Silver Spring to its mid-twentieth century heyday as a thriving place for businesses and residents. The Silver Spring Memory Wall was created, in part, to proclaim that Silver Spring was alive and again open for business. Mame Cohalan, an acclaimed Washington mural artist, was contracted to paint five panels “depicting historical images or moments from Silver Spring’s past,” wrote local planning officials in 1994. The Maryland-National Capital Planning Commission and a Silver Spring art advisory group had control over the mural’s contents and the property owner granted a perpetual easement to Montgomery County for “periodic maintenance.”

Cohalan recalls working with an engaged community eager to celebrate Silver Spring’s history while also cultivating a carefully crafted image. In a recent telephone interview, she described the Memory Wall project as a marketing campaign for Silver Spring: a branding tool for the community that by the 1990s had become increasingly ethnically diverse. By the turn of the twenty-first century, Silver Spring had a growing African American population and a substantial immigrant community with Latinos and a large enough Ethiopian population to be dubbed Washington’s “Little Ethiopia.” To look at Silver Spring today and the many representations of Silver Spring’s past, it would be easy for a newcomer to assume that the community had always been diverse and that it had never excluded people of color. Public art like the Silver Spring Memory Wall reinforce that false sense of history.

Silver Spring Rail Road Station, c. 1941. Photo credit: Montgomery County Historical Society.

In our conversation, Cohalan explained to me how she used photographs as the basis for the three scenes depicting Silver Spring in the twentieth century. And then she added some artistic license. “I felt that at a train station there should be some diversity because everybody takes a train,” she said. “There was just a little part of my doing, my participation in this, where I knew I was manipulating, sticking myself and my opinions into the picture.” Cohalan acknowledged that she was unaware of Silver Spring’s racialized history when she designed the murals. After I explained some of Silver Spring’s segregationist history, Cohalan admitted, “I probably sensed that.”

Text panel beneath the mural depicting Silver Spring’s Baltimore & Ohio train station. Photo credit: David Rotenstein.

We spoke for a little while longer about whether the murals were history, art, or somewhere in-between. Cohalan conceded that they probably occupied a middle-ground between history and whimsy. And then she suggested a solution to dissonance her historical images of Silver Spring create with Silver Spring’s past: “You’re welcome to put an asterisk that says the artist—well, I don’t know what the words would be—decided to edit history a little bit here.”

The Silver Spring Memory Wall opens up opportunities to examine how a community produces history in public spaces. The murals are part history lesson and part branding exercise. An important weakness in such productions is the creation of a misleading sense of history—in Silver Spring’s case, a false image of historical diversity. In my conversation with the artist, it was she who arrived at a possible solution: better contextualization by revising text panels placed beneath the murals. For public historians, this case is an opportunity to expand our understanding of the roles murals play mediating history and economic development.

~ David Rotenstein is a consulting historian based in Silver Spring, Maryland. He researches and writes on historic preservation, industrial history, and gentrification.

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James F. Brooks <![CDATA[Struggle, strife, and realization]]> http://ncph.org/?p=25353 2017-05-19T16:05:00Z 2017-05-23T12:30:16Z Cover of May 2017 issue of The Public HistorianEditor’s note: We publish TPH editor James F. Brooks’s introduction to the May 2017 issue of The Public Historian. The entire issue is available online to National Council on Public History members.

I write on March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day, unexpectedly fitting for the contents of this May issue of The Public Historian. Read More

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Cover of May 2017 issue of The Public HistorianEditor’s note: We publish TPH editor James F. Brooks’s introduction to the May 2017 issue of The Public Historian. The entire issue is available online to National Council on Public History members.

I write on March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day, unexpectedly fitting for the contents of this May issue of The Public Historian. Our cover, featuring a view of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall in Washington, DC, highlights an extensive review from Tiya A. Miles, who has long rendered her braided histories of African Americans and Native Americans from the vantage of women’s lives. One could extend her praise of the NMAAHC—“a feat of sheer imagination and daring”—to the efforts of countless public history educators and administrators who weave their gendered identity with their daily work. This issue features many of these efforts.

Maeve Casserly and Ciaran O’Neil lead our theme with an exploration of the position of women in public historical contexts in the Republic of Ireland since its founding in 1949. They trace significant progressive transformations in Irish politics over the period, especially the once unimaginable affirmation of marriage equality in the constitutional amendment of 2015. A public history of women that once focused on heroines of the independence movement now leans more toward quotidian struggles for recognition and freedom at the level of family, village, and community, whether in the “traditional” West, within Catholic convent communities, or in cosmopolitan Dublin. In the historical profession itself, Ireland tracks larger patterns toward gender balance, if not equality, in a 50/50 ratio of female to male academic appointments at the entry level today. Public-facing projects such as the founding of the Women’s Museum of Ireland in Dublin in 2012 signal expansion of the message to popular audiences, with focus on women’s lives from brothel madams to revolutionaries to pioneering scientists. Archives devoted to women’s experience, too, grow more robust. Crowdsourced history “harvesting” is contributing to increasingly robust collections on the lives of “ordinary” Irish women. Public architecture such as the new Rosie Hackett Bridge marks recognition of women as workers and members of the labor movement. Yet tensions between public history of women and that of gender and sexual identities, as in so many professional and public locations around the world, remain unresolved and provide a guide star for future work.

Natasha Erlank’s “From Main Reef to Albertina Sisulu Road” shifts our focus to the Global South, where South African public historians strive to include figures such as Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, and Albertina Sisulu in the post-apartheid urban landscape. Street naming and public memorials are but one part of this story; in places such as Freedom Park and in the public school curricula, efforts are underway to blend a critique of the brutality of the apartheid state with celebration of the courageous actions of individuals to imagine a post-apartheid society. Given the multivalent aspect of South Africa’s racial and ethnic history, this proves no easy task—“Voortrekker womanhood” may be celebrated by some for those women’s pioneering spirit but does little to formulate a broadly inclusive women’s history. New projects, such as the Women’s Living Heritage Monument in Lillian Ngoyi Square in Pretoria, face interpretive challenges due to the diverse racialized experience of the very women they intend to recognize. Similar tensions prevail in efforts—born of the early progressive agenda of the ANC—to embrace feminist politics and diversity in sexual orientations, which find themselves struggling against a nationalist backlash toward “unifying” histories that tend to submerge “unruly” women and nonheteronormative gender relations.

Unruliness likewise characterizes the gendered and feminist response to the opening of the Jack the Ripper Museum in London’s East End, treated in Claire Hayward’s review essay, “Waxworks and Wordless Woman.” Born of a proposal to establish “the first women’s museum in the UK” from the vantage of this turbulent working-class neighborhood and oven of radical labor politics, its debut as a monument to “the anonymous murder of women” in 2015 shocked many. The murders of at least five women by an as-yet unidentified assailant in 1888—the same year as the Match Girls Strike—could hardly be considered a commemoration of “the social, political and domestic experience of women from the time of the boom in growth in the East End in the Victorian period through the waves of immigration to the present day.” The opening of the museum provoked mass protest in August 2015, with diverse angry voices pointing out that we “will not end men’s violence against women by celebrating murderous misogyny.”  Counterprojects, such as the mobile exhibits of the East End Women’s Museum, quickly emerged as alternative street-level public history, with explicit intersectional interpretive agendas to include “the histories of women of color, working-class women, sex workers, and LGBTQ women.” The April 2016 exhibit We’re Not Finished: Campaigning for Women’s Rights since 1883 stands in vivid contrast to the Jack the Ripper Museum and may gain public recognition beyond its theme due to the dramatic counterpositioning to the offending narrative.

Finally, Charles Lester’s celebration of the racially intersectional and community-driven effort to save and create a public access interpretive experience at the site of King Records in Cincinnati carries forward the theme of street-level activism in the service of public memory. The legendary James Brown himself stimulated this act of historic preservation in 1997, when he found his professional birthplace at 1540 Brewster Avenue in shambles. The dream of a community center and recording studio seemed shattered. In an essay rich with voices, we see a wave of street activists and performers rallying, although often with quite different visions, to save this most “important piece of real estate musically or culturally in the history of popular music.” By 2008 the Cincinnati City Council began an effort to achieve historic designation for the site and erected a historic marker at the address. Countervailing visions for the site, however, made unified efforts difficult, and as of the moment, the site remains in disrepair, with some hope that the city may yet purchase and preserve it. In the end, the story of the struggle to save and interpret the legacy of King Records remains an object lesson in coordinating stakeholders, mediating strife, and struggling to fund so many worthy causes—and the urgent necessity of not surrendering to despair. The history of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a case in point: in 1915, African American Civil War Union army veterans met in Washington, DC, and formed a committee to memorialize African American achievements in US history. One hundred and one years later, their descendants saw the dream realized.

~ James F. Brooks is editor of The Public Historian and professor of history and anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the field May 22, 2017]]> http://ncph.org/?p=25980 2017-05-23T00:06:12Z 2017-05-23T00:05:02Z From around the field this week: In or around Washington DC? Attend the board meeting of the National Museum and Library Services board on May 24; conferences on digital directions, placeless memories, the Underground Railroad’s unfinished business, history in action, memory studies; National Council on Public History submission deadlines coming up

ANNOUNCEMENTS

AWARDS and FUNDING

CONFERENCES and CALLS

PUBLICATIONS

To submit an item to this regular listing, email us at historyatwork@ncph.org. Read More

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From around the field this week: In or around Washington DC? Attend the board meeting of the National Museum and Library Services board on May 24; conferences on digital directions, placeless memories, the Underground Railroad’s unfinished business, history in action, memory studies; National Council on Public History submission deadlines coming up

ANNOUNCEMENTS

AWARDS and FUNDING

CONFERENCES and CALLS

PUBLICATIONS

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

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Betsy Newman <![CDATA[Listening to witnesses: The evolving history of Hobcaw Barony]]> http://ncph.org/?p=25600 2017-05-17T17:00:20Z 2017-05-18T12:30:06Z

Minnie Kennedy’s sister Nettie and her groom, Rainey Gardner, on their way to be married at Friendfield Church on Hobcaw Barony sometime in the 1920s. Photographer unknown. Photo credit: Belle W. Baruch Foundation.

For the last five years, South Carolina ETV, the state’s public television network, has been experimenting with ways to tell the story of a 16,000-acre undeveloped property called Hobcaw Barony. Read More

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Minnie Kennedy’s sister Nettie and her groom, Rainey Gardner, on their way to be married at Friendfield Church on Hobcaw Barony sometime in the 1920s. Photographer unknown. Photo credit: Belle W. Baruch Foundation.

For the last five years, South Carolina ETV, the state’s public television network, has been experimenting with ways to tell the story of a 16,000-acre undeveloped property called Hobcaw Barony. Hobcaw, from a Native American word meaning “between the waters,” has a long history of human occupation that stretches from Native American settlement through slavery and Reconstruction to the twentieth century, when it became the winter hunting retreat of financier Bernard Baruch. Even after interpreting several aspects of Hobcaw’s past, we gave new resonance to the site’s history by adding the voices of former African American residents. Our process is a reminder that historical interpretation is an ongoing process. Curators, tour guides, and documentarians should be willing to dig deeper and rethink their interpretive plans based on new discoveries.

Located twenty-five miles south of Myrtle Beach—South Carolina’s most popular coastal resort—Hobcaw offers a bonanza for public historians. Our original emphasis was on the Baruch narrative, which we explored in a documentary for broadcast on SCETV. During production of the television program, we interviewed Minnie Kennedy, a descendant of enslaved African Americans who was born on Hobcaw Barony. Ms. Kennedy allowed us to link Hobcaw’s history to the region’s fraught history of slavery and racial segregation and showed us the value of seeking out “witnesses” when creating public history projects.

We realized it was going to be hard to convey Hobcaw’s multiple stories through the linear medium of television. Having worked in content development for SCETV’s educational web portal Knowitall.org, our team had experience with interactive formats. The idea of a self-guided web documentary began to take shape, using Hobcaw Barony as a local case study of many strands of history. We received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, first for a prototype and subsequently for the fully implemented project. The result is the new online exhibit and virtual tour Between the Waters.

Minnie Kennedy was 93 when we met her. Born in 1916, she was delivered by a midwife in a small house that had no electricity or running water, and was once occupied by enslaved people. (She hated calling these dwellings slave cabins. “These were people’s homes!” she insisted.) Her interview was powerful. The stories she told about her family, the relationships between people in Hobcaw’s African American villages, and the paternalistic attitude of the Baruchs toward black workers on the property, turned out to be some of our most valuable original research.

As we continued with production of the website, the interpretive staff at Hobcaw introduced us to Robert McClary and Joshua Shubrick, both of whom, like Minnie Kennedy, had lived on the property as children. In their eighties when we interviewed them, these men shared detailed, painfully honest accounts of growing up poor and black at Hobcaw Barony during the Jim Crow era. Mr. Shubrick showed us his grandfather’s house, where the walls were covered with newspaper for insulation, and croker sacks served as blankets. In 2015, Mr. McClary brought his wife and five daughters to Hobcaw. They toured the one-room schoolhouse he attended in the 1930s, and responded with moving reflections on their father’s education. A video of the family can be found on Between the Waters in the Strawberry School module.

All three of these elders died during the production of Between the Waters. Getting to know them confirmed for us the value of place-based living memory, and we have come to consider their interviews to be the heart of the project. Our witnesses helped us understand that public history involves both making history accessible to the public and involving the public in the production of that history. They also taught us that the public often pushes historians toward a richer, fuller portrait of the past.

~ Betsy Newman is a documentary producer and web content developer at South Carolina ETV and the director of the Between the Waters project.

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Jordan Biro Walters <![CDATA[Bachelor Girls or Perverts?: Teaching Histories of Sexuality in Public History Courses]]> http://ncph.org/?p=25385 2017-05-11T16:46:48Z 2017-05-16T12:30:04Z In her 1903 work Social Culture, Annie Randall White encouraged unmarried women over the age of thirty to form domestic partnerships with each other: “Many of our ‘bachelor girls’ live together and are the happiest people imaginable.” [1]

Annie Randall White, Social Culture: An Up-to-Date Book for Polite Society, Containing Rules for Conduct in Public, Social and Private Life, at Home and Abroad [S.l: s.n.], 1903, Josephine Long Wishart Collection: Mother, Home, and Heaven, Special Collections Library, The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio.

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In her 1903 work Social Culture, Annie Randall White encouraged unmarried women over the age of thirty to form domestic partnerships with each other: “Many of our ‘bachelor girls’ live together and are the happiest people imaginable.” [1]

Annie Randall White, Social Culture: An Up-to-Date Book for Polite Society, Containing Rules for Conduct in Public, Social and Private Life, at Home and Abroad [S.l: s.n.], 1903, Josephine Long Wishart Collection: Mother, Home, and Heaven, Special Collections Library, The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio.

Yet just two years later, Dr. Mary Wood-Allen advised readers of her self-improvement book What a Young Girl Ought to Know that “It doesn’t look well to see girls and women kissing each other in public spaces. [2]

During the Progressive Era, etiquette and health writers such as Wood-Allen began to target loving, passionate, and physically affectionate same-sex relationships—known as romantic friendships—for public condemnation. Increased public recognition of lesbian sexuality threw suspicion on romantic friendships. A. Maude Royden posed the question in her own book Sex & Common Sense (1922): when does a friendship become too “absorbing?” Royden writes, “When you have the temperament of one sex in the body of another this cannot be. There is at once a disharmony, a dislocation, a disorder—in fact, a less perfect not a more perfect type . . . This is not progress but perversion.”[3] In the span of twenty years, etiquette authors moved from a positive framing of female companionship to classifying them as perverse. 

These excerpts stem from a student-curated exhibition on gender and sexual norms of the Progressive Era. Students in my course, The Craft of Public History: Putting History to Work in the Real World, analyzed popular advice literature primarily aimed at women. The monographs are part of the Josephine Long Wishart Collection–Mother, Home, and Heaven (MHH), which is housed at the College of Wooster Archives in Wooster, Ohio. I selected MHH as a source base for the creation of undergraduate-curated digital exhibitions in order to help students practice interpreting themes of gender and sexuality for a public audience.

The project, designed for an introduction to public history course capped at twenty, exposed students to fieldwork in public history and the constructive possibilities of focusing upon gender and sexuality. With the National Park Service’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Heritage Initiative and publications such as Susan Ferentinos’s Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites, public history has begun to embrace representations of sexualities. My course provides an opportunity to train a new generation of public historians on how they might document sexual pasts. My own training as both a public historian and a scholar of LGBT history propelled me to bring these two disciplines into conversation with one another.

Course Goals and Process

I envisioned several goals for this course. First, I aimed to teach students how to become comfortable discussing gender and sexuality in a public online forum. I also hoped to help them dissolve the boundaries between the public rules of respectability and private lives. Lastly, I envisioned students uncovering and narrating queer experiences where they might be hidden in plain sight: within the pages of heteronormative advice manuals.[4]

The first component of the project required students to conduct research. I designated student archive workdays to analyze texts written by medical professionals and non-professionals for a white, middle-class audience. At first glance, a curator might use such texts to narrate the history of morals and manners of families in America. Reviewing code of conduct books with a new interpretive model—one that moves beyond a heterosexual trope—reveals different possibilities. For example, White’s reference to “bachelor girls” became a window in which to explore queer lifestyles.

Students in Biro Walter’s Public History class learning exhibition design at the May 4 Visitors Center, Kent State University, 29 October 2016. Photo by author.

After researching, the class discussed the implications of interrogating sources. In thinking beyond the norms presented in advice manuals, one student asked, “Are ‘bachelor girls’ really lesbians?” One interpretive challenge public historians face is the problem of ahistoricity when applying the term “lesbian” to a coded term such as “bachelor girls.” Scholars largely agree that by the twentieth century, queer historical subjects identified themselves by sexual orientation, including the use of the term lesbian. While not all unmarried women who lived together were lesbian couples, some engaged in same-sex relationships. The class concluded that curators should construct narratives that honor how “individuals self-identified at the time.”

Building the Exhibition

During the next phase, students divided into five groups and submitted exhibition proposals. I advised each group on how to narrow their focus and helped edit their working bibliographies. Next, students underwent training in Dublin Core metadata standards, learned best practices for online collections, and visited museum exhibitions.[5]

Individually students completed two assignments–an object evaluation and narrative history essay. Each group then wove these assignments into a draft of their museum script and built their exhibits on Omeka.net.

Exhibition page for Biro Walter’s student-curated project, “Lives of Their Own: Norm-Defying Women During the Progressive Era (1890–1920).” Photo by author.

The groups diverged in their final exhibitions. One devised an exhibit on women and beauty, another on gender roles. Two groups incorporated sexuality with an exhibition on sex education and another on ways women defied sex norms. For example, students applied a non-normative sexual interpretive framework to explore how three women, Isabella Rittenhouse, Jane Addams and Kate Sanborn, broke gender expectations in their intimate lives. This virtual exhibition, entitled Lives of Their Own: Norm-Defying Women During the Progressive Era (1890–1920), pairs etiquette book advice with lived experience to profile Rittenhouse’s heterosexual explorations outside of marriage, Addam’s same-sex intimacies, and Sandborn’s choice to remain unmarried.

Concluding Thoughts

While students succeeded in incorporating the history of women and gender and to some extent sexuality in their exhibitions, they missed opportunities to fill in other silences—that of race and class. Additionally, only half of the class achieved my third course objective: uncovering queer narratives. Too much flexibility in topic choice resulted in some students shying away from discussing sex, allowed others to avoid doing additional research and reading against the grain of primary documents.

The next time I teach this class, I will have students create a single exhibition and have each group work on a part of it, to better facilitate employing an intersectional approach. Nonetheless, students praised the hands-on experience they received as well as the opportunity to engage audiences in histories of gender and sexuality. Both the MHH collection and the student-curated exhibitions function as places of public dialogue on the history of gender and sexuality in America. Moreover, the project prompted library staff to begin digitizing selections from MHH. This digitization will start in Summer 2017 and be accessible through The College of Wooster’s Special Collections page in Open Works.

Collectively, students discovered the difficulty in uncovering sexual histories and began to understand why some historical narratives are more visible than others, a challenge public historians face with marginalized communities. Even if visible only in fragments, exploring queer historical representations results in an enriched understanding of the past. Audiences often know little about the historic lives of LGBTQ individuals, given that this history is absent from primary and secondary education and only sometimes offered at the university level. The tide has shifted toward recognizing and valuing LGBTQ history at historic sites, so the time is ripe to arm up-and-coming and veteran public historians with the tools to explore how the LGBTQ community has historically experienced and contributed to American society.

 

~Jordan Biro Walters is a visiting assistant professor of history at the College of Wooster. Her student’s exhibitions can be found here. Dr. Biro Walters can be reached at jbirowalters@wooster.edu

 

 

Citations
[1] Annie Randall White, Social Culture: An Up-to-Date Book for Polite Society, Containing Rules for Conduct in Public, Social and Private Life, at Home and Abroad [S.l: s.n.], 1903, p. 122, MHH Collection.
[2] Mary Wood-Allen, What a Young Girl Ought to Know, New rev. ed., Self and Sex Series (Philadelphia: Vir Pub. Co., 1905), p.154 and 155, Josephine Long Wishart Collection: Mother, Home, and Heaven, Special Collections Library, The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio. (Hereafter MHH Collection)
[4] I employ a very broad definition of queer—sexual and gender expression outside of societal norms.
[5] I would like to thank Digital Curation Librarian Catie Newton who gave a guest lecture on Dublin Core metadata standards and Special Collections Librarian Denise Monbarren for her hands-on archival sessions. College of Wooster alumni Kenneth M. Libben, curator of the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum, and Brett Hall, a staff member of the Harding Home Presidential Site, both gave presentations on best practices for exhibition design and writing.

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Jim McGrath, Robyn Schroeder, and Inge Zwart <![CDATA[Day of Public Humanities]]> http://ncph.org/?p=25611 2017-05-08T18:23:04Z 2017-05-08T16:30:37Z Like “public history,” “public humanities” is a concept that seems relatively straightforward but quickly proves hard to define and explain (especially when we are asked to do so by our friends and relatives). At Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, we use the term “public humanities” to describe the wide range of work that we do: curation, educational programming, digital projects, or archival initiatives (among other projects). Read More

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Like “public history,” “public humanities” is a concept that seems relatively straightforward but quickly proves hard to define and explain (especially when we are asked to do so by our friends and relatives). At Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, we use the term “public humanities” to describe the wide range of work that we do: curation, educational programming, digital projects, or archival initiatives (among other projects). But we also acknowledge that people value other terms, like “public history.” We’d like to have more conversations with people within, across, and beyond public humanities, public history, and other fields. What do you call what you do, and why? What does your work look like on a daily basis? How might that work look if you thought about it within the context of public humanities?

With these questions in mind, the JNBC invites you to join us on Tuesday, May 9th for Day of Public Humanities. This crowdsourced initiative asks anyone invested in or just curious about this thing called “public humanities” to describe, discuss, and debate the term and its meaning with us.

We’re particularly interested in the labor of public humanities work: who is doing it, why it’s important, who determines its value, and what it means to us. Many of us create public-facing projects and programming. Yet a lot of the work behind these initiatives is invisible to our audiences. We know it can be hard to find time to write or reflect on our labor. Day of Public Humanities aims to expand conversations on our work beyond conventional narratives privileged by academic and scholarly texts, contexts, and practitioners. For example, we’ve asked people to send us their To-Do Lists to make our day-to-day work more visible: check out our blog to learn more!

On #DayofPH, we’re less interested in arriving at a specific and all-encompassing definition of “public humanities.” The JNBC is more excited about learning how practitioners in and around the field gravitate towards the term (or steer clear of it!) in their descriptions of what they do and why.

Here’s how you can join us on Tuesday, May 9th:

  1. Show Your Work: What does your work day look like? Show us your To-Do List. Live-tweet your morning (after getting some coffee). Take a picture of your desk, or share another image of your work: favorite co-workers, office ephemera, other images of life “behind the scenes.” Don’t forget to use the #DayofPH hashtag as you are documenting where and how you work!
  2. Join our conversations on Twitter. Who are your professional role models? What projects are you most excited about? What is the most challenging part of your work? We will circulate some questions, but please share your own as well!
  3. Advocate for public humanities in your community: On May 9th, we’ll be hosting a panel on advocating for the arts and humanities in the age of Trump at Brown. What conversations can you start with your professional peers and the communities with whom you collaborate?

We hope you’ll join us on May 9th. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter (@DayofPH), where lots of these conversations are already happening!

~ Day of Public Humanities is organized by Jim McGrath (@JimMc_Grath), Robyn Schroeder (@reconstitut) and Inge Zwart (@zwart_i) at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage (Brown University). For more information, email dayofPH@gmail.com, follow @DayofPH on Twitter, and visit www.DayofPH.wordpress.com.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the field May 2, 2017]]> http://ncph.org/?p=25583 2017-05-02T21:44:15Z 2017-05-02T21:41:31Z From around the field this week: Day of Public Humanities on May 9; nominate US public historians for Herbert Feis Award; journal issue seeks contributions on “Museums in the Age of Trump”; biographers converge on Boston; new issues of oral history, city museums journals

ANNOUNCEMENTS

  • On Tuesday, May 9, join the Day of Public Humanities (#DayofPH) initiative to define, debate, and describe the past, present, and future of public humanities

AWARDS and FUNDING

  • American Historical Association seeks nominations for the Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history (DEADLINE: May 15)

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

  • May classes from LYRASIS on digital projects, disaster planning, online exhibits, more
  • e-Live courses on Interpretive Writing from the Heritage Interpretation Training Center
  • Sharpen Your Skills” advanced oral history interviewing workshop from Baylor University Institute for Oral History – May 31, 2017 (online)

PUBLICATIONS

To submit an item to this regular listing, email us at historyatwork@ncph.org. Read More

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From around the field this week: Day of Public Humanities on May 9; nominate US public historians for Herbert Feis Award; journal issue seeks contributions on “Museums in the Age of Trump”; biographers converge on Boston; new issues of oral history, city museums journals

ANNOUNCEMENTS

  • On Tuesday, May 9, join the Day of Public Humanities (#DayofPH) initiative to define, debate, and describe the past, present, and future of public humanities

AWARDS and FUNDING

  • American Historical Association seeks nominations for the Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history (DEADLINE: May 15)

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

  • May classes from LYRASIS on digital projects, disaster planning, online exhibits, more
  • e-Live courses on Interpretive Writing from the Heritage Interpretation Training Center
  • Sharpen Your Skills” advanced oral history interviewing workshop from Baylor University Institute for Oral History – May 31, 2017 (online)

PUBLICATIONS

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

 

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Tammy Barnes and Joseph Cialdella <![CDATA[Sharing Yemeni history in Coldwater, Michigan]]> http://ncph.org/?p=25176 2017-04-19T12:36:51Z 2017-04-20T12:30:41Z

Visitors enjoying the exhibit at Tibbits Opera House. Photo credit: Tammy Barnes.

In 2015, the Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater, Michigan began a two-year project called “Cultural Exchange Coldwater” aimed at sharing the stories and experiences of Arab American residents in this southwest Michigan city. Read More

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Visitors enjoying the exhibit at Tibbits Opera House. Photo credit: Tammy Barnes.

In 2015, the Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater, Michigan began a two-year project called “Cultural Exchange Coldwater” aimed at sharing the stories and experiences of Arab American residents in this southwest Michigan city. Arab Americans, most of Yemeni heritage, are the largest minority population in this largely white city of 10,000. Yet their voices and perspectives are often marginalized in the area’s social and cultural life.

While it was a challenging undertaking for a small organization, Tibbits decided that following an inclusive and welcoming approach to practicing public history was the only way forward that could help alleviate divisions within the larger community, which grew in part from increasing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and more recent events.

Support for the project came from the Michigan Humanities Council, which in 2014 launched a grant-making initiative called “Heritage Grants: Exploring the History of All Michigan’s People.” The goal of the program is to support local historical and cultural organizations in telling the histories of communities that are frequently absent in these institutions. Together, the collection of 54 projects, ranging from oral histories and exhibits to community dialogues and school programs, helps to reveal a more expansive history of Michigan from the Keweenaw Peninsula to Metro Detroit. Among these projects, the Tibbits Opera House initiative was one of the most unexpected and rewarding examples to see unfold from the application stage to the fully developed project.

Formed in 1965, the Tibbits Opera Foundation and Arts Council saved the opera house from demolition. It also transformed the 1882 structure from a single-use performance space into the cultural center of this small community, offering a variety of programs. With its well-established reputation within the city, Tibbits’ staff saw a unique opportunity and responsibility to serve residents of diverse backgrounds while also helping the city’s non-Arab population better understand their fellow residents. The latter role is one more often found at larger history museums in urban centers.

To help achieve these goals, the first phase of Tibbits’ project involved building relationships and trust with the Arab American Society of Coldwater and expanding beyond typical program offerings. To do so effectively, they partnered with the Arab American National Museum (a two-hour drive away in Dearborn, Michigan, the U.S. city with the largest percentage of Arab Americans) to develop presentations, workshops, and exhibits aimed at fostering community conversations. The more than 400 participants, including city officials, health care workers, educators, and service club members, learned about the historical and cultural roots of Yemeni Americans in Coldwater. During school programs, nearly 1,500 students learned about the history of Arab immigrants, about famous Arab Americans, and about food traditions and some basic Arabic phrases. Tibbits organized a local chapter of an award-winning photography program called Sura (an Arabic word for photograph). During the workshop, students learned how to operate and care for a camera, as well as how to compose shots. But the instruction went further, serving as a catalyst for creating a sense of self and identity. As they looked through the camera lens, students developed self-awareness and respect toward others, as well as an idea of how they fit into the broader community.

The second phase of the Tibbits’ project centered on an exhibit that told the story of Yemeni immigration to Coldwater and explored cultural life in the community through objects, images, and oral histories. Tibbits’ staff developed the exhibit for several months with members of the Arab American Society and the local Yemeni community. Located in the entryway and common spaces of Tibbits Opera House, the exhibit greets nearly everyone who visits, including the roughly 5,000 people who attend the venue’s forty annual events.

By fostering community connections, Tibbits uses public history and cultural programming to create opportunities for the authentic voices of Arab Americans to come to the foreground and foster human ties between Coldwater’s communities. Today, with a backdrop of racial inequality and xenophobia affecting the quality of life for so many communities in Michigan and beyond, the work of public historians and cultural institutions in creating space to bring people together is more important than ever.

To learn more, visit http://tibbits.org/support-tibbits/heritage-grant-programs/

~ Tammy Barnes is director of audience outreach at Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater, Michigan. She holds a BA in History from WMU and an MA in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program.  

~ Joseph Cialdella, Ph.D., was the program officer for the Michigan Humanities Council’s Heritage Grants program. He currently manages the Program in Public Scholarship at the University of Michigan.

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Priya Chhaya <![CDATA[PastForward: Places, voices, and livability]]> http://ncph.org/?p=24999 2017-04-19T12:38:06Z 2017-04-18T12:30:03Z

Photo credit: David Keith Photography

This past fall in Houston, the National Trust for Historic Preservation gathered for its annual conference, PastForward. One of the key features of the conference is a series of marquee presentations called TrustLive. TrustLive presentations often feature a single speaker followed by a short panel discussion on a topic relevant to today’s preservation movement. Read More

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Photo credit: David Keith Photography

This past fall in Houston, the National Trust for Historic Preservation gathered for its annual conference, PastForward. One of the key features of the conference is a series of marquee presentations called TrustLive. TrustLive presentations often feature a single speaker followed by a short panel discussion on a topic relevant to today’s preservation movement. Each panel is designed to push attendees to look beyond the day-to-day work of the field by exploring and engaging with new voices and innovative projects outside the standard preservation world.

The TrustLive presentations at the Houston conference featured incredible panelists whose conversations pushed attendees to examine how we connect to our cities and other places, and, more importantly, how we can tell the full American story through preservation. The presentations were divided into three categories—preservationVOICES, preservationPLACES, and preservationLIVABILITY—which indicated the primary focus of each discussion.

preservationVOICES

All of our keynotes encouraged dialogue, but John Valadez, a documentary filmmaker, received a standing ovation during the preservationVOICES session after hitting an emotional nerve with the audience. Valadez talked about growing up Mexican American and reminded us that we “preserve the stories to teach us what it is to live a life well-lived and what it is to live a life squandered.”

Built on conversations begun at PastForward 2015, the preservationVOICES discussion examined the role historic places play in racial healing and social and environmental justice. The session specifically explored how historic places can help us uncover and tell the full American story. In addition to John Valadez, the panel discussion included Afeefa Syeed, the founder and head of school at Reston, Virginia’s Al Fatih Academy, attorney Teresa Leger de Fernandez of Leger Law & Strategy in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.

preservationPLACES

This TrustLive session examined activating historic places as a strategy to better teach history, tell stories, and promote reconciliation and healing. The session began with comments by Nina Simon, executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. She was later joined for the panel discussion by Annie Polland, senior vice president for programs and education at the Lower East Tenement Museum, Sean Kelley, senior vice president and director of interpretation at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, and Justin Albert, the director of the National Trust for Wales.

preservationLIVABILITY

The preservationLIVABILITY session explored the art, advocacy, and storytelling behind remaking cities, with a focus on how historic preservation can play a starring role in the rebirth of urban areas through reinvestment and reuse of existing places. The session emphasized that preservation can play a greater role in creating livable, vibrant, equitable, and creative communities.

This TrustLive featured Rick Lowe, community activist and founder of Project Row Houses in Houston, Mike Powe, director of research at the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab, and Claudia Guerra, a cultural historian in the city of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation.

Finally, you can also listen to National Trust President and CEO Stephanie Meeks’ keynote talk on the past and future city, as well as hear Kinder Institute for Urban Research founding director Stephen Klineberg describe his groundbreaking work tracking the remarkable changes in the demographic patterns, economic outlooks, experiences, and beliefs of Houston residents.

All three sessions are available for viewing on the National Trust’s YouTube channel. This fall PastForward heads to Chicago, where art, advocacy, and innovation are the hallmarks of preservation. Learn more about PastForward 2017, November 14-17, and sign up for updates here.

~ Priya Chhaya is manager for online content and products at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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Donna Graves <![CDATA[In praise of multistory places]]> http://ncph.org/?p=23106 2017-04-13T12:41:38Z 2017-04-13T12:30:18Z Editor’s Note: This is the last of a series of posts reflecting on Gregory Rosenthal’s article, “Make Roanoke Queer Again: Community History and Urban Change in a Southern City,” published in the February 2017 issue of The Public Historian, and on how the Roanoke project relates to other LGBTQ public history projects. Read More

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Editor’s Note: This is the last of a series of posts reflecting on Gregory Rosenthal’s article, “Make Roanoke Queer Again: Community History and Urban Change in a Southern City,” published in the February 2017 issue of The Public Historian, and on how the Roanoke project relates to other LGBTQ public history projects.

Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.
John Berger, G.: A Novel

There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.
Audre Lorde, “Learning from the 60s”

Originally built as a German social hall, The Women’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission District has served as one of the anchors for women, feminists, lesbians, and queer and progressive groups more generally in San Francisco since it was founded in 1978.

Originally built as a German social hall, The Women’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission District has served as one of the anchors for women, feminists, lesbians, and queer and progressive groups more generally in San Francisco since it was founded in 1978. Photo credit: Paul Krueger Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Gregory Rosenthal’s essay, “Make Roanoke Queer Again: Community History and Urban Change in a Southern City,” offers a valuable glimpse into the dimensions of reconstructing queer history in a small southern city. It also reminds me that the multiplicity and contestation embedded in John Berger’s and Audre Lorde’s words above apply to our work in public history and in historic preservation. I’d like to add a related epigraph to this blog post:

There is no such thing as a single-story place.

Rosenthal thoughtfully reflects on the accomplishments, challenges, and limitations of the new Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project and on the necessity of acknowledging multiple perspectives within that endeavor. Expanding perspectives on LGBTQ history beyond major metropolitan areas is important work and especially appreciated by practitioners like me who have been steeped in the better-known histories of queer urban America.

I recently spent several years collaborating with architectural historian Shayne Watson on a detailed study, Citywide Historic Context Statement for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History in San Francisco. In contrast to Rosenthal, we had the luxury of a grant to pursue our research, robust archival collections (that were still relatively weak in documenting experiences on LGBTQ people who were not white gay men), and active organizations whose members were eager to contribute to the project.  These resources allowed us to document queer history not only in the expected Castro and Tenderloin neighborhoods, but to discover that LGBTQ history is woven into many neighborhoods and sites across the city.

I would suggest that the next phase of work in Roanoke go beyond the spatial types that Rosenthal and others appear to have indexed to date. In San Francisco, like Roanoke, bars played a central role historically as a place to find other LGBTQ people, and our study listed dozens of buildings that once held important bars and nightclubs. Likewise, the San Francisco study highlights the importance of public spaces such as parks and alleys for (primarily gay male) cruising.

Yet combating queer erasure will mean uncovering sites associated with a much wider range of stories and time periods. A 2001 article in the Washington Post named multiple LGBTQ organizations and businesses that were already well-established in Roanoke, including a congregation of the Metropolitan Community Church, chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), a queer bowling league, and a country dancing club. A horrendous shooting the previous year that targeted LGBTQ people inspired the Post article. The shooter was reportedly searching for a gay bar and was directed to the Park, which figures so powerfully in the memories of Rosenthal’s subjects, but happened upon Backstreet Café first. The assault left one person dead and six wounded. That site and its history are also worth remembering, as is the community vigil that followed.

Expanding the universe of places remembered and honored for their significance in LGBTQ history is an undeniably important task and one that has been supported at the highest levels with the recent publication of the National Park Service’s LGBTQ National Theme Study, a remarkable document that is part of NPS’s effort to achieve its goal of “telling all Americans’ stories” developed under the Obama administration. Under the leadership of Megan Springate, the theme study mandated that authors work to treat their individual topics with an intersectional lens that recognizes multiple axes of identity.

I am writing this in early January 2017 as the new federal administration is being formed, and am preoccupied with what it means to be an activist public historian at this moment. In addition to reclaiming histories that have been marginalized, suppressed, and actively obscured, we should consider how the histories we are lifting up align with others, and how they can move us forward in resisting the regressive elements of the Trump agenda.

Preservation and place-based public history projects can vividly illustrate intersectionality and the promise of coalition building. In San Francisco several such sites jump to mind. I am currently writing a National Register nomination for The Women’s Building, a community landmark that has foregrounded connections among and between the politics of gender, race, class, and sexuality from its founding in 1978 to the present. In the Tenderloin, a diverse coalition is working to develop an LGBTQ National Register Historic District nomination and an inclusive, trans-centered cultural district to protect historic sites and places important to contemporary daily life and cultural expression.

The AIDS/ARC Vigil was a round-the-clock encampment from 1985 to 1995 in front of the building housing the regional office of Health and Human Services in San Francisco’s Civic Center.

The AIDS/ARC Vigil was a round-the-clock encampment from 1985 to 1995 in front of the building housing the regional office of Health and Human Services in San Francisco’s Civic Center. Photo credit: ©Rick Gerharter.

One particularly resonant place that needs a strategy for recognition in this context is San Francisco’s Civic Center. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark District for its grand Beaux Arts buildings and urban design, the area holds powerful memories and meanings for countless Bay Area residents. As the place where residents can speak truth to local, state, and federal power, it has drawn activists to marches, rallies, demonstrations, performances, and sit-ins over many decades. In 1934, Civic Center hosted huge protests from the West Coast waterfront strike and in subsequent decades was the focus of important mass actions against wars and police brutality and for civil rights, disability rights, workers and immigrants rights, and many more social justice issues. For LGBTQ people, Civic Center retains memories of the White Night Riots after Dan White’s lenient sentence for assassinating Harvey Milk and George Moscone, of joyful Pride celebrations, and of myriad protests around the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I’ll confess that that last sentence is only a partial list and one shaped by my own political biases.

But I call on my fellow public historians to enlist artists and other collaborators to dream up projects that make vivid the power of our history of collective action, which has been enacted repeatedly in San Francisco and in civic centers across the country.

As Sarah Montoya, a graduate student at UCLA recently wrote in OutHistory, “To celebrate our existence is not enough, and our mobilization in the wake of a Trump regime means that coalition building is crucial.” Multistory places, especially those that illustrate moments when communities worked together to bend the arc of history toward justice, are especially important sites for public historians to turn their energies toward today.

Thanks go to teacher and Roanoke resident, Tom Landon, who directed me to several sources while I thought about this blog post.

~ Donna Graves is an independent historian/urban planner based in Berkeley, California. She develops interdisciplinary public history projects that emphasize social equity and sense of place. Recognitions for Graves’s work include the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s first Advocacy Award, the National Park Service’s Home Front Award, the California Preservation Foundation’s Trustees Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation, and the California Governor’s Historic Preservation Award. In 2009–10 Graves was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

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