National Council on Public History Putting History to Work in the World 2016-05-23T17:55:55Z http://ncph.org/feed/atom/ WordPress editors <![CDATA[Project Showcase: History Hub]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17920 2016-05-22T21:28:01Z 2016-05-23T12:30:43Z History Hub Screen Grab

Screenshot credit: History Hub

The Internet has changed the way nearly every profession shares knowledge and communicates with the public. In the last few years archivists and historians working for the federal government have joined the conversation. In December 2015, the National Archives created History Hub, a platform for collaboration between researchers, historians, archivists, and the federal government. Read More

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History Hub Screen Grab

Screenshot credit: History Hub

The Internet has changed the way nearly every profession shares knowledge and communicates with the public. In the last few years archivists and historians working for the federal government have joined the conversation. In December 2015, the National Archives created History Hub, a platform for collaboration between researchers, historians, archivists, and the federal government.

History Hub differs from other governmental crowdsourcing platforms, such as openNASA and the Library of Congress’ Flickr pilot project,  which seek the public’s assistance in obtaining information and insights, answering questions, or resolving challenges faced by government officials. The main purpose of History Hub is to answer inquiries from the public, fully engaging them in the endeavors of the National Archives through tools like discussion boards, blogs, and community pages. History Hub facilitates knowledge- and information-sharing between parties, enabling greater public utilization of the National Archive’s vast resources.

History Hub is currently in its pilot phase, which runs through the end of May 2016. The National Archives is now looking to partner with other federal agencies in order to answer even more thoroughly the public’s historical and archival questions. History Hub is the first crowdsourcing platform that enables multiple federal agencies to communicate with the public and one another via a single platform. The platform has already proven to be a powerful resource for researchers looking for information on various topics: genealogical history, presidential records, and military records, to name a few. For example, one user asked if anyone had information on relatives who had served in the same U.S. Army General Hospital in India as his grandfather during World War II. In response, another History Hub user provided the detailed story of her own father who served in a similar unit–information that could not have been accessed anywhere else.

To learn more, visit History Hub. Ask or answer a question, share successes or roadblocks, and keep the conversation going.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the field May 18, 2016]]> http://ncph.org/?p=18263 2016-05-18T18:34:24Z 2016-05-18T18:33:58Z newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Summer schools focusing on rare books and America’s political fault lines; World War I centennial continues in Nova Scotia; special journal issue asks about echoes of past prejudices in contemporary refugee crisis; grants for creation and preservation of collections and reference resources. Read More

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newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Summer schools focusing on rare books and America’s political fault lines; World War I centennial continues in Nova Scotia; special journal issue asks about echoes of past prejudices in contemporary refugee crisis; grants for creation and preservation of collections and reference resources.

AWARDS and FUNDING

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

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

 

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editors <![CDATA[Project Showcase: Flatbush + Main]]> http://ncph.org/?p=18223 2016-05-17T00:47:30Z 2016-05-16T12:30:49Z Image 1_F+M_Logo_Square

Screenshot credit: Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia

In April 2016, Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) launched Flatbush + Main, a podcast dedicated to telling the rich stories of Brooklyn’s past. Hosted by BHS oral historian Zaheer Ali and director of public history Julie Golia, Flatbush + Main dives deep into Brooklyn’s sometimes iconic, sometimes quirky histories­. Read More

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Screenshot credit: Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia

In April 2016, Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) launched Flatbush + Main, a podcast dedicated to telling the rich stories of Brooklyn’s past. Hosted by BHS oral historian Zaheer Ali and director of public history Julie Golia, Flatbush + Main dives deep into Brooklyn’s sometimes iconic, sometimes quirky histories­.

Flatbush + Main ties those histories to the most salient issues facing New Yorkers and Americans today. The podcast also provides a glimpse into how history is made and preserved every day at BHS, a 153-year-old museum, archives, and urban history center.
Each episode of Flatbush + Main includes three segments. “Histories and Ideas” digs into the people, communities, events, and issues facing Brooklynites past and present. In “Into the Archives,” Julie and Zaheer describe, discuss, and contextualize documents and artifacts from BHS’s archives. “Voices of Brooklyn” features clips from BHS’s oral history collections, which include over 1,200 interviews with narrators born as early as the 1890s. The podcast ends by highlighting exhibitions and programs at BHS’s headquarters in Brooklyn.

In Flatbush + Main’s first episode, “Histories of Waste in Brooklyn,” Zaheer and Julie explore the multilayered history of waste in Brooklyn. Guest historian Elizabeth Pillsbury describes how the building of Brooklyn’s sewer system prompted the decline of New York’s oyster industry–and highlights the symbiotic relationship between oysters and waste. Listeners also hear from artist Barry Rosenthal, who blends photography and sculpture to offer commentary on the ever-growing issue of ocean pollution.

Listen and learn more at http://brooklynhistory.org/flatbush-main or subscribe on iTunes. Flatbush + Main is also available on major podcast listening apps on both iOS and Android platforms.

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Cathy Stanton <![CDATA[Around the Field May 10, 2016]]> http://ncph.org/?p=18211 2016-05-11T00:18:52Z 2016-05-11T00:18:52Z newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Soundscapes and archaeoacoustics at 2017 international conference on Malta; best practices for interpreting slavery at Guston Hall in Virginia, U.S. later this month; nominate an outstanding public historian for the AHA Herbert Feis Award by May 15. Read More

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newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Soundscapes and archaeoacoustics at 2017 international conference on Malta; best practices for interpreting slavery at Guston Hall in Virginia, U.S. later this month; nominate an outstanding public historian for the AHA Herbert Feis Award by May 15.

AWARDS and FUNDING

  • Herbert Feis Award from the American Historical Association for distinguished contributions to public history, broadly defined (DEADLINE: May 15, 2016)

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

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

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Emily McEwen <![CDATA[Out of the academy and into public service: Changing expectations and new measures of success]]> http://ncph.org/?p=17963 2016-05-04T00:48:53Z 2016-05-04T12:30:47Z McEwen

Emily McEwen as resource specialist, April 2015. Photo credit: Emily McEwen

In June 2014, when I finished my PhD in history, with a research emphasis in public history, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. And rightfully so. I had worked for eight long years slogging through coursework, exams, conference presentations, fellowship applications, TAships, a year of research, and a solid year and a half of dissertation writing to achieve my goal. Read More

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Emily McEwen as resource specialist, April 2015. Photo credit: Emily McEwen

In June 2014, when I finished my PhD in history, with a research emphasis in public history, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. And rightfully so. I had worked for eight long years slogging through coursework, exams, conference presentations, fellowship applications, TAships, a year of research, and a solid year and a half of dissertation writing to achieve my goal. My ultimate goal for earning a doctorate was always to work in the professional public history field. During my graduate studies I had worked as the curator for site listed as a local National Historic Landmark and my CV included a number of museum internships, practica, and small consulting jobs. Two months after graduation I accepted a position as a resource specialist within the historical division of a large county park system.

After only a few days on the job, I quickly realized that I had thought I knew much more about doing public history than I actually did, and just how ill-prepared I was for the rigors of public service. Charged with managing two very busy and very different historic parks, my daily work routine morphed from solitary hours of research and writing to fast-paced days shuttling between the parks, managing two volunteer docent groups, planning large-scale park events, coordinating onsite weddings, and providing customer service to everyone entering the park office. All of a sudden, there was a whole lot of public in my history and I was completely overwhelmed.

While there has been much discussion about the necessity for PhDs to be open to careers outside of academia and how they can successfully market themselves for these jobs, the fact remains that the transition out of the academy and into “the field” can be a rocky one. During my first year as a resource specialist I spent a lot of time beating myself up. As I was trying to get a handle on this new job I had let my own research slide and wasn’t on track to publish an article from my dissertation as I had planned. I crumbled under the expectation (self-imposed mostly) that as a PhD, I should already be spearheading innovative and intellectually stimulating programs within the parks, when in reality I was still trying to figure out the county’s purchase order system and what permits a bride needed to pull in order to serve alcohol at her wedding.

By taking some time to reflect and talking to other recent graduates, I began to see just how difficult the transition out of academia and into the professional public history world can be. As a friend and I mused one day, “We were really good at being graduate students, but now we don’t know what to do.” I had become used to concentrating on my own dissertation project, working relatively independently, and being in an environment where everyone understood the fundamental importance of historical study. When I started with the county park system, I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that my own projects or ideas about what should be done often mattered little because I was now working in the small historical division of a large bureaucracy where I had many layers of bosses and my daily work was focused on serving the needs of the public, whatever those might happen to be.

Historic El Toro Grammar School and St. George's Episcopal Mission at Heritage Hill Historical Park, October 2015. Photo credit: Emily McEwen.

Historic El Toro Grammar School and St. George’s Episcopal Mission at Heritage Hill Historical Park, October 2015. Photo credit: Emily McEwen

After a solid year-and-a-half on the job I realized that I was judging myself based on my academic understanding of success. By this measure, I felt as if I had failed. I had to realign my thinking to fit the reality of my situation and realize all that I was doing. I was gaining experience in historic park management, a field I had little first-hand knowledge of before beginning as a resource specialist. I was learning valuable supervisory and interpersonal skills in dealing with both volunteers and the park staff. I was gaining a greater understanding of safety protocols for both visitors and staff, something I had never given much thought to. I was slowly understanding the nuances of navigating a large bureaucratic system.

As the staff person in charge of special events, wedding coordination, and the only supervisor on duty on Saturdays, I have acquired a new assertiveness, or what I like to call, general “Taking Care of Business” skills. Did you lose your pet squirrel in the park after it made a break from the vet’s office? Not a problem, I’ll help you look. Did one of your uninvited wedding guests drunkenly punch the security guard? Let me call the sheriff and begin the incident report. Did someone puncture the fuel lines of the entire fleet of park vehicles over the weekend? Once again, let me call the sheriff and begin the incident report. Certainly these are skills that are not–and really cannot–be taught in the classroom, but that I now see the value in possessing. As my graduate advisor told me when I described my new role as wedding coordinator, “If you can handle bridezillas, you can handle anything.” Most importantly, I am finding joy in serving the public, sharing history with the park visitors, working with each park’s dedicated volunteers, and understanding how important these parks are to the community.

A few months into my job I had lunch with a mentor, a retired museum director, who reminded me that it takes time to become proficient at something new, that I needed to step back and get to know each of the sites where I worked before I could even begin to have an understanding of what projects to champion. She also suggested I keep a journal of all the little things that I accomplished each week, all the small victories won, in order to see how those add up, over time, to big improvements. This was exactly what I needed to hear. Even though I held a graduate degree in public history, the daily responsibilities of being a resource specialist were new to me and I needed to take time to learn the job, the history, and the stakeholders at each site I managed before I could embark on any meaningful change. After all, I didn’t start writing my dissertation in my first year of graduate school, but gradually gained the skills and knowledge needed to conquer it. I know that the hard earned skills I honed in eight long years of graduate school– research, critical thinking, writing, project management–will serve me when I do tackle those big projects.

~ Emily McEwen earned her PhD in history from the University of California, Riverside, in 2014. During her graduate studies she worked as a curator and consultant in Riverside, California. For the last year and a half she has worked as a historic resource specialist for a county park system in southern California.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the field May 3, 2016]]> http://ncph.org/?p=18092 2016-05-11T00:19:26Z 2016-05-04T00:41:18Z newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Housing politics and the archive in London; oral history with vulnerable narrators; Massachusetts conference on advocacy for history; UX for public historians; summer courses on restoration and digital technologies for cultural heritage.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

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newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Housing politics and the archive in London; oral history with vulnerable narrators; Massachusetts conference on advocacy for history; UX for public historians; summer courses on restoration and digital technologies for cultural heritage.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

CONFERENCES and CALLS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

PUBLICATIONS

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

 

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editors <![CDATA[Project Showcase: Black Quotidian]]> http://ncph.org/?p=16596 2016-05-02T00:28:13Z 2016-05-02T09:30:12Z Black Quotidian_Front Page Image

Screenshot credit: Matthew Delmont

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

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Black Quotidian_Front Page Image

Screenshot credit: Matthew Delmont

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image credit: Amanda Lyons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCPH Diversity Task Force logo. Image credit: Kesha Bruce

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

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

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NCPH Diversity Task Force logo. Image credit: Kesha Bruce

NCPH Diversity Task Force logo. Image credit: Kesha Bruce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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