National Council on Public History Putting History to Work in the World 2018-04-20T17:27:53Z http://ncph.org/feed/atom/ WordPress Rebecca Ortenberg <![CDATA[Project Showcase: Science History Institute’s History Lab]]> http://ncph.org/?p=33821 2018-04-17T14:45:44Z 2018-04-20T12:30:22Z

Participants discuss the future they imagine for a local neighborhood during the “Communities and the Future” program on July 15, 2017. Photo credit: Rebecca Ortenberg.

What did medical self-tracking look like in the past, and how will it look in the future? Read More

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Participants discuss the future they imagine for a local neighborhood during the “Communities and the Future” program on July 15, 2017. Photo credit: Rebecca Ortenberg.

What did medical self-tracking look like in the past, and how will it look in the future? How do we plan for the future of our communities in a world where the climate is changing? Does science fiction influence scientific research? These are just some of the questions audiences grappled with in History Lab, a new public program series at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia. In the summer of 2017, the Institute launched this series with three programs that explored conceptions of “the future”: Bodies and the Future, Communities and the Future, and Fiction and the Future. Three new programs exploring scientific data are planned for the summer of 2018.

Like many dialogue-based learning programs, including those created by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, each of the programs began with an ice breaker–a low-stakes but intimate discussion that encouraged participants to contemplate and share their personal experiences. For example, in the Communities and the Future program, which looked at the intersections of urban planning, environmental change, and community identity, participants shared something about their hometown or neighborhood that they thought was misunderstood. After each program’s ice breaker, a scholar from the Science History Institute talked about their work on a related topic.

During Bodies and the Future, historian Deanna Day discussed her research on the history of the thermometer and its connection to modern technology like the Fitbit. Finally, participants dug into a more in-depth activity and discussion meant to encourage staff, scholars, and participants to learn from one another.

In Fiction and the Future, participants played the card game The Thing from the Future, which asks participants to create a futuristic story based on a series of random prompts. The activity came after a presentation about scientists’ perspectives on science fiction, which stressed how the stories we tell about the future can influence discoveries made today. We hoped that participants would come away understanding that it matters what kinds of stories we tell about the future and who gets to tell them. To our delight, participants brought up this precise point in discussion, noting that the whiteness and maleness of much mainstream science fiction severely limits what we as a society imagine the future might be like.

This eagerness to attack hard questions and complex concepts head-on was also clear in visitor survey results. Eighty-seven percent of respondents told us that they “gained a new perspective” over the course of the program. In written comments, participants called the program “Illuminating and thought-provoking.” Staff also took ethnographic notes during the programs and held regular evaluation check-ins. Through every type of evaluation, participants expressed similar opinions.

In a city like Philadelphia, audiences can learn about science through a variety of institutions and a plethora of activities. But public audiences have fewer opportunities to talk with each other about how history and culture inform science and what it means to them. Through programs like History Lab, the Science History Institute offers unique, transformative opportunities to do just that.

Rebecca Ortenberg is a history communicator based in Philadelphia. As a program associate at the Science History Institute, she devises public programs and develops digital content that show scholarly research in action. She is also the managing editor of Lady Science, an online magazine focused on women in the history of science, technology, and medicine. 

 

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Miriam Melton-Vilanueva. http://%20 <![CDATA[Pop-up Ofrenda: Interactive Remembrance and Healing]]> http://ncph.org?p=35847&preview=true&preview_id=35847 2018-04-17T18:35:19Z 2018-04-18T04:00:00Z Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of pieces  focused on Las Vegas and its regional identity which will be posted before and during the NCPH annual meeting in Las Vegas in April.

UNLV Ofrenda in the Marjory Barrick Museum.

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Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of pieces  focused on Las Vegas and its regional identity which will be posted before and during the NCPH annual meeting in Las Vegas in April.

UNLV Ofrenda in the Marjory Barrick Museum. Photo credit: Miriam Melton-Villanueva 

As discussed in yesterday’s post, the Las Vegas shooting happened a month before Day of the Dead. This gave UNLV students an opportunity to grieve by building a Mexican ofrenda in the Marjory Barrick Museum. Community members, faculty, and students decorated a student-assembled platform with hand-made objects, stones, and words spontaneously written on scraps of paper. Someone brought the boots of a friend who died in the massacre; another added a picture of their grandfather. A student chef made a special artisanal bread that smelled of azahar (orange blossom); another student cut brightly colored tissue paper into geometric patterns. Flowers, candles, and sentimental objects were placed on the museum’s modular platforms, creating an expression of community strength.

For three hours at the 2018 NCPH annual meeting in Las Vegas, we reimagine this same intersection of art, memory and healing with a pop-up interactive table on April 19th (tomorrow), in Renaissance Ballroom I, in the conference hotel. As you stop by to see the images, we invite you to write notes and add them to the bits of poetry that continue to be written about life, brushes with death, and what it means to survive. You will be able to hold objects and textiles, and speak to students that wrote lines of poetry complex enough to hold humor alongside anguish.

Visitors to the UNLV Ofrenda commemorating the victims of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. Photo credit: Miriam Melton-Villanueva 

We all hold stories. Add your own voice to the chorus of hanging paper torn into strips. Help us build community around tragedy. Love notes, wishes, names of ancestors, dates, and lyrics will coexist for a moment, created with love. This profound cultural strategy we learn from Mexicans—how to cooperate despite our differences, how to celebrate death with wonder in order to heal the living. Be sure to join us.

Historical Context

Mexican plazas, schools, homes, and churches might participate in Día de los Muertos festivities today. During the colonial period, ofrendas appeared in association with the Christian calendar on All Saints’ Day. But in Mexico, the tradition can be traced back to the indigenous Aztec/ Mexica/ Nahua celebration called miccailhuitl in the Nahuatl language, which translates to “Day of the Dead.” These celebrations were planned for far in advance and sponsored by harvests from parcels of land inherited expressly for this purpose. By means of seasonal planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting these specific properties, one remembered loved ones and grandparents in the yearly celebrations with costly flowers, incense, and candles.  Editor’s note: This tradition was also celebrated in popular culture with the recent 2017 Disney Pixar film, Coco

 

Miriam Melton-Villanueva is an assistant professor in the history department at UNLV.  Her recent book is The Aztecs at Independence: Nahua Culture Makers in Central Mexico, 1799-1832 is based on Nahuatl-language (“Aztec”/ Mexica) documents women and men produced during the colonial period.

 

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Tammi Kim <![CDATA[Archiving the 1 October web]]> http://ncph.org/?p=32768 2018-04-17T00:15:07Z 2018-04-17T12:30:44Z Editor’s note: This is the fourth post of a series that continues the conversation begun in the February 2018 issue of The Public Historian with the roundtable “Responding Rapidly to Our Communities.”

The Las Vegas sign adorned with flowers on October 9, 2017, a week after the shooting

The Las Vegas sign surrounded by flowers, October 9, 2017.

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Editor’s note: This is the fourth post of a series that continues the conversation begun in the February 2018 issue of The Public Historian with the roundtable “Responding Rapidly to Our Communities.”

The Las Vegas sign adorned with flowers on October 9, 2017, a week after the shooting

The Las Vegas sign surrounded by flowers, October 9, 2017. Photo credit: Rmvisuals via Wikimedia Commons. Image licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Tragedy struck Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire onto a crowd of twenty-two thousand people attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival, injuring over five hundred people and killing fifty-eight. Overnight, Las Vegas became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Like others across the nation, the staff in the Special Collections and Archives of UNLV’s University Libraries were shocked and horrified in those first few hours, and we checked in with our colleagues and loved ones to make sure they were safe. The next day, we wondered what we could do to help. Reflecting on our mission to document southern Nevada, we realized that we had a critical responsibility to preserve this history—the voices of the survivors, first responders, and communities who rushed to our support—so that we could study, remember, and reflect on it later.

Special Collections and Archives collaborated early with museums in the area, and we determined that we would focus on collecting digital primary sources and oral histories, while the museums focused on collecting physical artifacts. Within a month, our Oral History Research Center (OHRC) began collecting oral history interviews with a variety of individuals to document several aspects of 1 October, including local concert attendees and first responders. We continue to recruit narrators following leads from media stories, by calling police departments, the county coroner’s office, funeral homes, fire departments, and hospitals. The Nevada State Museum is collecting artifacts, memorabilia, and other documentation about the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival as well as physical documents related to the event and its aftermath, while the Clark County Museum is collecting artifacts, memorabilia, and other documentation from memorials and vigils. The Mob Museum is focusing on collecting objects, images, official documents, and stories that illustrate the activities of law enforcement agencies during and after this tragic event.

To capture digital primary sources, we used two methods—web archiving and Twitter archiving.  As the manager of Special Collections and Archives’ web archiving program my immediate thought was to start archiving the reactions and stories on the web. Following the lead of web archives documenting massacres that occurred at Virginia Tech and at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, we created the 1 October Web Archive, which preserves hundreds of websites that document firsthand testimonies, videos, and photographs from attendees and first responders, especially through media coverage. The web archive preserves the diversity of responses across the nation to the massacre by capturing reactions and stories from individuals on social media, YouTube videos of survivors’ stories, and news stories from all sides of the political spectrum.

We are a member of Archive-It, a web archiving service of the Internet Archive that preserves and documents cultural heritage on the web. The service allows libraries, museums, and archives to curate topical collections comprised of archived captures of websites. The ephemeral nature of information on the web makes web archiving particularly important, and we wanted to quickly capture the primary source evidence of the local, national, and international reactions to the shooting in Las Vegas so as not to lose this significant history. We started by archiving websites for local educational institutions, local government, and local media, many of which immediately published temporary statements responding to the horrific massacre. We focused on archiving news stories from the local media but also cast a wide net to capture a broad spectrum of voices.

Using a tool called twarc developed by the Documenting the Now project, we also captured millions of tweets using the term “Las Vegas” as our search parameter. We extracted a list of the top retweeted URLs and archived those websites. We discovered that Twitter users were retweeting articles from traditional news media, such as CNN and the New York Times, but also retweeting blog posts, crowdfunding websites, fake news websites, and live video streams hosted on Periscope TV, Twitter’s live-streaming video app. We also discovered many retweets to personal accounts—some of which were already deleted by their users by the time we started archiving.

Web archiving is vital for preserving primary source evidence for future discovery and access. Information on the Web is ephemeral, fleeting, and unstable. Evidence of our activities that is online today can easily be taken down tomorrow without any recourse for recovering the information. The life cycle of most web pages lasts for a few months, so with over one billion websites (and counting) it becomes vital for cultural heritage organizations to play our part in preserving this material. We hope to continue archiving websites and capturing the memories and testimonies of those who experienced the massacre firsthand. Eventually, our goal is to provide access not only through our institutional Archive-It page but also to enable users to discover the web archive through a collection finding aid published on the Special Collections and Archives website and the UNLV Libraries online catalog. Our hope is that our efforts will ensure that future users will be able to discover, access, and study the evidence of what occurred on October 1, 2017, as it was presented on the web. For now, we are sharing information about the project and details on how to contribute memories, content, and websites on our UNLV University Libraries Special Collections and Archives blog. Feel free to contact us. And we hope you will visit us when in Las Vegas for the annual meeting.

~ Tammi Kim is a special collections and archives technical services librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where she is responsible for accessioning, University Archives, and web archiving. She holds a master’s in library science from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Tony Pierucci <![CDATA[Terra incognita: Navigating life as the only professionally-trained historian at work]]> http://ncph.org/?p=35672 2018-04-11T17:35:41Z 2018-04-16T12:30:23Z

Image credit: Tony Pierucci.

There’s a gap between intellectually understanding something and actually grasping it and all of its ramifications. Two days into my new job in 2014, I fell headlong into that yawning space between intellectual understanding and grasping and spent the next few months scraping my knees and elbows clambering back out again. Read More

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Image credit: Tony Pierucci.

There’s a gap between intellectually understanding something and actually grasping it and all of its ramifications. Two days into my new job in 2014, I fell headlong into that yawning space between intellectual understanding and grasping and spent the next few months scraping my knees and elbows clambering back out again. It was a rough way to start my career as a public historian.

And it had started so optimistically.

I was to be the curator of a small, 80-year-old museum in rural California. I would be its first professionally trained curator and, for a while at least, the only trained staff onsite. Fantastic, I thought, here was my chance to put my mark on an institution, to sketch a robust and effective program on an otherwise blank slate. Feeling prepared for the experience as a solo public historian, I took the job without hesitation.

Reality has a harsh way of dealing with misconceptions. It ripped mine from my grasping hands like the wind whipping a balloon away from a child. Like that child, I cried a bit. But after learning how to navigate the workplace as the only professionally-trained historian, I found a deep sense of gratification and came to love the unique position I found myself in.

But there was that whole wind stealing the balloon part. So, in hopes of sparing others a similar rude awakening, here are three helpful tips on how to avoid common missteps when you’re blazing your own trail at work.

  1. Rome was not built in a day…

Instead, it was built brick by brick. You should apply the same methodical process to the first few weeks or months of your new job. I know—you probably have a notebook with lists of ideas and plans you’re just itching to put into place. Control yourself, and put the paper down. There are many steps to take between now and item #1 on that list.

To begin with, you have to lay or repair basic professional infrastructure. This process might be as simple as establishing a workstation and stocking up on office supplies. Or, it can be as complicated as creating or updating professional policies and procedures. Sit down as soon as you can and brainstorm what you consider the bare-bone essentials you need to do your job and make a prioritized list of how to rectify any shortfalls. If you ignore this step, you won’t get very far down the road before spraining your ankle in one of these potholes.

Starting slowly also allows you time to learn the lay of the land. Every workplace is different, and the last thing you want to do is step on any toes in your mad dash to implement your plans.

  1. Parlez-vous academia?  

If you’ve ever tried to explain your latest research project to an interested family member at Thanksgiving, then you’ll understand this tip. Their interest soon turns into disinterest and ultimately mild panic, as your overly long description pins them, trapped and helpless, to their seat.

The quickest way to kill a meeting is to cite chapter and verse the academic foundation of your new project. If prompted to, then by all means wax poetic. Otherwise, keep your bibliography to yourself. Image credit: Tony Pierucci.

In any situation, to communicate effectively and persuasively, you need to know your audience. In the case of your new job, your audience is either completely unaware, or marginally aware of professional historical practices. Learn to edit yourself to fit the situation and the person with whom you’re communicating. Are you writing a weekly report to your supervisor? Cut to the chase and give her what she needs—an update, not a lengthy dissertation on the theoretical framework for the new school tour you’re developing. Brevity should guide all business communications, but this is especially so when your colleagues don’t share the same dictionary as you.

There’s a corollary to this step: get into the habit of packaging your wants and needs in the same gift wrap as the rest of the workplace. Do you want to get more visitors to your museum? Asking for more money for marketing probably won’t get you anywhere. After all, why would the county chief administrative officer care about museum visitation? On the other hand, wanting to “position the museum in such a way as to help promote the new destination tourism initiative being unrolled” might get her attention.

  1. Listen, because you don’t know everything

The best way to start any new job is to listen. If your supervisor hasn’t already organized it, find out who has worked there the longest and ask him/her for a tour of the place. You might have the background and the experience, but you completely lack the most important type of knowledge: institutional knowledge. Ask questions and genuinely listen to what your guide has to say. Approaching your new position with an open willingness to listen and learn from your colleagues will not only get you important information, but will also make you many friends.

You’d be surprised how many staff were anxious about your arrival, fearing you’d be a know-it-all instead of a valuable asset to the team. If you immediately start work by emailing coworkers scanned pages from your notebook of ideas, you’ll only confirm their fears. Remember, your coworkers probably already have plans of their own. Some of the best public programming I’ve participated in was the brainchild of coworkers who never attended a class in public history. Those different backgrounds in the workplace make for more vantage points. Yours will not always be the best.

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Since that first job, I have continued to work in places as the first or only public historian on site, and I love it. I know that this type of work can be jarring at first. After all, from graduate school to professional conferences, we as public historians are conditioned to working with our professional peers. And staying connected to each other through membership in organizations like NCPH is important.

But if you do find yourself wandering from the pack, toiling away in your own community of non-traditional peers, enjoy the experience. Just remember to mind the gap.

~ Tony Pierucci has worked in archives, museums and archaeological excavations throughout the country. He is currently the curator of history and historic preservation officer for Riverside County Regional Parks and Open-Space District in southern California.

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Debra Reid <![CDATA[Agriculture and public history: A working group]]> http://ncph.org/?p=35766 2018-04-13T13:06:54Z 2018-04-13T12:30:40Z It’s an exciting time for public historians interested in putting the farm-to-fork movement into historic context. Recent books, including Interpreting Food at Museums and Historic Sites (2015), Interpreting Agriculture at Museums and Historic Sites (2017), and Public History and the Food Movement: Adding the Missing Ingredient (2018), demonstrate that public historians are bringing new insights to bear on interpreting agricultural history and food history. Read More

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It’s an exciting time for public historians interested in putting the farm-to-fork movement into historic context. Recent books, including Interpreting Food at Museums and Historic Sites (2015), Interpreting Agriculture at Museums and Historic Sites (2017), and Public History and the Food Movement: Adding the Missing Ingredient (2018), demonstrate that public historians are bringing new insights to bear on interpreting agricultural history and food history.

Reaping wheat at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan, July 6, 2017. Photo credit: Debra A. Reid

In contemporary society, agriculture, an essential human activity, has gained a reputation as a destroyer of ecosystems and genetic diversity. Alternative agriculture serves as agriculture’s alter ego—the approach associated with organic producers or farmers committed to using oxen or horses rather than fossil fuels. Agriculture is more complicated than this duality conveys. Both alternative and industrial farm families, and consumers, function between these two extremes. Increasing public engagement with agriculture can sustain engagement with a subject essential for human survival.

Public history can draw attention to the sustainable models that existed historically and that remain worthy of preserving, interpreting, and perpetuating. This task requires analysis of site-specific evidence that documents local food, fuel, and fiber production and marketing systems that co-existed with global commodity chains. Today, local food systems are experiencing a rebirth, and that is reason enough to draw more attention to the issues via public history.

Support systems exist for those interested in putting farm-to-fork and slow-food initiatives into historic context. The second oldest professional history organization in the United States, the Agricultural History Society (AHS), began in 1919. The AHS attracted an interdisciplinary group of historians, some in academia but others in civil service positions. The history that they studied, be it agricultural production, marketing, land policy, and technology, had direct application to their work. It informed public policy as well as museum curation of collections at the Smithsonian Institution, the International Harvester collection, and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, to name a few.

The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) began in 1970. ALHFAM provides resources to interpret agriculture, facilitates the exchange of information via professional interest groups, and offers regional and international conferences and skills workshops. Members can access ALHFAM’s Skills and Knowledge Base, featuring nearly 25,000 items (nearly 50 years’ worth) of ALHFAM publications about the theory and practice of agricultural interpretation and living history programming.

Interpreting agriculture serves a public good if it fosters public discourse. This is a tall order given the general lack of understanding about agricultural practices and associated policy, economics, and social and cultural systems, historically and today. To advance this goal of fostering productive discourse on agriculture and food history, the “Agriculture and Public History” working group at the 2018 NCPH annual meeting will:

  • Devise strategies that can make historic sites and public history projects a “go-to” source to increase agricultural literacy (delivering content about local food systems as well as global commodity chains of food, fuel, and fiber).
  • Adopt a humanist perspective and develop humanities-based strategies to engage the public in agriculture and agricultural history. Note that humanities disciplines (history, art, theater, philosophy, literature) and social sciences disciplines (politics, culture, economics, cultural geography) can inform public interpretation of agriculture (a theme naturally related to STEM disciplines).
  • Devise and test approaches to document agriculture and the environment in specific places/regions, within crop and livestock cultures; and show how place/environment affected crop and stock management and human relationships over time. Note that this local research will document changes in local food systems over time, will document production and processing of feed for humans, feed for animals, and feed for both, and will indicate relationships between local food systems and global commodity chains.
  • Develop a framework for museums, historical societies, and historic sites (including living history farms) to use in collection and interpretive plan development.
  • Ensure that gender, race, ethnicity, power, and authority inform all projects.
  • Ensure that historic connections, rather than rural-urban dichotomies and myths, inform all projects.

Conference attendees are invited to join the conversation and share their perspectives on how public historians can continue to foster public discourse on the past, present, and future of agriculture and food.

~ Debra A. Reid is curator of agriculture and the environment at The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, and author of Interpreting Agriculture at Museums and Historic Sites (2017). You can reach Reid at debrar@thehenryford.org

 

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James F. Brooks <![CDATA[Neon City: Power lines and plundered lands]]> http://ncph.org/?p=35746 2018-04-16T12:58:58Z 2018-04-12T12:30:45Z I hope NCPH members and The Public Historian subscribers will enjoy our second foray into digital special editions tuned to the current moment in public history. Our Monuments, Memory, Politics, and Our Publics issue of last September responded to public debates around the removal of “Lost Cause” monuments then in the news. Read More

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I hope NCPH members and The Public Historian subscribers will enjoy our second foray into digital special editions tuned to the current moment in public history. Our Monuments, Memory, Politics, and Our Publics issue of last September responded to public debates around the removal of “Lost Cause” monuments then in the news. This edition is timed to provide attendees of our annual conference in Las Vegas, April 18-21, advance insights drawing upon topical essays and reviews from our digital backlist.

But we begin with an original essay by NYU’s Andrew Needham, inspired by his multiple prize-winning 2014 book, Power Lines, on the making of the modern Southwest.  Electricity generated by coal strip-mined from Navajo and Hopi reservation land makes “Vegas” possible. It will cause us to think more deeply as we revel in the air-conditioned Renaissance Hotel and marvel at the dazzling lights of Sin City. We go on to feature pieces on the challenges of historic preservation in a city that imagines itself always in the “now,” how photography can bring to “life” the superficially barren Mohave desert, a keen-eyed review of The Atomic Testing Museum, which many of us may visit, and a review essay on Vegas’s “sister” city of Reno and its landmark status as capital of the “divorce industry.” Something for everyone.

Enjoy, and we on the TPH and University of California Press staff will look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas.

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

 

NCPH Las Vegas – TPH special digital issue


What Happens in Vegas: Historic Preservation and Sustainable Public History in Sin City

Summer Cherland, Deirdre Clemente, Andy Kirk
August 2014, Vol. 36 No. 3

Visualizing What Happened Near Vegas: Experiences in Photographing a Public History Project
Julian Kilker
August 2014, Vol. 36 No. 3

Viewing America’s Bomb Culture: The Atomic Testing Museum. Las Vegas, Nevada
W. Patrick McCray
Winter 2006, Vol. 28 No. 1

Review Essay: Reno Revisited: Fresh Perspectives on the “Biggest Little City in the World”
Su Kim Chung
August 2017, Vol. 39 No. 3

Book Review: St. Thomas, Nevada: A History Uncovered
Ryan Powell
May 2014, Vol. 36 No. 2

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Kate Johnson and Marie Pellissier <![CDATA[Crossing the line: Facilitating digital access to primary sources]]> http://ncph.org/?p=35530 2018-04-05T13:26:27Z 2018-04-05T12:30:50Z

ExploreCommonSense.com, a digital critical edition of Thomas Paine’s historic pamphlet and one of the digital projects represented in the working group. Image credit: Explore Common Sense.

Our working group, “Crossing the Line: Facilitating Digital Access to Primary Sources,” started with a simple premise. Read More

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ExploreCommonSense.com, a digital critical edition of Thomas Paine’s historic pamphlet and one of the digital projects represented in the working group. Image credit: Explore Common Sense.

Our working group, “Crossing the Line: Facilitating Digital Access to Primary Sources,” started with a simple premise. If, as Sheila Brennan states, digital humanities projects are not “public” projects merely by virtue of their being accessible online, how then can we craft them so as to place public engagement at the center? Is it even practical or achievable to do so? How will we know if we’ve done it? Among our nine participants and two facilitators, whose backgrounds and experiences cover a wide-range of digital projects at libraries, archives, universities, and museums throughout the United States, we’ve enjoyed unpacking these questions and more as we work to create a best-practices resource for public-facing digital archival projects.

In our first round of discussion we determined digital projects inherently serve multiple “publics,” including scholars, college and K-12 students, researchers, genealogists, hobby historians, and others. We simplified these various groups into two overarching categories: users and audiences. Rosalind Beiler gave us a working definition for these categories, with audiences as more passive consumers and users as engaged and interacting with the project, though as Adina Langer reminded us, these terms should be treated as a spectrum rather than two definitive camps. In discussing the needs of users and audiences, we explored utilizing community partners, looking to popular apps and sites for insight into user satisfaction, identifying our target audiences, and recognizing not all elements of a project need appeal to all users or audience members.

From there, Jay Wyatt challenged the group with the idea that public digital projects must meet certain benchmarks, including in areas of accessibility,  having mechanisms for engagement, and being able to articulate clear success metrics. Join us in our online discussion here, as we discuss whether such benchmarks are achievable across diverse projects, and as we continue to debate users and audience, the ways in which digital projects can highlight silences in the record, and other related topics. We invite anyone interested in the conversation to comment.

We also welcome all who are working on, or interested in, digital humanities projects and public engagement to join us at NCPH 2018 for our in-person discussion and the creation of our best-practices resource. Our session will be on Saturday, April 21 from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

~ Kate Johnson and Marie Pellissier are graduate students at Loyola University Chicago and are co-facilitators of the “Crossing the Line” working group. Along with working group discussant Kelly Schmidt, they are co-creators of ExploreCommonSense.com, a digital critical edition of the first British printing of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense.”

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editors <![CDATA[Around the Field April 4, 2018]]> http://ncph.org/?p=35678 2018-04-04T13:58:25Z 2018-04-04T13:57:36Z

From around the field this week: PubComm 2018 (Public History Community Forum on Racism and Resistance) is tomorrow, April 5, in Philadelphia; “Reap the Whirlwind: A Holistic Approach to Museum Internships” webinar from the Virginia Association of Museums, is next Monday, April 9; AASLH’s Call for Posters for their 2018 meeting (an event sponsored by NCPH) is now open through June 10; The Public Historian is open-access for the month of April.  Read More

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From around the field this week: PubComm 2018 (Public History Community Forum on Racism and Resistance) is tomorrow, April 5, in Philadelphia; “Reap the Whirlwind: A Holistic Approach to Museum Internships” webinar from the Virginia Association of Museums, is next Monday, April 9; AASLH’s Call for Posters for their 2018 meeting (an event sponsored by NCPH) is now open through June 10; The Public Historian is open-access for the month of April. 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

AWARDS and FUNDING

  • National Endowment for the Humanities announces Statehood Grants for humanities projects celebrating state history

CONFERENCES and CALLS

 LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

PUBLICATIONS

The Public Historian, along with all UC Press journals, is free to access in the month of April

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

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Deirdre Clemente <![CDATA[How a Pennsylvania gal fell in love with Nevada]]> http://ncph.org?p=35386&preview=true&preview_id=35386 2018-04-02T20:40:35Z 2018-03-30T12:30:00Z

Deirdre Clemente at Walking Box Ranch, Nevada. Photo credit: Deirdre Clemente

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of pieces  focused on Las Vegas and its regional identity which will be posted before and during the NCPH Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in April. Read More

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Deirdre Clemente at Walking Box Ranch, Nevada. Photo credit: Deirdre Clemente

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of pieces  focused on Las Vegas and its regional identity which will be posted before and during the NCPH Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in April.

I grew up scouring the grasses around the Juniata River for arrowheads and I hunted down second-hand fur coats in every rusty, steel town in western Pennsylvania. My first post-PhD. gig was a job I loved: the curator of the Italian American collection at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

I am a Pennsylvanian.

And I’ve fallen in love with another.

Shed where Clemente and her students worked in Nevada. Photo credit: Deirdre Clemente

Public history is inspired by place, and Nevada inspires me. In the past seven years, I’ve done some exciting public history here. My graduate students and I cataloged and organized the archives of the Culinary Union, whose Las Vegas chapter is one of the most powerful unions in the country. We worked in a tin-roofed shed, tucked behind their offices in early May. It was insanely hot.

We’ve held costume exhibitions featuring a Flying Elvis jumpsuit (complete with opened parachute) and Frank Sinatra’s tuxedo. Perhaps the most “Vegas” of my public history work here was the tiffany-set rhinestone extravaganza, Too Much of a Good Thing is Wonderful: Liberace and the Art of Costume. It ran for nine months at The Cosmopolitan.

But before all of those projects, there was a ranch and a lonely Pennsylvanian. I wasn’t so much lonely as never really alone, which is its own form of loneliness. I was overwhelmed: my husband, three kids under four, a new house, a new job, a new life. I missed my aunts, cousins, and sisters back in Pittsburgh. I learned lots of things about Nevada that first fall I was here. I learned to avoid the roads when it rains. I learned that any day under 100 is a good day. I learned that there really are seasons here, and you can smell them in the desert.

Walking Box Ranch, Nevada. Photo credit: Deirdre Clemente

Walking Box Ranch fell into my lap an afternoon in late August. I was about a month into my assistant professorship and I was on the hunt for a project for my public history methods course. “Hey, maybe your grad class can get involved with the Walking Box Ranch,” chirped my colleague Andy Kirk, as he rustled into his sparsely-yet-stylishly decorated office. “It was Clara Bow’s ranch, about an hour southwest of here. The public history program has worked with them before.”

The greatest face of the silent screen owned a working cattle ranch in the middle of the Nevada desert? Well…I guess.

The moment I walked on the property, my life and career changed. The management of the property was at the time a collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management and UNLV’s Public Lands Institute, which oversaw the ranch house, barn, and material culture. Since its establishment in 1932, the property went from the second largest ranch in Nevada under Bow and her cowboy-film star husband Rex Bell to a smaller family ranch to a vacation house for a mining executive’s wife, who was really into its maintenance.

Walking Box Ranch. Photo credit: Deirdre Clemente

This place was cool, and better yet, it was run by geologists and biologists, who knew everything about the always-discussed-but-never-spotted desert tortoise, but very little about the cultural significant of the ranch. Along with my graduate students, for an entire semester, we taught and learned.

Students divided themselves into project teams. The material culture team surveyed and researched more than a dozen Navajo rugs from the 1930s that were used at the property. They developed storage and display plans to best preserve the integrity of the rugs. Our cataloging team cleaned, cataloged, and stored nearly one thousand ranching and blacksmith tools that had been kept in a shed for the last half century. Our education team collected and synthesized information on the ranch, its history, and its significance to the region. They wrote lesson plans for high school students, produced dossiers of research, and one afternoon in December 2011, they lead an on-site walking tour that turned into quite the local event. It was amazing and encapsulated all the reasons I do public history.

After the Walking Box project, I never really looked back. Sure, I go back. Pennsylvania is filled with people, places, and food I love. But life is different now. I no longer feel like I am cheating when I tell everyone who will listen just how much I love my city and my state and my job.

Could you call me a Nevadan now? Well, my driver’s license and collection of cowboy boots certainly suggest so. Yes. I am a Nevadan now.

~Deirdre Clemente is the director of the public history program at UNLV where she studies clothing and cultural change. She is the author of Dress Casual: How College Students Redefined American Style (UNC Press, 2014). For more on her scholarship and public history work, check out www.unlvpublichistory.com and www.deirdreclemente.com. Clemente’s Twitter handle is FitzFash and she’s on Instagram at: unlvpublichistory and deirdreclemente1920

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Michael Green <![CDATA[Preserving the history of the mob in Las Vegas]]> http://ncph.org?p=35058&preview=true&preview_id=35058 2018-03-28T18:00:47Z 2018-03-26T04:00:00Z

Las Vegas strip postcard, ca. 1980s. Image credit: Brian, Flickr Commons, CC BY-NC 2.0

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of pieces  focused on Las Vegas and its regional identity which will be posted before and during the NCPH Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in April. Read More

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Las Vegas strip postcard, ca. 1980s. Image credit: Brian, Flickr Commons, CC BY-NC 2.0

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of pieces  focused on Las Vegas and its regional identity which will be posted before and during the NCPH Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in April.

If NCPH members want proof that the mob no longer has power in the city hosting their conference this year, try to find a 99-cent rib special.

When I was growing up in Las Vegas, we had cheap food. The owner of the neighborhood casino where my family often ate had ties to the Chicago mob. When I was about four years old, his casino manager, who had similar connections, would bounce me on his knee, then comp my family for that rib special. My grandparents had thrown enough nickels into the slot machines to justify it.

Now I write and teach about the place where I grew up and serve on the board of directors of a popular, nationally recognized museum that examines the history of the mob, and the law enforcement officials who fought and defeated the men behind it. Las Vegas has changed, and so have I.

When organized crime groups owned the hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, they tended to charge less for the food, entertainment, and rooms. They reasoned that they would win enough from you at the tables. Besides, that money was easier to skim and send back east to be invested in other mob activities.

Today, Las Vegas is much more corporate and seems impersonal because the resorts are so much larger. They’re also better. Las Vegas is costlier, but not outlandishly so. You also get what you pay for: more luxurious rooms, shows with more elaborate technology, stars appearing in state-of-the-art arenas, and better and more ethnically diverse food in restaurants that often bear the names of celebrity chefs known throughout the world.

In my youth, Las Vegas was better known for having gambling and great entertainment, but also for serving the mobster diaspora. My family moved to Las Vegas in 1967. A cousin helped my father get started as a casino dealer. He wound up at the Stardust Hotel, dealing blackjack and some other games.

Eventually, my father had the dubious pleasure of being fired by Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. If you saw the film Casino, he was the character played by Robert DeNiro. They looked and sounded nothing alike; Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi took some liberties. Now at liberty from the Stardust, my father worked for 20 years at the Showboat, owned by a corporation but built by the mobsters from Cleveland who also had built the Stardust.

“Casino” theatrical release poster. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Casino includes an explosion. DeNiro’s character gets into his car and it blows up. That happened to Rosenthal. By the time the real-life bombing happened, in 1982, I had graduated from high school and gone to work for a local newspaper, The Valley Times, which had uncovered many of the stories about the mob that formed the backbone of that film.

I didn’t get to cover the Rosenthal car bombing, but the next night, I learned that, years before when he was a local power, Rosenthal had called our publisher, Bob Brown, and ordered him to fire our editor for insulting him. Brown had been helping Rosenthal skim money for the Stardust and the other casinos he ran: Rosenthal paid an outlandishly high price for advertisements, our paper kicked back the excess; the newspaper survived, thanks to the ad revenue, and the skim continued. But Brown didn’t fire our editor; he simply sent him out of town on vacation for two weeks and removed his name from the staff box. By the time he returned, as Brown expected, Rosenthal had forgotten all about it.

By the time I graduated from UNLV with my master’s in 1988, the mob’s influence in the Las Vegas tourism industry had cratered. The Justice Department had indicted and convicted most of the key mob figures. State regulators had revoked the gaming licenses of those tied to them. Corporations played an increasingly important role in casinos. And Rosenthal’s lifelong friend, Anthony Spilotro, a fellow Chicago mobster sent to Las Vegas to control street rackets, had died violently at the hands of some of his colleagues.

I took that background into my historical work. My training is actually in nineteenth-century America, but I started writing and teaching local history even before going off for my Ph.D. Las Vegans have long been fascinated with their history, contrary to the belief of those who think we blow it up, much as the mob blew up Rosenthal’s car. Actually, Las Vegas implodes its older casinos, but otherwise does an increasingly good job of preserving its older buildings.

One of them is the 1933 neo-classical federal courthouse downtown. By the new century, almost all of the federal offices had vacated the building, and the government planned to tear it down. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman had been an attorney, often representing mobsters. He tried his first case in that building and wanted it saved. Federal officials replied that the city could have it for $1 if it became a cultural center and conformed to federal standards for any renovations.

The Mob Museum, Las Vegas. Image credit: Mob Museum website

Goodman proposed a museum about the mob. I wound up consulting with the consultants studying it for the city, then with the curators putting together the finished product. Researching and reading about the battles involving the mob, law enforcement, and state regulators in the 1970s and 1980s brought me back to my youth, watching this unfold in the press and on the news.

The museum opened on February 14, 2012, as it had to: one of the key exhibits is the wall where Al Capone’s men lined up part of Bugs Moran’s crew and committed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. The next year, an old friend of Capone’s opened a nightclub on what is now the Las Vegas Strip. And the night after the opening, at a party to celebrate the event, I walked into the room between Henry Hill, the central character in Goodfellas, and Frank Cullotta, who had been a hitman for Spilotro before turning witness and testifying for the prosecution.

Only in Las Vegas? Perhaps. When I bought the house where my wife and I live in a suburban neighborhood just east of UNLV, I asked the previous owner whether the area was safe. He said, “It was a lot safer when Spilotro lived around the corner.” Every day, when I leave the house, I can see the home where Spilotro used to trim his hedges. The mob era in Las Vegas may be over, but, in our past and present, it’s still with us.

~Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV and the author of several books on Nevada and Las Vegas, as well as the Nevada Public Radio history feature “Nevada Yesterdays.” He serves on the board of directors and as chair of the content committee of The Mob Museum, and as director of Preserve Nevada, a statewide historic preservation organization

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