National Council on Public History Putting History to Work in the World 2016-08-29T16:31:54Z http://ncph.org/feed/atom/ WordPress James Brooks <![CDATA[Practice, in place]]> http://ncph.org/?p=19759 2016-08-29T12:49:07Z 2016-08-29T12:47:09Z TPH_38_3_cropEditor’s note: We publish TPH editor James Brooks’s introduction to the August 2016 issue of The Public Historian. This digital version of the piece differs slightly from the print edition. The entire issue is available online to National Council on Public History members. Read More

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TPH_38_3_cropEditor’s note: We publish TPH editor James Brooks’s introduction to the August 2016 issue of The Public Historian. This digital version of the piece differs slightly from the print edition. The entire issue is available online to National Council on Public History members.

“Oh no. Not law school. Do something useful with your life.” These words, spoken by New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici to our immediate NCPH past-president Patrick K. Moore during a stint as a young legislative intern in Washington, DC, provide a point of entry into this issue of The Public Historian. Quoted in his presidential address in Baltimore this past March, “Places, Privilege, and Public History: A Journey of Acknowledging Contested Space,” the senator’s admonition underlies Moore’s engaging personal reflections on how a boy raised in the sealed-off world of the Los Alamos National Laboratory became an impassioned advocate of “doing” history at the local and community level. Honing his “practice in place” led to personal and professional awakenings that many of us in the public history sector have likewise experienced. “As I began to probe the deeper–and often uncomfortable–questions surrounding historic places and events,” he writes, “I often found myself asking ‘which story is right? Or more importantly, how would it be possible to allow very different perspectives to overlap?’”

Moore’s notion of “contested space” is grappled with by the full range of articles and reports from the field in our August issue. We are delighted that, at the request of our editorial office, past NCPH president Bob Weyeneth and Daniel J. Vivian worked together to author a pointed and insightful essay on the state of public history programs today, and the perils that lie ahead as dozens of colleges and universities leap toward public history as “the new black” in humanities education. We at UC Santa Barbara, the department that established the discipline in 1976, have grown increasingly uneasy with the proliferation of programs that seem–not always, but often–to be aimed as much at generating tuition revenue as developing new professionals for a field that, while dynamic, is hardly a solution to chronic underemployment in the academy and allied enterprises. Their essay offers professional insights from Weyeneth’s distinguished University of South Carolina public history program and Vivian’s experience in the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, as well as his directorship of the public history program at the University of Louisville. Observing the NCPH’s own explosive growth over the last decade, “Charting a Course: Challenges in Public History Education, Guidance for Developing Strong Public History Programs” lays out three components for the future–the building blocks essential for a public history program, the motivations that inspired the NCPH to develop a comprehensive “best practices” document in recent years, and that report in its entirety under the authorship of Vivian and Jon Hunner of New Mexico State University. We agree with Weyeneth’s assessment that “the fundamental issue that underpins current concerns is quality: in programs old and new, big and small.” The very fact of the collaborative effort in this essay speaks to the professionalism and commitment of its authors.

In keeping with our “Practice” focus, we offer two Reports from the Field that likewise emphasize methods, professionalism, and the importance of place. Erin Conlin’s report on meaningfulness and manageability in community-based oral history projects cautions that enthusiasm alone cannot guarantee success. Drawing upon extensive experience with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida, Conlin argues that this is especially the case in establishing the early phases of a project, where practices and parameters must be made clear to practitioners and narrators alike. Oral history solicitation and collection often involves students from relatively secure socioeconomic locations engaged with narrators whose experience embraces more precarious lives, and unless clear benefits to the community are evident, interviews and archives may be seen as much an exploitation as a contribution. Alliance in advance with community leaders, and guidance toward good listening, reflection, and thoughtful questioning are essential to success.

Conlin’s Florida-based project insights are followed by a far distant, and pathbreaking, exploration of public history training in China, co-authored by Na Li and Martha A. Sandweiss. Over nearly two weeks in July 2014, and involving sixteen participating Chinese faculty and a cohort of nineteen faculty, staff, and student visitors from Princeton University, discussion and debate rapidly moved from “best practices” to substantial tensions between the “esoteric” and isolating elitism of archive-based academic history and the “marketplace” qualities of public consumption of historical places and products. The essay includes a discussion of a joint visit to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, a wrenching experience for those unwilling to accept its “univocal and simplified” representation of the “evil Japanese.” Displays featuring the actual bones of the dead represented “forensic evidence” for the Chinese visitors, while they indicated “disrespect for the dead” to the Americans. If historic awareness and perspective are “transferable skills,” they are also “deeply local and historically specific.” As Sandweiss points out in her concluding thoughts, “public history [in the United States] is a messy process: loud, contested, and contentious.” Such open exchange and conflict is simply not possible in contemporary China, and so how then can the very essence of what we historians practice–the production of knowledge through rigorous interpretation–be demonstrated in the Chinese settings? “For many of the American seminar participants,” she writes, “the very meaning of public history in China seemed an uncertain thing.”

Clearly, we need always to attend to practice, in place, as we seek to strengthen our profession and extend it to histories that have yet to come under its embrace. We see Moore’s call brought to life in our special section, “Baltimore Reviews,” in which Kaitlin Holt, Lauren Safranek, Angela Sirna, Jodi Skipper, Robert Wolff, Françoise Bonnell, Michelle Antenesse, and Vanessa Camacho offer their thoughts on an array of historic sites, tours, and digital media that enriched our experience at the annual meeting. Thanks to each for crafting these “in real time” so that we could publish them herewith. Highlighting this special section is our cover, featuring an image from the Preserve The Baltimore Uprising 2015 Archive Project, a digital repository that seeks to preserve and make accessible original content that was captured and created by individual community members, grassroots organizations, and witnesses to the protests of last year (http://baltimoreuprising2015.org/home). We hope you’ll prosper as much from this entire issue as have we in bringing it to publication.

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

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Alexandra Lord <![CDATA[NCPH welcomes new executive director]]> http://ncph.org/?p=20298 2016-08-23T20:17:24Z 2016-08-23T14:47:04Z At the 2016 National Council on Public History meeting in Baltimore, then-Interim-Executive-Director Stephanie Rowe (left) joined Founders Award winners Arnita Jones and Phil Cantelon and former NCPH Executive Director John Dichtl (right). Photo credit: NCPH

At the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, then-interim-executive-director Stephanie Rowe (left) joined Founders Award winners Arnita Jones and Phil Cantelon and former NCPH executive director John Dichtl (right). Photo credit: NCPH

A year ago, on a hot, sweltering Indiana day, the search committee for the next executive director for the National Council on Public History met in person for the first time. Read More

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At the 2016 National Council on Public History meeting in Baltimore, then-Interim-Executive-Director Stephanie Rowe (left) joined Founders Award winners Arnita Jones and Phil Cantelon and former NCPH Executive Director John Dichtl (right). Photo credit: NCPH

At the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, then-interim-executive-director Stephanie Rowe (left) joined Founders Award winners Arnita Jones and Phil Cantelon and former NCPH executive director John Dichtl (right). Photo credit: NCPH

A year ago, on a hot, sweltering Indiana day, the search committee for the next executive director for the National Council on Public History met in person for the first time. The task we faced, led by chair Bill Bryans, seemed monumental: to not only find a new executive director who respects and understands the complex history of NCPH, but one who also recognizes that the organization is undergoing tremendous change and growth, and who will become a collaborative colleague within the history department at the Indiana University (IU) School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), NCPH’s host university.

Given the scope of this task, it shouldn’t be surprising that it took us a year and a half to find a new executive director. The surprising thing is that we found a candidate who not only meets all of these expectations, but exceeds them: Stephanie Rowe.

I want to take a moment to thank the entire search committee for their hard work and to congratulate them on a job well done. The committee included: Bill Bryans, chair, Oklahoma State University; Marianne Babal, Wells Fargo; Raymond Haberski, IUPUI history department; Lisa Junkin Lopez, Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace; Kisha Tandy, Indiana State Museum; and myself. I also thank the history department faculty and IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI for their support of, and involvement in, the process, especially Thomas Davis, dean of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI; Didier Gondola, chair of history department; and Daniella Kostroun, acting chair of the history department. The NCPH board and search committee would also like to extend a huge thanks to the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and the history department at IUPUI for their support of NCPH throughout the search and appointment processes.

As the interim executive director for NCPH, Stephanie underwent what was, in many ways, a year-long interview process. Like all of the candidates, she gave a job talk, answered a detailed questionnaire about her vision for the organization, and interviewed with NCPH search committee members, as well as faculty and administrators at IUPUI. But Stephanie also repeatedly demonstrated her outstanding managerial skills and abilities throughout the past year, a period which saw the largest NCPH conference, as well as continued and fairly rapid growth in its membership, and a complete redesign of the organization’s website, blog, and print materials.

When she agreed to accept the position this summer, the search committee, board of directors, and our colleagues at IUPUI were thrilled. We believe NCPH members will share our enthusiasm as they learn more about Stephanie and her vision for NCPH.

Stephanie brings multiple strengths to this position, including the fact that she spent several years as a practicing public historian before coming to NCPH. A graduate of one of the nation’s premier and oldest history museum studies programs, she possesses strong academic credentials. And, of course, having worked for NCPH as its program manager and associate director for four years, she has an in-depth understanding of the organization, its mission, the challenges it faces, and, perhaps most importantly, its members.

In her previous position at Museumwise, now the Museum Association of New York (MANY), Stephanie worked primarily with small to mid-sized history museums, offering professional development, training, and other capacity-building opportunities. This experience has given her insight into both the work many NCPH members do on a daily basis, as well as the needs and challenges that face practitioners. While working at MANY, Stephanie had the opportunity to learn how a non-profit organization handles growth and change while working collaboratively with other similar organizations.

One of the most important relationships for NCPH is its connection to IUPUI. Having worked at NCPH for four years, Stephanie understands this relationship from not only an administrative angle but also from a personal perspective. When asked during her interview to discuss the direction NCPH needs, Stephanie articulated several critical ways in which NCPH and IUPUI can continue to build on their relationship, even as both institutions change and grow. The search committee was impressed not only by Stephanie’s vision for this relationship but also by her deep knowledge of the IUPUI faculty, administration, and programs (both old and new). This knowledge bodes well for the future longevity of this all-important relationship.

Stephanie Rowe and Susan Ferentinos, who served as Acting Director during Stephanie's recent maternity leave, at the 2016 NCPH conference in Baltimore. Photo: NCPH

Stephanie Rowe and Susan Ferentinos, who served as acting director during Stephanie’s recent maternity leave, at the 2016 NCPH conference in Baltimore. Photo: NCPH

Knowing NCPH, its members, and its mission through her previous work with the organization also meant that Stephanie was able to point to the very real challenges which face the organization overall. During her job talk, she discussed at some length the ways in which NCPH can play a central role in bridging the very real divisions which exist between public history practitioners who work in the academy and those who work outside the academy, how NCPH can develop and maintain greater financial stability (especially as its explosive growth has strained existing resources), how the organization can take a leading role in creating a more diverse field of historians (and a more diverse NCPH), and finally, how she can guide the organization in addressing widespread perceptions (and misperceptions!) about the value and relevance of history and public history in particular.

There are no easy answers to the challenges NCPH faces in the upcoming years. Acknowledging these issues–and beginning to foster a nuanced discussion in which all voices are heard–will require a steady and thoughtful leader, one who is willing to advocate for an innovative and new approach to these different challenges but one who also understands and can build on the organization’s past successes.

After a lengthy and thorough search, we are confident that Stephanie Rowe will be able to take up these challenges and to lead NCPH–and the history profession overall–in addressing these issues. We are also confident that as she leads the organization, she will be able to maintain the welcoming culture that has made NCPH a much-loved institution among both its old and new members.

And we hope, reflecting that culture, that you will join us in welcoming Stephanie as the next NCPH executive director.

~ Alexandra Lord is chair and curator of the Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American History and president of the NCPH board of directors.

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editors <![CDATA[Project Showcase: Prisons Today]]> http://ncph.org/?p=20159 2016-08-24T18:20:53Z 2016-08-23T12:30:52Z Prisons Today Image 2

Screenshot credit: Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site recently launched Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, the first major museum exhibit to tackle this civil rights issue.* Prisons Today asks open-ended questions and encourages dialogue among visitors about America’s past and present prison systems.  Read More

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Prisons Today Image 2

Screenshot credit: Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site recently launched Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, the first major museum exhibit to tackle this civil rights issue.* Prisons Today asks open-ended questions and encourages dialogue among visitors about America’s past and present prison systems. 

After a three-year process of building relationships with and listening to currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, corrections officers, activists, and policy makers, the exhibit team found consensus around the idea that the U.S. prison system is in dire need of reform. The exhibit opens with the statement: “mass incarceration isn’t working.”

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with 2.2 million people in prison or jail. Prisons Today enables Eastern State to host a critical dialogue within the context of the world’s first true penitentiary–a place designed to inspire true regret, or penitence, in its inhabitants.

The historic site’s programming proceeds from the notion that the issues that inspired Eastern State’s founders are of pressing concern today: What does our society do with those who break the law? Why do some Americans encounter the criminal justice system frequently while others avoid the system altogether? The exhibit asks visitors to ponder the best balance among common prison objectives: rehabilitation, retribution, incapacitation, and deterrence.

Prisons Today seeks to build empathy among Eastern State’s largely white, middle-class visitors for those directly impacted by mass incarceration–a disproportionate number of whom are poor people of color. To that end, the exhibit features six short films by Gabriela Bulisova that put a human face on this crisis. One film spotlights a man named Phill, who is practicing restorative justice while serving life without parole. Another showcases a 12-year-old named Kiya whose father is incarcerated.

An interactive feature called “Early Experiences Matter” encourages visitors to reflect on how their race, class, education, role models, and exposure to violence or trauma affects their relationship to the criminal justice system. Another exhibit element destabilizes the boundary between “criminal” and “law-abiding citizen” by mixing the confessions of visitors to Eastern State with the confessions of currently incarcerated people.

Visitors can send a series of email postcards to their “future selves” that will arrive in their inboxes two months, one year, and three years after they visit Prisons Today. The postcards will remind visitors about their big exhibit takeaways while keeping them abreast of prison issues and policy changes. This “call to action” is meant to inspire reflection and to illustrate that change is both possible and necessary. Just as collective decision-making across the political spectrum introduced the current era of mass incarceration, collective action can re-orient the future of prisons and punishment.

For more information, please contact Annie Anderson, Senior Specialist for Research and Public Programming at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.

*Curators developed Prisons Today at the same time the Humanities Action Lab and its partner institutions developed their current traveling exhibit, States of Incarceration.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the field Aug. 17, 2016]]> http://ncph.org/?p=20184 2016-08-17T11:50:59Z 2016-08-17T11:50:29Z newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Aug 20 workshop on enhancing online access to oral histories, conference on representing perpetrators of violence, public history and/as labor and rural history, public history working group in New York City launches new conference.

 CONFERENCES and CALLS

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newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Aug 20 workshop on enhancing online access to oral histories, conference on representing perpetrators of violence, public history and/as labor and rural history, public history working group in New York City launches new conference.

 CONFERENCES and CALLS

FUNDING and AWARDS

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

To submit an item to this weekly 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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David Rotenstein <![CDATA[Public history and public activism at work: Washington’s McMillan Sand Filtration Site]]> http://ncph.org/?p=19773 2016-08-09T15:29:02Z 2016-08-09T12:30:55Z 04July-TweetOn July 4, about 60 people attended a party thrown by Washington, DC activists trying to save a historic water filtration plant. The event was held in a row house in the city’s gentrifying Bloomingdale neighborhood, which I wrote about in a recent History@Work post. Read More

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04July-TweetOn July 4, about 60 people attended a party thrown by Washington, DC activists trying to save a historic water filtration plant. The event was held in a row house in the city’s gentrifying Bloomingdale neighborhood, which I wrote about in a recent History@Work post. That post garnered me an invitation to the July gathering, which included barbecue brisket and pork with heaping sides of educational literature and conversations about the history of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site and the District of Columbia’s plans to redevelop the property, which is listed in the National Register. The party ended with a trek to the nearby McMillan site and an unauthorized tour, part of the advocates’ strategy to grow their numbers and expose wider groups of people to the site.

Completed in 1905, the McMillan Sand Filtration Site is a 25-acre portion of the 92-acre McMillan Reservoir. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the water filtration and storage facility to supplement the District of Columbia’s aging drinking water distribution system. The site includes a 38-acre, 100-million-gallon reservoir, pumping station, and the sand filtration facility where water was mechanically cleaned prior to being distributed to the expanding capital city.

The McMillan property was conceived as an industrial site that would appeal to the city’s residents as a recreational area. Noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. was hired to design the facility’s grounds, which included a substantial network of paths, trees, a fountain, and views of the city’s monuments. Until the grounds were closed in 1942, it was a heavily used public space.

Twenty cylindrical concrete sand bins are the most visible element inside the McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo credit: David Rotenstein.

Twenty cylindrical concrete sand bins are the most visible element inside the McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

Despite its value to the community, the sand filtration site remained closed for decades behind a chain-link fence. The facility’s 20 cylindrical concrete sand storage bins were a highly visible part of the North Capitol Street corridor that linked the federal city to its suburbs.

Local historians and park preservation advocates frequently cite interviews with longtime African American residents who believe that restricting access to, and eventually  closing, the reservoir park reflected whites’ efforts to retain racialized spaces in the city. These restrictions included the closure of entrances from parts of the neighborhood where  African Americans were beginning to live prior to World War II to the erection of a fence during the war, which officials claimed was necessary for security but was never taken down. Several residents underscored this belief at the May 2016 neighborhood program on gentrification and history that was the subject of my earlier post.

During the water facility’s first four decades, Washington’s neighborhoods expanded beyond the eighteenth-century core area conceived by Pierre L’Enfant. Former country estates and farms that had been converted into residential subdivisions in the last decades of the nineteenth century were urbanizing. Washington was a rigidly segregated city where racially restrictive covenants were attached to deeds. These prevented African Americans from moving into subdivisions. As African Americans began penetrating the exclusionary residential barrier, whites responded with litigation and retrenchment. Bloomingdale and the adjacent reservoir became part of the fight. The Mary and James Hurd house (Hurd v. Hodge, one of the cases folded into Shelley v. Kraemer which I wrote about in my earlier post) is located at 116 Bryant Street NW, across the street from the McMillan Reservoir property.

Activists gather outside McMillan Sand Filtration Site fence before entering at dusk on July 4, 2016. Photo credit: David Rotenstein.

Activists gather outside McMillan Sand Filtration Site fence on July 4, 2016. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

In 1986, a new chemical filtration system was completed and the sand filtration part of the site was decommissioned and abandoned. The following year, the DC government paid $9.3 million to the federal government for the site. The transaction included covenants binding the District of Columbia to evaluate the property for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. If the analysis found that the property met the Criteria for Evaluation, then the District was bound to pursue National Register listing and to ensure that all changes at the property comport to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. It was not until 2012, however, that the DC Historic Preservation Office completed a National Register of Historic Places form and the McMillan property was listed in the National Register the following year. It also became a designated DC landmark subject to regulatory review by the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, housing and commercial real estate conditions were favorable for the District to move forward with transferring the sand filtration site to the private sector for redevelopment. In 2007, District officials selected a development team called Vision McMillan Partners (VMP). The team included seven Washington firms with commercial and residential projects throughout the city and its suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

As the redevelopment plans were taking shape, Washington officials were busy fulfilling their obligations to evaluate the property’s historical significance and to ensure preservation. Preliminary plans submitted for regulatory review before the DC HPRB and DC Zoning Commission included substantial alterations to the site, including demolition of buildings and subsurface water filtration cells, and the construction of multiple highrise buildings. Historic preservation and open space advocates protested, alleging that the plans were not consistent with the 1987 deed covenants and with federal and District historic preservation laws.

Over the past decade, Washington has experienced a real estate and population boom. The McMillan project, some advocates feel, is part of a larger citywide policy to shift formerly public lands into private hands. Chris Otten, another coalition organizer who led the July 4 excursion into the site, said “McMillan is happening everywhere. Government is taking away our parklands.” Organizer Daniel Wolkoff later expanded on Otten’s comment: “The City is stealing the site for the developers. Not the city; we’re the city. The City government is stealing this public land and the billions of dollars for the developers.” Bloomingdale residents and others, however, see an opportunity to return the fallow filtration site to public use.

The Save McMillan party was held inside a historic Bloomingdale rowhouse. It is one of many in the neighborhood with the distinctive yellow signs produced by the preservation advocates. Photo credit: David Rotenstein.

The Save McMillan party was held inside a historic Bloomingdale rowhouse. It is one of many in the neighborhood with the distinctive yellow signs produced by the preservation advocates. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

Lawsuits have been filed and protest efforts have cropped up in Bloomingdale and online. Yellow “Save McMillan” yard signs are scattered throughout the neighborhood and several coalitions, including Friends of McMillan Park and the Save McMillan Park Action Coalition. Through targeting city officials and the press via Twitter and direct action events, coalition leaders believe their efforts offer residents opportunities to “retake” their park.

The McMillan case is playing out in a space with a long history of racial and class exclusion. The contest over what should be preserved there and how to do it reflects the difficulty public historians and historic preservationists have in connecting events recounted in published histories with current events unfolding around them. The conflict exposes significant issues for public historians. Foremost among them involves re-purposing historic preservation documents prepared by the District, developers, and activists as evidence used to defend often competing visions of the past and the future. And, for scholars and practitioners who also identify ourselves as activists, it shows how twenty-first century networking and messaging technologies are being adapted to old-school organizing and messaging tactics.

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

A note about this post: McMillan preservation advocates reached out to me after my article on Bloomingdale was published on History@Work. They invited me to the party and agreed to let me document the event, including the unauthorized entry to, and tour of, the McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Participants shared photographs and posts from the tour on social media platforms, including Twitter. The information and images in this post come from participants who agreed to the documentation and from public social media posts.

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editors <![CDATA[Around the field Aug. 3, 2016]]> http://ncph.org/?p=19895 2016-08-03T13:04:40Z 2016-08-03T13:03:57Z newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Understanding places and approaches to the past at two U.K. conferences; audiovisual heritage in Washington, D.C.; new issue of Museum & Society on reimagining collections for diverse audiences

CONFERENCES and CALLS

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newspaper-in-fieldFrom around the field this week: Understanding places and approaches to the past at two U.K. conferences; audiovisual heritage in Washington, D.C.; new issue of Museum & Society on reimagining collections for diverse audiences

CONFERENCES and CALLS

FUNDING and AWARDS

  • 2017-2018 Residential fellowships at National Humanities Center for advanced study in the humanities (DEADLINE: Oct. 18, 2016)

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

  • Upcoming courses on exhibition installation, design, mount making, and label writing at the International Preservation Studies Center

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: A Tribute to the Mother Emanuel Church]]> http://ncph.org/?p=18763 2016-08-01T23:49:49Z 2016-08-02T12:30:43Z Mother Emanuel Photo

Memorabilia left outside of the Emanuel AME Church. Photo credit: Brandon Coffey

June 17, 2016 marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church, also known as Mother Emanuel, in Charleston, South Carolina. A new online exhibition published by the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative (LDHI), “A Tribute to the Mother Emanuel Church,” documents the outpouring of emotion and grief for the victims, survivors, and their families. Read More

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Mother Emanuel Photo

Memorabilia left outside of the Emanuel AME Church. Photo credit: Brandon Coffey

June 17, 2016 marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church, also known as Mother Emanuel, in Charleston, South Carolina. A new online exhibition published by the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative (LDHI), “A Tribute to the Mother Emanuel Church,” documents the outpouring of emotion and grief for the victims, survivors, and their families. It also highlights diverse community efforts to address racial injustice and violence in the weeks and months following the killings in Charleston. 

Featuring more than two hundred photographs from professional photographers, news outlets, and individuals on social media, “A Tribute to the Mother Emanuel Church” documents the memorabilia left by visitors to Mother Emanuel in the aftermath of the shooting. The project also features images of the prayer vigils, marches, and protests against racist symbols, such as the Confederate battle flag, that took place in South Carolina and around the country in response to the tragedy.

Conceived as a dynamic resource for both healing and education, this online exhibition is freely accessible to the public. Additions will be made over time to document the lasting impact of the killings at Mother Emanuel and the outgrowth of community and national responses. Drawing from the #Charlestonsyllabus, the exhibition also includes a resource guide highlighting educational materials about the historical context surrounding the shooting and the broader history of racial injustice and violence in the South Carolina Lowcountry, as well as across the U.S. South and the nation.

“A Tribute to the Mother Emanuel Church” was co-curated by Lowcountry Africana, the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, and the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. This collaborative project was developed in partnership with the Emanuel AME Church and its Memorabilia Sub-Committee. The College of Charleston’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) provided funding made possible by a major grant from Google.

LDHI is a digital public history project hosted by the Lowcountry Digital Library at the College of Charleston. To learn more, visit LDHI or contact Mary Battle, Co-Director, or Amanda Noll, Project Coordinator.

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Hillel Arnold and Laura Miller <![CDATA[Shared inquiry in the archives]]> http://ncph.org/?p=19425 2016-07-25T20:29:58Z 2016-07-26T12:30:58Z Archival boxes in the vaults of the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Photo credit: Rachel Wimpee.

Archival boxes in the vaults of the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Photo credit: Rachel Wimpee.

The staff of the Rockefeller Archive Center recently organized a reading group that meets once a month to discuss a set of readings related to archival and historical practice. Read More

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Archival boxes in the vaults of the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Photo credit: Rachel Wimpee.

Archival boxes in the vaults of the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Photo credit: Rachel Wimpee.

The staff of the Rockefeller Archive Center recently organized a reading group that meets once a month to discuss a set of readings related to archival and historical practice. The RAC is a repository of historical materials and a research center dedicated to the study of philanthropy and civil society. We have both a large archival staff (including reference, collections management, processing, digital programs, and donor relations teams) and a much smaller Research and Education department (comprised of five historians). The reading group provides an opportunity for the entire staff to come together to take a methodological look at the work that we do, building a shared understanding of each other’s expertise through critical reading and conversation.

In the April meeting of our reading group, the Research and Education department led a discussion about public history. The readings–Ronald Grele’s “Whose Public? Whose History? What is the Goal of a Public Historian?” (1981), Katharine T. Corbett and Howard S. Miller’s  “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry” (2006), and Robert Weible’s “Defining Public History: Is It Possible?  Is It Necessary?” (2008)–prompted a lively and very productive discussion about common threads in the development of the archival and public history professions, shared challenges about the value of our labor, and shared questions about power and social justice in our work. In short, it raised fruitful lines of inquiry about the intersection of public history and archival practice.

During our discussion, several themes emerged which highlighted shared professional concerns of archivists and public historians. Participants noted that the development of public history as a discipline paralleled a growing interest in outreach and engagement in archival practice. This is particularly true in the area of archival acquisitions; archivists, taking their cue from public historians, endeavor to collect more collaboratively, contemporaneously, and with an eye to underlying questions of societal power and representation in established historical narratives. These professional trends appear to have a common ancestor in the practice of oral history, and perhaps a common descendant in community-oriented history projects, including community archives.

Partly as a result of this focus on “shared authority” and engagement, we noted that archivists and public historians both have to negotiate the tension between surrendering control over processes while also maintaining a professional identity. We’re all looking, it seems, for that crucial expertise or special intangible that our profession brings to the world as a way of valuing our labor, while also actively trying to value other sets of expertise and labor that work toward the same ends.

Ultimately, our conversation raised more questions than it answered. Are public historians by definition archivists, or, conversely, are archivists public historians? What lessons can we learn from each other about ways to see, in Corbett and Miller’s words, “who has legitimate power, who is willing to share it, and under what conditions”? Does our common sensitivity to power and its uneven distribution across society provide some possible common points of leverage for both archivists and public historians? Can a shared inquiry, across professions, of the ways in which we share authority help us both to focus and refine our respective identities?

While we don’t have all the answers, the reading group offered a space for RAC staff to engage across professional boundaries and better understand both our own work and the work of our colleagues. Despite our many shared interests and concerns, public historians and archivists are often siloed into distinct camps in both our professional organizations and in our workplaces, which often prevents greater collaboration and dialogue (a point lamented in the 2014 joint Twitter chat between the NCPH New Professional and Graduate Student Committee and the SAA Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable). This siloing is also evident at the RAC: the archival staff works to preserve, process, and make our collections accessible to our researchers, while the Research and Education department focuses on communicating the history of philanthropy to our donor institutions, student groups, and the public. Setting aside an hour a month to focus on the why and the how of our roles has helped us to build common ground. A methodologically focused discussion has reinforced the notion that we all have expertise but also have something to learn, and has helped to build appreciation of one another as colleagues and allied professionals.

~ Hillel Arnold is the head of Digital Programs at the Rockefeller Archive Center, where he leads a team that provides technical leadership and expertise to the organization. He holds an MA in history from New York University and an MLIS from Long Island University’s Palmer School.

~ Laura Miller is a historian at the Rockefeller Archive Center. She received her Ph.D. in twentieth-century American history and M.A. in public history from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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Vera Parham <![CDATA[Archives, technology, and the global outlook of public history]]> http://ncph.org/?p=18907 2016-07-20T15:59:09Z 2016-07-21T12:30:51Z Ruuins of Ebla, a city in Syria, where one of the first archives of clay tablets was found, dating back to the third millennium BCE. Image courtesy Mappo.

Ruins of Ebla, a city in Syria, where one of the first archives of clay tablets was found, dating back to the third millennium BCE. Photo credit: Mappo

As most of us in the field of archival studies know, defining the archival profession is like trying to hit a moving target. Read More

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Ruuins of Ebla, a city in Syria, where one of the first archives of clay tablets was found, dating back to the third millennium BCE. Image courtesy Mappo.

Ruins of Ebla, a city in Syria, where one of the first archives of clay tablets was found, dating back to the third millennium BCE. Photo credit: Mappo

As most of us in the field of archival studies know, defining the archival profession is like trying to hit a moving target. The form and meaning of the profession have changed steadily and dramatically, as have the challenges and educational preparation. As technology has advanced the field, the work of archivists, as well as their training, has taken on a more technical turn. Yet while mastery of the new technology is very important, keeping a focus on the philosophical underpinning of archiving should not be overlooked.

There are many reasons archival education programs and the profession have become increasingly complex, such as the natural result of the introduction of technology, changes in how professionals identify themselves, and an increase in documents and collections. The growth of archives represents a fundamental shift in the economy. Paper archives were created thanks to the development of cheap production methods. The growth in paper prompted a need to find a way to preserve those artifacts in archives. As archivist Brien Brothman reminds us, by the time the Society of American Archivists was founded in 1936, this growth in documents and archives “was becoming unmanageable.”[1]

Shelves of archival materials. Photo credit: Archivo-FSP

Since 1936, our production of documentation has only increased. We create and consume and share more data than ever before, which means more and more archives and archivists. From 1936 to the present, though, the job description has remained the same: to house and protect items of historical significance and direct individuals to those items. The way we share and transmit those items may undergo revolution after revolution, but the fundamental use and purpose of this preservation will not.  After all, we are simply finding new ways of creating useful documents. A document is not just a document, however, but is also a cultural artifact with multiple meanings in it. Cultures and nations use records to prove their past, their present and even their right to exist. So a lack of records, sloppy record keeping, or lack of access affects us much more than we can imagine!

New technologies have changed our access to information, as well as how we research and write. With the advent of computers and, even more importantly, the Internet, new worlds of access began to open up for both researchers and archivists. These new worlds represented both opportunities and challenges. Databases were created that could search through thousands and thousands of records in seconds. Digital catalogs could be created to provide information on collections. Eventually, digitization advanced to the point where documents could be scanned or photographed and stored, with associated metadata to enhance search capabilities.

Banner for the Society of American Archivists' 2014 conference.

Web banner for the Society of American Archivists’ 2014 annual meeting.

The challenges for the archivists grow in direct proportion to the development of technology. No longer is it enough to simply know how to appraise, arrange, and describe collections. They must also master the technology to make this information available to people around the globe.

Archivists control access to the preservation and dissemination of records–or the destruction of our collective past.  This means that archivists need to have not only a firm moral compass, but a strong foundation in history and historiography. While not all archivists are historians, all archivists must have an understanding of history and the changing nature of artifacts, sources, documents and historical interpretation.

Our world today is expanding at a rapid rate. Technology allows us to know what is happening in the blink of an eye. History is a fluid process and our understanding of the past is individual and constantly changing. The study and function of archives illustrate these constant changes in perspective. That is why studying and understanding what we decide to protect as important, and what we decide to throw away, is key. A background in history will make for better decisions in accessioning collections. To accomplish this, we must advocate for more cross-disciplinary awareness and for archivists to have a strong background and training in history, not just the library sciences.

[1] Brien Brothman, “The Society of American Archivists at Seventy-Five: Contexts of Continuity and Crisis, A Personal Reflection,” The American Archivist 74, Fall/Winter (2011): 387-427.

 

~Vera Parham is an associate professor of public history at American Military University. Her work focuses on Native American history as well as the need for cultural awareness and sensitivity in archives and collections.

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Cathy Stanton <![CDATA[Does the National Park Service have a culture problem?]]> http://ncph.org/?p=19470 2016-07-18T22:42:42Z 2016-07-19T12:30:23Z Rafting concessions on the Colorado (above) and other rivers have been at issue in some allegations of unethical behavior within the National Park Service in recent years Photo credit: Michael Quinn, National Park Service.

Rafting concessions on the Colorado (above) and other rivers have been at issue in some allegations of unethical behavior within the National Park Service in recent years Photo credit: Michael Quinn, National Park Service.

When I studied public historians within a large U.S. Read More

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Rafting concessions on the Colorado (above) and other rivers have been at issue in some allegations of unethical behavior within the National Park Service in recent years Photo credit: Michael Quinn, National Park Service.

Rafting concessions on the Colorado (above) and other rivers have been at issue in some allegations of unethical behavior within the National Park Service in recent years Photo credit: Michael Quinn, National Park Service.

When I studied public historians within a large U.S. national park for my dissertation research 12 years ago, I was left with some questions that I’ve been pondering ever since and that have kept coming to the surface in various ways in more recent years. One of those–tricky to research but clearly important in understanding how the National Park Service functions–is the particular culture of the agency and how that shapes the NPS as both a workplace and an interpreter of the nation’s past.

I’m an anthropologist by training, so throwing around the term “culture” as we now do (“a culture of innovation” or “a culture of accountability”) always makes me want to say, “Wait–not every patterned human behavior is a ‘culture’!” But I do think it’s fair to say that the NPS has the kind of organizational culture that old-time anthropologists would have termed “tribal”: close-knit, protective of its boundaries, maintained in a fairly stable form over many generations. Given the Park Service’s roots in land management, its place within a federal government that has historically reflected the unequal racial power balance of the rest of the country, and its quasi-military structure, the culture that has been reproduced over time has tended to be white, male-dominated, and hierarchical.

Like other federal agencies and cultural institutions, the Park Service has grappled with this legacy in recent decades. Much has changed, but much also remains entrenched and troubling. Twelve years ago, it seemed to me that the very bureaucratic and insular nature of the NPS itself had something to do with what I saw as a reluctance to come to grips with vexed questions in the present, especially those involving the Park Service itself. I saw a tendency to muffle the possibility of dissent, leading to a good deal of self-censorship by those with a lasting stake in the agency.

Mobility among upper-level managers also played a role. Climbing the NPS career ladder requires moving around geographically, and key decision-makers at parks often seemed deeply invested in cultivating networks among the relatively small pool of administrators at regional and national levels. (Speaking about the long-lasting effects of those networks of influence, several NPS employees told me, “This is a small agency with a very long memory.”) Add to that a truly mind-numbing amount of paperwork plus decades of deep funding cuts, and it’s no wonder the agency as a whole has seemed to have a hard time with serious self-reflection.

This is true of many–perhaps all–large institutions and bureaucracies, of course. But over the past few years, a troubling record of ethical controversies suggests that the culture of this particular federal agency may warrant more public attention and rethinking.

One recent case involves current NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, who authored a centennial book about the Park Service without following the official clearance process. Supporters argue that this is a relatively minor ethical lapse (Jarvis wrote the book on his own time and is donating all royalties to the National Park Foundation). But critics point out a longer pattern of questionable decisions. Some have seen a conflict of interest in Jarvis’s oversight at western parks where his brother has been a paid lobbyist for commercial rafting companies that do business with the parks. In particular, Jarvis’s approval of the promotion of a Grand Canyon superintendent despite questions over the man’s 2002 well-above-market-value sale of his house to one of these concessionaires added fuel to the controversy.

Canaveral National Seashore has seen four ethics investigations since 2012 over allegations of sexual harassment. Photo credit: Todd Van Hoosear.

Canaveral National Seashore has seen four ethics investigations since 2012 over allegations of sexual harassment. Photo credit: Todd Van Hoosear.

At the heart of the issue is that tight-knit, cohesive, intensely loyal network of mostly-white, mostly-male executives and the “circle the wagons” response to external threats. Whistle-blowers and journalists have noted the gendered dimension of this aspect of the Park Service’s legacy (for example, in sexual harassment incidents at the Grand Canyon, as reported extensively by Huffington Post and Washington Post, similar claims at Canaveral National Seashore, or the case of a superintendent who was moved to a post in Washington–essentially promoted–after he was discovered to have thousands of pornographic images on his office computer). Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently referred to such reported cases as very likely “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Claims of retaliation–often backed up by courts and Inspector Generals’ reports–have also been troublingly widespread. At the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, a controversy over the park allowing tree-cutting by a wealthy neighbor resulted in a whistleblowing ranger’s dismissal (he later won his case and self-published a book about the experience). Those who do come forward (for example, a pair of seasonal rangers who were not rehired after reporting on a conflict of interest in a superintendent’s business dealings or a park biologist who reported on contracting violations, or even a law enforcement chief who was fired for talking to the press about the impact of budget cuts on her department’s work) are reportedly greatly outnumbered by people who are too intimidated to speak out.

Not surprisingly, staff morale has suffered in this climate. According to a survey conducted last year, the Park Service has fallen to the bottom quarter of all federal agencies in employee satisfaction, a stark contrast to the public’s still-favorable view. Public perception of the NPS as the “good guys” may ironically be one reason that news reporting on the problems hasn’t seemed to gain traction. And more collegial critiques of the Park Service, like my own dissertation or the 2011 Organization of American Historians report “Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service,” have tended to stop short of asking the really hard questions about how institutional culture may be getting in the way of the good work that so many historians and others within the agency truly want to do.

But saying nothing carries its own risks. What would make it possible to have a more open discussion of how these problems may affect the ability of people within the NPS to do their jobs ethically and well? I don’t have answers to that question any more than I did 12 years ago, but its persistence makes me think it’s worth opening the topic again here.

~ Cathy Stanton is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Tufts University and an active public historian. She serves as Digital Media Editor for the National Council on Public History; this post reflects only her own experiences and views and does not represent the organization in any way.

For further reading (many of these sources are also linked in the post above):

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