History @ Work

History@Work is a multi-authored, multi-interest blog for all those with an interest in the practice and study of history in public. Learn More→

Canadians and the NCPH

Canadian parliament building. Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Canadian parliament building. Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

The field of public history has a long history of its own in Canada.  The first programme was founded at the University of Waterloo in Ontario in 1983 (though it has since been disbanded), and the University of Western Ontario followed suit in 1986.  By the time Concordia University in Montreal, where I completed my PhD, established a programme in 2004, public history was a burgeoning field in Canada.  The National Council on Public History (NCPH) has long recognised the importance of public history in Canada, holding the annual meeting there four times, beginning with Waterloo in 1983, twice in Ottawa, 2001 and 2013, and Victoria, British Columbia, in 2004. Continue reading

Editing in public: Online identity and the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

wikipedia1Recently I attended two “Wikipedia Edit-a-thons.” The name evoked images of committed scholars and students gathered together to pursue an all-nighter that would generate scores of new articles, hundreds of meaningful edits. What actually transpired was the opportunity to address questions of public history and online scholarly identity.

Continue reading

Resource or burden? Historic house museums confront the 21st century.


Jones House in the Snow by l. hutton

Jones House in the Snow.  Photo credit: L. Hutton

In 2002, Richard Moe, then president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), asked a troubling question in the Forum Journal: “Are There Too Many House Museums?”[1] Subsequent publications, conferences, and other forums have debated and reiterated Moe’s concerns that house museums are–besides facing dismal financial straits–too often “tired, antiquated, and disconnected from their communities.”[2]

Although many historic houses have been saved from the wrecking ball because preservation-minded community members transformed them into museums, Moe argued that the sustainability of these museums over the long term remained in grave doubt. Part of this sustainability problem comes from the fact that nearly every town, large or small, has at least one house museum. As of 2013, according to NTHP president Stephanie Meeks, there are an estimated 13,000 house museums in the United States. Nearly 65% of these museums have no full-time paid staff members, and 80% have annual budgets no larger than $50,000–a drop in the bucket when one considers expenses needed for furnishings, artifacts, salaries, and house maintenance.[3] As Donna Harris maintains, while historic house museums can function as “icons of local identity,” the flip side of this is that “familiarity can breed oblivion among many house museum neighbors and locals.”[4]

Continue reading

Keeping the faith: Political cartoons in and out of the archives

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/16227778545/ Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker

“I am Charlie” has become the expression of solidarity of people around the world in support of the French weekly newspaper following the January 7, 2015 attack.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker

The killings at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris this week have prompted a passionate defense around the world of political cartoons as free speech, a form of journalistic expression that exemplifies (and occasionally pushes the boundaries of) a free press’s role as critic and gadfly. In thinking about historical precedents and comparisons for the horrific attack, I’ve been struck by a couple of things.

Continue reading

Can historians help planners make better futures?

Editor’s note: The National Historic Preservation Act will turn 50 in 2016. While this is a time to celebrate how the NHPA has transformed public history, it’s also an appropriate moment to convene a national conversation on the Act, its legacy, and its future. The editors of History@Work and The Public Historian have commissioned a series of blog posts by a diverse group of historic preservationists about the NHPA. Each writer will reflect on an article from The Public Historian chosen by our readers and others that has been made freely available by University of California Press, and posts will appear monthly.

The Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair inspired many urban planners whose interests were in a hypermodern future rather than understanding the past. Courtesy, Wikimedia Commons

The Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair inspired many urban planners whose interests were in a hypermodern future rather than understanding the past. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Urban planners have accepted many of Stephen Grable’s arguments in “Applying Urban History to City Planning: A Case Study in Atlanta” (1979). Using a mixed-use development in Atlanta’s Bedford-Pines neighborhood as his focus, he complained that planners ignored the insights of urban historians, who would have told them that one development could not curb the momentum of people moving away from the central city.[1] Without historical perspective, he suggests, planners, architects, and developers make unrealistic assumptions about human behavior, leading city officials to make poor decisions.

Today, however, planners take history more seriously. They include local history in master plans for cities or communities. Some planners have become historic preservationists, using their knowledge of land use regulations and urban design to protect older buildings and historic sites. Students in accredited planning programs are required to learn the history of planning and human settlement. Continue reading

Adventures in crowdfunding: A museum’s perspective

A Lancaster bomber at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.  Photo credit: Doug Zwick

A Lancaster bomber at the Canada Air and Space Museum in Ottawa. Photo credit: Doug Zwick

From art museums collecting Instagram posts for mobile photography exhibits to natural history museums getting visitors to actively participate in digitizing their collections or museums using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Causevox to raise funds for special projects and exhibits, crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly prevalent in heritage and cultural institutions. Crowdfunding, which has been defined as “asking many people for ‘microdonations’ for a specific project or cause, usually within a specific time frame and online,” differs from traditional donor campaigns in that it is equal parts marketing, audience engagement, and of course, fundraising. Continue reading

Reflections on relocating (Part 1)

Sweetwater Creek State Park, near my new hometown of Atlanta, includes the ruins of a textile mill, destroyed by Sherman's advancing army. Photo credit: Adina Langer.

Sweetwater Creek State Park, near my new hometown of Atlanta, includes the ruins of a textile mill, which was destroyed by Sherman’s advancing army. Photo credit: Adina Langer

Almost exactly four months ago, I relocated from Lansing, Michigan, to Atlanta, Georgia. Although both are capital cities, Lansing and Atlanta have little else in common. I traded the Midwestern winter and speedy grid-like roadways for mild autumn breezes through dense tree-cover and much-to-be-avoided traffic-choked interstates. Of course I also traded a dominant heritage of the fur trade, mid-19th-century westward expansion, and the rise and fall of the auto industry with one of British colonialism, railroads, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights. I also traded one public history community for another. In this post, I share my first impressions and aspirations. In nine months, I will report again on my progress toward my goals. Continue reading

Rethinking diversity: Dr. Rhonda Jones, public history is sexy

This is the fourth post in a series on issues of diversity in the public history field. Each post in this series is based upon oral interviews conducted with public history professionals. Each interview was conducted in a traditional interview question and answer format. All interviews were edited and condensed based on relevancy and to retain a reasonable length for the posts.

Joshua Trower works a table at the Country Doctor Museum in Bailey, North Carolina to provide outreach for the Pope House Museum, under the City of Raleigh Museum, in Raleigh, NC.

North Carolina Central University student Joshua Trower works a table at the Country Doctor Museum in Bailey, North Carolina, to provide outreach for the Pope House Museum, under the City of Raleigh Museum, in Raleigh, NC. Photo credit: Joshua Trower

Dr. Rhonda Jones is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Public History graduate program at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. [1]  As one of the few Historically Black Colleges or Universities offering graduate level study in public history, museum studies, or library sciences, Jones sets a standard for public history instruction, training, and practice. By exposing her cohort of emerging public historians, which is comprised almost entirely of students of color, to innovative, practical coursework and diverse fieldwork opportunities, Jones is committed to training capable, well-rounded practitioners whose skills are coveted in any field. Jones offers fresh perspectives on graduate-level training, public history as it relates to students of color, and the state of diversity in the field.

AT: Tell me about yourself.

RJ: I discovered public history as an undergraduate at Howard University, and I worked with my mentor who directed the program, Dr. Elizabeth Clark-Lewis. My first fieldwork experience was working at the Mary McLeod Bethune Museum . . . from there I had [an] experience doing heritage tourism. I was involved with an oral history project with the DC Humanities Council where we interviewed African Americans who had migrated from the South and came to Washington who were living in a senior housing complex. We hosted a series of events that eventually became a documentary. After I graduated, I worked for a little while, didn’t do anything in history, and decided to come back to graduate school and went to Howard for my Master’s in Public History with the intent of working at a museum and doing education and public programming. When I finished the Master’s, I thought, “I’m doing really well, and I might as well just stick with my Doctorate,” because by then 9/11 happened, the bottom fell out, and there was really no place for me to go. Graduating in 2003, my first job was at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke where I managed the Behind the Veil Project.

Continue reading