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→

A public historian tells all

Well, not quite all. Let me elaborate.

Riding a highwheel bicycle at the Smithsonian Institution. Photo courtesy of author.

Riding a highwheel bicycle at the Smithsonian Institution. Photo courtesy of author.

How many times has someone told you that you have the coolest job? I’ve heard this comment at various points in my career, and admittedly, I have had the opportunity to work on some really fun history projects. One in particular—the National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Exhibition—was truly one of the best. My friends kept telling me to write about these experiences. The time I received a grizzly bear in the mail. My trip on the Lewis and Clark trail with teachers from reservation schools. The meeting of tribal advisors. I decided that if I didn’t record the stories, I would soon forget them. So I began to write. As I wrote about my Lewis and Clark experiences, I thought of earlier projects that molded my thinking about history. I kept writing. I wrote whenever I felt inspired, in the evenings and on weekends. Ultimately a book idea formed, and I ended up with eighteen eclectic chapters about history projects from throughout my career. Because I have worked at some rather high-profile institutions that a wide audience would recognize, I began to think that just maybe someone would be willing to pay to read my stories. Continue reading

“History on the Edge”: Call for proposals for 2015 NCPH Annual Meeting

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Music clubs on Broadway, Nashville. Photo credit: Chuck Kramer

The 2015 Annual Meeting of the National Council on Public History will take place from April 15-18, 2015, in Nashville, Tennessee.  The conference theme is “History on the Edge.”

Edges are where exciting things happen. Some are stark boundaries, marking clear beginnings and ends, while others are blurred contact zones. Edges can be places of creativity where diverse people, ideas, and cultures meet and flourish.

They can be sites of uncertainty, risk, and opportunity. Edgy topics and practices call our longstanding assumptions into question. In Nashville, we invite public historians to consider the edges of what we do and who we are. What is on the horizon for public history? What happens on the porous boundaries of public history when we collaborate with other disciplines and new audiences? What can public historians contribute to addressing the cutting edge questions of our societies? Join us to discuss, debate, and question “history on the edge.” Continue reading

A lesson in racial profiling and historical relevance

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Don Denard is hugged by supporters as he arrives at the Decatur City Commission meeting, February 18, 2014. Photo by author

In December 2013, an African American man was detained by Decatur, Georgia, police after he was seen leaving his home. An officer issued a suspicious person alert based on the “reasonable articulable suspicion” premise–the legal basis for many states’ “stop and frisk” laws.

Don Denard has lived in the Decatur home he was seen leaving since 1987. He is a former school board member and an active participant in Decatur’s civic life. Yet on December 15, 2013, he was just another black man walking in a community that is becoming steadily whiter and wealthier and where all such men are regarded, as Denard says, with the presumption of guilt. Continue reading

The “new normal”: Is there one?

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Lee White and Angela Sirna during the “New Normal” panel. Photo credit: Max Van Balgooy

“Sequester” was a dirty word during last year’s conference season. At the March 2013 conference of the George Wright Society in Denver, attendance was down nearly 75 percent because of travel limitations put into place right before the meeting. At the National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa a few weeks later, I noticed a number of my colleagues were absent. Travel cutbacks were just at the top of a long list of issues caused by the recession and then the across-the-board US federal budget cuts known as sequestration. I was deeply disturbed by what I saw in Denver, and this was before I watched the gates close at Catoctin Mountain Park (where I was working at the time) in October 2013 when the federal government shut down. I hoped that public historians could talk openly at this year’s meeting in Monterey and share responses to their “new normal.” Fortunately the program committee agreed, and on Thursday, March 20, we held an open conversation in a session titled “Situation Normal? Ways Past Sequestrations, Shutdowns, and Budgetary Woes.” Continue reading

Projects in the print-digital pipeline

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Sketch for a key element of the “Slavery in New York” exhibit, found in the Public History Commons collection relating to the exhibit.

Regular visitors to the Public History Commons may have noticed that we’ve undergone a slight facelift recently.  The History@Work blog, initially the sole occupant of this site, has gradually been joined by other projects:  the News Feed, The Public Historian’s digital space, and now our new Library. To try to keep our interface clear and easy to navigate, we’ve bumped the blog down a little bit on the page and simplified the navigation bar.  We hope readers are finding their way around without too much trouble.

We’re also excited to introduce the Library to you.  Although still in its very early stages, it represents an important step in a larger project of creating flexible platforms for publication and communication and ways for our print and digital projects to cross-pollinate more easily.  We’re starting to get a sense of the possibilities through two recent collaborations, one of which revolves around Richard Rabinowitz’s award-winning article “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the ‘Slavery in New York’ Exhibition.” Continue reading

Project Showcase: From Chautauqua to Ricketts

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Edward F. Ricketts in 1939. Photo credit: The Pat Hathaway Photo Collection, California Views Historical Photo Collection, via Wikimedia

Donald Kohrs is Branch Library Specialist at the Miller Library of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove. For his  presentation at the National Council on Public History conference last week in Monterey, California, Don shared his recent findings associated with summer gatherings of the Pacific Coast Assembly of the Chautauqua Literary and Science Circle (1880-1926) in Pacific Grove. The founders of the assembly placed strong emphasis on instruction in the natural sciences, romantic literature, and the arts.  During the Digital Project Showcase, Don also told the story of finding the original books that composed the scientific library of Edward F. Ricketts (a collection that the marine biologist had left to the seaside laboratory upon his untimely death in 1948) and his efforts to identify the original contents of Ricketts’ library.

Don has degrees in biology and library science.  In addition to his Chautauqua project, he is exploring the history of the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory (1892-1925), and the early years of the Hopkins Marine Station (1917-1950).

Digital projects showcased in Monterey

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An item from New Mexico State University’s digitized Agricultural Extension Service records. Source: NMSU Library Digital Collections

At the third annual “lightning talks” session highlighting new (and some not so new) digital public history projects at the National Council on Public History conference, a dozen presenters showed off their work to a lunchtime audience.

“Sustainable public history” means action in Monterey

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Public history? A Pennsylvania action by the group Marcellus Protest invokes the state’s constitution. Photo credit: Marcellus Protest

After an incredibly engaging and well-attended American Society for Environmental History conference in San Francisco last week, I arrived in Monterey excited to extend the conversation about the connections among environmental history, sustainability, and public history. I did not expect, however, that the term “sustainability” could rouse the activist roots of our profession.  “What to do?”, as one of the discussants in the ASEH panel I chaired on “Perspectives on Environmental History” asked in ending his presentation, seemed to be the question for Thursday. Continue reading