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→

Makeover in progress: New NCPH website coming soon

History@Work will become more visually integrated with the main NCPH website. Design draft supplied by NCPH.

History@Work will become more visually integrated with the main NCPH website. Design draft supplied by NCPH.

We are excited to announce the launch of a brand new National Council on Public History website and History@Work blog this fall! The new site will reflect who we are as an organization: a vibrant, active, and approachable community.

Phase One of the project will be a redesign of the NCPH website. The same valuable content found on the current website will be easier to find, share, and interact with, and will be accessible across a variety of devices. The site will now be a user-friendly gateway to valuable resources on public history practice, training, and scholarship. Continue reading

Genealogy, public history, and cyber kinship

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of mass amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Regina Poertner is the third of these scholars.  To read the two prior posts, see Paul Knevel, Sara Trevisan.

Achim Gercke (1902-1997) was appointed expert on racial matters for the NS Ministry of the Interior in 1933. He was instrumental in implementing the new racial laws ‘for the restitution of the civil  service’, demanding proof of ‘Aryan’ descent as a precondition for employment. Gercke was dismissed in 1935 on suspicion of homosexuality. From 1933, the National Socialist ‘Reich Genealogical Authority’ enlisted the services of professional genealogists to ‘purge’ the state of ‘non-Aryans’. The laws of 1933 and 1935 inaugurated the NS racial policy that was to result in the segregation,deportation, and murder of the Jewish population of Germany and occupied territories. Sources: Image: Wikimedia Commons, supplied by the German Bundesarchiv, Image number 183- 2006-1009-500/CC/BY-SA Further reading:  Eric Ehrenreich, The Nazi Ancestral Proof: Genealogy, racial science, and the final  solution, Indiana University Press 2007.

Achim Gercke (1902-1997) was appointed expert on racial matters for the German National Socialist Ministry of the Interior in 1933. He was instrumental in implementing the new racial laws “for the restitution of the civil
service,” demanding proof of “Aryan” descent as a precondition for employment. Gercke was dismissed in 1935 on suspicion of homosexuality.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

To date, historians’ debates on the impact of new technologies have focused primarily on the challenges to the academic profession, raising important questions about, for example, the future tools and methods of professional historical research, the visualisation and archiving of data, sharing of digital resources and research outputs, and more generally the ways in which the current digital revolution is changing our perception of who we are and what we do. The article by Jerome De Groot broadens this debate to encompass the public as the consumer and producer of a new brand of public history in the making: digital genealogical research has become a lucrative commercial venture–significantly, without clearly demarcated national borders–and is becoming the remit of the amateur historian who simultaneously is the object and author of the “curated self.” Continue reading

Genealogy from below

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of mass amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Paul Knevel is the second of these scholars.  We hope you will post your comments to add to this discussion. 

The largest family tree in the world, as claimed by the International Family Museum in Eijsden, the Netherlands.  Image credit: www.internationalmuseumforfamilyhistory.com

The largest family tree in the world, as claimed by the International Family Museum in Eijsden, the Netherlands. Photo credit:  International Museum for Family History

As could be expected by the author of the broad and lucid Consuming History, Jerome de Groot demonstrates in his article in The Public Historian an amazing ability to discuss thoroughly topics and themes that would for others take book-length or even career-length considerations. “Genealogy and Public History” thus not only deals with the various ways that genealogy and family history could be undertaken and imagined by various people and groups but also with such large and profound issues as the impact and construction of “knowledge infrastructures” in a digital age, the silencing character of the archive, the ethical sides of dealing with the dead, the neo-liberalisation of public space generated by commercial websites, “digital labour,” and many other themes and ideas. The result is a clever, multi-layered, insightful, and thought-provoking essay that challenges public historians to rethink today’s digital historical culture and practices, their own role, and the activities of millions of people (see the stunning figures mentioned by De Groot) who are doing genealogy and family history and thus trying to connect themselves with the past. Consequently, it is impossible to address in this short reaction all the topics and themes raised in De Groot’s article. Continue reading

Remembering David Kyvig

David Kyvig. Image source: The Public Historian

David Kyvig. Photo credit: The Public Historian

He was tall–but not intimidating.

He was funny–sometimes in the “bring down the house” style; sometimes just for chuckles.

He was balding–and joked about it.

He was a hard worker–which prompted others to match the pace.

He was a well-known public historian–with many publications.

He was a well-known constitutional historian–with many publications.

He always provided timely responses–for support letters, papers, committee work, articles, books.

He was a model collaborator.

He had many, many friends.

And in early March 1990 he became “Chair” (later President) of the National Council on Public History for one year, which he continued to remind us was actually 14 months. Continue reading

History and tradition: Genealogical practice before 1700

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of massive amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Sara Trevisan is the first of these scholars. Please consider adding your own comments to the conversation below. 

Fig. 1 The Steward Window (1574), showing Banquo as the root of the family tree. Image credit:   

The Steward Window (1574), showing Banquo as the root of the family tree.  Image credit: J.H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History (New York: Longmans: 1901)

In today’s genealogical search, lack of evidence on a family ancestor signifies the impossibility to assess any further their role within the structure of our genealogical tree. Genealogy is to us”‘a gesture to completeness that is continually thwarted by the limitations of the archive,” and thus shows us that knowledge can have an end.1 The search for family origins is therefore destined to remain ever unfulfilled and frustrated due to the epistemology of ‘historical truth” by which it is ultimately guided. Yet, until the second part of the seventeenth century–when the principles of historical method still had not fully taken hold–the “mythical” aspect of family origins was an integral part of genealogical reconstruction. This was especially true for monarchs and noble families. Continue reading

Ask a Public Historian Q&A: Anne Mitchell Whisnant

This is the first in a new series “Ask a Public Historian,” brought to you by the NCPH New Professional and Graduate Student Committee.

Anne Mitchell Whisnant, PhD, is Deputy Secretary of the Faculty and Adjunct Associate Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also Consulting Historian, Primary Source History Services, and the author of Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History (UNC Press, 2006).

Anne Mitchell Whisnant.  Photo credit: Evan Whisnant

Anne Mitchell Whisnant Photo credit: Evan Whisnant

Why did you choose to enter your field?

I have two fields–“alt-ac” university administration (where I make the majority of my living) and public history consulting and teaching.

I started graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1989 to become a college professor. By 1997, I had my degree and a husband who was a full professor of English at Chapel Hill. Doing a national assistant professor job search was not an option, and I spent five years raising our two sons. Only after my husband David retired and the stock market tanked (in that unfortunate order) did I start trying to figure how to forge some “other” kind of career/employment path with my history PhD. In 2002, I attended a joint OAH-NCPH (Organization of American Historians and National Council on Public History) meeting featuring many public-history-related sessions about “what you can do with a History PhD.” I was introduced both to the wide world of “public history” and the radical idea that history training could be useful beyond professor positions. The insight about transferable skills led directly to my first “alt-ac” job, and I’ve remained in that realm. Continue reading

Project Showcase: Working History podcast

slsa-logoThe Southern Labor Studies Association (SLSA) has launched a new podcast, Working History. Hosted by SLSA President Beth English, Working History spotlights the work of leading labor historians, activists, and practitioners focusing on the U.S. South. The podcast is available for listening on iTunes and SoundCloud.

Working History seeks to inform public debate and dialogue about some of today’s key labor, economic, and political issues, with the benefit of historical context. Through the podcast SLSA is able to bring the research and expertise of its members to bear on an array of topics.

The inaugural episode, posted in June, features an interview with Hood College Assistant Professor Jay Driskell who discusses his book, Schooling Jim Crow, and traces the roots of black protest politics to early 20th century Atlanta and the right for equal education there. The latest episode features Professor Elizabeth Shermer of Loyola University Chicago, who talks about her forthcoming book on the impacts of corporate influence and the politics shaping higher education, past and present.

To keep up to date on future episodes, subscribe to Working History on iTunes or SoundCloud.

The Southern Labor Studies Association promotes the study, teaching, and preservation of southern labor history.  All podcast inquiries should be directed to Beth English at workinghistorypodcast[at]gmail.com.

Historic preservation shines a light on a dark past

Trinity High School demolition, 2013. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

Trinity High School demolition, 2013. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

Editor’s note: This post continues a series commemorating the anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act by examining a past article published in The Public Historian, describing its significance, and relating it to contemporary conversations in historic preservation.

Between 2011 and 2014, the city of Decatur, Georgia, demolished 200 public housing units built in 1940, under the auspices of slum clearance. In 2013, Decatur’s two city-owned former equalization schools were demolished for a new civic complex and police headquarters. In one gentrifying neighborhood, the private sector sent more than 120 former African American homes to landfills, continuing a cycle of serial displacement begun a century ago. In another neighborhood, a developer demolished a historic black church to clear land for new upscale townhomes. The widespread disappearance of African American landmarks began just two years after the City of Decatur released a citywide historic resources survey that made no mention of the community’s black residents, past and present, nor their historic places.1

Continue reading

Interpreting the past, wrestling with the present

Chicago’s Jane Addams Homes opened in 1938 during the first wave of public housing construction by the federal government. Jane Addams, whose Hull House Settlement stood less than one mile away, encouraged New Deal officials to choose a site in her Near West Side neighborhood. The last remaining building from the complex, pictured above, has been slated to host the National Public Housing Museum.

Chicago’s Jane Addams Homes opened in 1938 during the first wave of public housing construction by the federal government. Jane Addams, whose Hull House Settlement stood less than one mile away, encouraged New Deal officials to choose a site in her Near West Side neighborhood. The last remaining building from the complex, pictured above, has been slated to host the National Public Housing Museum. Photo credit: National Public Housing Museum

Last year, I served as research resident at the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM), which focuses on the history of public housing across the country but especially in its home city of Chicago. The NPHM will one day occupy the last remaining building from the New Deal-era Jane Addams Homes in the Little Italy neighborhood. One weekend, as I volunteered at the museum’s information booth during Little Italy’s annual street festival, a passerby asked incredulously, “This is going to be a museum?” nodding to the NPHM’s future home. “But weren’t these projects?” Residents like this man had wondered for years what would happen to the boarded-up building and surrounding empty lots. Sensing an interpretive opportunity, I engaged him in a long conversation about the history of public housing and the museum’s goal of illuminating the racial and class assumptions that marked “The Projects.” I don’t think he walked away as a champion of the NPHM, but the museum exists in large part to stimulate just such conversations. Continue reading

Project Showcase: College Women

college-women-betaWith the support of a one-year Foundations planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the seven women’s colleges once known as the “Seven Sisters” recently launched College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education. College Women brings together digitized letters, diaries, scrapbooks, and photographs of women who attended Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe (now the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University). These materials, documenting women’s campus cultures, have long been preserved in the libraries of the seven schools; College Women makes them available online and searchable together for the first time. Continue reading