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→

Iron sharpens iron: Collective benefit to applying for the Excellence in Consulting Award

Cathy Stanton, “Plant Yourself in My Neighborhood,” winner of the 2014 award. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

Cathy Stanton, “Plant Yourself in My Neighborhood,” winner of the 2014 award.  Photo credit: National Park Service

As public history consultants, we are spread all over the nation. We complete projects in small towns, back rooms of museums, major cities, and community organizations. We come together one time a year at the National Council for Public History’s annual conference. Otherwise, we find each other on this blog. The consultants who connect here are producing some of the most influential projects in the field. The lessons contained in their work inform the field, yet we rarely see each other’s work.

The NCPH Excellence in Consulting Award is one of a few opportunities to improve upon the whole by sharing our best work with one another. This award provides a space to demonstrate the variety of consulting projects procured around the country and the high level of expertise applied to their work. High-quality entries encourage a higher level of excellence year after year. As an added bonus, the winners gain industry credibility that is often hard to obtain as an independent contractor. Continue reading

Jack the Ripper Museum

In August 2015, a museum that had originally been billed as “the first women’s museum in the UK” opened instead as the Jack the Ripper Museum on Cable Street in the East End of London. ‘Jack the Ripper,’ an anonymous figure who murdered and mutilated at least five women in the late nineteenth century, has become the focus of a museum that had once been promised to represent and celebrate untold histories of women.

Photo by Claire Hayward

Photo credit:  Claire Hayward

The unveiling and opening of the museum has caused a great deal of controversy in the United Kingdom because planning permission had been granted for a museum focusing on women’s history. The change of use application for the site explained that the Museum of Women’s History would “analyse the social, political and domestic experience of women from the time of the boom in growth in the East End in the Victorian period through the waves of immigration to the present day.” There is already a museum of women’s history in the UK–the Glasgow Women’s Library in Scotland has been an accredited museum since 2010–but the Museum of Women’s History would have been a valuable addition to London’s public history sites and, furthermore, could have paved the way for improving the representation of women in museums across the UK. Continue reading

Leo Frank commemoration: Museum partnerships and controversial topics

Leo Frank circa 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-B2-1234]

Leo Frank circa 1910. Photo credit:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-B2-1234]

As museums increasingly become spaces for engaging challenging topics, three metro Atlanta institutions joined together to address a century-old rift in the community. Using expanded audiences, a shared strategic mission, and a network of public historians, the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History forged a partnership with the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum and the Museum of History and Holocaust Education to present the exhibit, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited.” The following reflective case study provides an example of how public history can address a controversial subject in its most sensitive geographic location.  Continue reading

Project Showcase: Building Histories of the National Mall

mallhistory-guideEver wondered how a digital project came to be?

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) shares how they built their NCPH-award winning project in a new free digital publication, Building Histories of the National Mall: A Guide to Creating a Digital Public History Project.

For institutions eager to begin developing their own version of Histories using Omeka, the technical specifications and code are available for download now. For organizations embarking on a new digital public history project, Building Histories of the National Mall offers an open source and replicable example for history and cultural heritage professionals wanting a cost-effective solution for developing and delivering mobile content.

Co-authored by the team that developed Histories of the National Mall, this guide is divided into seven main sections, including the project’s rationale; content development and interpretative approach; user experience and design; and outreach and publicity, including the social media strategy. This publication shares the project team’s decision to build for the mobile web and not a single-use, platform-specific native app. The guide also offers lessons learned and challenges faced throughout the project’s development, as well as how the team measured success for this digital public history project.

Building Histories of the National Mall and the website were funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Civil War memory and American gun culture

The cover illustration of The American Rifleman for August 1957 featured members of the North-South Skirmish Association, founded in 1950. Source: Author’s collection

Ashley Halsey Jr. was frustrated when the civil rights movement defeated the Lost Cause. The United States Civil War Centennial Commission had invited the Saturday Evening Post associate editor and Civil War buff to be the featured speaker at the 1961 centennial commemoration of the firing on Fort Sumter in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. The event exploded in controversy because a local hotel refused to accommodate an African American delegate to the assembly. The John F. Kennedy administration moved the meeting to a nearby naval base, which led delegates from former Confederate states to secede from the event in protest. Continue reading

Pennsylvania’s hallowed ground: A role for historic preservation

Memorial Day ceremony, Midland Cemetery, Midland, PA, 2013. Photo credit: Brenda Barrett.

Memorial Day ceremony, Midland Cemetery, Midland, PA, 2013. Photo credit: Brenda Barrett

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.

The saga of the Locust Grove Cemetery, an African American burial ground in the small borough of Shippensburg, is one that is repeated across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In his article, “’From Troubled Ground to Common Ground’: The African-American Cemetery Restoration Project: A Case Study of Service-Learning and Community History” (2008), Steven Burg recounts his work with students to research and tell the story of the cemetery’s historic value and engage with its caretakers in the site’s preservation.1 The Locust Grove project helped change the community’s perception of the cemetery from problem property to a respected historic site. While it was a success on many levels, the Locust Grove project highlights the challenge of using the National Register of Historic Preservation as a preservation tool. Continue reading

Project Showcase: AmericanScience

Tag cloud for the AmericanScience blog.

Tag cloud for the AmericanScience blog

AmericanScience is a team blog tracking all things science–both contemporary and historical. Graduate student- and early career-editors (as well as guest posters) bring a historical perspective to current issues in American science and technology­­­–from the Anthropocene and climate change to Thomas Kuhn and Uber. The site also serves as a venue for reports on conferences and workshops, reviews of books and public exhibits, and reexaminations of classic texts from new vantage points. In the spirit of historicizing science for the public, the team maintains an active Twitter account that rounds up daily links to science news and institutional announcements–from developments in the Volkswagen emissions fraud to new museum exhibits worth visiting.

A new series of posts focuses on science and natural history museums in the context of public history and public science. Placing museum studies in conversation with science and technology studies allows for fresh interrogations of outreach, science education, and the politics and cultures of display in popular institutions. The wide-ranging interests of the blog’s editors generate diverse conversations about science and society, revealing the impact of historical narratives on contemporary issues.

For more on the project, visit the blog, Tweet us, or contact one of the current editors: Leah Aronowsky (laronowsky@fas.harvard.edu), Elaine Ayers (eayers@princeton.edu), Jenna Healey (jenna.healey@yale.edu), Evan Hepler-Smith (ehepler@princeton.edu), or David Singerman (singsing@mit.edu).

~ Elaine Ayers is a PhD candidate in the History of Science at Princeton University and an editor of the blog, AmericanScience.

A Confederate on campus: The case of MTSU’s Forrest Hall

"Forrest plaque on the MTSU Keathly University Center, from Sidelines campus newspaper, March 1968."

Forrest plaque on the MTSU Keathly University Center.  Photo credit:  Sidelines campus newspaper, March 1968

Editor’s note: This post continues our series addressing recent debates over Confederate memory and symbolism in the wake of the shooting of nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.  Here is the opening post for the series.

On April 4, 1968, an altercation occurred at Middle Tennessee State University’s newly constructed student union building, where a large crowd of students had gathered to await breaking news about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. A white male student cut through the crowd to turn off the news program in a deliberate attempt to provoke other students. This led to a fight, which at least one African American student connected to the unwelcome influence of Confederate symbols on campus. Indeed, an elaborate 600-pound bronze plaque of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest adorned the month-old building where students had gathered to mourn the death of a Civil Rights leader.

An African American student present at the union that night, Sylvester Brooks, later wrote in the campus newspaper Sidelines, “Are you proud of your school’s mascot, General Nathan Bedford Forrest?; the man who founded the Ku Klux Klan; the man who captured Black soldiers fighting for the Union; and the man who marched into Fort Pillow in West Tennessee and murdered 250 Black men, women, and children? . . . Black students have just as much right to feel a part of this campus as anyone else.”  Brooks became the most recognizable voice of opposition to MTSU’s Confederate iconography in the late 1960s. The fight he started continues to this day.

Continue reading

Film and history: An invitation

Photo credit: Tomás Fano

Photo credit: Tomás Fano

To moviemakers, history is an endless source of human drama.

To historians, movies are a powerful art form that can accurately represent the past, seriously distort it–or both.

As historians and other professionals concerned with presenting or preserving history, you have a perspective on the role of history in movies that is critically important.

Which is why Smithsonian magazine and the National Museum of American History are inviting you to take part in this survey. It is being conducted in conjunction with the “History Film Forum: Secrets of American History” festival at the museum November 19 to 22. Continue reading