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

Project Showcase: From Chautauqua to Ricketts


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).

Project Showcase: Gateway to U.S. Federal Reserve System centennial commemoration

screenshotDec. 23, 2013, marked the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, which established the Federal Reserve as the central bank for the United States. Financial panics and bank runs plagued the nation during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Panic of 1907 prompted many Americans to call for a central bank. In response, Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act, which President Woodrow Wilson signed into law to provide our country with a more stable financial system.

The yearlong centennial commemoration is an opportunity for the Federal Reserve System to promote a greater understanding and awareness of the Fed, including its mandate, structure, and functions. To that end, all 12 Federal Reserve districts are represented on a commemorative Gateway website. Brief Fed facts, information about key economic events, details about individuals instrumental in shaping the Fed, and insights into the Fed’s purpose make up the 11,000 artifacts housed on this interactive site.
In addition to the System website, the St. Louis Fed has created its own centennial website where visitors can explore 100 years of historical materials from the Eighth District, including an interactive timeline, photos and audio clips, and historical documents.
Providing public access to economic information and data has long been an important mission for the St. Louis Fed. Anyone interested in learning more or conducting personal research about the Fed is encouraged to explore the FRASER archive, the Fed’s electronic archive, to discover more about 100 years of US central banking.

The St. Louis Fed’s Library has also assembled a Federal Reserve Centennial Information/Display Package for libraries wishing to provide a display or exhibit about the Fed.  All materials are provided free and do not need to be returned. The information/display package contains brochures, posters, CDs, DVDs, teacher lesson plans, a map, bags of shredded currency, and historical postcards of Fed buildings then and now. To request a packet, contact Kathy Cosgrove at Kathy.E.Cosgrove@stls.frb.org.

~ Jane M. Davis, Digital Library Projects Coordinator

Project Showcase: Newruskinarchives

group of men 1906

The back of this postcard reads “Engineers at Ruskin College Oxford, 1906, sent and supported by their fellow trade unionists at a cost of 1d each.” Photo source: Hilda Kean

The newruskinarchives database website has recently been launched in response to the destruction last year of most of the archive of student records at Ruskin College, the historic trade union and labour movement college in Oxford.

There was much press coverage of the scandal and widespread criticism of the actions of the (now former) Principal, Audrey Mullender. The international petition drew over 7,500 signatories including those of many public historians. However the vast bulk of the student records, as well as dissertations, were unnecessarily destroyed. Continue reading

Project Showcase: The Colonel Clark Library at the Kentucky Derby Museum


Kentucky Derby Museum’s Web page.

The Kentucky Derby Museum, a non-profit organization located in Louisville, Kentucky, announces the opening of its Colonel Clark Library. With collections dating back to the mid-19th century, the Colonel Clark Library is an outstanding resource for historians, especially those interested in agricultural, sporting, and local history. The centerpiece of the Colonel Clark Library is the collection of Jim Bolus, long-time sports writer, historian, and renowned expert on the Kentucky Derby. The Bolus Collection consists of thousands of research files, printed materials, and recorded interviews covering the sport of Thoroughbred racing from 1875 to 1995. The Library also houses primary documents on the history of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby since its inaugural running in 1875, and approximately 3,000 published volumes which include noted Thoroughbred industry publications such as The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, and the Daily Racing Form.

The Colonel Clark Library is open to the public on Tuesdays during the Museum’s normal operating hours and also by appointment. Access to the Library is free of charge. For general information on the Kentucky Derby Museum click here. To search the library holdings click here. For phone and email inquiries, contact Chris Goodlett at 502-637-1111, ext. 259 or by email.

Showcase round-up: The past six months of public history projects


Regular readers of this blog know that we occasionally feature a new (or sometimes not so new) public history venture in our “Project Showcase” section, as a way of keeping an eye on some of the work being done in the field.  Below is a quick survey of what’s been included in the past six months, in addition to longer pieces that take more in-depth looks at particular projects.

In the next six months, watch for History@Work to begin more extended explorations of exhibits, in collaboration with The Public Historian.  In the meantime, we hope this round-up will provide a quick snap-shot of what’s new and interesting, as well as an inspiration to send us information about your own work so we can highlight it here.  Project Showcase posts should be no longer than 250 words and should include at least one illustration.


South Asian art collection (Philadelphia Museum of Art)


American Heritage Chocolate (Mars)


Museum on the Move (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Web projects

Frederick Douglass in Britain (Hannah Rose Murray)

Returning the Voices to Kouchibouguac (Ron Rudin/Concordia University)

40th anniversary retrospective on the Watergate hearings (U.S. Senate Historical Office)

Closed for Business (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

Health/PAC Digital Archive

Project Showcase: “Frederick Douglass in Britain”

website screenshotFrederick Douglass is one of the most famous African Americans in the United States, but few have heard of him in Britain. This demands redress, as in 1845 Douglass travelled to the British Isles for nearly two years, lecturing over three hundred times in cities across the country. He set the stage alight with his oratory, and created several controversies that stirred the nation.

I began researching his British trip during my Masters degree, but it has now grown into a fully-fledged project! I designed some teaching resources and then a website to host them, and I’ve been adding to it ever since. Contemporary newspapers are at the heart of my research: they printed Douglass’s speeches and fascinating letters from the public praising or condemning his harsh language against slavery. Ultimately, the aim of my research is to raise awareness of Douglass’s visit to Britain, and hopefully start an international conversation about the impact of his trip.

frederick douglass plaqueFrederick Douglass’s legacy in Britain was officially recognised in February 2013, when the Nubian Jak Community Trust (a non-profit organisation) unveiled a heritage plaque dedicated to him in London. Douglass had a strong connection with Britain. After all, it was the place where an English family purchased his freedom, and where he made a name for himself in the abolition movement. In 1865 he wrote:

England has entered deeply into my life [and] happily so. My friends there have been more thoughtful for me, in my works than anywhere else.

~ Hannah Rose Murray

Project Showcase: Mars American Heritage Chocolate

chocolate barI recently attended a conference whose organizers had discovered a remedy for the dreaded low-energy times of day when audience attention wanes:  schedule a presentation about chocolate, complete with free samples.  The talk was by Amanda Lange of Historic Deerfield, Inc., a participant in the American Heritage Chocolate project sponsored by Mars starting in 2006.  Mars convened a group of more than a hundred historians, scientists, and artisans who worked together to recreate the chocolate being eaten (or, more usually, drunk) by people in the American colonies and the new nation of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The team’s work resulted in a recipe based in older tastes and artisanal methods:  grittier and less sweet than we’ve become accustomed to, containing spices and chiles typical of an earlier time period, and sold as sticks, blocks, and powder as well as small bars.  American Heritage Chocolate went on the market in 2006 at museums and historic sites, followed in 2009 by a door-stop of a book based on the research of those involved in the project (Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage).  The choice of outlets, according to Lange, is influenced by the scale of production:  the adoption of older methods for this chocolate means that Mars can’t produce enough to supply its usual mass markets.  It’s an interesting mixture of corporate legacy-making, serious historical research, and small-scale production within a giant commercial food  business.  And it was just the thing for that late-morning conference energy-lag!

~ Cathy Stanton, Tufts University