As I sit down to write this post (and by the way, this is my first “official” history blog post), I am pondering what my “New Situation Normal” is as a public history practitioner for a federal agency. How has my work reality changed, for good and for ill, over the past 16 years? Certainly, technology and social media provide public historians with avenues to new and varied audiences. And with the Internet’s narrowing of time and space, interesting and exciting possibilities now exist for researchers and public historians.
However, there have been less positive workplace changes, namely budgetary and staffing constraints, which have created stresses and reprioritization at work for many American public historians in the public and private sector—as well as in other countries—regardless of agency or organization. Continue reading →
The case of Southern Öland provides a rather dramatic case where visions of heritage preservation and renewable energy development collided, but it is certainly not unique. Other communities have faced similar challenges, including the World Heritage sites of Mont-Saint-Michel in France (where an off-shore wind project was blocked by the French courts), and Britain’s Jurassic Coast. In the United States, the Cape Wind project proposed for Nantucket Bay off of Martha’s Vineyard has generated a fierce legal and political struggle that has spanned more than a dozen years. Cape Wind’s Construction and Operation plans received approval from the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in 2011 despite a determination by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that the wind farm would negatively affect thirty-six historic sites and districts, and six resources of cultural and religious significance to the region’s Indian tribes.
The many compelling arguments in favor of renewable energy projects makes opposing them challenging. Continue reading →
Öland’s landscape reflects 5,000 years of human habitation. Photo source: Kim Bach
Off the east coast of Southern Sweden, a battle is raging between competing visions of sustainability. On the most unlikely of battlegrounds, bucolic Öland island, a desire to promote renewable energy has brought local officials committed to promoting a sustainable society into conflict with island residents, preservationists, farmers, environmentalists, and local business owners who believe that protecting the island’s character and cultural resources is incompatible with a proposal to expand industrially generated wind power on the island. Continue reading →
Recently, I went with a group of friends to see Yoga: The Art of Transformation at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC. The exhibition includes representations of yoga practice in sculpture, painting, icons, and illuminated manuscripts across 2,000 years. Yoga originated as a radical religious practice, one originally designed to help practitioners transcend their bodies rather than strengthen them. Some yogis and yoginis lived lives of deprivation; others were spies, powerful leaders, or even fierce warriors. As we wandered through the galleries, one of my companions, a yoga instructor, said, “This is not the yoga I practice.”
I understood precisely what she meant.
As a public historian, I often feel a similar sense of disconnect and dislocation when I try to situate myself in many of the possible pasts that my discipline presents me with. Am I the intellectual descendant of 19th-century women’s organizations which sought to protect relics of a particular past in order to stave off unbearable social and cultural change? Do I owe my habits of work to Progressive Era professionals who applied the techniques of scientific management to solve pressing social problems, far too often without listening to the people directly impacted by dangerous working conditions or barely habitable tenements? Am I a professional in a still-emerging intellectual field, one gaining in legitimacy because it has become tied to a larger effort to preserve the academic discipline of history?
More often than I probably should admit, I find myself thinking, “This is not the history I practice.” Continue reading →
I am generally not a fan of sound-bite history. In this age of information overload and attention deficits, however, I suppose we must consider ways of packaging history in short, audio-visual formats in order to reach a larger public audience. Richard Heinberg’s Post Carbon Institute video, “The Ultimate Roller Coast Ride,” is a worthy effort in this regard. A creatively animated survey of “300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Growth in Five Minutes,” the video opens and closes with the distinctive bass line from the late Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” The disturbing environmental message of another Reed song, “The Last Great American Whale,” might have better served the purposes of this production, which is to frighten us about the grim future we face barring radical changes to our energy lifestyle. Continue reading →
Ironbound residents march up Ferry St. June 1, 1984, in opposition to the construction of a huge garbage incinerator in the neighborhood which would have emitted dioxin and other toxic chemicals. Photo credit: Ironbound Community Corporation
Ironbound Community Corporation, a non-profit community organization in Newark, New Jersey, which celebrates its 45th anniversary in 2014, began working on an archive in 2011, partnering with the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. ICC’s unique environmental justice history, which gained it an early national reputation, is important to its city, state, and the country at large. Over the years, ICC has been the subject of inquiry from residents, organizers, and students of all ages throughout the US and even beyond.
From the beginning, those of us working at ICC knew that when we said ”archive,” we wanted something accessible, which would not just gather dust. A key partner has been the local branch of the Newark Public Library, which agreed to house the archive, help with the public access, and host special kick-off events for each part of the project. Each year ICC has added something new to the archive, and it now has three parts: Continue reading →
In many ways, environmental public history is still a very new field, with just one major title devoted directly to the subject.
Google “public history” and “climate change” and you’ll quickly realize that public historians are only just beginning to talk about how their work relates to the increasingly urgent questions posed by the earth’s rapidly changing climate. You could make a case that environmental public history is itself still in its infancy, even though it’s been more than two decades since Martin Melosi, in his President’s Annual Address to the National Council on Public History, issued a call for “environmental history [to] be a means to make the value of history better understood to the public.” As Melosi pointed out, the combination is a natural one in many ways, yet there are also challenges to pursuing it–for example, the highly political nature of many environmental issues and historians’ caution about crossing the line into advocacy. In the print realm, a single, now-decade-old collection, Public History and the Environment (co-edited by Melosi and Phil Scarpino and published by Krieger in 2004), has been devoted to the subject, and “global warming” makes only two brief appearances in its pages. As the global atmosphere continues to warm and its effects are felt more and more widely, how should public historians respond? Continue reading →
As part of a 2010 “planetary art show” organized by 350.org, people in Brighton-Hove, UK formed a giant image of King Canute, who famously tried to control the rising ocean. Photo credit: Malcolm Land.
Despite their widespread encounter with issues of environmental sustainability in public history practice and a heightened concern about them, most respondents (54 percent) noted that their training in the former derived from individual study or interest rather than formal education. A full quarter of respondents have never received training in the field. Roughly equal numbers of the remaining population received their training in undergraduate or graduate settings (23 percent), on-the-job training and workshops (23 percent), or professional training and workshops (19.5 percent). Taken with the responses indicating widespread engagement with and concern about the relationship between environmental sustainability and public history practice, these findings strongly suggest that a need is not currently being met by public history education programs. Public historians are encountering issues of environmental sustainability in their work largely without formalized training. Continue reading →
A 90-kilowatt solar array is one of the first things visitors see at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Photo credit: Cathy Stanton.
As part of its ongoing efforts to facilitate greater mutual accommodation between sustainability and public history imperatives and to better define the NCPH’s role in that process, the NCPH Task Force on Sustainability and Public History conducted an online survey during September of 2013. Responses were invited via the H-Public listserv, the weekly Public History News Update from NCPH, and this blog. The survey questions measured the level of interest in environmental sustainability among public historians across specialties, the level of interest in environmental sustainability in the greater public history community as perceived by respondents, the level to which environmental sustainability concerns were integrated into public history institutions and training programs, and respondents’ views on whether environmental sustainability should be integrated into public history education and the core values of the NCPH. As a whole, the survey suggested a significant concern over environmental sustainability in public history practice but a marked lack of institutional and educational integration. This finding reveals an unmet need which NCPH can provide leadership in rectifying–a role which respondents endorsed. Continue reading →
Conference Poster. Photo credit: Arts Extension Service at UMass Amherst.
For most of my experience as a public-historian-in-training, I did not often think about the arts in any purposeful way. I played in an orchestra from elementary school through college, have a not-so-secret love for musicals (my roommates are probably tired of hearing me sing Disney songs in the shower!), and enjoy visiting art museums as much as the next person, but I would not consider myself an artist. After all, my formal training is in history. This all changed last year when I decided that I needed some practical management skills in order to feel confident about running a historical organization after graduation. To learn about financial management, strategic planning, development, and the like, I decided to pursue a certificate in arts management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to complement my public history degree. I felt like a bit of an outsider in the Arts Management Program. Everyone that I met at the Arts Extension Service (AES) organization on campus that runs the arts management program was lovely, but I did not necessarily feel like I was part of that world.
My perspective changed on September 26, when I attended the Arts Extension Service’s conference titled “Arts Policy on the Ground: The Impact of the National Endowment for the Arts.” First, we had a lot to celebrate. Not only is AES commemorating its 40th anniversary, but the National Arts Policy Archives and Library (NAPAAL), which will be part of the UMass Special Collections and University Archives, is opening this year as well. NAPAAL currently contains publications and research reports from the National Endowment for the Arts, records from the Arts Extension Service, and will soon also include papers from Americans for the Arts as well as the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Continue reading →