History Communicators: The next step

Illustration by visual note-taker Amanda Lyons, who will be one of the participants in the March 2015 History Communicators meeting at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Illustration by visual note-taker Amanda Lyons, who will be one of the participants in the March 2015 History Communicators summit at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Used with permission.

In January 2015, I introduced the idea of History Communicators on this blog. “History Communicators, like Science Communicators,” I wrote then, “will advocate for policy decisions informed by historical research; step beyond the walls of universities and institutions and participate in public debates; author opinion pieces; engage in conversation with policymakers and the public; and work diligently to communicate history in a populist tone that has mass appeal across print, video, and audio. Most important, History Communicators will stand up for history against simplification, misinformation, or attack and explain basic historical concepts that we in the profession take for granted.”

But what might it actually mean to be a History Communicator in the twenty-first century? What are the core issues at the heart of communicating history in this new information age? This is what we’ll be asking at the first-ever summit on History Communication, March 4-5 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Continue reading

Fighting for a better memorial?

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.

Houses in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Source: Photo by mari.francille, http://www.flickr.com/photos/francille/6200964616/, CC BY 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode.

Houses in the Mission District of San Francisco.
Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Houses_in_the_Mission_District_of_San_Francisco.jpg Permission: CC BY 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en.

In this latest post in our series on the National Historic Preservation Act, Mary Rizzo, former co-editor of The Public Historian and current assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers University-Newark, interviews Sam Imperatrice about the article “Geographies of Displacement: Latina/os, Oral History, and the Politics of Gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District,” by Nancy Raquel Mirabel. Imperatrice was a community organizer in Brooklyn who worked on gentrification issues.

MR: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Can you start by telling me about the community organizing you did? Continue reading

Public history and the campus anti-racism protests

"Created Equal" dialogue program, Cooperstown Graduate Program (SUNY Oneonta, May 2015. Photo credit: Cooperstown Graduate Program.

“Created Equal” dialogue program, Cooperstown Graduate Program (SUNY Oneonta), May 2015. Photo credit: Cooperstown Graduate Program

As I’ve read obsessively the news of campus protests these past few weeks and shared support for protesters both publicly on social media and privately in email conversations with college administrators, I’ve been challenged to think deeply about my position as both a public historian and a faculty member at a state university. In my career, I’ve spent a lot of time teaching, researching, writing, and facilitating dialogue on issues of race and racism. Several of my courses explore the ways in which museums are (or should be) addressing these issues, past and present. Right now, however, perhaps the most direct way I am engaging with the current protests is in my role as the chair of my college’s President’s Council on Diversity (PCOD). In this advisory capacity, I have offered suggestions and participated in sensitive discussions on how to respond to bias acts and transform our campus into a more inclusive place. Continue reading

“APUSH” re-revised

College Board logo. Image courtesy Wikimedia commons.

College Board logo. Image courtesy Wikimedia commons

In a surprising turn of events, the College Board re-revised the Advanced Placement United States History curriculum framework, releasing its newest version at the end of July. While the move by the Board, which had instituted a public comment period seeking feedback on the framework back in February, is not overly surprising, the reaction among many historians and among the opponents of the original revised framework is. Both historians and critics are largely satisfied. Continue reading

No mere morality play: Why we need Confederate memorials now more than ever

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts 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.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Photo credit: Doug Kerr. Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Photo credit: Doug Kerr. Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of the June 17 shooting tragedy in Charleston, SC, numerous cities, institutions, politicians, and members of the general public have engaged in an array of important discussions about Confederate imagery and iconography. These discussions have illuminated for a large segment of the public the integral link between slavery and the coming of the Civil War and have prompted important conversations about the evolutionary meanings and appropriations of Confederate symbolism since the war. They have also resulted in necessary revisions of public displays of the Confederate flag, most notably the removal of the flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds. However, these discussions have also produced a wave of interest in the wholesale destruction of Confederate memorial landscapes, including the removal of century-old Confederate monuments, plaques, and artwork.

Numerous historians, such as Jill Ogline Titus, Blain Roberts and Ethan Kytle, and Gordon Rhea, have smartly delineated the differences between Confederate flags and historical, memorial landscapes. I strongly support these historians’ findings, and am in favor of the proposed creation of “counter-monuments” to slaves, African American abolitionists, United States Colored Troops, and Civil Rights activists which, I feel, would conform to the best practices of sharing authority, community engagement, and both activist and cathartic civic dialogue upon which our field has long prided itself. However, I worry that St. Paul’s Church, in Richmond, Virginia, might be contemplating the removal of its own memorial landscape in its discussions about the future of its Confederate memorial Tiffany-stained glass windows. Although the congregation’s discussions to this point are far from conclusive, I believe the importance of these discussions to the overarching debate about Confederate iconography bears address here. 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

Responding to Baltimore: A role for public historians? (Part 2)

Editors’ Note: Readers can find Part 1 here. This post continues a short list of what history, public and otherwise, as well as allied disciplines, can do in the face of events like those that have engulfed Baltimore.

Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson Museum, 1320 Eutaw Place, Baltimore. Restored by Morgan State University. Image credit: Baltimore Heritage.

Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson Museum, 1320 Eutaw Place, Baltimore. Restored by Morgan State University. Photo credit: Baltimore Heritage

Third, beyond documentation, history can support change in the present. History is rarely a direct catalyst for change–that comes from social movements. But it can be part of a public conversation that brings attention to the need for change, and it can serve as a means of empowering change-makers. The work of historians and our disciplinary allies can also inform policy, but we must research topics that are relevant to contemporary concerns and present our research in accessible ways. Public historians are at the forefront of these practices. Continue reading

Responding to Baltimore: A role for public historians? (Part 1)

Protest at the Baltimore Police Department Western District building at N. Mount St. and Riggs Ave. Photo credit: Veggies, Wikimedia Commons.

Freddie Gray protest at the Baltimore Police Department Western District building at N. Mount St. and Riggs Ave. Photo credit: Veggies, Wikimedia Commons

Events in Baltimore during the last couple of weeks following the death of Freddie Gray apparently after a questionable arrest have precipitated a great deal of commentary, ranging from the thoughtful to the bloviating. Likewise, interest in a more activist, civically engaged public history has been generating considerable discussion, both descriptive and hortatory. In an effort to add something useful to the discussion, I offer a short list of what I believe history, public and otherwise, as well as allied disciplines, can do in the face of events like those that have engulfed Baltimore. Continue reading