Euclid Beach Park conjures fond childhood memories for many participants in the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. Photo credit: Cleveland State University Special Collections
Many of us have discovered what promised to be an exciting oral history project through a Google search, only to be crestfallen when the linked web page was nothing more than a description of a trove of interviews kept in an ivory tower hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s a given that oral history can’t be public history if it’s a cache of CDs or transcripts squirreled away in a drawer. Is it any less clear that an interview collection—no matter how voluminous, historically significant, or methodologically rigorous—also falls short of the mark when it rests in a library? A project’s outcomes should be publicly visible and audible. Continue reading →
Editor’s Note: This piece continues a series of posts related to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of public history programs across the country to raise awareness of the long history of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and foster dialogue on its future. For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.
“My most vivid memories of Guantánamo was everything just being free down there and the closeness of all the people. There was no crime, none whatsoever. It was summer all year round.”
The Guantanamo Public Memory Project online stories collection. Photo Credit: Guantanamo Public Memory Project
Anita Lewis Isom first arrived at Guantánamo Bay forty years before the orange-suited detainees that would make the US base infamous around the world. Her description of an idyllic life at the base seems far removed from the images of leg shackles and barbed wire typically associated with Gitmo in its current function as a “black site,” an extra-legal and extra-territorial space. Images of Gitmo as prison and military base and as island paradise are not, however, mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is in part its isolation that makes Gitmo such an effective black site and its tropical location that has long made it an attractive destination for military families. Continue reading →
Originally built in 1927, a small, unassuming Sinclair filling station on the edge of Main Street bespoke the pragmatic style of small rural industrial towns and stood as a monument to Deadwood’s mid-twentieth century history. It also survived a devastating fire that nearly destroyed the town in 1959. But over the years—and at least in part because the station did not comport with Deadwood’s dominant Wild West image—the Sinclair structure slipped into disrepair.
These events set the stage for the structure’s demise. In 2006, the owners of First Gold Hotel, a lucrative gaming resort, purchased the Sinclair station. This March, they razed it, claiming that time, disuse, and damage from a powerful blizzard last fall had stripped away the building’s historic value. Because the local Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) sanctioned the demolition, it might seem that the Sinclair station simply died of natural causes. Continue reading →
The close relationship between Deadwood’s gaming and a specific version of its history is clearly represented upon entering the town’s limits. Photo credit: Patti McNeal
Twenty-five years ago, the state of South Dakota legalized commercial gaming within the boundaries of Deadwood, a small mining town nestled high in the Black Hills. Ever since, everyone from tourists and gamblers to film crews and rock stars have flooded its streets. The town’s unique history helped transform Deadwood into a hotbed for heritage tourism. As Jay D. Vogt, director of the South Dakota State Historical Society, recently wrote, “the colorful legends of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane,” two storied characters from the town’s brief flirtation with the “Wild West” of the 1870s, “make Deadwood a nationally recognized destination.” From 2004 to 2006, HBO even aired a popular television show set in (and named after) Deadwood, a portrayal which enhanced the town’s rugged visage and broadcast its regional past to national audiences. But community members and public historians, who have long struggled to make sure that Deadwood’s comfortable, tourist-friendly image includes diverse and critical perspectives on the past, have faced an additional challenge in recent months as at least one casino has destroyed a historic site in the name of expanding its business. Continue reading →
Don Denard is hugged by supporters as he arrives at the Decatur City Commission meeting, February 18, 2014. Photo by author
In December 2013, an African American man was detained by Decatur, Georgia, police after he was seen leaving his home. An officer issued a suspicious person alert based on the “reasonable articulable suspicion” premise–the legal basis for many states’ “stop and frisk” laws.
Don Denard has lived in the Decatur home he was seen leaving since 1987. He is a former school board member and an active participant in Decatur’s civic life. Yet on December 15, 2013, he was just another black man walking in a community that is becoming steadily whiter and wealthier and where all such men are regarded, as Denard says, with the presumption of guilt. Continue reading →
Participation via social media was extra fun with the “album wall” during the music-themed aMUSE in August 2013. Photo credit: St. Catharines Museum
Like many community museums, we’ve had a difficult time encouraging and maintaining a young adult audience. We know that members of generation Y love information, history, museums, and artifacts. We also know that members of generation Y sometimes like to focus more on presentation style, technology, and media than on content. We know that they love an immersive, cultured experience. We also know that they love free stuff. So why has it been such a struggle to get this demographic through the front doors of the museum? Continue reading →
Eleven-year-old Liza Temnikova, as the character of Lubov (the Russian word for “love) during the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The ceremony, titled “Dreams of Russia,” was meant to evoke a child’s dream-like journey across her country’s landscape and history. Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru
I am a sucker for the drama of the Olympics. Yet while watching the ongoing Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, I have been struck once again by the continuous invocation of the past during the Olympics and–at the same time–the limited historical consciousness exhibited by the International Olympic Committee, national organizing bodies, corporate sponsors, and host cities. The Olympics cry out for the interpretive and presentational tools of public history. We should recognize and resist the tendency of the Olympics to mine collective identity, commemorative ritual, and public memory for national glory and material gain.
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 →
Long Branch’s fields once produced vast quantities of wheat. Today, these fields are home to a herd of retired horses. Photo credit: Cassie Ward
Every day I am asked, “You’re a public historian–what the heck is thatand what do you do all day?” I smile from ear to ear, climb on top of my soapbox, and begin to talk about how fortunate I feel to have turned my love of history into a challenging and fulfilling career. I then begin to talk about the many great triumphs and challenges that I have experienced in my new position as the Director of Public Programs at Long Branch Plantation, a local Virginia historic site, located a little over an hour from Washington, DC. Long Branch, nestled in the shadow of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, preserves an over 200-year-old stately plantation home and nearly 400 acres of rural Virginia land.
In February 2013, I joined the small staff at Long Branch with the full understanding that the historic site was in the middle of a major year of transition and reorganization. While the site had operated as a museum for the past 20 years, the home’s furnishings and tours represented only a small chapter of Long Branch’s 200-year history–that of the last owner, Harry Z. Isaacs, the successful Baltimore textile executive who had performed a massive updating of the home in the 1980s. Isaacs purchased Long Branch with the intent of making it his full-time residence; sadly, however, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and did not have the opportunity to live at Long Branch full time. Upon his death, Isaacs left Long Branch and a portion of his estate to a foundation he created to keep Long Branch open to the public for the community’s benefit and enjoyment. Continue reading →
Passersby in downtown Princeton, New Jersey, stop to inspect the Mobile Bread House on a Saturday afternoon in May. Photo credit: Richard Anderson.
This summer I prepared to facilitate a series of introductory public history workshops for fellow students in my graduate history program at Princeton. In thinking about how to present a range of formats and venues for public history, I planned to highlight alternatives to the usual, institution-hosted projects–an important message on a hidebound campus such as mine. This effort led me to survey various examples of mobile history endeavors, with the hope of illuminating the underlying goals and organizational processes behind them.
My investigation began not with a public historian but with an anthropologist who created a traveling bread-making house as a vehicle (no pun intended) for community building. Continue reading →