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 →
Community members visit an exhibit at the Terra Cotta Heritage Museum, as described in this post about a student project in North Carolina.
One of the biggest challenges public history educators face is managing community partnerships. Such partnerships offer rich learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students, but they often entail numerous complications, which may lead some students and instructors to seek to avoid them altogether. Engaging with community partners is essential, however, to effective training in public history. Because of the many pitfalls that come along with the obvious rewards of such work, it is a frequent topic of conversation among public history educators at conferences and in online forums. Collected below are posts from History@Work that readers may find helpful as they navigate the trials and tribulations of work with community partners. 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 and foster dialogue on its future. For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.
Outdoor cages at the detention center, 2006, courtesy of Christopher Sims
When I began working as a researcher with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project (GPMP) in 2011, I knew very little about the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and its uses prior to 9/11. Tasked with compiling resources for university teams across the country to use in the production of their exhibit panels, I commenced an unconventional “tour” of GTMO’s long history through the countless images, manuscripts, and other objects donated by individuals with experience on the base.
Today, as we work to build GPMP’s archives on the Digital Library of the Caribbean and at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library through its Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research, information about new sides of the base continues to emerge. In contrast, the GTMO I first learned about from the evening news remains mysterious and impenetrable, and many personal possessions are considered classified intelligence; they are certainly not yet public records of the past. But because the snapshot photographs, letters, and other personal artifacts included in the archives uniquely document the expansive range of lived experiences GTMO cultivated prior to 9/11, they play an important role in our efforts to understand it today and to envision its future. Continue reading →
A human rights workshop with university students at José Domingo Cañas (Photo: Yenny Aros). Read more about this site here.
I do not know how many of the learned people who follow this forum know that 40 years ago today the United States government—and to point political fingers at political figures: President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and CIA Director Richard Helms—actively and illegally supported a bloody military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government in Chile. A lot, I suppose and hope. But I feel compelled to write not only in order to gently remind History@Work’s audiences of the historical importance of this, but also to draw attention to the public history work that has happened to make it worthy of the international attention that it so rightly deserves—and receives. Continue reading →
I founded the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History by accident. Originally, the idea was for a one-night party in my apartment in January of 2011, designed to create a for-us, by-us space where queer people could join together to celebrate ourselves as a valid public, worthy of speaking to; a valid subject, worthy of speaking about; and a valid authority, worthy of speaking on our own terms. But when a few Facebook postings generated nearly 30 exhibits–and over 300 attendees–I realized that what had started as a party had the potential to become something more.
A few of us began holding meetings to define just what “The Pop-Up Museum” was. Eventually, we came up with this as our mission statement:
The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History develops exhibitions and events that engage local communities in conversations about queer pasts as a way to imagine queer futures. We provide a forum to do what we’ve always done: tell our own stories. We are artists, historians, educators and activists and we believe you are too. Continue reading →