Section of the “Lake Effects” exhibit defining the lake effect in the context of the Great Lakes region. Photo credit: SeekingMichigan.org
On August 24, 2014, the temporary exhibition Lake Effects closed its doors after a ten-month run at the Michigan Historical Museum. Attempting to absorb as much Great Lakes culture as I could before relocating to the southeastern United States, I visited the Michigan Historical Museum with my family in July. Michigan summers are idyllic, not an epithet often applied to our new home in Atlanta, Georgia. What more appropriate activity for celebrating the beautiful Michigan summer than visiting a museum exhibit all about Michigan’s special weather systems? I was disappointed, however, to find that the exhibit, poised to offer a public platform for a friendly discussion of climate change in the Great Lakes region, made absolutely no mention of this central problem of our time. Continue reading
Conference-goers at the National Council on Public History’s annual meeting in Monterey, California, last March were given an advance look at a digital anthology compiled to complement the conference theme of “Sustainable Public History.” Containing some materials from this blog, some from previous conference working groups focusing on environmental issues, and some new materials, the anthology, called “Public History in a Changing Climate,” was an effort to gather together some of the threads of what is still an emergent discussion within the field. Continue reading
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).
Public history? A Pennsylvania action by the group Marcellus Protest invokes the state’s constitution. Photo credit: Marcellus Protest
After an incredibly engaging and well-attended American Society for Environmental History conference in San Francisco last week, I arrived in Monterey excited to extend the conversation about the connections among environmental history, sustainability, and public history. I did not expect, however, that the term “sustainability” could rouse the activist roots of our profession. “What to do?”, as one of the discussants in the ASEH panel I chaired on “Perspectives on Environmental History” asked in ending his presentation, seemed to be the question for Thursday. Continue reading
Today’s post is also the introduction to the born-digital publication “Public History in a Changing Climate,” available now to NCPH conference registrants and to other readers by summer 2014.
In a television interview last year, American writer and neo-agrarian icon Wendell Berry spoke about the “dreadful situation” facing young people who are grappling with the cascading environmental, economic, and social challenges linked with runaway capitalism and anthropogenic climate change. Berry noted that the recognition of our big problems creates an expectation of equally big solutions, but added that our own answers and fixes have too often been part and parcel of those problems, because we’ve tended to impose them in a way that ignores the limitations and needs of the environments we inhabit. Real change, he said, means learning to listen in new ways to the non-human world and refusing to be rushed or impatient even while acknowledging the urgent need for action. “I think of them,” Berry said of younger people entering this arena, “and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience. And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.”
The idea of being patient in an emergency strikes me as useful for public historians to think about but from the opposite direction. Rather than being impatient activists who need to be convinced of the value of patience, we tend to be inherently deliberate practitioners who haven’t collectively acknowledged that we are in fact in the midst of an emergency. Continue reading
Annapolis, Maryland, designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is regularly flooded by high tides in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo credit: Amy E. McGovern
Public historians are communicators. We tweet, blog, analyze, interpret, and document events for a variety of different publics. We make connections, linking widespread evidence into a single narrative.
It is that skill set that we are looking for at “Energy Efficiency + Climate Change: A Conversation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation” on Thursday from 8:30-10 a.m. at the 2014 National Council on Public History Conference. While the session will provide an overview of the National Trust’s work in Sustainability (through the Trust’s National Treasures and the Preservation Green Lab) the bulk of our time will be devoted to working with the audience on a brainstorming exercise. Continue reading
Monterey’s Cannery Row, shown here in 1973 before it was redeveloped as a retail district, will be the focus of one of the NCPH conference tours. Photo credit: Herbert Maruska
Sustainability is an increasingly attractive concept that resonates across disciplines and many facets of public life. A quick Google search turns up over 69 million results, including “sustainable development,” “sustainable seafood,” “sustainable performance,” “sustainable capitalism,” “sustainable travel,” and my favorite, “sustainable dance club.” Yet as William Cronon reminded us in his keynote address at the 2011 American Society for Environmental History conference titled “The riddle of sustainability: a surprisingly short history of the future,” the term “sustainability” is a relatively new invention, and its definition is evolving and contested. It simultaneously holds the potential to address the world’s most pressing issues while at the same time being so widely-applied and vaguely-defined as to be meaningless. Public historians, in a unique position to create and communicate knowledge about the past to the broader public, have now embraced the term, as evidenced by the theme for this year’s NCPH annual meeting, Sustainable Public History. But what does “sustainable public history” really mean? Continue reading
Large-scale wind-power developments often provoke strong pro and con feelings, as this 2008 band of satirical Cape Wind counter-protesters in Massachusetts shows. Photo credit: Phil LaCombe.
Continued from Part 1.
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
How are public history and environmental history connected?
As this year’s liaison between the National Council on Public History’s Annual Meeting in Monterey and the annual Conference of the American Society for Environmental History in San Francisco, I am tasked with this question. And how appropriate—this year’s theme for the NCPH meeting is “Sustainable Public History,” the ASEH’s is “Crossing Divides.” If the environmental historians will pardon my flippant use of the term, to me the connections seem “natural.” Continue reading
Öland’s landscape reflects 5,000 years of human habitation. Photo credit: 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