Invoking history in voter registration law

Register to Vote signs

2008 voter registration drive in Texas. Photo credit: Barack Obama’s photostream on Flickr

Last Thursday, the US Supreme Court and a federal district court issued separate rulings striking down voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas. The Texas ruling should be of particular interest to public historians because of the extent to which history is at the center of US District Court Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos’s decision.  Continue reading

Surfing with purpose: Online collections as exhibit resources (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

Creative Commons logos

Creative Commons offers several levels of easily-applied licenses to facilitate digital publishing of images while offering some protections to owners and creators.

Navigating copyright for images is tricky and presents one of the biggest challenges in my work as an Exhibitions Researcher at the Indiana Historical Society. Although I admit to only a rudimentary understanding of copyright, this is where open access comes in very handy. While it is certainly important to support other cultural institutions and individuals by purchasing images, the back and forth involved in determining copyright, ensuring a file is a high enough resolution, or waiting for a physical copy to be delivered doesn’t always fit into a production schedule. That is why I increasingly rely on sites with hassle-free permissions and files I can download immediately. We still always credit the source of photos used in our exhibits even if they are open access.

Issues of copyright become even more complex with online materials, and new legal conventions are emerging along with digital collections. Continue reading

A lesson in racial profiling and historical relevance

people at meeting

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

My carbon offset piggybank: Thoughts on sustainability and professional conference-going (Part 2)

bubble map

The US leads the world in carbon emissions since the age of steam. Photo credit: Carbon Visuals.

Continued from Part 1.

Purchasing carbon offsets, as most people probably know by now, involves giving a company an amount based on the carbon generated by your own activities.  The company then invests the money in projects—building renewable energy projects, reforestation, energy efficiency measures, etc.—that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  There are lots of good questions that we can and should raise about this.  How accurate are the calculations that offsets are based on?  Which companies are the most effective and reliable?  And perhaps most important, isn’t this just a way to carry on as usual while feeling as though we’re doing something to save the environment?

Here are my own answers to these questions. Continue reading

My carbon offset piggybank: Thoughts on sustainability and professional conference-going (Part 1)

fruit at market

Even where local food is abundant (as at the Monterey Farmers Market, shown here) sourcing conference meals locally can be a logistical challenge. Photo credit: Flickr user Peter Andersson.

November 1 was the deadline for participants in next spring’s National Council on Public History conference to register in order to secure a place in the program. I’m guessing that that has gotten many of us thinking about flight and hotel arrangements.  And I’m also guessing—or hoping—that I’m not the only one for whom this raises questions about how my cross-country journey and my stay in a nice hotel relate to this year’s conference theme of “Sustainable Public History.”  So I thought it was worth addressing that environmental elephant in the professional room.  How can we bring our collective practices more in line with the goal of using energy more thoughtfully and efficiently? Continue reading

Unpaid internships: A foot in the door or a step backward?

woman sowing coinsA recent History@Work post by Matthew Exline prompted a lively discussion of the challenges of getting a foot in the door as a new public history professional.  One topic that appeared several times in the many comments was the unpaid internship, and the opinions on it were divergent enough that we thought it was worth following up on them.   So we asked a number of practicing public historians from various areas of the field to share their thoughts on pursuing unpaid internships or volunteer opportunities as part of public historians’ professional training.

There’s no clear consensus, as you’ll see, but we hope this roundtable post will further clarify some of the issues and questions. Continue reading

New uses for old interviews

four men at bar

Left to right: Roger Gregory, Eric King, Tom Robinson, Joel (J.T. Speed) Murphy at the bar at Blind Willies. October 24, 1990. (Photo: David S. Rotenstein)

Can you remember where you worked during graduate school? To pay my way through Penn in the 1980s and 1990s I worked in cultural resource management and as a freelance writer. Although history and material culture are my true professional loves, the writing gig was the more interesting, though less profitable, job.

During a two-year break from classes–it’s a long story–I began writing a blues column for a short-lived Atlanta alt-weekly called Footnotes. Between August 1990 and March 1991, I wrote performance reviews and feature stories about musicians derived from lengthy tape-recorded interviews. I also interviewed bar owners and others to develop background material for future stories.

By the time I decided to return to Penn to finish my coursework, Footnotes had folded and I had begun writing about folk and blues music for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Charlotte Observer, and other papers and magazines throughout the United States. Always the historian, I held onto my research files and interviews, including verbatim transcripts for many of them. Continue reading