To borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, some public history work is born political, some becomes political, and some has politics thrust upon it. Whether we intentionally locate ourselves in controversial settings, have something blow up in our faces, or encounter less spectacular kinds of resistance or misunderstanding, we’re always on the edge of the political, even when we don’t set out to be.
This fundamental tension within the field will be the subject of a structured conversation at the National Council on Public History Annual Meeting next month, in a session called “Hardball History: Public Historians on the Edge of Politics, Advocacy, and Activism.” Between now and then, the participating panelists will kick things off with a series of blog posts that we hope will lead to some pre-conference discussion and help shape our session in Nashville. Continue reading
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
Continued from Part 1.
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
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
Two HistoryinPics tweets from Feb. 14, 2014, put whimsy and horror side-by-side. Screen shot by History@Work editors.
Continued from Part 1.
Unlike corporations that use historical images as a marketing strategy, museums, archives, libraries, and national historic sites are caretakers of history whose goal is not to distract from serious investigation but rather to promote it. We want people to understand context, to ask questions, and to dig deeper into sources. We appreciate the beauty of old objects and know that history can be fun. But ultimately we recognize that history has the power to motivate people to act in ways that have legitimate consequences in the world and on how human beings treat one another. So when a million people accept a feed such as @HistoryinPics at face-value, are we, perhaps, disappointed that an active and engaged citizenry has not stood up to challenge the whimsical imagery placed in front of them and asked “Can that really be so?” The practical consequence of people believing that John Lennon once played guitar with Che Guevara is probably little (this was one of the doctored images in the @HistoryinPics feed). The more urgent point is remembering that images can be doctored, human emotions can be manipulated, and we should always question what we see no matter how slick its presentation.
This strikes at the heart of the question about the public good and at the use of the word “History.” Had this account been called @ThePastinPictures, the outcry may have been more muted. The usage of the word “History” makes a difference. Continue reading
Screen shot: History in Pictures https://twitter.com/HistoryInPics
Suppose you’d never heard of @HistoryinPics, and I told you that a new social media account had grown to more than a million followers by featuring a different historical image in its feed every couple of hours.
As a public historian, you might be intrigued. “Really?” you might ask. That sounds pretty cool.
In fact, how @HistoryinPics and its copycat accounts have grown has ruffled our collective feathers. From a cautionary article in The Atlantic about copyright to scathing attacks in Slate and on Sarah Werner’s Wynden de Worde blog about improper citation, inaccuracy (or downright untruth, in some cases), lack of context, and no links to actual historical research, the prevailing reaction has been negative.
Which led me to wonder: what’s at stake here? And can we have a conversation around this phenomenon that results in useful takeaways for public historians? Continue reading
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
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
A 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
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