The value of history (Part 2)

Editor’s note: During the fall of 2013, the NCPH Consultants Committee distributed a survey to the NCPH consultants community in order to learn more about the community’s members and how best to serve them.  This piece is part of a series examining the results of that survey. 

Last year on this blog, I engaged in an ongoing discussion about how public history consultants determine the value of our work. I proposed that we would benefit from establishing fee standards across the discipline, ideally creating space in the market for consultants to make a living while improving the value of historical work in public spaces. This post came in response to a working group at the 2012 NCPH (National Council on Public History) annual meeting in which independent consultants discussed the need to communicate fee trends while the firms voiced their desire to keep their fees confidential. We all left with a general concept of how to help those who want to band together but not a clear understanding of how to accomplish that goal.

Chart showing public history consultants' fee scale varying by years of experience. Credit: Kathy Shinnick

Chart showing public history consultants’ fee scale varying by years of experience. Credit: Kathy Shinnick

As a step towards this end, the NCPH Consultants Committee conducted a survey, which, in part, asked consultants to anonymously divulge information about their fees. The survey was intended to determine trends by cross-referencing the fee scale with categories such as education level, region, and years of experience. For example, we should be able to assess the going rate for consultants in the Southeast who have a PhD and ten years of experience. Due to a somewhat small sample size of 148 consultants, the results leave a few unanswered questions. However, they also reveal a lot that can guide us to the next step. Continue reading

Adventures in crowdfunding: A museum’s perspective

A Lancaster bomber at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.  Photo credit: Doug Zwick

A Lancaster bomber at the Canada Air and Space Museum in Ottawa. Photo credit: Doug Zwick

From art museums collecting Instagram posts for mobile photography exhibits to natural history museums getting visitors to actively participate in digitizing their collections or museums using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Causevox to raise funds for special projects and exhibits, crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly prevalent in heritage and cultural institutions. Crowdfunding, which has been defined as “asking many people for ‘microdonations’ for a specific project or cause, usually within a specific time frame and online,” differs from traditional donor campaigns in that it is equal parts marketing, audience engagement, and of course, fundraising. Continue reading

Humanities at the Crossroads: The Indiana case study

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth piece in a series on the “crisis” in the humanities. A post introducing the series can be found here.

Pottery wheel demonstration at Conner Prairie living history museum in Fishers, Indiana. Photo credit: Derek Jensen, Wikimedia Commons.

Pottery wheel demonstration at Conner Prairie living history museum in Fishers, Indiana.
Photo credit: Derek Jensen

In the past few years, the airwaves have been filled with angst about the state of the humanities, primarily in college and university humanities departments. Humanities at the Crossroads (HAC), a national initiative to examine the future of the humanities in American life, was one of several responses to the crisis. The HAC planning group, however, felt that more research was needed, and they decided to focus on a single state, Indiana, as a case study.

Indiana Humanities became the lead organization for the Indiana Case Study. What could we find out about the humanities in Indiana? It was like the KWL exercise that educators use: What do we know? What do we want to know? What did we learn?

Continue reading

Never let a (humanities) crisis go to waste

Flower featured in the film The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation. Photo credit: American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Flower featured in the film The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation. Photo credit: American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Last August, fans of the Colbert Report saw Duke University President Richard Brodhead encourage study in the humanities as essential to a balanced education. The interview segment can be seen here. Brodhead’s appearance was part of a marketing campaign engineered by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) that was designed to advance support for the humanities in much the same way that the National Academy of Sciences had promoted Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) with its 2007 report Rising above the Gathering Storm. Brodhead’s appearance may have been unusual for taking the case for humanities education to such a popular audience, but it reflected the AAAS’s conviction that a national dialogue on the importance of the humanities was necessary to its future. Continue reading

Taking public history for granted: A grant-writing guide for public historians

Sonya Lovine is a Sponsored Research Officer at California State University, Sacramento. She recently received her master’s degree in Public History from Sacramento State. For her thesis project, she wrote Taking Public History for Granted: A Grant-Writing Guide for Public Historians. H@W section editor Priya Chhaya asked her a few questions about the project and how it can be useful to public historians.

Why did you choose to develop this guide?

Photo credit: Penn Waggener, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Penn Waggener, Wikimedia Commons

History brings immeasurable value to the public via various practices of public history. Everything that public history provides, though, requires some amount of financial resources. Executing a conservation plan, producing a traveling exhibit, or implementing a historic preservation plan all require funding. With a better understanding of the importance of grant-writing skills and the persistence to continually seek external funding, grant-seeking public historians can better share historical knowledge and contribute further to the growth of our society, culture, and nation. Public historians remain well aware of the importance and necessity of their profession, as well as the need for funding. The writing skills that they honed while studying to become historians provide the foundation for developing successful grant proposals. Continue reading

Is Deadwood gambling with history? (Part 2)

filling station

The recently destroyed Sinclair filling station, ca. 2013. Photo credit:  City of Deadwood Department of Planning and Preservation

Continued from Part 1.

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

Is Deadwood gambling with history? (Part I)


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

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

The “new normal”: Is there one?

panel participants

Lee White and Angela Sirna during the “New Normal” panel. Photo credit: Max Van Balgooy

“Sequester” was a dirty word during last year’s conference season. At the March 2013 conference of the George Wright Society in Denver, attendance was down nearly 75 percent because of travel limitations put into place right before the meeting. At the National Council on Public History meeting in Ottawa a few weeks later, I noticed a number of my colleagues were absent. Travel cutbacks were just at the top of a long list of issues caused by the recession and then the across-the-board US federal budget cuts known as sequestration. I was deeply disturbed by what I saw in Denver, and this was before I watched the gates close at Catoctin Mountain Park (where I was working at the time) in October 2013 when the federal government shut down. I hoped that public historians could talk openly at this year’s meeting in Monterey and share responses to their “new normal.” Fortunately the program committee agreed, and on Thursday, March 20, we held an open conversation in a session titled “Situation Normal? Ways Past Sequestrations, Shutdowns, and Budgetary Woes.” Continue reading

What’s your new “Situation Normal”?

protester with sign

US federal government workers at an August 2013 protest of budget sequestration and employee furloughs. Photo credit: American Federation of Government Employees

As I sit down to write this post (and by the way, this is my first “official” history blog post), I am pondering what my “New Situation Normal” is as a public history practitioner for a federal agency. How has my work reality changed, for good and for ill, over the past 16 years? Certainly, technology and social media provide public historians with avenues to new and varied audiences. And with the Internet’s narrowing of time and space, interesting and exciting possibilities now exist for researchers and public historians.

However, there have been less positive workplace changes, namely budgetary and staffing constraints, which have created stresses and reprioritization at work for many American public historians in the public and private sector—as well as in other countries—regardless of agency or organization. Continue reading