National Park Service history webinars: A short survey

This exhibit from the Chancellorsville Visitor Center at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park imagines how historical documentation can inform interpretation of the Civil War. Photo credit: Joan M. Zenzen

The Organization of American Historians Committee on National Park Service Collaboration is hosting a short survey to determine interest in developing a series of webinars. These webinars would address a perceived need for information about NPS and its history with respect to such topics as contracting, job pursuits, and research and writing. Based upon the responses, the OAH Committee will work with qualified individuals within NPS and others from academic and/or public spheres to offer one or more relevant webinars. Continue reading

Project Showcase: Building Histories of the National Mall

mallhistory-guideEver wondered how a digital project came to be?

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) shares how they built their NCPH-award winning project in a new free digital publication, Building Histories of the National Mall: A Guide to Creating a Digital Public History Project.

For institutions eager to begin developing their own version of Histories using Omeka, the technical specifications and code are available for download now. For organizations embarking on a new digital public history project, Building Histories of the National Mall offers an open source and replicable example for history and cultural heritage professionals wanting a cost-effective solution for developing and delivering mobile content.

Co-authored by the team that developed Histories of the National Mall, this guide is divided into seven main sections, including the project’s rationale; content development and interpretative approach; user experience and design; and outreach and publicity, including the social media strategy. This publication shares the project team’s decision to build for the mobile web and not a single-use, platform-specific native app. The guide also offers lessons learned and challenges faced throughout the project’s development, as well as how the team measured success for this digital public history project.

Building Histories of the National Mall and the website were funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Trashy history: Infrastructure as historic property

Editor’s note: This post continues a series commemorating the anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act by examining a past article published in The Public Historian, describing its significance, and relating it to contemporary conversations in historic preservation.

United Irrigation District Canal, Mission, Texas (photograph courtesy Texas Dept. of Transportation)

United Irrigation District Canal, Mission, Texas.  Photo credit:  Texas Dept. of Transportation

Everything is bigger in Texas, even its infrastructure. The state counts more than 50,000 bridges, with approximately half of them being at least fifty years old, along with historic roadways, culverts, retaining walls, irrigation ditches, paving materials, curbs, roadside parks, and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) offices. All of these resources are under constant use and strain and often break due to age or overuse. TxDOT’s mission is to update and improve the road infrastructure, abandoning historic materials and designs that no longer work for today’s traffic needs. Are any, all, or some of these older examples of infrastructure worthy of preservation? Should infrastructure even be on the list of the “Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation?” As a historian with the TxDOT, I handle questions regarding infrastructure as historic properties on a daily basis. Continue reading

“APUSH” re-revised

College Board logo. Image courtesy Wikimedia commons.

College Board logo. Image courtesy Wikimedia commons

In a surprising turn of events, the College Board re-revised the Advanced Placement United States History curriculum framework, releasing its newest version at the end of July. While the move by the Board, which had instituted a public comment period seeking feedback on the framework back in February, is not overly surprising, the reaction among many historians and among the opponents of the original revised framework is. Both historians and critics are largely satisfied. Continue reading

The fifty-year stumbling block

Editor’s note: This post continues a series commemorating the anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act by examining a past article published in The Public Historian, describing its significance, and relating it to contemporary conversations in historic preservation.

The Beauvoir Estate, the home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, seven months after suffering damage during Hurricane Katrina. Source: FEMA

The Beauvoir Estate, the home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, seven months after suffering damage during Hurricane Katrina.  Photo credit: FEMA

Assessing properties for listing in the National Register of Historic Places is rarely an easy process. Not only does it call for a combination of skills in architectural description and analysis, a convincing nomination relies on the ability of the author(s) to place the property in its historic context and within existing literature about the property’s period of significance. Then comes the application of what National Park Service Bureau Historian John Sprinkle has wisely described as the “so-called” 50-year rule: the property must be at least fifty years old unless it has “exceptional importance.” Sprinkle’s 2007 article, “‘Of Exceptional Importance’: The Origins of the ‘50-Year Rule’ in Historic Preservation,” for The Public Historian analyzes how the rule came into being, how it may be interpreted, and how it has impacted historic preservation in the United States for two generations. Continue reading

Ask a Public Historian Q&A: Anne Mitchell Whisnant

This is the first in a new series “Ask a Public Historian,” brought to you by the NCPH New Professional and Graduate Student Committee.

Anne Mitchell Whisnant, PhD, is Deputy Secretary of the Faculty and Adjunct Associate Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also Consulting Historian, Primary Source History Services, and the author of Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History (UNC Press, 2006).

Anne Mitchell Whisnant.  Photo credit: Evan Whisnant

Anne Mitchell Whisnant Photo credit: Evan Whisnant

Why did you choose to enter your field?

I have two fields–“alt-ac” university administration (where I make the majority of my living) and public history consulting and teaching.

I started graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1989 to become a college professor. By 1997, I had my degree and a husband who was a full professor of English at Chapel Hill. Doing a national assistant professor job search was not an option, and I spent five years raising our two sons. Only after my husband David retired and the stock market tanked (in that unfortunate order) did I start trying to figure how to forge some “other” kind of career/employment path with my history PhD. In 2002, I attended a joint OAH-NCPH (Organization of American Historians and National Council on Public History) meeting featuring many public-history-related sessions about “what you can do with a History PhD.” I was introduced both to the wide world of “public history” and the radical idea that history training could be useful beyond professor positions. The insight about transferable skills led directly to my first “alt-ac” job, and I’ve remained in that realm. Continue reading

Historic preservation shines a light on a dark past

Trinity High School demolition, 2013. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

Trinity High School demolition, 2013. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

Editor’s note: This post continues a series commemorating the anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act by examining a past article published in The Public Historian, describing its significance, and relating it to contemporary conversations in historic preservation.

Between 2011 and 2014, the city of Decatur, Georgia, demolished 200 public housing units built in 1940, under the auspices of slum clearance. In 2013, Decatur’s two city-owned former equalization schools were demolished for a new civic complex and police headquarters. In one gentrifying neighborhood, the private sector sent more than 120 former African American homes to landfills, continuing a cycle of serial displacement begun a century ago. In another neighborhood, a developer demolished a historic black church to clear land for new upscale townhomes. The widespread disappearance of African American landmarks began just two years after the City of Decatur released a citywide historic resources survey that made no mention of the community’s black residents, past and present, nor their historic places.1

Continue reading

Smithsonian Institution welcomes new Secretary

David J. Skorton. Photo credit: Cornell University.

David J. Skorton. Photo credit: Cornell University

The wide scope of new Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton’s interests and expertise is a good match for the sweeping breadth of the Smithsonian Institution. Formerly president of Cornell University, Skorton is a cardiologist and biomedical researcher who is also an accomplished jazz musician. What, to some, may seem like an unlikely combination of scientific and musical ability and achievement fits well with a tradition of capacious Smithsonian leadership. Skorton’s background suggests a kinship with great Smithsonian secretaries of the past: Joseph Henry, the first secretary; Spencer Baird, his successor; and S. Dillon Ripley, who presided over the institution’s expansion and transformation in the sixties and seventies. These men were also scientists whose interests extended far beyond the laboratory to include the arts and humanities. If Skorton follows their lead, the venerable national institution has a bright future. Continue reading

Robert M. Utley: Founder of the National Historic Preservation Program

Editor’s note: This post continues a series commemorating the anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act by examining a past article published in The Public Historian, describing its significance, and relating it to contemporary conversations in historic preservation.

Robert M. Utley (third from right) as a panelist at the Denver "New Preservation" conference, 1968.  The National Park Service held eight regional conferences to explain the National Historic Preservation Act and its broad implications for preservation to the new State Liaison Officers for the act and interested members of the public.   Image credit:   Washington Office, National Park Service.

Robert M. Utley (third from right) as a panelist at the Denver “New Preservation” conference, 1968.  The National Park Service held eight regional conferences to explain the National Historic Preservation Act and its broad implications for preservation to the new State Liaison Officers for the act and interested members of the public.   Photo credit:   Washington Office, National Park Service

An able administrator and respected historian, Robert Utley was selected at age 34 by National Park Service Director George Hartzog to become Chief Historian. The new official spent most of his energies from 1964 to 1966 overseeing historians who made recommendations for the interpretation of historical units of the National Park System and others who compiled theme studies of potential National Historic Landmarks. But Utley also played a crucial role in developing the organizational structure needed to launch the new national historic preservation program. Continue reading

Project Showcase: The Great Society Congress

Screenshot by Danielle Emerling

Image credit: Screenshot by Danielle Emerling

On October 15, 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson remarked: “When the historians of tomorrow write of today, they will say of the 89th Congress … ‘This was the great Congress.’” The president was elated that between January 1965 and December 1966, the 89th US Congress had enacted the most extensive legislative program since the New Deal. The Voting Rights Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and amendments to the Social Security Act, which resulted in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, were but a few of the transformative pieces of legislation passed as cornerstones of Johnson’s Great Society agenda. Continue reading