Deed books line the walls of the DeKalb County, Ga., land records research room. Photo credit: David S. Rotenstein.
The depression of 1893 hit the Atlanta Suburban Land Company hard. The Georgia firm, founded in 1890 to develop residential subdivisions along a new six-mile streetcar line linking downtown Atlanta with Decatur to the east, had bought nearly 2,000 acres in its first two years in business. But by 1896, it was more than $100,000 in debt, and a receiver held its assets. In its fall 1896 term, the Fulton County Superior Court ordered the receiver to sell the remaining real estate to settle the debts.
More than a century later, I requested the case files. The Fulton County Clerk employee who handed them to me once they had been retrieved from offsite storage told me that if I wanted copies of the tri-folded documents, I would have to request them from the service counter, and another staff member would photocopy them on a Xerox-type machine for fifty cents apiece.
My request to take flash-free digital photos was rebuffed despite my explanation that it would be better for the aging documents than forcing them flat against a copier’s glass platen and then closing the machine’s cover. I also questioned whether mandatory third-party intervention for copying records was consistent with Georgia’s Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. §50-18-70), and I was invited to speak with the county clerk. Continue reading
Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.
Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, Florida. Photo credit: Matthew Paulson.
~ Christine Arato, Chief Historian, National Park Service, Northeast Region
After Imperiled Promise landed with something of a magnificent thud almost two years ago, I liken the NPS response to a progression along the five stages of grief articulated by Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I’m not sure where the agency is as a whole, though I think that our public conversations at Rutgers-Camden earlier this month intimate that some members of the family are striding towards healing and new life. And while I’m not certain if the grieving metaphor is entirely apt—since the Organization of American Historians (OAH) report suggests that the patient was merely moribund—I do think that the OAH’s rather grave prognosis has helped us to introduce some healthy exercise regimens, including the initiatives described by my colleague Lu Ann Jones, both at Rutgers-Camden and again, here, in this virtual forum, which articulate and embody the assertion that history is at the heart of the NPS and, more importantly, is a pillar of civic life. Continue reading
Signs at Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado. Photo credit: howderfamily.com.
Continued from Part 1
~ Seth Bruggeman, Associate Professor of History and Director, Center for Public History, Temple University
I’ve been fortunate to have had several points of contact with the Imperiled Promise report since its release, from attending early conference sessions with its authors to being a conversation facilitator myself and, most recently, speaking about where it may lead the NPS’s history program. From the outset, I’ve worried that the report, like so much grey literature commissioned by the agency, would languish on some forgotten shelf. So far, at least, that is not the case, thanks largely to the authors—especially Marla Miller and Ann Mitchell Whisnant—and others who’ve played a critical role in ensuring an audience for the report.
Who that audience is, however, and how it discusses the report, raises another set of questions. Continue reading
Editor’s Note: On November 6, 2013, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers University-Camden convened a public forum to explore the changing presentation of history in US national parks. The gathering took as its starting point the 2011 report “Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Parks,” which has sparked other similar conversations over the past year and a half (for example, this one a year ago in Boston).
In this three-part series, some of the participants in the event reflect on the state of the conversation about history in the Park Service and their personal and professional takeaways from the gathering.
Outline of Benjamin Franklin’s house, Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Shana L. McDanold.
Charlene Mires, Director, Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities
At the forum at Rutgers-Camden, the Imperiled Promise report framed the conversation, but it was clear that we had turned a corner from reviewing its findings to thinking about its implications for our work. The event created time and space for discussion and reflection on individual practice. Whatever may occur at the level of agency reform, change will require action on the ground by individuals such as those who participated. I hope that ways will be found to highlight their transformative work as models for the future. While I was glad to see how the conversation is evolving, I also came away from the forum concerned about the need to widen the circle of participation. Nearly all of the university-based scholars who attended were faculty in public history programs — what will it take to interest more of our colleagues? If the state of history in the national parks cannot muster greater attention within the profession, what are the chances of building public and political support for the resources that the Imperiled Promise report identifies as essential? Continue reading
Continued from Part 1
Shortly after it was established in 2005, the Muizenberg Municipal Improvement District (MID) Board went to work to eliminate the refugee/renter population. This was obviously not how things were described, but the intention was unmistakable. Moreover, MID insiders were quite prepared to admit this to residents – as long as they were white and middle class – on the assumption that those qualities guaranteed agreement with the board’s course of action. I was one of those regularly taken into confidence by my MID-leaning neighbours because of my skin colour.
Two initiatives stand out. First, the MID filed a flurry of code complaints against the absentee owners of the multiunit structures, as well as some of the row houses in the central village area. Crucially, they were unable to bring action directly against the landlords but rather had to file complaints with the City of Cape Town calling for enforcement of by-laws against crowding, dilapidation, and so on. Unfortunately for the MID crowd, the City of Cape Town had reverted to control by the African National Congress in the municipal elections of 2006. Because of this, the City dragged its feet in responding to these complaints, mainly because the Muizenberg City Council seat was held by the opposition Democratic Party and therefore considered low priority. Continue reading
I moved to Decatur, Georgia, six years ago, after 25 years living in a small neighbourhood of Cape Town, South Africa, called Muizenberg. David Rotenstein’s recent blog posts about his experience in Decatur – which led to his abandoning the suburb – struck me as an interesting opportunity to compare and contrast the politics of gentrification in the two places.
Muizenberg and Decatur are similar in many ways. Both are small, well-defined enclaves of a larger metropolitan area. Both have a history of decline, followed by rapid gentrification. Both communities are riven by disagreements over the nature and desirability of that process. Continue reading
I was editing a student’s master’s thesis and came across a note stating that she could not access two key images because they were only available on the Websites of the United States Geological Survey and the United States Department of Agriculture. I was discussing another student’s research paper and tried to access a part of the Library of Congress’s Website that was unavailable. In conducting my own research, I tried to consult census.gov and got this message: “Due to the lapse in government funding, census.gov sites, services, and all online survey collection requests will be unavailable until further notice.” Minor annoyances, perhaps, but the cumulative effect of each dead end is to degrade the learning environment and restrict productive work for both students and faculty.
One of my colleagues and our first-year graduate students are preparing for a field trip to Washington, DC. The itinerary includes visits to the Smithsonian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and National Mall. Can you imagine taking a group of museum studies graduate students to Washington and not getting to see any of these things? Continue reading
The main National Park Service website as it appeared on October 5, 2013.
I didn’t expect this shut down to bring back the 1995 shut down so vividly; that lock out was almost twenty years ago! But talking with friends and colleagues, I hear the same deep sense of unworthiness, of uncertainty, of being sent like a naughty child to my room but with all the work still piling up—and the deadlines remaining fixed. It feels dank.
We need to call this Shut Down the Lock Out it is—the effort to “prove” that government employees are either needed or extraneous, that they are either part of our security/military function or rightfully belonging to that dustbin of social causes. I strenuously disagree with the effort—and hope that as this Lock Out progresses the American people will see all the many ways that various parts of the federal government improve and protect their lives. Continue reading
Zenzen stayed on this island to learn about the Minnesota lake culture. Photo courtesy of Joan Zenzen.
I spent two weeks in July immersing myself in the life and feel of northern Minnesota, all in service of an administrative history I am writing of Voyageurs National Park. I consider such experiential learning as another primary source that I can call upon when writing. Public historians have the flexibility but also the challenge of identifying the needed resources for their topics. What types of sources do I find most useful when writing about the establishment, preservation, and management of national parks?
Taking a tour and watching other visitors interact with features in the park are my entry to investigating the history of a park. First, I need a sense of the geography so that when I write, I understand the lay of the land, beyond what I see on the park maps. Second, I need that visceral experience, that “ooh-ahh” that explains why people fought to have the park established. I need to feel that connection to the scenery and other features. Third, I want to see how others react to the park’s beauty and mystery. What grabs their attention? What do they comment upon? How do they move through the landscape? I am not taking an official survey of visitors, but I am watching, learning, and mentally noting visitor reactions versus my own. Continue reading
Editor’s Note: This piece continues a series of posts related to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of public history programs across the country to raise awareness of the long history of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay and foster dialogue on its future. For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.
Outdoor cages at the detention center, 2006, courtesy of Christopher Sims
When I began working as a researcher with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project (GPMP) in 2011, I knew very little about the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and its uses prior to 9/11. Tasked with compiling resources for university teams across the country to use in the production of their exhibit panels, I commenced an unconventional “tour” of GTMO’s long history through the countless images, manuscripts, and other objects donated by individuals with experience on the base.
Today, as we work to build GPMP’s archives on the Digital Library of the Caribbean and at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library through its Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research, information about new sides of the base continues to emerge. In contrast, the GTMO I first learned about from the evening news remains mysterious and impenetrable, and many personal possessions are considered classified intelligence; they are certainly not yet public records of the past. But because the snapshot photographs, letters, and other personal artifacts included in the archives uniquely document the expansive range of lived experiences GTMO cultivated prior to 9/11, they play an important role in our efforts to understand it today and to envision its future. Continue reading