This spring, I’ve been teaching an urban anthropology class at Tufts University. In the class session before I left for the National Council on Public History conference, we talked about how digital technologies have become ever more interwoven with urban experience. The session before that was on sites of urban violence and memorialization. Although the course has a global focus, I frequently use Boston as a case study, since that’s where we are. We talked about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 and the Cocoanut Grove Fire of 1942 and—because Marathon Weekend was coming up—about how people interact digitally with urban spectacles, including sports, and how the layers of memory embedded in iconic places and sports events filter into our contemporary uses and understandings of them.
Then I went to Ottawa for the conference and, like many people there, ended up fixated on something between a disaster movie and a cops-and-robbers drama unfolding at a distance, mostly via my Facebook feed on my iPhone. Mobile phones were not only a way to keep up with the story of the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath, but part and parcel of the story itself, with spectators’ cell-phone photos and video circulating virally once the suspects in the bombing were pinpointed. Throughout the day when much of the city was on “lockdown,” I was receiving text alerts from Tufts telling me how to “shelter in place.” Everything we’d been covering in my class was playing out on my phone’s tiny screen almost simultaneously with the actual events in Boston.
So there was a lot to talk about when I went back to class the following Monday. And all of it made Vittorio Marchis’ dissection of a telephone at the conference particularly fascinating for me. Continue reading →
Reenactors at the bicentennial reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights. Image courtesy of Andrew Amy.
Editors’ note: This conversation responds to Adam Shoalts’ report on the October 2012 bicentennial reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights and is part of the collaborative coverage of War of 1812 commemoration in History@Work and The Public Historian.Read more here.
Stanton: Your piece really captures the playfulness and sense of adventure and discovery that reenactments often offer to participants. Yet at the same time, “officialdom” of various kinds is usually involved in staging a big event like this. How much of the success of this event, for you, was due to the more improvisational moments (like your exploration of the cliff path or your infantry partner’s impulsive firing at “Brock”) and how much resulted from the more scripted and managed aspects of the day?
Shoalts: While it is true that I am a former employee of the government agency that oversees Queenston Heights and that I have been involved with quite a number of reenactments, I confess that much of the higher planning that goes into staging these events remains a mystery to me. Continue reading →
From the opening reception of Migrating Archives, on current exhibition at the GLBT Historical Society. Courtesy of E.G. Crichton.
The second part of this art and public history conversation series features artist E.G. Crichton. In addition to being professor in the Art Department at UC Santa Cruz, Crichton is the first artist-in-residence for the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. Her work, since she began her tenure there, has intentionally pulled the archives into public and personal forums. In her first major project, LINEAGE: Matchmaking in the Archive, Crichton positioned herself as matchmaker, connecting living persons with a specific archival collection at GLBTHS. The living participants then authored original work based on their match with and connection to the dead. Crichton recently opened her newest exhibition, Migrating Archives, on February 1, which tells stories of LGBT lives from archival collections around the world.In her responses, Crichton reflects upon her work at the GLBTHS (and the extent to which it can serve as a model for other institutions), on the matchmaking process, and on introducing forgotten histories into public memory. The full transcript of the interview can be found here.
The first post in this two-part series, linking to an interview with the Atlanta based art/idea collective John Q, can be found here.
~ Julia Brock is Director of Interpretation for the Department of Museums, Archives, and Rare Books and is curator at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education, Kennesaw State University (near Atlanta, Georgia). She received her Ph.D. in Public History from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2012.
The congregation of Cedar Grove Baptist, one of the two churches in Terra Cotta, in the 1930s Photo courtesy Dennis Waddell.
Editors’ Note:This series showcases the winners of the National Council on Public History’s annual awards for the best new work in the field. Today’s post is by Ellen Kuhn, Shawna Prather, and Ashley Wyatt, students at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and co-creators of the exhibit “Past the Pipes: Stories of the Terra Cotta Community,” which won the 2013 Student Project Award.
What creates a community?
In the face of significant social and economic constraints, a tightly-knit, self-reliant community developed in Terra Cotta, a segregated company town located a few miles west of downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. From the 1900s to the 1970s, members of this community worked at the nearby Pomona Terra Cotta Company, manufacturing clay pipes used to build sewer systems. Terra Cotta was the kind of place where family meant more than just blood kin; it meant giving food to the homeless man who lived in the woods nearby–even though residents had to feed their own large families on less than eleven dollars a week. It meant sharing one church building between Baptist and Methodist congregations, alternating services each week. It meant welcoming white children to play in their homes when a reciprocal invitation to play at white homes was never extended. Today, community in Terra Cotta means keeping bonds initially formed in the neighborhood alive through shared memories.
Now, these previously unheard voices are featured at the Terra Cotta Heritage Museum in a permanent exhibition that was created through a collaboration known as the Terra Cotta Community History Project. Continue reading →
We public historians are increasing our fluency in languages. We are conversing with colleagues across the globe and across disciplines, we are ever dexterous in our work with new media, and we are constantly strengthening the ways we reach out to audiences, drawing from a language of engagement that has emerged since our field’s early days and that has blossomed in the last ten years. This emergent patois has meant more and different kinds of collaboration and models of practice, including institutional and individual partnerships with artists.
Alliances between public historians and artists are not new but are growing. Museums and archives have been inviting artists to reimagine their collections and broaden their public reach since at least the mid-1990s. As Laura Koloski argued in her recent case study of the artist-in-residency program at the American Philosophical Society Museum, there should be a development of shared language between collaborators concurrent with the rise in artist/historian partnerships. In working with artists, we might begin to articulate a contemporary aesthetic of historical knowledge. How do we (and audiences) make sense of and draw conclusions about the past when it is represented in contemporary art practice or embodied by artistic performance? Continue reading →
It is May 1, 1981. A jury of eight internationally renowned architects and sculptors has announced its pick for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, set to be constructed at the western end of the Constitution Gardens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The unanimous pick is Maya Lin, a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale University.
So begins the new Reacting to the Past (RTTP) module, Memory and Monument Building: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1981-1982, currently in development.
Developed at Barnard College in the late 1990s by historian Mark Carnes, RTTP calls on students to play the parts of historical actors in key moments of great change. Students act out and react to historical episodes as though they are genuinely inhabiting that space. As they imaginatively enter the worlds of 1791 France in the midst of revolution, of 1861 Kentucky on the brink of secession, or of 1963 Birmingham in the throes of civil rights struggle, students are called upon to make historical arguments and then support those arguments with primary sources and contemporary secondary scholarship.
RTTP provides a unique lens through which to bring issues of historical memory into the classroom. Physical spaces–here, monuments and memorials–offer particularly compelling ways of measuring collective memory. The way we interpret the past through these concrete structures provides insights into how the creators of those spaces constructed the past, how they intended for audiences to do the same, and how those meanings can be challenged. Continue reading →
Editors’ Note: This series showcases the winners of the National Council on Public History’s annual awards for the best new work in the field. Today’s post is by Yolanda Chávez Leyva, co-director of Museo Urbano at 500 S. Oregon, the winner of the 2013 NCPH Public History Project Award.
El Paso is a windy city. Its dusty winds blow noisily into homes and offices, tear shingles off roofs and lift trash swirling up into the atmosphere where papers and plastic bags dance with desert sands that hide the mountains beneath a hazy cloud. Most El Pasoans dread the wind but I am grateful for it because it helped me learn what a public history project could mean to a community.
One summer day in 2011, I woke up early and on a whim decided to take a drive to Museo Urbano, a community museum I co-directed in El Segundo Barrio, one of the most historic Mexican American neighborhoods in the United States, located in one of the poorest zip codes in the county. When I arrived, I noticed a group of men sitting on the stoop of the turn of the 20th century tenement building where we were located. For over a hundred years, men have gathered on street corners in El Segundo waiting to be contracted for work so I wasn’t surprised to see them. What did surprise me was what they had to say. Continue reading →
The White House’s Inauguration 2013 page set the tone for “watching history happen.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/inauguration-2013
“History” was on everyone’s lips on Inauguration Day.
Historical rituals marked the ceremony. Historical allusions to the Declaration of Independence and Martin Luther King, Jr., punctuated Obama’s remarks. The media defined the setting as “historic.” A historic Bible was sworn on.
Inside the Capitol, faces from history lined statuary hall while a historical painting of Niagara Falls framed the backdrop. There were even photographs of the moment gifted to President Obama so as to become history one day.
Meanwhile on the Mall, spectators continually spoke of “history” as a primary driver for their attendance. Repeatedly attendees told media interviewers that they “wanted to be a part of history” when asked why they braved the cold and the crowds. Continue reading →
A happy Zach McKiernan with the Human Rights Committee from Nido 20.
I recently watched a documentary on, of all things, happiness. The film, “Happy,” focused on the study of happiness (positive psychology) and what makes people happy and when, along with the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that contribute or detract from happiness. One assertion is that being connected to a community or collective, being engaged in social interaction, with something to give and care about makes people happy. The documentary’s happy doctors (Ph.Ds. in psychology) demonstrate that social bonding inhibits self-interest and cooperation (and even competition) induces the better-than-drugs release of dopamine—a natural agent that makes us all smile with weak knees and big hearts.
I suspect that the readers of these words have also questioned happiness or being happy–specifically, being happy with the solitary process that constitutes the core of historians’ identity. Continue reading →
The Walton Street site of Ruskin College, where Raphael Samuel and others founded the History Workshop movement in 1966.
In the course of moving Ruskin College, the trade union and labour movement college founded in central Oxford in 1899, from its prime location to a site on the outskirts of the city, the college has been re-branded and much of its archive destroyed or dispersed to other institutions. Most importantly, thousands of historic student records from the first years of the college until the last few years have been shredded. Continue reading →