A lesson in racial profiling and historical relevance

people at meeting

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

A good-enough platform for change

report cover

Today’s post is also the introduction to the born-digital publication “Public History in a Changing Climate,” available now to NCPH conference registrants and to other readers by summer 2014.

In a television interview last year, American writer and neo-agrarian icon Wendell Berry spoke about the “dreadful situation” facing young people who are grappling with the cascading environmental, economic, and social challenges linked with runaway capitalism and anthropogenic climate change.  Berry noted that the recognition of our big problems creates an expectation of equally big solutions, but added that our own answers and fixes have too often been part and parcel of those problems, because we’ve tended to impose them in a way that ignores the limitations and needs of the environments we inhabit.  Real change, he said, means learning to listen in new ways to the non-human world and refusing to be rushed or impatient even while acknowledging the urgent need for action.  “I think of them,” Berry said of younger people entering this arena, “and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience.  And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.”

The idea of being patient in an emergency strikes me as useful for public historians to think about but from the opposite direction.  Rather than being impatient activists who need to be convinced of the value of patience, we tend to be inherently deliberate practitioners who haven’t collectively acknowledged that we are in fact in the midst of an emergency. Continue reading

Get your wind farm off my historic site: When visions of sustainability collide (Part 2)

people with signs

Large-scale wind-power developments often provoke strong pro and con feelings, as this 2008 band of satirical Cape Wind counter-protesters in Massachusetts shows. Photo credit: Phil LaCombe.

Continued from Part 1.

The case of Southern Öland provides a rather dramatic case where visions of heritage preservation and renewable energy development collided, but it is certainly not unique.  Other communities have faced similar challenges, including the World Heritage sites of Mont-Saint-Michel in France (where an off-shore wind project was blocked by the French courts), and Britain’s Jurassic Coast.  In the United States, the Cape Wind project proposed for Nantucket Bay off of Martha’s Vineyard has generated a fierce legal and political struggle that has spanned more than a dozen years.  Cape Wind’s Construction and Operation plans received approval from the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in 2011 despite a determination by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that the wind farm would negatively affect thirty-six historic sites and districts, and six resources of cultural and religious significance to the region’s Indian tribes.

The many compelling arguments in favor of renewable energy projects makes opposing them challenging.   Continue reading

Get your wind farm off my historic site: When visions of sustainability collide (Part 1)

windmill and standing stones

Öland’s landscape reflects 5,000 years of human habitation. Photo credit: Kim Bach

Off the east coast of Southern Sweden, a battle is raging between competing visions of sustainability.  On the most unlikely of battlegrounds, bucolic Öland island, a desire to promote renewable energy has brought local officials committed to promoting a sustainable society into conflict with island residents, preservationists, farmers, environmentalists, and local business owners who believe that protecting the island’s character and cultural resources is incompatible with a proposal to expand industrially generated wind power on the island. Continue reading

Revisiting Monterey 20 years after “The Politics of Public Memory”

book cover

Norkunas’s 1993 book was an early contribution to the literature focusing on silence, history, and power.

When I was researching the The Politics of Public Memory: Tourism, History, and Ethnicity in Monterey, California (State University of New York Press, 1993) in the late 1980s, I was deeply affected by the disparity between the haves and have-nots in Monterey. Nearly every day I saw Jaguars, BMWs, and Mercedes on the streets, and from time to time I saw a Rolls Royce. Pebble Beach and Carmel (and the then-mayor of Carmel, Clint Eastwood) joined with Monterey to create an atmosphere of wealth: old wealth, new wealth, and the wealth of those who knew great places in the world.

Where, I wondered, did the workers live? How could they afford an apartment anywhere near their places of work? Who lived in Monterey? Who once lived there? I could see that many of the workers were of Mexican or Latin American heritage. I knew there had once been a significant Chinese population on the peninsula, that Native peoples lived there, that African Americans lived in the area, and that there were other ethnic and cultural groups in the past and present. Continue reading

Project Showcase: Newruskinarchives

group of men 1906

The back of this postcard reads “Engineers at Ruskin College Oxford, 1906, sent and supported by their fellow trade unionists at a cost of 1d each.” Photo source: Hilda Kean

The newruskinarchives database website has recently been launched in response to the destruction last year of most of the archive of student records at Ruskin College, the historic trade union and labour movement college in Oxford.

There was much press coverage of the scandal and widespread criticism of the actions of the (now former) Principal, Audrey Mullender. The international petition drew over 7,500 signatories including those of many public historians. However the vast bulk of the student records, as well as dissertations, were unnecessarily destroyed. Continue reading

Collegial questioning: A new forum on history in the US National Park Service (Part 3)

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.

fort and ocean

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

Collegial questioning: A new forum on history in the US National Park Service (Part 2)

fence with sign

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