L Street NW cycle track, Washington, DC. Photo credit: David Rotenstein
Gentrification: It’s not just for sociologists and anthropologists any more. Though historians have been making inroads documenting and interpreting gentrification and displacement, there are abundant opportunities for historians to make significant contributions in public policy and planning. One recent kerfuffle involving proposed bicycle lanes and African American churches in Washington, DC, provides a window into how a better understanding of the past could have defused a racially and class charged debate over painted lines in public spaces.
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.
Harbor of Town of St. George, Bermuda, 2006.
Photo by Aodhdubh at English Wikipedia.
CC BY 2.5, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/.
Editor’s note: This post concludes 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.
Historic preservation exists to tell stories of our journeys as a people and as a nation, but somehow along the way the stories of America’s African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American communities are erased or obscured as historians and preservationists tell the great American story. As we celebrate fifty years of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), America’s historical record overwhelmingly favors a well-to-do minority. This anniversary should be characterized by a rigorous assessment, inventory, and look back at what has been preserved and what has been ignored. The challenge is to ask: When the preservation of heritage is the vision of the privileged few, is the American public being served? Continue reading
Image courtesy of http://activehistory.ca
In early October, a group of active historians met in London, Ontario, to discuss the future of their project. Active history seeks to strengthen the connection between the past and the present, often intervening in contemporary policy and cultural debates. This fall’s conference at Huron University College, co-sponsored by the National Council on Public History, was the second in-person meeting of the many practitioners associated with the popular Active History group blog. Delegates came from a variety of historical disciplines, including archivists, actors, artists, civil servants, curators, graduate students, high school teachers, history journalists, and university professors. Continue reading
Phenix Building, Providence, RI. Photo credit: Caroline Nye Stevens
Over the course of ten weeks this past spring, I explored, blogged, and tweeted my way through twenty of Providence’s endangered properties. The challenge came to me by way of the Providence Preservation Society (PPS), which is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their Most Endangered Properties (MEP) program this year. What began as a straightforward project of disseminating information developed into a dynamic experience of knowledge-sharing around the built environment. The project strengthened and empowered Providence’s community of scholars, experts, and activists. Continue reading
The Lost Stories Project seeks out little-known stories about the Canadian past, transforms them into inexpensive works of public art installed on appropriate sites, and documents the process by way of a series of short films. Along the way, forgotten moments from Canadian history come to light, and viewers have an opportunity to see the choices made when a story transforms into a work of art. Continue reading
Students in Black’s seminar learning collections management software in May 2015. Photo credit: Ron Faraday, Greater Pittston Historical Society
Last September, an undergraduate approached me to inquire about potential internship opportunities. As a new faculty member in a department with no formal public history program, there were few established connections with local community partners that I could tap. Yet the main obstacle to placing this student in an internship was her need for income; as a single mother, she had to support herself and her son. In fact, financial constraints often prevent history majors from engaging in educationally rich internships because they are unpaid. If we can find a way to invest in our students, however, we can provide them with worthwhile educational experiences that pack a bigger punch in terms of professional development because paid fellowships are attractive to potential employers. Continue reading
Images from the Community of Gardens project. Photo credit: Smithsonian Gardens
Gardens are personal. To some they are a way to grow food, to others a space of serene retreat, and to others still a background for celebrating culture and friendship. For many, they encompass a host of meanings and uses. How do we collect these ephemeral stories? How do we celebrate garden diversity?
Community of Gardens is Smithsonian Gardens’ answer to the call to preserve our vernacular garden heritage. The Horticulture Collections Management & Education department has embarked on a new initiative to crowdsource garden histories. With help from an internal Smithsonian grant, we collaborated with Curatescape to customize its Omeka-based web platform for “curating the landscape” with location-based content. Visitors to the website can contribute stories of gardens and green spaces in their own communities and explore other stories from around the country. Our goal is to create a participatory archive that enriches and adds diversity to the Archives of American Gardens collection and encourages engagement with gardens on a local, community level. In the coming months, we will introduce online exhibits and educational materials for teachers. The website uses a multimedia platform that supports images, text, audio, and video, and we welcome stories from the general public, museums, schools, universities, and public gardens. It is our hope that the project will encourage our audience to get their hands dirty and go out and unearth the everyday, untold stories in our own backyards.
~ Kate Fox is Smithsonian Gardens educator.
“What’s that? Horses?” the elderly man with the eye patch said loudly, in Norwegian, as his neighbor described the picture on the screen. “I remember when things were delivered by horse carts.” He didn’t elaborate and perhaps the memory ended there. But I thought of him months later when another nursing home resident told me about her grandmother. The previous evening, we had looked at pictures of Norwegian kids on vacation, and she explained the photographs made her think of spending summers at her grandmother’s home in the countryside. The photographs had clearly lingered in her mind. “I loved it there,” she said, “There were horses and cows and animals.” I wondered then whether the man with the eye patch had gone back to his room that cold evening in February and dreamed of horses on the streets of Oslo. He hadn’t even seen the picture, but hearing about it was enough to elicit memories of that time before. Continue reading
“A Great Day In Bronzeville,” May 28, 2005. Photo credit: John Moye
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a special online section accompanying issue 37(2) of The Public Historian, guest edited by Lisa Junkin Lopez, which focuses on the future of historic house museums. The contributions in this section highlight the voices of artists who engage with historic house museums as sites of research, exhibition, and social practice. In this post, Faheem Majeed reflects on his efforts to both animate and protect a remarkable collection in a historic home as the former executive director of the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago.
My entrance into to the South Side Community Art Center wasn’t as a trained professional or as an academic. I came there as a young figurative metal sculptor trying to find support and a community. I walked through the doors in 2003 because I was new to Chicago, and some artists told me that this was the place to go when you didn’t know anyone. To be honest, I didn’t really understand the gravity or importance of the space until some time after I first walked through its worn doors. But like many before me, the center became my home and the foundation for all my future networks and successes.
The center is fascinating on a number of levels. Based in Bronzeville, a predominately black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side that has remained in a state of flux for many years, the center has an accumulated history that can sometimes be lost in its layers. After a couple of years working as Curator and Executive Director, I determined that the best thing I could do to honor the center’s legacy was to help identify and leverage as many layers as possible. Continue reading
The May issue of The Public Historian will explore the future of historic house museums. Historic houses are struggling to survive in the 21st century, but as Bill Adair and Laura Koloski describe, some are experimenting with strategies that are making old houses new again. -Lisa Junkin Lopez, guest editor
This piece is continued from part 1.
In Part 1 of this post, we discussed strategies employed by Philadelphia-area house museums for employing new methods and engaging new communities in order to repurpose and re-imagine historic house museums. In part 2 of this post, we will look at strategies for tackling challenging topics and using new technologies and techniques to realize these goals.
Facing difficult and controversial subject matter
Head Start programming at Wyck in Germantown, Philadelphia. (Need photo credit)
History, as we all know, is complicated. Historic house museums have not always been places that embraced this complexity. But there is room, and indeed, a real need to transform these sites into places where visitors can be engaged in complex stories and begin to grapple with the sometimes difficult aspects of our past.
In Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, one site has re-made itself over the past several years to do just that. Staff research in the site’s archives revealed that the Chew family was the largest slaveholding family in Pennsylvania. As they explored this aspect of the site’s history with their neighbors and community, it became clear that it was essential to tell this story and to interpret the extent to which the Chew’s family wealth and privilege were tied up with their status as slave owners. What resulted was the Emancipating Cliveden project, a combination of new programs, new exhibits and new multimedia that explores these issues as part of the house’s core interpretive message.