Protestors demonstrating down West Florissant Ave., Ferguson, Missouri, August 15, 2014. Photo credit: Loavesofbread, Wikimedia Commons
How should public historians address Officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown, the grand jury’s decision, and protests in Ferguson and across the country? This is a vital question many of us are discussing on Twitter, Facebook, and in person. The discussion has broadened recently to include the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July chokehold death of Eric Garner, and the Justice Department’s citation of the Cleveland Police Department for civil rights abuses. What are the best approaches to creating public programs and exhibitions at museums and historic sites or leading classroom discussions? Continue reading →
Earlier this year the Indian American Heritage Project at the Smithsonian launched its inaugural exhibition Beyond Bollywood. Housed in a gallery at the National Museum of Natural History through March 2015, the exhibition “explores the heritage, daily experience and numerous, diverse contributions that Indian immigrants and Indian Americans have made to shaping the United States.” For the last year I’ve been involved peripherally with the exhibition, as a contributor to the Beyond Bollywood blog.
There are a lot of things that this exhibition has going for it. It’s located in a high traffic museum, and it embeds the experiences of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans in a context filled with music, photographs, and art. The exhibition has spurred pride, excitement, and interest. However, it has also spun out into a broader discussion about representation and identity. Continue reading →
A National Park Service ranger gives a talk about the Liberty Bell to tourists, Independence Hall, July 1951. Photo credit: Abbie Rowe (National Park Service), Wikimedia Commons.
The year 2016 is a momentous one for public historians in the United States, particularly those who work for and with federal agencies. The National Park Service will mark the 100th anniversary of its founding, and the National Historic Preservation Act will have been in effect for 50 years. These two landmark moments come just two years after the National Museum of American History quietly marked its own 50th anniversary in 2014.
We have organized a Working Group for the National Council on Public History (NCPH) 2015 Annual Meeting in Nashville that will serve as a collaborative forum for planning a scholarly symposium to mark these important events. The symposium will take place in March 2016 during the NCPH Annual Meeting in Baltimore.
We have several goals for our working group.
First, we would like to create a symposium that will not simply commemorate the history of federal preservation, cultural resource management, and historical interpretation but will invite dialogue about the future of federal cultural policy and practice in the 21st century. Continue reading →
Citizen scientists report on weather and other natural phenomena. Is there a parallel for the collection of historical data? Photo credit: wienotfilms
A while ago I received an e-mail from SciStarter. I had signed up on its Web site to look for research opportunities where I live. No, I wasn’t searching for a chance to do a report on the history of science but rather to see what science research projects needed help in my area. Let me step back a bit and explain. Continue reading →
Homepage of the “Slavery at South Carolina College” website.
In the final post of this series, we consider how the “Slavery at South Carolina College” project has been received. The most important effects have been local. The website has acted as a catalyst that has increased awareness of slavery at the university and an interest among students and faculty in speaking plainly about that history. The Richland County Public Library invited the team that created the site to present the research to community members in February 2012, and individual students have guest-lectured on the topic in university classes. Responses from students and members of the community seem to reflect a desire among at least some in the public to learn about and discuss tough issues in our shared history. Continue reading →
Clue Town Piedmont Park scavenger hunt. Photo credit: Jay Carlson
I can’t even tell you how many crackpot business ideas I’ve had over the years, from producing greeting cards to owning an art supply store to selling candy in vending machines. They never came to fruition, but then I had an idea to create ready-to-solve scavenger hunts. The hunts would be self-guided tours of walkable areas, but a person or team has to solve puzzles using landmarks in order to know where to go next. When my wife, the realist, thought it was a good idea, then I knew I wasn’t just looking through rose-colored glasses. I started selling Clue Town Books in September 2012 with only two hunts: Piedmont Park and Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.
It’s easy to articulate what Clue Town is now, but at the time of its creation I had no idea how it would work. I spent weeks surveying the 190 acres of Piedmont Park in its entirety. I spent months designing paths, beta testing with adults and kids, redesigning paths, and beta testing some more. When I experimented with a path that used permanent landmarks (for example statues and historical markers) instead of self-planted signs, that’s when things fell into place. Folding in history allowed me to transform Clue Town from a series of puzzles to interactive storytelling.
I have a theory that a person doesn’t have an interest in local history until he or she has been affected by change first-hand. Perhaps a favorite restaurant closes or a new skyscraper alters the skyline. This makes each witness a historian for the short term. These bits of change compound over time to make one realize that nothing is constant. The city is different now than when you first arrived, and the city was drastically different generations ago. People and events are changing cities all the time, even while traces of the past often remain. Continue reading →
Section of the “Lake Effects” exhibit defining the lake effect in the context of the Great Lakes region. Photo credit: SeekingMichigan.org
On August 24, 2014, the temporary exhibition Lake Effects closed its doors after a ten-month run at the Michigan Historical Museum. Attempting to absorb as much Great Lakes culture as I could before relocating to the southeastern United States, I visited the Michigan Historical Museum with my family in July. Michigan summers are idyllic, not an epithet often applied to our new home in Atlanta, Georgia. What more appropriate activity for celebrating the beautiful Michigan summer than visiting a museum exhibit all about Michigan’s special weather systems? I was disappointed, however, to find that the exhibit, poised to offer a public platform for a friendly discussion of climate change in the Great Lakes region, made absolutely no mention of this central problem of our time. Continue reading →
Former Trio Laundry Dry Cleaning Building, 20 Hilliard Street, Atlanta, Ga. Photo credit: David Rotenstein
Earlier this year The New York Times dubbed Atlanta, Ga., “the city too busy to remember.” The play on Civil Rights-era mayor Ivan Allen’s municipal sobriquet came during reporting on Atlanta’s demolition of a historic African American church, Friendship Baptist, to clear the way for new stadium construction. In the two weeks leading up to Labor Day weekend, a handful of historic preservation activists demonstrated to city officials that not everyone in Atlanta was too busy to remember the past and its architecture. Preservationists combined old-school tactics with information-age networks to win a reprieve for a city-owned early 20th-century industrial building. Continue reading →
Read-in event for Black History Month. Photo credit: Vanessa Macias
Every year, my college celebrates Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month. These celebrations feature musical performances, student art shows, guest speakers, and panel presentations that touch upon culture, community issues, significant men and women, landmark achievements, and current events. They are high-quality performances that attract large audiences of students, faculty, and members of the public. Yet from my perspective, the college’s scheduled events could focus more on the history of African Americans and Hispanics in the United States. It is imperative to include a discussion of historical themes and issues related to these groups to truly fulfill the mission of these special months. History can be celebratory, yet it can also be difficult, and these months should highlight both narratives. Minimizing discussion of history robs participants of a more profound experience that could challenge previously held assumptions. Continue reading →
Recently, Jane Becker initiated a conversation about doing collaborative projects with students and community partners on the public history educators’ listserv. An edited and condensed version of the discussion follows.
Photo credit: Berdea, Wikimedia Commons
Jane Becker: For the past few years, I have developed collaborative projects for my public history graduate students to undertake with community partners. The results have varied widely, and I’ve struggled with incorporating this semester-long “practical” assignment into the course as a whole and balancing the need to provide students with opportunities to put theory into practice with the other “agendas” of the class.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a class of relatively new public history students over the course of a semester to achieve the kind of work that might be useful to an organization, even if the task is relatively modest. This is one issue driving my effort to consider other models for introducing first year public history graduate students to “practice.” Continue reading →