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
A few weeks ago, I asked readers of History@Work to nominate articles on historic preservation and place from The Public Historian for a yearlong conversation in honor of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 2016. Several of you submitted nominations via the comments on that earlier post (thank you!). More of you contacted me directly. There’s still time for those of you who haven’t made your nominations yet to do so—but not much. The deadline is this Friday, November 1.
Many people have asked me how it’s going so far. How hard is it to create a curated list of 15-20 articles on historic preservation and place from one journal? Pretty tough, as can be seen from this chart, which I created using JSTOR’s Data For Research, a great tool for those who are interested in light data mining within scholarly materials. Continue reading
The wreck of the wooden cargo ship Australasia on the bottom of Lake Michigan is one of the recent new listings in the National Register of Historic Places. (Image: National Register)
In the nomination form for the US National Register of Historic Places, one of the main criteria excludes “structures, sites and objects achieving historical importance within the past 50 years.” Using this criterion, if the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which authorized the National Register, were a building, it would only become eligible for inclusion in 2016. But as one of the most important pieces of legislation affecting historic preservationists and allied public historians in the United States, the NHPA has already proven its substantial contribution. As NCPH President Bob Weyeneth wrote in the June 2013 issue of Public History News , this upcoming golden anniversary is an appropriate reason “to inaugurate a set of conversations over the next three years to assess the history, impact, and legacy of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.”
To that end, History@ Work and The Public Historian are teaming on a project designed to spur those conversations, and we need your help. 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
The authors chose this enigmatic little stove for their week-long exploration. (Source: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, No. 1981.0040)
In August 2012, a group of 26 doctoral students and museum professionals from different disciplines and multiple countries gathered at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) in Ottawa, Canada, for the fourth annual Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI). The one-week program, guided by staff and volunteers from the museum with guest scholar Dr. Allison Marsh, a historian of technology from the University of South Carolina, offered participants three avenues to investigate the role of artifacts in society:
- as historical sources with multiple cultural meanings that shift over time,
- as teaching tools in museum environments, and
- as three-dimensional objects whose preservation and storage present additional information–and challenges–to the work of curators, conservators, historians, and educators.
In the CSTM’s cavern-like storage warehouses, where artifacts range from delicate light bulbs to a massive mid-nineteenth-century steam engine, it became immediately apparent how much effort–intellectual, physical, and fiscal–is needed to maintain collections. This is not a new story for the curatorial world, but, in the midst of the Digital Revolution, where more and more objects, people, and places exist as digital representations and relationships, the week offered an opportunity to rethink how and in what ways our work with artifacts contributes to the construction of meaning in a pluralistic society. Continue reading
Another academic year is approaching, perhaps more quickly than some of us might like. So it seems like a good time to look back at how scholarship in (and about) public history has been reflected in this blog over the past 12 months. Here are some of the connections and themes that emerge when we click on the “scholarship” tag in the blog. Continue reading
Lowell National Historical Park’s interpretation of women’s industrial labor, as reflected in this model of an integrated textile mill, remains ground-breaking after 35 years.
This summer I had the pleasure of being part of a tour organized by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia. A group of practitioners from across the arts and cultural sector spent several days in the Boston area exploring questions relating to gender and sexuality in public historical interpretation.
When I was first invited to accompany the tour as a kind of traveling-scholar-in-residence, my first thought was, “But I don’t do gender in my work.” That was quickly followed by the realization that in a world inflected by feminist and queer scholarship and activism, most of us do indeed do gender, at least implicitly, whenever we think about interpreting the past in public. Like race and class, it’s become something that we automatically tend to ask ourselves about. It’s a crucial way to pry open received histories and connect to present-day concerns. And the question that I found myself returning to as we visited museums, historic houses, a textile mill, a ship, a college campus, a settlement house, and a cemetery or two, was, “Is there a new interpretive landscape beginning to take shape now that we’ve made gender a more central part of public historical inquiry?” Continue reading
The American Historical Association created a great deal of discussion this week with a statement that “strongly encourages graduate programs and university libraries to adopt a policy that allows the embargoing of completed history PhD dissertations in digital form for as many as six years.”
Rebecca J. Rosen at The Atlantic wrote an excellent summary of the issues raised by the AHA’s statement.
Several bloggers weighed in with recommendations of what the AHA’s position should be in ways that are of particular interest to public historians. Continue reading