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

Rethinking a local historic site

Long Branch’s fields once produced vast quantities of wheat. Today, these fields are home to a herd of retired horses.

Long Branch’s fields once produced vast quantities of wheat. Today, these fields are home to a herd of retired horses. Photo credit: Cassie Ward

Every day I am asked, “You’re a public historian–what the heck is that and what do you do all day?” I smile from ear to ear, climb on top of my soapbox, and begin to talk about how fortunate I feel to have turned my love of history into a challenging and fulfilling career.  I then begin to talk about the many great triumphs and challenges that I have experienced in my new position as the Director of Public Programs at Long Branch Plantation, a local Virginia historic site, located a little over an hour from Washington, DC.  Long Branch, nestled in the shadow of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, preserves an over 200-year-old stately plantation home and nearly 400 acres of rural Virginia land.

In February 2013, I joined the small staff at Long Branch with the full understanding that the historic site was in the middle of a major year of transition and reorganization. While the site had operated as a museum for the past 20 years, the home’s furnishings and tours represented only a small chapter of Long Branch’s 200-year history–that of the last owner, Harry Z. Isaacs, the successful Baltimore textile executive who had performed a massive updating of the home in the 1980s.  Isaacs purchased Long Branch with the intent of making it his full-time residence; sadly, however, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and did not have the opportunity to live at Long Branch full time.  Upon his death, Isaacs left Long Branch and a portion of his estate to a foundation he created to keep Long Branch open to the public for the community’s benefit and enjoyment. Continue reading

Deadline is Nov. 1 for TPH/NHPA nominations

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

An invitation: Help us identify the top 15 articles on preservation in The Public Historian

ship on lake bottom

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

The lay of the land: Researching a national park’s administrative history

Mallard Island

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

Public history and sustainability: An overview and invitation

people at riverbank

As part of a demonstration of the effects of climate change, people in Mongolia point out a drought-diminished river. (Photo:

Public historians have long engaged with environmental topics and environmental historians to explore the long-term material effects of the decisions, actions, and conceptions of people in the past.  As we move toward the 2014 NCPH conference, with its theme of “Sustainable Public History,” this is a good moment to take stock of some of those disciplinary conversations and to think about how to move them forward in a time of accelerating environmental challenges and crises. Continue reading