NPS LGBT initiative: An opportunity for public historians

Chicago Pride Parade, 2006. Photo credit: Adam Dixon, Wikimedia Commons.

Chicago Pride Parade, 2006. Photo credit: Adam Dixon, Wikimedia Commons

In late May, the National Park Service announced a theme study of sites associated with the histories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and communities. In a recent History@Work post, Sheila Brennan reported on the first public meeting of the advisory group for this initiative. I also attended this panel discussion and would like to encourage readers of History@Work to participate because your critical public history perspectives can contribute to the success of this project.

Although I no longer work for the National Park Service, I have been a staff NPS historian and, in the 1980s, worked on the National Historic Landmarks (NHL) program staff. In that time, the NPS embraced more heterogeneity in its telling of American history. This LGBT initiative continues the Park Service’s efforts to expand the scope of history at its sites and in the National Register of Historic Places and NHL programs. The initiative also offers public historians an important opportunity to contribute to a much-needed historical project. Continue reading

Uncovering the hidden paradise of Guantánamo

Editor’s Note: This piece continues a series of posts related to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of public history programs across the country to raise awareness of the long history of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and foster dialogue on its future.  For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.

My most vivid memories of Guantánamo was everything just being free down there and the closeness of all the people. There was no crime, none whatsoever. It was summer all year round.”

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The Guantanamo Public Memory Project online stories collection.  Photo Credit: Guantanamo Public Memory Project

Anita Lewis Isom first arrived at Guantánamo Bay forty years before the orange-suited detainees that would make the US base infamous around the world. Her description of an idyllic life at the base seems far removed from the images of leg shackles and barbed wire typically associated with Gitmo in its current function as a “black site,” an extra-legal and extra-territorial space. Images of Gitmo as prison and military base and as island paradise are not, however, mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is in part its isolation that makes Gitmo such an effective black site and its tropical location that has long made it an attractive destination for military families. 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

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