Fighting for a better memorial?

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.

Houses in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Source: Photo by mari.francille, http://www.flickr.com/photos/francille/6200964616/, CC BY 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode.

Houses in the Mission District of San Francisco.
Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Houses_in_the_Mission_District_of_San_Francisco.jpg Permission: CC BY 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en.

In this latest post in our series on the National Historic Preservation Act, Mary Rizzo, former co-editor of The Public Historian and current assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers University-Newark, interviews Sam Imperatrice about the article “Geographies of Displacement: Latina/os, Oral History, and the Politics of Gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District,” by Nancy Raquel Mirabel. Imperatrice was a community organizer in Brooklyn who worked on gentrification issues.

MR: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Can you start by telling me about the community organizing you did? Continue reading

Pennsylvania’s hallowed ground: A role for historic preservation

Memorial Day ceremony, Midland Cemetery, Midland, PA, 2013. Photo credit: Brenda Barrett.

Memorial Day ceremony, Midland Cemetery, Midland, PA, 2013. Photo credit: Brenda Barrett

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.

The saga of the Locust Grove Cemetery, an African American burial ground in the small borough of Shippensburg, is one that is repeated across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In his article, “’From Troubled Ground to Common Ground’: The African-American Cemetery Restoration Project: A Case Study of Service-Learning and Community History” (2008), Steven Burg recounts his work with students to research and tell the story of the cemetery’s historic value and engage with its caretakers in the site’s preservation.1 The Locust Grove project helped change the community’s perception of the cemetery from problem property to a respected historic site. While it was a success on many levels, the Locust Grove project highlights the challenge of using the National Register of Historic Preservation as a preservation tool. Continue reading

Trashy history: Infrastructure as historic property

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.

United Irrigation District Canal, Mission, Texas (photograph courtesy Texas Dept. of Transportation)

United Irrigation District Canal, Mission, Texas.  Photo credit:  Texas Dept. of Transportation

Everything is bigger in Texas, even its infrastructure. The state counts more than 50,000 bridges, with approximately half of them being at least fifty years old, along with historic roadways, culverts, retaining walls, irrigation ditches, paving materials, curbs, roadside parks, and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) offices. All of these resources are under constant use and strain and often break due to age or overuse. TxDOT’s mission is to update and improve the road infrastructure, abandoning historic materials and designs that no longer work for today’s traffic needs. Are any, all, or some of these older examples of infrastructure worthy of preservation? Should infrastructure even be on the list of the “Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation?” As a historian with the TxDOT, I handle questions regarding infrastructure as historic properties on a daily basis. Continue reading

The fifty-year stumbling block

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.

The Beauvoir Estate, the home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, seven months after suffering damage during Hurricane Katrina. Source: FEMA

The Beauvoir Estate, the home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, seven months after suffering damage during Hurricane Katrina.  Photo credit: FEMA

Assessing properties for listing in the National Register of Historic Places is rarely an easy process. Not only does it call for a combination of skills in architectural description and analysis, a convincing nomination relies on the ability of the author(s) to place the property in its historic context and within existing literature about the property’s period of significance. Then comes the application of what National Park Service Bureau Historian John Sprinkle has wisely described as the “so-called” 50-year rule: the property must be at least fifty years old unless it has “exceptional importance.” Sprinkle’s 2007 article, “‘Of Exceptional Importance’: The Origins of the ‘50-Year Rule’ in Historic Preservation,” for The Public Historian analyzes how the rule came into being, how it may be interpreted, and how it has impacted historic preservation in the United States for two generations. Continue reading

Genealogy and the problem of biological essentialism

Space-filling model animation of B-DNA, made with qutemol. Image courtesy Jahobr, Wikimedia Commons

Space-filling model animation of B-DNA, made with qutemol. Photo credit:   Jahobr, Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of mass amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Carolina Jonsson Malm is the fourth of these scholars.  To read the three prior posts, see Paul Knevel, Sara Trevisan. and Regina Poertner

There are many possible explanations as to why genealogy has become one of the most popular hobbies in our time. The last decades’ growing interest in local history and life stories could be one. The increasing public awareness of genetics and the potential of genetic engineering another. People’s sense of rootlessness and lack of social relations in a rapidly changing world yet another. Whatever the reason, it is undeniable that genealogy has become almost a social movement, involving millions of people around the world. In his article, “On Genealogy,” Jerome de Groot suggests that genealogy in many ways can be described as “a democratization of access to the past.”   As a result of the new digital technology and the improved accessibility of public records, anyone with time and inclination can search for their ancestors in databases and online. People whose lives and fates are not part of the traditional academic historiography are uncovered. Everyone gets their fifteen minutes–at least in the family historian’s genealogical tree. Continue reading

Genealogy, public history, and cyber kinship

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of mass amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Regina Poertner is the third of these scholars.  To read the two prior posts, see Paul Knevel, Sara Trevisan.

Achim Gercke (1902-1997) was appointed expert on racial matters for the NS Ministry of the Interior in 1933. He was instrumental in implementing the new racial laws ‘for the restitution of the civil  service’, demanding proof of ‘Aryan’ descent as a precondition for employment. Gercke was dismissed in 1935 on suspicion of homosexuality. From 1933, the National Socialist ‘Reich Genealogical Authority’ enlisted the services of professional genealogists to ‘purge’ the state of ‘non-Aryans’. The laws of 1933 and 1935 inaugurated the NS racial policy that was to result in the segregation,deportation, and murder of the Jewish population of Germany and occupied territories. Sources: Image: Wikimedia Commons, supplied by the German Bundesarchiv, Image number 183- 2006-1009-500/CC/BY-SA Further reading:  Eric Ehrenreich, The Nazi Ancestral Proof: Genealogy, racial science, and the final  solution, Indiana University Press 2007.

Achim Gercke (1902-1997) was appointed expert on racial matters for the German National Socialist Ministry of the Interior in 1933. He was instrumental in implementing the new racial laws “for the restitution of the civil
service,” demanding proof of “Aryan” descent as a precondition for employment. Gercke was dismissed in 1935 on suspicion of homosexuality.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

To date, historians’ debates on the impact of new technologies have focused primarily on the challenges to the academic profession, raising important questions about, for example, the future tools and methods of professional historical research, the visualisation and archiving of data, sharing of digital resources and research outputs, and more generally the ways in which the current digital revolution is changing our perception of who we are and what we do. The article by Jerome De Groot broadens this debate to encompass the public as the consumer and producer of a new brand of public history in the making: digital genealogical research has become a lucrative commercial venture–significantly, without clearly demarcated national borders–and is becoming the remit of the amateur historian who simultaneously is the object and author of the “curated self.” Continue reading

Genealogy from below

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of mass amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Paul Knevel is the second of these scholars.  We hope you will post your comments to add to this discussion. 

The largest family tree in the world, as claimed by the International Family Museum in Eijsden, the Netherlands.  Image credit: www.internationalmuseumforfamilyhistory.com

The largest family tree in the world, as claimed by the International Family Museum in Eijsden, the Netherlands. Photo credit:  International Museum for Family History

As could be expected by the author of the broad and lucid Consuming History, Jerome de Groot demonstrates in his article in The Public Historian an amazing ability to discuss thoroughly topics and themes that would for others take book-length or even career-length considerations. “Genealogy and Public History” thus not only deals with the various ways that genealogy and family history could be undertaken and imagined by various people and groups but also with such large and profound issues as the impact and construction of “knowledge infrastructures” in a digital age, the silencing character of the archive, the ethical sides of dealing with the dead, the neo-liberalisation of public space generated by commercial websites, “digital labour,” and many other themes and ideas. The result is a clever, multi-layered, insightful, and thought-provoking essay that challenges public historians to rethink today’s digital historical culture and practices, their own role, and the activities of millions of people (see the stunning figures mentioned by De Groot) who are doing genealogy and family history and thus trying to connect themselves with the past. Consequently, it is impossible to address in this short reaction all the topics and themes raised in De Groot’s article. Continue reading

History and tradition: Genealogical practice before 1700

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of massive amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Sara Trevisan is the first of these scholars. Please consider adding your own comments to the conversation below. 

Fig. 1 The Steward Window (1574), showing Banquo as the root of the family tree. Image credit:   

The Steward Window (1574), showing Banquo as the root of the family tree.  Image credit: J.H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History (New York: Longmans: 1901)

In today’s genealogical search, lack of evidence on a family ancestor signifies the impossibility to assess any further their role within the structure of our genealogical tree. Genealogy is to us”‘a gesture to completeness that is continually thwarted by the limitations of the archive,” and thus shows us that knowledge can have an end.1 The search for family origins is therefore destined to remain ever unfulfilled and frustrated due to the epistemology of ‘historical truth” by which it is ultimately guided. Yet, until the second part of the seventeenth century–when the principles of historical method still had not fully taken hold–the “mythical” aspect of family origins was an integral part of genealogical reconstruction. This was especially true for monarchs and noble families. Continue reading

Historic preservation shines a light on a dark past

Trinity High School demolition, 2013. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

Trinity High School demolition, 2013. Photo credit: David Rotenstein

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.

Between 2011 and 2014, the city of Decatur, Georgia, demolished 200 public housing units built in 1940, under the auspices of slum clearance. In 2013, Decatur’s two city-owned former equalization schools were demolished for a new civic complex and police headquarters. In one gentrifying neighborhood, the private sector sent more than 120 former African American homes to landfills, continuing a cycle of serial displacement begun a century ago. In another neighborhood, a developer demolished a historic black church to clear land for new upscale townhomes. The widespread disappearance of African American landmarks began just two years after the City of Decatur released a citywide historic resources survey that made no mention of the community’s black residents, past and present, nor their historic places.1

Continue reading

Robert M. Utley: Founder of the National Historic Preservation Program

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.

Robert M. Utley (third from right) as a panelist at the Denver "New Preservation" conference, 1968.  The National Park Service held eight regional conferences to explain the National Historic Preservation Act and its broad implications for preservation to the new State Liaison Officers for the act and interested members of the public.   Image credit:   Washington Office, National Park Service.

Robert M. Utley (third from right) as a panelist at the Denver “New Preservation” conference, 1968.  The National Park Service held eight regional conferences to explain the National Historic Preservation Act and its broad implications for preservation to the new State Liaison Officers for the act and interested members of the public.   Photo credit:   Washington Office, National Park Service

An able administrator and respected historian, Robert Utley was selected at age 34 by National Park Service Director George Hartzog to become Chief Historian. The new official spent most of his energies from 1964 to 1966 overseeing historians who made recommendations for the interpretation of historical units of the National Park System and others who compiled theme studies of potential National Historic Landmarks. But Utley also played a crucial role in developing the organizational structure needed to launch the new national historic preservation program. Continue reading