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

Above ground, below ground, on the ground: CRM in practice

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.

Locations speak to multiple generations, cultures, and time periods. “Appreciating the complexity of the historic period,” according to Ted Karamanski in “Logging, History, and the National Forests: A Case Study of Cultural Resource Management” (The Public Historian, 1985), is at the forefront of cultural resource management (CRM), no matter when or where you practice (30). But knowing which sources can reveal the layers of multiple historic contexts can be challenging, both in the field and in the library.

Michael Faulkner, Natalie Perrin, Brad Bowden and Chris Knutson of HRA Portland collaborate on an archaeological find. Perrin, as the architectural historian, was able to aid the archaeologists in understanding the history of the historic property, while the archaeologists utilized their knowledge of dating techniques of historic artifacts. Together, the team was able to pinpoint the date range of the find and trace it to an original homestead.

Michael Faulkner, Natalie Perrin, Brad Bowden, and Chris Knutson of HRA Portland collaborate on an archaeological find. Together, the team was able to pinpoint the date range of the find and trace it to an original homestead.  Photo credit:  Natalie Perrin

The layering of generations was at the crux of the challenges that Karamanski outlined in 1985 and that I face in my own career today. Although I’m formally trained in historic preservation and architectural history, over the past six years at Historical Research Associates, my duties have morphed to include managing archaeological investigations. I’ve learned the “archy speak” fluently enough to navigate the appropriate laws, and I am on a first name basis with a few state archaeologists. The adventure, however, has also brought me to the same conclusion Karamanski arrived at in his article: “both archaeologists and historians are necessary, and their work must be integrated” (39). In many ways, not much seems to have changed in the regulatory environment, though the definition of “cultural resource” seems to be expanding every day. Continue reading

An uneasy fit: History in historic preservation

800px-Fbi_headquarters

The FBI Headquarters Building in Washington, DC, is an example of Brutalist architecture that is under scrutiny to determine if it should be saved. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Eleven years after earning a 1966 PhD in history from Washington State University, J. Meredith Neil arrived to work as the first historian hired to the relatively large staff of Seattle’s historic preservation office. He pulled strongly from his experience, and I’d dare say frustrations, in that new role for his 1980 article for The Public Historian, “Is There a Historian in the House? The Curious Case of Historic Preservation.” Neil argued that historians needed to be involved in preservation to prove that history was relevant, democratic, and as important as aesthetic or economic claims for preservation. From South Carolina’s equalization schools to Brutalist architecture, history has been successfully used to argue for the preservation of places that may not have initially been appealing for reasons of architecture or economics. Working for a State Historic Preservation Office, I have also seen that, while history and preservation often intersect, they do not always share motivations, people, or goals. The engagement of historians in preservation is critical, but the best preservation successes happen with a diverse network of support. Continue reading

Help us build a bibliography on public history and climate change

book cover

In many ways, environmental public history is still a very new field, with just one major title devoted directly to the subject.

Google “public history” and “climate change” and you’ll quickly realize that public historians are only just beginning to talk about how their work relates to the increasingly urgent questions posed by the earth’s rapidly changing climate.  You could make a case that environmental public history is itself still in its infancy, even though it’s been more than two decades since Martin Melosi, in his President’s Annual Address to the National Council on Public History, issued a call for “environmental history [to] be a means to make the value of history better understood to the public.”[1]  As Melosi pointed out, the combination is a natural one in many ways, yet there are also challenges to pursuing it–for example, the highly political nature of many environmental issues and historians’ caution about crossing the line into advocacy.  In the print realm, a single, now-decade-old collection, Public History and the Environment (co-edited by Melosi and Phil Scarpino and published by Krieger in 2004), has been devoted to the subject, and “global warming” makes only two brief appearances in its pages.  As the global atmosphere continues to warm and its effects are felt more and more widely, how should public historians respond? Continue reading

Conference P(review) #4: Canadian War Museum

Editor’s note: In preparation for the upcoming NCPH conference in Ottawa, The Public Historian has commissioned a series of Ottawa site reviews, as it does annually for sites in our conference city.  These “(p)reviews,” as we’re dubbing them, will inaugurate what we hope will be a growing partnership between The Public Historian and the Public History Commons.  Further online post-conference reviews will follow later this spring;  we invite readers to comment on these posts as they appear.

Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Pl, Ottawa. Tim Cook, Acting Director of Research; Andrew Burtch Curator of “Eleven Women Facing War” and “Khandahar: the Fighting Season;” Peter MacLeod, Curator, Pre-Confederation Canada. Open weekdays between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M., and Thursdays until 8 P.M. Free admission after 4 P.M.

Just a short walk from the Delta Hotel in Ottawa, the Canadian War Museum offers conference attendees an opportunity to see award-winning architecture and experience two photographic exhibits (one open until April 21), in addition to the museum’s expansive exhibits on war and conflict from a Canadian perspective. Visitors can easily spend four or more hours touring the galleries. Below are a few of the highlights that may be of interest to NCPH members.

The Canadian War Museum stands out on the barren land of LeBretton Flats, once covered with a thriving working-class neighborhood, felled by “urban renewal.” Now, nearly forty years later, mixed-used development is beginning to fill in the space. (Photo courtesy of Jo McCutcheon.)

The Canadian War Museum stands out on the barren land of LeBretton Flats, once covered with a thriving working-class neighborhood, felled by “urban renewal.” Now, nearly forty years later, mixed-used development is beginning to fill in the space. (Photo courtesy of Jo McCutcheon.)

The Canadian War museum moved from its earlier home in the former Archives building to a new purpose-built facility in 2005.[1] The new museum building is a stunning piece of art designed to push visitors to consider the grim reality and devastating consequences of war. Architect Raymond Moriyama is himself a casualty of conflict; at the age of twelve his family was interned in the interior mountains of British Columbia for several years, along with other Japanese-Canadians living on the country’s west coast. He told Maclean’s magazine in 2005 that his design for the war museum began with a sketch of the tree house he built as a boy in that internment camp. The tree house was both a refuge and a place of contemplation and regeneration during a time of conflict, and Moriyama wanted to bring these elements to the design of the War Museum.[2] The building’s low profile resembles a hideout or bunker, while the tall fin rising at the east end is reminiscent of the prow of a ship (the small windows on it spell out “Lest We Forget” in Morse code). Most of the building’s windows are on the east side, facing the sunrise – a symbol of hope – in keeping with Moriyama’s theme of regeneration. Inside, the low ceiling in the entrance hall, combined with the slanted and stark concrete walls, create a slightly claustrophobic and disorienting feeling. This is a building designed to make visitors slightly uncomfortable even before they get to the exhibit galleries. Continue reading

New issue of The Public Historian

A new issue of The Public Historian will be appearing in libraries and subscribers’ mailboxes soon.  Below is an advance look at the Table of Contents:

The Public Historian
A Journal of Public History
Volume 35    February 2013     Number 4

Editor’s Corner
The Past Enhanced, Endowed, Engaged
Randolph Bergstrom

Roundtable
Imagining the Digital Future of The Public Historian
William Bryans, Albert Camarillo, Swati Chattopadhyay, Jon Christensen, Sharon Leon, and Cathy Stanton

Public History and Public Humanities: State Humanities Councils
Public Works: NEH, Congress, and the State Humanities Councils
Jamil Zainaldin
Making the Humanities Public:  The Example of Connecticut’s Humanities Council
Briann Greenfield

Digital History at Historic Sites
#VirtualTourist: Embracing Our Audience through Public History Web Experience
Anne Lindsay

Crossing Borders: Conversations on the War of 1812 Bicentennial Online and in Print
Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The War Of 1812 In Canada And The United States In 2012
Karim M. Tiro

Special Reviews Section: War of 1812
1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism by Nicole Eustace
Reviewed by Christine Arato

The Star-Spangled Banner Weekend, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Reviewed by Alice D. Donahue

(Look for new online pieces about the War of 1812 bicentennial appearing here in History@Work concurrently with the arrival of the journal.)

Book Reviews

Born in the U.S.A.: Birth, Commemoration, and American Public Memory edited by Seth Bruggeman
Reviewed by Michael Kammen

Preserving Local Writers, Genealogy, Photographs, Newspapers, and Related Materials edited by Carol Smallwood and Elaine Williams
Reviewed by John A. Fleckner

Reshaping Our National Parks and Their Guardians: The Legacy of George B. Hartzog Jr. by Kathy Mengak
Reviewed by Laura R. Kolar

Mark Twain’s Homes and Literary Tourism by Hilary Iris Lowe
Reviewed by Kathleen Corbett

Tourism and Archaeological Heritage Management at Petra: Driver to Development or Destruction? by Douglas C. Comer
Reviewed by Barbara J. Little

Reconstructing Beirut: Memory and Space in a Postwar Arab City by Aseel Sawalha
Reviewed by Michael Gasper

Saving Wright: The Freeman House and the Preservation of Meaning, Materials, and Modernity by Jeffrey M. Chusid
Reviewed by James A. Jacobs

How to Write a Historic Structure Report, by David Arbogast
Reviewed by Christopher McMorris

Museum and Exhibit Reviews

Wyandotte County, Kansas, Museum Crawl
Reviewed by Seth Bate

Flint Hills Discovery Center, Manhattan, Kansas
Reviewed by Jay M. Price