Preservation and Ephemerality in Public History: Reflecting on NCPH 2014 from a Mile High

This post is part of a series from Loyola public historians attending NCPH 2014.

I am currently sitting in the Denver airport on my layover to Chicago after a fantastic annual meeting of the National Council on Public History.  I was reluctant to leave sunny Monterey for the snowy Midwest, but as always I feel invigorated the conversations with other historians committed to engaging and serving the public.  Two panels in particular remain fresh in my mind as dynamic counterpoints that framed the conference’s theme of sustainability: one on preservation, the other on ephemerality.

People > Things

It occurs to me that the title of the panel on “Sustaining Historic Preservation Through Community Engagement” should’ve be swapped around to read, “Sustaining Community Engagement through Historic Preservation,” as it became clear through the course of the panel that preservation should be used in the interest of community engagement and not vice versa.  In other words, people are more important than buildings.  This theme was echoed by Sheila Brennan in the “Ephemerality in Public History” panel, who suggested that public historians should resist hoarding objects for prosperity and instead focus on digitizing objects for greater access or allowing the public to touch and use objects for a full transformative tactile experience. (Check out the notes and slides from her presentation here.)

Rethinking Sustainability

Another recurring question in the panels: how should—or shouldn’t—a project be sustained after the public historian has concluded their involvement? Approaching the end of her dissertation work, Abby Gateau is currently mentoring a successor, while also having successfully aroused a strong and energetic community base who can carry forward the public history work she instigated.  Mark Tebeau reinforced the value of thinking about the end from the beginning, suggesting that recognizing ephemerality of products and projects can lead to better best practices. Finally, Thomas Cauvin, from the audience, reminded us that archives are not the only repositories for saving the past and documenting public history projects—people preserve memory.

The panels on preservation and ephemerality, and the NCPH Annual Meeting as a whole, served as a refreshing reminder to base our public history work in the contemporary community.

Call For Participants: Social Justice, Sustainability, and Activism in Public History

Public History Roundtable: Social Justice, Sustainability, and Activism

Saturday, November 9, 2013

2:45pm – 4:30pm

In Conjunction with the 10th Annual Loyola University Chicago

History Graduate Student Conference

LUC Water Tower Campus

 You are invited to participate in a roundtable designed to foster discussion about the active roles of historians in promoting social justice as well as social and ecological sustainability. The roundtable features Dr. Paul Schadewald of Macalester College, graduate student conference participants, and public history professionals from the Chicago area.

Roundtable ImageMundelein College Civil Rights Students Mobilization, April 1968
Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago

How to participate:

Follow the conference blog or the Lakefront Historian to view a detailed introduction to the roundtable, consider pre-circulated case statements, and offer your comments and contributions.

Attend the roundtable prepared to discuss your experiences with social justice and sustainability in public history as a patron, staff, or stakeholder in an institution that engages the public over historical topics

Attend the roundtable, and be willing to informally engage participants and fellow audience members about the topic.

Simply attend the roundtable and listen.

For more information or if you have any questions, please contact Rachel Boyle at rboyle1@luc.edu
Follow the conference Twitter hashtag #hgsa2013

A Dark Double Bind: Criminal Women in the Eyes of Reformers

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As part of a summer research project sponsored by the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University and the Carolyn Farrell, BVM, Professorship in Women and Leadership, I created an online exhibit exploring how the women of the Chicago Woman’s Club (CWC) shaped ideas about crime and proper womanhood around the turn of the twentieth century.  My research yielded troubling questions about the ways in which we historically—and contemporarily—talk about violent femininity.

I encourage you to explore the exhibit for some delightfully colorful language that makes the early Progressive Era an entertaining period of study.  In the meantime, here’s the main gist: the white affluent women of the Chicago Woman’s Club considered it within their distinct purview as wives and mothers to protect and reform delinquent children and criminal women in order to make Chicago a better, safer city.  Members of the CWC saw criminal women and delinquent children as both causes and victims of urban crime, a perspective which positioned the clubwomen as saviors of the women, children, and the city.

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Lincoln Review: Rachel Boyle

In this five-part series, Lakefront Historian contributors respond to the critically acclaimed blockbuster Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Spielberg’s Lincoln

The opening shots were so promising.  A pan of Civil War carnage preceded any mention of Abraham Lincoln.  African American soldiers stood before The Great Emancipator and called him to task on the problem of wage inequality.  Then Lincoln subdued them with a charming anecdote, thus setting the tone of the rest of the film.  In the subsequent two and half hours, a thoroughly endearing Abe ambled through a world of rhetorical and ethical dilemmas, mesmerizing everyone with his storytelling and lawyering skills.  Indeed, Spielberg’s Lincoln succeeded as a comedic drama of white politicians debating slavery while effectively silencing other nineteenth century voices.

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Public History Students featured on NCPH Blog

Two Lakefront Historian contributors and public history students at Loyola University Chicago are featured this week on History@Work, the blog from the National Council on Public History (NCPH).  Annie Cullen and Rachel Boyle discuss how the overwhelming success of Public History Ryan Gosling reveals the strengths and weaknesses of popular culture as a tool for public historians.  The post will give you a preview of the panel presentation Cullen and Boyle will be giving at the annual NCPH conference this April in Ottawa, Canada.  Hope to see you there!

“I Don’t Know What I Stand For Anymore”: Fun., Postmodern Angst, and Civil War Memory

The casual radio listener cannot avoid the chart topping hit “Some Nights” by the band Fun.  As with their other recent hit, “We Are Young,” Fun. produces upbeat tempos and soaring harmonies that belie darker lyrics about the emptiness and purposelessness of life.  By applying the postmodern undertones of “Some Nights” to a music video dominated by Civil War imagery, Fun. meaningfully reflects and contributes to popular memory of the Civil War.

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