NCPH 2014: A Newbie’s Reflections

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

I do not know if it was the sea, the sun, or that California feeling, but I drank the Kool-aid. Throughout my graduate school experience, I have been told how NCPH is not like other conferences and how the people working in this field are supportive and encouraging of the work their colleagues are doing. From my experience at NCPH 2014 in Monterey Bay, California, I can testify to those statements. As I said to a professor on my return to Chicago, I had an odd, but exciting realization meeting others in the field, outside of my immediate circle.

Three instances stand out in my mind as indicative of the supportive and encouraging nature of the NCPH community. The first is my own experience. I participated in the poster session and a roundtable discussion, and both, produced some very insightful and productive discussions. My colleague, Laura Pearce, and I presented an exhibit proposal we developed for a required class, “Addressing Absences: Exhibiting African-American Suffragist”. At the beginning of the class, partnerships were being developed through our professor and community organizations.

Unfortunately, as things happen, the partnerships dissolved (scheduling conflicts and other distractions) and the exhibits never materialized. When we presented our work at NCPH, Laura and I were continually asked, “Where is this up?” “Is this still up?” “Is this online?” and when we informed visitors it had never actually come to fruition their response was simply, “Why?” Our colleagues wanted to see our exhibit realized, we received several recommendations of organizations we could and should approach with the proposal, and there was talk of going digital with it. So, after graduation, Laura and I have decided to pursue our exhibit proposal, using many of the connections and suggestions we received at NCPH.

 

Additionally, the roundtable I sat on “Sustaining Historic Preservation Through Community Engagement”, only reaffirmed the notion that our historical work must be centered in the contemporary community. My colleague on this panel, Rachel Boyle, makes several excellent points on this on this issue in her reflection on NCPH.

 

The third instance was in the panel “Pubic Historians interpret the Far West: A Field Report”. Danica Willis has been the Cultural Resource Manager at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in northern California for the last three years. As a National Recreation Area, Whiskeytown attracts people, as Danica put it “for the beautiful lake, and the beautiful waterfalls, and the beautiful hiking”, but these visitors don’t necessarily understand the historical development of the area they are playing in. Over Danica’s time at Whiskeytown, she has pushed and prodded more interpretation and community involvement to Whiskeytown. Some of these ideas have worked great, as it did with the “Whiskeytown Harvest Festival” in which Danica promoted apple picking from the recreational area’s substantial orchard. In addition, the visitors were encouraged to think about why the orchards were there, who put them there, and how the planters would have used them. And like all experiments, some failed. But, Danica is excited about continuing to create a fuller and richer understanding (she apparently has a large white board full of ideas) of Whiskeytown as a place.

The conversations and discussions I observed and partook in at NCPH’s annual conference made me excited for the field.

 

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Is That a Podcast in Your Pocket?

This post is 1. a long time coming, 2. was inspired by Annie Cullen’s Public History Mix Tape and 3. was secondarily inspired by my own desire to create the “Public History Graduate Student’s Collection of Books on Tape”. Podcasts have become one the most utilized tools for conveying information, their topics are countless and availability, for most, is open. And in our society of continual multitasking (driving and listening to music are multitasking) podcasts are a powerful tool in reaching the public’s ear. They can be used by professionals to engage the public, and in return podcasts are a forum the public can use to debate interpretations by leaving comments or creating their own.

As an avid multitasker, these are a few of my personal favorite History Podcasts.

1. Stuff You Missed in History Class: As the first podcast I ever listened to, this one holds a special place in my heart, also it is done so well. Dialogues are more interesting to listen to then monologues and this podcast always has two hosts. The topics are wide ranging and, most importantly, the hosts share the sources of their interpretation.

2. Memory Palace: This podcast is focused on social and cultural history, taking short historical episodes and highlighting their emotional impact. It will occasionally pull at your heart strings. If you are not a fan of StoryCorps, you probably won’t appreciate this one as well.

3. Backstory: As other podcasts do, the hosts of Backstory take current events or topics and trace their developments. However, having three historians, as their tagline says “18th century guy, 19th century guy and 20th century guy”, adds depth and perspective that many other podcast do not.

4. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: As the title states, this is “Hardcore History”. Although Carlin can be over dramatic and less analytical then others, he provides an interests interpretation that engages the listener and, hopefully, provokes them to think a little more about historical events.

There are many, many more, so please share your favorites and opinions on these.

Oh The Spaces We Go. Citizens and family in historical spaces.

This upcoming May, I will be getting married. My future in-laws, The Hicks family, are multi-generational residences of Columbus, Georgia. They are proud of their city and eager to share its history with anyone who will listen, and as a Historian I am. In our most recent visit to Columbus, the Hicks invited us to explore Columbus’ Heritage Park.

The names and families that contributed to the building of Heritage Park.
The names and families that contributed to the building of Heritage Park.

Heritage Park is located in Columbus’ Historic District between Front Street and Broadway. Set next to the Chattahoochee River and the Columbus Iron Works (also known as the Convention and Trade Center). The site’s location implies the importance the river and the iron foundry played in Columbus’ development from a trading town to an industrial powerhouse. The interpretation presented at Heritage Park is focused on the industrial entrepreneurs and Columbus workers from 1850 to 1910. The Hicks shared that the families of these entrepreneurs are still running these businesses or others in and around Columbus.

The sculptures and structures represent the entrepreneurs of Columbus in the textile, gristmill, brick and foundry industries, as well as agriculture and forest products, dams and river trade, and Coke-Cola. Fact I did not know prior, Dr. John Pemberton, the creator of the Coke-Cola recipe, was once a pharmacist in Columbus. Looking at Heritage Park with a critical eye, the statue of Pemberton seems out of place compared to the other blue-collar representations. The interpretation provided little indication that Coke-Cola had changed or affected Columbus’ economic face or citizens’ lives. Steve shared that there is a continual debate between Atlanta and Columbus about the birthplace of Coke-Cola (of course he argues for Columbus because Coke-Cola continually funds Columbus events, buildings, and public programs). However, I understand the “claim to fame” Coke puts Columbus on the map within National history.

Continue reading “Oh The Spaces We Go. Citizens and family in historical spaces.”