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.

 

The Lakefront Historian Heads West: Live-Blogging NCPH 2014

Flickr/Clark (Creative Commons license)
Flickr/Clark (Creative Commons license)

Several Loyola public historians will shake off the Chicago frost this week and head for the 2014 National Council on Public History Conference in Monterey, California.  From March 19 through March 22, The Lakefront Historian will present a series of blog posts from conference goers. Bloggers will include:

  • Kim Connelly Hicks, who is participating in the round table, “Sustaining Public History through Community Engagement,” (moderated by Dr. Theodore Karamanski, director of the Loyola Public History program,  and co-presenting a poster, “Addressing Absences: Exhibiting African American Suffragists.”
  • Rachel Boyle, joining Dr. Karamanski and Kim in the “Sustaining Public History” round table
  • Laura Pearce, recipient of one of only five graduate student travel awards from the NCPH, accompanies Kim presenting in the poster session
  • William Ippen co-facilitates the working group “Innovative Reuse in the Post-Industrial City,” and with the NCPH Task Force on Public History and Environmental Sustainability will discuss the group’s white paper.
  • Devin Hunter is the co-facilitator of the “Innovative Reuse” working group, and serves as “Digital Drop-In” consultant for GIS and the use of historical Census data

Stay tuned to The Lakefront Historian for frequent blog posts from these–and maybe more–historians, about their Monterey experiences.

 

Highlights from the Chicago Metro History Fair, Suburban Regionals

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Official image for the American, academic competition of National History Day, 2014.

On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Niles North High School in the village of Skokie, Illinois, hosted the Suburban Regional Competition for the Chicago Metro History Fair. The top 300 students from nineteen suburban secondary schools came to Niles North in order to present 150 historical projects in the format of poster-board exhibit, research paper, performance, documentary, or website. Emelie and I decided to attend the event as first-time, volunteer judges. After two orientations, the event organizers paired us with a veteran judge and assigned us to Room 2030, where we were tasked with judging a panel of 5 group documentaries. The following blog post is a reflection on that experience.

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Field Notes: The Public History Lab [Roundtable]

For the 10th Annual Loyola History Graduate Student Conference, the LUC Public History Committee will host a roundtable on “Social Justice, Sustainability and Activism in Public History.” This is a post that introduces a case study on the topic. The Committee welcomes participation both online and at the conference. If you have an example of Social Justice, Sustainability or Activism in Public History, please feel free to mention it as a comment on the blog, or contact the blog editors to request the opportunity to author a guest post. For more information on the Conference and the Roundtable–to be held November 9 at Loyola’s downtown Water Tower Campus – click here.

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Historic Preservation in Poland

Cross posted from From Auschwitz to Skokie where I discuss my recent trip to Poland to study Jewish history, heritage, memory, and the Holocaust as well as my work with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, IL.

Historic preservation is an important aspect of the work that many Public Historians in the United States do.  So important, in fact, that my program requires all Public History students to take a course on historic preservation, which I took last semester.  Ask me about the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, particularly Section 106, and I can bore the pants off of you with information about the federal government’s role in historic preservation.[1]  Then, of course, there are all the state and local regulations that impact historic preservation efforts as well.

There are multiple theories of historic preservation about what we mean when we use the term “preservation” and what goal we should have in mind.  There are three main schools of thought:

1. Restoration to a former state

2. Preservation in the current state

3. Adaptive reuse

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So, tell me about Frank Holmes…

Public history MA student Jessica Hagen reconstructs portions of man’s rich life, using documents found during her NARA-Chicago summer internship.

7358 S Pulaski

Okay so, I had a super fun find while refoldering and adding admiralty cases to the database a few weeks ago. Admiralty cases, remember, are those relating to the Great Lakes and are heard in federal court, specifically the Northern district of Ohio, Eastern division (Cleveland).

Anyway, the first case I opened on Tuesday morning after I got to work was number 3206, “In the Matter of the effects of Frank Holmes, deceased seaman, late a member of the crew, A. W. Osborne.” Evidently, Mr. Holmes drowned on July 30, 1934 (sad). His effects stayed with the case because his family (if he had one in the states) was never located. The master of the steamer, W. G. Coles, sent a statement and Holmes’ personal effects to Vance & Joys Company, a vessel agent for the Wilson Transit Company, on December 23, 1934. In his personal effects were several neat…

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Death at a Memorial: National Memorial Arboretum

About the three weeks ago I returned from my third trip to England and it seems like every time I visit the United Kingdom it changes my views about America. This last trip around central England, the Midlands, led me to the National Memorial Arboretum. The National Memorial Arboretum lies outside of Lichfield and was officially opened in May 2011 as a “living memorial” to all British service men and women, with individual memorials to particular brigades, infantry and the like. The contributions of allies are also honored, for example Jewish and Polish servicemen. Uniquely the memorial also honors victims of infant mortality and children affected by war and conflict in its “Garden of Innocents” (notably Anne Frank is specifically memorialized by a tree that is never allowed to bud, symbolic of Frank’s life).

Upon entering the arboretum, amongst all the individual memorials and gardens, I immediately noticed a large memorial on a man-made hill at the center. This memorial was dedicated to all British service men and women killed in war since 1945. The Armed Forces Memorial seemed to naturally pull all the visitors to it. Admittedly, I cannot say that I have ever been particularly drawn to war memorials but this time was different and that is why I had to share my experience. Typically, the war memorials that I have seen in America portray grief in the sullen face of a bereaved solider or show a heroic captain in his glory. Something always seemed false to me about popular remembrance of past wars.

When I made it to the hill where the Armed Forces Memorial was located there were two major bronze works, created by Ian Rank-Broadley, their were curved walls inscribed with names of the fallen.I was shocked by what I saw. In fact there were a number of things that surprised me about the sculptures. I have heard Europeans say that Americans are a bit prudish and maybe they are right because I almost immediately noticed that the depicted fallen soldiers were nude. In American society nudity typically denotes two things: sexuality or vulnerability. Certainly, there was vulnerability in these memorials unlike the strength one typically sees in soldiers’ memorials. Memorials such as this now remind me of the flexibility of remembrance. I began to realize that I had never seen soldiers depicted in death at a war memorial (I am not claiming that this is the only depiction). It was a curious thing to see death displayed at a memorial; one sculpture depicts mourning family members in various states of despair as well. It was evocative of the very real experience of war which many times involves tragic loss. The memorial also makes a point to include women three times in the sculptures, twice as mourning family members (a wife and a mother) and once as a solider attending a male fallen solider, a move that seemed to me to be a more inclusive representation of women’s roles during conflict.

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Finally I turned my attention to the walls inscribed with veterans’ names. Of course, names on memorial statues or memorial walls is nothing new (my uncle’s name appears on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC and here in Illinois). What was missing was more thought-provoking to me than simply what was there. As visitors look across the engraved names then you realize that there are panels still empty and waiting vacant for more fallen soldiers names, ever increasingly being filled with causalities of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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My visit to the National Memorial Arboretum touched me because it dares to speak on some of the realities of war while still honoring the fallen. As historians, who may be consulted in memorials such as these, what is the balance between honoring the dead and depicting reality (in its multiple forms)? The memorial also led me to think about the sensitive topic of memorials as propaganda, is that ever appropriate and if so, to what degree?

Making The Case for Food & Public History

In so many of our public history classes the issue of relevance always seems to sneak its way into the conversation. We have been taught that the most successful museum exhibitions are those that are relevant and engaging to visitors and those that allow them to make meaningful connections between the past and the present. Yet this is much harder than it sounds – especially considering the fact that our audiences range widely in age, class, politics, ethnic identification, and so many other characteristics. How can we find a topic in history that is relevant to all members of our diverse audience?

As an open and admitted foodie (sometimes, much to the annoyance of my cohort), I have found a deep passion in cooking, gardening, and learning more about traditional foodways – from grinding my own cornmeal for tortillas to making my own ricotta cheese and everything in between. Thus, it was not all that unusual that the answer to my relevancy question revealed itself as I put the finishing touches on my mother’s best guacamole recipe.

Food. All people eat food. Food is relevant to everyone. Everyone.

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