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.

 

Public History Has Revisionist Roots, and the NYT Is ON IT

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

The public historians assembled here in sunny Monterey spent their first day and a half covering what has become familiar yet still challenging ground for those of us in the profession. In round-tables, poster sessions, panel sessions, and working groups, they swapped insights on the cultural work that goes into interpreting an increasingly inclusive past to a likewise increasingly diverse public. The sessions I have attended include those about museum exhibits “co-created” with community members, the latest in attempts to interpret slavery at historic sites, my own working group about innovative reuse of “less-than-charismatic” structures, and sustaining public history though community engagement. Implicit in all these topics is the internalized impact of social history and the commitment to embracing marginalized voices—-both historical and contemporary. I actually feel that this laudable aspect of public history has become a little too familiar for practitioners, maybe even sometimes taken for granted. I’m certain that the social and even activist history ethic undergirds the projects highlighted thus far in Monterey. But I still crave even more forceful, direct, and critical expressions of public history work as ‘on a mission,’ for lack of better phrase.

So imagine how surprised I was to read that, according to the New York Times, museums have generally gone too far in exploring diverse, contested, and contradictory themes. Edward Rothstein’s “New Insights into History May Skew the Big Picture” deserves a much fuller take-down than I care to provide at this time (and I hope that many of us currently here in Monterey will get home, unpack, and take up that very task). But suffice to say Rothstein’s synthesis of gripes about major exhibits is vague, myopic, and intellectually sloppy. The closest he comes to coherently expressing his critique is a passage that could have been ripped from a disgruntled letter to the editor circa 1995 circa Smithsonian circa Enola Gay exhibit.

This mixture of new insight accompanied by new simplifications has become familiar elsewhere as well. The transformation of history that began in the 1960s (inspired by the American political left), took decades to have full impact on museums, but its perspectives have now become commonplace. Museums, in their traditional roles, were almost mythological institutions claiming to display the origins and themes of a society, shaping understandings with a coherent interpretation of the past. That model has now been remade with the singular replaced by the plural, coherence displaced by multiplicity.

Colorful varieties of taffy at Monterey's Candyland. Or to some a distracting diversity in need of revision.
Colorful varieties of taffy at Monterey’s Candyland. Or to some a distracting diversity in ironic need of revision.

There’s a lot to unpack from that paragraph and from Rothstein’s subsequent expressions of dismay about the scourge of “identity museums” (he seems to have a particular disdain for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian). For example, Rothstein should be reminded that those hoary “almost mythological institutions” of yesteryear were as much “identity museums” as the NMAI or any other such place. It’s just that the identity promoted then was elite and white. And then there’s his alarm at the way that the National Archives dares to call to attention to the fact that the nation’s past (and, gasp, present) has failed to live up to its lofty ideals. 

Continue reading “Public History Has Revisionist Roots, and the NYT Is ON IT”

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.

 

Loyola History Graduate Student Conference: Having Some Fun

HGSAHGSAHGSAHGSAHGSAHGSAHGSAWith another year, the Loyola History Graduate Student Association pulled off another (and potentially the best) Annual Conference. In between deep thought and dialogue, we had a few moments of laughter. Enormous thanks to HGSA President Amelia Serafine and HGSA Treasurer Laura Johns for making this day an overwhelming success.  Pictured are graduate students Katie Macica, Joshua Wachuta, Patrick Turko, Kim Connelly, Chelsea Denault, Dan Ott, Matt Sawicki, Erin Feichtinger, Aaron Brunmeier, Kristin Emery, Annie Cullen, and Rachel Boyle; Loyola Professor of History Dr. Kyle Roberts and Assistant Director of the Dr. William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture at the Newberry Dr. Chris Cantwell; family and friends.

To see more photos of our HGSA Conference, visit the Loyola History Department Flickr Photostream by clicking here.

Photos by Anne E. Cullen.

Jesus Visits The Americas? [Roundtable]

For the 9th Annual Loyola History Graduate Student Conference, the LUC Public History Committee will host a roundtable on “Revisionist 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 “Revisionist” 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 3 at Loyola’s downtown Water Tower Campus–click here.

This post comes from Dr. Sarah Doherty, a recent graduate of Loyola’s Public History/US History joint PhD program. 

Image

 

This past summer I spent a week in Salt Lake City as an AP World History grader.  I had ample opportunity to visit local cultural institutions, but I was most interested in taking a look around Temple Square which is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS).  The ten acre Temple Square compound was filled with pairs of helpful young women tour guides from around the world on their mission year.  They cheerfully provided visitors with information about Temple Square, history of Mormons in Utah and if you stood still for too long read you scripture from copies of the Book of Mormon they all carried.

In the North Visitors Center, guests to Temple Square are greeted with a history of the universe as told by the LDS.  On my first visit I was accompanied by a group of other world history teachers who all had running commentary below their breaths about the “history” that was presented.  I went back alone to revisit one exhibit that particularly piqued my interest.  As seen in the above photo, a hippie looking Jesus spent some time hanging out with indigenous peoples of the New World.  The exhibit label was titled “Jesus Christ Visited Ancient America.”  I am not well-versed in biblical history or archaeology, but I am quite certain that the vast majority of scholars in these fields would agree with me that the widely accepted Christian cannon and historical record does not support Jesus traveling to the Americas.  I stepped back from the exhibit as a tour group with a bunch of young children approached.  The young female tour guide asked the children if they knew what Jesus did in the New World.  The children, in their excited voices, all chimed in that Jesus taught the Aztec and Maya how to read and write.  The tour guide affirmed their answer and all the parents of the children nodded in agreement.  As a teacher of Native American history I found the entire lesson and historical interpretation of the exhibit troubling.

In thinking about revisionist history, how do we evaluate historical interpretations that do no support the established historical record?  Do we simply dismiss the Mormons, one of the fastest growing modern religions, as crazy folk on society’s fringes?  Or, must we give serious consideration to world and biblical history as presented by the LDS?

Selling the Value of History [Roundtable]

For the 9th Annual Loyola History Graduate Student Conference, the LUC Public History Committee will host a roundtable on “Revisionist 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 “Revisionist” 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 3 at Loyola’s downtown Water Tower Campus–click here.

Is history just for Trivial Pursuit?

Most historians are well aware of history’s value. Professors clarify its value the first day of every 100-level history course.  Most value statements generally boil down to “knowing history will make you a better person.” For most people, knowing history does not translate directly into a job or profit, however even a passing knowledge improves their quality of life. History gives a better understanding of the cultures, cities, states, nations as well as the world we live in. It allows us to better understand other people and makes us better citizens. History also makes for better humor. While this is all relative, at scale I believe that the more people that pursue learning about the past, the better off humanity will be in the present and the future.

Continue reading “Selling the Value of History [Roundtable]”

Revising the “Fort Dearborn Massacre” [Roundtable]

For the 9th Annual Loyola History Graduate Student Conference, the LUC Public History Committee will host a roundtable on “Revisionist 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 “Revisionist” 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 3 at Loyola’s downtown Water Tower Campus–click here

The Battle of Fort Dearborn Park (WBEZ/John Schmidt)

The bicentennial of the War of 1812 has received depressingly little notice even here in the Great Lakes region, home to several important sites of that conflict. An exception to this general apathy relates to a space on Chicago’s Near South Side where, on August 15, 1812, a band of Pottawatomie overwhelmed about 100 evacuees from the US Army’s nearby Fort Dearborn. The confrontation was a rout: 28 American soldiers were killed and 28 were captured. Civilian losses–a complicating matter in the ongoing memory of the event–amounted to 14 killed and 15 captured, including 3 women and 12 children.

The Anglo-American perspective of the event prevailed as the dominant interpretation of the violence, most notably in the seemingly undisputed appellation “The Fort Dearborn Massacre.” However, as many American Indians have sardonically noted over the years about white-Indian conflicts, ‘When the whites win, it’s a “battle,” when the Indians win, it’s a “massacre.”‘ Continue reading “Revising the “Fort Dearborn Massacre” [Roundtable]”

Call for Participants: Roundtable on Revisionist Public History

George Washington and slaves at Mount Vernon

The Public History Committee of the Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Association presents:

A Roundtable on Revisionist Public History

Saturday, November 3, 2012

In Conjunction with Afternoon Sessions of the 9th Annual Loyola University Graduate Student History Conference, 2:45pm-4:30pm

LUC Water Tower Campus

You are invited to participate in a roundtable designed to foster discussion of recent efforts to revise interpretations at historic sites.  This roundtable features Dr. Amy Tyson of DePaul University, graduate student conference participants, and public history professionals from the Chicago area.

 

How to participate: 

Follow this blog 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 revisionist public history, either as a patron or a staff member of institutions that have undertaken efforts to align their interpretations with historical revisions.

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

Simply attend the roundtable and listen.

What is “revisionist public history?”  Continue reading “Call for Participants: Roundtable on Revisionist Public History”