Gender Gap Set in Stone

Chicago’s 580 parks are littered with statues of historically significant men. Some of these men may be familiar to you: Nicolaus Copernicus, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln. Others may be unfamiliar: Greene Vardiman Black, for example, the “father of modern dentistry.” While the accomplishments of these notable figures vary, their gender does not. In fact, there is not a single statue in Chicago that honors a historically significant woman.

The lack of public statues honoring women has received recent attention in the local media, and for good reason. In a city home to such important female leaders like Ida B. Wells and Jane Addams, how can public depictions of women remain absent in Chicago’s parks?

The Chicago Park District told WBEZ Chicago that this absence is an issue of timing; the heyday of public sculpture in the city occurred before women earned the right to vote and were therefore not involved in public life. Yet this argument does not explain why men continued to be honored in Chicago parks long after women earned the right to vote in 1920. As recently as 2006, the Chicago Park District has added a new bronze statue of a male figure to its expansive park system.

Continue reading “Gender Gap Set in Stone”

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Public Historians at Work: Restructuring a Historical Society

In October 2013, Loyola University Chicago public history graduate students launched Public History Lab, a student-driven effort to apply public history skills at organizations and sites of history in the Chicagoland area. This post belongs to a series that chronicles efforts undertaken by members of the Public History Lab.

When Public History Lab (PHL) formed, several students decided to undertake a partnership with the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society (RPWRHS). Loyola is located in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood and we knew that the RPWRHS needed assistance in several areas. Our early meetings to define the PHL’s goals and the first few months of our partnership with RPWRHS are topics for future blog posts, but for now I will say that the Society welcomed us. One of the first large projects that we undertook with the RPWRHS was the planning and execution of a strategic planning meeting.

PHL students and RPWRHS Board members and volunteers work together to develop a strategic plan. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Boyle.
PHL students and RPWRHS Board members and volunteers work together to develop a strategic plan. February 2014. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Boyle.

The strategic planning meeting yielded a working strategic plan, complete with projects that the Society’s committees (including PHL student volunteers) began working on to meet the plan’s one-, five-, and ten-year goals. Soon after, three PHL students were invited to join the RPWRHS Board of Directors. The students—me, Katie Macica, and Dan Ott—were elected to the Board in March 2014.

Continue reading “Public Historians at Work: Restructuring a Historical Society”

Multiculturalism Needs to Work: Public Historians of Color

Mining the Public

During my oral exam (the final step in completing my Masters program), my adviser/program director asked me: “Do you think it matters that you’re an African-American public historian?” Before he could barely ask the question I knew where he was going and it had been something in the back of my mind for nearly a year by that time. In an explosion of anticipation, I quickly and loudly said “Yes!” I had a lot to say on the subject. Well that already seems like it was long ago and now I’m officially done with my Masters degree in public history.

Today, public history tends to be sensitive to those it serves and their diversity. Attempts to be inclusive seem to increase every year. During my studies, I learned about indigenous curation which applies the source culture’s reverence and attitude to their objects in museums. In other words: Hidatsa ritual objects…

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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

The things we do – Reminiscences from Toronto

“They should go and hang themselves.”

That was my answer during a Q&A at York University history graduate conference back in February. My poor word choice reflected the need for improvement of my public speaking skills. Thanks to the generosity of Loyola University Chicago, my Canadian friends and friends-of-friends-of-friends, I was able to present at New Frontiers with three great panelists under the catchy title of “Memories of War: Transforming Violence.” My paper was based on how Spanish society has coped with the trauma of the 1930s civil war during the military dictatorship of Franco and democracy since the 1970s. Until now, everything seems ok.

However, I chose to stir things up a bit expressing my desire that historians ought to do something more than sitting down, giving the same lectures over and over, and to incorporate current topics into their analysis of history in a socially useful way. Then, a professor from York raised the question, what do we do with those that don’t see any problem with society, that are content with what happens around them? Thus, my impolite and somewhat disrespectful response. But was it? If we are not producing history for our present (sorry for break it to you but if you are thinking that you are leaving a legacy for generations to come, chances are that you are wrong), why are we doing it at all? In academia, some may say “because I can, because I want to, because I get paid a lot of money to do so.” I mean, seriously, is that it?

Disclaimer: I am currently in the path of becoming a PhD student. I might or might not end up working at an university but, in any case, I feel obliged to do my best to make a difference. I don’t mean to sound pretentious but rather avid to learn from my colleagues and work with them. The question to solve is how my (future) research is going to make a difference, which I will leave for my next post.

A Time to Remember

It is Christmas time again, and the Magi along Sheridan Road slowly make their way to the manger outside the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts. This nativity scene is seen by, or at least passed by, hundreds of commuters to and from Chicago every day. I would like to draw your attention away from Chicago, and even the Land of Lincoln, to another popular, though perhaps more out-of-the-way, nativity scene.

Scene

Algona, Iowa, about 50 miles west of Mason City, is home to a unique nativity scene whose origins are sad, but enlightening. I first heard about the Algona Nativity Scene when I worked at the Camp Algona POW Museum over the summer of 2011. Camp Algona was one of some 500 base and branch camps that housed approximately 400,000 Prisoners of War in the US between 1942 and 1946. Unlike most World War II POW camps, Camp Algona is not forgotten, despite having no physical structures remaining. The memory of the prisoners and the camp is carried on by the museum, but those memories were maintained long before the museum opened its doors in 2004. The men held captive just outside town are remembered because of a gift left to Algona in 1946 by six POWs.

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