Posts

Showing posts with the label public history

Why Public History?

Image
When you search Google for a definition of public history, this is one of the first things to pop up.

My own definition of public history is very different from the one proffered in that piece.  Public history, as far as I am concerned, is not a bridge between academic history and the public.  It is not simply history for public audiences.  The field, in fact, is somewhat split between those who see public history as primarily public-facing and those who see it as, first and foremost, public-engaging.  There is no animosity between practitioners with these different orientations, at least not that I am aware of. Me?  Public-engaging all the way.  More fun, more interesting and for me, more meaningful.

Kavanaugh: This Was No Witch Hunt

I recently wrote this piece in response to the comparisons of Kavanaugh's hearings to the witch trials in Salem in 1692 on behalf of Voices Against Injustice, a Salem-based nonprofit organization:

The winds of Salem are rising.  From Canada’s Calgary Herald to Fox News, in blogs and tweets, 
reporters, columnists and pundits have compared recent Senate hearings on the confirmation of
 Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the witch trials that consumed Salem, Massachusetts 
in 1692.  Their claims, righteous and protective, defend Kavanaugh from his accusers and point to
 a “witch hunt,” an hysterical web of conspiracy and lies. “No evidence!”  They clamor that Kavanaugh is “a convenient scapegoat” for those who identify with 
the political left.  He is innocent, unjustly accused, caught in the turmoil of a political and cultural tempest 
much like the victims of Salem.  The notion that Kavanaugh is a victim has been splashed all over 
media. These claims are unfounded and historically …

Public History Summer Course

Image
Take a class with me this summer! Online conversations, field trips, occassional class meetings.  You will love it.  Registration Information: click here.



Piracy or Exchange? The Fate of Ideas in the Avaricious Academy

Recently, a friend and fellow historian read a section of my manuscript for me.  She made an acute observation about the ways my protagonists consistently dug deep into the past whenever faced with a new conflict or challenge. "Interesting how they always take the long view," she noted in a comment.

The long view. I love the phrase.  So much so, in fact, that I am determined to use it.  I might even incorporate it into the title of my book when it emerges.  I will acknowledge my colleague's general brilliance and specific contribution in the acknolwedgements that preface the book.  I will figure out a way to cite her.  If her phrase makes it into the title, I will buy her a bottle of wine.  As a tenured faculty member at a research university, my colleague will probably feel duly recognized and appreciated.

This, after all, is part of our job -- to exchange ideas freely for the benefit of others.  As a tenure-track faculty member at a regional public university, I too, …

Places Project Summary

Image
I copied over this article from the UMass History Dept blog. 


In 2015, I set off for south-central Tennessee’s South Cumberland plateau to take up a two-year  Mellon fellowship with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies at Sewanee: the University of the South.  The Collaborative, a partnership with Yale, envisioned starting and sustaining multidisciplinary, community-engaged, curricular projects that had place as their focus. In other words: pretty much any public history endeavor would fit the bill.
I had some basic goals for my Mellon project.  I wanted it to be something I could begin and complete in two years.   I wanted it to be digital.  I wanted it to engage local history and memory.  I wanted students with different interests and strengths to have meaningful roles to play.  Most of all, I wanted to undertake a humanities project that the pragmatic people of the region would see as useful — if not while I was doing it, then at least when it was done.  T…

Six Word Memoir Project Comes to Salem, Massachusetts

Image
Once upon a time, I had a particularly wonderful group of Intro to Public History students.  We were working with the idea of memoir as public history.  As a lark, really, I asked them to write their life story in six words, no more no less.  The idea came from  Smith Magazine and we all found it to be really compelling.  So compelling, in fact, that we decided to involve our campus in the process.  My students got hundreds of students involved.  They shared their experiences, from the mundane to the sacred and everything in between.


As public historians, we grappled with how to curate, to care for, other people's stories.  We came up with creative ways of getting people to contribute and we took turns gatekeeping content and dealing with difficult memoirs, painful ones, angry and sad ones.  We talked and debated and ultimately designed a series of arresting exhibits all over campus.  You can see them here.  From kitchen staff to the Vice President, so many members of our commu…

Public Historians are Something More than Nice

Image
I went to numerous conferences this year.  It was a nice perk of being a fellow at the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies.  Sharing my work on participatory cultural memory, I was on panels with literary theorists, social workers, psychologists, planners, musicologists and geographers.

Traveling outside my academic "home" of public history was a learning experience for me.  I love my sub-discipline and have long been a booster for public history as a rich community of practitioners and scholars.  When one of my students attended her first National Council on Public History annual meeting a few weeks ago in Indianapolis and declared of attendees, "I can honestly say these were the most supportive people I have ever met in my life," my reaction was, "Yes - of course.  That is whowe are."

LIve on Grundy CountyTV with my Students

This was a really fun TV appearance with three of my best and most delightful students. There is so much I could say here about our Highlander efforts and about how hard these students work, but you should just watch the segment:

The Places Project Gets Recognized

Image
Our project, the Places Project, got featured on the Sewanee website.  It is always strange to read an effort to try to capture something that for you is fluid and so very much alive -- even a great piece like this.  The Places Project is in my bones right now.  I am not ready for it to be static, but I am ready for the word to get out there about it.


Anna Sumner Noonan C’17, Catherine Casselman, C’17, and Margo Shea pore over maps of the South Cumberland Plateau annotated with local residents’ stories about places that are significant to them. Photo by Buck Butler Drawing the People’s Map A Sewanee professor and her students collect stories about places on the South Cumberland Plateau to compile a rich topography of personal history.

You can read the full piece here:
http://www.sewanee.edu/features/story/places-project.html


Tours at the Highlander Folk School Historic Site

Image
My students and I have been busy.  

Sewanee Students Offer Historical Tours of the Highlander Folk School 
If you have ever wanted to learn more about the Highlander Folk School in the Summerfield community of Grundy County, now is your chance to learn.
University of the South students enrolled in courses offered through the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies will offer free historical tours of the Highlander Folk School site on Saturdays throughout April. Tours will be offered at 1 and 3 p.m.April 9, 16, 23, and 30, weather permitting. Tours last approximately one hour and leave from the Highlander Folk School Library on Old Highlander Lane in Monteagle, Tennessee. If you are interested in attending a tour, please plan to arrive 10 minutes before it is scheduled to begin.
Student tour guides will share the history of the site and the vision and ethos of its founders and staff. They will introduce the historic programs and work of the school and relay its contributions to…

Salem State University History Spotlight

Image
Somehow, I never got the heads up that this little article got published over at Salem State.

I love that public history got recognition. I very much love that the Six Word Memoir Project got recognition. I do not love the quote, which I cannot quite believe I said and certainly don't remember saying, "History is pointless and useless if the public doesn't engage."

Really?  Do I even believe that?

Paddy "Bogside" Doherty, 1926 - 2016

Image
And another legend passes. 
Paddy Doherty had not been well for the past several years, but it was still hard to hear that he passed away on the 7th January, 2016.  Touted as the face of the civil rights movement in Derry, he was a legend.  He was a firebrand and an ideas man and a figure of controversy.  He was a neighbor, a friend, a husband, the patriarch of his clan.


Paddy Doherty was also a plodder -- in the best possible way.  Long after the civil rights movement ended, throughout the Troubles and into the post-conflict era, Doherty slogged through the difficult tasks of raising money, cajoling politicians, courting the press in order to create jobs and trying to make Derry a livable city that could retain its young people without losing its soul.  Development inside the walled city and the Foyleside Shopping Center owe their existence in no small part to Doherty.

Doherty is not the first of his generation to pass.   Solicitor Claude Wilton, of ' Say nahing de ye se…

Museums and Historic Sites in the 21st Century : Observations from the Field

Image
Ever wonder what a group of talented, ambitious, passionate and creative young museum professionals would discuss if they got together on a Tuesday evening?  So did I.  

Hence, this event, which took place April 21, 2015:



We had a terrific panel discussion with practitioners working in historic museums, historic sites and other corners of the field.  I was so impressed  by the thoughtfulness and generosity of our panelists -- Bethany Groff Dorau, North Shore Regional Site Manager for Historic New England, Doneeca Thurston, Adult Programs Coordinator at the Peabody Essex Museum, Kate Preissler,  Executive Director at Wisteriahurst Museum and Jonathan Parker, Chief of Education, Interpretation and Collaborative Partnerships at National Parks Service -- Salem Maritime and Saugus Ironworks National Historic Sites.


Honest Talk About Failure: When Public History Projects Don't Work Out

Image
Last year, colleagues and I hosted a roundtable discussion at the National Council on Public History's annual meeting on learning from failure in public history practice.  The blog post that inspired it is here: Do You Have a Problem with the Word Failure?

It was particularly memorable for me because we got to play Failure Bingo, which was pretty great:



The American Historian  was nice enough to publish a short piece on the wisdom that emerged from the roundtable on the ways we might best address failure in public history collaborations.

You can read it by clicking here.



Let me know what you think in the comments!

Let Go of Your Sorrows? What To Make of Derry's Temple

Image
How do you say the unsayable?  Translate the untranslatable?  It makes sense that David Best, a sculptor deeply embedded in the "you can't understand it until you've been to it" Burning Man festival would come to Derry, Northern Ireland with ingredients for a community project designed around reflection and release. Sponsored and organized by Artichoke Trust, which specializes in helping artists engage communities in larger-than-life installations located in unpredictable spaces, Temple was conceived as a community process.  To build it.  To inhabit it. To witness as it burned.

According to Best, the point of Temple was twofold: to create a space for catharsis and to reframe bonfires. Bonfires, of course, have a long history in Northern Ireland.   There were fires to commemorate the 12th, the Relief of Derry in August, and then tit-for-tat bonfires to observe Lady Day, or the feast of the Assumption of Mary a couple days later.  And those bonfires, it is said, are art…

Teaching Serial as Public History

Image
Photo credit: Kate Preissler I took a risk this semester and dedicated a fairly large chunk of class time to teaching Serial in Intro to Public History.  It was placed in the syllabus as a bridge between a unit on memory, identity and different publics and a unit on settings and tools for public history practice.  I was inspired to do this by my own engagement with the podcast (errrr, obsessive binge listening) and by some great email conversations with Kate Preissler, Digital Projects Manager at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, who wrote a fabulous blog post on Serial and public history for the NCPH blog.
In case you've been under a rock, Serial was a hugely popular podcast that ran for twelve episodes last autumn.  It examined the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee in 1999 in Baltimore and pulled apart the evidence used to successfully convict Lee's ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed -- who pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence to this day, from his cell in a maxim…

Greetings from the Ledge: A Pop-Up Museum

Image
I was running an administrative errand in a building I visit only infrequently on campus when I came across a small DIY pop-up exhibit commemorating numerous victims of racist violence.  Welcome to The Ledge Gallery, folks.  

This makes me glad. 



It is simple. It is somber. It is done with a very sparse curatorial hand --- no labels, no descriptions.  The images speak for themselves.  The images speak to those who stop, who look, who listen to what the they say.

A memorial card for Malcolm X holds the center of the tableau.  It forefronts "Our Black Shining Prince," the name Ossie Davis chose for Malcolm X in the eulogy he delivered at Faith Temple Church of God in February, 1965.  Davis famously likened X to Jesus and called on supporters to continue his work when he exhorted, " what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed-which, after the winter of discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is—a Prince—our…

What is Public History? A Slam Poem Ode by an "Intro to PH" Undergraduate

Image
Every time I teach Intro to Public History, we begin the semester with two sets of readings.  One set examines public history as it is situated within:
the history of the national parksthe discipline of historythe context of efforts to amplify invisible, untended or uncomfortable historiesthe context of ordinary people's interests and engagements with the pastThese go over very well.  
The other set?  Classics like Becker's "Everyman His Own Historian," David Lowenthal's meditation on the benefits and burdens of the past, Pierre Nora's famous (and famously dense) discussion of lieux de memoire, "sites" both literal and metaphorical that serve as bridges between history and memory and as anchors of identity in a rapidly changing and homogenizing world.
These go over terribly.  And I assign them anyway.  
This semester, I made my students do a reading response to these readings.  Some of them were fabulous. Some of them, shall we say, reflected the comple…

Night Will Fall: A Meditation on Representation

Image
At ceremonies and pilgrimages, through newspaper accounts and private reflection, people around the world observed the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz last week.  It has become a touchstone date, a moment for remembrance, a call to witness. 

Perhaps the ghosts of the Holocaust were with us as well.  In a locked room at Auschwitz in which an the Italian television crew and Jewish leaders found themselves trapped. Amidst silence and candlelight at vigils across the globe.  And in André Singers' film "Night Will Fall," which aired around the world on January 27th.


Night Will Fall is a film about witnessing.  About survival amidst death. About the ways to tell a story, the impact of the visual, the politics of evidence.  About the power of solid historical research to deepen our understanding of both the past and the horizons and the limits of our humanity.  It is a difficult and necessary film.


There's been much ado about the documentary, and for good reas…

The Irish Famine: LOL?

Image
They say comedy = tragedy + time.  A proposed television series set in Ireland during the Famine (1845-1852) has raised interesting questions about how to attribute meaning and weight to each variable in this particular equation.

When screenwriter Hugh Travers, a Dublin native, mentioned in an interview that he had been given an open commission to develop a television program by Channel 4, and was working on a tragicomedy set during the Famine, he referred to it as a "kind of Shameless, set during the Famine."  Reaction was speedy, and quite what you would expect. 




The Daily Mail led the race for the headline with, "Is this the Most Tasteless Idea for a Sitcom Ever?" while IrishCentral.com's Irish-American pundit Niall O'Dowd forgave those who thought this was an April Fool's joke. The Irish Times interviewed writers and historians who said it was in poor taste and made inevitable comparisons to other historic atrocities. Indeed, it showed its hand by esc…