Things I heard at the National Council on Public History Conference

Overheard at the NCPH Conference:

How does one communicate about sustainability at the local level?

Is it better to be pretty good at a lot of things or really good at one or two things?

My Top Twitter Posts:

@pc_presnation: Important to train public historians to be adaptable . Knowing about digital tools is just as important as intellectual knowledge #ncph2010

@p_presnation: In a working group on sustainability and h.pres. How are you talking about it with your communities? #preservation #ncph2010

These two questions (and tweets!) lie at the heart of my first day of the National Council on Public History Conference here in Portland Oregon. I love this conference, first of all—its a small, yet open, community of historians that often like to look outside the box. Secondly hearing about these two things within the same day is not unheard of. In fact at any given moment you can hear about dissertations, practical applications for oral history, or even section 106 mitigation review all in one conversation.

The first tweet and the first question came from a session on digital history in a master’s program. We had some great examples from the folks at the Center for History and New Media, that was supported by a student at American University (who also works for the National Trust for Historic Preservation), an individual at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum and a doctoral student NYU who works on outhistory.org. What was great about this program is that it was, in the end, about more than just digital curricula in an educational setting. It was really emphasizing that sometimes, and especially in the case of public history work (including historic preservation) it is better to know how to do a lot of different things so that you can build upon that knowledge easily to further the goals of your institution and work. While Jeremy Boggs from CHNM was talking specifically about basic digital tools (html/CSS, FTP file sharing, writing grant proposals) its really an idea that can be discussed across the board. Its really important in any field to be adaptable, something that I also talked with another NCPH participant on my very early morning flight across the country on Wednesday morning. In terms of digital tools this is something that can be seen at the National Trust through our very recent Save Americas Treasures campaign which used traditional media to contact congress, but also provided the guidance for advocates to use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to spread the word.

Which comes to the second lesson from this session. Sometimes you have to take a little bit of a risk and have a little bit of trust to move forward. Without either of these things we, as historians/public historians/historic preservationists will never be able to adapt to the changing world. New communication tools, mean new communication strategies. New research techniques and sources, means new methods of talking about those sources to tell the stories we want to tell.

The second session of the day was about historic preservation and sustainability. This is a topic, as I mentioned in my earlier post, that is near and dear to the heart of preservationists. This is not something that NCPH, traditionally, has really discussed which is why having this conference in conjunction with the American Society of Environmental Historians was a great idea.

At the heart of the conversation was a self-examination regarding how sustainability and historic preservation connect back to the role these buildings play in the community. That while we talk about relationship between the two subjects to our peers at the USGBC or at sister organizations like NCPH that we also have to recognize the continuing disconnect at the local level. What strategies have been done to develop outreach and communication strategies for those at the local level? Whose responsibility is it to get the word out? How can we get the word out?

All in all, a successful day which ended with a chance to speed network (its like speed dating but you end up with a lot of business cards) and a great dinner with one of the panelists from my own session on the International National Trust Organization’s Dublin Declaration. So stay tuned on Monday for some concluding remarks and, I hope, some pictures from an organic and sustainable vineyard here in Oregon.

Follow the Conference on Twitter #ncph2010 or on the conference blog at http://ncph2010.blogspot.com/
This post has been cross-posted on the preservationnation.org blog

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