Journey to the Past: Timeless & the History Film Forum

Many fans of fantasy and sci-fi fall into two different camps: those who love time travel and those who don’t. For those who love it, suspension of belief is sufficient to get through the paradoxes that these narratives develop over time. The inverse is true for those who abhor stories that change the past, because repercussions from the butterfly effect leads to stories that are convoluted and messy.

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I thought about this the other day when watching Rogue One, last year’s Star Wars movie about a group of rebels plotting to retrieve the plans for the first Death Star.  While thrilling in its own right it is only through the final minutes (the final, last ditch, effort to escape Darth Vader) where we see the connective tissue between this film and 1977’s A New Hope.

In some ways it feels like a historical document. A primary source that fills in a missing piece — why everyone fears Darth Vader, just how desperate Princess Leia was to get the plans away from her ship, the absolute critical nature of C3PO and R2D2’s mission. It puts things into perspective and provides insight into a story that captured my imagination for the past twenty years. Continue reading “Journey to the Past: Timeless & the History Film Forum”

Challenging the exclusive past | Challenging my inclusive past

This post originally appeared on History@Work. You can read it here.

 Musicians at opening reception of NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore. Photo credit: Priya Chhaya
Musicians at opening reception of NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore. Photo credit: Priya Chhaya

My daily job at the National Trust for Historic Preservation doesn’t involve day-to-day interaction with the broader public. Rather I am a historiographer, in that in my work as a content manager for preservation professionals, I am constantly thinking about the methodology of history–how we protect, communicate, and talk about the past. At the National Council on Public History annual meeting this past April, I realized that our most successful conversations and discussions were the panels and sessions that actively included the public’s viewpoint as part of the presentation. Continue reading “Challenging the exclusive past | Challenging my inclusive past”

Talking Honestly About the Past

It’s been over a week and I’m still thinking about the Slate Academy symposium “How Do We Get Americans to Talk Honestly about Slavery.” Why? It’s not just because the subject matter resonates with a lot of current events on race and class. It’s not just because the panel mimicked how I think about public history i.e. through a broader lens of objects, oral histories, literature, and popular culture. Rather, it is because the conversation presented to us represents a lesson on how to talk honestly about the entire past, period.

A culmination of a podcasting series for Slate Academy the live symposium brought together experiential historians, museum professionals, divers, authors, critics, and a pop culture icon to investigate the process of myth-making surrounding slavery. The strength of the symposium lay in participants ability to delve beneath the surface of history to identify ways to encourage a dialogue in the face of resistance. To investigate, as culinary historian Michael Twitty says, how “slavery is not a blip, but a chronic condition.”
Continue reading “Talking Honestly About the Past”

Authority at “History on the Edge”

1785Who owns the past? Who controls it and shapes the way it is told? What happens when intentional and unintentional omissions support one version of the past at the expense of another?

As one of the essential underpinnings of the historical profession we are taught to think through issues of authority at all levels. We are trained to recognize the role and nature of power not only in the creation of historical narrative, but also in our own interpretations.

At “History on the Edge,” the 2015 annual meeting of the National Council on Public History I heard attendees directly and indirectly discuss various forms of historical authority. I offer three statements to summarize the discussions:

  • Avenues for historical authority continue to expand.
  • We need to become better communicators about our profession (in effect to re-gain the historical authority we seem to be losing).
  • That complex issues of authority still exist as we continue to work to create a more inclusive historical narrative.

I attended five different panels. Continue reading “Authority at “History on the Edge””

What We Really Do: Changing Perceptions

Preservationists say “no.”
House Museums are “behind the velvet ropes.”
Historians live within an “ivory tower.”

Does this sound familiar?

Historians serve as stewards of the past, disseminating history to a variety of different publics. However, segments of that public view historians and preservationists as obstacles–individuals who set up barriers, keep research confined within the academy, or prevent progress. Despite our efforts, this is how they perceive the work of history professionals.  Of course, those of us who work in the field know that history professionals are working to broaden outreach in museums (albeit with increasingly limited budgets), to spread literature and research, and to present a more open and accessible past by saving places across the country.

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Credit: Peabody’s Lament

This past week I staffed the National Preservation Conference in Indianapolis. While I didn’t get a chance to fully attend sessions, I observed a discipline actively working to remove barriers. Sessions sought to think past restrictions and standards and focused on aligning the needs of preservationists with the needs of community.

Continue reading “What We Really Do: Changing Perceptions”

1/21/13: A Conscious Reflection

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States First Inaugural Address

Four years ago I stood, toes frozen to the ground, fingers numb, listening to the last phrase of President Obama’s first inaugural address as it rang through the crowd. It had already been a long day—waking at 4 am and walking from National’s ballpark to a spot right opposite the Smithsonian Castle—but I could feel the excitement, the pulse of the crowd, the mood of the masses. After all, most, if not all, had come to witness, to be a part of a moment in time when our county crossed a barrier that we weren’t sure we would ever cross.

This year I got up a little later, with better shoes, and once again made my way down to the National Mall. Once again I found myself next to the Smithsonian Castle. Once again we took pictures, waved flags, and listened as the words boomed through the hundreds of thousands of people who had come to once again bear witness…. Continue reading “1/21/13: A Conscious Reflection”

Milwaukee’s Best: The 2012 NCPH/OAH Annual Conference

Many of my posts on this blog are often connected more often than not to my thoughts about the past through books, movies, exhibits, and travel. Seeing the reflection of the past in the “stuff” we consume, produce, and leave behind.

However, sometimes I like to look past the “why” and to the “how,” to the practice of public historians — what we do well, what we should be doing, and how I can engage in this broader conversation.

This year’s annual conference for the National Council on Public History involved a convergence and a merging of ideas with the Organization of American Historians. As expected the five days in Wisconsin were filled with networking and sessions which integrated your typical academic style paper(s) with the more hands on, interpretive style of the public historian presentations.

So I thought that I would use this, my first of three [the second will come in a few days, the third on food will post in June] posts on my trips to talk about methodology — providing examples of different (or not so different) conversations through the lens of the meetings and sessions I attended.

Continue reading “Milwaukee’s Best: The 2012 NCPH/OAH Annual Conference”