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In some ways it feels like a historical document.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”

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Summer in October: Photos from Colorado

Inside Louis Dupuy's kitchen. A view down at the (not original) stove.
Inside Louis Dupuy’s kitchen. A view down at the (not original) stove.

Who says you can’t write about summer vacations in October? At the end of July I traveled to Colorado Springs for an epic family reunion. Naturally I couldn’t make a trip to a different state and not play tourist for a little while. I wrote about one part of my trip, a visit to Hotel de Paris in Georgetown for Saving Places.  The piece, which I had a lot of fun writing, is about the hotel’s proprietor, Louis Dupuy, a man who was a fugitive, journalist, and an infamous chef.

In addition to Georgetown I also spent a few hours in Denver, checking out the state capitol, the Emerson School (home of the National Trust Denver Field Office), and the Molly Brown House. The latter site is pretty great, mostly because it does what most historic houses do, but flips the perspective, telling us about Molly Brown’s legacy rather than just the male inhabitants. Continue reading “Summer in October: Photos from Colorado”

Ten.

August 14, 2006. This story begins in a stately building on the corner of 18th and Massachusetts in Dupont Circle. On this particular humid day, typical of a Washington August, a young twenty-three year old woman walked into her first day at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. While the specifics of her emotions are lost to time, they are likely tinged with a combination of relief (she has a job!) and excitement (she has a job in her field!).

That was then. This is now.

I have always been a big believer in loving what you do.  Every day we get out of bed and head to a workplace to spend a third of our weekly waking hours as means to support ourselves. In these hours we have a choice – to let our work become rote, a black hole of time filled with disengagement, or to find work that stimulates our mind, bringing passion and joy along for the ride. It is a luxury, perhaps, but something that I feel is essential.

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Continue reading “Ten.”

Raise/Raze at the Dupont Underground

A few weeks ago I wrote two separate pieces on a unique art installation at the Dupont Underground in Washington, DC.  The exhibit took the plastic balls from National Building Museum’s “Beach” exhibition and turned it into an interactive work that looked at the building and re-building of structures.

Raise/Raze at the Dupont Underground.
Raise/Raze at the Dupont Underground.

Continue reading “Raise/Raze at the Dupont Underground”

1785 Forever

1785Does preserving old places–and the memories they represent–matter? Do the individual and collective memories embodied in old places help people have better lives?

Tom Mayes, a colleague of mine who is spending six months in Rome as a recipient of the 2013 Rome Prize, asks these questions in his latest post investigating “Why Old Places Matter.”

As I’ve read his series it has brought back my own thoughts on memory and memorializing–where stone structures on a battlefield or ever-living trees bear witness to the past. At this intersection of memory-place-monument these objects of remembrance serve as a physical manifestation and encapsulation of a collective connection to the past.

Old places provide a tangible reminder that something happened–that humans stood in this exact spot and did something. That we interacted, enacted change, or fought for a cause.

They are questions that I am also thinking about as I prepare for my last day at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, the soon to be former headquarters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Continue reading “1785 Forever”

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”

Putting the Puzzle Together: Reflections on Travel in Seattle

Cross posted at PreservationNation.


Dale Chihuly Gardens of Glass Exhibition.

A metaphor I often use when talking about the past is that of a puzzle. Getting to know the whole picture of place means fitting together a number of disparate pieces that when snapped together give you a single picture — a snapshot in time that is one in a series that make up the past.

I also approach visiting new cities through this lens. A few weeks ago as a prelude to my visit to Spokane for the National Preservation Conference, I went to Seattle to visit with some friends and family. What I ended up doing was not just visiting to a popular tourist destination but also getting a sense of the place itself.

Continue reading “Putting the Puzzle Together: Reflections on Travel in Seattle”

Finding Preservation and Accessible History at the 2012 Webby Awards

Re-posted from blog.preservationnation.org

Everyone’s heard of the Grammys, the Oscars, and the Emmys. But last night was an awards show of a different kind. The 2012 Webby Awards, held at Manhattan’s historic Hammerstein Ballroom, celebrated people, companies, and organizations that have done something especially intriguing, impactful, and engaging online.

Continue reading “Finding Preservation and Accessible History at the 2012 Webby Awards”

Downton Abbey and the Pull of Place in Popular Television

I’ve been angling for a reason to write about Downton Abbey on this blog, and an opportunity presented itself in this fun Friday post that went up today on the PreservationNation.org blog. You can read the post with the awesome-as-usual Downton Abbey images here but I’ve also included the text below.

PS: I also use it as an excuse to mention other awesome shows like The West Wing, LOST, Dr. Who, and Battlestar Galactica. Because what would each of these shows be without the familiar hallways of the White House, the forests of our favorite Island, and a spaceship serving as home for a drifting civilization (or in the case of Dr. Who, the ability to hop from place to place in time)?

Downton Abbey and the Pull of Place in Popular Television

 

I think by now many of the regular readers on this blog know three things about me. I love history. I love writing about history. And I pretty much think about history, and place, and the past about 367 million times a day.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I think about the power of place and the past when doing the most mundane things — walking, cooking, and watching television.

Like many, many people, I’ve been enamored with the British period drama Downton Abbey, which just finished its second season run on PBS. For those that haven’t seen it, it begins in pre-World War I England and gives viewers a glimpse into the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants through the intervening years.

What I love about Downton Abbey is that the story centers around the estate, a magnificent house full of both grand (for the lords and ladies) and humble (for the staff) public and private spaces that serves as a mechanism for how a family and their employees lived in the early 20th century. The way the building is used over the two seasons reflects society and class as changes in women’s roles, war, and disease take its toll. But Downton is used as more than a set piece. The home is a crucial character in itself, and plays a crucial role for how each of the characters defines themselves.

This isn’t necessarily something new. After all, the whole premise of the show Cheers is to tell the story of a group of bar patrons in a particular space. Then there are three of my favorites — The West Wing, LOST, and (nerd alert) Battlestar Galactica — which are incredibly place-centric, as ninety percent of each episode occurs within their respective main locations: The White House, an island, or a giant spaceship that serves as the only defender against the enemies of humanity (try saying that three times fast).

What other shows out there use place to tell their story? We know of course that there are plenty of serials and sitcoms that use cities as the backdrop to their storylines. The stories in Mad Men, for example, are integrally tied to their place in mid-century New York.

The point, perhaps, that I am trying to make is that as a preservationist and a historian, I’m drawn to shows that integrate where they are with the people whose lives intersect in those spaces. And it’s the same for the real world, since the places we save are often inherently important because of the mark of individuals or groups on them, or our own modern interactions or associations with them.

I recently watched an episode of Dr. Who (a show with a time-traveling theme) where the main character presents a theory that there are fixed points in time that can never change — that events will always happen in this time and this place no matter what tries to influence them. It’s a fanciful idea, one that appeals to me as a historian because of how we think about the “power of place” — that an important way that we can tell the story of our past and make it tangible is by recognizing the confluence of people, places, and events in time.

What do you think? Do you love a television show because it reminds you of history, place, or preservation? Sound off below!

Preservation and a Pressure Cooker (A Reflection on the Materiality of Preservation)

The materiality of preservation is very much rooted in these places and objects ability to tell a story – to evoke the intangible in such a way that makes it more certain, more reliable, more real.

For work this week I wrote a piece reflecting on the stuff of preservation. I also managed to loop in a paper I wrote during my undergraduate coursework about a pressure cooker. Trust me, it makes sense.

I’m working on a few ideas for end of the year posts. So stay tuned!

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I also wanted also wanted to point out to any Baltimorians who might be reading my blog that there is an Unconference going on in Baltimore today. You can see what they’re talking about here and on Twitter #bmorehistoric.