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”

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””

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”

Smelling the Flowers and Taking in Tech in Milwaukee

The Mitchell Park Conservatory

Earlier yesterday, this post went up on the blog.

In the next two weeks I will find myself in Milwaukee, WI (where I am right now) and Ft. Worth Texas. Both trips are professional in focus, the first for my annual pilgrimage to a new US city for the National Council on Public History. This is a conference that every year introduces me to new people and new conversations.

Mentally, the historian in me battles with my inner foodie and urbanist. I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what to see, what to eat, and what makes these cities tick.

We hit the ground running here in Milwaukee. Not only did I get to stay at the historic Ambassador Hotel the first night, I also got to visit the Domes, three modernist greenhouses that are a part of the Marshall Park Conservatory. If you think the exterior looks cool, check out the inside….the three domes had flowers and plants from a tropical ecosystem, a desert ecosystem, and the final one, which demonstrated the human effect on landscapes and flowers.

Then we had the second annual THATCamp NCPH. If you remember from last year this is an unconference, an informal learning experience having to do with digital and new media in the humanities. The sessions I attended had to do with the future of blogging, the issues surrounding bringing scholarly publications to the digital realm, and a closer examination of branding and promotion for organizations and projects. I walked away, as usual, with a plethora of really cool websites and links.

I’m hoping to do a more analytical post about content at the end of the conference but I wanted to emphasize my goal for the next two weeks as I experience Milwaukee and travel to Texas:

I’m feeling the pull — that urge to make sure that I don’t miss a minute, a site, or a story, and to walk away from both these places seeing them as more than just a meeting room space.

Pursuing Pensacola: Final Thoughts

Wordle Map of the NCPH 2011 Conference by Cathy Stanton

In the last week I’ve written a bunch of blog posts about Pensacola….

NCPH 2011: Shared Authority, Creating a Commons–Another Day at THAT Camp
NCPH 2011: A Public History “Spring” Break (
History that is Difficult to Do (NCPH Conference Blog)
Preservation Roundup: Public History Edition (Part 1)
Preservation Roundup: Public History Edition (Part 2)

…and this one is the last. As always NCPH brought with it a meeting of minds, and a reminder of why I love history so much. The commitment and passion that comes with this yearly gathering forces me to look at how I work, and how I see the past with different tools and audiences. Often, I leave with a lot of great ideas, without enough time to bring them to fruition–and I would love for this year to be different. Specifically, I am excited about the next five years and what the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (which started this morning with shots being fired at Fort Sumter) will mean for the growth of historical discourse and memory in this country. How can we look to and learn from other commemorations to make sure that this volatile and game-changing period of America’s past is understood to  its full measure?

It’s an exciting time for public history–and I am proud and exhilarated to be a part of it.

Food. Food. Food.

What would a blog post about my travels be without a conversation about food. While I did eat at various places in the Historic Pensacola Village, there are three that I wanted to highlight

Dolce in Historic Pensacola Village: I really should only have to type out the following words–home made ice cream. With chocolate flavored with beer, or vanilla with fig each of the flavors at this store were great to eat. Especially in the lovely spring weather. The fact that it is located inside one of the Village’s restored homes makes it even better.

Five Sisters Blues Cafe: The marquee at the left may give you an idea of what the ambiance of this cafe was like. With live blues music, and perfect fried chicken and macaroni I was left in a puddle of southern home cooking goodness. I ate far too much for my own good, but would tell you that even if you eat until you can’t eat any more, you must try the mashed potatoes.

Nacho Daddies: I know the name is slightly ridiculous, but I loved the pineapple-mango salsa on my vegetarian/chicken tacos. It’s a great, independent fast food place with an excellent vibe. The sopapilla‘s were flaky and sweet and complimented the light nature of the tacos.

Everyone ate ate at least one Fried Green Tomatoes while in Florida. Yum!


NCPH 2011: Shared Authority, Creating a Commons–Another Day at THAT Camp

THAT: The Humanities and Technology Camp

Last May I attended THATCamp prime in Fairfax, VA where I investigated digital storytelling, local history, and social media in the non profit world. This two day event was incredibly rewarding, and so it was natural for me to sign up for another round at the 2011 National Council on Public History conference in Pensacola, Florida this weekend. As with the first THATcamp I attended each of the sessions served as discussion points for larger conversations about public history and the digital humanities.

First, though I would like to encourage you to head over to twitter and check out the hashtags #thatcamp and #ncph2011, both of which should give you a glimpse into the real time conversations that went on during this day long event.

For our purposes here I am going emphasize a discussion from two separate sessions. The first one looked at how institutions across the historical spectrum deal with user generated content–and how reactions to UGC effects visions of historical authority while providing valuable interaction with an engaged audience. More specifically we talked about crowdsourcing and social media–and how institutional transparency can effect the narrative in a different way.

The second session on social media that I went to actually ended up to be about the creation of a public history commons (check out the post by Kate Freedman on the NCPH conference blog), and how to collaborate within the profession on existing platforms.

In both cases we had to ask ourselves the essential question about audience–who is this project for, and what do we hope to accomplish. In the first instance, it had more to do with institutions and the idea of relinquishing “authority” and “expertise” over the objects and the past, so that the visitors interaction with history rather than the factual nature of this interaction became paramount ( and how to walk that fine line). For the second, since the audience would end up to be public historians, the idea was to provide a space for collaboration within the digital world and so we talked about what content might prove useful and be cross purposed.

The purpose of THATCamp is to spur conversations you would not usually get through traditional conference models–it serves as a spontaneous brain collective where inquiry and experience work together to find solutions. After attending discussions on oral history and web publishing the camp capped off with an overview session that asked philosophically “What is digital history?” followed by the alternative question “Is all digital history public history?”

The answers varied but in the end we asked how much do the definitions matter and is it enough to identify shared values between those who identify as either digital or public historians (a point brought up by @publichistorian). She pointed out that the National Council on Public History has one–visit the website and look for the code of ethics.It is definitely something to consider and I’ll be thinking about it as the week progresses.

Tomorrow I am attending a myriad if sessions, so stay tuned…as I try and bring some of this sunshine and spring weather to the page.

Stepping Out in Portland

Portland, Oregon is a beautiful city. It’s not too enormous or too small in its harmonious setting between the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, which are flanked (on a clear day) by the snowy peak of Mount Saint Helens reaching into a beautiful blue sky.

That’s what Saturday was like at the National Council on Public History Conference, revealing to me just what a walkable, bike-friendly city looks like. I spent one of my breaks eating at Voodoo Doughnut and at various food carts, all while meandering through street fairs and Powell’s Bookstore (their architecture and history sections are like time warps – prepare to lose four hours in a flash). All in all, a good ending to a fantastic four days.

That being said, let’s take stock on the last two days of the conference. Friday morning I moderated a panel with David Brown (the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s executive vice president), Ian Fawcett (deputy executive director of the Land Conservancy of British Columbia), and Liz Dunn (consulting director of the Preservation Green Lab). The session explored the work of the International National Trusts Organization (INTO) and how climate change is being thought about by their member organizations across the globe. In putting together this panel, I wanted to spread the great information from the INTO conference in Dublin this past year. You can read one attendee’s reaction here.

Following this, I boarded a bus out to Dundee Hills to visit the Sokol Blosser Winery, an organic sustainable winery that is home to the first LEED certified silver wine cellar. The owners of Sokol Blosser understand the need for sustainable farming and viticulture and have adopted it wholeheartedly, managing to convince the vineyards surrounding them to work with them to accomplish their goals. More on that in a bit.

So, what does all this have to do with preservation?

On the one hand, the story of the vineyard speaks to what historians can accomplish (the founders of the vineyard were both history majors in the 1970’s), but it also attempts to answer a question we struggled with earlier in the week – how do we reach the public and show them that sustainability is a part of our future, and more specifically that historic preservation and sustainability go hand in hand within that future?

When I first started at the National Trust almost four years ago, I knew almost nothing about how the environmental movement was linked with old buildings (aside, of course, from the role of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir in the creation of the National Park System). It took time reading and listening for me to understand why this is an integral part of what we do.

As a public historian/preservationist, it is important to recognize all the ways that history and the past connect with the public, even when this connection reflects highly volatile and controversial current issues like global warming and sustainability. We always throw around the fact that history is relevant in the here and now – that it is an important part of daily life and is ingrained in community character. The acknowledgement of this link between the public at the grassroots level and our role as historians/preservationists/public historians at the professional level needs to happen in sync with the work we do on policy and other legislation.

Let’s take a step back to the vineyard. The owners of Sokol Blosser knew they wanted to have a vineyard that was organic and sustainable, but they knew they couldn’t do it by themselves. So they reached out to their neighbors, trained their employees, and created a mindset within their own community about the importance of being green. Similarly, we recognize that the work we do on this issue is about more than just saving historic places; it is about preserving ecosystems and landscapes that are a part of historic view sheds, and consequently a way of life. We work within our organizations to communicate this belief and to spread the word to our memberships. We are ambassadors that are helping to usher forth an engaged, knowledgeable, and determined public.

Yes, this is a slow process, but it will continue to be advanced by gathering at conferences like the 2010 National Council on Public History/Environmental Historian Conference, where we all stepped out of our disciplinary silo’s and talked to one another.

Also cross posted on the Blog and the NCPH2010 Blog.

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 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
This post has been cross-posted on the blog