Power Struggles in Public History

As I read “Embedded with the Reenactors” I could see author Nick Kowalczyk struggling with a major qualm public historians face regularly, “How do I advocate for the appropriate practice of history while also maintaining empathy for those who happen to practice it incorrectly?”

On one hand, this regiment of reenactors and his host, Old Hickory, were kind enough to welcome Kowalczyk into their world. Despite this, he finds himself uncomfortable around the reenactors due to big ethical questions such as, “… I couldn’t help but imagine the 348 people who died and the many others who were injured or suffered. When they trembled for their lives could they ever have imagined that a bloodless, G-rated recreation of their deaths eventually would become someone’s hobby?”

I agree with Ann Little’s assessment that Kowalczyk’s article raises more questions than he does to answer them. Personally, I would have loved to see reenactors engage and try to answer some of Kowalczyk’s big ethical questions. I have friends who are members of misunderstood hobbyist communities who frequently have to defend themselves when outsider journalists publish articles similar to “Embedded with the Reenactors.” I’m certain that the reenactors have also spent some time wrestling with the ethical questions Kowalczyk asks in his piece. Perhaps they could have provided him with some insight. For example, where Kowalczyk finds it blasphemous to reenact death scenes, perhaps reenactors see it as a way to honor the dead.

I appreciated Dr. M-B’s decision to pair the reenactment articles with the Wikipedia articles. When it comes to reenactors, professional historians have a certain authority. However, when it comes to the wilds of the Internet, degrees don’t necessarily mean anything. It is an interesting power reversal. Famiglietti’s article perfectly summed up my thoughts about Messer-Kruse’s anti-Wikipedia rant.

As for the lack of women editors on Wikipedia, perhaps holding classes on how to edit Wikipeda could combat the all-male editor trend. I always see libraries holding courses on how to use Word or send e-mail, why not have more intermediate classes specifically targeting women who are well versed in technology, but not necessarily in a position to pursue a computer science degree?

Cowboys & white, middle-aged, body-painted Indians

These articles raised some interesting questions about how the public practices history. I think we had mentioned the re-enactors in class and considered them hobbyists, rather than professional public historians, but it was fascinating to delve into the details of the people (mostly one person) that really subscribe to it as more of a lifestyle than a hobby. Wikipedia entries were a surprising topic choice for me, as I hadn’t previously put much thought into who contributes, what is accepted, what obstacles contributors or editors face, etc. I think a common thread between the original articles, “Embedded with the Reenactors” and “The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia,” and also a topic that critics of these articles highlighted were questions of inclusion/exclusion, democratization of practice, and general demographics of participants in these two realms.

Something that I found telling in the Kowalczyk article was when his guides pointed out other reenactors: “That one over there is actually female; she’s a graduate of the Air Force Academy. Him over there, he’s a real Army colonel. Another is a meteorologist. Another is a schoolteacher. One’s a naturalist for the state of Ohio. And we have one young man with us on leave from Mosul in Iraq.” Considering Old Hickory’s military background as well, this gave me the overall impression that reenactors are more like the image Kowalczyk painted of Tim, basing his love of reenactments more on the joy of childhood games of cowboys-and-Indians and treehouse charters than on the historical pursuit of the subject. It may have been different if the reenactors were pointed out differently, with “her over there, she’s a real author on this battle. Another is a local museum expert of the subject, mainly the material culture surrounding the war. Another is a professor at the local college, and teaches on the war.” Overall, I wondered at the line of spectators, and what drew them in, especially when the actual battle was described as slow, boring, and with enough breaks for the overweight reenactors to catch their breath. I laughed along with Kowalcyzk at the prospects of Old Hickory finding a 18th century reenacting and sewing girlfriend, and at the wife chastised by her husband for using her cell phone. I did marvel at Old Hickory’s commitment in the Washington-Rochambeau March as well as his borderline obsession with being, not portraying, Andrew Jackson. I do wonder, like The Atlantic author Levin, at the continued popularity of reenactments, and if it will be a dying hobby. I didn’t realize that there were reenactments of Vietnam and Korean War era battles, and I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to reenact the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, though that is probably because we are more embroiled in the current emotional issues surrounding the war, whereas in the future what remains is the factual accounts of the events and a desire to honor the legacy of those that participated, like the current reenactments of the F&I War. I appreciated The Historiann’s treatment of the Kowalcyzk article, questioning the inclusion and exclusion of the narratives and subjects portrayed in reenactments. For reenactments to tastefully include non-majority groups (unlike the body-painted white “Indians” in the F&I reenactment), they must be willing to attribute agency and historically important roles to the normally excluded “others.” I would optimistically say that these types of reenactments would be an interesting exercise, but considering how racialized wartime narratives have been preserved up to this point I don’t see it likely that reenactments could portray the Iraq war, for instance, without demeaning the enemy. I would, however, like to see reenactments of subjects like Cesar Chavez’s march, African American civil rights events, and others suggested in the Historiann article, but I do doubt that very many “middle-aged white men” could be “persuaded to cede the heroic roles to other reenactors,” unless they really are interested in representing the entire narrative, perhaps as actors, activists, and even professional historians.



Reenactment, Wikipedia, Historical Relevance


Historical reenactments have always bothered me. I have not been able to understand why people would dress up and act out historical events for the sheer pleasure of “playing.” It seems to me more “valid’ somehow if there is a reason for reenactment, such as a theatrical performance that is aimed at teaching a history lesson or imparting a key message. So the reenactment articles were really interesting to me.

I know a person who does reenactments, and he is enthusiastic about his group’s forays into the historical past. He believes this practice makes history relevant because it brings it into the present – somehow, it’s more “real.” The Levin article raises questions about making the Civil War more real through reenactments. Is this really connecting the past to the present? This part of the article gave me serious pause: “Its preferred view of history flies in the face of the last 40 years of serious scholarship, but more importantly, its narrow view of what it means to remember a Confederate past will likely only continue to pull in folks who place themselves within a larger morality play that blurs the
distinction between past and present.” I thought a lot also about the statement that this practice is “the desire to live in the past – not the present.” How can romanticizing the past be present-focused?

Kowalcyk’s embedment with the reenactors brought me right back to what I think is a core issue with this practice: What is real? What is reality? If this is, as Kowalcyk says, “The hobby of historical pretending,” is it just childhood play amongst adults who choose to tell one version of history? What happens when the facts are wrong, left out, distorted to meet present views? Is reenacting a valid way to remember the past? If yes, whose [historical] memory is it?

Having expressed all of this I must admit these two bloggers’ statements convinced me to go easier on reenactors.

Blogger: “I don’t think there’s anything disreputable about reenacting, but it is more a world ofbuffs and enthusiasts rather than something undertaken by professionals.”

Blogger: “Making history personal: It seems to me a great way to get students more engaged with the past – to envision it as something real and concrete as opposed to a list of dates and events in a book. They want to find something of themselves back there – so the trick is, to me, to do it in a way that doesn’t glorify or hide oppression, but rather uses to reveal something about what it means to be human.”

My final question: Does reenacting make history relevant?

Pingback: Moving History Forward

Great opening: “The terms “historian” and “entrepreneur” are not often mentioned in the same sentence. The historian studies and writes about the past, while an entrepreneur is focused on innovating for the future and taking risks—and in many instances ends up being the one making history. Historians are not traditionally taught to be entrepreneurs. In the age of new media, however, this is starting to change.”

More thoughts about relevance:
I enjoyed this article, and obviously because I am in the public history program, I believe that we do need to work “outside the academy” to make everyday history relevant to the public. Case in point: the current situation of our beloved history department! I think one thing we can all do is look at history more like a business. It must be grounded, scholarly, and truthful. It must also have the energy of the present. History is not for behind closed doors, or the pages of scholarly journals. It is for us all. If that is true, it must move beyond the walls of academe and into people’s homes and psyches.

The entrepreneurial spirit, such as using technology in our study – and craft – of history, can strengthen our relevance by making it interesting, current, and yes, more accessible to the public.

Wikipedia Articles

This statistic surprised me that the public is increasingly going to Wikipedia as a research source: 42%. The issue of source verifiability (secondary or primary, as we learned with the articles) is one to consider when searching for information about which we are unfamiliar. I agree with the use of Wikipedia as an initial “go-to place” to find other direction, but never trust it without being a good history detective.

Good blogger quote: “Despite its flaws, Wikipedia is my initial go-to source for information on virtually any subject that an encyclopedia would be expected to cover. NOT because I expect consistent accuracy — but only because it’s a handy tool for priming the pump of my own thinking, AND for offering me links to other sources. Therefore it’s irrational to criticize WP for “obsessive footnotery.” Good grief, the more footnotes, the better — because that just means more resources for the reader to

The CopyVillain article was great education for me. I had no idea how Wikipedia worked, so to learn about the editing practices and “reliable sources” was great.

So, do we agree with this? “What Messer-Kruse is missing is how the reliable source policy allows Wikipedia to use the larger scholarly process of peer review for its own benefit. By preventing the use of self-published sources, and preferring secondary sources to primary sources, Wikipedia attempts to ensure that information has been subjected to the most vigorous review possible by scholars before being included in the encyclopedia. This is an important potential problem for Wikipedia. It is an even more critical problem for a web-using public that too often allows Wikipedia to serve as their primary, or only, source of information on a given topic.”

I appreciated this blog thought about personal responsibility with Wikipedia and how we can look at ways to influence its accuracy and credibility: “ I think that if you want to influence Wikipedia, it is best to create a profile and be open about your identity, potential conflicts of interests and biases. I actually recommend putting your full name in your profile. I’ve found that having an established track record of high-quality edits
goes a long way. Often, when people see a new edit that they don’t like, they look at who
added it, often to check if it’s vandalism or sloppy scholarship.”

Reenactors Rampant and Wicked Wikipedia.

Not understanding the attraction some people have for historical reenactments, I often wondered if Civil War reenactors were manifesting their Confederate desire to rewrite history with them as the victors. Likewise, Kowalczyk’s article alludes to a certain interpretation of history that most reenactors espouse. This version is the traditional one that glosses over the ugly truths of our nation’s origins, to give us a sanitized mono-story of inexorable Euro-American progress toward today’s status quo. Sometimes this narrative is Panglossian in its “not perfect but the best we can expect” outlook, veering toward complete exculpation in the “men of their day” excuse for genocide and slavery. In a similar point on Historiann’s blog, the author comments that reenactors are typically “middle-aged white men” who “romanticize” the past with assiduous detail to petty issues, such as uniforms, while the important historical questions of injustice, dispossession, and murder are conveniently avoided. Wouldn’t a true, or at least more accurate reenactment portray middle age white men as the agents of evil, not as chivalrous pioneers, soldiers, explorers, or forbears who nobly trail-blazed through savage lands? Levine, writing in the Atlantic, intimates that reenactors may be an older demographic which is struggling to retain a comforting traditional narrative that has changed in their lifetime, dispossessing them of their established privilege while threatening those inalienable “truths” that underpin their value system. A system that is, at the very least, uncomfortable with other voices who question many accepted “facts” about our history.

In exploring another reason why reenactors are compelled to engage in, what apparently can be an expensive and time consuming hobby, Kowalczyk’s informant Old Hickory, explains that he gets his ‘credibility’ from reenacting. Moreover, he describes one event as ‘the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of.’ Is this sense of purpose in life, in belonging to something bigger than themselves, in essence being part of history, what motivates them? In a previous course text, Nina Simon quotes an author as saying two of the four things a person needs to be happy are ‘time spent with people we like, and the chance to be part of something bigger.’ I can see how reenacting could fulfil the criteria mentioned for many people, just as it could also be a political statement for people who ‘don’t just take the New York Times and go glug-glug-glug.’

Or is reenactment a chauvinistic restatement of might makes right where male strength reasserts itself over encroaching female power in a modern world that seems to be leveled by brain over brawn. Maybe the whole thing is giant game of ‘“cowboys and Indians’” as Kowalczyk implies, seemingly concurring with Historiann who talks of the “childish nature of the fantasies” conducted by reenactors. In this sense people are having fun, being entertained, on the basis of other’s suffering in a macabre situation where people’s “deaths eventually would become someone’s hobby….” As pointed out by some of the authors it does seem strange to consider future reenactments of battles from Iraq or Afghanistan just as there are Civil War and WWII reenactments today.

So is reenactment the adult version of cowboys and Indians, an atavistic expression of human nature, or is it a learned violent behavior? The link to another Kowalczyk article “Manhood, Lorain-style,” seems to suggest it is more nurture than nature while the final lines of the “Embedded” piece implicates nature. But if reenactment can be legitimately questioned why can’t all forms of entertainment, from novels to movies, be questioned? Isn’t there something vicarious about most writing and film work? Are reenactors more indictable than fans of Game of Thrones, or is that sincerely fiction while reenactors are sincere purveyors of one-sided history?

Cohen’s piece in the New York Times on the dearth of women editing/contributing to Wikipedia illustrates the effects of structural constraints and traditionally defined gender roles. As mentioned only about 15% of those who contribute and edit Wikipedia articles are women mirroring the percentage of women in leadership positions as defined by societal norms. Thus, even though there is “no male-dominated executive team favoring men over women,” women appear to be hesitant to join in because their worth is often discounted through marginalization.

The Messer-Kruse and CopyVillian articles raise the always present question of accuracy in history. Is there truth in a historical account, or many truths, or does it always depend on a person’s perspective? Perhaps there is no organic truth in history, but veracity is found in “a larger process of negotiating the truth” as CopyVillian suggests. On a different point but relevant to Wikipedia’s objectivity does it privilege some sources over others? Historically, only elites with education and/or wealth wrote history, advantaging their biases in ignoring or denigrating the masses while defaming their enemies. Does Wikipedia privilege a Western interpretation of history because the rich world has the resources and access to the medium that is unavailable to less well off parts of the world?  


Real (?) History

While I love historical films, books and experiences, historical reenactments of wars have always bothered me. I know that many reenactors see it as “honoring the dead”, but I don’t really think play acting an actually horrifying battle from a script, laying “dead” still for a few minutes (hours?), and then going home is honoring anyone. My brother is a soldier and I find it horrifying that someone in 100 years might recreate the violence that he has been a part of. I think it trivializes history and makes it almost seem fictional…like a play. I appreciated Little’s statement, “Why bother reenacting a 250-year old war, when Americans in 2009 can just go to Iraq or Afghanistan to see a bloody war for the empire up close?” It seems morbid to me.

In particular, Civil War reenactment is hard for me to stomach. When I was 15, I spent a summer traveling through the deep south and was shocked at the presence of so many confederate flags, “Land of Dixie” bumper stickers and Civil War memorabilia. As a born and raised Yankee, I was offended that people in America could still celebrate such a deplorable “side” of war. When I posed the question to  my friend who had grown up in Mississippi, she shrugged and said “We aren’t celebrating being slave owners or fighting to protect slavery. It is simply part of our past and is still a part of our identity. It’s not about racism, it’s about being proud to be from the South and that’s what the Confederate flag represents.” I still struggle to understand that perspective. Dressing up in a Confederate uniform and reciting lines about “The War of Northern Aggression” seems to celebrate a culture that was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of American lives to protect that “curious institution.”

I am so glad that we had to read two perspectives on Wikipedia. After reading Messer-Kruse’s piece, I felt vindicated by my refusal to accept Wikipedia as a source from my students. I made plans to have them read this article at the beginning of every year to prove the fallibility of the cite. I have learned to approach many secondary sources with caution (as in school textbooks) and was appalled to learn that Wikipedia rejects evidence cited from primary sources, instead holding that, “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of something, Wikipedia will echo that.” (Messer-Kruse) WHAT? That lemming philosophy does not sit well with me.

However, my opinion of Wikipedia softened after reading Famiglietti. Although I can not accept Wikipedia as a cited source in research projects, I do understand that the editing process in Wikipedia is quite stringent and reliable(ish). I generally tell students to use Wikipedia as a jumping off point. Get some background knowledge from the website and then do some additional research to verify. A good historian must make good use of many secondary AND primary sources.

Playing Dead

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Appomattox Court House. It was early on a Tuesday Morning and I was the first visitor there for the day. For a half hour or so, I got free reign of the place. But then, all at once, busses pulled in and people dressed up in Civil War garb and began spilling out into the parking lot. It was fascinating because there were re-enactors there who had nose rings, blue hair, and participants were from all different races and nationalities – nothing I had ever seen before. I was pretty excited; I figured that there was going to be some sort of show for school field trips. At the visitor center, I asked when the program was going to begin.   The ranger glared at me and said that there was no show. “What do you mean there is no show? Why is everyone dressed up?” “Because they like to,” was the curt reply. I could tell he was sick of being questioned about re-enactors.

I always wondered when re-enacting began.   I appreciated the history provided in Embedded with the Re-enactors and the explanation that re-enacting began with Revolutionary War veterans reliving their experiences in Lexington. Now, we have re-enactments of slave sales, the Underground Railroad, and crossing the Mexican border with the help of a coyote all in the name of understanding the past. The other article mentions that participants of such activities are largely white and from the first world. What does that say about our culture?   What we need to pretend to have hardship?

I get that people need a community to feel part of something larger than themselves.   It is also fun to step into a new persona and do things that one would not generally do as oneself. But is there more? The Embedded article mentioned that French and Indian War re-enactors generally have the same political views.  Is this clutch to the past a manifestation of fear of the present/future?

I break re-creating into two categories: The first is the kind where people display old time handy crafts such as candle dipping, muzzle loading, or rug making. I cannot get enough of these types of re-enactments.

The second is the emotional experience like those mentioned above.  This is where I have a hard time.   First, I do not like to have my emotions manipulated. Second, I think that at some level, we take someone else’s misfortune and turn it into a “fun” activity for us makes the actual experience less than what it was. On the other hand, though, these types of activities can bring understanding.   Hmmm – such a fine line.

In regards to slave auction reenactments, I wonder about the truth of it all.   If we experience a slave auction with our present standards and feelings regarding slavery, of course the auction will be recoiling experience.   But, is that really representative of slave auctions of the past?    Did shoppers of the antebellum era have the same reaction to a slave trade or was it just another day at the market?   Is there a discrepancy between the eras and is this discrepancy discussed?

Historic Pres pt. II

I think I was on the same page as everyone else regarding this reading-  I loved the second half of the Tyler book and had to start dog-earring pages after I ran out of sticky tabs.

I was glad the text explained the National Register Criteria, Criteria for Exclusion, and types of intervention which I had attempted to explain and botched in class last week. One thing I found interesting was that they mentioned in passing the 50-year rule, but didn’t go into notable exceptions as much… surely there are better examples than the original McDonald’s from 1953. In my mind, very notable structures can gain huge historic significance very quickly if some sort of event of national or global significance occurs there. Obviously 50 years is an arbitrary number. Another intriguing idea was that an owner would request for a property to lose its designation, which is generally not allowed. I wondered at why a property owner would request to be de-designated, especially after learning how designation doesn’t provide any real protection or obstacles for making changes to a property. Perhaps it is due to the same misunderstanding that people have about not wanting to designate properties in the first place. In fact, these misguided concerns were laid out very clearly as possible basis of opposition to the designation of historic districts later on in the text, though these were more concerned with ideas of profit loss at a business level.

The chapter on preservation technology (ch. 7) was helpful from the get-go at answering many of the questions I had raised last week about what exactly one does when they work in preservation, and what the qualifications are. This explanation was both disheartening and encouraging : “Work in the field of preservation technology is multidisciplinary, involving architects, engineers, planners, archeologists, architectural and object conservators, curators, educators, managers, tradespeople, historians, contractors, technicians, and students” (p. 189). Obviously this is an overwhelmingly technically skilled, professional group of tradesmen/women. The very small sliver of hope for us MAHR folks, then, is as conservator, curator, or historian. Of course even conservation technology/skill is something that each of us would need to learn through specific field training. The research and documentation of historic properties, on the other hand, is something each of us is very equipped to handle. My first thought in reading this was “well this is what Kaci does on a daily basis.” Though Tyler gave a great overview of the different resources that are used in historic property research, he was less detailed in telling us how or why this research is even necessary, what it is used for, how to find the previous research, etc. I think this was a missed opportunity as this information is not only subject of federal programs like HABS but invaluable in gaining designation, lobbying against new development, and building a case for preservation to begin with.

Tyler also mentioned the examples of Uluru and Sangre de Cristo Mountains as culturally significant landscapes, and that many times indigenous peoples fight for usage limitations for these types of landscapes. Something that we discussed in my CRM course that was interesting was that not only can these groups lobby to protect the sites themselves, but the skyline of the greater area surrounding these sites, or any adjacent areas of development for having an environmental impact on trails used to access these sites, noise pollution, or disturbing the view. Some of this information is a bit foggy so if Dr. Green comes to our class this might be something to discuss.

I was also impressed at Tyler’s treatment of rural preservation and countering urban sprawl. I had always heard about urban sprawl as a problem-child of rural-turned-suburban areas, especially growing up in Meridian/Eagle, but I never realized there were actually actions being taken to prevent it. This discussion also gave us a really useful background discussion if we end up using it as one of our conversation topics for Common Grounds.

Lastly, the chapter on heritage tourism (ch. 11) was my personal favorite, since history and travel are my biggest passions. I loved the idea of improving sight-seeing tourism with living history interpretations and history and culture-based introductions of cities rather than superficial sight-seeing based tourism, which could be considered sort of the facadism of heritage tourism. Anytime I go to a new city for the first time, I like to do a quick bus tour, usually with a hop-on hop-off component to get my bearings of the geography and a quick overview of the history, development, and different districts of the place. Though these are always a great introduction to a new place, the most memorable of these will always be the tour I took in Savannah, when I showed my mom the city on her first trip. It was completely unexpected, but we had probably 4 or 5 “characters” join us on our tour, including Forrest Gump and a confederate soldier. I was also fascinated by the case study of Cape Hatteras lighthouse. Though I visited the site about a year and a half ago, I either didn’t learn or didn’t remember that they actually moved the entire structure a half mile inland due to coastal erosion. Considering the steep cost of $12 million, I wonder why they didn’t move it even further to prevent having to move it again in the not-so-distant future. I can imagine part of it has to do with making sure it is still in its coastal context.


Can We Restore It? Yes we can!

I enjoyed the second half of this book much more than the first half. Honestly, I was kind of dreading the reading another week’s worth of this book, but it transformed into a text that I’ll actually probably use in my day-to-day work.

“Can you tell me about my home’s history?” is probably the number one research request sent to me by members of the public. Prior to reading this section I was mostly relying on newspapers, Sanborn Maps, tract & ownership records, and homestead records. I didn’t even know the HABS/HAER/HALS collections existed (p. 207-210). So helpful!

If you have not yet had a chance, be sure to check out the resources in the rear of the book. There is an illustrated guide to architectural terms and a list of useful preservation websites. I only wish they would have included a list of lingo commonly used by architects to describe words like restoration or heritage areas.

“Indeed, much of the historic integrity of a structure can be lost through inappropriate work, even when the goal is restoration.” (p. 189) When I read this I couldn’t help but giggle and think about the Ecce Homo fresco in Spain that got “restored” in 2012. Interestingly, the botched restoration ended up attracting tourists and boosting the local economy. I think cases like this help drive home the point Tyler et. al. make in the heritage tourism chapter (p. 322). Sure Ecce Homo is drawing in crowds now, but if the little town doesn’t develop a tourism plan beyond its temporary popularity as a meme, then what will draw in future visitors in 50 or 100 years? Do you think it’s okay to use gimmicks like these in order to spark a long-term tourist plan? Is it opportunity knocking, or just tasteless?

The section on saving rural places really surprised me, as I didn’t know anybody cared about these spaces (p.294). Every time I drive out to The Village at Meridian, I see old tiny farms being devoured by the new development. As the population continues to grow in “rural” states like Idaho & Wyoming, I expect this situation will become increasingly common. I’d be curious to learn more about Oregon’s sprawl slowing laws and how we could begin implementing them early here in Idaho.

That two-headed calf…

There were numerous aspects of the second half of Historic Preservation that intrigued me and raised interesting questions. Aside from detailing the process of applying for designation on the National Register of Historic Places, chapter five raised the issue of ‘integrity’ and the issue of the recent past. As we discussed in class last week, the ‘integrity’ of a building includes the context in which it stands. As an archaeologist, I understand the importance of context. Artifacts without a context tell poor tales of the past. However, moving a building out of its original context should not immediately decrease the historic or cultural integrity of that building. The story of the building’s move may become integral to the overall story of the town and a new context may have evolved. I think the discussion around integrity and the process of designation emphasizes the idiosyncratic nature of historic preservation. Every building, district, landmark, etc. has a story to tell, if you do the research and care to listen.

Now for the recent past. I’ll admit, I audibly groaned when I read “DOCOMOMO”. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have little love for modern architecture. I have possibly less love for recent history as a subject of interest. However, I appreciate the need to preserve unique representations of architecture and places of recent historical importance. (Even if I do not appreciate their appearance.) As I mentioned above, every building has a story to tell and many modern buildings tell the story of American architectural history.

I enjoyed the discussion of the various types of intervention and the tools and technology for documenting and preserving buildings. This chapter was particularly poignant in light of our discussion on the possibility of gaining employment in historic preservation. I thought it would be extremely interesting to produce Historic Structure Reports. Not only do I find the process of researching and learning fascinating, but also these are the stories of the lives of buildings. It would seem that digital tools have made documenting buildings easier and more convenient. However, like all technology, there are limits and often getting out paper, pencil, and measuring tape will produce the best results.

One final issue was brought to my attention while reading chapter nine. I greatly enjoyed the discussion of the Main Street Program and the revitalization of historic downtowns. The discussion on historic theatres reminded me of the Wilma in Missoula and the Egyptian here in Boise. They are magnets for film festivals, music groups, and community events in both cities. My only problem with this chapter comes just before these great discussions. The authors state, “These core areas should not be seen as museums where time stands still but as organisms that continually evolve into new forms.” (p. 279). Did that bother anyone else? I hope that we are moving to a point where museums are not places where time stands still, but are also organisms that grow and evolve with their communities. How awful to have a book about historic preservation use museums as the source of their ‘what not to be’ example. Then I think about the two-headed calf and I die a little inside.

Historic Preservation 2

Meggan Reflections 3/02/15

Historic PreseBoiseLandmarkBldgsrvation 2

The more I read and explore, the more I realize what I do not know, or misunderstood about historic preservation! Again, my post could be way too long on this subject after poking around the NPS website and reading the Tyler, et. al. book.

I was getting confused between National Historic Landmarks and National Register of Historic Places designation criteria and governing responsibility. Shows how ignorant of this stuff I am! So now I understand that NHLs have official Dept of Interior recognition and therefore are designated by the Secretary of Interior as the most significant national historic places: “buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects that possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States in history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.” It has a much higher criteria than NHP. Majority power to object (with more than one property owner) was interesting, too, in that it can stop the Secretary of the Interior from designating. I didn’t realize that these places can be within units of the National Park System, or not. I found it interesting that one of its objectives was educational: “because it leads to increased public attention to and interest in a property.” And, again, after reading, I now know that upon designation, National Historic Landmarks are also then listed in the National Register of Historic Places. National Register of Historic Places is the “official federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. National Register properties have significance to the history of their community state, or the nation.” These are nominated more locally, from State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs), Federal Preservation Officers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (tribal lands), private individuals and organizations, cities, and Tribes. Also, not until I read all this did I understand the issue of local control, not necessarily government control regarding private property. Community engagement is really important, but it can also be really subjective and weighted without strong guidelines, reviews, and individuals. (Sorry to bore you all with this but I had to type it up to better help me remember it all and to have for reference!)

Here are a few issues that were raised for me, and a bunch of URLs that were cool to explore!

• What is in Boise’s Backyard?
Local information points to some resources we have right here in Boise:
Could we ask Dan Everhart (Preservation Idaho), John Bertram (Planmakers and Preservation Idaho), or Barbara Perry-Bauer (TAG Historical Consulting), to speak to us, or join our walk? The Preservation Idaho website is very good: http://www.preservationidaho.org/

The annual “Onions and Orchids” event will be in Sandpoint this year if anyone wil be there March 30. That’s been a good “pulse-check” of what is good and not-so-good in the world of historic preservation: http://www.preservationidaho.org/event/2015/38th-annual-orchids-onions-awards-ceremony.

Does anyone want to join me June 20th for the “Up on the Roof Deux” (second year) event in support of Preservation Idaho? Kinda cool event on rooftops in Boise to learn more about old and new Boise buildings, with food, drinks, music.
I settled for this Wiki site on Boise (Ada County) NHP list for dates, places:

I learned a bit more about Historic Districts, too! The City of Boise’s website had a decent way to search each: http://pds.cityofboise.org/planning/hp/districts/
We have nine historic preservation districts: East End, North End, Hays Street, Warm Springs Avenue, Harrison Boulevard, Hyde Park, Old Boise, South Eighth Street, Spaulding Ranch. Maybe we could visit one or for our class walking tour?
This was new to me – the impact of living in an Historic District: “For most homeowners, living in an historic district has little impact on the use and improvement of their property. Under State and local law, property owners must secure a Certificate of Appropriateness for external alterations to houses and structures. Major alterations (including demolitions and new construction) are reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission in public hearings. Anyone want to go to one of those? I may! Maybe that is what happened with the castle? Historic Districts can be prey to subjective power, money, or “groupthink” on designations, approvals, alterations…the book makes the case clearly that community surveillance and action/neighborhood protection is preferred.

Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) Sites and National Landmarks map:

I downloaded “Shaping Boise,” about Boise’s Landmark Buildings fro the City website – TOC (graphic) is attached here. URL if you want a copy of the publication, which is really helpful: http://pds.cityofboise.org/media/200922/boiselandmarks.pdf

Did you know that Boise was a blog topic over Valentine’s Day in the NTHP “Preservation Nation” Blog? Yep…
Titled “CityLove, Boise” – Feb 2014

• The Heritage Initiatives section: “Your Story,” marking national diversity (origin, ethnicity, race, language, etc.) made me think of the cultural importance of recognition initiatives such as Minidoka in Idaho for Japanese-Americans. I was surprised to see there was a Kooskia Internment Camp. The table indicates it is undesignated, no markers. I had no idea, which makes me more aware of the public historian’s role to increase public education.

• NPS website “Shared Places” is great! I really liked the public history approach to this – encouraging people to develop their own self-guided travel itineraries to see NHR places, diverse places across the country. Wouldn’t that be a great family focus for NPS to really push publicly? http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/index.htm

• The chapter on Legal issues was stimulating, especially regarding precedent-setting case studies such as the issue of religious properties – the Frank Lloyd Wright Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. I didn’t realize inside space could be considered as with this church, and also that an easement (purchase of land with specific use intent for preservation, just like a land easement), would protect the place.

• The “Significance Thermometer:” Kinda weird and simplistic, but a good visual way to literally “gauge” significance sue to age, style, unaltered, historical.

• “Themes and Concepts:” The movement in 90s comes through with the expansion of the circles’ scope in 1994 to include “everyday” life and “ordinary people.” A huge shift from designating only the nations’ “important people and places.”

• I went to Grant Park Stadium – Soldier Field (1924) in Chicago two years ago to see a Cubs game. I thought it was an odd mix of old and new, and wondered about the historic preservation aspects of it. Well, again, the readings helped me! It was a NHL “Dedesignation!” How awful, what a sad thing.

• Ch 7 – More distinctions to consider. This made me thik back to the re-do of the CJU House on the Basque Block, with Restoration (inside and out), reconstruction, preservation technology/construction, conservation – paint colors, repro items in the house, wallpaper. Plus the archaeology aspects – all covered in our readings. The more interdisciplinary, I think the greater success.

• I thought of Mandy’s archival interest with the ways to search info for designations: maps, plats, literature/ docs, Sandborn fire maps, city directories, drawings, blueprints, searching…Love “Bird’s-eye’ lithographs!

• Public safety and accessibility are huge concerns, and so I enjoyed reading about considerations such as fire/sprinkler systems, egress means, accessibility. Museums really must invest wisely (and upgrade regularly) due to liability concerns of visitors, staff, and collections.

• Let’s start this here I Boise! (Ch 9 – the 1980 “Main Street Health Program,” by Ntl Trust for Historic Preservation. To revitalize, yet preserve, downtowns is important, and yes it also dovetails with economic vitality. Boise is part of the comeback of downtowns with these elements: city planning, existing infrastructure, community focus, functional diversity, employment, sprawl reduction, downtown health.

• Historical streets exhibits in Ann Arbor– pg 324 – This is a bit like my rephotography idea for the Basque section downtown! Neat.

• Cultural landscapes – pg 327. This is critical to my Basque landscape study…
Harder to define than historic buildings, or even groups of buildings in historic districts, cultural landscape “include larger areas of interest where details of the human story or the impact of cultural settlement are evident. Often it is the concept of place, or personal experiences with an actual place, that create very real and palpable associations larger than life – certainly larger than the visual panorama f existing materials and landforms.”

• The nexus of heritage and economics/politics – role of economics and marketing in historic preservation and heritage tourism:

Example: 1988 Nation’s first official Heritage Area (as opposed to a corridor) Pennsylvania America’s Industrial Heritage Project (AIHP)…Diverse and dispersed landscape – partnerships, municipalities, 8,000 sq miles. Goals to “achieve widespread, large-scale preservation, to promote tourism, and to encourage economic activity.” Economic impact critical to justify to Congress the need for federal designation and funding.

I see that the “Visit Idaho” Dept of Commerce/Tourism site has this: http://www.visitidaho.org/historic-sites/Anyone read the Idaho Business Review?

I liked the “Experience Economy” thoughts by by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, from Starbucks coffeeshops to other ‘experiences,” we need to think about this for historic preservation, museums, etc. Isn’t this really all about “participatory” experiences – mixed with economic considerations?

I am set to attend a Heritage Tourism workshop this week, as well as the NEH grant workshop. Our readings confirmed what I have been suspecting lately about historical business, whether we are thinking about museums, education programs, interpretive sites, or historic preservation: money matters.