Tom King and Bombing Boise

Tom King’s lifelong career in CRM has obviously led to great cynicism about the system in place to protect our national heritage (understatement of the century.) This perspective colors this text throughout, where he makes the groundshattering claim from the beginning that the entire system of bureacratic natural and cultural resource protection is in fact a sham. He is intentional in this claim, trying to explode readers’ perceptions of CRM, especially since most of his readers are interested or work in heritage management. While it is dismaying that all of the extensive regulations, policies, and agencies in place in King’s view are essentially accomplishing project proponents’ goals rather than actual CRM, I do trust where King is coming from, based on his extensive experiences as a consultant, working with different agencies, and his concern for the actual protection of resources. For these reasons, while I can very easily see where this could be a depressing read for those interested in entering CRM, I was very interested in seeing what King had to say, and what changes he suggested. Having read King before, I did enter with expectations of lengthy example cases, but I was dismayed that the bulk of the text was devoted to case examples with only the last chapter dedicated to possible solutions (many of which he admitted were near impossible, i.e. constitutional amendments). Now that I think about it, I think we were forewarned about this…

For me, the most disappointing part of the whole system that King described is that it is marked by lethargy, inertia, and an overall feeling of “that’s just the way it is.” The CRM personnel will contract themselves to project proponents, coming up with as few roadblocks as possible; the federal and state agencies will only step in and impede in the projects if there is a serious issue that others are sure to notice; the contractors will fudge on their bids about the amount of time compliance will take to get the job; and the proponents themselves will request bids for FONSI when they search for their EA contractor. (how is that even allowed?!) I appreciated King pointing all of this out, and trying to put a fire under the feet of everyone involved to say “this isn’t why we have this system in place! These laws and policies were created for a reason! Let’s put intention back into the system instead of regarding it as red tape that you just have to work your way through/evade!” A big part of it that King points out is the language of obfuscation that populates the regulations, public notices, and that they are based on a “good faith effort.” By not being hard and fast rules, it is easy to not consult the parties that the project proponents, or as King points out, even SHPO or other agencies realize could raise the biggest fuss or ask for more extensive review.  One of the weirdest gray areas to me was the idea of “cumulative impacts.” What is the point of a cumulative impact option if the site can be divided into smaller projects to allow for quicker review and project approval? How often would anyone acknowledge a cumulative effect? On the other hand, couldn’t anything be considered in a long-view and be included as  a cumulative impact? Also, King did extensively lay blame with the Bush administration, it would be interesting to see the specific policy positions the Bush administration took that were responsible for this in King’s eyes and how that looks now towards the end of Obama’s administration.

The most disheartening example King mentioned was between the Rosas and the BNSF in Abo Canyon, due to the extent of energy, time, money, and how thoroughly the Rosas engaged with the review process to work within the system to seek protection for the canyon. This clearly demonstrates that the process does not work, is controlled through the discretion of the project proponents and agency reviewers, and that community mobilization, heritage protection law, and even the work of CRM consultants isn’t necessarily the solution. I am torn here because the extent of the Rosas’ engagement with the process is a good example to follow in say, continual work to protect Minidoka from the interests of dairies and CAFOs, but also an example that doesn’t have a positive outcome. I think the saving grace for Minidoka may be that the federal agency, in this case NPS, is the one petitioning for protection rather than an outside reviewer or a project (CAFO) proponent.

As an aside, King briefly mentioned the conflicts between Native Hawaiians and NASA over building telescopes on spiritual places. This is ongoing and it was recently announced that the telescope under construction in Hawaii as the world’s largest telescope has since lost that ranking. If you are interested you can read about it here. There is also a pretty big movement for protecting Hawaii against further intrusions, including petitions here.


Aaaaayy, it’s ok, the FONSI said so!

I enjoyed reading this book, if only for the fact that I could get fired up, not only about the problems and possible solutions, but also King himself. The style and organization of the book are juxtaposed nicely against the complicated and face-palm inducing laws and jargon. For this post I have numerous coherent comments and thoughts that I will share, but I’ve also pulled out some of my favorite quotes and some random thoughts at the end.


I’m less upset that CRM and EIA consultants allow their reports to be dictated by their employers than I am about the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, etc, all of these government agencies who are tasked with impartial review have zero integrity. “So before BLM had even received a draft of the EA from the contractor—BNSF’s contractor, that is—who was preparing it, the Corps, BLM, and BNSF took it for granted that BLM was going to issue a FONSI—that is, find that the project would have no significant impact on the human environment….But what’s important here is that although neither the Corps nor BLM had carried out the assessment that was both legally and logically necessary to determine whether all these effects amounted to something significant, they already knew they were going to find them not so. In short, the fix was in. This is by no means uncommon. I’ve seen requests for proposals (RFPs) in which the agency seeking a contractor specified that the contractor would prepare an EA and FONSI, and I’ve very, very rarely seen a case in which an EA actually led to the decision to do an EIS. It does happen, but usually only with a lot of pressure from outside the agency.” (p. 57). On top of all of that King later states: “And most of the laws give federal agencies almost unfettered authority to interpret their responsibilities” (p. 65). WHAT!? This is disgraceful. I’m disappointed moreover because I feel this is the sort of crap that the public can use to argue for privatization, that big government is bad, and many other blanket statements that ignore the fact that a restructuring of the system would help rather than throwing the whole thing out or over to some massive corporation who then controls the process from start to finish.


I have some reservations about the wild horse issue. I do not know enough about the BLM’s management, but I do know that in some areas, the wild horses are actually destroying the countryside and dying of starvation at the same time. I get that King is using this as an example of the bigger picture that all parties involved are refusing to look at, but the way he presents it constrains the story and makes the BLM out to be the bad guys. Maybe they are the bad guys, but King has fallen into the same trap he criticizes, not taking the time to discuss all of the evidence.


With the case of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe I am more than outraged. Have these archaeologists never heard of landscape archaeology? It’s an entire field of study on the prehistoric/historic use of land by groups of people including spiritual sites. You have one job, do it, and do it with integrity (i.e. in an undisturbed manner).


I like that he isn’t shooting for the protection of everything just because it’s part of the built or natural heritage. The time needs to be taken for a productive discussion of the benefits, consequences, and needs of individual cases. We should be able to have democratic deliberations in order to find the best balance or compromise. According to King, “that, regrettably, we can’t presently do.” (p. 16) “I’m not saying that all the people who come to me with their problems ought to prevail, but I’m enough of a populist to think that they ought to be heard, and negotiated with in good faith, and that they ought to have a level playing field on which to contend. They aren’t and they don’t, and in a democracy, that strikes me as a problem.” (p. 26). This seems to be his mantra. If we could only get all of the parties to sit down and have an actual conversation, without the jargon and the grandstanding and the fogging, we might actually make progress through a legitimate process of deliberation.




“The notion that these requirements serve an actual purpose—that it’s a good idea to think about what damage may result from something you’re thinking of doing, before doing it—has been quite lost.” (pg 7) – I feel like this is true for more than just natural or built heritage.

“perceive it to be a mere administrative nuisance” (67) – I’m terribly sorry you think caring for the environmental impacts of your actions are a nuisance, but future generations would really appreciate it if you would do your job.

So is a solution to the “analyst as a proponent” problem to de-privatize CRM and EIA?

Aren’t all government documents full of jargon and hard to comprehend? Ever tried to read a proposed bill or law or filed your taxes for that matter?

“There’s really no reason why not, except that the application of laws like NEPA and section 106 seems to cause people to shut down their faculties of common sense.” (78).

Solutions Galore!

I think I’m the outlier of our group…but I loved Our Unprotected Heritage and I appreciated King’s interpretation of the problems. I appreciate snark and frankness, particularly in academic writing. And I disagree that he does not offer solutions. I think that if we look at this work holistically, instead of as a list of problems that need solutions, we can find many recommendations.

For starters, the overwhelming message of the book is that government agencies have tied their own hands. They write jargon-y protocol to follow confusing laws and expect underpaid and overworked employees to be shiny beacons of morality and competency. As King points out various antiquated or confusing practices of government agencies, I find that his solutions read between the lines…”Stop doing that!” Let’s focus less on red tape and bureaucratic forms so that our federal and state employees have the time to seek real solutions with real people. Instead of filling manuals with confusing wording and acronyms, let’s write clear directions and expectations. While laws might be slow to change and update, we can give administrative and managerial staff the confidence and power to make common sense judgements. I appreciated King’s example of the couple making a decision to buy a car…they discuss options, weigh outcomes and make an informed decision together. It should not be so difficult for agencies and concerned citizens to have the same types of conversation and rely less on forms, letters, lawyers, and arms distance negotiations.

Another glaring issue that King discusses (and I think proposes solutions to) is the problem of EIA and CRM firms acting as a proponent for project. If a third party is hired to assess the environmental or cultural impact of a project, they are far more likely to skew results in favor of their client. After all, “Your project means the world to us!” truly does mean the fiscal survivability of the firm. I think the solution for this problem is equally as clear as the last…”Be bothered by this!” Governmental agencies, consultants, clients and citizens should all be bothered by this. If laws are in place to prevent corruption and we all have to spend the time and resources on following these laws, shouldn’t we want our time and money to be well spent? The best way to circumnavigate this is in the small example that King gives on pg. 43. “Environmental and cultural resources studies (should) be done by contractors who report directly to (the agency), rather than to the project proponent. The proponent pays, but the agency calls the shots.” I’m sure the reason why most agencies don’t do this is lack of staff to accomodate the extra work. But if agencies free themselves from bureaucratic nonsense (as mentioned) above, they should have time to read a (concise and jargon-free) report from the consultant.

King does tear through Caldwell’s recommendations for change, but I don’t think he dismisses them. Instead he adjusts them for the real world. Idealism is fine and dandy in our ivory towers, but the reality of the situation calls for the kind of brutal honest that King offers. Part of finding any solution is in a sophisticated analysis of the problem. It is clear that King has done that.

More Cowbell? How About More Acronyms Instead?

Our Unprotected Heritage: Whitewashing the Destruction of Our Cultural and Natural Environment was a really befuddling read for me. I have to agree with Tom King that NEPA, NHPA, and all their various acronyms and sections are all super confusing, full of jargon, and inaccessible. Even King is unable to make the chaos of environmental & cultural preservation laws understandable. Thus, I’m going to be really upfront with you all and admit that I’m not sure that I followed King’s explanation of heritage laws very well. I have more questions than ideas this week.

Why is it bad that consultants work in the interest of the people that pay them? As a historian who believes that all history is biased, I find it sort of naïve to assume that consultants would work against their employer’s interests unless there was a Godzilla-sized problem. King and I agree that there is a moral responsibility to try and counteract this bias. (164-166) However, it seems like King never puts forth an obvious solution other than “build [new] administrative systems”. (166)

Don’t all of King’s complaints come back to the fact that the general public doesn’t really care about heritage protection until it’s right in their backyard? In the final chapter, King discusses how Republicans “launched attacks on both NEPA and section 106 of NHPA.” (147) However, these lawmakers seem to be doing their jobs, as a majority of their constituents don’t really care about heritage preservation. Broken NEPA & NHPA laws seem like sort of a minor symptom of a much larger disease. I mean, this is sort of obvious from the first chapter when King talks about how quantifiable bright green laws (AKA more STEM-esque laws) have had more success than their light green (AKA social science) counter parts. (11-13)

Finally, how will the government save money by fixing the EIA and CRM? King attempts to answer this question in the Epilogue of the book by saying, “ …I didn’t—don’t—think the changes I propose should cost money; instead they ought to save it.” (171) Except that one of his proposed solutions is to have the federal agencies CEQ, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Fish & Wildlife Service) gather together with the public to discuss how to fix the current laws. (163) Having the agencies talk to one another and the public they serve is a great solution! However, it’s still going to cost the government in man hours (meeting & subsequent retraining of personnel) at the very least. And this is just one of King’s numerous solutions put forth. If King really wanted things to change he should, at the very least, lay down a rough draft of how it will save the government money. Decreasing wasteful spending speaks volumes to both the American public and its lawmakers, I promise.

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”

The fundamental crux of the conundrum King outlines, is that those who are hired to perform environmental impact work and cultural resource reviews, have a self-interest in conforming as much as possible to their employers’ vision.  A company or contractor is being paid to, ostensible, independently evaluate a proposed project to see if it conforms to the law.  The business who has proposed the project is paying another business to evaluate its project.  This system incentivizes cronyism of a sort, or what others may call good business practice or even plain old common sense.  In this situation, how can a company “possibly do a responsible, even semi-objective job of analyzing its impact?” (34).  As the old saws go, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  Throughout our history, humankind has proved that the promise of lucre will often override the best intentions or the noblest aims.  So how do you put the incentive on the other side, on the side of an honest impartial environmental review?  An obvious answer is to have the government perform the review, or be the one, who does the contracting, and bill the project proposer, or have the proposer pay for the evaluation up-front.  This way the government would choose the contractor and be the contractor’s employer, in contrast to the situation King describes.  Admittedly, the likelihood of such a system coming to fruition is an era of hostility to “big government” is unlikely.  Certainly one could poke many holes in this proposal, such as it could succumb to corruption and abuse through outright malfeasance, or through the revolving door from government regulator to working for those formerly overseen, but it seems that anything is better than the current situation.

The second major issue that King raises is lax enforcement by government agencies that seem to check boxes rather than complying with the spirit and intent of the law.  In one case of blatant bias we are told that “agency advocacy of projects whose impacts they are supposed to analyze objectively is usually more subtly expressed than this….  But it’s there” (49).  The nature of bureaucracy appears to be one where its mission, its raison d’etre, becomes subservient to the bureaucracy’s survival.  Large bureaucracies begin life as a benign limb of an organism, but somehow evolve into their own organic being, naturally believing their existence is at least coequal to their supposed objectives.  Moreover “taking care of the human environment is marginal to the missions of most government agencies” (71).  So how do you make bureaucracy/agencies involved in enforcing environmental and cultural resource management more likely to observe the intent of a regulation?  Do you try to incentivize agency employees towards critical evaluation of projects rather than rubber stamping them?  Could you imagine a situation where cash incentives or promotions were based on the amount of the environment, or quantities of cultural resources protected?  How do you quantify the amount protected?  By the amount of projects denied?  How political feasible is that?

The work of the staff involved in such an agency is necessarily going to be adversarial and contentious.  I think one way to encourage, inspire, and insulate them from demoralization, negativity and tendencies toward being coopted or swaying under pressure is to train them for those situations.  Have part of their training be simulated situations where employees come under pressure from entities advocating for their project, or from the browbeating executive or the angry landowner who wants to fill the wetland.  Though, as King suggests, change has to start at the top with leadership, so how do you ensure leaders are going to be independent and insulated from political machinations?  Make the head of the EPA a ten or twenty year appointee instead of a regular cabinet term?  But what if the “wrong” person gets the job?  And isn’t political pressure on agencies a double-edged sword.  If we like that the Obama Administration ordered the Drug Enforcement Agency to deprioritize laws outlawing marijuana use, or Governor Brown’s order not to involve federal authorities in the legal status of those arrested for minor crimes, don’t we have to be accepting of a Bush Administration that deemphasizes enforcement of environmental laws?  In a related theme, doesn’t leadership have to be evident at the highest level of our government?  Could you imagine a scenario where a sitting congressman illegally fills in federally protected wetlands, initially refuses to pay the fine, eventually begrudgingly pays a reduced fine, and then the citizens of the state elect him governor.  Imagine!

King does allow that as much as he points the finger at Bush, he saw the trend away from protection start under Clinton, so maybe our government, on the whole, reflects what the majority wants?  A smoke screen of concern and decency, an alleged adherence to some moral standard in our environmental conscience while in reality, once our economic welfare isn’t overtly threatened, we will continue to overconsume, under reuse and reject renewable energy. Environmental and heritage protection are public goods and we care more about our individual goods, therefore we won’t act effectively until our individual immediate welfare is affected.  Just as we found when the price of gas hovered around $4 a gallon, consumption went down, sales of large vehicles declined and investment in renewable energy increased.

It was interesting to note the cultural difference between government agencies and Native Americans, who see the land itself and not necessarily items manufactured by humans as important.  According to King “the tribe said that the Bureau of Land Management was missing the point.  It’s the whole landscape that’s significant to us, you see, not just these individual locations that the archeologists like” (78).  Likewise, consultation “is not something that most agencies or project proponents do willingly or well,” making me wonder if it isn’t so much the path of least resistance in play here, but a Western ethos of supposed efficiency in getting things done, action over talking (110).  In this mindset talking is seen as an impediment to progress, perhaps even a weakness.  Not only do “Real Men” not reconsider, they also do not consult.  They just fill the damn wetlands in.

Building Trust.

Tom King: Our Unprotected Heritage

There are better ways of improving federal cultural and natural resources than writing a book littered with negativity, accusations, and blatant disdain for the hard work of civil servants who are employed to help you, me, and American resources.

Valuable reader’s time is invested (wasted?) in case studies that point fingers at various agencies…only to arrive at King’s last chapter that is a sketchy outline of the “problems” with a neat outline of suggested solutions. To say I was irritated is an understatement. Then, for King to acknowledge that he is a paid consultant – although he states not paid as handsomely as others – somehow therefore makes him any less of the problem…ugh.

Let me me really clear here: I am a retired federal employee of two of the agencies that King says represent the “bright” and “light” green laws of the United States: the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service. Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty of room for improvement in both federal employee work and the laws themselves, but ditto that for the consulting agencies, federal contractors (including King), elected officials, and U.S. citizens. Everyone is responsible for our system, and everyone needs to step up to the plate. Seriously. There is plenty of blame to share – and quite frankly, King hit on very few of the solutions. Possibly if there was less complaining and finger-pointing, and if we work to BUILD trust, not TEAR IT DOWN, we may end up with more positive situations.

I simply cannot ascribe to a published rant that directly works to build distrust. Why? Consider the following:

Governor Butch Otter paid handsomely for mishandling dredge from his property in Star, Idaho, that ruined wetlands and threatened the Boise. No permit, and conservative politics on his side. Trustworthy federal – and state – employees worked within the law, and Otter paid over $50,000 in fines for his multiple violations, although he spent plenty money charging that he was cruelly and unusually fined. That is trust in your laws – and the civil servants who work to uphold those “process-laden, thank you Mr. King,” laws – regardless of whether they are “light or bright.”

If we – including Tom King – build distrust, we end up with Idaho’s brilliant Feb 2014 legislative bill that was introduced by Idaho Rep. Paul Shepherd who was unhappy with federal gold dredging laws. [NOTE: Shepherd’s attempt was to strip federal government authority of the EPA, specifically, but this also then defacto all the other consulting agencies such as Forest Service, BLM, Army Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife Service, AND the state. This proposed bill supported mining’s dreadful environmental impacts on Idaho’s streams n the name of distrust of our government and it opened the door for more harm than good, based over personal rights. Shepherd’s words: “It appears the EPA bureaucracy has an agenda in its interpretation of what pollution is,” and the intent was to strip the feds of their “authority.” It is shared authority, and if members of the public work to tear it down, you get what you work for…even if you are a Tom King who leans more left than right. Eventually, Congress actively worked to deny critical funding to EPA, and ALL of the other agencies unless it touched ocean fishing, wildland fire protection, oil and gas drilling, or grazing rights. In the name of distrust of our own federal government. Got us far, right?
(Remember Cliven Bundy, all? Damn those feds, difficult public processes and closeted attempts, yes?)

So King thinks it is acceptable to just pile on more distrust? The net effect is vicious circle of litigation – no progress, as King blithely suggests his solutions will be. By the way FOIAs – which really are most cases are not necessary! Just ask and you receive. There is little that would ever not be released, unless they are records of internal discourse – which occurred every minute amongst federal employees in my experience, working to build trust in the system and collaboratives with – not against – the public, with one goal: to uphold natural resource conservation.

Government agendas…King agrees, obviously: “..even if you learn the systems, learn the specialized language, and push the right buttons, at the end of the day you’re still likely to see government agencies agree, over your head, to let your heritage go down the drain,” as if governments actively work to against its citizens. Or…another of King’s brash assumptions about the laws: “They apply mostly to federal agencies – in many ways they’re designed to protect us, the public, from our government.” Oh, please…

“The federal and state agencies responsible for overseeing the studies and keeping them honest usually view themselves – though they’ll seldom admit it – as being in the business of making sure projects go forward with as little impediment as possible from the environment. Or they’re mostly concerned with processing paperwork and protecting themselves, or they’ve turned into petty tyrants…” Huh. Let’s see, an example in Boise’s backyard – the foothills. Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM, NRCS, the State of Idaho – and several private property owners and Native Plant Society – were distraught over ATV use in the foothills that was tearing up precious sagebrush steppe, harming and taking rare plants and small ground mammals (damn that halfway light/bright Endangered Species Act, yes?), and causing habitat fragmentation, not to mention causing a visual and auditory blight. Solution: everyone worked together, trustfully. Public education, such as interp signs, workshops, and handouts, plus social media went up. One biologist, who barely weighs as much as the huge tractor tires that he lugged single-handedly to the foothills and joined with the rancher to place them strategically. A BLM raptor rec planner personally set posts for interp signs. A pregnant botanist worked overtime to help the rancher, and her counterparts worked one-on-one with the public to improve ATV use on private and public property. I can count handfuls of federal and state biologists, botanists, and public affairs people who worked tirelessly beyond just “processing paperwork” and being “petty tyrants” to achieve on-the-ground solutions- with TRUST. Oh, and no FOIAs needed. Net result = environmental protection, personal property rights upheld, and no “impediment” attitude.

King charges federal “Petty dictators” with “pro-forma public comment and public hearings are substituted for meaningful consultation with concerned parties.” Or…”Public hearings on the whole, are a water of everyone’s time – much like hearings in Congress. I’ve been in a lot of public hearings, both on the floor and at the podium, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that’s made any difference whatever.” Well, I have no idea if I have been to – or organized – more public hearings than Mr. King, but over 25 years I would be bet near fifty kept me working hours and hours – on and off that federal clock that King sees as wasteful….. Talk to the people of North Idaho who showed up for multiple public hearings and meetings over critical habitat for the Selkirk Mountains Woodland Caribou. That’s Randy Weaver territory, folks…people who may be on King’s other spectrum, but distrustful of government is an understatement. hundreds of citizens met on-on-one with Fish and Wildlife Service, not to mention the Forest Service and two Native American Tribes. County Commissioners also worked diligently with citizens and the feds to BUILD TRUST in their government, despite claims that the proposal would wipe out recreation, logging, and other personal rights to earning an income on public land. Third party review also happened ad infinitum, as occurs more often than King’s assertions, and respect for the “opinions of ordinary citizens” that King also charges does not occur (Chapter 8). Net result of Caribou public-government interactions: no FOIAs, productive meetings, no loss of personal income, and a final proposal that was 9/10 less than the proposed! Everyone won, including the caribou. Imagine that.
Lastly, USFWS and BLM are required right down to most administrative support personnel, to honor Native American tribal treaty rights. Mandatory training occurs, and that status s improving. With Caribou, bull trout, wolves, native plants, and more… respectful multicultural engagement is on its way to productive relationships on and off sacred cultural tribal grounds.

Mr. King, in response to your statement that fed natural resource and cultural agencies say, “Please don’t rock our boat,” I say – rock it. Come to the helm, and help steer some trust.

A Curmudgeon Who Seldom Has Anything Good to Say

After reading Our Unprotected Heritage, I wanted to read more about this Tom King who paints a very bleak picture about the corruption and all around bad structure of historic preservation rules and regulations. Looking on his website, it is obvious that Tom King is the guy who likes to “go there.” Nothing is left unscathed.

He does not hold back his disillusionment with protection laws in his book Our Unprotected Heritage– in the preface alone, any ideas of success are shot down with phrases like – with 40 years of increasingly bitter experience, there is not much you can do, sham, legal landmines. Throughout the book, King mentions that he has a lot of experience, but that the average Joe cannot afford him. One quip mentions that his opponents had consultants who were much more expensive than King was. So, yes, this book is a downer.

Despite that, the point that King makes about Section 106 – where studies need to be made to show the long-term effects of a project, and how the system is flawed, is very unsettling. So, if I get this right, a project needs to have an EIS before it can begin.   That is the law. But, the consultants who write the EIS work for the project manager.   What kind of dog is going to bite the hand that feeds it?   And as King describes heavy handed tactics used by agencies to get what they want despite the will of the people, no wonder King wants everyone to be upset.   By the time the book ends, I was left with the impression that the feds’ sole purpose is to meet in dark, smoky rooms and figure out ways to screw over the American public.

Yet, the book is interesting in that he gives a history of how laws, such as historic preservation and environmental were instituted as public attitudes began to value natural and man-made environments and the laws in place to protect them.

Could Section 106 be all bad?  I wanted to find out if there was any scrap of positive projects.  The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Section 106, which will take place next year.   On their website, there is a list of “success” stories which range from the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in 2014 to the story of the repurposing of the Auditor’s building into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The website is pretty interesting, take a look.



It is interesting to see the ACHP’s view of the controversy surrounding the African Burial Ground in New York City after reading about it in the book.

burial ground


There we have it – two extremes.   One side grumbling about everything that is wrong, the other not really acknowledging negative things that happened during the building of the projects.  I guess we have to take things with a grain of salt – and be prepared for a fight if we go into this line of work.



Tour Guides and Misinformation

Lesson of the week: If you use the Sons of Confederate Veterans as your main historic resource, you’re gonna have a bad time.

“What is the obligation of a public historian when the history you are presented at a historic site is not right? Do you smile and nod? Politely correct the presenter? “

I actually did correct a tour guide once (about infant skulls & how the bones fuse together). It was awkward and spoiled the rest of the tour. However, Larry Cebula’s publicly posted e-mail dialogue is an equally terrible way to go about correcting erroneous historic information. Sure, he states in the comments that he hoped his “tone” was okay, but that concern is sort of negated by the fact that he publicly posted the e-mail and its (equally unprofessional & totally unreadable) response. Edit: Apparently all the names were pseudonyms. Whoops!

Internet & professional etiquette aside, I do believe it is our important duty to help correct our fellow historian’s work. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the key in doing so is to not treat the error-maker like they’re a total buffoon.

A decent person would welcome the constructive criticism and/or help. They would adjust their research as needed or, at the very least, explain why they have chosen not to make your suggested changes.

A non-decent person is not  worth wasting your time correcting. If, for example, I tried to have a conversation with  Sons of Confederate Veterans or  the National Center for Constitutional Studies I would probably be met with hostility. No ground would be gained. These people are too far gone.

With my decent person theory in mind & having just read the piece about the Virginia textbooks, I know what you’re probably thinking, “If we don’t nip this bad information in the bud, then it’s going to get into our children’s textbooks!”  A couple thoughts: 1) Perhaps having an incorrect textbook isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could provide an opportunity to teach kids the importance of not assuming everything written is true. This is a critical skill, especially in an age where kids are participating in online discussions at earlier ages than their predecessors. 2) Perhaps instead of instantly jumping on  the Virginia textbook author’s, Joy Masoff, case the PhD’s quoted in the article could have volunteered their time and expertise to help with the next edition of the book.

History Works

These pieces had so many quotable lines, and definitely addressed the trepidation that many experience with engaging the public as either an academic or public historian. For me, they reaffirmed the idea that history work can be engaging, active, important, and affect change in societal power structures.

Chauncey DeVega said that “history does political work,” and that “memory is a function of power.” This was especially true to the idea of perpretating myths of the Civil War in the Sons of Confederate Veterans “celebrations” that DeVega was writing about, but also pertained to the articles on false claims of black confederates in elementary textbooks, Cebula’s example of “bad history” at the Baron Von Munchausen house, and our past discussions on reenactments. These mindful and devoted public historians are doing great work to dispel the idea that false history is harmless or not important/impactful enough that there is a need to correct it. The most powerful article in the vein of history accomplishing political work was the one on fracking, in which Robinson noted the urgency in this particular instance of “using the past to challenge systems of exploitation and power.” The fracking article reinforced our earlier realization that NRHP protection doesn’t always amount to much, and for me emphasized the value of regional memory in addressing local issues. The million dollar question Robinson presented was “How can historians and publics use the power of the past to catalyze social change?”

I read the New York Times article detailing more information on the Sons of Confederate Veterans event, and it raised an interesting point I hadn’t considered before. It noted that “commemorating the Civil War has never been easy. The centennial 50 years ago coincided with the civil rights movement, and most of the South was still effectively segregated, making a mockery of any notion that the slaves had truly become free and equal.” This highlighted the inanity that Civil War commemoration is so rampant now, when a short 50 years ago it was taboo, for obvious reasons. How is it that our national memory is so short that we can’t contextualize these “commemorations” now, but 50 years ago, at the centennial celebration, the implications of the history were so obvious? Admittedly, there was a congressional centennial commission in charge of the events, which “lost credibility when it planned to meet in a segregated hotel.”

Cebula’s piece was a surprising read for me, not because of the fact that small house museums are rampant  with historical inaccuracy or glossing over of the unfortunate truths, but in the nature of the seemingly harmless myths that the museum was perpetrating, and the fact that they were 5/10 of the Colonial Williamsburg foundation’s myths that should be dispelled. I wondered at how these almost trivial “facts” about colonial times have been repeated over the years. Of course most people would find these untruths a bit of harmless fun, some trivia for visitors, but the fact that docents and interpreters would willingly impart false information goes entirely against the entire purpose of historical institutions serving the public as they do. Not that the unpaid, volunteer docents were doing so maliciously or even knowingly, as Cebula acknowledged, but the director’s response did surprise me in its unwillingness to acquiesce to anything Cebula pointed out. Of course, we can’t expect every text book author, museum docent, historical house manager, etc., to be a trained historian, but when engaging with historical work I believe we must hold them to the same standard that historians hold themselves and their peers to. I would think that there would be a certain review process to vet out the incompetent/false histories, but as a commentator on Cebula’s first article pointed out, there are state historical museums in Wisconsin (and other states closer to home *cough*) that haven’t updated their exhibits in 50 years that may do a decent job at interpreting a now outdated historical understanding. I guess my main point is that new generations of museum educators, curators, exhibit designers, and academic and public historians at large, have plenty of work to do. To answer Robinson’s question, doing history always has the innate opportunity to catalyze social change, if done vigilantly and to the greatest standard possible, especially if it works to include “both the diversity of opinion and the question of specifically politicized values into our public history work.”

Who is to blame?

I was fascinated  by the villains (too harsh a label? …I think not) in this week’s readings…so I google stalked them.

Patricia Pangloss, the manager of the Baron Von Munchausen Historic House, is painfully absent from the internet. The Historic House doesn’t even have a website. The biggest hit on her name was the Larry Cebula article. Like the rest of you, I was infuriated by her response to Cebula’s open letter. Particularly by the assertion that, “You have to understand the younger visitors know very little about the Revolutionary War period, due to the
fact that the schools have gone downhill and do
not give this generation a good education …The
younger students can barely start a sentence
without the word “like, like” and continue to
ramble with the worst English imaginable…” 
Shouldn’t an educational facility strive to IMPROVE student’s education and confront historical inaccuracies, instead of promoting falsities because it is easier?

My search for Joy Masoff, the author of Virgina’s flawed textbook, was more fruitful. Her publisher’s website listed her biography as follows:

Joy Masoff, mother of two, fell into the world of gross when she became scoutmaster to a den of burping Cub Scouts, and then discovered that her Brownie troop has the same fascination with the feculent. She lives with her family in Waccabac, New York.’s biography of Masoff:

Joy Masoff is a published author of children’s books and young adult books. Some of the published credits of Joy Masoff include All Better Now, Oh, Yikes!: History’s Grossest Moments, We Are All Americans: Understanding Diversity.

Hmmm. Not exactly the credentials that I would look for when seeking an author for a historical textbook that would help teach hundreds of thousands of students. Masoff is obviously the wrong candidate for this job, but I don’t believe the fault lies with her. She obviously did not complete impeccable research and failed to critically evaluate her sources. But how much can we really blame her? She is not a historian. She is a children’s book author. She used the Internet to research a contentious and serious matter and it came back to haunt her.

The real fault lies with the Virginia State Board of Education. The board chose to hire someone who could entertain students rather than educate them. As a daily user of textbooks, I can attest that K-12 textbooks are mostly bad. They are either far too boring and complex for student’s levels or far too juvenile and summarized. Until state boards of education begin to invest more money into the adoption of excellent textbooks (or better yet…hire and train outstanding teachers who don’t rely on textbooks), false education is going to continue to happen in America. Masoff clearly made a mistake in her book. But the true blame lies with the administrators who allowed a children’s book author to write a historical textbook.