Tourism-An Evolving Creature

The first article,  A Dark Tourism Spectrum actually opened my eyes to the actual “dark” side of tourism that I don’t think about as much. When I think of dark tourism, I imagine ghost tours, the Catacombs of Paris, and weird places in cities that aren’t usually in the guide books. I never really think of dark tourism in regards to Auschwitz or memorial sites like Ground Zero. The author tries to understand why some tourists are fascinated with these kinds of areas and tours, but I honestly don’t see much wrong with it. As long as people aren’t “celebrating” a specific tragedy by going to Ground Zero or Auschwitz, then there is something very sobering about standing in sites like those. I feel that if we all ignored those sites, we would be forgetting them to an extent. An interesting point that Dark Tourism: Mediating Between the Dead and the Living brings up is the fact that people are more intrigued with dark tourism surrounding deaths that are uncommon. People don’t want to visit sites where people suffered from cancer or strokes, but want to visit sites were people died from “crazy” things that aren’t common for everyday people. I think this comes from a deep mental state that is intrigued by death while being scared of your own.

Another aspect of death that I didn’t think about until these readings is how we as a society deal with dead bodies. The article, From Privates to Presidents really opened my eyes to that topic. I guess it is a little strange that we have remains from Presidents in museums and other bloody relics, but it honestly doesn’t bother me. In some cases, preserving artifacts like President Lincoln’s bone fragments or unknown soldiers’ bodies can have heavy personal impacts on museum goers just seeing sights like Ground Zero and Auschwitz. This also relates to the Numinous Objects article which asserts that historical artifacts tell stories and can have personal significance to people. There’s a difference between looking at an image of an event or a person and actually seeing the object in front of you. My favorite quote from this article that I think really sums up how fascinating and personally touching artifacts can be is: “Harriet Tubman’s apple trees, still producing fruit on her farmstead in Auburn, New York, embody the peace and liberty she sought for herself and her people in more than thirty Underground Railroad expeditions into the heartland of slavery. The trees stand in silent counterpoint to the famous photograph of Tubman in uniform, leaning on the long rifle she carried for so many years before she had the freedom to pick up a hoe.” (Numinous Objects, pg. 12) Something as simple as the apple trees Tubman planted and took care of can be simple reminders of our past.

While dark tourism might be weird and scary, I think aspects of it are very beneficial and can be deeply moving for visitors. While celebrating atrocities and deaths is terrible and should not be encouraged, by limiting dark tourism we are in danger of sweeping atrocities under the rug and only teaching them in history books (if we’re lucky). There’s a deep feeling that I think people truly want to experience that you can’t get from watching a documentary or hearing about events. You kind of just…have to be there, right?

Protecting Heritage

This in general, is a very important topic that I never have really considered. While reading Our Unprotected Heritage I kept wondering why I had never considered this to be an important topic before. Why do I assume that important laws like National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act are perfect and do their job? Have people simply become complacent in regards to fighting this kind of advantageous system? Is there nothing that is actually pure??

Terrifyingly enough, the first chapter of Our Unprotected Heritage explains each protection law and how the Bush administration has weakened their effect. Since this book was written in 2009, I am curious about how Thomas King views the Trump administration’s recent actions towards (or against) the environment. I feel like people in my generation especially take these laws for granted. We never had to live in an era where factories could dump chemicals into the water. But the terrifying part is that we have these magnificent laws in place, but they still don’t fully guarantee the protection of anything (examples being: Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, the Dakota Access Pipeline and pipelines like it). With these protections and laws being ignored more and more, we might as well continue to the point of humans being wiped out so Mother Earth can start over again without us.

The final chapter of this book is very important (I am always glad when author’s put in chapters actually calling for change).  While I tried to read this chapter optimistically, because of the current political climate, I was ultimately skeptical. Americans can try to make environmental and cultural protections important for everyone. We can try and make our politicians care about these issues. We can try and amend the Constitution. But how will any of that happen when money is awaiting the people who choose to ignore or manipulate the laws? How can we achieve anything when our own President sees the utmost importance in deregulating business to a point where businesses will once again be able to dump chemicals into lakes and build upon sacred cultural areas? I wonder if Thomas King has any answers for us now.

In regards to the book review of The Future of Heritage as Climates Change: Loss, Adaption Creativity, I am extremely sad at their main argument. I don’t want to believe that we have reached a point of no return but when it comes to climate change and the damages we have done to the Earth, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Money Pwease!

The Digital Humanities Advancement Grants (DHAG) focuses on the impact of technology on the humanities. The strength of this kind of grant is that projects can get funding for the lifetime of the project. This is important for some projects if they long processes that need funding for a number of years. This grant really focuses on preserving pieces of history and culture online for generations to come. Since this is a pretty broad topic, I feel like a lot of different and unique projects can get funding through this.

The Digital Projects for the Public grants is all about getting history (and humanities) out to the public, specifically using digital platforms. This grant supports a lot of different technologies that are focused on bringing history to the American public. For this grant, unlike the DHAG grant, individuals may apply. This is important for individual scholars, educators, or students who want to implement some kind of technology in their own field of work that will enhance whatever they might be working on.

Both of these grants focus on preserving or presenting humanities to the public. They both have levels of funding in which people can apply for. Projects do not have to apply for the first level of funding in order to get the third level of funding later. This to me is very important. Some projects simply need to start off with more money in order to achieve specific goals. One interesting thing that I noted on each grant website was that projects could not be used to “persuade audiences of a particular political, religious, or ideological point of view.” (pg. 7, The Digital Projects for the Public Grant) I wonder how projects surrounding topics like LGBTQ history, Black Lives Matter, Civil War/Slavery, Mexican immigration, etc get funding. Could any of these get funding through grants like these? Could a project dedicated to telling the story of Mexican migrant workers be denied? What about a project dedicated to digitizing interviews of Syrian refugees who have made it to America?

Also, I read the instructions wrong on the syllabus but I don’t feel like deleting all of my above work, so here are the strengths from the narratives:


The sample narrative, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology really focuses on bringing technology to the humanities and helping a variety of fields through workshops understand how mobile devices can be used. I think this is very important in the historical and archaeological fields. Digitizing things can help speed up research and can help bring the public in.

The strength of Image Analysis for Archival Discovery is that it has a very particular goal in mind, finding and digitizing poetry in newspapers, but it also has the ability to help other historians. By creating new techniques to electronically scan newspapers for textual clues to find poetry, other historians can use that technology to find other topics in newspapers. This grant and the above Archaeology grant both would help other academics with their research techniques.

Digital Projects for the Public:

In the Exploring the Four Elements: Towards a Digital Environmental History of the Americas, they describe exhibits that will showcase the human engagement in earth, air, fire, and water. While they don’t show a very detailed plan of user-generated content, they do seem to be focused on reaching out to a more diverse museum crowd and hope to engage with them.

The Digital Giza: A New Portal to the Pyramids is focused on creating a 3D immersive computer model of the entire Giza Plateau. This kind of project is really focused on bringing digital history to the public. This kind of research and project could be useful in k-12 classrooms as well as college classrooms. This kind of project, like the Exploring the Four Elements project is focused on reaching a larger audience.

Historian Jobs

I’ve never really delved into the possibilities of what a history degree could mean for a career path. I have always had my heart set on writing and teaching. Reading about different jobs that historians have available to them is very interesting and has opened my eyes to possibilities. Historical consultation sounds like something that could be very rewarding. Consulting on movie sets for example would be very rewarding and could help rid American movie goers from the bad history we all witness in movies every year.

The article, “Crafting a New Historian” really peaked my interest. Historians and students really must be flexible. We must allow for the field to change and adapt in order to stay relevant. Realizing that professorships at universities will be hard to find once I am finished with school has made me realize that I must be prepared to use my historical “skills” in other areas until the time is right for me to be a professor. Historians must be willing to engage in the historical field in other, meaningful ways.

While looking through the various websites assigned to us this week, it really put in perspective how much real-life experience college students should get. While I wish I could shut myself in a dark room and just conduct research, I need tangible experience in a variety of areas to better my chances of working in the field of history. Being experienced in a variety of things (museum work, archival work, teaching, research, etc) can really help the chances of being hired in general after school. By more historians being open to a variety of work, historians can strengthen the community and diversify public history in general. If more historians became consultants, historical clothes makers, museum workers, etc, we could all grow the public reach of history.

People in Funny Clothes and Other Historical Topics

Reenacting has always been an interesting topic to me. After reading a fantastic book in Dr. Walker’s class, Confederates in the Attic, I have an even deeper interest in the subject. Reenacting can be a cool, historic thing to partake in, or a problematic thing problematic people partake in (specifically Civil War re-enactors who still believe the South won the war and/or “will rise again”). The best quote from Nick Kowaleczyk’s Salon article was: “Psychologically, those reenactments must have been a way of keeping past traumas real and under control; a means of talking about tough experiences with people who’ve been through the same. But I’ve never understood why anyone would reenact a war in which they’ve never fought,” in reference to the earliest American reenactments. This is exactly how I feel about reenactments. For people who lived through it, this can be a cathartic, healing experience. For the people who didn’t live through it, sometimes their intentions can be perpetuating something that is difficult for Americans to even think about (cough cough, Civil War and its repercussions).

Little’s article, “The Limited (and queer?) vision of American historical reenacting” addresses most of the concerns I have for reenactments as well. A lot of re-enactors are pulled to reenacting because of the type of past they want to live in. And this seems to be a thing white men are into. They are romanticizing an event or era that was particularly racialized and a really good time for only white males. Is there a way for us to change this? Should we?

Another area of interest that was brought up in this week’s readings is the gender of authors of Wikipedia articles. First of all, how did Wikipedia even get to a position where the New York Times is writing about it? And also, fact driven, internet based things pertaining to the past also seems to be a white man thing. Interesting… The articles surrounding Wikipedia made me very skeptical of the whole site. To read about Messer-Kruse’s experience with changing an article he had a lot of knowledge on seems childish and almost not worth it. But then, it also raises this question of, should we as historians care about websites like Wikipedia and should we be “fixing” articles since Americans use it daily? To this question, I have no answer.

Historic Preservation Pt. II

The legality of building preservation and historical significance of a house has never crossed my mind before. If it were up to me, most historical buildings would be saved. Older architecture is so beautiful and intricate. I would save most beautiful historical buildings. But since that can’t be done, the system of determining which buildings to preserve and which ones to not preserve seems like a good system. I am sure as a homeowner or property owner of any of these historical buildings that it is sometimes a nightmare. But it does make sense to have strict regulations in line.

The chapter regarding downtown revitalization got me thinking. I know this might be silly, but I hoped that the author would delve into repercussions of revitalizing the downtown of cities and how that can push low income people from their homes. The author touches on this idea during the Seattle Pike Place Market section and how the residents wanted to maintain its charm and the low-income housing surrounding the area. It is also touched upon in the “Other Preservation Issues” chapter briefly. The entire chapter seemed to only be focused on how these historic or just “old” neighborhoods could be turned into places for business. I feel like this isn’t and shouldn’t be the main point of historic preservation. I believe that there needs to be more of an effort towards stopping gentrification. The small section in the book that talks about it only offers up vague ideas on how to allow for low-income residents to keep their housing. Since this isn’t the point of the book, I will let it slide, but this issue is one that I was thinking about throughout the book. As much as I love older buildings and downtown areas, I am very much against the idea of gentrification. I hope someday we can find a perfect balance between historic preservation and people being able to live peacefully.

The Un-American Historic Preservation

The opening pages to Historic Preservation really struck a cord with me. By calling historic preservation un-American because it is going against the American way of using up space and then moving on really intrigued me. By preserving these houses, these towns, and these buildings, we can breathe life into old spaces and make them live again. This idea on the surface really excites me. “This maturation is evident when we recognize that we must preserve our built heritage because it is part of what we are as a people and as a community.” (Historic Preservation, pg. 14) This to me, is extremely true. To get rid of our built heritage is like ripping up pieces of ourselves. It’s like erasing the past and history of the city. This book really made me think of Todd Shallat’s book, Ethnic Landmarks. In this book he describes the various ethnic landmarks throughout Boise and how a lot of them have been torn down. The histories of the founders of the city has been erased with those buildings. By writing this book, Shallat echoes the sentiment expressed in Historic Preservation about how the preservation of historic buildings should also include the history of the place. By writing his book about the significance of each building, he showcases the history surrounding the building. He provides a more active role for the historic buildings within our community through his book. As seen in the Threatened Sites page on the Preservation Idaho website, many buildings in Idaho have a rich history but are close to being torn down. With the destruction of those sites, we lose the full extent and power of the history surrounding them.

While preserving property can be precarious and hard to maintain, I think it is important because it really does preserve the physical history of towns and cities. Just having photographs or descriptions of the buildings isn’t enough. To truly get the full history and experience of a place, you have to be able to see it and feel it. As talked about in Historic Preservation, having artifacts in a museum is one experience, but seeing the artifact in it’s original home is a totally different experience.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church that has been preserved as a reminder of World War II- showing that historic preservation can be used as a warning and reminder of history:

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Photo by Alisha Graefe

How a Museum Can Tackle Controversial Topics

The type of work that the National Museum of African American History and Culture is doing surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the political and racial unrest surrounding police brutality is exactly how I picture a museum exhibit and how they do work. The fact that they are collecting signs from protesters, gas masks from Ferguson, and even a broom and rake used for protest debris, makes me extremely excited. I had always wondered how people collected things like buttons and pins from Nazi Germany or signage from the Civil Rights Movement. It’s very intuitive of museum curators and collectors to be able to recognize a moment in history that will be important for years/decades to come. That is really where all of the magic in museums is for me.

While this may be my ideal museum world, I am really excited about museums that are fully engaging in social activism. While I don’t think this is the right step for all museums, I appreciate the museums that are turning towards this. Challenging peoples’ ideas and misconceptions is very important. Making people think about and engage in their history (or even just America’s history) is extremely important right now. I can see how museums can be on the front lines of changing harmful attitudes or misconceptions.

The Medium article that addressed Museums and #BlackLivesMatter was very interesting to me. Throughout this class I have wondered about how museums can best have an online presence and reading this article opened my eyes to possibilities. I never thought that simply engaging with the community and even other museums on Twitter could be so rewarding for museums and its participants. The most challenging part of online conversations as mentioned in the article, is the active participation outside of the internet. Museums need to be able to dismantle their own racist and/or oppressive past first before being able to tackle these kind of issues. Then they must turn to galleries, programming, and community outreach to continue their activism or simply the conversations. As outlined in the NEMO examples of refugee and immigrant participation in museums, there are ways for museums to reach a wider variety of people and to be more inclusive. Allowing immigrants and refugees to lead tours in their own language can help new citizens adapt and feel included in their new country. This is extremely valuable for new citizens.

Museum Island-Berlin, Germany Photo by Alisha Graefe
Museum Island-Berlin, Germany
Photo by Alisha Graefe

Jill Gill – Idaho Black History Museum

Idaho Black History Museum, photo by Alisha Graefe

The Idaho Black History Museum may seem a bit out of place in Idaho seeing as the population is only .8% Black. (Census) This museum is located in downtown Boise right next to the Boise Art Museum, the Idaho State Historical Museum, and the Boise Zoo. The museum which is housed in the historic St. Paul Baptist Church is in prime real estate in Boise which was more than likely a strategical move by the museum founders. On the surface, Idaho’s past doesn’t seem to have a rich African American story, but this museum proves otherwise. According to the website, the museum exists to “build bridges between cultures to explore issues that affect Americans of all cultures and ethnicity.” ( About Us)

According to Dr. Jill Gill, former Board Member of the museum and history professor at Boise State University, it is a volunteer based museum. The IBHM has no paid professional staff. “Therefore, the board runs the museum. It creates the exhibits, and brings in traveling exhibits, solicits donors, rents the facility to other groups, manages the site, sells items for fund raising, and arranges for volunteers to open the museum for business.” Due to the volunteer-run system, the exhibits are mainly put together by amateurs without any formal curator training. This gives the museum a different feel than other museums in the surrounding area.

Just by walking into the museum, you can tell that it truly is a passion project by members of the community. Gill who has served on the board for many years has helped with events and spoken at some. She has worked on fundraisers, created exhibits, and even helped clean up the museum. Being a board member and volunteer means helping out with everything and truly being involved in every aspect of the museum. You can tell by the exhibits that there is a large amount of input and help from the community. The volunteers that are at the museum regularly give great direction and are extremely helpful. Last time I visited the museum, I only got to look at a couple of the exhibits because I was wrapped up in a great and informative conversation with one of the volunteers (who happened to be the grandson of the man who built the church). This all gives the museum a homegrown, comfortable feeling.

Gill spoke about the size of the museum and their goals that include expanding the donor and revenue base so they can hire part-time professional help. They also hope to bring in new traveling exhibits. They hope to gain more volunteers and to expand its outreach further across the state. “The IBHM has always supported human rights and been part of the Idaho human rights movement, which it will continue to do so via its educational mission.”

Gill describes how her interest in Black history led her to get involved with the museum back in 2002. She explained how the Boise State University history department has had a history of representation on the board and have “tried to be helpful in connecting university classes/programs/resources with the museum and vice versa.” Gill describes the success of the museum as simply the number of viewers as well as engagement of the audience. “Oftentimes classes of school kids come through, and success would be measured by indicators that visitors have learned something, or though of things in a new way as a result of the exhibits/programs.”

Visitors can currently visit the museum and see the large piece of artwork by Pablo Rodriguez depicting the journey of Black Americans throughout history called Slave to President.


Uncomfortable National Dialogue Is Healthy!

Uncomfortable national dialogue is so important. I think bringing up history that is hard to talk about is one of the most important jobs a historian can have. Our academic training puts us in a great position to be able to talk about issues that are swept under the rug or skirted around in general. Slavery is one of these hot button issues that in my opinion, shouldn’t be a hot button issue.

Through all of these essays in Slavery and Public History a general theme kept popping up in my head. This theme was that it is okay to critique America and admit that our country has committed atrocious acts of violence. By admitting this through public conversations, museums and exhibits, classroom settings in college and throughout k-12 education. As John Hope Franklin said, “we should never forget slavery. We should talk about it every morning and every day of the year to remind this country that there’s an enormous gap between its practices and its professions.” (pg. 37)

As long as public history displays and reenactments are done in a matter that is accepted and approved by the people it is about, I think painful reenactments can be useful. Public history efforts that are meant for audiences to be made uncomfortable can start conversations and affect people on a personal level. Exhibits, displays, and reenactments shouldn’t exist just for shock value exclusively. They should exist to change perceptions, popular belief, and deep-seeded personal prejudices. By displaying or teaching about the painful truth in historical homes and adding historical black figures to the history of places and objects like the Liberty Bell and the first White House, all spark important conversations about race relations in America and bring forth an inclusive historical narrative. This inclusive historical narrative is the most important factor lacking in American culture. Historians shouldn’t just focus on making sure that people know who owned slaves and where they slept at night, but we should also be educating people on black excellence and the ways that they shaped America in general. Black history shouldn’t be contained to a month, it should be deeply ingrained in every aspect of American history.