Thoughts on Readings May 6

I was looking forward to some intelligent debate this week. I was looking forward to well-reasoned arguments that reflected a pragmatic conservative approach to history, but what I found was a bunch of random information, complaining, and anachronism.

Allan C. Carson outlines a rather disjointed history of conservatism and defines conservatism using Barry Goldwater’s famous quote that conservatism attempts “to apply wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today.” However, it is seems that much of conservatism (evidenced through these articles) isn’t concerned with problem solving but is defined by reactionary rhetoric, blaming, and complaining. I didn’t find any reasoned arguments in the readings, even among those countering the conservative points. This is probably due to the fact that you can’t reasonably argue against a bunch of ranting. All of these conservative bloggers seemed to be just spewing out a bunch of information with no connecting or coherent statements linking them together. A strong argument is not a bunch of random facts and opinions, and this go for both Liberals and Conservatives! And this is the appeal of Conservativism, for many people, — it isn’t thoughtful or logic driven.

Conservative rhetoric is imbued with inflammatory and impassioned language which distracts from the lack of logical and coherent thought. This could be the reason that religious fervor fits nicely into Conservative arguments. There is also an insane amount of blaming and complaining that goes on in Conservative speech. David W. Almasi’s article regarding the Chavez monument is a ridiculous piece of this kind of pointless blaming. It is fairly well-known that Chavez (and Gandhi) were effective leaders but disturbed individuals, but David W. Almasi turns the endorsed Chavez monument into some sort of scandal, which it is not. A politician made a political move, wow… This is not earth shattering journalism.

The interpretation of history found in these articles is also more inflamed than logical, and seems lacking in critical analysis. Carlson doesn’t acknowledge that what he calls the “notorious 60s” was birthed out of the conservative 1950s, a time he praises as the ideal decade socially, economically, and politically for everyone. However, if the 1950s were halcyon days why were so many privileged white youth and unprivileged non-white groups so equally unhappy with it?

Carlson also states that a neo-conservative is a “liberal mugged by reality,” but this doesn’t really mesh with what I have seen from the Conservative camp. At the heart of Conservative rhetoric is a very narrowly defined concept of reality, or desired reality. This is why Conservatism has been accused of blatant racism, sexism, and elitism. This isn’t to say that Liberals are not guilty of the same thing, especially behind the scenes. In fact, Liberalists are possibly the most covert group of classists and racists currently existing in politics and the professional world; and this is part of the reason that so many working-class people and people of color are turned off by Liberalism. In terms of the Conservative “reality”, the fact that many Conservatives politicians have never personally experienced racism, sexism, homophobia, or classism places these things so far outside their “reality” that Conservative rhetoric starts to purport that they don’t even exist, or if they do exist, they exist as an inconvenience or as a product of overly sensitive individuals. Further these inconveniences, according to Conservatives, in no way are the responsibility of the government or society.

The other problem I had with the week’s readings was that the authors were constantly complaining about generalized things. Generalizing is why so many people, myself included, are turned off by Conservativism. For example, if you want to start attracting black voters, stop putting all black voters in the same category. This was a major problem in Kevin Williamson’s article.

This week’s blog writers also loved to be anachronistic. So much of this reading seemed to be a debate about what historical figures would be Liberal or Conservative today. Kevin Jackson opens his article with arguing against this kind of anachronism then proceeds to do the same thing! The point of this anachronism is to push their own agenda, but to what end? How is this problem solving? How is this engaged and thoughtful politics? So MLK would be a Republican today? Great! Now what?

Perhaps, there is still hope that Conservatives can move away from their angry, generalized, and inflammatory speech, so we can all sit down and have a logical debate. The problems in the world are complex, and a debate about them deserves more than a series of venting and blaming.

Thoughts on Unprotected Heritage

Our Unprotected Heritage by Thomas F. King is written in an easy, informal style. The style of writing makes the book easy to read, but the content of the book is difficult to swallow. King lays out for the reader the basics of what the world of cultural and historic preservation looks like from the inside, and the major problems with the process.

In section 106, according to King, it says that “federal agencies must ‘take into account’—that is consider—the effects of their actions on historic properties.” Here in lies a huge part of the problem, because agencies are only asked to consider their actions, not report on them, not explain them; Section 106 really doesn’t provide or enforce anything. False and fraudulent reports by EIA firms and CRM firms, hired by developers are technically following Section 106. The major problems that contribute to our losing cultural and environment resources are that the legislation meant to protect it is too convoluted and vague. Vagueness is something that works in the favor of those avoiding the spirit of law, when it comes to preservation. Those who do not wish to consult with local groups also use convoluted statements to their advantage. As noted by King, “obfuscation is often very convenient for a project proponent, or for an agency that doesn’t want to be bothered by the public. If they can confuse enough, you’ll give up and go away,”

The main problem is abstractions vs. real solid policies. Right now, policies make the assumption (as King says we should never do) that people care about cultural heritage, the environment, and other people. Suggestions don’t make people care, and neither do laws, but at least laws keep them beholden and offer an alternative of punishment.

Within agencies, it seems that no one is willing to step up and take responsibility or work through any project that may be messy—in fact, it seems like within federal agencies their whole job is devoted to creative methods of avoiding actual work. Section 106 regulations, as quoted by King “say to look at all kinds of effects, all kinds of properties, and to do so in consultation with interested parties.” Again, the wording of this clause makes it easy for people to interpret it any way they wish. Many agencies can simply create their own definitions of what “effects” “properties” and “consultation” means to them. True consultation is avoided since, as King points out, “Consultation is unnecessary, irrelevant, a mere bother if you’ve decided what you’re going to do and aren’t interested in considering alternatives.” Further, government agencies are just making things up to avoid doing work.

Compared to the other historic preservation book we read, this one is much more honest and realistic—and therefore refreshing. Although, King doesn’t give us a playbook about how to improve every situation he does take a critical first step in outlining where we need to begin in preserving our cultural heritage and natural environments. I think anyone working for a federal agency, contractor, and developer needs to read this book; so they know that people like King are well aware of what they are doing and that knowledge is being sharing with the rest of us.

Thoughts on Readings: Ethical Dilemmas Part I

Similar to Ryan, this week’s readings caused my blood pressure to rise. It also brought up a lot of issues I have been discussing with other graduate students such as can we judge the actions of people in the past? I think people in the past should be held to standards similar to the ones that we use to judge people from the most recent past. I recognize that there is an important difference between understanding motives and judging actions. Motives of people in the past should be looked at objectively and perhaps with empathy…Now with that being said can we all please agree that slavery is bad!? Can we all recognize that slavery is still a very real problem in the world, and even in this country? If people are still celebrating the Confederate cause, how can we say that people who owned slaves were just a product of their distinct time and place? If these racist ideas continue to persist let’s not excuse them in either the past or the present. And why should the Vega article be shocking to any of us any more, when Mississippi just passed the 13th amendment this year! There is no way of knowing every individual reason for people’s participation in the Civil War, but folks should not ignore the prevalent ideology that was the framework of the Civil War, regardless of individual reasons such as “preservation” or circumstance.

Are these racist ideas being perpetuated by educators? Kevin Sieff’s piece was unbelievable. There seems to be a problem not with historians, per se, since the author of Our Virginia is not a historian, but with educators and school boards. Historians are often undervalued and under-appreciated, and there seems to be a misconception that anyone can produce sound historical research. This problem needs to be addressed if we are going to put an end to textbooks that espouse blatantly false historical information. When school boards and parents recognize what encompasses “good history” then fewer people will be compelled to listen to “bad history” (a few will still listen), and bad historians will increasingly become irrelevant.

Are the people discussed in Thompson’s article performing bad history, when they like so many others, are interpreting people in the past in a certain way to further their present cause? Probably, but people all over the political spectrum do the same thing.

The Cebula articles were both sad and humorous. In my experience interpreters are usually nice, retired people who feel they are above any sort of research, and feel overly confident in their knowledge; or they are severely underpaid for the work they are expected to do. Unfortunately, with what was presented in the response letter sent to Cebula, the reason for mis-information or blatantly withholding information seems to have more disturbing motives. The curator of the historic site definitely lets her racist flag fly, at the end of the letter, when she implies that Africans should be blamed for chattel slavery in the United States. Are you f—ing kidding me?! But she doesn’t stop there, um, I am pretty sure Greeks had slaves and oh, how very kind of your guides to leave issues of slavery out of the tour so as not to embarrass the black students. Again, are you f—-ing kidding me!? I think her true feelings are wrapped up rather succinctly in her statement that those black students, who she is so concerned for, “would start hating the messenger.” Trust me lady, black folks already know who is responsible for enslaving their ancestors.

At least this week’s readings ended on a semi-positive note, and an important question. Jeff Robinson asks, “How can historians and publics use the power of the past to catalyze social change?” However, in light of this week’s other articles, maybe we should ask- how can good historians and informed publics use the power of the past to catalyze social change to benefit humanity?

Thoughts on Readings: Careers

This week’s readings were both simultaneously depressing and encouraging. Exploring the Bureau of Labor statistics website it appears that a job in the field of history is interesting, fun, and is compensated with a nice salary, however, reading a little further we find that all these jobs, especially that of historian, are highly competitive with only 4,000 jobs for historians in 2010. Further, with federal, state, and local governments employing 57% of all historians in the country there is definitely a need for historians to get creative with their job prospects, just like Guillebeau recommends. The BLS website included the fact that “because of the popularity of history degree programs applicants are expected to outnumber positions available.” This seemed to be a common thread for all history related jobs listed on the website: the occupations of Curators, Museum Technicians, Conservators, Archivists, Anthropologists, Archeologists, and of course, Historians all had more applicants than available jobs. However, with all of this gloom and doom, the BLS does offers some encouraging words for those of us in the MAHR program by stating that “those with practical skills or hands-on work experience should have the best job prospects. Also, encouraging is that historians’ broad training in writing, analytical research, and critical thinking will be beneficial in many different occupations.

The best part of the reading for this week was the blog posts from Public History Commons. There were many things that struck me as important. After reading Bob Beatty’s piece it is a little disheartening that Boise State, through the MAHR program, cannot provide a practicum for all graduate students. Internships in Boise, in the field of history, are extremely limited and with public history work being a hands-on endeavor it is important that students have the opportunity to practice these skills, like Beatty wrote, “public history work is often messy and disjointed;” and sometimes the only way to appreciate and learn about this element of public history is by actually doing the work, not just reading about it.

Scott Stroh made some of the best points about public history that I have read in a long time. He lays out some important things for cultural organizations to consider in his assertion that “cultural organization’s greatest value rests with its ability to change the world, and that cultural organizations must seek to provide experiences that:
1. Inspire, challenge, and question;
2. Nurture, inform, and educate;
3. Offer dialogue, discourse, and debate;
4. Provide opportunities for reflection and action, and
5. Offer enrichment through authentic interaction with people, place, and heritage.

It seems that all of us in class share similar assertions and realize public historians’ role in accomplishing these kinds of experiences. From class discussions there also seems to be a consensus that “instead of focusing on career specializations or subject matter expertise, professional development, especially beyond academia, must focus on the development of people—civic minded citizens—able to lead, inspire, and engage community based on an appreciation, knowledge, and love of history.” The advice that Stroh offers to public history students is encouraging and practical, and I am glad it was the assigned reading this week.

Thoughts on Reading: Startups and Public Historians

The readings this week provided quite a bit of optimism for up and coming historians. However, the book the $100 startup may have been a little overly optimistic. Unfortunately, the way the economy works does not allow for everyone to be their own boss. The blind optimism that the author attempts to sell us could prove dangerous. It is important to think creatively and use our unique talents in whatever profession we choose, but we also need to be flexible and realistic in our approach. Even though the author touches on some hiccups he doesn’t talk about hard work, or changing markets, which could lead to further reinvention and creativity.

As historians we ask, are people willing to pay for historical knowledge and experience? After exploring the websites assigned this week the answer seems to be yes. The website provides an example of recognizing a niche market and capturing it, however eventually more people will creep into the niche, and once again these creative history jobs will become saturated and difficult to get, just like teaching jobs.

Even after this week’s readings I still don’t believe public history should stick to a “profit before people” mentality, but we do want to make a living. Two skills historians will always have is excellent research abilities and critical thinking, therefore no matter what profession we end up in the skills we have will be beneficial. However, our schoolwork can be a hindrance, as Rudd Putnam states: “The cognitive overload of an academic life prevents us from being truly thoughtful.” Sometimes this mental block can prevent historians from being creative, and sometimes it can prevent them from assessing what is possible for their future.

Thoughts on Readings March 18

Once again the readings this week were enlightening and informative, besides a few incredibly ignorant statements, (Tyler wrote that day time hours are only convenient to the unemployed, neglecting to realize that people work at night, from home, and are self-employed!), the book provides a really comprehensive overview of historic preservation, restoration, and conservation; and will undoubtedly prove to be a helpful reference in the future.
When we discuss historic preservation with folks without an historical understanding of certain places, it is important to remind them that quality transcends time, and things that are historically important may not be obvious to the casual observer. There seems to be an idea floating around that if something is old it is less useful or perhaps less aesthetically pleasing. Certain architectural styles may not be popular any longer, but that does not mean we should tear down the building for the newest and least expensive piece of architecture. This is especially true in the case of buildings that don’t have a lot of traditional aesthetic value, but are an important aspect of America’s history. Tyler discusses the first McDonalds built in the United States, which is located in Downey, California. Post-War consumerism and car culture can be referenced by old burger places like the early McDonalds, or the by the old Chow Now burger stand that used to be on Broadway and Boise Avenue. The last time I was in Downey the old McDonalds was still standing and in use, however in the mid 2000s, Chow Now was replaced by office buildings. I believe historians have a greater role in helping to preserve these types of buildings, since they may be perceived as lacking historical value.

Another discussion brought up by the author that I feel is relevant to Boise was Tyler’s discussion of downtowns. Tyler asserted that downtowns provide a better community focused center because of the range and types of places. He gives a quick list of what downtowns can do to sustain themselves, but he leaves out one glaring element- transportation and parking. Parking in downtown Boise is difficult and it is a deterrent. During the week it is expensive and limited by 2 hour meters, on the weekend and in the evening, you still have to pay in the garages or try finding a place on the street. Buses do run downtown, but they stop running at 6:00pm, and there is limited service on Saturday. I suggest trying a free parking month and then calculate how many more people come to downtown. Another option is to increase public transportation; the city should look into the costs and benefits of an interurban transit system like the one Boise had in the past. Many businesses in downtown Boise are leaving, and it is a trend that will continue, unless the City and downtown association looks for better ways to address the public’s needs.

This weekend I was in Pasco, Washington for a funeral. We arrived a couple of hours before the service so we deceived to drive around the town. After reading the Tyler book it was an interesting tour. Pasco’s downtown has been completely neglected, right now it provides only shopping venues that are deeply influenced by Hispanic culture. Although it is refreshing to see the spread of Hispanic culture, the downtown is now simply a marketplace for inexpensive goods; gone are the government buildings, cultural museums, and offices. The buildings have also been neglected, and it was an eye-opening experience to see the fate of a once thriving downtown. I asked my family members who live in Pasco where the new downtown hub was, and they informed me that it was what I had assumed- a 5 block strip mall on road 68. But surely a strip mall could not replace downtown, like Tyler stated how buildings function “define downtown as a focus of community life, not simply the physical groupings of buildings,” therefore without a mix of retail, commercial buildings, city offices, and cultural resources, downtown cannot sustain itself. If people truly want to buy more than commodities, goods, and services, and if they are “willing to spend more to purchase experiences;” (283) then downtowns provide the perfect outlet for this kind of unique experience. All strip malls can provide the same experiences as any other town, but each city’s downtown is unique, and perhaps this is something people should reflect on before they decide to tear down a historic building only to replace it with paid parking.

Reflection on the Wiki Assignment

I chose to write my wiki article on the Boise sesquicentennial happening this year. The sesquicentennial is something that I have been involved with while working for the City of Boise’s Department of Arts & History, and I feel like the commemoration is an important piece of public history at work. The sesquicentennial, or Boise 150, commemoration has made substantial efforts to engage and involve the community through various and creative ways; including a special Boise 150 storefront, grant programs, the Sesqui-Speaks series, and special exhibitions. The Department of Arts & History, through the sesquicentennial is also creating legacy pieces such as the Share Your Story Program, a commemorative book, and the commemorative CD. I have learned quite a bit about how public history can function while working on the sesquicentennial commemoration. I believe that when we look back at the sesquicentennial, Boiseans will consider it an important milestone for the city, especially considering the huge amounts of growth the city is currently experiencing. I thought it was important to include this information on the Boise Wiki, since it is Boise specific. However, as far as Wikipedia, I don’t think the editors would agree that Boise’s sesquicentennial is an important thing to acknowledge. Therefore, on the Wikipedia page I only made a small edit.

This assignment was not entirely enjoyable for me. In comparing the two sites, (the Boise Wiki and Wikipedia) the Boise Wiki was very simple and straightforward. Following the prompts to edit or create a page is easily understood, and I feel that almost anyone with basic computer knowledge could contribute successfully to the Boise Wiki. The Boise Wiki, I feel is also a good way to build community involvement and knowledge. The Boise Wiki does not purport itself to be the expert on all things the way Wikipedia does, which makes it a non-threatening venue to contribute to. I like the fact that the Boise Wiki is community based with community contributors lends to that fact that is less intimidating to edit than Wikipedia. Community users may also feel they have more valuable information to contribute on a local wiki as opposed to the world-wide Wikipedia.

Wikipedia on the other hand is intimidating to edit, and not as simple as contributing to the Boise Wiki. On Wikipedia, even searching for help can be intimidating and onerous. In fact, all of the help links I tried proved entirely unhelpful and lent to even more confusion on my part. It is understandable that only a handful of people would want to contribute to Wikipedia, and that those people that do contribute have a fairly advanced understanding of technology and code. On top of the anxiety of simply figuring out how to edit, there is no guarantee that your edits will stay up on the page; and you may have to answer to the dreaded Wikipedia editors. As we learned from the articles we read in class, the editors can be condescending, vague, and inflexible.

After this experience and after reading about Wikipedia and discussing it in class my opinion of the online encyclopedia has soured. “Truth” on Wikipedia, is defined by Wikipedia editors through a series of rigid and non-flexible criteria. I feel that scholars shouldn’t waste time trying to contribute to Wikipedia or arguing with Wikipedia’s editors. It is my hope that Wikipedia, because of its practices, will not sustain itself and will be replaced by a more concise, peer-reviewed, and academic online encyclopedia. Perhaps, an online encyclopedia could be created that compiles different “truths” and ideas so readers can make up their own minds about a topic instead of relying on Wikipedia editors.

This assignment has confirmed many things for me, including the need for public historians to focus their energy outside of Wikipedia, and outside of traditional ways of disseminating knowledge. Many people use Wikipedia as a quick reference, and they accept the information as valid. Public historians should seek to spark conversations and provide opportunities for people to ask more questions, not just look up little bits of information. With scholars abandoning sites like Wikipedia, I hope that people will begin to see the online encyclopedia as an obsolete and archaic way to view the world. Instead, I hope to see a shift towards asking questions, not only to find answers, but to create dialogue, understanding, and a continued interest in learning about the world.

Thoughts on Readings No. 5

The readings this week were extremely informative. I immensely enjoyed the readings, but the Tyler book provided almost an overload of information, especially for someone unfamiliar with the topic. What I gathered from the readings is that preserving our history is a complicated process with a lot of different players. Since the book presented so much new information to me, and because of my ignorance regarding all of the agencies and laws, I hesitate to argue a point this week. There is an abundance of information that needs to be understood in order to comprehend what historic preservation entails and how it operates in the U.S., and I am still a baby novice when it comes to this comprehension.

Some questions that arose for me during the readings were about the ideas of progress. Perceptions of progress seem to be at the root of whether a building is preserved, and in what ways that preservation is handled. Is progress mutually exclusive from preservation, and will there always be people who feel that an old building isn’t worth quite as much as a new one? I also questioned whether all the guidelines, procedures, and boards help or hinder historic preservation? Would comprehensive legislation be more effective? In looking at Boise, we still have a lot of work to do in terms of preservation. I can say that a city department is currently working on preserving the Central Addition and a house on River Street. Local activist Jon Bertram has been coordinating effectively with the V.A. to preserve the oldest building on Fort Boise, but this is not enough. The 1970s was a bad time for Boise and little historic gems are still disappearing all the time from our neighborhoods.

Concepts that Tyler touched upon that stood out for me were his assertion that “Preservationists need to recognize that the preservation of historic buildings should include not only the physical structure, but also the history of the place.” I think this is a profound concept, and one I don’t see manifested frequently. The concept of contextualism was also very compelling, and perhaps the agreement can be made that contextualism provides for aesthetically pleasing and more well-functioning neighborhoods. However, no matter how one feels about preservation there is still a need to engage and educate the public regarding history. Although agreement may not be the outcome, public education and engagement will least lead us to a more thoughtful dialogue on the issues.