Interview with TAG Historical Research & Consulting

For this project I became interested in learning more about what historical consultants do and how an independent consultant can operate their own business. After some online research, I decided to interview the owners of TAG Historical Research and Consulting, one of the leading historical consulting firms in Boise. I went over to their downtown office one afternoon, and interviewed Barbara Perry Bauer and her sister, Elizabeth Jacox about their experiences running their own firm and how they got there.

 Barbara went to school for a degree in history, and worked in a museum, which was work she really enjoyed. As we talked about the path Barbara took to get where she is today, she said that “it was a circuitous path.” She ended up going to Wyoming and working in another museum, then her husband was offered a job in Boise, so they picked up and came here. Barbara worked as the Director of the Basque Museum for two years, and after that she kept her foot in the door by volunteering at the history institutions around town. In 1993, Barbara and a group of other historians came together and formed a historical consulting firm. Through time the others fell away, and Barbara’s sister Elizabeth joined. Barbara mentioned that it was a lot of building up her resume and networking, and she has always felt lucky, being in the right place at the right time.

 Part of their success can be attributed to their diversification in projects. Elizabeth mentioned that it is the only way to exist in this business. TAG does lots of Section 106 compliance work, site surveys, house histories, and exhibits. One amazing fact I learned was that almost all of the site surveys since 1989 in Boise have been completed by TAG.  Barbara and Elizabeth also work with engineers, developers, attorneys, city and county agencies, and non-profits. They market their business in a variety of ways to their different clients, and they have repeat clientele, as well as a great reputation. They are also members of the American Cultural Resource Organization.

 They encourage anyone who wants to become a historical consultant at an entry-level position to have good research experience, as well as writing skills, including technical writing as you end up writing a lot of reports. In addition to this, some basic organizational skills are a must, and some GIS experience can be helpful. The official salary for entry level is $12-15/hr, and with a Master’s, working on your own $14-15/hr is a dream figure. Barbara and Elizabeth added that the hourly rate you charge is no where the rate you end up paying yourself. As Elizabeth said though, the reason you do this is not always practical.

 This leads into the current issues facing the historical research business. TAG has felt the decline in the economy much like other small businesses. For history consulting work, it has been a trickle-down effect: less work for transportation departments, developers, etc., means less work for history consultants. It was particularly bad in 2010 with the stimulus bill because the Feds loosened up regulations to get people to work, bypassing section 106 rules to a degree to get it accomplished, which funny enough, put other people out of work. 

To end on a positive note, Barbara and Elizabeth hope to grow their business large enough to hire recent history graduates of BSU. They also encourage anyone interested in becoming a history consultant to try and hook up with a federal or local government agency because that is where they think the most growth will occur for recent history graduates. Barbara and Elizabeth ended the interview by saying that they love what they do, and would not want to be doing anything else.

I appreciated my time with them, and I am glad that Boise has such an outstanding firm that does such great work with our history.


My fabulous public history project focused on the website, The site is called “PhilaPlace: Sharing Stories from the City of Neighborhoods.” This project shows two maps: An image of historic Philadelphia, and underlying that one is a modern Google map. The project allows you to explore historic locations with photographs, stories, and place markers. A very nice interactive portion of this website is that it lets users contribute their own stories to the website. It also has a blog, and a collections tab that opens up over 1,000 photos.

This project was created by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to feature Philadelphia neighborhoods, and allow people to contribute in order to connect “places through space and time.” They created the website for people to understand and interact with the history of Philadelphia, as well as document the changes that have occurred in the cityscape.

The project’s intended audience seems to be primarily the residents of the featured neighborhoods of Philadelphia.  There seems to be room for improvement in this area to include travelers or potential travelers. A tourist could use the website, but by incorporating a couple of walking tours in certain areas or using location based apps the experience would be improved. 

The learning objective of this website is much like our textbook, Everyday America; to read the cultural landscapes of Philadelphia and acknowledge the many experiences that have occurred in one place, even one building. One of the other objectives of this project is for the visitors to realize how each neighborhood, no matter how different they are, have played integral roles in the shaping of  the city and the region.

This project is replicable, but I think an organization with enough resources would have to undertake it. One of the project pages mentions that several organizations partnered together and had at least two large grants. With technology becoming cheaper as they roll out new interfaces, cost might not be much of a deterrent for long because the cost is becoming more affordable. At the moment it is a great template for other projects. As for the PhilaPlace project as it exists now on the web, it can easily grow and have more content added to it.

Participation in the project by the public was an integral part to the project. It remains a part of the project still by allowing visitors to write their own stories down about places. Visitor comments are marked with a green thumbtack on the map, and comments from the Historical Society and other partners are also clearly marked. This is a very convenient part of the site because you can easily see who is interacting with it, and who is not. It seems as if not enough people have discovered it to share their memories about the places, or they are targeting the wrong age group.

I think this is a great project to bring to Boise, and with a couple of tweaks, it could become really prominent with social media and other avenues. By using social media, I think it would help encourage more engagement by the public. That seems to be one of the downsides of the PhilaPlace; not very many people outside of the historical society and their partners have shared stories. Perhaps a more vigorous media campaign would help that. If a similar project was undertaken in Boise, I think the addition of audio would be great. With audio, the group in charge of operating the site could gather anecdotal oral histories and upload them to the site too.  I think this kind of project could become a nice balance of an educational and fun web experience, with both what users want and what historians think they want.

What the user wants

I had fun playing around and reading all of the blogs in our homework this week, and getting to tell my husband that I was actually doing my homework playing with apps. Our first assignment about “But I want you to think,” was a nice piece to frame the whole discussion of using the Internet and multimedia projects as a fun way to learn. It showed that public history projects tow the line of what the user wants/needs, and what we think the information and services should be. The reading about the 7 apps enriching cultural tourism really reinforced this point, because it shows if you can create something that the user wants, you have their interest long enough for them to learn something (if that is your goal).

The only reading I found dissappointing, from my history background, was the “Haunts: Place, Play, and Trauma,”  because of the fact that they were encouraging made up stories of places. This only makes me uncomfortable because the audience should know whether or not they are reading fiction, even if in some ways history is as made-up as fiction. From a user stand-point and a creative writing background, I loved this idea. So the fact that I didn’t like it was because of the internal battle that ensued.

To end this discussion of balancing what the user wants/needs, I think we need to make it fun, no matter what. That is probably why entering games into the mix of learning history is so appealing: it’s not dull or dry at all. The video “Too late to Apologize” brought this home; it was fun to watch, and I can’t help but have taken away iconic images/information, like the prases from the Declaration of Independence. I will also never forget the violin solo, and the rockin’ forefathers.

Somewhat Random Musings on Cultural Landscapes

One of the chapters that I enjoyed reading the most was Chapter 6 and its stab at trying to teach students how to read cultural landscapes, and how that can be compared to reading any historical document. Pierce Lewis writes, “landscape is a historic document that tells a story—actually, multiple stories—about the people who created the landscape and the cultural context in which that landscape was embedded.” Pierce also points out that there is no one single author in the landscape, and they are incomplete documents. This seems so obvious, but it takes someone like Pierce to point it out for all of us to have that “aha” moment. When thinking about how we can practice public history, I can see how looking to the built environment can help us retell a story, but that as scholars, we need to keep in mind the bias of the builder, and seek out other sources to tell the rest of the story. It’s just like any other historical research: be cognizant of your sources’ bias and beliefs, and be critical. The only difference is that some of our sources will be a different medium.

The rest of the readings helped to reinforce that as researchers we need to ask questions and be critical of our sources, and that if we can read the landscapes as objectively as possible, we can come to new and exciting conclusions about that place. The exciting part of this conclusion is that even in the simple and ordinary spaces, we can find profound reflections of ourselves, our community, and our region. In chapter 16 James Rojas explores how front yards are “exuberant vignettes of the individual owners’ lives.” I found this so interesting and poignant that I have started to pay special attention to everyone’s front yards on my walk to work/school in my new neighborhood. My yard, since we just bought the house, indicates that no one uses the space since it is in such disrepair. But my neighbors have nicely mowed lawns, and very few outdoor decorations or something that would indicate the personality of the residents. I hope as I look closer I might be able to come to know what my neighbors want the world to see. But more importantly, how am I going to plan my environment, and what will that say about me?

Cultural Landscapes & Public History

I found the readings interesting and engaging, and was able to curl up and actually enjoy them. This is often a feeling unobtainable from required readings, but nonetheless I enojoyed all of the readings. I appreciated that chapter 1 offered a few defintions of cultural landscapes, since I have often heard the term tossed around, but never paid attention. The defintion on page viii, that cultural landscapes are “complex sets of environments that support all human lives and all social groups,” seems especially applicable to public history since our definition for public history is that it is history done by, for, and of the public, who would of course be responsible for the cultural landscapes around them.

I found other aspects from the reading applicable to public history. On page 161, in the introduction to the section containing chapter 11, there was a brief discussion about writing with accessibility so as not to isolate “perspectives, disciplines, professions, discourses, and publics.” When I think of public history, this is integral for any interpretation. You do not need to “dummy” down history for the public to understand; you need to engage your audience in a way that speaks to them. Interest in history can often be inspired by places, so using J.B. Jackson’s questions about a new place: “How do places like this come to exist?” “How do they work?” and “What do they mean to us today?” I also think in any public history endeavors, especially in the academy, we need to keep in mind Jackson’s disappointment in the academicization of landscape studies; if we allow dull and dry interpretations to pervade into the public eye, then we will be successful in making public history unaccessible to its very consumers. We will ask the same question that Jackson did about landscape studies: “Why must public history be so dull, so lacking in insight and emotion?” (p75).