Not just Haunted Tours and Catacombs

The handful of articles that we read for class this week concerning dark tourism sparked many thoughts on concepts that I had not previously pondered in depth.  The overarching theme that emerged for me was that dark tourism can include many different things and much of the time is dictated by personal beliefs.  Like some of my classmates, I had defined dark tourism as haunted tours, exploring catacombs and prisons, and visiting places perhaps more dedicated to profit than education.  In my ignorance, I had not considered certain museums, memorials, disaster sites, or battlefields to be part of it, which now seems obvious to me.  Unwittingly, I suppose I fit in with the people attracted to some of the dark tourism since at the top of my list of places to visit is the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor; essentially a giant metal coffin.  Another continuity between all of these articles was that people desire to see artifacts or buildings in person, and that by actually being there you experience something that pictures and documentaries might not capture.  “Numinous Objects” explored this idea a little bit with mentioning how some museum collections or objects become part of a community’s spiritual identity and that any proposed changes are often met with rejection.

The notion that I kept grappling with was the relationship between entertainment, profit, and education.  I guess it boils down to the goals of the institution and the motivations of the visitors, while understanding that there will be some overlap depending on the circumstances.  Those relationships rely on the organization in charge, their treatment and presentation of artifacts and history, as well as ethical considerations.  Especially regarding human remains, ethical subjectivity is a line that is difficult to define.  “From Privates to Presidents” addressed this idea by stating that the Army Medical Museum is government-run, and has a good relationship with visitors, usually family members connected to a specimen.  Comparing the treatment of Alcatraz and Robben Island illustrates how similar sites can have different atmospheres.  Alcatraz gained commercialized representations from the media, while Robben Island attracted visitors because of Nelson Mandela’s time there.  All of this got me wondering about access to museums and heritage sites.  If they’re spouting educational goals for visitors, should these heritage sites charge admission?  I realize that revenue is needed for employee salaries and maintenance, so it’s probably not feasible.  I was just pondering the weird construct where visitors pay to see human remains or oddities and the ethical ideas surrounding making money off the dead and suffering.  The short article below from National Geographic explored this idea as well.  There are no easy answers and I waver back and forth.  Ultimately, I will still visit these dark tourism sites and pay admission if they require it, but it’s something that’s got me thinking.

Sad but True- Cue Metallica When Discussing the Government

Studying history has made me think at times that I’ve become immune to shock and outrage, and that nothing could phase me anymore.  But reading about these Heritage Laws and the way they operate left me dumbfounded once again.  I suppose I should not be surprised, given the complicated way our bureaucratic government operates, but it blows me away how easy the statutes and regulations could be manipulated and corrupted beyond their original intent.  As someone who was unfamiliar with these laws and regulations, I had no idea how they functioned or were enforced so this reading was certainly eye-opening to all the issues that have come up in the forty years since their implementation.  The sad but true reality that King relays is that these Heritage Laws are riddled with biased consultants, administration interests in profit, complicated review systems, and exclusion of the public from taking part in any aspect of the laws.  Even in chapter 8 when King introduced Caldwell’s alternatives in addition to his own, King is adamant that the system requires complete overhaul, not just the rectification of a few elements of the laws.  With this in mind, it seems like a very daunting task, which is precisely why nothing has been done to fix the statutes and regulations.

In my opinion, one of the most important issues that King raises is concerning the public’s involvement with Heritage Laws.  In chapter 6 he states that “people who want to protect some aspect of their heritage from destruction- often themselves don’t push for it, don’t insist on it, don’t even recognize it as something that government agencies ought to do.”  The very people who want to protect their environment or heritage are alienated within the system because of the jargon, lack of awareness and consultation, ignored input, and lack of funding to hire people like King to fight on the public’s behalf, and that seems wrong on all levels.  King detailed how he submitted a paper to agencies in chapter 7.  The subsequent response from the BLM illustrates how even an expert such as King gets pushed aside.  If he is given the runaround, I cannot imagine someone like me trying to make any sort of changes.  I guess all this just reaffirms that despite its importance, history is a depressing business and unfortunately, most people don’t care.

The Realities of Funding

Wow. After reading the articles, grants sure seem intimidating, in a weirdly complicated way for someone who has never looked at them before.  On the one hand, successful grant writing seems like it’s mostly just following instructions and using common sense.  But on the other, the writer must find the balance between vagueness and specificity.  For example, the grant reviewers do not want to get bogged down in minute details, but they also do not want something that is too broad and vague that does not convey relevance and significance.  I suppose that I found the process intimidating based on the sheer numbers of applications with just a small number of those applications accepted. It’s deceiving that the NEH grant page has an entire list of grants available, but in the grand scale of thousands of applications, the probability of getting chosen is very small.

When examining the Digital Projects for the Public and the Digital Humanities Advancement grants a few similarities emerge.  Both grants highlight acceptance of applications for projects in all phases of development related to digital projects.  This struck me as interesting because in my mind, most applications would be for projects still in theoretical development, but that is not the case.  Once started, projects may still receive funding, even if a project was abandoned and is now in need of revitalization.  Along those lines, both grants look for projects that are sustainable and deepen the understanding of a given field.  Since these are digitally focused, both grants stress appealing to a broad public audience, as well as students and other scholars.

The sample application narratives that I looked at for both grants, were wanting to utilize digital technologies to broaden and enhance techniques within history and archaeology.  One similarity that I noted was the fact that both applications wanted funding to bring together field professionals for meetings to best discuss how to implement digital technologies.  This was interesting to me because even though neither proposals had begun their projects while awaiting these meetings, both applications had outlined how the money would be used, their timelines for project completion, and the scholars involved.  To me, it looks like one key to these applications was showing the grant reviewers your dedication to organization, the ability to stick with a proposed timeline, knowing exactly what you are going to do and when.  They follow the guidelines, while remaining specific about the goals of the projects and their significance, but not emphasizing even little aspect of the projects.

Oh the Possibilities

I noticed that some of my classmates mentioned depression as a reaction to the readings this week. Personally, I came away with a much more hopeful reaction.  By no means are the opportunities boundless for historians, but you realize that there are more options out there than you typically think of.  I suppose the readings validated my choice to do the MAHR option because I love the possibilities available for those willing to get creative and make a career that works for them, beyond academia, teaching, and law.  “Historians as Consultants and Contractors” laid out some of those other possibilities.

I loved how “Crafting a New Historian” detailed how it is possible to combine two passions or hobbies.  I would say that this describes exactly how I decided upon my research and project topic.  I love military history and art, so why not combine them to get combat art.  I love that I can talk about museums and exhibits with my graphic designer friend because she is interested in the same thing.  We are able to discuss how we can effectively communicate information and present it visually.  I think that’s why I spent so much time on the West Office website just looking at every different exhibit design they created.  I also agreed with the statement in “Crafting a New Historian” that as historians, we develop skilled transferable to other disciplines or topics, such as planning, researching, hypothesizing, and problem-solving.

Along those same lines, last week my mom sent me an article that I think is applicable.  In it, the author laments over the drop in history, and other humanities, majors, stating that the job market is losing critical thinkers and good communicators. These skills are valuable, whether working in history or not, and people are missing out  on the resources that history majors posses.

I did encounter one source of stress in the readings. “Crafting a New Historian” mentioned being able to relate to different people with different interests.  I whole-heartedly agree, and feel that as historians we can do that, especially through reading books.  What stresses me out is when we must relate to people through interactions and conversations.  I’m not the best conversationalist and this, frankly scares me.  Furthermore, I had a conversation with a historian working for the NPS at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  One point he made was that historians have to be “people” persons.  At this statement, I panicked because I am most certainly not a “people-person”.  I guess I will have to work on that.

History Done by Non-historians

These articles bring up some good points on how to think about history done from non-historians.  Where do we draw the line on scholarly authority?  Are sound resources the key in the debate?  I feel like I change my mind on that subject weekly and do not ever have a concrete opinion on the matter.

With reenacting, I appreciate that on any one battlefield you can have casual enthusiasts who are just there to have fun mixed in with the hard-cores who are particularly proud of their authenticity and dedication.  As brought up in “The Limited (and Queer?) Vision of American Historical Reenacting”, much of this reenacting is done by older, white men romanticizing the past.  It makes me wonder how many men don their reenactor roles to “escape” into a hyper-masculine world against a changing society that may seem “threatening” to them.  I’m sure many are passionate about history, but to some maybe only in a way that maintains white patriarchy.  The few articles referencing reenacting made me think of the book that some of us read last semester titled Confederates in the Attic, which addressed the undying nature of the “War of Northern Aggression” to Southerners.  To many, reenacting connected them to their heritage and a simpler, better time.  The Civil War refuses to die because the war is still so personal.  This book was published in 1998, so I’m wondering if between 1998 and 2012, perhaps the Civil War mania began to lessen as “Why Doesn’t Anyone Think It’s Cool to Dress up like a Confederate Soldier Anymore?” suggests with dwindling attendance at Sons of Confederate Veterans events.

Another side note on “The Limited (and Queer?) Vision of American Historical Reenacting”, a remark was made that maybe in the future we will see women and minorities reenact struggles and confrontations in the future.  This comment reminded me of people who had dressed up to participate in the Women’s March in January.  Particularly, I thought of a few women I saw dressed up at Victorian Suffragettes.  I do not know if those women would consider themselves reenactors, but I thought it was a step in the direction that the articles was talking about, and an example of connecting yourself to history to prove a point.


Regarding Wikipedia, all of the information was new to me, feeding into the statistic that women are not as active contributing as men.  Since I have never tried to edit an article, I did not know the content and source guidelines.  It does make me feel better about getting quick facts and an overview since there are guidelines in place to deter internet trolls, but I can understand Messer-Kruse’s frustrations.  Being an expert in your field and then told that you do not have the right kind of sources to edit a Wikipedia article would drive anyone crazy.


Once again, I found these sections of Historic Preservation illuminating.  By outlining all the multiple ways of thinking about preservation, I could not help but notice how subjective everything is.  In determining historical or architectural significance, I could imagine how many arguments are fought over different buildings and which ones get preserved or not.  These processes are yet another area in which the bureaucracy creates hoops for people to jump through, discouraging more participation.

I thought it was interesting that the authors brought up the “experience economy” and the Starbucks example.  I see locally in Boise, that very same idea at work downtown and the businesses that occupy those spaces, ironically as a reaction against Starbucks.  The restaurants and coffee shops market themselves as being local and able to provide an atmosphere that deviates from the “chain businesses” to give them a “cool” vibe.  The historic buildings play a prominent role in the restaurant atmospheres, providing an “experience” at the same cost, or more, than the “chain” food establishments.  While that is a great use of the space, I wonder at the accessibility of those businesses.  Yes, I see the historic buildings and unique restaurants as assets to Boise, but I feel as if they only cater to specific people, excluding diverse participation in the downtown scene.  Like we have discussed before, I think it’s important that historic spaces be available to everyone.

I was glad that the authors also discussed the link between tourism and preservation.  By blending the two, heritage interpretation creates a more meaningful visit to tourists that goes beyond “site-seeing”.  This approach seeks to engage tourists foster an understanding of cultural places through the combination of tourism, preservation, living history, “edutainment,” and “experience” industries.  One example provided was how a local actor impersonated Thomas Edison and talked to visitors while on the tour.  While admirable, the book makes this approach seem like it is the best and only way to go about engrossing tourists.  I can’t help but consider how some visitors may not enjoy that experience, and how different people learn in multiple ways.  Once again, I think there cannot be a one size fits all model for varying historic sites.  Lastly, I thought the discussion on cultural and maritime landscapes broadened the scope of the book into areas that I hadn’t considered in my perceived discussion of preservation.

Preservation Gone Wrong

I know our reading this week dealt mostly with buildings and environmental sites but I was reminded of this botched fresco restoration that I’m sure all of us recognize from a few years ago.

Here is the link to an article showing how they made the most out a terrible situation. I thought you might enjoy it.

Botched Restoration of Jesus Fresco Miraculously Saves Spanish Town

If You Build It, They Will Come… If It’s Preserved

Reading about historic preservation prompted me to think about how relevant the topic is in society today.  This chapter brought to mind many different articles and news stories that have popped up recently within the last few years and serves as a reminder that this topic is deeply important.  One such example is the Colosseum restoration project to clean the grime off the façade, that I saw on a 60 Minutes segment.

I agreed with many of the points brought up in the book, one of which is that by preserving different sites, we have the ability to go beyond static representation of artifacts and to present history as a complete environment (pg 18).  Context is a major player within the world of preservation.  I loved the discussion of Charleston’s implementation of historic district zoning ordinance policies in 1931 that made it illegal to build anything that would detract from the architectural and historical setting.  We can see that those same policies have been adopted in many varied places.

I also agreed with the notion that the local level is where historic preservation is the most powerful.  Communities are the driving force behind many efforts to protect historic sites and buildings.  I love the idea that communities deem what is significant, but as with our discussion on museums, I worry about that in the long run.  The pitfalls of relying on communities are in their failure to think long term and concerns about demographics, along with people in power.  Talking of demographics, it makes me think of communities with a small percentage of ethnic diversity.  The larger group could be gung-ho about preservation, but only so far as it applies to their own history, and not the sites of minorities.  Addressing my other concern of longevity, I was reminded of efforts in my hometown of Winnemucca, NV to save a crumbling building.  Last fall the Winnemucca Hotel was demolished and there was an outcry to save it.  Built in 1863, the hotel was a noted Basque landmark as a boarding house and restaurant.  It was left vacant for years to decay.  Only when it was slated for demolition, did people pay attention to it.  A group tried to raise money to buy the property and restore it, but their efforts fell short because they had no plan for the building after they bought the land.  While the demolition is unfortunate, I think that had their efforts been successful, they would have started restoring the hotel, ran out of money, and the building would continue to sit without a purpose.  Maybe I’m being cynical, but I fear that this scenario is an all too common one in other small towns that lack funding and sustained interest/effort in keeping these sites from deteriorating.

images winnemucca_hotel_thumb

I’ll leave off with a few last thoughts. I think it’s important to note that these restoration and preservation projects can even add previously unknown information to our understanding, for instance, the fact that by cleaning cathedral façades people realized that they used to be brightly painted.  This changes how people look at gothic architecture. I was also surprised at how short the list of Idaho Threatened Sites was.  I expected a higher number in different places around the state rather than only 6 sites, 4 of which are in Boise.

Museum Relevance Explored

Museums as relevant institutions of contemporary dialogue is a topic that really makes you think about how the role of museums has changed in the last few decades.  All of these articles concerning the Black Lives Matter movement or refugees call into question how to include these controversial topics into museum discussions.  It was interesting to read about how different museums around the world are doing just that. On a side note, I wonder about funding for these topics.  I know that here in Idaho, as Alisha discussed in her Public Historian post, funding is a major problem for the Idaho Black History Museum. Aside from that, I struggle with how these efforts would get implemented in places like a Idaho.  Certain people in this part of the country may benefit from education on African Americans that a museum could provide, but I know some would not even want to walk in the door.  Those that need it most, would protest the exhibits the most, and be resolute in keeping their views the same as they’ve always been.  Maybe I’m being cynical and unfair, but as we’ve already discussed, these tricky subjects can cause defensiveness.

All of the articles regarding the Black Lives Matter movement mentioned social media as a major component in keeping relevance. Throughout the previous week’s reading, social media and an online presence had been mentioned multiple times.  When reading this, I was struggling to visualize how museums would go about that. Personally, the most that I have been exposed to online associated with museums is following a certain institution on Facebook and reading some of their posts related to current exhibits.  So I had questioned what a museum online presence actually meant.  As a non-twitter user, I appreciated the sections devoted to how twitter has been the biggest connecting force.  In “Museums & #BlackLivesMatter” they described how a museum can facilitate a twitter conversation and store those conversations for later use.  While this is all very interesting, I can’t help but think about how many trolls are out there spewing insults and attacking people’s right to have an opinion.  Civilized, informed dialogues can be lacking when there’s online anonymity to hide behind.

Another point that I found worth discussing was the fact that the African American History Museum is collecting artifacts from the Black Lives Matter protests.  In my experience, I feel like some people don’t always recognize the significance of current events, and some length of time is needed to gain that perspective.  As a result, I found the collecting of protest artifacts very proactive.  The museum is recognizing that these protests are important, and thus, they won’t have to worry about gathering signs and gas-masks 20 or 30 years down the road.  While conversely, the opposite can be said.  Many feel as though contemporary happenings are the most significant events to ever happen in the history of the Earth, when later we see that that may not be the case.  To this argument I’d say that it would be better to have more than enough artifacts for any given time period, than not enough.

My last thought is that I love the idea that Berlin’s Museum of the Ancient Near East has implemented by employing refugees as guides.  I think its immensely important that people own their history and this is one way to do that.  Even though the artifacts are in Germany instead of Syria, Syrians are still the ones telling people about it and informing other Syrians about their heritage.  While having these artifacts in Germany is not ideal, they are kept safe and away from groups like ISIS who recognize that destroying art and history is part of how you destroy your enemy’s existence.

On a tangent, here is a list from 2015 of some sites that ISIS has destroyed, which just infuriates me.

Jim Duran, Digital Archivist and Side Project Historian

In an ever-more digitizing society, the work of a digital archivist is growing.  I sat down with Jim Duran to discuss the job of a digital archivist and how the field is changing and what it takes to be a digital archivist.

Duran has worked in the Boise State University Special Collections since 2007, and been the Digital Archivist since 2015.  He began his career as a library assistant for the BSU Special Collections while working to obtain his undergraduate math degree.  He enjoyed working at the library, and his interest in history was peaked through classes and interactions with history professors in the Residential College housing program.  His choice to study history was further influenced by his interest in cause and effect, agency, social systems, and opportunities to teach people who are interested in history.  More specifically, with archives, Duran enjoyed organizing things and having the ability to save history from obscurity.  Duran decided to pursue a career in libraries, graduating from the Boise State Master of Arts, History program in 2013.  He is currently working on his Master in Library Science degree, a requirement for academic archive personnel.

Having been involved with the BSU Special Collections during his undergraduate career, Duran wanted to continue working there for a number of reasons.  First, as a Boise State alum, Duran liked the Boise State community, campus, and city of Boise.  Secondly, working for a smaller archive with fewer staff allowed for more freedom when exploring different aspects of archives.  Lastly, the location of Boise as a capital city offered opportunities to collect political papers and corresponding documentation, which could provide multiple perspectives on historic and current events.

As a digital archivist, Duran’s day is usually spent working with students, staff, and the public, providing access to materials, managing interns, and processing new donations.  Additionally, he digitizes audio/visual materials by converting obsolete formats to digital, facilitates duplications since materials cannot leave the area, and creating digital collections.  Since 2015, a major part of the job has been website development.  That entails creating websites for content management, which make existing digital collections accessible online.  The focus for such collections has primarily been University archives and regional papers from Southwest Idaho.

For those interested in history and archival careers, Duran offered up some sound advice.  In history, he advised that finding non-profit organizations to work with is a major advantage.  Many grants require non-profit involvement, so finding a non-profit that shares your passion for a certain subject increases your probability of obtaining a grant.  As historians, many times we are required to write with a specific client or audience in mind.  His advice is to practice writing for different audiences as much as possible.  In reference to archives, his advice was to volunteer and intern to gain experience.  As the field turns more and more digital, he also offered to consider learning a coding language.  For those interested in archival work, the standard for academic libraries is a Masters in Library Science, as they will most likely be teaching.  The standards for non-academic libraries are a little more relaxed.  Some helpful skills are knowledge in the certain styles of processing collections, computer guidelines in describing collections, and familiarity with systems that manage digital content.  Additionally, skills associated with negotiating with donors, attention to detail and organization, and an ability to relate what people are looking for with what is available are desired.  Duran further emphasizes an awareness that the work you perform is permanent and meant to last a long time.  One of the challenges that he faces regularly is that there are no standards for how to archive and preserve digital materials.  The policies for such practices are still being written for digital collections.

Since 2011 Duran has also been a side project historian, usually employed through the City of Boise Arts and History Department.  He enjoys the variety of the side projects and their ability to spice things up.  It was through this collaboration with the City of Boise Arts and History and with the Boise Public Library that Duran published a book about the history of the Central Bench.  The book was a success, provided history on a relatively unknown subject, and was a fun way to support the Central Bench neighborhood.  The book was so well-received, that the first printing of 1,000 copies was gone in three weeks.  As a side historian, Duran’s projects are almost always related to neighborhood associations and grant funded.  When on a project, he devotes about 10-20 hours a week to research, writing, interviewing people, and presenting his findings.


My favorite section of the interview was devoted to the projects that Duran is proudest of.  He mentioned his Central Bench History book, his Photo Services Negatives Collection, and his Master’s thesis.  The Photo Services Negatives Collection involved over half a million photos on two obsolete content management systems.  Duran was able to migrate data to access it and preserve the digital content.  This project is an example of why Duran likes working in archives.  He states that, “Archives can be very rewarding if you enjoy preserving history and helping people discover it”.  His Master’s thesis was focused on the Morrison-Knudsen construction company based in Boise, and its connection to Cold War era Afghanistan.  Duran discovered that not much research had been done on the subject, conducted interviews of past employees, and became the expert on Morrison-Knudsen.  He was contacted by the BBC, the Washington Post, and others to discuss the company.  Duran created a professional niche for himself and is particularly proud of his thesis for that.

In an age increasingly digitizing, the work of Jim Duran will not cease any time soon.  His interview shed light on the roles of archivists in preserving digital content, and what it takes to enter the field and be successful.

Central Bench History book by Jim Duran