Conservative Historians Blogging

This week’s readings had its moments of insightful history/social commentary and I’m glad this topic was chosen.

Carlson’s article on the history of the conservative movement(s) from the 20th century was intriguing. It seemed as accurate as a short paper could be. I thought some of the “less-traveled” paths were a bit paradoxical. On paper some of these failed conservative camps sounded a bit communistic – specifically communitarianism. It’s interesting how these cultural philosophies sound really good in theory, but in practice it turns out much different. I guess that could be said about any political system.

Some of the other articles had less substance and were hardly historical arguments. Postell’s article about Lincoln and the Founding Fathers and the anonymous blogger’s article about Marxist teachers both had age-old fallacy: A is similar to C, B is also similar to C, therefore A is similar to B. My scooter is green, my lawn is green, therefore my scooter is a lawn! Obama likes Lincoln, Lincoln made a limited government comment once, so why is Obama trying to take my liberties?! It’s hard to get through these types of articles.

This is not a practice limited to conservative bloggers and only a few of the articles were that ridiculous. I thought some of the articles brought up good points and simply offered an opposing argument to some of the extreme topics placed in the classroom. Some of the articles, like Carlsons, and the “point of contention” blog bring up the fact that the rise of conservatism coincided with the U.S. emergence as a superpower. I think that’s a fair point that is worth repeating. I think we all could gain some understanding by looking back to the 1950s and say out loud what we thought was great about that time, and what we disliked. I think we would very quickly find out who is leaning conservative and who’s leaning liberal.

Ethics #2

Thomas F. King delivers a crushing blow to the current state of environmental and cultural protection in the United States. I was surprised at the level of defeatism in this book until I the author noted he was writing during the Bush administration. I remembered back to the frustration held by many with some of the environmental policies during that time period. The pessimism King caries through this book was prevalent among writers for those eight years. While I have virtually no experience with conservation protection in relation to King’s long tenure as a consultant, I can empathize with his sense of bitterness towards the status quo of the early 2000s. While I might argue things have changed slightly and King may be experiencing the wax and wane of U.S. politics, I do agree with two of his major themes: laws and bureaucracies cannot alone protect our heritage. These problems are not unique to environmental and cultural protection, and the ineffectiveness of laws and bureaucracies rarely completely stops groups from demanding change from the government. I may be oversimplifying, but I think many of these political fights can be reduced to majority rule. If King is unsatisfied with the current state of conservation  he shouldn’t point to (as Zach put it) conspiracy theories, and instead look to public awareness.

The problem with laws

Throughout the book, the author quotes the language of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other laws that are supposedly intended to protect important places from change. His many examples of groups skirting the language to do as the please proves just how big the holes are in these laws. This is true, but I think King may be reading too far into NEPA. There are many examples of NEPA working to blockade construction on protected lands. Yes many places are disputed, and big business or federal agencies have an upper hand with teams of lawyers to plead their case. King makes the fight for conservation seem like David vs. Goliath, and perhaps it is, but he forgets to mention the importance of public officiers. Perhaps because he’s writing during a particularly Red time-period, King omits the fact is there are politicians, judges, and even lawyers willing to fight to keep historic or culturally significant places in tact.

The problem with bureaucracies

King takes offense to the barriers created to keep the public out of the conservation conversation. Things like jargon, shady attempts at “consultation,” and dodging the questions put forth by the public create a government that is not listening to the public. I was particularly drawn to the example from the Arizona BLM director’s role in the Topock Maze. Without reading the director’s letter I can see how she failed to represent the public interest.

Overall King makes a pretty good sales pitch for the sad state of conservation, which leads into some decent prescriptions for change. I trust his   experience in the field reflects just how difficult it might be to try defending a place against development. I can sense his bitterness towards the laws and bureaucracies he sees as defenses against developers. He may be exaggerating the problem to justify some of the more radical ideas he has for improvement (a constitutional amendment for example). I see this book kind of like the infomercials for crazy contraptions. He’s making reality seem hopeless without his product. Despite the hopelessness, I remain naively hopeful we can strike a balance between conservation and development with the laws and departments we already have.

Facts, Opinions, Public Funding

We have all suffered through a conversation with a whack job; listening to them, either in person or online, completely twist logic to make a square peg fit a round hole. I will often ignore or deflect their rhetoric since it’s a waste of my time trying to change their mind. History is not the only topic they choose to distort; they also like science (see: flat earth society), economics (see: any pyramid scheme), war (see: any war movie with Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis) and even biology (see Todd Akin’s “the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down” regarding rape pregnancies.)

People are entitled to their opinions. If I’m going to get upset about people spreading myths and lies on the internet, I should also start correcting people in bars and bus stops too. It is a futile exercise that will probably result in at least one black eye. I’m not going to try and stop Earl Taylor and the National Center of Constitutional Studies from selling tickets to his ridiculous lecture about the constitution at the Holiday Inn. I’m not going to try and stop the Sons of the Confederate Veterans from celebrating their ancestor’s humiliating defeat. They are entitled to their opinions and anyone that believes this silliness can go ahead and spend their afternoons hunched over a keyboard and bucket of KFC writing comments on the Idaho Statesman website.

The big difference of course comes with public funding. What happens when these myths and lies creep into publicly funded education like museums and text books? Two problems arrise. First: who’s to say my version of history is any better than the wackos? Second: What if the majority of Americans really want the lies and myths over the truth? The answer to the first question is fairly simple: historians point to the evidence while others point to (to quote XKCD) “.net pages with black backgrounds and like 20 fonts each.” Historian show history is never black and white, the gray area contains subtleties often lost in internet arguments. The second point, that the majority of Americans want to believe myth X, I believe can also be disproven.

With most generalities, American beliefs can be roughly modeled by a bell curve.  On one extreme you have a small group that pushes to continue the myth. On the other extreme you might have informed academics or professionals (scientists, historians, biologists) that have a rational explanation. In the middle is the majority of Americans that probably don’t have time to care. The best thing for the historian to do is pull the center towards their side. This is difficult however, because the other side is trying the same thing.


Find a job path or Play the Lotto? Either way the odds are not in your favor.

My 2 cents:

I have a love/hate relationship with the BLS occupational outlook pages. Every time I read these statistics I get a warm feeling that “hey thats not too bad.” But then I see the little line that says “there are 4,000 jobs in 2010, 57 percent of which were in government.” My math degree taught me 4000 jobs out of 300 million people is bad ratio. 4000 historians. That’s it. 6100 Archivists. So then I start searching other fields…accountants….there are 1,216,900 accountants. Median pay is $61,690 per year! Why did I pick this field?!? Then I settle down, or more accurately my wife calms me down, and I remember nobody tells an accountant “Wow I wish I could read historic documents all day, this must be a cool place to work.”

I think the truth is there are very few jobs that are quantifiably “historian” or “archivist” or “curator,” BUT there are many more jobs that are very close and just as fun. There is no set path to these types of jobs. I think you just have to stick with the field and if you’re good at your work you’ll find something to do. If you’re not good at history, you might end up just being an accountant…and make double the salary.

I take issue with the blog posts from History @ Work.

All of us chose to continue our education probably in hopes it would put us ahead of the curve in the stack of applications for our future job. The most important element of the MAHR program, in my opinion, is the internships. Internships give students added lines on a resume that show employers they applied their education in the “real world.” The blog post “What employers seek in public history graduates” suggests this real world experience is not as important as time in the classroom. I whole heartedly disagree. I think the author’s point is the student’s primary goal should be to learn how to do good history. While this is true, the question he was answering was “what employers seek in public history graduates.” The answer to that question is flat-out: INTERNSHIPS. He even admits “(I have noticed this has changed since then, as there is an Internship requirement in the program today).”

I have participated in many searches for archivist and librarians at Boise State, I have also served on a few hiring committees for archivists. The strongest resumes had at least one internship. An impressive internship can make up for work experience if you’re trying to enter into the field.

There is of course one very important caveat: published work can in some cases trump internships. Having your work published can show employers that you do have the educational background desired. It is strange the authors did not mention the importance of published work…

It seems to me these blog posts were more for higher ed program developers trying to design programs with limited budgets and time institutions have to provide internships for students. Both used a sheen of advice to graduate students to mask the real argument about keeping public history programs more like their traditional counterpart. They put all the responsibility on the graduate students (joining professional associations, contributing to the community, etc.) and argue for continuing program’s tradition role as classroom teacher.

I say don’t let your public history program off the hook! They might say their job is just to teach at you, it is the student’s job to find non-school based experience. Don’t believe it. Find as many ways to blur the lines between professional and educational work. I for one, don’t have time to wait until I’m done with school to start my professional work. The more times I can get a resume reader to say “was this a classroom assignment or did he do this for work?” the better.

$100 Startup, Historical Consultation

I found this week’s reading insightful and inspiring. Guillebeau paints a realistic presentation of life as a self-employed go-getter. I agree with the overall argument that the traditionally accepted “stable” jobs are quickly becoming the volatile option. State and Federal agencies constantly suffer budget cuts and non-permanent teaching positions are slowly replacing the tenured ones. Even if we choose a traditional job in the humanities, chances are it won’t pay as much as we hoped, so starting a side-project seems like a great option for extra income.

Chapter 10 really puts things in perspective. Like some of my classmates, I grew up in an an entrepreneurial house. Growing up, we (Step-dad, mom, myself and my brothers) operated a small landscaping and later general construction/remodeling business. I worked on both crews throughout high-school and college. Not wasting money and charging the customer appropriately were constant problems we had to face. It was the financial difficulties that pushed me away from entrepreneurialism towards what I thought was more stable institutional work. I still cringe at the thought of charging people for historical consultation. I don’t like taking money from people, I’d rather give away my help when I can. I think it takes skill and a right frame of mind to accurately assess what your services are worth and how much people are willing to pay you to do them.

Despite these trepidations, I think Guillebeau has some great examples of people making money doing what they love. The author shows how easy it is to start a micro-business. Obviously, since it is easy to start a modern small business, there will be many others out there with the same idea. As some of the old roadblocks become obsolete, new ones will appear. Regardless, self-employment is still an attractive option.

Historic Preservation (II)

This week’s readings brought us some of the nitty-gritty details of historic preservation. I am still very much a novice to this field, so I’ll keep this book handy if I ever become involved with saving a historic building. I found the following three items especially helpful for understanding this field:

  1. There are criteria for buildings to NOT be considered for historic recognition. I never thought, for example, about the significance of moving a building to its importance for designating it historic. Christs Chapel on the BSU campus for example was moved two or three times. I wonder how that affects its significance as a historic place?
  2. The evaluation of significance, in terms of age, style, unaltered, historical. This was  a nice tool for me to comprehend how to rank buildings for historical significance. From what I gathered, historic preservation is more of an art than a science. In many ways we are dealing with human emotion, so coming up with a rubric like the significance thermometer help preservationists determine historic designations. It also helps the public understand the decision process.
  3. The Dedesignation process is a tool to keep the integrity of the National Historic Landmarks. As the book said history is not static. Many of the buildings on the NHL are still being used in some sort of day-to-day operation. It is important to designate buildings, but it is also important to delist buildings that were significantly altered. This sends a message to building owners that they have an active part in preserving their building’s history.

After reading these chapters, I feel the historic preservation field is much better off now than it used to be. It seems there is a good system in place for preserving historic buildings. Yes, some structures may fall through the cracks – Boise’s schools in the bench neighborhoods for example, but overall these mechanisms are working. I must admit though, after browsing the application process on the National Register website I am a bit dismayed by the idea of submitting one of these applications!


Morrison-Knudsen Corp. on Wikipedia

Morrison-Knudsen Corp. on Boise Wiki

I significantly edited two articles on Wikipedia and added a page on for this class assignment. On Wikipedia, the Morrison-Knudsen (M-K) Company history was a topic under Washington Group International (WGI). I thought this was unacceptable, considering I had a much higher opinion of M-K history compared to WGI – or to use Wikipedia speak: MK was more notable than WGI. Then again, I’m biased. Nevertheless, M-K had four or five paragraphs of content on the WGI page. It seemed to me the M-K content could stand alone on a new page. I thought this might make some waves in the Wiki-editor community, but alas it did not. I moved the five paragraphs, added content, and did not have a single thing altered by the administrators. Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised about this whole experience. I found it much easier to edit Wikipedia than I expected and creating a page on was also a great experience that I hope to continue.

My editorial choices were much different between Wikipedia and Boise Wiki. On the Boise Wiki I discussed the significance of M-K to Boise. I included links to various places in Boise named after the Morrisons, or M-K, and I wrote an extensive history of Morrison’s early life. I thought these two topics would interest local readers. Place names are probably the first things people will recognize about Morrison-Knudsen, so it was an obvious starting place for this article. In the future, I may add more about the operations of the company, including a more significant list of projects they built and perhaps more about some of the other notable employees of M-K. All of these topics are probably not significant enough for the Wikipedia administrators. For that article I focused on national topics.

For Wikipedia I used the International Directory of Company Histories (IDCH) to find the most neutral information about M-K that I could find. I noticed almost every reference in Wikipedia on the M-K and WGI articles were to websites. I only had access to the paper copy of the IDCH, so I thought this might be an issue when I created citations for my additions to the article. So far, my additions have not been taken down. I hope the public and the Wikipedia editors approve of the static references since they do refer to a neutral and secondary source.

After I finished writing both articles, I took a moment to review the articles on the Boise Wiki and Wikipedia. The two articles are very different and I think that is important. The Boise Wiki article is more personal, colorful, and relative to Boise. The Wikipedia article is sterile, generic, and not relative to any single group. This difference highlights the strengths of both mediums of communication. The Boise Wiki can inform the public while keeping the enthusiasm and passion of the writers, while Wikipedia can hypothetically portray neutral information that is theoretically verifiable through sources anybody can easily check. Of course we know this is not always the case.

Although I’m sure I’ll continue to write for the Boise Wiki, I don’t know if I will ever contribute to Wikipedia again. The Boise Wiki can be a great resource if it catches on – I hope it follows the Davis Wiki example and has significant local input. Wikipedia on the other hand is not suited for historians to rely upon to do history. We are too vested in the topics we want to write about. By the very nature of scholarly historical research, we wish to change, challenge or verify the generally accepted historical narrative. To do so, requires hours, days, or months, of digging in resources that the general public has often never seen. This research is then published to a peer-reviewed article or book that again, the public will probably never see. Often, this is the end of a historian’s work – an article in a scholarly journal so expensive only an elite group of fellow scholars will ever have a chance to read. That is not Wikipedia – it maybe the opposite of Wikipedia. A Wikipedia editor may spend an hour using Google News or a directory to find basic information about a topic, edit a page and then move on.

While I sense there is some issues with access to the traditional historian’s method of doing history, that is archival research to publish in an academic journal, I do not think resorting to Wikipedia is a solution to this problem. Wikipedia is not an avenue for professional historians, mostly because Wikipedia’s policies virtually block the type of research historians do. Writing for Wikipedia was like having my hands tied behind my back. I could not include all the great facts of M-K history I had because I found them in an archive. It simply goes against policy and therefore does not suit the work I do.

Historic Preservation

What an excellent introduction to the field of Historic Preservation! This is a realm I wish I could contribute more to. This last friday in fact, Preservation Idaho had an event that appealed to me, but I couldn’t make time to attend. Tyler says saving historic buildings and places historically lacked initiative from the federal government and the broader community (27-31). I have to agree with this assessment, and argue there are major clusters of Americans that still feel this way. Even though the field made advances with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the list of Historic Places, I still feel there is a sentiment in America that historic preservation is just a pet project for us historians, even though I will agree that this sentiment is shrinking.

The conflict persists due to development rivalry. One the one hand we have these designs for CADillac structures that defy physics and symbolize the technology based reality we live in – we just need space to build them. On the other hand we have an ever-expanding American history that is told through beautiful, uniquely American, buildings. Which structure deserves the space? A symbol of where we came from, or a symbol of where we are going? In Boise, we have great examples of this question being answered in the worst possible way: destroying the history and not building the future, however this run-in with Urban Renewal should not cloud the fact that there is still room for compromise.

The author shows several ways architects conjoin historic buildings with new ones. I think with proper amounts of grassroots support, and tasteful architectural plans,  many cities, states and nations can both preserve history and build for the future.



Reenactors and Wikipedia

The title of Monday’s meeting is “The Public’s Practice of History.” Going on that prompt, I’m going to try and decipher the importance of the readings. Sticking with the historical battle reenactment case study, I have a question: what does it mean to “practice” history? Doctors practice medicine, fencers practice fencing and pianists practice the piano. If reenactors are practicing history, then does that mean each time they meet they try and improve their interpretation of history? From what I gathered from the readings, this isn’t what its all about. I argue reenactors are not “practicing” history, but are enjoying history. Please allow me elaborate…

I think Nick Kowalczyk’s “Embedded with the reenactors” nicely encapsulates all that is good and bad with reenacting. Kowalczyk sometimes mocks the absurdity of reenacting, while also highlighting some of enjoyable aspects of it. I think he hit on some of the clear negative points of this hobby that make the whole business less-than “serious history.” Kowalczyk, (as well as Little and Levin) point out it’s mostly middle-aged white men that participate. From my experience, I would guess the younger males would also participate in historical battle reenactments, but they prefer paintball and video games. To me, all three activities are strikingly similar – they involve simulating combat without the mess of dying. We could probably throw boxing, MMA, football, and rugby into that group too.

Levin and Little perhaps draw on a more serious critique that Kowalczyk only anecdotally mentions with these string of quotes:

Winston Churchill called the F&I the real first world war, someone added.

“It’s truly our nation’s forgotten war,” another mourned.

“Now that the Democrats are in office they’ll fund every useless social program and gut the things that really matter, like the national parks system.”

Someone else said, “This battle here is the reason today we ain’t speaking French.”

And one re-enactor offered this insight: “We’re people with an appreciation for history. We don’t just take The New York Times and go glug-glug-glug.”

Very few, if any, re-enactors recycled their bottles and cans.

I think it’s fair to say that historic battle reenactors, maybe just on the East Coast, tend to be conservative. This may not be true for us out here in the West – I don’t know. But for the Eastern States, the Civil War can still draw lines between people. Kevin Levin’s article shows how historical reenactment can still be a medium for deeper historical bias and nostalgia. Ann Little’s article also points to some examples that she says shows “Romaticizing the past, like reenacting, is a White thing.” I hesitantly agree with this sentiment, especially when people live in the geographic place they are reenacting. I think it’s different when the reenactor has almost no connection to the historical event.

Despite the criticism drawn out in these two articles, and partially by Kowalczyk, I think historical battle reenactment is harmless fun. These authors have misdirected their animosity towards a historical hobby. Should historians also critique Renaissance fairs, Steam Punk, or train models for misrepresenting history? No! Perhaps historians are mostly jealous because reenactors are having more fun with history than they are. Reenactors are mostly men and some women enjoying the parts of history they are drawn to the most: the battles. Many people, myself included, enjoy watching violence. Anthropologists, biologists, psychologists and others have shown just how prevalent the desire to see violence is. It should be no surprise that it is  the part of history some people want to reenact.

Kowalczyk asked “Why aren’t we repelled by the bloodshed that made and maintains the republic?” I wonder if he is seriously asking this question. Violence is everywhere in American entertainment. “If it bleeds it leads,” is the mantra of mass communication. When history is extruded for entertainment, sex and violence will be the first two topics covered.

As you may have noticed, I limited my case study to specifically historic battle reenactors. As Corey mentioned, living history seems like a completely different topic, which must not draw as much scrutiny, since all three articles we read mostly covered war reenactors.

Now on to Wikipedia….

I think Noam Cohen has a valid critique of Wikipedia, but Timothy Messer-Kruse does not; as Famiglietti clearly demonstrates. Thirteen percent female representation on an open forum that is increasingly becoming the go-to place for knowledge is not a healthy percentage. I think Messer-Kruse simply had a bad experience with Wikipedia and his complaint about undue weight needs some refinement.

I agree with Jane Margolis’ argument about the gender gap on multiple online and print platforms, where women are less likely to post OpEds. The surveys clearly show the gender gap and I think something should be done about it. It seems like a solvable problem. I recently learned about, a non-profit foundation geared at increasing computer programing in education. It seems like there are many groups that are trying to break down the barriers that currently hold back many groups of Americans from the techno-sphere.

Messer-Kruse on the other hand, has slightly missed the point of wikipedia. Yes, he unearthed new evidence on the Haymarket Affair that very well may disprove something on wikipedia. He has every right to go in and change the entry, and post new evidence. Someone else, however, also has the right to go in and change it back quoting a secondary source that has been widely published and read. That is both the beauty and unreliability of Wikipedia. By mostly relying upon secondary sources, wikipedia can be trusted to put forth the consensus. Granted, as we learned in Cohen’s article, that census may be biased due to a demographic issue.

As a historian it is my job to sometimes question the consensus view on a topic that I spend a significant time researching. Once I find the truth I publish it in a peer-reviewed article or book and overtime hope the consensus changes. I do not, however, go to each library in my community and remove pages from encyclopedias and replace them with my own work.

Linda Morton-Keithley: Archivist Extraordinaire

For my public historian informative interview, I chose to talk with Linda Morton-Keithley. She has worked for museums, archives and historical societies in Idaho, and continues to work on projects throughout the Northwest. I had the privilege of working alongside Linda in 2011-12, when she was hired at Boise State as a grant contractor to work on integrating our finding aids into the Northwest Digital Archive consortium. Before the grant, all of the archive’s finding aids were either word documents or MS Access tables, not available to the public. Linda worked on converting these files to XML and uploaded them to the NWDA website. During that brief time, I had some opportunities to ask her about the history profession, however there was a lot more I could have asked. This assignment gave me an excellent excuse to request some more wisdom from her. Linda has been in Idaho’s Public History profession since the 1980s. To see what linda has been up to check out her extensive list of publications, including many oral histories, available through the library.

After earning a B.S. in Human Resource Sciences (with a minor in History and Anthropology) from Michigan State University and a Masters in Historic Costume and Textiles from Colorado State University, Linda went to work as the Museum Director of the Owyhee County Historical Society in 1982. She served as director for six years then, after a year as the director of the Hunt County Historical Society, she became an Oral Historian for the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS). After ten years of service, she became the Administrator of the Public Archives and Research Library at ISHS, a position she held for eleven years. Since 2010, Linda has been consulting, grant contracting and volunteering for several different institutions in Idaho and Oregon. Linda is also co-owner of MK Custom, a family-owned business creating hand-crafted horse and cowboy ‘goods.’ From her home in Melba, Linda makes custom hand-woven saddle blankets and rugs. For the past couple weeks I had a string of emails with Linda. I asked Linda questions about what she liked about working in archives and what she saw as challenging:

JD: As a professional with many accomplishments in public history, what job (or project) did you find the most rewarding?

LM-K: Two aspects really stand out as most rewarding.  First, I really liked being oral historian for ISHS.  Throughout most of my 10 years in that position, I was given latitude to develop my projects.  The emphasis was always on identifying topics with little representation in Idaho’s written record – second-wave feminism, the CCC, saddlemaking, outfitters and guides, BLM state directors, to name just a few In each case, I was able to conduct original research, seek out and interview narrators, and, most importantly, create a record of information available to future researchers.  In that same vein, I also found customer service to be very rewarding.  It’s a wonderful feeling to be familiar with the collections in your institution’s custody and be able to match the collections up with a researcher request.  The more obscure, the better!

JD: You have worked for large and small, public and private institutions. What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?

LM-K: My first professional position was as director of the Owyhee County Historical Society and Museum in Murphy and my last full-time position was as administrator of the ISHS Public Archives and Research Library (now Idaho State Archives.)  OCHS was a fabulous experience for someone coming right out of school.  I was the sole employee and was able to experience every aspect of running a museum, from cleaning the bathrooms, to building exhibits, hosting school tours, writing articles for the historical journal, and answering research questions.  Although I worked directly for a board of directors, I had a great deal of latitude in how I structured my work day, the exhibits I wanted to create, and the topics I wanted to research.  There were always volunteers available for large projects which I couldn’t accomplish on my own, such as building and grounds maintenance.

As administrator at PARL, I had supervisory responsibility for a fair-sized staff and a much larger collection, oversight of a nearly $1 million budget, and a role within the agency’s leadership team.  All very rewarding and a natural progression after 20 years in the history field, but have to say the biggest disadvantage is that as an administrator, you never have time to actually work with the collections themselves.

JD: What is your assessment of the current environment for the traditional career paths for public historians (cultural resource manager, archivists, curators, etc.)?

LM-K: The biggest challenge I see for public historians in Idaho is the lack of available jobs, especially those that pay a living wage. For those interested specifically in archives, there are only a handful of institutions with professional positions – ISHS, U of I, BSU, ISU, C of I, several more I can’t think of at the moment.  There are also a handful of cultural resource positions with the State and Federal agencies.  For those more interested in records management, there is also ISHS, a few corporations, and the larger Idaho cities.  As you may know, city clerks in Idaho are responsible for local records management and I believe the larger cities often have an assistant clerk who oversees day-to-day management of the records.  For curators, again, there are only a handful of positions in the larger museums.  The smaller, county-level museums are generally run by volunteers or, at best, part-time, curatorial staff.

The current political climate worries me when it comes to our field.  Far too many politicians and other leaders see historical endeavors as nice, but non-essential.  That attitude has major implications when it comes to funding for grant-making agencies such as NEH and NHPRC.  I know lots of folks who got their start in the field by working various grant-funded projects and would hate to see those opportunities go away.  Advocacy has become a daily aspect of the job for public historians.

JD: What skills would you recommend we build to succeed in this field?

LM-K: Develop your communication skills by accepting all opportunities for public speaking, submitting articles to professional newsletters and blogs, networking whether possible.  Stay current with trends in the field by subscribing to relevant listservs, joining professional organizations such as Northwest Archivists and Inter-Mountain Archivists, attending meetings (some offer student scholarships), signing up for webinars.  Even though the majority of jobs throughout the nation are becoming more specific, i.e. digital content management, seek a well-rounded experience that gives you exposure to all aspects of the field.  This might include working with traditional, paper-based materials; digital content; and audio/visual materials; as well as customer service/reference experience. Volunteer if you can work it into your schedule and include an internship as part of your academic experience. And take a grant-writing workshop if the opportunity presents itself.

JD: When interpreting history for a public institution, sometimes emotions can run high when dealing with sensitive topic. Have you ever had to navigate those waters for an exhibit, publication, or other historical presentation? In other words, what advice can you give about presenting history accurately and handling negative publicity for an institution that may come from that interpretation?

LM-K: I served 15 months in the mid-1980s as director for a county museum in Texas, charged with developing their first museum.  The community had a long history of poor race relations and for many years had a sign hanging across Main Street, close to the railroad depot, that read:  “Welcome to Greenville.  Home of the blackest dirt and the whitest people.”  (FYI, this was cotton-growing country and the black dirt was a major contributor to successful crop management.)  For obvious reasons, the sign had been taken down in the 1960s and placed in storage at the town’s maintenance yard.  Shortly after I was hired, the sign was offered to the museum as part of its permanent collection.  I accepted the donation because it was part of the town’s history.  I didn’t, however, put it on exhibit although many folks thought I should have.  My feeling was that it could only be displayed IF placed within the context of a very thorough, and honest, interpretation of the town’s past history.  If I had stayed longer, I would have conducted an extensive oral history project with the town’s white and black communities to help develop that interpretation.  I don’t know if the sign was ever put on exhibit after I left or not.


I am truly grateful Linda made herself available for my informative interview. It is historians like Linda that make me hopeful that our profession has a future in Idaho. Despite the State’s funding issues, she continues to contribute to the humanities. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Linda found the oral history project the most rewarding. I too like conducting oral histories, I hope there are more opportunities to build an oral history program in this valley. I also think Linda’s advice to join professional associations to keep up with the profession is wise. That was similar advice to what another guest speaker told us last month. I am a member of two local professional associations, one for archives and one for records management. I hope to contribute more to these groups once I have time after my schooling.

Even though the public history profession may be transforming, with limited budgets and increased technology, there is still work to be done. I think it is fair to say, that that work will probably not pay well and will not be as stable as it used to be. Linda made it clear that advocacy and communication are important aspects of staying relevant. As I read some of the other informative interviews, I think we are gaining a good understanding of what it takes to work in our chosen field.