I struggled to accept the original premise of this book that Americans’ derive their understanding of history from museums. Most of the examples given about controversial museum exhibits seemed to predate the rise of easy access to information via the internet. I love history and I cannot remember the last time I went to a museum. I feel like most Americans derive their understandings of history from high school or college experiences, political versions of history, and television/internet.
I found the chapter about the Fred Harvey Museum fascinating. It seemed to encompass the problem that faces public history of all kinds. History must be marketed, commodified, and sold to a general audience in order to justify funding it. In the case of the Harvey Museum, Native Americans of the Southwest had their diverse cultures condensed into one compelling story of turquoise jewelery, pottery, and kachinas that favors the traditions and material culture of some tribes over others. The controversial exhibit of “The West as America” shows that a “wrong” interpretation of history can be just as bad as trying to tell a more nuanced and diverse story of the Southwest. The stories behind why we need these narratives of rugged western artists and mysterious Indian basket weavers can be as compelling as the truth. I would be interested to see a positive example of a museum exhibit that was able to convey a more accurate or reflective version of history that appealed to the public; Timothy Luke did not really give any examples in the chapters we looked at.
Scott Berg and Richard White really expanded my perspective on the nature of history and how it is viewed, researched, evaluated, and discussed. Richard White made an interesting point about most of history involves tracking changes over time using chronology as the structure that conveys these changes. Using the new structure of spatial relationships to understand how humans’ relationships with each other and the landscape evolve through time added a whole new dimension to the study of history. Reading about all the work done by Dan Hawkins and his work to discover the original topography and layout of Washington, D.C. and then see it condensed and packaged in the video by Dan Bailey caused several reactions for me. At first I felt betrayed on behalf of Dan Hawkins to have his work distilled into a short interpretation of all his research into a short digital interpretation. However, after really getting into the video I saw how much value technology added to the historical research making it accessible, easy to understand, and useful. Reading and looking at all of Hawkins’ maps never would have conveyed what the video could; a visual document of changing spatial relationships. Although I consider myself somewhat of a Luddite, I am really getting excited about using technology to enhance our perception and understanding of the past.
One of the great thrills for me as a historian is finding old pictures, books, or documents and looking through them. This provides a tangible link to the past that an article or history text book cannot provide. Last semester when I started my grad program at Boise State I had the opportunity to meet Erin Passehl, an archivist and librarian at the school’s library. Erin did a presentation in my History 500 class last fall that gave a great introduction to her job and the resources that are available for historians on campus. Erin brought out several old manuscripts that are housed at Boise State during her presentation and this piqued my interest in her career.
Archivists and historians have a longstanding relationship where archivists find, preserve, and make available material that historians use for research. But archivists also serve many other fields. Journalist, genealogists, medical researchers, and lawyers are a few other fields that also depend on historical documents organized and maintained by an archivist. Erin mentioned that when ESPN Game Day game to Boise last Fall they used Boise State’s archives to find past game footage for their show. Erin oversees the digital collections at Boise State where she scans material that will go online, writes descriptions for online collections, and designs web pages. She also gets the opportunity to assist students and community members with their requests and is a liaison with the History Department where she consults with them in developing collections and instructing students.
Most archival positions require and undergraduate degree (in almost any field) and then a graduate degree in history or library science with some practical training in archival coursework. Erin earned a B.A. in history and political science and then an M.S. in information where she concentrated on archival and records management. Volunteering and researching at a variety of archives gave Erin a lot of practical experience and helped her to decide if she wanted to pursue this field as her career. Because the responsibilities of an archivist vary widely, Erin recommends gaining experience in many aspects of the field, and researching online to determine your potential interests in this career path. Internships in a variety of archival environments would also prove helpful in discovering which type of job is appealing to you. The pay scale of archivists depends on they type of archive and the location; entry level archivists in big cities can plan on starting at $30 K-$40K. At a university, some archivists only hold part time positions; at Boise State Erin works full-time and is on a tenure track as an assistant professor.
One of the current issues in this field is the rise of digital technologies. As people utilize Twitter, Facebook, and other online resources archivists must determine the best way to preserve these mediums within an archive. Archivists also have to decide the best way to preserve paper manuscripts in a digital format so that they are more accessible. Erin has some flexibility in selecting which projects she would like to work on and collaborates with people within her department to plan digital projects, exhibits, collections, and curriculums. The highest priority in her job is assisting patrons who need access to the archives and making sure that the materials that are available are getting used.
If you get a chance you should take a look at the work that Erin and others in her department have done on the library website in terms of aids for history students and the digital resources they have put online.
“But I want you to think,” was life-changing for me. When I started at Boise State I did not waiver in my decision to do the M.A. over the M.A.H.R. degree because I have always wanted to research, teach, and reside firmly in the academic world. However, this class has been fascinating and eye-opening for me. I have always had a hard time committing myself to the idea that all knowledge is useful (who really needs to read a book about Lincoln’s doctor’s dog’s sex life? Brandie will at least get this inside joke.) Public history has helped me to focus more on what I think is important; which for me is the application and use of history. I think those in the public history field really grasp the importance of this and those in more of university-related history could improve their approach to presenting history by adopting some of the tenets of public history. I like the idea of considering what other people need or want to know about history rather than trying to fill a tiny, obscure niche.
I also loved the article on the “7 apps.” I wanted to visit these places just so that I could use these apps. They focused on interesting topics that would have broad appeal for many tourists. I also liked the slightly different take each app had of using historical maps or narrated explanations. Sometimes I think that technology can detract from an experience, but the apps in these articles only seemed to enhance an already interesting historical event.
“In about 1910, a strapping, hard-drinking shepherd called Irish Dick traded a pet bear cub to a Toppenish saloon-keeper for whiskey. Some months later, the rowdy shepherd was in town when his grown-up pet escaped, panicking townsfolk. He offered to return the bear to its tether. A terrible fight on mainstreet ended when an unharmed bear was returned to saloon servitude and a brave and bloodied Irishman was taken to the hospital. The mural, painted by Bill Ross and Jan Sovak, is on the 88 Cents Store building at Washington and Toppenish Avenues.”
Paintings and murals serve many historical purposes. They can capture a historical event, but also reveal the overall importance of certain historical narratives within the city or town that created them. The amusing story of Irish Dick could be lost in an archive somewhere, instead it is celebrated and shared with everyone who passes this mural. Toppenish, Washington houses a public history project that I find particularly fascinating. Located within the Yakama Indian reservation, it is a town of about 9,000 people which houses 73 historical murals painted on the sides of buildings. Toppenish launched it’s Mural-in-a-Day program on June 3, 1989 where 15 artists collaborated on one mural entitled “Clearing the Land” and completed it one day before and audience townspeople and tourists. The festival (typically held the first weekend in June) draws over 1,000 people now and adds to Toppenish’s mural count. The Toppenish Mural Society presides over this project which includes the Mural-in-a-Day activity and other murals painted by various artists throughout the town who like to spend more than a day. The Toppenish Chamber of Commerce includes a mural map that has a description of the historical significance of each mural. During the summer there are self-guided and wagon tours that showcase the murals.
The murals are intended to convey many things about Toppenish. They celebrate their Western History with murals about rodeos and cowboys. They honor their Native American history with images of the early battles and treaties between the Yakama Nation and settlers from the U.S. The murals also feature influential townspeople throughout Toppenish’s history: Alex McCoy (first Indian judge) and Maud Bolin (first woman to jump from a plane with a parachute and famous rodeo star). The culture and history of this small town are captured in a relatively small area that is easily accessible to almost anyone who passes through Toppenish. The murals are not encumbered with lengthy or tedious signage making them enjoyable for the casual observer to have a taste and feel for what Toppenish asserts is its history. For those who are intrigued about the stories in the murals or about the creation of the murals there are tours and pamphlets available to further interpret these paintings. The Mural-in-a-Day activity invites tourism and encourages local townspeople to take an interest in a project created by mostly local artists.
I like the idea of including some murals in Boise and think that something similar to the murals in Toppenish could easily be achieved in Boise. I have encountered a couple of murals in alleyways in downtown Boise that I find fascinating and bring to mind several questions: when was it painted? what does it portray? why this particular building? how old is the building? I also think that replicating the Mural-in-a-Day program in Boise would be a fun way to include the community in making decisions about what Boise’s history is and introduce public history in an engaging manner. If Boise had several murals a walking or driving tour could be created to further interpret the mural’s historical content.
I wish that my life resembled James Rojas’ description of his neighborhood with “front yards [that] are not anonymous spaces upholding a single community identity, but rather exuberant vignettes of the individual owner’s lives” (281). However, I realized that I do not have a lot of firsthand experience with front porches that reveal, rather than conceal the personality of those that live their or neighborly chats over the fence.
Unfortunately chapter seventeen better reflected my life this weekend. I spent Friday night and all Saturday in class while my husband and children were away for the weekend. Without anyone to cook for me or to cook for I decided to indulge in my two favorite things of late: McDonald’s Maple and Fruit Oatmeal and Starbucks’ Salted Chocolate Hot Chocolate for dinner on a lonely Saturday night. Yes, I went to TWO drive-thrus in one twenty minute excursion. Pathetic. I realized how entrenched the drive-in/drive-thru culture is, especially in Boise where city planners anticipated widespread car use. As J. B. Jackson argued, I am a “mobile consumer” who would “think nothing of traveling to a supermarket that has better parking than one located two miles nearer” (297). This chapter on mini-malls really expressed the power of landscape to make changes in our culture. Seeing the progression of house-call making doctors to the variety that allow you to get a strep culture and make copies at Kinko’s on your lunch break really revealed to me how a profession like medicine that used to dwell in impressive and large office buildings, aloof from potential patients, dropped to a mini-mall where high school kids with no formal training can be working at the store next door. This point especially hit me when contrasted with Rojas’ East L.A. neighborhood where the landscape fostered positive development with personality and the feel of community.
Next weekend I will install a lawn ornament (I am leaning toward blue and orange flamingos that I hope will communicate my intense school spirit and love of environmental history) instead of the hitting up the drive-thru.
J. B. Jackson’s article “To Pity the Plumage and Forget the Dying Bird” provided a fascinating look at how class affects concepts of landscape and how those who attempt to address perceived problems do not look at the more serious underlying issues that affect those in poverty. I found it interesting that Jackson could identify what seems like social problems as failures in landscape. Using environmental designers to fight poverty sounds intriguing, and I wish Jackson would have elaborated more how solutions could come from rethinking neglected landscapes that fall victim to outdated and unwieldy planning or even the lack of planning. He mentioned the problems of unpaved roads, outdated grid systems in rural areas, and dying city or commerce centers, but I would have been interested in how landscape could be used for social and economic justice. This article gave landscape agency to help or hinder the lives of those who occupy specific regions and add more use and value to the concept of landscape beyond aesthetic appeal.