Patty Miller: Director of Basque Museum and Cultural Center

Patty Miller – Executive Director of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center

Patty Miller has been associated with the Basque Museum and Cultural Center for more than two decades. The Basque Museum and Cultural Center is a local non-profit organization that presents Basque history and culture to the Treasure valley through exhibits, public history projects, historic preservation, Basque language classes, and other events.  Patty’s position as the head of the Basque dancers led to her becoming a full-time employee (the only full-time employee at the time) at the museum before she was appointed the director in 1993. Since then the museum has grown substantially, and its prominence within the community has also increased. While Patty Miller was initially responsible for all the work associated with the museum (including janitorial), she now primarily manages other employees, writes grants, develops projects, and promotes community education. Patty did not come to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center with the typical academic background in applied/public history or museum studies. She does, however, have experience in business and in grant writing which has helped her be successful. Patty also credits the success of the Museum and Cultural Center with having a diverse board of directors—coming from many different career backgrounds—and to the support of the Basque country. The museum’s ties to the Basque country began in the 1990s when they provided internet service and computers to Basque clubs throughout the world. Since the 1990s the museum’s ties to the Basque community have increased. The Basque country now provides multiple grants to support numerous projects such as Basque language education and the Ellis Island exhibit.

            Patty has been involved in many projects during her tenure as the director of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. The most recent was an exhibit at Ellis Island called “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques.” The idea for the project came from a Basque official who was in New York. The project was first proposed to Ellis Island by the Museum in 2008 and was denied. After revisions it was given the green light. The exhibit explores the language, customs, traditions and values of the Basque people as well as the allure that America held for them. The cost of the project was rather substantial—totaling $150,000—and had to be raised. For anyone interested in the exhibit it is now on display at the Basque Museum.

            Another of Patty’s favorite projects was “Inner Strength: Portraits of Basque Immigrant Women.” The purpose of this project was to collect oral histories from first generation Basque immigrant women, many of whom were over 100 years of age.

            A third project Patty was involved in was the restructuring of the streetscape around the Basque block. The purpose of this project was to create a more open and public space so that community could extend beyond the buildings. A major point of conflict during this project was the fate of several trees. The then president of the board of directors wanted to keep the trees, which required 20’ of unpaved space in order to keep the trees from dying. There was gridlock until it was decided that the trees would be replanted in a memorial site.

            Some of Patty’s future plans for the museum include expanding the collections (especially oral histories), the creation of an endowment, and addressing the museum’s space and storage issues.

Nazis, Covanent, Reapers, Terrorists, Oh my…

If I had known video games could be brought within the fold of public history I would have entered the applied history program rather than the MA track. What makes video games valuable purveyors of cultural heritages/landscapes is their use of what might be termed the new social history paradigm. All of the games allude to above utilize what might be called a ‘bottom up’ approach to their gameplay narratives. In Medal of Honor the player goes through the game as a low-ranking enlisted man butchering nazis in WWII senarios like D-day (although in the newest Medal of Honor you play as either a US special ops soldier or as a terrorist).

In Halo the action shifts away from the earth’s past to an imagined community in the future. The player progresses through the game as the ‘master chief (he is so bottom up he doesn’t actually have a name),’ but can also play as the arbiter-a covanent elite. In Mass Effect the player goes through the game as commander sheperd, another fairly nondescript. The games cultural landscape is once again set in earths future as it is being attached by a race of alien machines known as the reapers. The game is quite pc and commander sheperd can be whatever race of gender the players whims dictate. Mass Effect also offers a valuabe lessen in multiculturalism as the player is part of a multi-species party.

Ultimately games offer players a valuable experience frolicking through imagined historical heritages. Games such as Mass Effect actually allow the player to make normative ethical choices that affect the games narrative. Unlike other forms of public history games are also very interactive. This makes them ideal as a platform to reach the public. Some types of games would be better than others at emmersing the player in cultural landscapes. Games such as the new Sims, which takes place in Medieval Europe, are ideal for exposing unsuspecting players to history. The day might soon dawn when the most important and influential public historians are programers.

Basque Interpretive Signs

One of the most fabulous history projects currently existing is the Basque interpretive sign project that was recently completed in downtown Boise last summer. This project interpreted the significance of buildings and sites important in Idaho Basque history. It created interpretive signs as permanent exhibits at three locations:  the former Church of the Good Shepherd (422 West Idaho Street) founded in 1919 and the only Basque Church in the United States; the former Star Rooming House (512 West Idaho) one of the first and best preserved Basque boardinghouses in Idaho; and the Basque Mural (hangs on the west, side wall of the Anduiza Fronton 619 Grove) which depicts key elements of Basque history and culture both in the Basque Country and here in Idaho.  These three sites developed and extended a walking tour of historical Basque sites on the Basque Block in Boise.

The projects intended audience is the Treasure Valley community and visitors to the area. The completed project coincided with Jaialdi 2010, an international Basque festival held every five years in Boise which draws 30,000 participants from all over the United States and the world. 

The central goal of the project was to create three interpretive signs to educate the public about significant buildings and events that are part of Idaho’s history and incorporate them into a walking tour.  The three signs contain a historical narrative of the site’s history and its importance for the Idaho Basque community. Photographs were utilized to interpret the sites history and importance. The project was a continuation of an already existing group of interpretive signs and could be further enlarged to include other sites of historical significance for the Basques.

This local history project serves as a case study of the tension that often surrounds immigrant groups.  The Basque ethnic enclave served as a buffer for Basques as they made their way into American culture.  The boardinghouse allowed Basques to be together, eat familiar food, sing and dance yet it also was only a temporary home until they settled in more permanent homes in neighborhoods throughout the Treasure Valley.  The Church of the Good Shepherd was built with funds and labor of the Basque community yet served as their church for only a brief period.  After less than a decade, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise closed the church as a Basque chapel and encouraged them to attend services elsewhere.  American national church pressures of the period made Catholic prelates emphasize the loyalty of their followers to America and not to their countries of origin and accompanying Roman influence.  Finally, the mural depicts key aspects of Basque history and culture that are more commonly subsumed under the Spanish and/or French stories.  These signs explain some of the tension that surrounded Basque assimilation into Idaho and may also serve as reminders for the process underway for other current immigrant groups. 

This fabulous public history project was the brain child of BSUs own Dr. John Bieter, and he was assisted in the research, grant-writing, and other administrative duties by a graduate student at BSU named Luke Schleif.


When will the vampires of banality succeed at sucking dry the vitality of public history? It may be all too soon unless the normative and positive elements of public history-including the reading of cultural landscapes-can be brought to coexist. In order of value positive/objective judgements seem much more valuable than those which are normative/subjective.

The priority of positive judgements exists on two levels. First they are needed to evaluate the value of normative opinions. If normative judgements are ever to transcend the needs and desires of individuals and have value for societies or groups of individuals, positive analysis will be necessary to commonalities of shared interests/needs. While it is not very popular to posit characteristics of ‘human nature’ or elements of a universally shared humanity that would transcend if not determine culture, the means and tools to do this are finally becoming available available. The second reason positive judgements are needed is so that cultural landscapes can be used to impact social structures. Advances in the empirical reading of cultural landscapes, including if and how cultural landscapes actually impact social structures, is necessary if planners actually want to effectively use cultural landscapes to change social conditions.

It’s My First Time

I never thought blogging would feel this empowering. Hopefully the delightful illusion that people care about what I have to say will last the entire semester.

Chapter five touched me in a special way. I found it reassuring that one of Jackson’s foci was on the social function of the built environment. (64) His emphasis on the function of American roads in the 1950s and 1960s allowed him to react positively to a change in the American landscape. This made him a progressive in the truest and best sense. While static ideas in our minds might be potentially adequate gauges of changes in our environment (built or otherwise), keeping in mind the function of roads, buildings, institutions, businesses, social practices will provide a more accurate judgement of their social value. For example if functionalism is applied to roads it makes infrastructure changes easier to understand. I live about six miles from campus and use the connector daily. By using the connector I save myself about 15 minutes on a round-trip between my home and campus. I also save money on gas and lessen my carbon footprint. The connector ultimately is the most efficient and enjoyable mode of travel from my home to downtown. A similar thought-process could be applied to the proliferation of chain stores such as Walmart or Fred Meyer. They’re so popular because people prefer shopping at them in comparison to other available options.

Henderson’s chapter on a ‘return to the social imagination’ is a good illustration of some problems facing the humanities and social sciences. The ideal of social harmony, cooperation, and the possibility of some sort of egalitarianism seems to largely taken for granted and accepted with little analysis. This is in opposition to the focus on the individual which has been prevalent in certain branches of the sciences, especially those have some grounding in Darwinism. One of the major problems in these disciplines is why any sort of cooperation exists at all. Most often this is addressed as the problem of altruism (Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene provides a good discussion of this problem). Asking these questions would help humanities and social sciences academics gain a more nuanced understanding of their areas of expertise. In addition it might help us develop a more adequate and functional social imagination.