A Curmudgeon Who Seldom Has Anything Good to Say

After reading Our Unprotected Heritage, I wanted to read more about this Tom King who paints a very bleak picture about the corruption and all around bad structure of historic preservation rules and regulations. Looking on his website, it is obvious that Tom King is the guy who likes to “go there.” Nothing is left unscathed.

He does not hold back his disillusionment with protection laws in his book Our Unprotected Heritage– in the preface alone, any ideas of success are shot down with phrases like – with 40 years of increasingly bitter experience, there is not much you can do, sham, legal landmines. Throughout the book, King mentions that he has a lot of experience, but that the average Joe cannot afford him. One quip mentions that his opponents had consultants who were much more expensive than King was. So, yes, this book is a downer.

Despite that, the point that King makes about Section 106 – where studies need to be made to show the long-term effects of a project, and how the system is flawed, is very unsettling. So, if I get this right, a project needs to have an EIS before it can begin.   That is the law. But, the consultants who write the EIS work for the project manager.   What kind of dog is going to bite the hand that feeds it?   And as King describes heavy handed tactics used by agencies to get what they want despite the will of the people, no wonder King wants everyone to be upset.   By the time the book ends, I was left with the impression that the feds’ sole purpose is to meet in dark, smoky rooms and figure out ways to screw over the American public.

Yet, the book is interesting in that he gives a history of how laws, such as historic preservation and environmental were instituted as public attitudes began to value natural and man-made environments and the laws in place to protect them.

Could Section 106 be all bad?  I wanted to find out if there was any scrap of positive projects.  The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Section 106, which will take place next year.   On their website, there is a list of “success” stories which range from the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in 2014 to the story of the repurposing of the Auditor’s building into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The website is pretty interesting, take a look.



It is interesting to see the ACHP’s view of the controversy surrounding the African Burial Ground in New York City after reading about it in the book.

burial ground


There we have it – two extremes.   One side grumbling about everything that is wrong, the other not really acknowledging negative things that happened during the building of the projects.  I guess we have to take things with a grain of salt – and be prepared for a fight if we go into this line of work.



If We Ignore Them, Will They Go Away?

Lately, there has been a lot of media attention in regards to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.   Being that it is the anniversary of the end of the Civil War, it is interesting to see the war’s lasting legacy. The Sons claim that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, and not over slavery.   They see the north as an entity that marched in, took over, and ruined the (ahem) good old days.

I wonder how much of this media attention is seen as antagonistic by the SCV’s and in a skewed way, encourages them to dig their heels in further. Though the articles are trying to show the fallacies of SCV thought and lack of serious scholarship, as well as the constant denial of the horrors that occurred during the Civil War era, I noticed tactics that were used in the articles that I could see would be condescending or hostile to the Confederate Sympathizer. These tactics, I feel, are counter productive and instead of educating, it creates deeper chasms between facts and the so-called romanticism of the memory of the antebellum south. For example, in the Blood on Their Hands article, the crossed out sentence calls the members of SCV a series of names, and in the Open Letter, the word facts presented in parenthesis, seems to me a way to make people who have a long history of feeling taken over by “outsiders” hold on to their views even more.

So, how do we help correct bad or misleading history without making things inadvertently worse? Cebula’s letter seems to have been written with the best intentions, backed up his claims with scholarship, and yet, the director of the historic home did not take kindly to the letter at all. The response, “You as a professor” is a great reminder to not write and send while angry.

Getting a Job

I began graduate school in the fall of 2013 with the plan to take my sweet time going through the program.   A few weeks ago, I realized that I might be able to graduate in December, if all goes well.  If not, May is also a lovely time to graduate.   But, realizing that we are at the end of the program put everything into panic mode.   I have not written a resume for 15 years.   I have not interviewed for a job in 12 years, so this week’s discussion is perfect.   What do people do in interviews nowadays?  I have a feeling that binders with lesson plans in plastic sheet covers is no longer considered uber professional.

As for digital resumes, I found this site helpful:   old/http://workplacelearningsolutionsblog.com/digital-resume-out-with-the-old/


My only initial concern was that on the example resumes, the applicants had accomplished SO much.   How could I ever achieve that level of activity within the field?   But then, I helped my father with a presentation that he is doing about researching military records for genealogical purposes and I helped him clean up his presentation and suggested handouts so people attending the class could find  research clues on draft records, etc.   I realized that I had just done consulting work and felt better about what I have to offer.   I think the secret is confidence.   One thing that I have been on the soapbox about this month is that I need to be proud of not being a traditional student.   I have a knowledge base that the younger whipper snappers do not have, and as someone hoping to go into the archivist field, will work to my advantage.   Oh, someone has donated a box of 16 mm films of Ernest Hemmingway?  Yes!  I know how to use one of those projectors!   (And to brag, will learn how to digitize old film this summer.)

On the other hand, I am not sure about the amount of confidence it would take to be a freelance historian, personally.   I know professional genealogists and they do quite well for themselves, but they also have spouses with steady work that they could fall back on if work is slow for a few months.   There is money to be made out there, though.  I did a little looking into the Reel Tributes and the initial price is 5,000.  The founder, David Adelman, spent 25,000 for equipment and 6 movies later, had paid off his debt and started making a profit.  Adelman works from home and the movies are about 10 minutes long.  He says that people want to preserve the memory of loved ones and that money spent is seen as comparable to costs of a wedding photographer.   Adelman also offers digitation of family heirlooms if a family does not want a movie, but does want things preserved and shared.

The most exciting research this week was at the USA jobs website.  There was a job posting for an archivist for Yellowstone National Park.   Wouldn’t that be dreamy?



Playing Dead

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Appomattox Court House. It was early on a Tuesday Morning and I was the first visitor there for the day. For a half hour or so, I got free reign of the place. But then, all at once, busses pulled in and people dressed up in Civil War garb and began spilling out into the parking lot. It was fascinating because there were re-enactors there who had nose rings, blue hair, and participants were from all different races and nationalities – nothing I had ever seen before. I was pretty excited; I figured that there was going to be some sort of show for school field trips. At the visitor center, I asked when the program was going to begin.   The ranger glared at me and said that there was no show. “What do you mean there is no show? Why is everyone dressed up?” “Because they like to,” was the curt reply. I could tell he was sick of being questioned about re-enactors.

I always wondered when re-enacting began.   I appreciated the history provided in Embedded with the Re-enactors and the explanation that re-enacting began with Revolutionary War veterans reliving their experiences in Lexington. Now, we have re-enactments of slave sales, the Underground Railroad, and crossing the Mexican border with the help of a coyote all in the name of understanding the past. The other article mentions that participants of such activities are largely white and from the first world. What does that say about our culture?   What we need to pretend to have hardship?

I get that people need a community to feel part of something larger than themselves.   It is also fun to step into a new persona and do things that one would not generally do as oneself. But is there more? The Embedded article mentioned that French and Indian War re-enactors generally have the same political views.  Is this clutch to the past a manifestation of fear of the present/future?

I break re-creating into two categories: The first is the kind where people display old time handy crafts such as candle dipping, muzzle loading, or rug making. I cannot get enough of these types of re-enactments.

The second is the emotional experience like those mentioned above.  This is where I have a hard time.   First, I do not like to have my emotions manipulated. Second, I think that at some level, we take someone else’s misfortune and turn it into a “fun” activity for us makes the actual experience less than what it was. On the other hand, though, these types of activities can bring understanding.   Hmmm – such a fine line.

In regards to slave auction reenactments, I wonder about the truth of it all.   If we experience a slave auction with our present standards and feelings regarding slavery, of course the auction will be recoiling experience.   But, is that really representative of slave auctions of the past?    Did shoppers of the antebellum era have the same reaction to a slave trade or was it just another day at the market?   Is there a discrepancy between the eras and is this discrepancy discussed?

Documentary about “Reading a Building”

It is interesting how things seem more and more interconnected as I learn different aspects of public history.  On page 207, a section of chapter 7 is dedicated to “Reading the Building.”   In class, we have discussed the Cyrus Jacob Uberuaga house and how just recently, it was discovered that a well was next to the house.  Over time, the well had been covered up by a walkway and lost to history for years even though decorative brick work should have been a clue.     (Are you proud of me?  I figured out how to add media.   Try and stop me now!)

It is so easy to look at a building without “seeing” it.

picture of well

Last week, I happened across a documentary at the library about students from the University of Arkansas who scan famous buildings in order to see how they were constructed, any changes that have occurred over the years, and structural weaknesses that might not be seen by the naked eye.  A small scanner collects a billion measurements of a building to form a 3-D model.  So besides maps, photographs, and oral histories, there is new technology that helps historians “read” buildings in a scientific way.   Don’t worry, there is still a need for nosing around the nooks and crannies of the buildings.

Here is a link for previews: http://www.pbs.org/program/time-scanners/

This link is for the digital scanning program at the University of Arkansas:


This program looks like too much fun and a great way to add a digital component to historical preservation and research.  Boise State, take note!

Architectural Fun in Boise

If you have not done so already, I give you a challenge to participate in Preservation Idaho’s bike tour of architectural styles found in Boise.   There are three reasons to do so:  you get to ride your bike, you get to learn about Boise history, and the best reason of all, is that it is free.   (Or at least has been).   I have participated in two bike tours.  The first was the Art Deco tour of the North End.  My life centers on the Bench and so I was amazed about the large number of homes both large and small that contain elements of the Art Deco style.  The second tour was about small houses on the Boise Bench created by an architect who cared nothing for architectural rules and regulations.  He just put together elements that he liked of all types of architectural styles.   (His name escapes me now which does not help with the point that I am trying to make about this being a memorable experience).  These homes are largely located in the Rose Hill area.   If you Google 4006 Rose Hill Street, you can see an image of his work.     As you can imagine, these houses were the laughing stock of proper architecture.  Now, they are seen as unique homes full of character.

So this brings me to the book.   How can preservationists and new developers come to a consensus on what to preserve, what to build, and in what style?   If Mr. No-name architect did not have the opportunity to build in his wonky way, would Boise now lack a distinct house style different from anywhere else in the U.S.?    Preservationists, I think, have to have the ability to see value in the past as well as what will be valued history in the future.  Also, the preservationist has to see value in architecture (or sites, etc.) for themselves, but for other groups within the community.  There is a great responsibility to preserve the collective history.  The book mentions later that even though for me, personally, Starbucks is not especially important. But, in how many years will generations younger than I want to preserve the coffee shops as they are today as a representation of the culture of the 2000’s?

Then again, there are the hard questions.   At what point do old buildings need to be demolished?   Even if I find a building to be too far gone, but it the cultural center for others,  who gets the say?  Or should get the say?   Also, if we look too much to the past, are we limiting future good things?

Hard philosophical questions aside, take a bike tour next time the opportunity arises.


Museum Critique and the Participatory Museum

Liu Bolin: Hiding in the City

I entered the museum with the intent to see how the art museum integrated participatory elements to its exhibits. I had not been to the art museum in years, so I was interested to see the changes that have occurred in the last 10 years. Surprisingly, despite the museum adding big screen TV’s; there was nothing particularly new or exciting in regards to a participatory museum. Using the chart on page 26 of The Participatory Museum, the gallery might reach stage two, since there are very few opportunities to participate with the content or with other museum visitors.

To the immediate left, as visitors enter the exhibit space, there is a small television that plays a four-minute animated cartoon describing social skills needed for museum etiquette. Even though the cartoon is cute, the television is in an awkward space – right in the way of traffic, and it is hard to stand there for the full film. It might be more appreciated and appropriate in the children’s section.

The first thing I noticed about Bolin’s work is that the pictures are hyper glossy. I spent about 3 seconds at each piece, sometimes straining to find the artist. (Bolin is painted in order to blend with his background.) A docent, Alize Norman, must be a regular face in the museum- there was a line of people milling around waiting to ask her questions. She was caring and kind to the visitors. The other docents, meanwhile, just walked around and looked too busy to help. My experience in the first room was pretty superficial; the artwork was neat, but I did not realize that there was a “message” to the art.

In the second room, the large picture of Cancer Village was the first sign that there was something deeper to the exhibit, that Bolin was more than a gimmick. In the corner of this second gallery is a screen that has interviews and a Ted Talk with the artist. The 7.5-minute Ted Talk is imperative to get the deep message of the artwork. It turns to the art from a really neat “Where’s Waldo” type game to a very meaningful and thoughtful experience. Unfortunately, the set-up is uncomfortable. The seats are low and the screen is too close for me to see comfortably, and the seat hard on the behind. Since it is in a dark corner, I kind of felt like I was in trouble. I would never have used this set- up if it weren’t for the class. Other people would stop and watch me watch the screen, but while I was in that gallery, no one else watched the films. It is a missed opportunity, for the films are so good. Maybe if the films were available to watch on a coffee-shop type countertop with high stools and laptops and headphones, the station would be more welcoming and popular.

The Boise Art Museum definitely is highly participatory in regards to its children’s program. In this, the museum achieves every step of social participation. It is also careful to ensure that each age level is given opportunity to interact with art. The Art Experience Gallery has solitary activities such as blocks and jigsaw puzzles to a highly participatory art class that is based on Bolin’s exhibit. The hands-on class was filled with 15 children and 10 adults who were busy sharing art supplies and encouragement. Also, at the entrance of the museum, Family Activity Packs are available for checkout. These packs include: a book on what to look for in museums, a list of things to search for in the museum, and drawing pads where children can draw a picture of their favorite things they see. This pack provides a great way for parents to interact with their children as well as the museum.

For adults and teens, the only digital opportunity to create comes from a set of computers that are located in a tucked away space. Here, there are three activities visitors can do to interact with the museum. The first activity is to create a new “label” for a piece of art displayed on the screen. I did not understand the purpose of this activity, since the art shown already had the official name of the piece, its description, etc. I could not see why anyone would want to create a new label, unless it was to be snarky. There are no example of anyone else who had done this activity, so I was not sure what the expectations were or where other visitor’s were going with the activity. The second activity is to create a postcard that would be e-mailed to the creator. The final option is to leave a comment about the user’s museum experience. I realize that there is a big push to integrate digital components into the museum, but the activities are shallow and the second activity, in particular, is confusing. The computers go against what Simon admonishes – digital and participatory elements need to have meaning, not just be fun or be there for the sake of being there.

Why is there such a discrepancy between the opportunities to participate between children and adults?

In the reading, I am concerned about the use of perks to increase the number of memberships. I understand that most museums are in a financially precarious situation and need to increase revenue, but how does this not go against the quest to democratize public history? Thoughts?

An interesting idea….


Here is an interesting exhibit by Johnathan Horowitz about elections.   I like how both sides are represented and that there is a place for discussion.   This exhibit took place in 17 different locations from around the country at the same time.   That would make for interesting compare/contrasts to see regional patterns.



Museums for Everyone

A few years ago, my former roommate and I were talking about our crazy college escapades.   I began reminiscing about how fun it was to have friends over every Sunday for dinner and a drive in my Volkswagen Bus to the foothills.   Turns out, those people who came over were MY friends and that, in fact, my roommate couldn’t stand them.   She was just being polite and put up with them because she did not want to cause strife. I was shocked!   I had no idea that she had a different perspective from my rosy memories. All these years, I had assumed that she had the same view.

Every rural museum seems to have the same type of exhibits – the general store, a blacksmith shop, and an early American living space, such as a kitchen or living room.   So with this week’s question of politics in museums, I was wondering what political statement bland and boring exhibits are making. Initially, my thoughts turned to the idea that stale exhibits are a critique on the lack of state funding given to historical endeavors – but then, after the readings, I thought about WHAT collections are displayed and realized what these exhibits are “saying.” Whose history is being portrayed with the lavish living room, the general store, etc.? And even though I assumed that they reflect our collective history, more than often, they reflect MY history as a white, middle-class American. And just like my roommate, I assumed that these type of collections speak to everyone’s experience.

When I was looking for political neutrality in museums, a few interesting points emerged. Museums have been using the same model for so long that the underlying messages are not considered political, even though inherently they are. For example, a museum chock full of ancient goodies usually don’t mention that many of the artifacts were looted by a 19th century rich European man.   Or, if pieces are donated to the museum by a wealthy benefactor (with a prominent acknowledgement to said benefactor), what message does that give to the masses that live at the bottom of the hill?   My quest for an article about museum neutrality continues.

My favorite articles this week came from the Incluseum and Museum Commons. I felt that these articles gave great concrete ideas on how to bridge racial gaps in America’s narrative within the museum paradigm.   While other articles encouraged people to show indignation via social media or by wearing a T-shirt, it seems like those ideas are a tiny and temporary Band-Aid for a gaping wound. The Museum Commons acknowledged the importance of giving people a chance to voice their concerns, but stressed the importance of having a trained discussion leader in charge of the meeting, lest the meeting makes things worse. In turn, the Incluseum actually gave people a voice to many community members, so they could work through the feelings together. Also, the Incluseum has tried to foster a long-term relationship with the community so that when a controversial event happens, they are already seen as a compassionate place in which to discuss, not an entity that is trying to seem relevant and “cash-in” on tragedy. Finally, their programs that show the various ways that Seattle is becoming more inclusive and collaborative between groups is a great way for people to learn about the many positives that are going on.

This type of collaboration is imperative in order to create a museum space that reflects all of our histories