Solutions Galore!

I think I’m the outlier of our group…but I loved Our Unprotected Heritage and I appreciated King’s interpretation of the problems. I appreciate snark and frankness, particularly in academic writing. And I disagree that he does not offer solutions. I think that if we look at this work holistically, instead of as a list of problems that need solutions, we can find many recommendations.

For starters, the overwhelming message of the book is that government agencies have tied their own hands. They write jargon-y protocol to follow confusing laws and expect underpaid and overworked employees to be shiny beacons of morality and competency. As King points out various antiquated or confusing practices of government agencies, I find that his solutions read between the lines…”Stop doing that!” Let’s focus less on red tape and bureaucratic forms so that our federal and state employees have the time to seek real solutions with real people. Instead of filling manuals with confusing wording and acronyms, let’s write clear directions and expectations. While laws might be slow to change and update, we can give administrative and managerial staff the confidence and power to make common sense judgements. I appreciated King’s example of the couple making a decision to buy a car…they discuss options, weigh outcomes and make an informed decision together. It should not be so difficult for agencies and concerned citizens to have the same types of conversation and rely less on forms, letters, lawyers, and arms distance negotiations.

Another glaring issue that King discusses (and I think proposes solutions to) is the problem of EIA and CRM firms acting as a proponent for project. If a third party is hired to assess the environmental or cultural impact of a project, they are far more likely to skew results in favor of their client. After all, “Your project means the world to us!” truly does mean the fiscal survivability of the firm. I think the solution for this problem is equally as clear as the last…”Be bothered by this!” Governmental agencies, consultants, clients and citizens should all be bothered by this. If laws are in place to prevent corruption and we all have to spend the time and resources on following these laws, shouldn’t we want our time and money to be well spent? The best way to circumnavigate this is in the small example that King gives on pg. 43. “Environmental and cultural resources studies (should) be done by contractors who report directly to (the agency), rather than to the project proponent. The proponent pays, but the agency calls the shots.” I’m sure the reason why most agencies don’t do this is lack of staff to accomodate the extra work. But if agencies free themselves from bureaucratic nonsense (as mentioned) above, they should have time to read a (concise and jargon-free) report from the consultant.

King does tear through Caldwell’s recommendations for change, but I don’t think he dismisses them. Instead he adjusts them for the real world. Idealism is fine and dandy in our ivory towers, but the reality of the situation calls for the kind of brutal honest that King offers. Part of finding any solution is in a sophisticated analysis of the problem. It is clear that King has done that.

Who is to blame?

I was fascinated  by the villains (too harsh a label? …I think not) in this week’s readings…so I google stalked them.

Patricia Pangloss, the manager of the Baron Von Munchausen Historic House, is painfully absent from the internet. The Historic House doesn’t even have a website. The biggest hit on her name was the Larry Cebula article. Like the rest of you, I was infuriated by her response to Cebula’s open letter. Particularly by the assertion that, “You have to understand the younger visitors know very little about the Revolutionary War period, due to the
fact that the schools have gone downhill and do
not give this generation a good education …The
younger students can barely start a sentence
without the word “like, like” and continue to
ramble with the worst English imaginable…” 
Shouldn’t an educational facility strive to IMPROVE student’s education and confront historical inaccuracies, instead of promoting falsities because it is easier?

My search for Joy Masoff, the author of Virgina’s flawed textbook, was more fruitful. Her publisher’s website listed her biography as follows:

Joy Masoff, mother of two, fell into the world of gross when she became scoutmaster to a den of burping Cub Scouts, and then discovered that her Brownie troop has the same fascination with the feculent. She lives with her family in Waccabac, New York.’s biography of Masoff:

Joy Masoff is a published author of children’s books and young adult books. Some of the published credits of Joy Masoff include All Better Now, Oh, Yikes!: History’s Grossest Moments, We Are All Americans: Understanding Diversity.

Hmmm. Not exactly the credentials that I would look for when seeking an author for a historical textbook that would help teach hundreds of thousands of students. Masoff is obviously the wrong candidate for this job, but I don’t believe the fault lies with her. She obviously did not complete impeccable research and failed to critically evaluate her sources. But how much can we really blame her? She is not a historian. She is a children’s book author. She used the Internet to research a contentious and serious matter and it came back to haunt her.

The real fault lies with the Virginia State Board of Education. The board chose to hire someone who could entertain students rather than educate them. As a daily user of textbooks, I can attest that K-12 textbooks are mostly bad. They are either far too boring and complex for student’s levels or far too juvenile and summarized. Until state boards of education begin to invest more money into the adoption of excellent textbooks (or better yet…hire and train outstanding teachers who don’t rely on textbooks), false education is going to continue to happen in America. Masoff clearly made a mistake in her book. But the true blame lies with the administrators who allowed a children’s book author to write a historical textbook.

The Business of Consulting

Consulting has always been high on my list of answers to the question, “What in the world are you going to do with a Master’s of History?” I like to research and I like having varied projects which require me to work with many different kids of people. However, I am only interested in working for a governmental agency or an already established business. I respect’s assertion that, “consulting is a business…and the historical consultant should be skilled in dealing with a variety of clients, preparing realistic and fair proposals, and completing high-quality work on schedule”, yet I have zero interest in running my own business. I have a high appreciation for professionalism and client relationships, but I lack the ambition to “be my own boss.” I prefer the stability of an established company to any independence that might come from being a small business owner.

While I think museum, archives or city/state consulting would be wonderful, my dream consulting job would be as a production consultant. Who among us wouldn’t love to be a historical consultant in media? Be an advisor for our favorite BBC show or help weed out anachronisms in a Hollywood script? Sign me up!  Although it seems like those kind of consulting jobs come at the end of  a long and studied career as an expert on a specific topic. Still…a girl can dream!

My other dream job would be working for a company which develops digital tools for public history or history education. I interviewed John Lutz for my professional career assignment, but I also interviewed another digital pioneer, Mark Tebeau, creator of Curatescape. He described the long and winding journey to creating this city or state history tool (check out this Kentucky example), but he also gave me some great advice about how to break into this field. He discussed how the humanities are facing a period of crisis, where they are having to fight against STEM and Business for funding and importance (as we WELL know). However, he cautioned against seeing these disciplines as the enemy and to instead embrace them to help show history’s relevance. He noted that public historians are not going to be handed funding for projects, but must instead design their own projects that engages the local community in a new and interesting way. Use technology to serve underrepresented areas. Use networking to connect unlikely allies. Use K-12 education as a way to break into the game. As I already mentioned, I do not want to run my own business, but I would like to create something that I can then use to partner with some organization to engage the public with history.

Real (?) History

While I love historical films, books and experiences, historical reenactments of wars have always bothered me. I know that many reenactors see it as “honoring the dead”, but I don’t really think play acting an actually horrifying battle from a script, laying “dead” still for a few minutes (hours?), and then going home is honoring anyone. My brother is a soldier and I find it horrifying that someone in 100 years might recreate the violence that he has been a part of. I think it trivializes history and makes it almost seem fictional…like a play. I appreciated Little’s statement, “Why bother reenacting a 250-year old war, when Americans in 2009 can just go to Iraq or Afghanistan to see a bloody war for the empire up close?” It seems morbid to me.

In particular, Civil War reenactment is hard for me to stomach. When I was 15, I spent a summer traveling through the deep south and was shocked at the presence of so many confederate flags, “Land of Dixie” bumper stickers and Civil War memorabilia. As a born and raised Yankee, I was offended that people in America could still celebrate such a deplorable “side” of war. When I posed the question to  my friend who had grown up in Mississippi, she shrugged and said “We aren’t celebrating being slave owners or fighting to protect slavery. It is simply part of our past and is still a part of our identity. It’s not about racism, it’s about being proud to be from the South and that’s what the Confederate flag represents.” I still struggle to understand that perspective. Dressing up in a Confederate uniform and reciting lines about “The War of Northern Aggression” seems to celebrate a culture that was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of American lives to protect that “curious institution.”

I am so glad that we had to read two perspectives on Wikipedia. After reading Messer-Kruse’s piece, I felt vindicated by my refusal to accept Wikipedia as a source from my students. I made plans to have them read this article at the beginning of every year to prove the fallibility of the cite. I have learned to approach many secondary sources with caution (as in school textbooks) and was appalled to learn that Wikipedia rejects evidence cited from primary sources, instead holding that, “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of something, Wikipedia will echo that.” (Messer-Kruse) WHAT? That lemming philosophy does not sit well with me.

However, my opinion of Wikipedia softened after reading Famiglietti. Although I can not accept Wikipedia as a cited source in research projects, I do understand that the editing process in Wikipedia is quite stringent and reliable(ish). I generally tell students to use Wikipedia as a jumping off point. Get some background knowledge from the website and then do some additional research to verify. A good historian must make good use of many secondary AND primary sources.

Preserving Downtown and BSU

There are two places in Boise that I am most concerned about preservation; downtown and Boise State University. I love what downtown offers to Boise and I would like to see it thrive and maintain its historic roots. I am vested in BSU, not because it is particularly beautiful (because we all know…it’s not), but because I owe both my undergraduate and graduate degree to this place and I would like to see it become grander, bolder, and more prestigious.

There have already been a lot of mistakes with Boise’s downtown. After the Boise Redevelopment Agency began an urban renewal project in the 1970’s that destroyed entire historic blocks of downtown and threatened beloved landmarks like the Egyptian Theatre, the city faced public outcry over the destruction. L.J. Davis famously wrote about the idiotic project in his 1974 Harper’s Magazine piece “Tearing Down Boise”, saying “If things go on as they are, Boise stands an excellent chance of becoming the first American city to have deliberately eradicated itself.” Although the Egyptian was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, it wasn’t until private individuals (with deep pocket books) got involved that the theatre was safe from the chopping block.

I think this is an excellent example of how real and lasting protection for historic places occurs. While much of the public would like to see history preserved, few of them want to do it at the expense of their standards of living. Even Tyler et al. notes in Historic Preservation that, “the preservation of a downtown’s physical elements, including its older buildings, historic facades, and streetscape, (is) important, but only in combination with maintaining functional aspects of the downtown environment.” (pg. 278) Boise’s downtown may seem like a thriving component of our city, but there are many parts of it that are vacant and the entire balance of the area is pretty precarious. Now that Anthropology is leaving, I fear that hole (combined with the obnoxiously STILL vacant Macy’s) will be large enough that shopping in the area will slow and all those small businesses will suffer. I love the old buildings and the history and the character of downtown. But without businesses to keep the history worthwhile, I fear downtown could slide back into its 1970’s rut.

As far as Boise State is concerned, I know that there isn’t a lot of history to preserve besides what we discussed last week; the Administration and Campus School buildings. But I really hope that BSU keeps those buildings. I am uneasy about their intentions (INNOVATION! METROPOLITAN RESEARCH!) and was

Obama is excited about our innovation! Progress! Forward! Tally Ho!
Obama is excited about our innovation! Progress! Forward! Tally Ho!

especially alarmed at Tyler’s assertion that, “State institutions are not subject to local ordinances and need respond only to state regulations. Universities frequently ignore local historic district commissions…and the larger the institution, the more it can disregard local pressure for its structures to be included in a historic district.” (pg. 179) I know that BSU is not, and probably never will be, a historic district, but it worries me that the university has very little interest in preservation or responding to public pressure. It makes me feel a tad hopeless and powerless. I want BSU to become a place of distinction as well. But I think distinction comes not only from progress but also from maintaining links to the past.


Getting Hired and the Evils of Private Property

This week’s reading raised two questions for me; How do I get hired? and How important is private property in preservation?

My first concern is in the relevance of preservation to our qualifications. Last year, I attended a “Speed Dating” night of history professionals and history students. We were exposed to different avenues that our history degrees could lead us. One of those was historical preservation and it was one of the paths that I was most intrigued by at first. Unfortunately, my interest was way-laid as I learned from the two professionals that a MAHR does not really equate to historical preservation. Both of them had Master’s of Historical Preservation and either majored or minored in architecture.

As we learned from chapter 3 of Tyler’s Historic Preservation, knowledge in architectural history is a pretty essential component to being a historic preservationist (at least professionally). I would love to work for a city or in a State Historic Preservation Office, but I’m doubting my qualifications? Tyler asserts that preservation is done either by private individuals as part of a personal crusade, or government entities. My question is…how does one make a living in this? Who is doing these jobs and can we, as MAHR students, actually get hired?

I am also contemplating the tricky issue of private property. I was disappointed in the toothless National Register “Does and Does Not” list. While it’s wonderful that the register identifies places and “encourages their preservation”, I was dismayed that it has no power to protect or guarantee preservation. In true American fashion, the Register does not, “restrict the rights of private property owners in the use, development, or sale of privately owned historic property.” (p. 49) What then is the point? If we are not going to actually fight the good fight, why bother identifying those places at all? I was particularly irked by Tyler’s assertion that “it was politically necessary to leave such control (federal government protection) out of the original act.” (p. 50) I’m exposing my radicalism, but I believe that once artifacts and places mature past a certain point, they should enter into the public domain and should be removed from private ownership in order to be enjoyed by all. It is no different than classic literature.

I know. That will never happen. But I’d like to see preservation have a little more punch and power. Had we had that in Boise, we might not have lost so many fantastic historic buildings downtown to the gharish mall renovation in the 1970’s or seen so much gentrification and renconstruction of historic districts like the North End or Warm Springs.

Would I participate?

As I read The Participatory Museum, I decided to approach it through the eyes of a visitor instead of a museum staff member. I have no experience working in a museum and I am not sure that I will ever end up in one (although it is certainly not off the table). So I have framed my reactions as a participant rather than an administrator. Would I participate/enjoy/find fulfillment in Simon’s suggestions or not? Below are the suggestions that I found most engaging and most offensive.

I would participate:

  • “Becoming” a Character – Placing myself in the shoes of someone/thing within the exhibit is an excellent way to engage with the material, but not have to get too personal. I loved the idea of choosing a Greek mythological character in the Hero exhibit. I still have my Holocaust museum passport (yes, I kept it) from 15 years ago, because it made such an indelible mark on me.
  • Marking enjoyable exhibits in order to receive a personal recommendation – I love Pandora, Netflix, Goodreads and any other network that will point me in the direction of new and exciting finds. I think most people do as well.
  • Write a postcard home to myself – I still have my DARE letter that I wrote to myself when I was in 6th grade, but did not receive until I was a senior in high school. Communicating with your past self (even if only a few days old) is a powerful reminder of what you found important and what you have learned since.
  • PostSecret style Q&A- I love the power of anonymity, both for my own participation and in reading other people’s answers.  This type of interaction allows me to not only leave behind a piece of myself for future visitors, but to also connect with the larger social/political/historical question. I think it is really powerful.
  • A photo story of my participation – I liked the idea of completing some task with my group, having it documented, and then later going back to narrate the story. I think that is a particularly powerful tool for families, because it not only creates a memento of their experience, but also encourages them to fully engage with an exhibit (i.e. “Let’s do our best! This will be documented!”)

I would not participate:

  • Guided Tours – I find these annoying, slow, and disingenuous. Shuffling along in a crowd is not my idea of higher level thinking or engagement.
  • “Talk to me about…” stickers on my back – I like to have intelligent conversations with diverse people. I would love to have discussions with strangers about difficult exhibits that we were all visiting. However, I have no interest in having strangers approach me in a historical museum to talk about my love of cooking.
  • Write your own label – While I find this suggestion funny and I would certainly enjoy it for purely entertaining value, I do not know how critically it would engage me. It is creative, absolutely. But I don’t know that it would add to my learning experience.

Overall, I would feel more comfortable participating in activities that allow me to be heard and feel like I am a part of the museum, but do not ask me to get too personal. I enjoy discourse with strangers, but not in a forced manner. I can also appreciate novelty and variety, but I would like to see a clear purpose for my endeavors. My participatory experiences in museums should be interesting, yet meaningful. I know that these are my personal reactions, but I would guess that many people would at least share my disdain for getting too personal and would want their time and effort to be valuable.

Interview with Professor John Lutz

On Friday, February 6th 2015, I was privileged to speak with associate professor John Lutz of the University of Victoria. Professor Lutz teaches Native History, but is also heavily involved in several digital public history projects. His story begins around 2000, when Professor Lutz began collaborating with colleague Ruth Sandwell about a historical murder involving Native and Black Canadians. As they shared knowledge and dove deeper into the research, they discovered that there was enough evidence available to question the outcome of the trial; perhaps not enough to make irrefutable claims, but certainly enough to list several other suspects. Over the next several years, Lutz and Sandwell would develop their research into a murder mystery series, targeted for school age students (but also enjoyed by the general public). The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website was born, including dozens of other mysteries researched by collaborators all over Canada. The website would serve to not only teach the public about their Canadian history, but also to teach critical history skills; such as research, analysis, comparison of contradictory sources, and deductive reasoning.



Professor Lutz has gone on to work with many other digital platforms such as Google Sketch Up, GIS, Wikis, and student published websites. He was fortunate enough to learn a coding skills before he began his tenure at the University and he has been a part of Web 2.0 from the beginning. I was delighted to have Professor Lutz’s expertise for this interview, because I am interested in doing exactly what he has already done. I would like to combine my teaching, historic, and digital skills to bring historic knowledge and methods to the general public. My questions to Professor Lutz focused on his interactions with the public and his involvement with digital tools.

Although he is primarily employed in the academic sphere, Professor Lutz has constant interactions with public entities. He emphasized the marriage of academia and public history, noting that history is not some frill to be kept in an ivory tower, but is instead a civic duty. It is a historian’s duty to educate the public and help fix misconceptions, but it also the civic responsibility of the public to deeply understand their roots and value the lessons learned from history. Professor Lutz is helping to develop a Public History Master’s program at his university, which will give practical experience in the community to the graduate students.

Professor Lutz encouraged me to develop several important skills to be a part of this field. A historian interested in digital projects does not need to be an expert in all technical aspects, but a certain level of comfort is necessary. He admitted that he has deficiencies in all the digital programs that he uses, but he has enough technical knowledge that he can recognize where he needs to go for help and who needs to be involved for the project to be successful. He also stressed how important pedagogy was. He encouraged me to tap into my experience as a teacher to become a public historian who could engage with the public in a real and relevant manner. He inspired curiosity. The digital world is constantly changing and if I want to be a part of it, I must be willing to get messy, make mistakes and try new things. His last piece of advice was really fascinating. He encouraged me to get in on the ground level of gaming technology in history. Simulated reality is one of the best methods for learning and the potential to develop history games has yet to be tapped in to.

Professor Lutz mentioned the difficulties of funding and encouraged me to seek many different avenues for finding money. He was fortunate to receive government grants for the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website, but he was still required to raise additional funds. Although he warned that it takes work and perseverance, he was optimistic about finding money for these types of projects.

The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website has around 2,500 visitors every day, ranging from Canadian students, to English language learners around the globe, to Australian students studying colonialism. He has created a history tool that is not only creative and interesting, but also useful. I hope to emulate him in my future endeavors.