Reflection on Conservative Readings

The political split in the class already seems to be causing some problems so rather than argue the individual points of each article and how they do or do not relate to the larger conservative worldview, I am going to keep my post to what I see to be the main issue…balance.

This week’s readings provided a nice counterbalance to what we’ve already read. I think it is somewhat disingenuous to assume, however, that the views and opinions expressed in a few blog posts are representative of the entirety of conservative thoughts and beliefs. In much the same manner, it would be wrong to extrapolate the liberal viewpoint by merely reading postings by Chauncey DeVega.

Several people mentioned the issue of sources in connection with this week’s readings. I think there is a general problem regarding sources with history posted on the internet…anything that appears “too academic” or complicated is going to be glossed over or ignored. The problem is not limited to this week’s readings, either. Despite his repeated claims of “empirical” evidence, Chauncey DeVega did not provide much in the way of substantiation for his arguments. I think that is a problem that public historians have to look for ways to address…how can we produce good history that is accessible to the public yet still meets the basic standards we should all ascribe to in terms of sources and an accurate, balanced presentation?

Finally, the “humor” article by Jack Hitt was a hit piece. There are more than enough stupid quotes that can be taken out of context on the liberal side to provide just as ridiculous a timeline. To try and pass misstatements and isolated quotes off as something representative of the larger conservative viewpoint does nothing to engender consensus and cooperation.

Ethics, Take Two

I do not think it is necessarily surprising to many that bureaucracy makes things more difficult. Just because a law is on the books does not mean that it will be enforced in the manner that everyone might want it to be. In an ideal world, historical places and events would be protected for future generations. The problem then becomes what history and what events?  Sometimes people can become too myopic when it comes to preserving one specific thing. A Civil War battlefield, for example, is culturally significant, but that battle is likely not the only important thing that has occurred there.

I do not agree with the argument that business, corporations or even the government are the antithesis of preservation or conservation. There are many, many businesses and agencies that act responsibly with regards to not only cultural but also environmental issues. While King’s book and blog were informative, I do not know that they actually contribute to a solution. A more balanced approach to the topic would have done more to elucidate the issues and provide tools for future public historians.

Ethically Challenged

This week’s readings on ethical dilemmas and the use of history for political purposes raise many interesting questions that are plaguing the profession right now. History is always going to be distorted, by one side or the other. The main issue is at what point should a public historian engage and attempt to “right the wrongs”?

The exchange that Larry Cebula shared on his website provides a good example. Had the only problem on the tour been the 5 myths he brought up: fireplace screens; colonial height; closets; hands in portraits and pineapples – would it have been worth the time to try and correct it? Is that what public historians need to do… ensure that every anecdote shared is historically accurate? Obviously, the main issue that Cebula raises – slavery – needs to be corrected whenever it is so blatantly ignored but are the smaller facts worth our time?

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have the right, as much as we wish they didn’t, to commemorate the Civil War in the manner they choose. Someone teaching a class on the Constitution outside of a publicly funded institution can highlight whatever aspects of the Founders and their lives that he or she wants to. For all of the examples of bad history that are presented, it seems as though they are filling a need. If there is nothing there to present the correct version of history, then the vacuum will be filled by whatever is left. I don’t feel it is our job as public historians to follow those other groups and correct them. I think it is our responsibility to ensure that the actual history is readily accessible, understandable and relatable. If you fill the void then the noise will fall away.

Two degrees, no prospects?

If we are honest with ourselves, I doubt any of us chose to pursue the MA or MAHR program because historians are in high demand, making six-figure salaries. Our own school places the majority of efforts (after football) on the STEM programs. We are here because we have a passion for history that we hope to someday be able to translate into a purpose (job). The MA or MAHR is a tool that can be used to show a certain level of dedication to a potential employer and also serves as a means to set us apart from those who only have a BA. Is it a guarantee of future employment, either in history or outside of the field? Of course not, but it is one way I can give myself a leg up on the competition in the job market.

As with last week’s readings, I found the ones from the AHA to be the most beneficial as they moved beyond the job titles and buzz words to provide more detail on what a position in those various areas might look like. This information provides a bit of a roadmap for students to help tailor their education to their future goals. It’s easy to get caught in the academia vs. museum mindset so it is helpful to see the variety of possible careers that draw on history.


Chris Guillebeau’s book was an interesting read. I wouldn’t normally choose a book about business, but I feel that this particular book took a very friendly tone to the subject matter. The subject matter and trying to inject “business” into the humanities can be a tricky transition, however. On one hand, many people don’t readily recognize the importance of our particular skill sets and they have a tendency to devalue them. On the other hand, I think that many historians (myself included) undervalue ourselves and seem to be unwilling to “market” our knowledge. I know some people who argue that it’s wrong to charge someone to learn more about themselves and their history, personal or collective. Skills that become second nature to historians are highly sought after in a variety of fields, the issue becomes learning the appropriate buzz words to market. Previously, I was hired to format, footnote/annotate a manuscript and create the appropriate Chicago-style citations for each source. It’s not something that was geared specifically towards historians, but it utilized the skills I had gained during my historical training.

Where Guillebeau’s book provided the overview of self-promotion, the article from the AHA provided a good roadmap of how historians can better market themselves outside of the traditional path of academia. Many of the potential careers are ones we have discussed in class already, but I appreciated the way that article expanded on each of the potential roles to describe what jobs in those industries might look like. Putman’s article provided an interesting, real world example of someone “doing” history. I particularly appreciated this comment, “If history is going to survive in a world increasingly unsympathetic to thought for thought’s sake, we need practical historians who aren’t ashamed of their pastimes. Those hobbies might be more relevant than you think.” One of my “hobbies” has become a source of employment. The expertise I developed for fun has become a marketable skill set.

Historic Preservation II

This week’s readings further highlighted the fact that so much of what goes on in the world of historic preservation is subjective. There are certain buildings and sites that I am sure we would all agree are significant to our larger collective history but many of the others that are preserved in the name of history, culture or impact raise questions. While Elvis Presley’s contributions to music and culture are significant, is Graceland itself really that historically significant? If Elvis had never lived there, would it still be listed as a National Historic Landmark? Are there other places in Memphis that would mean more to society?

The guidelines for historic preservation seem to remain largely subjective to the whims of historical preservation boards and even the court system. The documents from the Boise Historic Preservation Committee kept coming to mind as I read more on this section…so much back and forth over window sill depth and the matter of an inch. Additionally, historic preservation raises the thorny issues of property rights and eminent domain.

I can see the importance of adding places like the early McDonald’s to the National Register as it represents a shift in American (and global) culture as we became a more mobile society and required businesses to adapt to the changing needs of the consumer. However, as Ryan pointed out, would we make the argument to preserve the Wal-Marts, Best Buys, etc. to illustrate the architecture and culture of 2013? So many of our purchases today are made over the internet. How do we accurately preserve that for posterity?

Historic preservation is vitally important for us to not only embrace and understand our past, but also to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to interact with history. The subjective nature of the field raises concerns, however.

Wikipedia & the Boise Wiki

This was an interesting assignment.  Although I have browsed through Wikis looking for interesting topics, new sources or just random trivia, I have never actually attempted to edit a Wiki before.  I have had it clearly drilled into me by numerous professors that Wikipedia is the antithesis of a credible source.  I assumed that the entry for the Boise Wiki would be the easier of the two as there would be less likelihood that someone would come on to that site to either edit or reject my information.  In an effort to streamline the process for each of the entries, I decided to draw upon topics that I already had a working knowledge of and that were lacking in an informative online presence.  For the Boise Wiki, I chose to focus on the artesian and geothermal history of the Boise Valley.  For Wikipedia, I chose to focus on the Minidoka War Relocation Center.


For the Wikipedia section of this assignment, I took some time to try and figure out what topic I might like to expand upon, visiting more Wikipedia pages then I care to count.  I tried to come up with a topic that already had several credible secondary sources online that I could link to.  The Wikipedia page for the Minidoka War Relocation Center had some basic information regarding the location of the internment camp, the numbers of internees who were housed there and the process of making it a National Historic Site.  There was a gap in the information regarding both the actual make-up of the camp as well as the efforts of internees during the war.  I felt that these two areas should definitely be highlighted and then went about trying to determine what information I felt was the most important to highlight.  In the research that I have done on Minidoka and other WWII Japanese-American internment camps I have noticed that there is rarely a good understanding of how massive the facilities were.  The lack of that information alone seriously impacted the utility of the Wikipedia article to provide a baseline understanding of internment.

In an attempt to keep my edits as unobjectionable as possible, I wrote basic descriptions that could be substantiated by documents from the National Park Service.  I also decided to keep my edits relatively short and to the point so that they would be more readily accepted by the Wikipedia editors.

The actual process of editing the Minidoka entry on Wikipedia was relatively easy.  I typed up my entry offline in a plain text editor, including the appropriate links to cite the sources, and then copy and pasted it in the Wikipedia edit box.  Once I completed editing, I submitted the edits and anxiously waited to see if my edits would be able to survive.  I checked several times the first day, fully expecting my contributions to quickly disappear given both the class discussions and the readings on Wikipedia.  I have continued to check at least once a day since I posted and, so far, so good – the edits have not been challenged or changed.

Boise Wiki

The problems I had with the Boise Wiki were not related to technology by any means.  The topic I selected to write about for the Boise Wiki, artesian and geothermal water, was one I researched extensively for another class.  It was a difficult topic to research as there is very little available on the subject and I had to spend quite a deal of time going through old rolls of microfilm and archival materials for the project.  As a result, I was somewhat reticent to put all of the information I had gathered for that paper onto the Wiki.  I would hate to have someone take my hard work and pass it off as their own.  This also concerned me, as the Boise Wiki requires we release our claim to our work.  Additionally, I doubt that the thirty pages that made up my final project would be appropriate for a Wiki designed to provide a brief overview of a topic.

After editing or essentially re-writing my information, the actual process of posting to the Boise Wiki was relatively simple. I doubt that my entry will inspire any edits or changes among visitors.


My advice to others looking to post on a Wiki would be to plan ahead and ensure that you have your sources and information well documented, particularly for Wikipedia.  Also, be prepared with some sort of argument as to why your changes should be permitted.  Having read the assignment regarding Wikipedia and hearing about the previous class that attempted to edit Wikipedia, I was prepared to argue in favor of my changes but, luckily, I have not yet had to.  I also assumed that preparing an argument in advance would prevent me from having an emotional reaction to either a rejection or a substantial edit of my entries.


Boise Wiki:


Historic Preservation I

Historic preservation is certainly an interesting topic to explore. On the outside, it seems as though the decision process is as simple as: there’s a building…something important happened there…let’s save it. The reality is much more complex as the actual physical location is not the entire story. History must play an integral and primary role in historic preservation. Other factors must also be considered such as Niki’s question of to which era is a building restored? If you have multiple events of historic significance, which takes precedence?

I liked the analogy that Tyler used when referring to buildings as representing both nouns and verbs. I think that this is an important distinction to make when considering how and why a building should be saved from destruction. In distinguishing the different perspectives on preservation, Tyler highlights the Chinese who “do not consider the preservation of physical structures as critical.” (Chapter 1)* As others have mentioned in their blog posts and in class, almost nothing remains of the Chinese who used to live in Boise. However, considering the point of view raised in the previous quote, would the preservation of their homes and businesses (done by outsiders) merely have been the superimposition of another group’s value system?

The role of urban renewal with historic preservation is a complicated one. There must be new growth and development to sustain society, but the prevailing view that took hold during this time period – that “old was bad and new was good” (Chapter 2)* – actually caused more problems. Boise lost many beautiful downtown structures as city leaders attempted to modernize.  Although steps have been taken to ensure that history is preserved, the question of whose history and what history is preserved still remain.

*Page # not available as I am using the iBooks version of the text.

Reenactors and Wikipedia

Kowalczyk’s article seemed to be overly judgmental of the reenactors.  He seemed to spend much of the piece taking subtle and not so subtle digs at their appearance, personalities and motivations.  Many of the “insights” in the article seemed to be inferred without substantiation.  While reenacting is not something that I choose to do, I don’t feel that it is detrimental to the practice of history.  The subtitle of the article asks the question “why?” reenactors recreate these battles…”why not?”  might be a better question to ask.  History is not our exclusive domain.

Little’s critique of Kowalczyk’s article poses some interesting questions regarding why certain events, normally conflicts, are commemorated through reenactments while other more mundane or controversial aspects are ignored.  It would seem that events that are viewed as turning points, such as battles, provide the easiest historical rallying point.  I would also argue that so much of the history that has been produced has been focused on these events that there is an overwhelming amount of information for reenactors to draw upon.

Levin’s article on the Sons of Confederate Veterans highlights problems that most organizations have to face…how best to engage the younger generation.  SCV has the added layer of racism (actual or perceived) and “loser” status to overcome.  Ignoring the Confederate aspect, the issues raised can apply to history in general. “Their members and patrons manifest a belief at one level or another that we are compelled to remember the past and place our own lives within a broader narrative. And in doing so, they believe that our lives and those of our communities are greatly enriched.”

Cohen’s article on the Wikipedia Gender Gap raises interesting questions about the disparity between the representation of men and women on Wikipedia.  However, the topics that are highlighted in the article as being “girl” topics seem to also lend themselves to widening the gender gap.  Suggesting that friendship bracelets vs. baseball cards is a fair comparison is troubling.

Messer-Kruse’s article on “undue weight” and Famiglietti’s on consensus present one of the most troubling aspects of Wikipedia, especially in terms of history.  The frequency with which Wikipedia is viewed to be the “gospel” truth in matters of history is particularly overwhelming.  When confronted with the myriad of historical inaccuracies on Wikipedia, the prospect of “fixing” it is exhausting.

Interview with Dr. Frank Thomason

For my public historian interview, I spoke with Frank Thomason, PhD.

Dr. Thomason has an impressive set of credentials, having earned four degrees in history (a goal for all of us to aspire to!). He was also a Fulbright Scholar. He currently serves on both the Eagle and Meridian Historic Preservation Committees. He is a published author of several books, including histories of Boise and Meridian. Dr. Thomason is also the owner, editor and publisher of The Valley Times, a weekly newspaper serving the western Treasure Valley. I am extremely grateful that he took time out of his very busy schedule for this interview.

Please describe your educational background.

Following high school, I earned four degrees, all in U.S. and European history: B.A., The College of Idaho, 1970; M.A., University of Utah, 1972; M.S., The Johns Hopkins University, 1974; and Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University, 1979.

I also have teaching experience at the college or university level at the University of Maryland, West Berlin, 1974-76; The College of Idaho, 1977; and University of Southern California, 1980.

Please describe your role on the Historic Preservation Committee.

I am the Chairman of the City of Eagle’s Historic Preservation Commission, responsible for preparing and e-mailing the monthly agendas and sharing the workload with other Commissioners on various projects including the Quarterly Speaker Series (I brought Lincoln historian/author David Leroy to Eagle last January; I have also been a member of the Meridian HPC for over 20 years and am happy to announce that Leroy will reprise or repeat his presentation in May in Meridian) and historic signs for the National and Municipal registers of historic places.

What do you see as the primary challenges that historical preservation groups face?

Ongoing degradation and demolition of historic buildings, especially outbuildings and houses on former farmsteads; lack of funding for various projects; and bringing in newer and in some cases younger Commissioners to carry on the work.

Please describe other historical work you’ve been involved with.

I am a published author of three history books, The Berlin Police in the 19th Century, Tabletop Publications; Boise by Arcadia Publishing and Meridian by Arcadia Publishing.

In the mid 1970s I spent 25 months as a Fulbright Scholar to West Berlin, where I was enrolled full time as a graduate student, taught classes in European and Russian history in the evening and conducted a program of graduate research at archives and libraries in West and East Berlin and Germany.

In the early 1990s, I devoted two years as a volunteer officer of the Friends of the Historical Museum, a statewide group based in Boise. Our major project was an update of biographical sketches with photos of Idaho’s First Ladies. I was and remain the only male officer of that organization.

What advice would you give to “new” historians?

Specialize as early as possible and become a foremost authority on that specialization. At the same time, remain a generalist in your increasing knowledge of different fields and approaches. This may result in synchronicity at some point, e.g., you might find work in a related field even though it’s not your primary one.

Find another field and develop it along with your history studies as a practical matter of adaptation and survival in this very tough economy. Actual jobs for trained historians are scarcer than ever, so it behooves budding historians to branch out and add one or more fields to their resume. Examples might be computer software programming, English (also not very practical in a direct sense), journalism or even anthropology or archeology, which involve approaches similar to or compatible with history.

If there was one skill you wished you had learned earlier, what would it be?

Computer programming and web sites, as well as social media. They are all the rage now but in 1979, nearly a decade before the advent of personal computers, I typed my doctoral thesis for Johns Hopkins on an IBM Selectric typewriter (the one with the “flying ball”).

Thank you again to Dr. Thomason!