A tour, built…

Group Members: Me.

http://sites.google.com/site/culturemapsboise

My local history project focused on my two loves in History; interpretation and preservation. By finding structures along Capitol Boulevard with historical significance, I created a tour from the Depot to the Capitol building. Instead of being a wealth of knowledge on all of the stops, and potentially overwhelming the average tourist, I decided to format the tour around enticing the public to enter these buildings or sites in order to do some investigating of their own.

The Process

I knew from the start that I wanted to embrace my professional experience as a Historical Interpreter into my public history project. Growing up, I became fascinated with the stories of buildings that surrounded me, no matter how ‘insignificant’ they were to everyone else. Whether it was a modest family homestead, or a bustling cultural landmark, I wanted to know. My endeavor began with trying to find a way to properly tell the story of Boise, as I wanted my tour to encompass the history and culture of a city I’ve grown fond of over the past 6 years.

With the ‘Freedom Trail’ in Boston fresh in my memory, I decided that I needed to choose a path that would lead the user from one destination to another, but not necessarily in any chronological order. As long as the building had significance to the establishment of today’s Boise, then I’d include it. At first, I thought of ‘Main Street USA’ as a universal theme that could tie to other major cities, but the development of Main St. in Boise didn’t tell as much of a cultural story as I had hoped. Other themes such as the government buildings, or Masonic footprint were considered as well. In the end, the breadth of information and variety of stories of Capitol Boulevard proved to be the best introduction to this idea.

The first step was to reference other similar projects. One important resource was Boise’s Department of Art and History and their “Did you Know?” brochure (http://artsandhistory.cityofboise.org/PDF/PublicArt/DidYouKnowCapitolBlvd.pdf) and Boise State University’s “Depot to the Dome” (http://www.boisestate.edu/history/cityhistorian/galleries_city/capital_blvd_gallery/1capitol_blvd.html).

These projects gave me a solid foundation and direction on where my project should lead. Both of these resources provided me with locations and an introduction to its significance. In some cases (mostly in the ‘did you know?’ brochure), no information was given other than a location and title.

With a rough outline in hand, I started researching. My first ventures lead me to Google, which provided me with more overviews of the sites in question, mostly from the websites of the buildings or the businesses within. Once my resources ran dry, I started searching the library on campus where I came across some helpful tools including “Quintessential Boise – An Architectural Journey” by Charles Hummel and Tim Woodward. This site not only provided me with further detail into the sites I had already started to investigate, but also some that I had not considered before.

Learning Objectives

My goal in developing this application/mobile site was to provide the city with an outlet for promotion and narration in some of the untold history along Capitol Boulevard. The vision of the entry into Boise was important in the construction and development of these public buildings and businesses that line the street, but has disappeared into the background as an active history on the street hasn’t been maintained.

In drawing inspiration from the ‘Freedom Trail’ in Boston, my hope was to inspire the city to form a dedicated path with interpretation in signage, oral tours, and in developing technologies such as this mobile app/website. In my research into the beginnings of the Freedom Trail, I found out that all of the sites struggled on their own to maintain tourism and profits until the trial was developed. By having all of the sites joined together under a common theme, more visitors were able to find out about these sites and visit them in hopes of learning the story of Boston and the beginning of the country.

One of the goals that was developed over the process was to not over-interpret the sites. I wanted to provide a brief narrative that was interesting enough to provoke the user into finding more information out on their own. This was accomplished by either showing pictures of what the structures looked like throughout their history, or telling just enough of the site’s story to tease them into reading signage or entering the establishment. This goal was also met by mentioning the current business and what services they offer.

Sources and the Influence

This project was unique in that influence was discovered throughout the entire process, even finding new sites and stories up to the day before the project was to be presented. It seemed as if every new picture found or story told lead to another that was crying out to be discovered. I had to find a way to censor my material in order to not overwhelm the user with information, but include it so that the story doesn’t go untold. On the slide depicting the history of the Capitol Building, the pictures of the entire process provided a narrative that I didn’t know existed; in that the dome was almost axed from the final product due to budgeting issues, and that the picture of it without the dome occurred not just during a point in construction but during lengthy deliberations on whether or not the city could afford to include it.

At other times, I discovered new sites by walking Capitol Boulevard multiple times. Buildings that I previously thought as insignificant or not historically important such as The Literary Center or the Library ended up being some of the more interesting stories on the tour. The wonderful thing about this project is that I was able to pull influence and resources through multiple routes, and sometimes they jumped out at me.

The Challenges in a Trail

Most of my challenges were internal. As a former Interpreter, I want to be a wealth of useless knowledge on a topic. Every story is important to me, and the inner Historian in me wanted to publish an entire website for each individual building on the tour. After watching Nancy Proctor’s presentation on mobile devices in museums, I was inspired to go against everything I wanted to do in order to keep it simple. From the development to the site, to the information on it, I needed to remember that not everyone is as endlessly interested in random information like I am. My goal for the project wasn’t to bore the user into never wanting to walk near anything historical (or developed by me) again.

In being a bit of a tech guru, I wanted to make the application/site very in-depth and feature-ridden. After developing the first template, I realized that not only would it be difficult to operate on a mobile devices, but that someone who isn’t as tech-savvy wouldn’t be able to understand the multiple layers of the site. I removed all of the navigation buttons except the large picture of the skyline at the top to return to the homepage, and a ‘Next’ button at the bottom of every screen. This way, the emphasis of the tour is focused on the content rather than the features.

As mentioned before, my main quarrel with this tour was in the information provided. Not only was I having difficulties omitting certain stories or facts, but also in finding those details out in some cases. Buildings such as Papa Joe’s, the Library, and the Literary Center do not serve the same purpose for which they were built, and have served many purposes over time resulting in a lost narrative. When I did eventually find out stories or facts about a place, even some city Historians and archivists were surprised at my findings. This result inspired me to complete it, because if no one puts in this effort than the histories of these places risk being lost.

What the Future Holds

My hopes is that this project eventually gets picked up either by the city or an outside organization so that Boise will be able to have a cohesive culturally themed tour to promote itself, but not necessarily have to provide additional staffing to join the sites. While I would love to pursue this myself, my impending military career would take both my time and my self out of Boise, leaving the research and development efforts to a severe detriment. The contacts that I hold in the Historical Society were aware of my project and the potential benefit that could result, as well as the ‘word of mouth’ that could hopefully be created by my research, presentation, and establishment of the application. Since this was an academic project, my resources were fairly inexpensive, especially in gaining permission from the Archives to use all of the pictures I didn’t take myself. If this project was to be developed professionally or by the city, a good portion of the research and collection would be provided to them in the form of the mobile site. If an outside organization was to pick this project up, grants and funding from the federal government or the city of Boise could be obtained in addition to personal and business donations, much like how the Freedom Trail in Boston came to be.

Advice and Hopes

The primary thing I hope to portray in my project is the importance of ‘insignificant’ history. When I was an Interpreter for the Old Pen, I focused on the small stories that made the site more personable. The story of the individual tends to interest the common person much more than the overarching theme. What also needs to be kept in mind is that not everyone has the time or interest to perform the level of research it usually takes to get the personal story of a site or the people who worked or lived there, but its those stories that are the most interesting to them. The grand tale of a site can be easily told through signage or literature provided by the site, however if an interpretation effort is extended in telling at least one seemingly unimportant story about a single person or event that occurred here, the tourist can imagine themselves being in the same situation and hopefully would inspire them to immerse themselves in the wealth of knowledge the site could provide.

The only advice I can provide in this type of research situation is to be persistent. Over the course of my 2 1/2 year tenure as an Interpreter, I slowly developed a tour that accomplished my main goals as a Historian; inform the public while enticing their further research or inquiry. I never wanted any of my guests to leave the site fulfilled with the knowledge they had received. I wanted them to leave asking questions, debating topics, or having discourse with others who may or may not have ever been to the site. An active conversation is the only life a historic site has to offer. Without it, the site can disappear into its own history.

My return to the reservation…

In a shocking turn of events, I not only plan to stay on topic… but also submit my commentary early!!! The weekly readings tend to invoke some inner turmoil that I need to express.. Luckily for all of you, this week’s assignment was rather tame and to the point. No emotions here. Strictly business.

Nancy Proctor has been involved on the professional end, with what we are experimenting with in this course. Museums are great for us ‘niche’-types who genuinely find them interesting and could be lost for days in a single exhibit. However, we are but a fraction of the general population, especially when it comes to a tourist-driven market. In order to make the average citizen excited about seeing a bunch of “old stuff” (as Bran Ferren called it), it’s the museum staff’s job to tempt them to not only walk through the doors, but also spend money to experience the museum.

When I was in Boston, my tiny art school provided us with free admission to the surrounding museums, largely the Museum of Fine Arts. I would go there at least twice a week, and spend at minimum, three hours usually focusing on a specific exhibit, painter, movement, or what-have-you. I rarely spent any money there besides an occasional bottle of water, and I’m sure my school’s contribution to gain us access to the MFA was much lower than if myself and my thousands of classmates were to be charged at every admission. We weren’t the focus of these measures that Nancy Proctor spoke of. Us art students may have experimented once and a while, but our purpose was to approach the piece in the mindset of our discipline, not be told how to do it. Same with Historians… we tend to want to immerse ourselves in the artifacts and construct scenarios and explanations.

My mobile app is to contribute to the general public history regarding the cultural movements in the city. There is no specific museum or organization that would be interested in funding the research or development for the application, however the individuals whose history and heritage is to be celebrated in this experiment would see it as invaluable. The liability in this is obviously the cost, which could be partially (or hopefully) recouped through the revenue created in subscriptions, advertisements, or purchases. The minimal (if any) profit would not allow this to be my hypothetical concentration, or make it feasible for anyone to hire me for this purpose. Add in the maintenance costs that Nancy spoke of, and you dive back ‘into the red’. This is where the benefit comes in…

An application such as the one I am developing is a wonderful marketing tool on so many levels. At the forefront, it celebrates the city. Beneath that you dive into a specific culture, movement, era, etc. that either celebrates your own, or makes you realize the significance of certain peoples and their part in the development of the city. The tourism opportunities for a purposefully marketed application could result in a large increase in revenue for specific museums or organizations that assist in promotion, as well as general revenue across the city.

This type of experimentation with mobile devices in a public history context does wonders for inspiring creativity in promoting a field that we are all passionate about. When I worked as an Interpreter, I saw it as my job to make even the most uninterested individual become fascinated with the site by the end of my tour. I have taken the exact approach with the development of my application. Hypothetically, if a person was to visit Boise and did a search for tourist applications, that the application they downloaded would not only serve as a personal guide for them to learn and interact with a strange city, but also hold onto as a keepsake of their trip and in turn, use it as a way to tell his or her friends about their visit. The circle of life goes around…

In the world of academia, it specifically helps with exploring other outlets for museum promotion. As students, we are focused on honing our craft and abilities so that they are useful in the ‘real world’. An increasingly important task for the public historian is to make the general public interested. The future of museums and the discipline as a whole is completely in the hands of the tourist. Their money is what drives exhibitions, restorations, and every preservation and promotional effort. Nancy raises the point of needing to ‘meet the guest where they are’. The cellphone that they are never without could be the way we can entice them into a building that they may not have considered going into before.

It is all well and good to interpret a site for a guest, however the goal for every public historian should be (as Nancy quoted Max Anderson) to bring “interpretation to conversation” – entertain and educate them in such a way that they not only engage the staff of the museum or physical surroundings, but also engage their friends, family, or strangers in a discourse. Word of mouth is the most powerful tool for a museum, and it is the task of the Historian of the present and future to implement the ways in which the average person can discover and immerse themselves in history.

To avoid being a dead horse…

I’m doing my best to not reiterate every post that has come before me in this week’s reading… Hopefully I’ll succeed.

I actually experienced the issues that Stephanie raised for her eventual post-collegiate endeavors. There I was, fresh with a B.A. in History… my only job offer was within the same agency I had been employed for the past two years. While my friends who dropped out of high school were earning $25/hour in Boston working in some facet of the Union world, I was pulling in a whopping $8/hour as the sole History graduate of that semester who actually worked in the field. The latter was much more gratifying than the prior.

I loved working for the Historical Society. My coworkers and the guests that walked through our doors were (for the most part) amazing. I did not enjoy the bureaucracy that came with working for a State agency. Every June/July during my time at the ISHS, I was waiting patiently for the next fiscal year’s budget to emerge in hopes that my meager wage would be included – hopefully in its entirety.

Another thing that left with with a bad taste towards being a State employee, were the endless loopholes and/or restrictions that limited our abilities as Historians. I all too frequently took liberty on certain projects that have otherwise gone ignored. The old adage, ‘it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission’ rang all too true. I couldn’t stand aside and watch a valuable site, building, or artifact decay due to ‘planning/budget issues’. The exact bureaucracy that most Americans feel is protecting our past, is actually what is preventing it in the first place.

Case in point: The next time you’re in the area of the Old Idaho State Penitentiary, go around to the East side of the property just outside of the wall. Here you’ll find a horse-drawn carriage with wheels buried in the ground and dilapidated wood decaying from the inside-out. The signage is as absent from the artifact as its protection from the elements.

I only found out what this carriage was by word of mouth from coworkers who had been in the agency longer than I’ve been in Idaho. It is one of the few, if only, of its kind in the world that belonged to the Morrison-Knudsen Company. This gravel carriage had been a part of a company that was the first of its kind in Boise that reached greater fame through work on the Alaska Pipeline, Hoover Dam, Kennedy Space Center, and other architectural projects worldwide. In a state where local history usually is scarce and not too significant on a global scale, you’d figure that this would be one of the treasures stowed away in a place of pride in any of our museums (the Old Pen has almost an entire building dedicated to horse-drawn vehicles). Instead, this artifact is left to decay. Moving it has been a long lost possibility, as it is in no condition to be moved or rehabilitated at all. The metal braces have rusted, the wood looks like a collection of splinters barely being held together. A piece of history ignored and neglected because the budget and the concerns of the State did not include it.

Tactful History

Just in case some of you have not seen this story…

Virginia 4th grade teacher holds slave auction

 

I have a firm belief that every History teacher should be well versed in tactful instruction. The subject is far from pleasant, as the worst of human behaviors are typically showcased in some of the most memorable events. However, showing your bias completely negates the trust that you have with your students, colleagues, and the general public. Historical revisionism, or whitewashing, has always been a part of history. The victor writes history, but the defeated typically still show their disdain for the way certain events panned out.

White supremacists deny the Holocaust happened, descendants of Confederate soldiers put their forefathers on a pedestal,¬† and these young girls talk about something that even their parents weren’t old enough to experience first hand. (a lengthy documentary, but really shows how influential parents are on their children)

http://www.archive.org/details/MichielSmit.comPrussionBlueMichielSmit.com

The difficult thing about sensitive topics in History, is that you’re always going to offend or embarrass a demographic. It’s going to happen. All of our ancestors did unforgivable things, but not acknowledging the past only makes us more likely to repeat similar mistakes out of ignorance. If we recognize the errors, we can learn and grow from the experience.

Persistence in Research

Over the course of this semester, one thing that is probably obvious to anyone who had not known me before is how much I truly enjoy every aspect of being a Historian. I have been lucky enough to gain employment in the field, and subsequently receive irreplaceable training and experience by the countless individuals I have encountered across the country in my research endeavors.

The Last American Pirate blog struck a chord with me. I have not read the entirety of the blog (but from your reading reflections thus far, I can gather that it isn’t a result of solid research – something I might have assumed by some grammatical errors in the publications), but from what I read thus far, her efforts remind me of research I have been pursuing for the last few years.

The long of the short is that my great grandmother was a campaign volunteer for the Democratic party in Massachusetts, most actively from the 1950’s to late 1960’s. I have always known that she was politically active from the stories I’ve heard, to the government issued license plate I received as a family heirloom for my first car in high school. The degree of her involvement and achievements were not apparent until I devoted my scholastic and professional life to History a few years ago. Since then, I have received a number of artifacts and heirlooms from this woman who I never had the privilege of meeting. During the years of her involvement, anyone who has even a modest grasp of history is aware that women were not, and were not encouraged to be, politically active. The group she was involved with, the Democratic Women on Wheels was one of the few all-women grass roots movements in this era, especially having any level of success.

I always heard that she was involved with the election of John F. Kennedy, but considering his notoriety in Massachusetts, I wasn’t that impressed (let’s face it, a lot of people might claim to have been ‘a part’ of that election). The first discovery that struck my interest was her in a group photo. There was my relative, not 4 feet away from our 35th President.

From JFK, my great grandmother is the third one to the left.

From this moment, I began what has been years of research. I’ve spent hours in the archives at the Kennedy Museum and Library in Boston, and much like the author of the ‘Pirate’ blog, my initial trips had been largely unsuccessful.

The issue with grass roots movements is, that they were not well documented. Archivists at the Kennedy Library ask me for information whenever I’m there, because their knowledge is in the larger events and on-goings of JFK’s presidency and life. In that respect, they were not entirely helpful, or optimistic in my endeavors. Reluctantly, the Archivist allowed me to thumb through some Distinguished Women events held by the Kennedy campaign (Distinguished Women events were actually a unique faction within JFK’s election – some events being the infamous ‘Campaign Tea’ events where John would host essentially a town hall meeting with these invited ‘distinguished women’.

After about half a day spent tirelessly going page by page through boxes of material, I told myself I would leave after this next set. When almost all the way through the collection, I hit a gem…

Mrs John P. Walsh - my great grandmother

While this find didn’t progress my research at all, it did make me realize something: my efforts were not for nothing. Somewhere in the depths of this archive, or the Walpole Historical Society, or maybe in an attic somewhere, the answers to my questions exist. Persistence is a requirement of all Historians, whether professional or amateur. There is no such thing as an unsuccessful day of research. Even if the answer to your question has not been found, you are either closer to finding it, or gaining further direction on where to move next.

During my last trip to Boston this past spring break, a gift was awaiting me on my aunt’s coffee table. An entire photo album with artifacts that proved my great grandmother’s level of involvement with the Kennedy campaign. I have letters and invitations in sealed envelopes from the U.S. Congress, ‘Honored Guest’ tickets to events (which research has shown were distributed by the Inaugural Committee by invitation only), and other artifacts that I have only seen in the Kennedy Museum at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

My great grandmother's invitation to the Inauguration. A smaller one actually addresses her by name.

If this post has encouraged any message, I hope that it is to prove that even the slightest of hints, whether it be stories of a politically involved relative, or a pirate with a sandwich named after him, your findings can be well beyond anything that you could have imagined. If something fascinates you, pursue it. Finding that piece of paper with my grandmother’s name on it makes me proud to know that her efforts were rewarded with her name being a part of the permanent record of John F. Kennedy’s election.

The recent find in my aunt’s attic has given me a direction in my research, and the motivation to complete it. The tales of a politically involved great grandmother has grown into a lifetime research project. Whether it results in a publication, or just a nice narrative for future generations in my family, I hope to be able to properly tell the story of a truly fascinating woman.

Historic Preservation, with Jackie Kennedy…

As most of you are aware, every First Lady has their project. Michelle Obama has taken on childhood obesity, Nancy Reagan took on the ‘war on drugs’. Jackie Kennedy focused on the preservation and restoration of the White House.

In the following news broadcast, Jackie Kennedy gives a brief narrative on the history of the White House, and why it is important to preserve and contribute to the aura of the mansion. Throughout the hour long interview, she goes room by room describing what work was done. Everything from refurnishing to changing the style of tables in the banquet hall. All of her work was in the name of preservation, and keeping the history of our nation and the residence of our President alive and well. Jackie truly went to great steps in discovering relics in storage, and using the knowledge of Historians and various experts in making sure her findings were accurate.

The fact that both John and Jackie were avid history buffs makes this story ¬†much more interesting, at least in my humble opinion. It’s refreshing to see the respect and admiration to the past from a couple who one would think would be too preoccupied to acknowledge.

Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=6EFEF6A4BF31464A&feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_762207

I judged this book by it’s 12 minute cover…

While waiting for my train, I stumbled upon this little gem in the iTunes store. I may be a bit bias, being from Massachusetts with family who campaigned for JFK, but in only watching this 12 minute clip, I’m already extremely excited about watching this series. It’s produced by the Harvard Kennedy School (of Government), and is in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his inauguration. I was lucky enough to go to the JFK Library and Museum and see a wonderful exhibit, and this tops off the experience.

It’s free on iTunes… (just type ‘JFK50’ in the search while in the iTunes store)

JFK50 – Let The Word Go Forth

Reports from the field…

So, I’ve spent the last 8 days revisiting a place I’ve lived in for 19 years, attempting to approach an all too familiar city within the context of this course. Public history and Boston coexist, and it is nearly impossible to go any amount of time before being reminded of the city’s significance in the country’s history.

The preservation work is absolutely astonishing. I’ll post pictures once I arrive back in Boise (I left my USB cable at home… go figure). The best representation of a building being preserved amongst modernity is a picture I took of Faneuil Hall being surrounded by sky scrapers that barely fit in the frame. Old cathedrals are nestled between more dominating commerce structures, and facades of old are masking buildings of new.

Public history is intertwined with every aspect of daily life. From the coaster under your beer telling the story of the pub you’re in, to the character of the sagging shelves holding up the glasses – all pay tribute to a city that is proud of their heritage and holds dear anything with proof of its longevity.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that any older, worn out building has character. Sure, your new Corey Barton home has a fancy granite countertop with impeccable wall to wall hardwood floor, but give me a house with creaky floorboards and brick walls any day (a little lead paint creates some excitement, too!). Something about a structure built for a family or a specific purpose, rather than a cookie-cutter McMansion design makes for a better appreciation for what you have and how you got it.

Of course it’s easier to tear down and rebuilt something shiny and exciting. Like the city I grew up in, I prefer to acknowledge my past and celebrate its influence in my daily life. I am in no way stating that we should all settle for a subpar structure to work or live in, but I do need a better argument than it’s just ‘old’.

“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill