A belated Preservation post….

I got entirely too caught up in the excitement of making a slideshow on my nerdy vice, that I forgot to post a weekly ‘reflection’…

I wanted to touch upon the argument on which is more relevant while deciding if a building needs to be preserved or not; the person that lived there, the event that occurred, or the style/era it was constructed in.

Growing up in a suburb of Boston, I saw many places (Paul Revere’s house, etc) that weren’t structurally impressive, nor did any specific event occur there. The mere fact that a founding father used to sleep there (think – ‘Abe Lincoln slept here’ for Boise…) makes this otherwise unimpressive structure, historically significant. Since a non-profit organization runs the Paul Revere house, I don’t have any quarrels with this site being preserved. If it were a state owned facility, I would be singing a different tune.

In working with the Idaho State Historical Society, there were many projects, sites, etc. where our resources were exhausted in trying to even maintain certain areas. One is the Stricker House and Rock Creek Station located outside of Kimberly, Idaho. I originally wrote a long article on this for my blog post, so be grateful that I deleted it (no one wants to hear a former Historian complain). In the case of this site, it annoyed me that the ISHS was spending time and money on a site where the yearly visitors barely numbered in the hundreds – with no attempts to improve the patronage.

Without going into a long rant, my view is that the buildings, sites, etc should be viewed in their cultural context. Is the site THAT significant, where it needs to be maintained and preserved for future generations to immerse themselves. Or is it just us being entirely too sentimental about a place that is only important when someone suggests it being otherwise?

Hey everyone!!

So, Dr M-B is having me talk for a little bit on the preservation work I’ve done… the site I’ll be talking about will be a 1939 CCC building at the first YMCA camp in the country, in Silver Falls, OR.

To get a feel for the CCC and their place in history (and thus why it’s important to remember through preservation), here’s a VERY well done PBS documentary on the CCC… Less than an hour long, and available either through the link below, or if you have streaming Netflix, do a search for “American Experience: Civilian Conservation Corps”





Denying History

For the second week in a row, the reading provokes me to recall Intro to the Study of History…. Dr. Walker would be proud.

Chapter 3 in this week’s reading focuses on a similar aspect of political correctness that was the focus of last week’s discussion on the Enola Gay. How can you properly pay homage to an event that was so devastating for an entire nation, and is still recent enough in our history to raise concerns about offending direct decedents, or those who actually experienced the atrocities. I will not focus on that, though… (as I’m sure it’s going to be a popular blog subject)

My focus for this analysis is in the role history deniers play in the public’s perception of an event such as the Holocaust. An overwhelming majority of the global population acknowledges the Holocaust had happened, and with little dispute to the facts and figures attributed to the event. However, a small percentage of individuals claim that this never happened. These people are a part of a larger group known as ‘historical deniers’, and can also range from those who think that 9/11 was an inside job or other conspiracy theories involving national or global events.

A popular notion is that history is written by the victors. While true in the case of the Enola Gay and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there weren’t any true ‘winners’ in the Holocaust; the Jews were submissive, and the Nazis eventually surrendered. This is one of the truly tragic events that require a great deal of care when telling the story. Because of the timidness of the event itself, this leaves room for deniers to gain a sense of proof in their claims.

Deniers not only hold lectures, write books, and appear on the news and talk shows, but they also influence pop culture. Controversial images can be seen in art work and other mediums, such as music. A group that seems to embody the historical denier stance in regards to the Holocaust is the pop duet, Prussian Blue. This set of fraternal twins of Aryan descent sing largely about white supremacy, but also recall a history that they not only didn’t live, but also likely were taught a distorted view from like-minded individuals. Even their name, ‘Prussian Blue’, is referring to the blueish residue left in the gas chambers by the chemical Zyklon B, of which history deniers claim that the lack of this residue in the chambers prove that this execution style never took place. Rather than looking at the large picture, such as the millions of Jews who went ‘missing’ during this era, they find miniscule details and attempt to discredit the case of scholarly Historians.

My hope in bringing this up, is to reaffirm the point that history is largely bias. When reading a text, listening to a lecture, or viewing an exhibit, keep in mind that both the original event or document as well as the analysis were written by people – and by nature, people are bias to their own cause. While our case may sound sane and correct, there will always be someone out there who views it differently. Who knows, we may be the crazy ones who are out of touch with society. Even us noble Historians…

History Wars

**keep in mind, the references to History Wars is off of memory… I didn’t have enough free time to go back and cite the book… it is an EXTREMELY interesting read, though!**

As soon as I read the first few paragraphs of Museum Politics, I knew what I was going to write on. Luckily (for you), Chapter 2 went into the specifics of the case that I had in mind. Thankfully, this results in a shorter blog…

During my ‘Intro to the Study of History’ course with Dr. Walker as an undergrad, our main focus for the semester was a mix between history deniers and the public politics in telling History. One of the assigned books (which I still have in my collection) is History Wars by Linenthal and Engelhardt. This book goes into great detail about the various scripts presented to the Smithsonian on how the Enola Gay should be displayed.

A bit or irony in this, is that there was never a doubt in anyone’s mind as to the significance of the aircraft, however the emotions of both sides actually led to the negligence of the Enola Gay. History Wars describes the condition the aircraft was kept in by the time it had reached Andrews AFB; which from what I recall was outside, adjacent to an aircraft hanger, ridden with graffiti, vandalism, and natural decay. So much for a treasured artifact of American History…

One of the scripts that I sided with (one of our assignments was to pick a script, and defend it in class against others who disagreed) was a fairly simple display that allowed the visitor to immerse themselves in the events of August 6, 1945. This display called for the Enola Gay to be in the center of a room, surrounded by artifacts from the blast site (one of which being Shigeru Orimen’s lunch box), with the walls of the exhibit to be life sized 360 degree views of ground zero. This would be a perfect exhibit in my mind; here is the plane, and this is what it did.

To me, this script avoids the two conflicts which were honoring the veterans vs. showing the atrocities of war. One classmate of mine angered me when he stated “this is the Smithsonian, though. Its job is to make the visitors feel patriotic.”…

Um, no.

The Smithsonian is a museum. It’s job is to tell the story of American History, some of which is not entirely glamorous. Anyone who truly believes that American History is pristine and without any blemishes, is beyond naive. Our country was founded, and has been preserved, by human beings. These humans made some questionable decisions and performed many questionable acts, but in the end, the country’s perseverance was the motivating factor. Some actions are not forgiven if the only excuse is for a pursuit of valor, however in war, these atrocities are almost expected.

If diplomacy was possible, war would not be.

Stanford’s Spacial History

The work that Stanford is doing for spacial history is truly remarkable. Their embrace of new, and foresight of developing technologies is going to revolutionize the way everyday Americans can study history, and the way Historians can interpret their findings. The most direct way you can teach someone about a certain topic is to show them first hand. Since both Washington D.C. and the Western railroads have seen significant change, if not demolition, over the last few hundred years, by showing the general public what ‘used to be’ gives them a first hand perspective that may not have been obtainable otherwise.

The challenge for a Historian is to ignite the imagination of the common public. By developing spacial history, Stanford is setting a visual standard so that even the most unimaginative person is able to enjoy the same immersion as one who is more practiced. The two topics Stanford has tackled are easily among the most important in U.S. History. The District of Columbia is the epicenter for all national matters, in addition to holding some of the most historically significant artifacts and museums in the world, and without Westward expansion by way of the railroads, our history could be drastically different than how we know it today.

Listening to history…

Over my nearly three year tenure at the Idaho State Historical Society, I had the opportunity to work alongside some of the most passionate Historians in the state. I also had the opportunity to take part in other projects outside of my field, as well as perform projects of personal interest. Through this, I was able to witness others in their area of expertise and see first hand just how Idaho’s history was compiled.

I had met Ellen Haffner while a Historical Interpreter at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. She had been employed at the archives as an Oral History Assistant, while also filling in at the Old Pen during my training and other staff changes. Currently, Ellen is a Research Assistant at the Idaho State Archives within the Idaho State Historical Society, a title which has broadened her work from Oral History into other archival based research methods.

Ellen’s path to work in public history started out as an internship in 2005 while seeking her undergraduate degree in History from Boise State. An internship is the most common path towards a position within a state agency, however there are still a few, myself included, who were able to gain a waged entry-level position. Originally attending Boise State to teach, her personal interest in audible history directed her down the career path she is currently on.

The day to day operations of a Research Assistant are broad, however strategically planned in order to assist the mission of the ISHS. While attending to the specific needs of the agency, Ellen is granted a certain level of freedom in how she pursues the goal. In the archives, there are paper documents, audio tapes, pictures, maps, architectural plans, and other forms of recorded history at her fingertips, and any combination of these can be used to acquire specific information requested of the ISHS.

What most people may not know, is Ellen and other employees of the archives are largely there to cater to the citizens of Idaho. The inquiry an archivist could be researching may have originated by anyone from a judge or lawyer trying to find further evidence in a case, to a curious citizen who wants to know more about one of their relatives. In the past few years, the Idaho State Historical Society, especially the archives, has been relying more heavily on catering to the general public. This commitment to getting citizens to walk through their doors and become interested in the various sites throughout the State will only help the sustainability of the various sites as well as the agency as a whole. The service of a professional Historian at the archives is free of charge; the only time they’ll request money of you is for a photocopy of any item you desire (and they are legally able to give).

While an employee, I was fortunate enough to be asked to partake in an Oral History project for the Idaho State Historical Society. A few years ago, the Idaho History Museum developed a temporary exhibit about the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, or Freemasons, and their history in Idaho. I had been a recently initiated Mason, and was requested to be interviewed in order to get a young person’s perspective of Masonic membership. The process was a series of planned, as well as improvised questions which ended up feeling more like an inquisitive conversation than anything else. After my interview was completed, I was given a CD containing the recording of the interview, as well as the transcript that Ellen had typed; both of which were now to become a permanent part of the Archives of the Idaho State Archives.

Oral History is one of the oldest forms of storytelling, education, and preservation of the past. This field is unique in that it has developed and progressed alongside technological advances. From wax cylinders to tape recorders, the voices of the past have all been recorded so that future generations can not only hear history, but also in the voices that lived it. Digital technologies promise a strong future in the field, once the original cost hurdles are passed. Like any new, developing technology, original equipment cost can certainly overwhelm any state budget (especially in a economic downturn), however, the technology’s longevity and quality cannot be matched by any predecessor and will eventually be a necessity in the field.

As a former professional Historian, I can immediately recognize why Ellen pursued Oral History as a career path.No matter what aspect of history someone works in, their job boils down to storytelling. It’s Ellen’s job to compile the stories, and preserve them so that future generations can hear them.

The simple act of creating a trail…

Public History isn’t exactly in the vocabulary of Bostonians. Though this may be surprising to those not fortunate enough to have been raised in the fair Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when you live day-in and day-out in a city-sized museum, giving a title to it seems arbitrary.

Since initial settlement of what is now known as Boston, it has been up to the individual citizens, politicians, and Bostonians of all walks of life to remember, preserve, and create history. Up until the middle of the 20th century, this was all done independently. All of the sites and relics of the history of our nation that happened to be within the city limits were independent of each other, linked only by the story they told. This queued the interest of Bill Schofield in March 1951, and led him to establish one of the more iconic tourist destinations for the public.

Schofield became frustrated at the lack of publicity and accessibility of the historic sites in Boston, especially in being a local. In imagining the missed opportunities by tourists who may not even know what to look for, Schofield gathered his resources and made the first attempt of this venture in his very own medium; the newspaper in which he was a columnist. He called out to politicians, historians, site employees, and the common Bostonian to implement the idea which is now known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.

By June of the same year, Bill Schofield’s vision was realized as Mayor Hynes responded to his public outcry by stating that the city would be taking steps to establish, and begin development of the Freedom Trail. What began simply as signage and brochure guides has grown into a thriving public service that has paid limitless dividends to the city of Boston in tourism, economic growth, and publicity. For an already iconic city, the Freedom Trail gave the non-locals a way to fully immerse themselves in the history of Boston, and those events that played a vital role in the development of the Republic.

Today, the Freedom Trail sits subtly in the surroundings of a bustling city. What distinguishes the trail from the rest of the city is in the signage as well as the famous red paint and brick walkway that acts as a guide to the independent tourist (and their clever tagline, “So much history, we had to draw a line”).

One of the more popular aspects of the Freedom Trail is the “Walk Into History Tour”. This is where costumed guides will lead groups through various parts of the trail, or focusing on specific buildings or areas that are a part of the semi-official 16 sites. The Freedom Trail Foundation is the non-profit organization that runs and operates the trail in maintenance, tour development, and special events such as the African American Patriots tour that is now being advertised on their website.

Day in History – Costumed Guide

The beautiful thing about the Freedom Trail is that the entire idea is simple and universal, yet drastically changed the city and brought new light to venues that were at risk of losing their public relevance. As any Historian will confess, the public is the fuel that operates any history-based organization. If the public is not interested, or does not go to your museum or site, then public funding and support will disappear with it. The Freedom Trail brought new life to sites that were in danger of such a fate, and can serve as a model for any city.

Freedom Trail Guide

While the title of the ‘Freedom Trail’ certainly wouldn’t tie in with Boise History, some other platforms could be considered. For the sake of argument, how about the ‘Chinese Path Through Boise’? A guided tour of the relics and former cultural areas of Boise. This could include the locations of China Town (now reduced to a single building, housing a laundry service), along with a tour of the Chinese Gardens (now known as Chinden Boulevard), concluding with an interpretive exhibit of the miners who initiated the wave of Chinese immigration into the Boise area. Just imagine – those binocular viewers that are spread throughout the city may actually get some use, and make sense!

The main theory behind this nerdy rant on the awesomeness (a grammatically correct, and perfectly descriptive adjective) of the Freedom Trail, is that if separate sites are suffering from a lack of interest or publicity opportunities, then the best bet is to combine forces. Although the sites still operate independently, the 16 locations on the Freedom Trail now experience a level of popularity that would have been nearly impossible had it not been for the vision of Bill Schofield and the continued efforts of the Freedom Trail Foundation.


My ability to be provoked into a tirade over one word will never cease to amaze me. Today, this word is ‘fossil’. However, this is an agreeable tirade; more of an elaboration to what has already been read (presumably by everyone in the class… you know, considering it was assigned).

This trigger word occurred early in the reading, specifically on page 105. The term was initially used to describe the cultural significance of a structure, the bungalow, which was so commonplace that it was largely considered quite insignificant. This rant based on the word ‘fossil’ is two-fold. Peirce Lewis also describes the importance of vocabulary and preliminary research that greatly assists in discovering the true meaning behind these cultural landscapes. While he focuses mainly on alluvial fans and architectural terms, mine would be on the importance of how words can be used creatively in order to make the observer use a different approach in their analysis. In this case, ‘fossil’, when viewed as an analogy, can open up an even greater understanding of this seemingly unimportant structure and why any Historian would devote time and effort into its study.

In the archaeological world, a fossil is a window into the past. You get to see the biology, culture, and so much more in one imprint of anything from a footprint, to a leaf, or even remains. To connect this word with historical implications, something as modest as a suburban domicile can give a prepared inquisitor, a multi-layered view of the world that created said home. From looking at said bungalow in the same context as a fossil, the artistic movements of the period, needs and amenities of the suburban family, and any other culturally significant attribute could be discovered and would help paint a more accurate picture with far greater depth in a more expedient nature.

The reason I studied History as an undergrad, and gained employment in the field could be described through the word ‘fossil’. Every physical object in this world is a fossil – from my modest North End apartment, to the capitol building, or my friend’s rusty 1982 Volkswagen. If you approach every aspect of the cultural landscape that surrounds you with this mindset, an entirely new world will open up in front of you.

Cultural Landscapes…

“To Pity the Plumage, and Forget the Dying Bird” truly hit home for this humble social scientist. The images J.B. Jackson portrayed in this selection embodied the exact reason why I developed an unbridled fascination with History, Historic Preservation, and the sociology of these objects and events that connect people to their past.

Growing up, I would always be fascinated by an old building. It didn’t matter if it was a factory, library, home, or warehouse; I wanted to know everything about it. This especially rang true for buildings that in their design or stature alone, the adage ‘if these walls could talk’ would repeat endlessly. I have been lucky enough to experience quite a bit in my brief 24 years, including traveling to 27 states and three countries. I have resided in suburbia, one of the largest cities in the world, as well as one of the last remaining rural regions with untouched natural beauty. In each of these different locations, the character of the city or town could easily be observed in the landscapes that surround you. The natural beauty that exists in agricultural areas is indescribable, however the dilapidated Main St. haunts the town with an overwhelming presence of poverty and struggle.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the commercialism and endless development of a major city removes any natural beauty that may have existed before. In addition to natural landscapes, structures of historical or sentimental significance are overshadowed and dwarfed by the sky-scraping monuments to capitalism. In either sense, the appreciation for what was, or always had been, is overtaken by the infinite demand to obtain, construct, and progress.

All too often the localities that are the heart of this nation and its essential services are long forgotten in the rustic natural beauty that surrounds them. The wonderful thing about the cultural landscape, is that it provides an abridged history of the town or city and its people, that may have otherwise been forgotten.