Identity Crisis

It was in a short video about the Spanish Civil War and Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA)—the Basque militant, and de facto terrorist, political faction—that I saw an interview with an elderly Basque man who had seen the violence and experienced the repression of Franquist Spain. In the interview he said something very interesting to me, and pertinent to the discussion of conservatism. (I’ll paraphrase, as I cannot remember the exact quote) The effect of the quote was “I think that a person who has something, who owns something, is naturally going to be a conservative, because he has something that he wants to keep.” First of all is the obvious reality of the quote, that a person who is a conservative has something to conserve. The second point is in relation to the readings, and in particular Dr. Carlson’s. That point is that conservatism boomed in direct correlation to a boom in wealth in the United States. Personally, I had not realized how reliant this country was on social systems prior to the industrial boom of post-WWII society until I began studying local history. Even through the boom there was a great deal of dependence on what could be considered communal systems. Though based solely on anecdotal observations, it seems to me that wealth causes division among humans. Weather it does so on a class level as Marx suggested, or merely at the individual level, it seems painfully obvious that there is a divide when wealth comes in the picture. Having said that, I still consider myself a conservative, despite my abysmal poverty, and an individualist, despite my recognition that I require community, and a Christian, despite my extreme disappointment with what I observe as practical Christianity in the United States.

Hi-ho Silver—to the readings…

(disclaimer: I must preface the remainder of my comments by forthrightly stating that I have numerous withholdings in calling myself a conservative, philosophical and practical as well as literate. I find many conservatives to be off-putting in how they go about stating their objectives, some in what their objectives are. I don’t like the fact that so often conservatives present themselves as soulless ignoramuses, preaching morality and practicing something entirely different. I am frustrated by the lack of practical application of many of their conclusions as well as their stubborn, stiff-neckedness toward any suggestion of meaningful discussion or compromise. Having said all of that, most of those sentiments are equally applicable toward the other side of the coin as well. I detest what I often refer to as “bipolarism,” which is not a reference to the disease, and bear resemblance to Hegelian Opposites. I DON’T LIKE THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM! I think that Americans have been duped by the political forces that rule the land, and largely by an education system that perpetuates the discord via ardent support among the educators of a left of center ideal to a rather extreme degree. All this to say that I am a hard-core centrist with very strong antipathy toward any sort of real identification with any one particular perspective.)

I shall begin with what I thought was a true historical analysis without the political edge that I felt in many of the readings. I will devote an entire paragraph to the longest of these articles, and here it is: Dr. Carlson provided a well-structured and fair analysis of the history of conservatism. I thought it was rooted well in historical evidence, and supported by good sources. There, now wasn’t that nice?

Now on to the more fun stuff:

One element of politics that has always made me angry is the use of personally debasing statements to make a point. Case-in-point, Ken Taylor on The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth referred to the “idiots on the left.” Now really people, not conservatism’s best side. Oh, don’t worry, the Left has their catchphrase cuts for the “Christofascists” on the Right too. It is in fact for this reason that I never went into debate. Every time I was in a debate and trying to stick to the facts and interpretation thereof, my opponent would start throwing out personal attacks, and it just seemed to defeat the purpose of the whole practice, especially when they would win—not because their interpretation was better, but because they were better at making me look bad. At any rate, back to conservatives…I don’t like that quick reductionism that many conservatives leap to. Conservatism can be defended and it can be intellectually valid, but it’s adherents are destroying it. They do so with a complete and total failure to acknowledge the need to compromise by carrying everything to its extreme through a logic that always fails to provide a holistic argument and totally reduces any and every issue to a liberal misinterpretation of the constitution. So this is intended as a cheeky swipe at conservatives using their own methods, but, seriously, through the readings this week, it was hard to miss how quickly each author jumped from addressing an actual issue to attacking the liberals and their disdain for the constitution (should that be capitalized? Like, if it’s not, am I just talking about someone’s general physical propencities?). The point is that conservatives, by toting the Hegelian ideal don’t really help the situation of American politics.

I would also like to address the issue of “Christianity” and conservative America. Despite my identification with both groups, it borders on offensiveness to me when a pastor/minister/reverend/priest/bishop—I specifically am singling out “Christian” leaders—uses his position and church as a platform for politics. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are issues where “Christians” should draw their line and fight for it, but that does not mean that church leaders should influence their congregation from the pulpit. It was that very behavior that led to the health/wealth gospel, the Billy Graham era and Reganocracy. This is a really tricky issue, because so often in the world religious or philosophical circles overlap political circles in some sort of strange Venn diagram. Yet—and I cannot overstate this—Christians must learn to develop their own philosophies and ministers must stop preaching a political gospel. The level of politics in American churches today has so poisoned the church that an organization—and I believe that a church is not a place, but people—that ought to be a refuge has become circles of scorn for those with differing politics. It has given rise to a generation like myself who despises the church, but eventually realizes it is not the church they despise, but anti-Christian exceptionalism embraced by the church.

In the reading this week, as I often find in conservative politics, I saw this disturbing conflagration of church/politics. Or of Christian/politics, and it disturbed me as it usually does. While I believe that the church has a right, and a responsibility to its people to discuss morality, I don’t think it has a right to impose its morals as such upon the broader swath of society. While I may argue that certain moral decisions within the secular sphere would benefit from a Christian ethic, I try to limit my arguments to secular arguments. I will grant that this is not an exact or perfect practice, but it is a practice, and it is the only practice that I have found that allows me to remain honest to myself and my faith. I feel one of the most exceptional examples of the Christian/politics crossover was the article on J. E. Dyer’s blog that discussed Islam and tried to defend an exception to freedom of religion in its case.

Finally—and I swear this is the last point in an already wordy post—I want to point out the use of “State” and “State’s Rights” among conservatives, particularly in Dyer’s blog, The Optimist Conservative. A general trend I have noted among conservatives is a misunderstanding of what the word “State” means. I think this misunderstanding is aided by a federalist governmental system that overarches individual states. Generally, when the word “State” is used in politics worldwide, it is used to refer to an independently classified entity with an independent government and a people that are united under some degree of mutuality. The states of the United States, are only semi-autonomous, and as such, are not really states, they are at best, provinces. This reality might fly in the face of what hard-core libertarians would like to think is the ideal, but it is the reality. In the case of the United States, the federal government by-and-large is the only thing that may be referred to as state. This being the case, when the constitution refers to the separation of Church and State, it does not indicate individual states that may choose their own stance on religion within, but the separation of Church from Government, and Government from Church. In this case, the “State” referred to is the federal government, not municipal or provincial governments. It makes for a great difference in interpretation of the constitution and the Bill of Rights.

I’d like to conclude that while I am happy that we read some from the conservative side of the spectrum, I feel that for me it was just white noise. I read a good selection from many different sides of things on a regular basis and I find off-center extremes are not where I find the most identification.


I want to be very honest here: I did not plan on liking Our Unprotected Heritage. In fact, I did not want to like it. Taken one level further, I wanted very badly to dislike the book. After reading it, I cannot say that I liked it, but I also cannot say that I disliked it. I believe the specific word to describe my feelings is “ambivalent.” In short, I don’t think King produced a book that said, or did, anything. Following are my thoughts.

First off, please note that I seek in my own life to resolve emotion, heritage, belief, knowledge and existence. That may be a tall order, but I believe that it can be done. What it almost inevitably leads me to is hypocrisy in my own life, and judgment and criticism of others. Such criticism leads me to the realization that, while another has created something, my criticism of it may well emanate from my own insecurity and inability to create. It’s all a vicious cycle. I express this only to clarify that while I am being critical in the following, I recognize that it may come from a position of insecurity. Basically, I believe that my criticism of King’s work might be accused of the very flaws of which I accuse him.

Let me begin with the cover and title of the book. I have expressed before that I react very harshly against things that smack of vogue, uneducated responses to any issue. While I do not mean to call King uneducated, because he has so much more knowledge on the subject than do I, I mean to make a judgment about the audience that I feel will likely pick up this book. This audience, I believe, have chosen their battle, they have become ever more entrenched in a system that seeks its own preservation to the ignorance (the culture, not the people within it) of the greater operation of the world. They are systems that are built upon process with little concern for a well-drawn philosophy. Though the philosophy exists, it is debated quite separately from the processes. It all becomes somewhat of a religion, the religion or preservation. Even the early preservation systems in our great nation were societies—clubs, or groups that met on a regular basis to discuss the conversion of the masses to their high-calling. The difficulty I have with this is the same struggle I have with a great part of the Christian world–or any other religion–it seems to me to be an uninformed following that reassures itself that its premises are right, moral, ethical and should be followed. I guess I am just jealous that I am not monetizing this faith. The point being that I feel that those who will read this book are those who want to reinforce their own perspectives an practices.

The cover, the title, by using terms like “whitewashing” and “destruction of our cultural…”—and even “Unprotected”—set the reader up for toking on preservationist pot. It immediately causes any person who believes himself to be informed to call up schemas of father communal property to save him from evil corporatism. And from word one in the book, the reader is not disappointed, for “Darkside Development Corporation” is at it again to raze every shred of evidence from the past. I knew right there exactly where the book was headed: these evil corporate Satans desire that nothing should be remembered and it is up to intelligent people to balance the scales. So with the help of some haphazard government intervention in the late sixties preservationists are at leading the charge to attack the developers and save that ramshackle shack that you grew up in. What I appreciated was that the line item preservationist mantra was not what King wrote.

Though King began the work with what might be considered standard preservationist arguments about heritage and environment, he did depart in that he chose the path of criticism of the very system that is usually touted as the salvation, or at least a primary tool of preservationists. To a degree I appreciated Ira Beckerman’s assessment in the Afterword. What I liked was that Ira indicated that there is a fundamental problem with the preservation systems at the cultural-philosophical level, rather than a problem immediately with the preservation systems. My appreciation for that assessment comes from the belief that there should be a strong philosophical underpinning to any process. And it was on that same level that I felt King’s argument failed. I struggled through the book to understand whether King thinks that the preservation systems (NHPA and NEPA in particular) should be used and revised, or abandoned altogether. I think that this feeling came from the fact that King himself is a little conflicted. While he seemed to praise the original construction and intent of the preservation systems, he was very critical of the processes that those systems use. He even identified himself as being a “fan of good process.” This conflict—that basically made the book unique—created a frustration for me as a reader when King would attempt to support the preservation systems and immediately u-turn and criticize them.

On a similar thread to his seeming two-faced presentation of the systems was the frustrating fact that even though he broached the subject of philosophy of preservation practice, there was little to no real discussion of its actual necessity. King’s argument, like so much within the preservation world, assumed that preservation is necessary and good, without explaining exactly why. Because of this, I would like to circle back to my prior argument of self-preserving groups—they usually attempt to keep followers busy with process and shield them from critical analysis of philosophy: “What you do is good and it has value because you are doing it.” There was a slight exception in the case of Our Unprotected Heritage and that came from King’s acknowledgement that preservation is not always the “good” thing when considering the human environment.

My last criticism of King’s book comes from the fact that it often read like a conspiracy theory. It was as if the Government and Corporations were/are working very closely together to destroy the natural environment of its people, at any cost. He talked about the blind “rubber stamping” of projects that maybe shouldn’t have gone forward without more criticism or more environmental assessments. But would follow up with things like, “It doesn’t take much imagination to guess” why they had not done those. One of the primary lessons that I have learned from academia is that conspiracy theorists are loonies that speculate about things that they don’t know and they can be spotted by their conspicuous use of phrases like “It doesn’t take much imagination.” (Maybe, but you do admit that it does take imagination). The point being that an academic worth his weight should be expected to stick to what is known and what can be proven. Journalistic speculation leads to innocent 17 year old high school track runners being plastered on the front of the New York Post as bombing suspects. There is room for interpretation, just don’t make yourself sound like a boob.

In the end, I didn’t really feel that King offered anything new. I felt the high points of the work were balanced by the lows, the valid arguments were offset by silly speculation, and his focus on process reform at the expense of philosophy equated to a wash. It was like I had read nothing. I couldn’t strongly like it or dislike it. It was not really new information, or even new interpretation. Ultimately, I am completely ambivalent toward it. From a critical standpoint it was like a chartreuse panel on a neon quilt, not off enough to make it stand out, not alike enough to make it blend in. Maybe that is a good thing. I really don’t know.

What I can say is that I am looking forward to discussion on the subject.

And the Band Played On…

I would like to say that I had the time, and length of page to fully develop all of my thoughts and feelings on the subject of ethical quandaries in the practice of public history. I would like to say that I agreed with one or the other side, or that I felt it my passionate responsibility to correct others’ misinformation and misunderstandings. If only I could understand the community mindset that drives the academic practice and educational process, perhaps then I could say I agreed with something, anything, whole-heartedly. But the fact for me is that I do not. For myself it seems just as dangerous to toe the line of academic communally agreed upon knowledge as the right-wing nut-jobs that still insist on a White House conspiracy causing the nine-eleven attacks. The immediate argument on the academic side is to hedge bets, to err on the side of caution, to go where the evidence leads, to trust the convergence of evidence. On the other side there is the terribly persuasive—if not a little sexy—“How do you know that they are not all in collusion to lead you astray?” Now, aside from the questions of collusion and who “they” are, I must plead guilty to a inquisitive spirit that does not like to let a question be. What I mean by that is that even after academic history as an institution has thoroughly vetted a question and considers it answered, I will remain, firmly, stubbornly planted to any question that I do not feel has been fully and satisfactorily answered. I think that this behavior is relatively common among historians, but not absolute as this week’s readings indicated.

Typically, my issues with the readings were not so much with the immediate content, but with the philosophies that I see entrenched behind the content. It would seem that within the corporate world—what many would refer to as the “real world”—white, male, middle-aged humans hold the power and create relationships and groups that prop up their status and position in an effort to make more money, gain more power and ultimately have more control over things and people. It would also seem that these men are heartless at times and without concern in dealing with the starving human condition in which those in their employ exist. Nor does it appear that they care for the environmental impact of where their decisions lead. Because of this general appearance, middle-aged, white men become an easy target—often too easy a target—at whose feet may be laid the general grievances of society. The avant-garde of this army of grievance expressionists is another group, a group that attempts to be balanced, but who too often find themselves mired in almost the exact same self-preservation system, just on the opposite side of the coin: the academics.

Perhaps I’ll start with the extremely accurate quote of the Native American woman: “We’ve been trying to educate the visitors for five hundred years; how long will it take to educate the visitors?” I found this quote particularly interesting because it expresses the frustration in the education process, as well the rigid inability of education to adapt meaningfully to change. It seems to me that what is present in our society is not so much a problem with misinformation, as it is a complete lack of internal reflection on either party mired in the frustrating battle between money and knowledge. When I look at the education system, I see nothing more than I see among white middle-aged men vying for power, it just happens to be an internal struggle for who gets to corner the market on knowledge rather than money. The economics are the same, only the currency has changed. Ultimately, the educational system would have itself as the ultimate power, controlling who gets what through a system of knowledge exchange. Is this not the purpose in using history to stop fracking? Is it not the purpose in perpetually taking issue with a relative minority that believes the Civil War was over state’s rights? Is it not the case in trying to educate on American internal colonialism? While I will be the first to agree that there were horrible things that were done to indigenous, as well as exogenous people, and that certain attitudes persist, I am enormously critical of any system that seeks change by inversion, particularly when that system ultimately seeks the same thing that its antagonist does: power.

To me it seems that what we have is two identical systems each trying to raise its flag higher and higher while slinging mud at the other in a war to determine who rules. In such a ridiculous and juvenile engagement, I feel it is best to ally with neither. If that makes me a defector, a rat, or a double agent, I am okay with that. It’s not my battle. Even as a historian it is not my battle to correct every error I run across, I can’t. This is the reality that I live in, a reality that recognizes that people are people, they will draw their beliefs and emotions into any situation, that is what makes them human. For me to activate those emotions and beliefs in an effort to twist and warp them to seeing “my side” seems to me the greatest unethical practice. It is no different than playing their material greed to get them to carry out my material will. Ask yourself after reading each of the articles this week whether you agreed with them or disagreed with them merely because of evidence, or if it was because it was presented in an emotionally warping manner? For me, there was a lot of philosophical errors in the articles, they made huge assumptions about the power of education and purpose of history, issues which were not addressed. For these reasons I choose neither to unite with those historians, nor declare them an enemy.

This is not about a Garden

I found this week’s reading rather light on substance. I feel that if I need an academic to tell me that I need to think outside of the box, I’m not really thinking outside of the box. It is like having to be told to be proactive. (It would seen that one being told to be proactive must have missed the boat on being proactive). I’m not sure whether these catchphrases are really and honestly parsed by those who use them. At any rate, that is my rant for the week, now to the business of the history business.

I read through the different articles and browsed the websites this week—I even signed up for The Versatile PhD, which I felt provided a greater scope of insight, or perhaps outsight than most of the other career focused jargon on the other websites. I chose to get my MA in history because I felt that of all the academic disciplines it provided the greatest scope. By that I mean that historians are trained thinkers and analyzers, taught, as one author this week put it, “to assess conflicting interpretations.” I also have discovered along the way that many employers value a history degree, even when it does not directly relate to the position for which they are hiring, because they believe that these people have the ability to bring together data and create understandings about that data. Historians also tend to withhold judgment toward more fringe interpretations. In a world as fast moving as technology, these are very desirable skills. Historians do have one great flaw, by and large, however: over-analysis, and sometimes, stagnation of thought.

As I read through the websites and considered the data presented on the Department of Labor website, I considered whether this is all being too thought. I have heard so many times from professors, bosses, teachers, even some of my students, parents, spouse, family in general, friends, etc, “You’re overthinking this.” In talking to my colleagues that practice history, I hear the same story from them; that they have been told the same thing. So maybe all this talk of career is being greatly overthought. At first I thought the statistics were depressing, but then I realized, “Hey, I don’t have to be a statistic.” Just because x is what everyone else does with their history degree does not mean that I have to do x. I have a particular set of skills that works for me, others have their own. In truth, just because I am not directly employing my skills in history, does not mean that they are not being used. Skills are a part of who I am, which means that I will use them somehow in whatever I do. Having spent nearly four years (and tens of thousands of dollars) getting a graduate degree, I would hope that I want to more directly employ these skills.

Back to the issue of getting out of the box. In order for a person to really emancipate himself from the box, he must remove himself as a whole, body, mind and soul from that system. When we talk about a box, we are speaking of a system. It would be foolish to say that I was out of a box if I was simply imagining what the outside looked like while I remained firmly locked in the box. Likewise, it would be a simple mind who, having been liberated from the box, kept his mind entrenched in thinking about the comforts and ease of being in the box. (BTW, for those who were with me in 501, remember the fishbowls? This is very similar) In terms of academia, or whatever you may call it, as a system of thought, it is based on data analysis and scientific method with some good old fashioned common sense thrown in the mix. Academics are taught to withhold judgment until the data has all been analyzed and an interpretation has been sussed from that analysis. I felt like that was much of the reading this week, we were being told that it was a different system of considering employment for historians, but it amounted to being simply different ideas within the same system. I found myself still analyzing the data for historians, looking at the jobs that historians get and trying to draw new conclusions based on the same evidence in the same system. This I didn’t like.

Perhaps it is just me that got trapped in that thinking as I read, or perhaps not. What I do know is that I do not plan on spending my life and time in the academic system. There are so many other systems tow which I could apply myself, why stick within only one.

I did find some of the results of USA jobs quite fascinating when I searched for historian, because many of them were not historian jobs at all. They were, however, still within a more, or less, similar vein of thinking to the academic system, since Government seems to mimic the academic models in many ways. What I find more interesting is a search on Monster, or other job sites that list private businesses seeking employees. While many of those are large corporations, or institutional companies (private museums and educational facilities), there are a few that are smaller businesses. To some degree, even large corporations operate as institutions, and along the same systems that are employed in academic institutions, so I am more interested in small businesses that think differently; businesses that are developing their own systems of government and new ways of performing work. These are the businesses that are experimental in how they perform, and create systems that adapt quickly, rather than to bleed dry resources then panic as they realize that their system is no longer working.

There was another great article published this week in Forbes that addressed the issue of an entity that actually manages to work on a different system with great success: BSU Football. And Yes, I said Forbes, not Sports Illustrated. In order to make things work, and to continue to make them work, the bar for setting expectations must constantly be addressed and redressed. Such thinking is indicative of organizational out-of-the-box thinking.

How does this all play into historians and finding a job? Well, it is simple, first think out of the box, get out of the box and be out of the box. Look to make a paradigm shift within your own life, thought and existence. Reflection can provide some good insight, but it can also create a very enclosed box. While the reading this week is perhaps a good starting point, it is not a paradigmatic shift in thought or process. It does not raise the bar for where historians can achieve excellence, it maintains a firm root in academic systems of thought and analysis. I think for those who are of a like mind to myself Guillebeau’s book was far more insightful.

I told you it wasn’t about a garden. What did you expect?

Creating Value

In recent years the depressed economy has created opportunity by necessity. So many people without jobs have decided that since failure is a guaranteed anyway, they might as well go out with a bang and doing something they love. It seems that it should go without saying that people will not always pay for what others love, but that point does need to be made. Chris Guillebeau did make a good point of reminding his reader of that very thing. Guillebeau’s whole message, the idea of a simple, passion-driven, micro-startup is one that should resonate with many. I was raised by a father who started and ran his own business for many of my growing up years, to a degree it was a very successful business, but as the success has faded with that business the discourse has grown in the family over how to develop a successful plan doing the things we like to do. I read Guillebeau’s book within the first couple of weeks after I received it, the first half in a single setting in bed until about two in the morning. I immediately referred my wife to read it and this past week it has been in her stack of reading. The point is that Guillebeau has written an excellent guide, not a philosophical discourse on ways of thinking about business and passion, but a hands on guide for actually doing it. While there are many who may not understand the value in Guillebeau’s suggestions, it is nonetheless a book that can increase one’s understanding of making a business succeed.


When I came to the history department, I was relatively confident that I wanted to teach and that I wanted to pursue a doctorate in the subject. As the disillusionment began to develop over the semesters, and my own life took a couple of turns, I had to face the fact that my passion was, and is, not in teaching, in the classical academic setting. Ultimately, I am working on a degree so that I can provide a living for my family and it so happens that I am passionate about history, but in a very awkward, sometimes anti-historical manner. What I have tried to develop is an understanding about the relationship between my passions for administration, hospitality, and history. The readings this week come as no surprise to me in a history course. They were written by people who have had to come to terms with the reality of the world, the reality that classic academia, while it may always exist, it fundamentally shifting and unless one has an advantage by the way of education of connection, getting the few positions that remain, is a near impossibility. The other thing that they had in common was the basic premise that one should work at what he is good at, and often what we are good at, is what we love. The difficulty becomes the indebtedness that often accompanies a degree of any sort. Such debt feels like a weight that makes it difficult to accept the possibility of making a salary on one’s own. In my own case, I feel as if I have enough debt (which is basically an economic risk) that I don’t want to take on more risk as an owner in a business. As Guillebeau pointed out, however, traditional jobs no longer provide the safe shelter that they used to.


What this all means for historians with shiny new degrees and no department or museum in which to hang their hats is either positive or negative, it comes down to philosophical positioning—do I groan and complain about a system that is saturated with workers, and not creating more jobs, and not paying for the jobs they do have? OR, do I accept the reality that those traditional jobs don’t exist anymore and grasp the opportunity that exists in other realms? I have to consider that many of the most revered universities and colleges in our country were not begun with a full staff that was offering cushy full-time positions. Maybe the situation in which we find ourselves now is an opportunity, not only to redefine who we are as historians, but what education is, how people learn and what value we offer.

Legos and Waterfalls

After reading, please click on the link at the end for some more information connected to this article.

My response to this week’s reading is hopefully going to be less scathing than in previous weeks. I am at heart a material activist. Though I spend much time considering and debating the mental and philosophical aspects of things, at the point where I resign myself to material activity, I actually enjoy the processes and procedures involved. I spend much of my free time, and a good portion of my work time involved in hands-on projects. Having said that, when I began reading about preservation technology, I was immediately and intimately enthralled to turn and read each page.

When I was growing up I was known to most of my friends, and many of their parents as “Zach the Lego Maniac,” which was a play on the ‘80s marketing campaign for Legos. I spent nearly every free hour and minute that I could playing with Legos. I would build everything from buildings and basic engines to entire play cities on a sheet of cardboard on which my sister and I had drawn streets, building lots, and parks. We would even sometimes designate buildings that were so cool that they could not be destroyed (we were little preservationists). One of my early works—probably when I was about six—was a house that I built in such a way as to have a stream running through and beneath it, not too unlike Fallingwater. I can only figure that having a father who had practiced as an architect, I must have seen a picture of the house and it so transfixed me that I had to do it myself. And so began what remains today an infatuation with Wright’s fabulous architecture. And here begins my interaction with our reading this week in Historic Preservation.

In the book Historic Preservation in Chapter Seven there was discussion about the historic reconstruction of Fallingwater, specifically the book discussed the paint sampling for conservation, I was shocked that Fallingwater was not mentioned for its more dramatic restoration efforts, specifically the famed cantilever balcony striated over the waterfall. The legend told, and it is purely anecdotal to my knowledge, is that after construction of the famous balcony, the engineers refused to remove the supports holding up the extreme ends of the balcony. Upon hearing this news Wright was so furious that he immediately left his office, went to the construction site and removed the piers himself. The balcony stood on its own, and did for many, many years. In the 1990s concern began to grow over the balcony’s decline—and when I say decline, I literally mean that it began to sag, droop, go down.

I believe that it was late in the ‘90s, when I was in high school, that the debate broke over whether it was right to right wright’s balcony, or whether it should be allowed to decompose according to natural order. As I recall, there were actually those who believed that natural order should be allowed to take its course. For me, for a few years, believing that Fallingwater was the pinnacle of architecture, this debate and trouble was quite central to my life. I watched as the preservationists and the environmentalists and the engineers and the architects fought over what I truly believed to be a part of myself. It was painful, I was actually distraught that anyone could be so careless with such a grand memory of mine. There was also a considerable amount of discussion over what era to reconstruct and decorate the house, and so forth. There was a small contingent who even believed that the piers should be rebuilt and inserted beneath the balcony ends. In the end, the balcony was saved, hoisted by cranes from the other side of the house, the old concrete largely removed, the steel girders and rebar replaced (as I recall) and the balcony refinished and repainted, assumedly with the appropriate colors. And I believe in 2002, the house opened for tours.

That little story was free. In it however, there were some strong connection with the reading from this week. Fallingwater is now—having been restored—in a state of conservation. That is, parts of it have been re-engineered to a modern standard, and it now must be tended to. Which raised the idea in my head that these practices of preservation, restoration, reconstruction, and conservation are not—and possibly never are—practiced singularly. They are, as most practices  mental or material, a rich tapestry of interaction. A preserved site would not be preserved long without conservation. A restored site is not likely to be completed entirely with original materials, there will be an element of reconstruction involved, and materials, despite using the same, are processed in modern fashions. Similarly, when it comes to restoring building without original plans, our modern world turns to computer-aided software rather than pencil and ink. Despite the modern touches and technology—that I believe greatly enhance the process and imagination and recreation—preservation is rich and fascinating.

Here’s a link to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s Fallingwater restoration page.

Reflection on Wiki Postings

My Wiki contributions may be found at:
Boise Wikipedia page under Culture, the section about Boise City Department of Arts and History
Boise Wiki, Garden City page, as well as some edits on the Chinden Blvd. page

For the Wiki Project I wrote on two different subjects, driven in part by content already available and in part based on information that I had available at the time. Overall the process was rather exacerbating, for several reasons. What I had initially planned on writing, and had already written for the most part, was not applicable to both wikis. Too, the great disparity between the two wikis editorial styles, ease of access, tools for editing, forms for finishing and editability would have made even the same article vastly different between the two. Finally, there were the issues unique to each wiki that were significant enough to make it such that even if the article or addition were written the same, it would have to be altered significantly enough to adapt to each. This last issue, fortunately could actually aid in avoiding plagiarism. For these reasons, the project was time consuming and frustrating, I will discuss each a little more in depth.

Initially, I had planned on writing about the Boise Department of Arts and History (BDA&H), creating a page on each wiki. I actually performed some research, and wrote the greater part of the article that I planned on submitting, before I dug too deep on either wiki. In retrospect, I would reverse this order, searching each wiki thoroughly to see if it exists. What I found was that the page for BDA&H actually existed at the Boise Wiki, and some of the content was conspicuously close to what I had written. Because of this, it was also not editable enough to make it a valid edit for the project. I then went to Wikipedia, where I assumed I would be able to create a new page for the department. After performing a search for it on Wikipedia, I did a quick find on the text of the Boise page to see if it was mentioned there. It was not. Upon this discovery, I planned on just copying my text onto a new page template, inserting the appropriate markups for references, and calling it good. What I found was more frustrating.

Wikipedia does not allow new pages for businesses or organizations unless they are considered “significant.” By Wikipedia standards, the department is not a significant organization. I turned to plan B which was to use what I had written as an addition to the Boise Wikipedia page. Most of what I had written, while unique, was not well adapted thematically to the Boise page, could be adjusted to fit under the “Culture” heading. My original article had bullet points, headings, and some content that concerned itself with things that had already been mentioned in the Wikipedia article, due to this I had to alter the structure and flow of my original work. I removed the bullet points, opting for a comma delimited list that fit better within the flow of the existing work. Before editing the page, I thoroughly read through the talk page to determine if there had been any discussion concerning my topic and there had not. Strangely, there has been little discussion on the subject of the Boise Wikipedia page in over two years. After reading the talk, I began the editing process.

I consider myself relatively tech savvy, when I want to be, and I am not a beginner in working with internet applications, however, Wikipedia is an entirely different monster with entirely different markup and usage. This was lesson number one as I approached the editing portion of the assignment. I worked quickly through the tutorials, but it was still a considerable amount of effort toward simply adding 300 words to an article.  Once I did begin editing, I found it useful, though somewhat time consuming, to use more skilled authors tags to encode pop outs for references. In the end, I spent the bulk of this assignment attempting to understand Wikipedia better from the backend. For this reason it was a frustrating assignment. If Wikipedia is not a method to further my career as a historian, or even really as a public historian, I feel as though it was time wasted. If it were universal code and markup that I could apply to more internet applications, it may have had some merit, but in the end it felt frustrating and not like time well spent. And with the Boise Wikipedia page so neglected of late, there was no notice or discussion of my changes.

Wikipedia finished, I turned my attention toward the Boise Wiki. I chose to write a small page on Garden City and its history, as it is relatively new and Boise and Garden City were one and the same until 1949. On the Boise Wiki what I found was less moderation, less “fancy coding”, which in turn led to less fancy pages. On the Boise Wiki I was able to copy and paste my work without a lot of effort and even hyperlinks created in MSWord copied without a problem. The experience was far more efficient, or at least less cumbersome.

Having trudged through the wiki authoring experience, I would summarize by saying that while there is a place for this consensus-based interaction and an attempt at establishing facts, I also believe that if it will not advance my career, I will likely spend little time on it. It appears to be a vault of trivialities that may be helpful for filling out a crossword, but for serious and penetrating research and rogation, it is impractical. Wikipedia, while it looks nice, the amount of knowledge that one would have to keep to just write a simple article and format it neatly, seems to interfere with the message that the article is conveying. Because of this, I wonder who it is that has time to worry about all the technicalities, and whether they have substantive knowledge about the subject on which they are writing.

It’s Easy to Criticize

“And how could we endure to live…if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back—if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?”
~ C. S. Lewis, from Out of the Silent Planet

When it comes to historic preservation, or history as a study in general, I find myself caught in the betwixt—mired in that place where the future is visible, but the past seems perpetually grabbing my ankle and drawing me back. The quote from C. S. Lewis was one I read not too long ago that I really connected with in trying to understand myself and my study. I suppose I consider myself somewhat of a neophyte, I love new, I love innovation—yet at the same time, I love the past with its passion for itself. This is my short preface that will hopefully give greater context to what may appear to be the words of someone who does not understand history, or preservation. For the sake of argument, as I develop my own perspectives and opinions, I like to assume the mentality of the antagonist, sometimes to the point that I appear to be that person that does not care. The fact is, I care a whole lot, but it is in an attempt to reconcile my own hypocrisy that I step apart from those opinions to understand others.

In reading the first few chapters of Historic Preservation within the first few pages the most notable element to me was a lack of philosophy. Historic preservation is a practice, not a consideration, per se. It has some philosophy behind it, but even the author of the book noted that historic preservation is defined more by doing that philosophy. This raised a very important question in my mind about whether it is good to do historic preservation. I would make an allusion to religion at this juncture, suggesting that most people understand religion as a practice of rites and rituals rather than a system of beliefs. In fact, most of those that would refer to the belief system of religion, would in practice pare the same into a rite, rather than a philosophy. It seems to me that it is just easier to judge a practice than it is a belief. One is expressive, the other impressive. Those who observe me, while they may infer my beliefs, can only do so on the basis of my activity. The same is true of history, particularly public history and preservation, it seems as though preservationists are lacking a strong, cohesive philosophy. This is likely greater the result of a strong, overt practice that seems to overshadow the philosophy. Yet, let us consider for a moment the implications of a lack of philosophy in preservation.

There must be a starting point for any study or practice, and often that starting point is equivalent to purpose. Let us assume, then that the starting point for historic preservation is, as noted in the book Historic Preservation, the protection and preservation of heritage. I want to deconstruct this idea and consider its constituent parts. In the book the author noted that historic preservation really began to make its way into the vocabulary and practices of American cities in the early twentieth century. At that time, much of what we know today as the contiguous United States had been gelled. Industrial growth began to make major headway and hard science started to become a mainstay in education. Wealth was far more abundant than it had been historically in most places elsewhere in the world, the frontiers had largely been defined as finite and men had begun to build dynasties that they hoped would live in perpetuum. In Historic Preservation the most important of these factors was noted as the closing of the frontier, however I think that the most important is the wealth. It seems that times of wealth frequently precede times of reflection, and a drive to reclaim some extraordinary past. It seems to me that with wealth comes the frustrating task of self-interpretation. A person with wealth does not have the luxury of simply surviving, as perhaps had his grandfather, his life becomes a defense of his accumulated wealth through self-identification through things and objects, attempting to connect with that past he feels he has lost. The practice of historic preservation then is born of wealth, not the closing of frontier or lack of prospects. And its purpose arises from the social need to defend and identify itself.

The question that I ask at this point is: is wealth and selfish identification with some idealized past good? As a society we are not moving backward, nor do we have the desire to do so, to a time that lacked wealth and forced us to work so hard, so long and so much that we had no time to reflect, and yet we want to preserve identifiers of that time and claim that we have some connection with it. In a really twisted way historic preservationists, in all their forms, are merely sports fans, for they never did the work, but they desire to wear the colors. They may do work, and they may work hard at painting themselves into those historical contexts, but the fact remains that they are not the ones who built that building, or did the work to build it, or spent years taking rocks out of a field to plant wheat. The fact remains—and it is perhaps this internal, subliminal knowledge, in a sort of apologetic way—that preservationists are of no consequence, in that they don’t do by themselves, they are merely passing off their work of saving as an act of creation and identification.

While this is admittedly a harsh criticism of preservationists, and perhaps they might tell me that there is so much more to it, and I am confident that there is, I wonder at what cost are we preserving? Who should be allowed to determine who is represented? Why them? What era do we preserve? And, in all our efforts to preserve our heritage, what will our great-great-grandchildren look back and see of us? Will they see a bunch of people who were so devoted to trying to identify themselves that they failed to leave a significant element that defined them? Will they see selfishness? Will they see hard work? Will they see beauty? Will they see foolishness?

While I feel that historic preservation is important, I feel also that it is a practice that lacks critical self-analysis and philosophy. At some level there must be Zen to life, an acknowledgement that one must simply live, and that life itself is the identification of one’s self, not careful practice.

We’re Killing Ourselves

In reading this week’s articles about Wikipedia and reenacting, I had more than a few thoughts. So here I shall present what I was considering on what I felt were the two headliners.


First, in Embedded with the Reenactors I was stunned at the absolute disregard for any sort of political or ideological balance in Kowalczyk’s presentation of his experience. Such a treatment of what I had hoped to be an educated account of the experience actually made me quite angry at the outset. Here is an excerpt of what I felt at the time to be a particularly vile piece of writing:

The summer of 2009 was particularly ugly. President Obama had just entered office and banks too big to fail had been saved. As a country, we were debating whether health care was a basic right for everyone. A few days earlier, the government in Iraq had declared a national “Sovereignty Day” after U.S. forces handed over security responsibilities following the six-year war for oil and the American empire. In Afghanistan that day, a U.S. soldier wandered off his base without body armor or a weapon and was kidnapped and three troops died in an attack on the eastern front. And back at home, one had the feeling of even uglier times ahead, with Tea Partiers and racists chipping away at the goodwill and hope of the president’s election, his vow to end torture and close Guantanamo Bay, and it seemed certain the superhero candidate abruptly would confront the limits of his power in this age of government dysfunction and concentrated wealth. All of these things were on the minds of the re-enactors at Fort Niagara.

Without the French and Indian War, I was told in one re-enactor’s cascading cause-and-effect lecture, the British never would’ve taken hold of the American colonies, never would’ve quartered soldiers and taxed tea and killed Crispus Attucks; without the F&I there would’ve been no Washington, no Jefferson, no Lincoln, and therefore no Civil War, and so on.

Winston Churchill called the F&I the real first world war, someone added.

“It’s truly our nation’s forgotten war,” another mourned.

“Now that the Democrats are in office they’ll fund every useless social program and gut the things that really matter, like the national parks system.”

Someone else said, “This battle here is the reason today we ain’t speaking French.”

And one re-enactor offered this insight: “We’re people with an appreciation for history. We don’t just take The New York Times and go glug-glug-glug.”

Very few, if any, re-enactors recycled their bottles and cans.

My internal reaction to this was so intense and disturbing, I decided that it might be worth it to consider what it was that I was reacting to. I think that there are two things in this paragraph and initially that had turned me off to the article. First, Kowalczyk appears to be setting the scene and adding context, but his subtext is political drivel. In an article that purports to discuss the experience of a reenactor, and what it looks like on the field of battle he is trying to take issue with modern-day politics. He furthermore avoided any serious analysis of the questions that he asked. This sentiment was echoed by author of Abraham in Arms, Ann M. Little in her critique of Kowalczyk’s article. The second issue I took with that particular paragraph was that it appeared to be poking fun at the lesser humans that take part in reenactment, pointing out that they were republicans, proud of their non-French-speaking status and apparently of a conservative mindset. Kowalczyk, through the entire article, treated those men—many of whom are very well-studied in their history—as if they were some sort of oafish miscreants, of a lesser mental capacity than him.

Overall I did not feel as though Kowalczyk wrote a work worthy of being discussed at the academic level. It did not analyze the questions it asked. It did not consider the reality or position of the people it was supposedly observing, opting instead to portray the reenactors as stupid and petty, equating these things with conservatism and republicanism. Kowalczyk further failed to account for the possibility that reenacting might just not be for him. He wrote as if, because he didn’t like it and found it offputting, it must be wrong and not for anybody. In summary, at best Kowalczyk’s article was academically not viable, at worst it was abysmally poor journalism.

The second “Headliner” article was Dr. Messer-Kruse’s experience with Wikipedia. Like Kowalczyk, Messer-Kruse considered an experience that he had and wrote an article based on that. The difference between the two was that Messer-Kruse presented an analysis of his subject, rather than just spew political vitriol. In The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia Messer-Kruse discussed his experience trying to add expert information based on primary sources to Wikipedia. It was quite an adventure, often maddening and at the same time humorous to consider some of the responses to his information. It was somewhat excruciating reading  Wikipedia editors parrot responses about consensus and “reliable sources.” It raised questions about the viability of socially constructed truth, and its weaknesses where it fails to include minority views. Perhaps such an idea is better considered in long-term benefits than what it means in the immediate present. However, what it does mean in the present seems to be trying to steer society into a sort of giant singular mindset. An ideology that I am not prepared to accept, and neither might I think would the reenactors who think that people just drink-up “New York Times glug-glug-glug.”

Overall I have to think that with resources like reenacting and Wikipedia, historians must become more flexible in our approach to the public. We are seen by many as learned, but not practiced—as if we are disconnected from the harsh realities of the world. In many cases academics are to blame for such a public perception. If I were a person who had paid $25.00 to attend the French-Indian war reenactment, I would have been terribly offended reading Kowalczyk’s article. Instead of blaming those people for their ignorance, perhaps some introspection is in order. Why do these people spend $25.00 to see something that I feel is irrelevant and offensive? Could it be that they draw different connections with the past, not from ignorance, but from different experience? In the case of Wikipedia, it seems that it is really not a place for penetrating, avant-garde interpretive history, so why waste so much time complaining about it? It’s not like Wikipedia is suddenly going to change their stance. Perhaps a better approach would be to go with the flow for now, and win battles where they can be won.