That’s so homestead…

It is my pleasure to introduce you to the Moon-Randolph Homestead. The property itself is located a mere 2 miles from downtown Missoula, Montana and stretches 170 acres. The history behind the property dates back to 1889 when the Moon family originally homesteaded the land. Over the last hundred plus years the land passed to various family members and has been home to cattle, chickens, hogs, cherry and apple trees, and various vegetables. The City of Missoula purchased the Moon-Randolph property in 1996 to preserve the open space for plants, animals and people alike.

In 1998 the North Missoula Community Development Corporation (NMCDC) embarked on a mission to save the northwest corner of the homestead, the location that encompassed the buildings that had been built or maintained by the Moon and Randolph families. The campaign to preserve the homestead was successful and in 2000 the NMCDC and the City of Missoula Parks and Recreation have managed the property through a cooperative agreement.

Today visitors, senior citizens to elementary children on field trips are able to experience the Moon-Randolph Homestead and find out what it was like to live the pioneer life. This is not thanks to an employee who has a 9am-5pm shift. It is thanks to the Smetankas family; who live on and care for the homestead. A Sunset Magazine article explains, “In exchange for living rent-free in a converted chicken coop, the Smetankas care for the land and livestock; maintain the buildings, including the original 1889 Moon cabin; coordinate a Maypole party and harvest festival; and greet visitors every summer Saturday.” This is all in addition to their day jobs. Andy Smetankas is a free-lance writer and teaches in Missoula and Joanna Smetankas co-owns a children’s clothing store also in town. Speaking of children, did I mention they have two boys Asa and Axel?

Per the Smetankas’s agreement with the NMCDC while living on the homestead they are to “value the homestead as a cultural landscape where active stewardship co-exists with layers of human and natural history.” However, they go above and beyond this and share with everyone who has access to the Internet as they blog (Moon-Randolph Homestead Blog) and create YouTube videos of their experiences while living on the homestead. While they have electricity and a computer, the modern amenities stop about there. The whole family shares a “family bedroom” and there is no modern plumbing.

Sun Before Arises–Moon-Randolph Homestead YouTube Video

The Moon-Randolph Homestead has even inspired a new take on language for the Smetankas. Joanna explains on her blog “We’ve been using the word ‘homestead’ as an adjective for a long time. Whenever we do something really hard-core or over-the-top pioneerish, we say something like ‘Damn, baby, that’s so homestead of you.” Their Top 10 hard-core moments include Andy smoking out a skunk near the chicken coop/house and Joanna squatting to pee into a chamber pot at nine months pregnant—“like, thirty times a day.”

While the Smetankas family live life rustically, they don’t do it alone. Come spring they enlist countless numbers of more than willing volunteers to help them plant gardens, take care of livestock, and maintain buildings. All the while these volunteers and visitors who come on summer Saturdays get to interact with the history, culture, and environment of the Montana landscape. The public is an essential piece to the sustainability of the Moon-Randolph Homestead. Not only do they visit and volunteer, private donations from the public are the homestead’s lifeblood.

The Moon-Randolph Homestead serves as an example of what can be done in the Inter-Mountain West in persevering the quickly depleting pre-Great Depression agricultural landscape. The way in which people once lived is becoming something one reads in a textbook rather than something you experience first hand. The Moon-Randolph Homestead is an excellent model of what could be done in Boise with the Pearl Jensen Farm Property off of Lake Hazel Road. Not only could it serve as a symbol of the pioneering spirit of Boise’s past, but by embracing current technology like blogging, social media, and mobile applications it can cement its place in the future. Who knows, you could even start uttering, “Damn, baby, that’s so homestead of you.”


Moon-Randolph Homestead Blog

Fabulous Public History via Augmented Reality

It is difficult to summarize a project that is used in so many different ways by different groups of people, and developed for different groups of people.  Augmented Reality is one of the most intriguing things about virtual-anything.  There is no limit to its uses, whether it be for a card company, i.e. Hallmark creating their e-card you have to hold up to a webcam to see the picture, the AR analyzer that allows you to analyze which size box you will need to ship your item with the Postal Service, or a car company using the technology to improve on, or innovate, a design; though my personal favorite is the Ray-Ban virtual mirror.

Postal Service AR

With so many companies using the augmented reality design, it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint the creator of the tool, though I would name Apple as the responsible party at this point.  There are several AR apps on virtually all smart phones, yet the first to have the historical significance was the iPhone.  Using this application can not only take you on a tour of historic places near where you are, or tell you where to go if you are vacationing somewhere, but can show you what was there one hundred years ago based on GPS technology.  The term “time-traveling tourism” is quite the proper term for this, in my opinion. The idea of time-travel is interesting to a large percentage of people around the world; it’s why Star Trek, Star Wars, and movies like Back to the Future are so popular.  Everyone wishes they could hop in the DeLorean and see what it was like back when.  Unfortunately, until Doc Brown reveals his secrets of creating a flux capacitor, we will have to rely on augmented reality and the years of history—photos, stories, and actors—that are used and involved in the process of making an application such as this.

The learning objectives of the application vary based on which company uses it, but for the most part, the smart phone applications use AR for historic purposes.  Or virtual soccer.  Though it seems awfully dangerous to stare at your feet and kick around.  Many of the articles that we were assigned to read involved AR, and they were for the purpose of educating visitors, or even local people, on the history of the place they were.  The learning objective is to make the program fun and interesting to more than one group of people, with options of either audio, visual, or both to cater to the learning preference of the viewer.  In places such as the Louvre, they have a tour of the museum that is on a screen that brings up a tiny virtual host at each exhibit.  In cities such as London and New York, taking a picture in an application using AR can overlay a photo, and even a story, of that exact location long ago (storyteller lingo).  It really IS like time travel!


Bringing this project to Boise would not, in my opinion, be a difficult feat.  Challenging? Yes.  Time consuming? Oh my!  Worth it?  Most definitely.  With so many things around Boise that basically only historians and history buffs know about, having something so interactive and able to cater to a specific learning preference would be greatly beneficial.

In Your Face History

“In about 1910, a strapping, hard-drinking shepherd called Irish Dick traded a pet bear cub to a Toppenish saloon-keeper for whiskey. Some months later, the rowdy shepherd was in town when his grown-up pet escaped, panicking townsfolk. He offered to return the bear to its tether. A terrible fight on mainstreet ended when an unharmed bear was returned to saloon servitude and a brave and bloodied Irishman was taken to the hospital. The mural, painted by Bill Ross and Jan Sovak, is on the 88 Cents Store building at Washington and Toppenish Avenues.”

Paintings and murals serve many historical purposes.  They can capture a historical event, but also reveal the overall importance of certain historical narratives within the city or town that created them.  The amusing story of Irish Dick could be lost in an archive somewhere, instead it is celebrated and shared with everyone who passes this mural.  Toppenish, Washington houses a public history project that I find particularly fascinating.  Located within the Yakama Indian reservation, it is a town of about 9,000 people which houses 73 historical murals painted on the sides of buildings.  Toppenish launched it’s Mural-in-a-Day program on June 3, 1989 where 15 artists collaborated on one mural entitled “Clearing the Land” and completed it one day before and audience townspeople and tourists.  The festival (typically held the first weekend in June) draws over 1,000 people now and adds to Toppenish’s mural count.  The Toppenish Mural Society presides over this project which includes the Mural-in-a-Day activity and other murals painted by various artists throughout the town who like to spend more than a day.  The Toppenish Chamber of Commerce includes a mural map that has a description of the historical significance of each mural.  During the summer there are self-guided and wagon tours that showcase the murals.

The murals are intended to convey many things about Toppenish.  They celebrate their Western History with murals about rodeos and cowboys.  They honor their Native American history with images of the early battles and treaties between the Yakama Nation and settlers from the U.S.  The murals also feature influential townspeople throughout Toppenish’s history: Alex McCoy (first Indian judge) and Maud Bolin (first woman to jump from a plane with a parachute and famous rodeo star).  The culture and history of this small town are captured in a relatively small area that is easily accessible to almost anyone who passes through Toppenish.  The murals are not encumbered with lengthy or tedious signage making them enjoyable for the casual observer to have a taste and feel for what Toppenish asserts is its history.  For those who are intrigued about the stories in the murals or about the creation of the murals there are tours and pamphlets available to further interpret these paintings.  The Mural-in-a-Day activity invites tourism and encourages local townspeople to take an interest in a project created by mostly local artists.

I like the idea of including some murals in Boise and think that something similar to the murals in Toppenish could easily be achieved in Boise.  I have  encountered a couple of murals in alleyways in downtown Boise that I find fascinating and bring to mind several questions: when was it painted? what does it portray? why this particular building? how old is the building?  I also think that replicating the Mural-in-a-Day program in Boise would be a fun way to include the community in making decisions about what Boise’s history is and introduce public history in an engaging manner.  If Boise had several murals a walking or driving tour could be created to further interpret the mural’s historical content.

Basque Interpretive Signs

One of the most fabulous history projects currently existing is the Basque interpretive sign project that was recently completed in downtown Boise last summer. This project interpreted the significance of buildings and sites important in Idaho Basque history. It created interpretive signs as permanent exhibits at three locations:  the former Church of the Good Shepherd (422 West Idaho Street) founded in 1919 and the only Basque Church in the United States; the former Star Rooming House (512 West Idaho) one of the first and best preserved Basque boardinghouses in Idaho; and the Basque Mural (hangs on the west, side wall of the Anduiza Fronton 619 Grove) which depicts key elements of Basque history and culture both in the Basque Country and here in Idaho.  These three sites developed and extended a walking tour of historical Basque sites on the Basque Block in Boise.

The projects intended audience is the Treasure Valley community and visitors to the area. The completed project coincided with Jaialdi 2010, an international Basque festival held every five years in Boise which draws 30,000 participants from all over the United States and the world. 

The central goal of the project was to create three interpretive signs to educate the public about significant buildings and events that are part of Idaho’s history and incorporate them into a walking tour.  The three signs contain a historical narrative of the site’s history and its importance for the Idaho Basque community. Photographs were utilized to interpret the sites history and importance. The project was a continuation of an already existing group of interpretive signs and could be further enlarged to include other sites of historical significance for the Basques.

This local history project serves as a case study of the tension that often surrounds immigrant groups.  The Basque ethnic enclave served as a buffer for Basques as they made their way into American culture.  The boardinghouse allowed Basques to be together, eat familiar food, sing and dance yet it also was only a temporary home until they settled in more permanent homes in neighborhoods throughout the Treasure Valley.  The Church of the Good Shepherd was built with funds and labor of the Basque community yet served as their church for only a brief period.  After less than a decade, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise closed the church as a Basque chapel and encouraged them to attend services elsewhere.  American national church pressures of the period made Catholic prelates emphasize the loyalty of their followers to America and not to their countries of origin and accompanying Roman influence.  Finally, the mural depicts key aspects of Basque history and culture that are more commonly subsumed under the Spanish and/or French stories.  These signs explain some of the tension that surrounded Basque assimilation into Idaho and may also serve as reminders for the process underway for other current immigrant groups. 

This fabulous public history project was the brain child of BSUs own Dr. John Bieter, and he was assisted in the research, grant-writing, and other administrative duties by a graduate student at BSU named Luke Schleif.

Fabulous Public History Project Introduction: Drunk History

For decades, scholars and non-academics alike have been trying to bring history to the public through television. Obscure documentaries are shown frequently on PBS stations across the country, while those who consider themselves “too cool” for PBS can choose to indulge their history cravings from the more mainstream menu of the History Channel. The demographic to which stations like PBS and the History Channel cater, however, is still not as vast as it could be; these channels require a television-owning audience, for example (and cable-subscribing in the case of the History Channel), and their reputation is still largely one of nerdiness. A more truly “public” way of promoting history through video and documentary should allow viewers to watch via a convenient mode without the attachment of the “history nerd” stigma.

Cue Derek Waters, a young actor and producer who happens to have a passion for history in addition to filmmaking. In 2007, Waters decided to combine his love of history with his love of drinking, and began filming his friends discussing topics in history–while drunk. The experiment subsequently evolved into Drunk History, a series of short films narrating historical events that originated as web videos and are now appearing on HBO.

Drunk History is a genuinely vernacular form of public history that appeals to a younger audience who, though perhaps interested in history, is not necessarily inclined to watch a lengthy, cerebral documentary. Anyone with an internet connection and five minutes to spare can access these videos, which feature drunk but enthusiastically knowledgeable narrators describing historical events that are simultaneously interpreted by well-known actors such as Jack Black and Don Cheadle. The fact that famous actors—and drinking—are involved is sure to attract a wide audience who would be indifferent to less of a popular approach to history. (There is certainly no “nerdy” stigma attached to watching this type of historical interpretation.) Moreover, the language employed is casual, to say the least, and as far from convoluted academic jargon as it could be.

While the historical facts included in the videos may not be the most detailed or, in some cases, even completely accurate, the videos serve as inspiration for further research into the event or topic narrated. More importantly, they make history—and the process of retelling it—appear trendy, which seems to be Waters’ objective in producing the videos.

The public itself is not involved in the project (although ordinary people with passion for history are the ones who narrate the videos). However, the idea has spawned various imitations on YouTube, and will no doubt continue to do so as it gains popularity. While historians may balk at the idea of conveying inebriated interpretations of important historical events, the use of accessible internet videos could surely be an asset to public historians aspiring to provoke widespread interest in history. Even without the drunken aspect, the short, entertaining film approach could be adapted for museums, mobile walking tours, or publicity purposes. It may not always be possible to achieve, but having a notable celebrity appear in a video advertising some important historical event or aspect of your city would be fantastic publicity to elicit widespread public interest. Who wouldn’t want to watch Jack Black dressed as a Basque sheepherder recounting Boise history?


An article on the Drunk History project:

An interview with Drunk History’s creator:

Drunk History’s YouTube Channel: