Interview with Dr. John Anfinson–National Park Service

On February 8, 2011 I conducted a phone interview with Dr. John C. Anfinson, a former historian and cultural specialist at the National Park Service. Anfinson has been a main fixture at the NPS since 2000 and in December of 2010 he was promoted to Chief of Resource Management for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA). Anfinson’s journey to his current position with the NPS was as Anfinson calls it “through the back door.”

As a way to put himself through graduate school Anfinson interned with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to aid with historic preservation and cultural resource review. Eventually he graduated with his PhD in American History from the University of Minnesota. Upon graduation he was offered a teaching position at South Dakota State University but instead of continuing on the academia route he instinctively chose to stay at the Corps, which had offered him a permanent position. From 1980-2000 Anfinson continued his job at the Corps as a historian with additional duties in cultural management. He explained that he made the position his own by going above and beyond the basic job requirements. His advice to those interested in going into the public history field is to do the same. He advocated pursuing and researching personal topics of interest while integrating it to benefit the organization you work for. This is of course in addition to effectively completing job tasks. He cited this strategy as the way he gradually moved up in both the Corps of Engineers and National Park Service.

During his ten year tenure at the NPS Anfinson’s interests have expanded to environmental and public history. His primary interest is the Mississippi River and has published two books, The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi and River of History: A Historic Resources Study of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in addition to several articles. While Anfinson has responsibilities that come with his title at the NPS, he also has the autonomy to choose his own projects. This in turn enables him to go and speak at professional conferences in a variety of academic fields, all the while representing the NPS.

With a depressed job market Dr. Anfinson suggested those interested in entering the NPS as a historian have at least a Masters degree. Competition for historian positions in the NPS are fierce for those holding Masters and PhDs. Anfinson explained there are several characteristics and qualities that are preferred when looking at job candidates, however three are of the upmost importance. One of these attributes is a competitive edge. The NPS might look for someone possessing an athletic background or participation in some other form of contest that requires tenacity. A second he mentioned was experience, either through a job, internship or volunteerism. Superior grades alone don’t make the cut anymore. Lastly, Anfinson discussed if he were to hire a National Park historian he would specifically look for those candidates who are verse in people skills. The ability to communicate in the workplace with colleagues and in the field with the general public is imperative.

Dr. Anfinson ended the interview with voicing the immense gratification that comes with his work. Last year the National Park Service helped put seven thousand school kids, a majority from the inner city from the Twin Cities, in canoes on the Mississippi River. The program provided education to the children about the history of the river, water quality, and most importantly instilled in them the belief that they are a part of nature, not separate from it.

It seems working for the National Park Service provides the opportunity to straddle two distinct worlds. On one hand it presents the opportunity to continue to research and publish, and on the other it makes available the ability to interact and educate the public in a variety of ways, including on canoes.

Interview with TAG Historical Research & Consulting

For this project I became interested in learning more about what historical consultants do and how an independent consultant can operate their own business. After some online research, I decided to interview the owners of TAG Historical Research and Consulting, one of the leading historical consulting firms in Boise. I went over to their downtown office one afternoon, and interviewed Barbara Perry Bauer and her sister, Elizabeth Jacox about their experiences running their own firm and how they got there.

 Barbara went to school for a degree in history, and worked in a museum, which was work she really enjoyed. As we talked about the path Barbara took to get where she is today, she said that “it was a circuitous path.” She ended up going to Wyoming and working in another museum, then her husband was offered a job in Boise, so they picked up and came here. Barbara worked as the Director of the Basque Museum for two years, and after that she kept her foot in the door by volunteering at the history institutions around town. In 1993, Barbara and a group of other historians came together and formed a historical consulting firm. Through time the others fell away, and Barbara’s sister Elizabeth joined. Barbara mentioned that it was a lot of building up her resume and networking, and she has always felt lucky, being in the right place at the right time.

 Part of their success can be attributed to their diversification in projects. Elizabeth mentioned that it is the only way to exist in this business. TAG does lots of Section 106 compliance work, site surveys, house histories, and exhibits. One amazing fact I learned was that almost all of the site surveys since 1989 in Boise have been completed by TAG.  Barbara and Elizabeth also work with engineers, developers, attorneys, city and county agencies, and non-profits. They market their business in a variety of ways to their different clients, and they have repeat clientele, as well as a great reputation. They are also members of the American Cultural Resource Organization.

 They encourage anyone who wants to become a historical consultant at an entry-level position to have good research experience, as well as writing skills, including technical writing as you end up writing a lot of reports. In addition to this, some basic organizational skills are a must, and some GIS experience can be helpful. The official salary for entry level is $12-15/hr, and with a Master’s, working on your own $14-15/hr is a dream figure. Barbara and Elizabeth added that the hourly rate you charge is no where the rate you end up paying yourself. As Elizabeth said though, the reason you do this is not always practical.

 This leads into the current issues facing the historical research business. TAG has felt the decline in the economy much like other small businesses. For history consulting work, it has been a trickle-down effect: less work for transportation departments, developers, etc., means less work for history consultants. It was particularly bad in 2010 with the stimulus bill because the Feds loosened up regulations to get people to work, bypassing section 106 rules to a degree to get it accomplished, which funny enough, put other people out of work. 

To end on a positive note, Barbara and Elizabeth hope to grow their business large enough to hire recent history graduates of BSU. They also encourage anyone interested in becoming a history consultant to try and hook up with a federal or local government agency because that is where they think the most growth will occur for recent history graduates. Barbara and Elizabeth ended the interview by saying that they love what they do, and would not want to be doing anything else.

I appreciated my time with them, and I am glad that Boise has such an outstanding firm that does such great work with our history.

Patty Miller: Director of Basque Museum and Cultural Center

Patty Miller – Executive Director of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center

Patty Miller has been associated with the Basque Museum and Cultural Center for more than two decades. The Basque Museum and Cultural Center is a local non-profit organization that presents Basque history and culture to the Treasure valley through exhibits, public history projects, historic preservation, Basque language classes, and other events.  Patty’s position as the head of the Basque dancers led to her becoming a full-time employee (the only full-time employee at the time) at the museum before she was appointed the director in 1993. Since then the museum has grown substantially, and its prominence within the community has also increased. While Patty Miller was initially responsible for all the work associated with the museum (including janitorial), she now primarily manages other employees, writes grants, develops projects, and promotes community education. Patty did not come to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center with the typical academic background in applied/public history or museum studies. She does, however, have experience in business and in grant writing which has helped her be successful. Patty also credits the success of the Museum and Cultural Center with having a diverse board of directors—coming from many different career backgrounds—and to the support of the Basque country. The museum’s ties to the Basque country began in the 1990s when they provided internet service and computers to Basque clubs throughout the world. Since the 1990s the museum’s ties to the Basque community have increased. The Basque country now provides multiple grants to support numerous projects such as Basque language education and the Ellis Island exhibit.

            Patty has been involved in many projects during her tenure as the director of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. The most recent was an exhibit at Ellis Island called “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques.” The idea for the project came from a Basque official who was in New York. The project was first proposed to Ellis Island by the Museum in 2008 and was denied. After revisions it was given the green light. The exhibit explores the language, customs, traditions and values of the Basque people as well as the allure that America held for them. The cost of the project was rather substantial—totaling $150,000—and had to be raised. For anyone interested in the exhibit it is now on display at the Basque Museum.

            Another of Patty’s favorite projects was “Inner Strength: Portraits of Basque Immigrant Women.” The purpose of this project was to collect oral histories from first generation Basque immigrant women, many of whom were over 100 years of age.

            A third project Patty was involved in was the restructuring of the streetscape around the Basque block. The purpose of this project was to create a more open and public space so that community could extend beyond the buildings. A major point of conflict during this project was the fate of several trees. The then president of the board of directors wanted to keep the trees, which required 20’ of unpaved space in order to keep the trees from dying. There was gridlock until it was decided that the trees would be replanted in a memorial site.

            Some of Patty’s future plans for the museum include expanding the collections (especially oral histories), the creation of an endowment, and addressing the museum’s space and storage issues.