I noticed that some of my classmates mentioned depression as a reaction to the readings this week. Personally, I came away with a much more hopeful reaction. By no means are the opportunities boundless for historians, but you realize that there are more options out there than you typically think of. I suppose the readings validated my choice to do the MAHR option because I love the possibilities available for those willing to get creative and make a career that works for them, beyond academia, teaching, and law. “Historians as Consultants and Contractors” laid out some of those other possibilities.
I loved how “Crafting a New Historian” detailed how it is possible to combine two passions or hobbies. I would say that this describes exactly how I decided upon my research and project topic. I love military history and art, so why not combine them to get combat art. I love that I can talk about museums and exhibits with my graphic designer friend because she is interested in the same thing. We are able to discuss how we can effectively communicate information and present it visually. I think that’s why I spent so much time on the West Office website just looking at every different exhibit design they created. I also agreed with the statement in “Crafting a New Historian” that as historians, we develop skilled transferable to other disciplines or topics, such as planning, researching, hypothesizing, and problem-solving.
Along those same lines, last week my mom sent me an article that I think is applicable. In it, the author laments over the drop in history, and other humanities, majors, stating that the job market is losing critical thinkers and good communicators. These skills are valuable, whether working in history or not, and people are missing out on the resources that history majors posses.
I did encounter one source of stress in the readings. “Crafting a New Historian” mentioned being able to relate to different people with different interests. I whole-heartedly agree, and feel that as historians we can do that, especially through reading books. What stresses me out is when we must relate to people through interactions and conversations. I’m not the best conversationalist and this, frankly scares me. Furthermore, I had a conversation with a historian working for the NPS at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. One point he made was that historians have to be “people” persons. At this statement, I panicked because I am most certainly not a “people-person”. I guess I will have to work on that.
I’ve never really delved into the possibilities of what a history degree could mean for a career path. I have always had my heart set on writing and teaching. Reading about different jobs that historians have available to them is very interesting and has opened my eyes to possibilities. Historical consultation sounds like something that could be very rewarding. Consulting on movie sets for example would be very rewarding and could help rid American movie goers from the bad history we all witness in movies every year.
The article, “Crafting a New Historian” really peaked my interest. Historians and students really must be flexible. We must allow for the field to change and adapt in order to stay relevant. Realizing that professorships at universities will be hard to find once I am finished with school has made me realize that I must be prepared to use my historical “skills” in other areas until the time is right for me to be a professor. Historians must be willing to engage in the historical field in other, meaningful ways.
While looking through the various websites assigned to us this week, it really put in perspective how much real-life experience college students should get. While I wish I could shut myself in a dark room and just conduct research, I need tangible experience in a variety of areas to better my chances of working in the field of history. Being experienced in a variety of things (museum work, archival work, teaching, research, etc) can really help the chances of being hired in general after school. By more historians being open to a variety of work, historians can strengthen the community and diversify public history in general. If more historians became consultants, historical clothes makers, museum workers, etc, we could all grow the public reach of history.
Reading through these articles, as well as many of the class’s responses, highlighted an aspect of the community’s wider opinion of reenactment that I suppose I was unaware of. Despite the many years of being made fun of for doing reenactments, no one has ever suggested that by choreographing sword duels and discussing the finer points of foam-tipped archery that I am perpetuating toxic white masculinity. No one has pointed at my hobby and called it inherently racist or sexist before. While these articles in particular focused on black powder reenacting in the United States, there are legitimately dozens of other kinds of reenactments that romanticize the past in similarly historically problematic ways that do not seem to carry the emotionally-charged connotations as those covered in the articles for this week.
Kowalcyzk suggests that the problem rests not in reenacting itself, but in the stories that we choose to tell. The Historiann article suggests that reenactment is a white thing. Both seem to think that the practice is rooted in a deep seated need to return to a time when white men were in control of everything, and that reenactors respond to the rush this simulated power gives them. For some, I’m sure that is true, if subconsciously rather than overtly. In any case, it is interesting to see an argument constructed by non-reenactors as to why so many who engage in the hobby are older, white, and male. I can tell you that reenacting is prohibitively expensive, if you do not have parents willing to fund your eccentricities.
As for Wikipedia, I suppose I can see both sides. As an expert in the field, it would be frustrating to have someone else tell you that incorrect sources are more credible than you are, without a helpful explanation as to why. As for Wikipedia, I imagine they are overworked and underfunded, having to spend much of their time looking for vandalizations. Since many denizens of the internet cannot help but destroy nice things someone else has created, I imagine it makes the editors rather testy to have someone repeatedly change a page after being told no.
Reenacting has always been an interesting topic to me. After reading a fantastic book in Dr. Walker’s class, Confederates in the Attic, I have an even deeper interest in the subject. Reenacting can be a cool, historic thing to partake in, or a problematic thing problematic people partake in (specifically Civil War re-enactors who still believe the South won the war and/or “will rise again”). The best quote from Nick Kowaleczyk’s Salon article was: “Psychologically, those reenactments must have been a way of keeping past traumas real and under control; a means of talking about tough experiences with people who’ve been through the same. But I’ve never understood why anyone would reenact a war in which they’ve never fought,” in reference to the earliest American reenactments. This is exactly how I feel about reenactments. For people who lived through it, this can be a cathartic, healing experience. For the people who didn’t live through it, sometimes their intentions can be perpetuating something that is difficult for Americans to even think about (cough cough, Civil War and its repercussions).
Little’s article, “The Limited (and queer?) vision of American historical reenacting” addresses most of the concerns I have for reenactments as well. A lot of re-enactors are pulled to reenacting because of the type of past they want to live in. And this seems to be a thing white men are into. They are romanticizing an event or era that was particularly racialized and a really good time for only white males. Is there a way for us to change this? Should we?
Another area of interest that was brought up in this week’s readings is the gender of authors of Wikipedia articles. First of all, how did Wikipedia even get to a position where the New York Times is writing about it? And also, fact driven, internet based things pertaining to the past also seems to be a white man thing. Interesting… The articles surrounding Wikipedia made me very skeptical of the whole site. To read about Messer-Kruse’s experience with changing an article he had a lot of knowledge on seems childish and almost not worth it. But then, it also raises this question of, should we as historians care about websites like Wikipedia and should we be “fixing” articles since Americans use it daily? To this question, I have no answer.
It is interesting to me that there are so many steps to establishing a building’s significance before it can be preserved. It is good that the community seems to be very involved in the selection and preservation process, since the building is likely to be something they have to look at every day. It does concern me that so few communities seem invested in which areas of their cities are preserved. I feel like the people might be more invested in preserving the heritage of an area if they felt more connected to its history.
I feel like architectural preservation efforts are important, even if I will never be able to recognize a classic example of the colonial style on sight. I think it is good that more emphasis on preserving ‘recent’ historical places, such those built in the sixties and seventies, as rapid urban growth tends to destroy those places before they’ve hit the magic fifty-years-old mark. I suppose I had not considered that the architectural style of a building would contribute in some way to the history of a community, but I am glad that there are people who take an interest in such things. Old buildings are some of the most intriguing locations on city tours and if historic districts rely on tourism, then preserving as many as possible would be very beneficial to them. It does concern me that so many of the criteria for preservation are highly subjective.
Of equal concern is the possibility that companies might bully city planners into approving poor construction project plans with the threat of litigation. I am fully aware that such corporate goons are out there, but it makes me angry to think about what archaeological material may have been lost through intimidation and a lack of resources that small communities can use to protect themselves. More and more it is apparent that history and community significance consistently loses out to greed and self-interest, and what a pity that is.
How do we decide the significance of a place? I mean, I know how we do it – the book told me. There’s a thermometer. But after we’ve saved 10 significant homes, how do we decide whether or not to save the 11th? What if it’s just as architecturally beautiful? What if it’s just as historically significant to the neighborhood? What if great-grandma’s uncle’s first born son once lived there? TL;DR: I’m having a hard time grasping the line between “worth saving,” and “we’ve saved enough.”
There’s this horrible Facebook group that my dad keeps adding me to (and I keep deleting) that attempts to celebrate the “history” of Boise. Sometimes it’s somewhat interesting (though largely unsourced), but it seems like the majority of posts that I see are made by old fogeys wondering where the old KMart used to be and bemoaning the loss of history every time the city knocks down an office building from the 70s. They’re all that I could think of when I read this book. I know they don’t make the call when it comes to preservation, but they get awfully upset about it, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s what some of these committee meetings might sound like.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m 110% in favor of saving and preserving historic buildings and places, but it has to be done right. When I went to New Orleans a few years ago, I wanted to spend all of my time in the Vieux Carré district, soaking up the history and culture. After a long afternoon of wandering, I became aware of the fact that the French Quarter is a money pit. Yes – it’s beautiful, but it’s only kept beautiful for the tourists, and I’m glad the book touched on this, and places like it. The French façades only hide t-shirt shops, tacky ghost stories, and ridiculously expensive drinks. Venturing outside of the Quarter is where you’ll meet the people who know the city’s real history. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a world in which historic preservation isn’t largely used for capitalist interests, so I guess I’m glad that they’re being saved at all, whatever the ulterior motive may be…
Once again, I found these sections of Historic Preservation illuminating. By outlining all the multiple ways of thinking about preservation, I could not help but notice how subjective everything is. In determining historical or architectural significance, I could imagine how many arguments are fought over different buildings and which ones get preserved or not. These processes are yet another area in which the bureaucracy creates hoops for people to jump through, discouraging more participation.
I thought it was interesting that the authors brought up the “experience economy” and the Starbucks example. I see locally in Boise, that very same idea at work downtown and the businesses that occupy those spaces, ironically as a reaction against Starbucks. The restaurants and coffee shops market themselves as being local and able to provide an atmosphere that deviates from the “chain businesses” to give them a “cool” vibe. The historic buildings play a prominent role in the restaurant atmospheres, providing an “experience” at the same cost, or more, than the “chain” food establishments. While that is a great use of the space, I wonder at the accessibility of those businesses. Yes, I see the historic buildings and unique restaurants as assets to Boise, but I feel as if they only cater to specific people, excluding diverse participation in the downtown scene. Like we have discussed before, I think it’s important that historic spaces be available to everyone.
I was glad that the authors also discussed the link between tourism and preservation. By blending the two, heritage interpretation creates a more meaningful visit to tourists that goes beyond “site-seeing”. This approach seeks to engage tourists foster an understanding of cultural places through the combination of tourism, preservation, living history, “edutainment,” and “experience” industries. One example provided was how a local actor impersonated Thomas Edison and talked to visitors while on the tour. While admirable, the book makes this approach seem like it is the best and only way to go about engrossing tourists. I can’t help but consider how some visitors may not enjoy that experience, and how different people learn in multiple ways. Once again, I think there cannot be a one size fits all model for varying historic sites. Lastly, I thought the discussion on cultural and maritime landscapes broadened the scope of the book into areas that I hadn’t considered in my perceived discussion of preservation.
The legality of building preservation and historical significance of a house has never crossed my mind before. If it were up to me, most historical buildings would be saved. Older architecture is so beautiful and intricate. I would save most beautiful historical buildings. But since that can’t be done, the system of determining which buildings to preserve and which ones to not preserve seems like a good system. I am sure as a homeowner or property owner of any of these historical buildings that it is sometimes a nightmare. But it does make sense to have strict regulations in line.
The chapter regarding downtown revitalization got me thinking. I know this might be silly, but I hoped that the author would delve into repercussions of revitalizing the downtown of cities and how that can push low income people from their homes. The author touches on this idea during the Seattle Pike Place Market section and how the residents wanted to maintain its charm and the low-income housing surrounding the area. It is also touched upon in the “Other Preservation Issues” chapter briefly. The entire chapter seemed to only be focused on how these historic or just “old” neighborhoods could be turned into places for business. I feel like this isn’t and shouldn’t be the main point of historic preservation. I believe that there needs to be more of an effort towards stopping gentrification. The small section in the book that talks about it only offers up vague ideas on how to allow for low-income residents to keep their housing. Since this isn’t the point of the book, I will let it slide, but this issue is one that I was thinking about throughout the book. As much as I love older buildings and downtown areas, I am very much against the idea of gentrification. I hope someday we can find a perfect balance between historic preservation and people being able to live peacefully.
Historic preservation part 2… The problems that were so evident with the last reading have gotten worse, it would seem. The most problematic section of this reading for me was the “Historic Preservation and the ‘Experience Economy'”. And I found it problematic because it equated history, and it’s preservation to a Starbucks coffee. I find it absurd that communities should market themselves as being a white chocolate mocha frappuccino because some people think people don’t like regular coffee any more.
Again I am drawn to my experience in Nampa. There had been a push to renovate, rejuvenate, and revitalize the downtown area, complete with metal signage touting the railroad history of the neighborhood. The city fathers seemed to follow the “Main Street Program’s Four-Point Approach”. They even found private funding to renovate the theatre, which would help increase foot traffic and bring more people downtown.
But because they tried to make downtown a fancy coffee, they lost out on all the people who drink Folgers. Time passed, the returns on investments did not meet forecasted expectations, and the next batch of city administrators decided preservation was not worth the time or treasure. Now the city is minus more historic buildings because (as I said last time) it’s much more expensive to bring old buildings up to code than it is to knock them down and build something new.
Which leads to THE problem of historical preservation here in the West. The vast majority of those in authority believe that historic buildings are only of value if that value can be monetized. Thus the problem with capitalism, and society as a whole.
And I should probably stop now, before I go further down that particular rabbit hole.
I think I echo some of my classmates when I say that I didn’t realize it took so much time and effort to preserve a place, and that it takes a lot of private investments and work to make it all happen. The bureaucratic review processes would be enough to make me give up and say never mind, so I applaud those who work in preservation and still have a full head of hair (50-53). In an age in which institutions like the NEH and the National Parks Service are under threat, I can’t help but wonder if organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be faced with a loss of funding as well. What happens then? Will the work become completely privatized?
Conversely, I think I would love to be involved in the process of contextualism (103). The work of matching and compatibility to ensure the aesthetic and historic value of a site is something that always catches my eye, and I always think of my trip to New York City, where you can see stunning old cathedrals contrasted against the modern landscape of Manhattan. You can’t just put anything next to a historic site, and to learn that there are guidelines from the Secretary of the Interior on this very process is incredibly cool (112-115).
One interesting aspect within this list of regulations is the notion of teardowns, and this is where the Preservation Idaho site fit nicely into the rest of the reading (117). On a couple of occasions, I’ve been downtown on a weeknight and was able to witness some of the houses being moved from the Central Addition neighborhood up into the North End. It’s abundantly clear that the Central Addition land is worth a ton of money, seeing everything that’s being built up around it, and so I’m glad to see that effort is being made to preserve these houses, instead of tearing them down at the first sign of an interested land investor. Before I started paying attention to this neighborhood, I didn’t often think of houses as being worth preservation, and I hope that further work is being done to maybe try and teach the local community why saving these particular homes was worth so much effort and time.