Unprotected Heritage


I found the book Our Unprotected Heritage, written by Thomas F. King, to be quite informative and enjoyable. The first chapter of the book mentions the “Bright Green Laws,” (King, 11) or environmental laws that tells how any sort of impact on the environment, no matter how little, can create a pollutive mess. The laws include the “Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)” (11) from 1976 and the Clean Air Act. These laws provide the Environmental Protection Agency the means with which to prosecute violators or polluters.  For example, the “Superfund Law,” or the “Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)” which became law in 1980 really gave the EPA the authority and ability to fine companies or individuals who violated environmental standards and they were able to collect hefty fines or serve jail time. The author focuses on what he refers to as “Light Green Laws,” which are primarily directed at federal agencies, and are “self-enforcing,” and rarely include fines or prison sentences. (12).  Two of the most notable of the light green laws is the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) or, as he refers to them, the “heritage laws.” (13) I find the NHPA one of the most impactful laws in regard to historic preservation with Section 106 requiring “agencies to think and consult about their impacts on historic places . . .” (20).  Section 106 has also been useful in addressing environmental impact concerns, such as the case of Abo’ Pass near Albuquerque, New Mexico and helping the Buckland Preservation Society from urban sprawl.  The author criticizes the Bush Administration’s “scorn for environmental protection.” (21) If the current administration’s budget defunding the EPA goes through, our environment is in for a big hit.

Some interesting details in Chapters 3 and 4, I found the descriptions of their contents to be enlightening in understanding impacts on heritage. “In trying to preserve the village of Buckland and the Buckland Mills Battlefield, the Buckland Preservation Society (BPS) involves itself in NHPA and NEPA review mostly through two federal agencies.” (49) The Federal Highway Administration and the Corps of Engineers were two agencies that assisted in both of these significant projects in improving traffic and exercising the Clean Water Act in regards to wetlands.  Chapter 8 summarizes five criticisms from the author and I share his criticism.  The first being that firms are more than likely biased because they are part of the “planning team.” Secondly, instead of looking at it as a process, many firms just want to obtain “clearance.” (141)  The third criticism deals with the fact that the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation (ACHP) are lacking in power and any degree of enforcement.  The fourth issue deals with the complete lack of “transparency in the review systems,” and a questionable use of influence. (142) Last, but not least, is the unfortunate result of acceptance of the status quo and the inability to promote change for the betterment of EIA and CRM.  In King’s condemnation about the ineffectiveness of agencies whose primary purpose is for environmental protection and historic preservation, he cites “ignorance and unexamined assumptions,” as the reasons for “agency bias in favor of development . . .” (69) He cites government agencies which try to approach projects, listed on the National Register, that would require EIA and CRM with the same timelines and ease as if they were buying paper towels.

Our unprotected heritage

Our Unprotected Heritage book argues the point that the government in the public view acts that it is protecting our heritage and lands from being destroyed by industry. Thomas King is trying to wake Americans up to the fact that money is what makes the world go around. If the government needs to run pipelines or railways through a cultural or heritage site in the United States the government would allow it. If it will allow for the government to get more money than areas that are protected can be used if needed. Since this book was written during the administration of George W. Bush when they were talking about drilling in Alaska in the reserve for oil instead of relying on OPEC. Thomas King shows how the American people think that these National Parks and heritage places are protected by laws but that we don’t necessary read the whole law with its different stipulations on how or when the government can use the land if needed. “The failure of the heritage laws has several aspects, several parts, that interact with and reinforce one another. These are: The analyst as proponent: The people analyzing a project’s impact on the natural and cultural environment act as agents for the project’s sponsors. Agencies and project planners are disinclined ever to rethink their plans in response to public objections, and are inclined, as a result, to find ways to reject and bury such concerns, even if it requires twisting or ignoring facts.”[1] I tend to think that Thomas King is correct in one sense that the government is not protecting out national parks or heritage sites, but on the other hand feel that people will not allow the government to destroy or take away our most prized heritage places. I don’t think people are as naïve as this author thinks. I have worked for the government and yes, they put loop holes to help themselves out later in case they need to put something on the land.  On the other hand, people elect these people into office and people can get them to change their views hence why we have lobbyists. This book had some interesting viewpoints but they were few and far between making it tedious to read.

[1] Thomas F King. Our unprotected heritage: Whitewashing the destruction of our cultural and natural environment. Left Coast Press, 2012. Pg. 27.


Stopping Bureaucratic Inertia

After reading the first and last chapters of Our Unprotected Environment by Thomas F. King, I moved on to the rest of the book. Tequila shots were a suitable addition to my study methods by the time I arrived at the Chapter Three section entitled “Bombing Boise.” The book was, ironically, a sobering read. In exposing the failure of our legislative and regulatory practices, and the resultant breakdown of the review process, King reveals agencies and regulations that are at odds with their intended purpose.  Catch-22’s Captain Yossarian would understand this world all too well. It would be beneficial to understand how an agency, and the regulations that govern it, evolved from being advocates of  protection to protagonists.  King’s examples also show us how officials use obfuscation and double-speak to wear down those trying to protect their heritage. Many eventually give up the fight, and their heritage in the process. In the end, unable to resolve his own conflicts, Yossarian, too, simply walked away.

B-25J Mitchell, 12th Air Force Over Italy, info(at)worldwarphotos.info

In Chapter Eight, King puts forward Caldwell’s Prescription, Lynton K. Caldwell’s seven suggestions for fixing NEPA. King expands on those suggestions, applies them to NHPA, and finishes the chapter with his own suggestions for fixing the problems with how agencies address preservation and protection of our heritage and environment. While I appreciate his ideas, his Memo to President Obama seems quaint in the light of the current political environment.

Since Our Unprotected Environment was written during the presidency of George W. Bush and published at the beginning of Barack Obama’s term as president, I thought it might be useful explore King’s blog at http://crmplus.blogspot.com/ and see whether there were improvements in the realm of either NEPA or NHPA.  I became even more depressed. Looking at various blog posts from the beginning of the Obama administration, through today showed me that despite a few hopeful signs, little has changed and some things appear to have gotten worse. Who would have thought?

Not unlike other professions, this field has its own world-view and jargon to ensure most people do not understand it.  Professionals believe the value of their work is self-evident, which it isn’t. This demonstrates a potentially fatal hubris. These doyens are now viewed with suspicion and disdain by much of the public. Heritage professionals need to do a better job of forcefully communicating how both environmental protection and historic preservation benefit us all.

After posting my blog I noticed that I had forgotten to comment on Glenn C. Sutter’s book review of The future of heritage as climates change: loss, adaptation and creativity, edited by David C. Harvey and Jim Perry. I hate to see statements such as ” heritage work needs to be less about preservation, stability and perpetuity, and more about embracing loss and finding creative and empowering ways to adapt.” I understand the thought process that goes into such proposals, but for developers and others, this will lead many to suggest that “[1] experts in the field” agree that we can’t preserve our heritage and instead we should capture it with photos and videos and call it good.

King describes himself as a “cock-eyed optimist” and for that I am grateful, I’m not sure I could have handled the book otherwise.  Well, the tequila’s gone and I am eyeing a bottle of vanilla extract.

Vanilla beans - Hawaiian Vanilla Company

[1]  Glenn C. Sutter (2015) The future of heritage as climates change: loss, adaptation and creativity, Museum Management and Curatorship, 30:4, 359-361, DOI: 10.1080/09647775.2015.1065569


In looking at the sample Digital Humanities Advancement and Digital Projects for the Public grants, I notice that both types place a huge emphasis on innovation and revitalization. This shows, I think, that everyone within the field understands the huge necessity that exists right now for making history and the humanities relevant and exciting in the digital age.  Just in case applying for money wasn’t already a competitive ordeal, but the obligation to keep at the cutting age of technology and innovation has to be more important than ever.

To be successful, as these were, I think you just have to be so incredibly explicit with what you want to do, and how you’re going to do it. The timeline component helps with that, not only simply showing what will happen when, but also proving that the planners and organizers have looked at their project from every step, every angle, and will execute their project through the most organized and detailed process possible. If it were me reading these applications, seeing all of this would be incredibly reassuring.

I was also surprised that you could apply after you’ve already started work on your project. I, too, assumed that you had to be in the planning stages in order to take part in this process.

P.s. I don’t think I want to be a grant writer when I grow up.

Stanford versus Brown

When comparing the Digital Humanities Advancement Grant and the Digital Projects for the Public grant I chose to look at two extremely well known colleges’ grant proposals, Brown University and Stanford University. Although in comparison the Stanford requested budget was huge, almost $300,000, I found the two very similar on a number of topics.

  1. A multidisciplinarian approach
  2. A clear timeline
  3. A clear sense of who was involved and their qualifications
  4. A clear sense of its relevance

The larger Stanford project, which sought to add a contextual basis for letters written by many great authors, covered not only a number of linguistics, but even a Digital Humanitarian Librarian. I had no idea such a thing even existed. The Brown grant, which was looking to expand a localized project on the four elements, included among its members anthropologists, historians and a local curator. Both projects used history as a way to open their abstracts to reference a broader humanities overtone.

The really impressive topic in both was the timeline they provided. Each proposal gave a timeline of when the project would be at certain milestone points as well as what this would mean for patrons. Whether seasonal or  actually dated, both projects made it clear when their work would be done as well as who would do what and when.

The most fascinating similarity was the qualifications of the people involved. Both schools had lists of awards and accomplishments for the professors and grad students that was phenomenal.

Lastly, both projects made a clear statement of what they believed to be missing in the world and how their projects would look to fix it.

Although the two projects were very different in the scope of what they intended, they both clearly showed relevancy to a number of groups of people, why the should be the ones doing it, and a realistic but ambitious timeline for their projects.


NEH Grants


After reading the website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), I can see how the organization has been an incredible resource and instrumental in the support of advanced research of scholars. The fellowships sponsored by the NEH provide the necessary support for academic intellectuals to pursue their interests throughout the world. The NEH provides invaluable resources for the public such as books, magazines and digital information used to educate the public and other scholars and educators, promoting collaborative research. The NEH fellowship program is highly competitive and grant proposals are awarded after thorough consideration from applicants.  Over the past five years, the NEH granted 80 fellowships from an average of 1,178 grant applications. There have been so many extraordinary contributions to the NEH over the years from historical research into Women’s Suffrage to the Iberian Peninsula.  The NEH provides such a wealth of information and historical research and, instead of funding cuts, they should be given a funding increase.

Susan Stanford Friedman, an English professor and author, wrote in her article, “Writing Effective Grant Proposals,” that grant proposals are making an exceptional contribution on the study of humanities.  She encouraged the grant writer to “think big” and “paint the big picture.”  She felt it was important to step back from the proposed project and look at it from a wider perspective in order to encompass a varied direction.  The fact that many grant proposals in humanities studies do not make it through is what I find disturbing because there is so much to the decision on whether or not to accept the grant.  She encouraged grant applicants to show the purpose of their research and not use phrases such as “I will argue,” but use “I will explore” instead.  After all, the purpose of the grant is to research and find a conclusion.  If the researcher already has a conclusion, then it is, as she states, the research is already completed.  Friedman states in her summary, “Read and follow all specific instructions carefully. Avoid multiple submission of the same proposal to agencies that are looking for different kinds of things.” She strongly encourages the grant writer to be “declarative,” and use action phrases such as, “I will” and “I plan,” which will lead to a more successful grant proposal.

Meredith Hindley, a writer for Humanities, wrote her informative article “How to Get a Grant from NEH,” after obtaining invaluable insight and information from various programs in order to succeed.  She included one phrase that was so obvious but yet so necessary.  Hindley suggests the important question to grant applicants, “Does my project have a strong humanities component?” That question emphasizes more knowledge than it implies.  Hindley quotes the NEH legislative document that says, “The term ‘humanities’ includes . . . language . . linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; . . . the arts.” Grant proposals will only be awarded to those applicants who demonstrate a powerful focus on humanities.

Due to the growth and evolution of digital era, the NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant is a grant that supports “digital projects throughout their life cycles, from early start-up phases through implementation and long-term sustainability.” With collaboration with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, these grants will help to preserve, archive and make available “digital collections and services,” which would be tremendous resources for scholars as well as the public.


It seems to me that writing grants is similar to writing a proposal for a job the criteria is very similar. There are obvious differences but if you’re going to try and start anything in a job this is what is needed to get financing. The different professionals I have talked to in the field of history, archives, or museums it is best to go big expecting you’re going to get less than what you ask for. The part I did not think about, until the writing is that there is an inter-disciplinary group I have to account for. Then I contemplated how am I going to make my proposal sound worth wild for other groups? How am I supposed to know the “jargon” of the other people and groups involved in making my proposal successful? According to the article I should avoid such “jargon,” which makes sense because if I can’t communicate it to anybody then it would fail inside a museum. I must make the proposal user friendly to the group I am presenting it to as well as to a regular person. The proposal is different than the NEH grant due to the fact that the proposal has to be presented in front of a peer reviewed board instead of a competition.  The fact that the panel who you present to, is multidisciplinary helps. I feel that in order to properly push forward with any proposal it should be as user friendly as possible. It seems that after reading this particular article a historian should use clarity and make the proposal as if he or she is trying to sell a particular item to the general public. The easier it is for John Q public to understand the better the sell on the proposal.

NEH grant makes sense that you should have some humanities represented because this is what the public can relate with the most. The difference I see from the proposal to the NEH grant is that the NEH grant is a competition amongst multidiscipline groups with the winners getting the grants. The public wants to know how does this scenario or piece of history relates to their lives. If you can’t grab that with the public more often it seems you lose interest. If you can inspire people to get involved or relate to what you are presenting, obviously, you’re going to get more money. The problem is you’re going to have to give up some integrity it seems to make it more appealing to the regular public, which most historians do not want to give up. The narrative you give in support of your grant will help in getting financial support but you must follow the guidelines to get it. This is helpful in the historical field because this is when you can explain your idea and history to the general public where thought on a particular history can be changed.

I like the idea of proposals because it forces historians to make history more tangible to the general public. The proposal forces historians to look at it as regular person, unaware of this particular event in history. The historians have to make it, not only tangible for the grant proposal board, but the people it is focused on in order to share this particular historical information.

Fear and Loathing – You mean I have to do this, too?

In Digital Humanities Advancement Grants each application I reviewed added Statement of Innovation and a Statement of Humanities Significance paragraphs between the Abstract and Narrative sections of the application. I found no requirement for them, but they are useful. For this grants in this category it was the only difference I found. They were bereft of jargon, but still sufficiently technical to make reading tough. The “A unified approach to preserving cultural software and their development histories” struck me as a great idea but left me wondering how they were going to create a digital method for “winnowing” material prior to archiving it, digitally, isn’t that where the problem begins. On the other hand, “Image Analysis for Archival Discovery” seemed an intriguing idea which would be very useful for a very narrow field of study, poetry in pre-digital publications. I hope they might figure out how to create and then expand their product’s utility.

As a historian, “Networks in History: Data-driven tools for analyzing relationships across time” a Level 3 grant application was the most exciting proposal I reviewed. It was both jargon free and technically oriented, but not as dry as the two previous readings, which were for Level 1 grants. I wanted to know more and found it at http://hdlab.stanford.edu/palladio/about/ .  The nearly $300K grant helped them create Palladio.  Having a tool for analyzing correspondence, authors, recipients across both time AND space is amazing and I hope I have a reason to use it someday and that it can become more comprehensive.

Panorama collage by Michele Graffieti
Panorama collage by Michele Graffieti – Screen grab from Palladio Website

Digital Projects for the Public narratives were much different and also much easier to read. “Exploring the Four Elements: Toward a Digital Environmental History of the Americas” was a Discovery Grant with a very simple concept. I thought more of the preliminary work should have been done before applying for the grant. Also, by the second proposed project meeting they were going to have their first display completed to show meeting attendees. It seemed like a grant application looking for application-sake.

I was a little more excited by the second Discovery Grant application I read, “Participatory Media.” Another simple idea and one whose value was readily apparent from the application. Their goal of centralizing all of this material for accessibility left me feeling like a voyeur raiding someone’s closet to find their home videos, photos and correspondence. I feel equating this to the Depression-era photography and interview collections is a bit of an overreach, I do think it is a valuable project.

“Walden, A Game,”  a Production Grant, is the most ambitious project reviewed. It is potentially a game-changer, pardon the pun, for historians and others who wish to introduce specific historical events to a broader audience. Having received grants from both NEH and NEA indicates that some feel this is an area worth exploring. Further research led me to a review at this site:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/arts/henry-david-thoreau-video-game.html?_r=0

As others have noted, both programs require application narratives that are broad and specific, a tough combo. It has also been mentioned, both programs will fund everything from Discovery to Implementation. The published guidelines are a strength for both, as is the variety of research each will consider.

And so it has come to this…

It has been a trying week. Due to events that occurred during class last week I have been unable to focus on anything school related. My partner even went so far as to conclude that had I not been at class I would have been able to head off this particular disaster. This has caused me to rethink my commitment to continuing my education, forcing me to explore the viability of what I am doing, and whether or not it is in the best interest of my family to continue with this course of action.

We’ve talked of moving, relocating to somewhere else where no one knows our name, a place with a fresh start, for us and the kids. And what to my wondering eyes did appear than a list of places where the U.S. Navy needed historians. Businesses need historical consultants, law firms need researchers for cases with historical ramifications. All sorts of jobs in all sorts of places that have all sorts of pay-scales. Most of these jobs required only a BA in history, and many of these positions were available to be filled. Immediately.

So why stay and finish things? Out of a sense of duty for the members of this class. But other than that, im not sure. We shall see.

The age old question… what are you going to do when you grow up?

Pretty much every non-historian I know has at some point asked me the dreaded question…. What are you going to do with a history degree…. teach or something? I find that the lack of understanding of what it takes to write history/ be a historian in the world outside of to end up feeling quite uneducated and even condescending.  As stated in the post “What Employers Seek in History Graduates” points out, “…students of history develop skills in the ability to assess evidence, ability to assess conflicting interpretations, and experience in assessing past examples of change. I believe these skills are most effectively taught within the university setting.” Personally I would add to that the ability to think critically (a dying art form in my opinion), an understanding for what the world really was, and possibly most of all, passion.

Having come from the business department early in my academic career, I found the in generalized lack of passion disturbing. It seemed to me that all too often people were there because they thought it would make them more money or that they were doing what they were supposed to. In the history department I see every member of each class I have as passionate about something. Possibly this stems from the fact that history is not the pathway to fly cars, gold necklaces, and the easy life. In that I find the history department to be refreshing.

I think that “Crafting a new Historian” has it the closest that I saw to correct. Really being a historian is like most jobs “you fake it until you make it” or as Tyler Rudd Putman more eloquently puts it, “Craftsmen move from mimicry to mastery.” There is no golden ticket. There is no right way to life. Life tends to take your plans and crumple them up and throw them away. The trick is not to let it get you down and to keep moving even when you feel beaten down.