Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conversations on Public History in North America & the U.K.

As the organizer of last year's international public history conference convened by the Institute of Historical Research and the University and National Museums of Liverpool, to which distinguished NCPH veterans made such crucial contributions, and as a new member of the Editorial Board of TPH, I’m much looking forward to my first NCPH conference. I’ve spent the past three months consulting among public historians, professional organizations, ‘heritage’ bodies, and funding agencies in the UK about the state of public history in the British Isles in general, and Anglo-American dialogue and collaboration in particular.  At Providence, I’ll be discussing related issues with NCPH officers and members.  I’m experimenting with this blog in the hope that I might hear from anyone with past or current experience of Anglo-American collaborations in public history, or ideas for potential future exchanges or cooperation. I can be reached at hhoock@liv.ac.uk  and also hope to meet colleagues and graduate students who'd like to share experiences and ideas. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Providence in the Evening

I thought I'd repost the recommendations of places to go out/eat in downtown Providence.  One of the graduate student committees compiled this list for first-time attendees and graduate students, but the section on where to eat, I think, works for everyone.  

What is there to do in the evening?  

Some evenings have scheduled events.  Definitely plan to attend the graduate student reception.  Most conference events end by around 9 pm, though, so you have plenty of time to get out and explore the city.  Several legendary Providence bars and clubs are located downtown, in very easy walking distance from the conference hotel.  Additionally there are often arts-related events (gallery nights, exhibit openings) in Providence.  Ask the hotel concierge or check out the local Providence alternative weekly to see what is happening: http://thephoenix.com/Providence.

This is hardly and exhaustive list:

The Wild Colonial: a casual tavern regularly rated one of the city's best; located in one of Providence's 18th century buildings.  250 South Water Street

Lupo's: Live music (check the website: http://www.lupos.com/).  79 Washington Street

Local 121: a beautifully restored restaurant and bar; conversation with the locals encouraged! (Try the Rhode Island style clam chowder; different than Boston style!)  121 Washington Street

The Red Fez: cheap, hip restaurant and bar (try the macaroni and cheese).  49 Peck Street

You can read the entire list of FAQs here.  

Are you going carbon-free to Providence?

Carbon offsets are by no means a long-term solution to the many problems caused by our dependence on fossil fuels, but they can be a good way to help underwrite the construction of a cleaner, greener infrastructure. If you're traveling from outside the region to Providence for the conference, consider investing a little more in your travel and offsetting its carbon footprint!

Not all carbon offset programs are created equal. For an assessment of some good ones, have a look at the Tufts Climate Initiative's run-down. I use Native Energy, and generally pay about $14 for travel within the same half of the country.

Networking Public History Style

I just returned from the OAH meeting in Seattle. Overall, it was excellent. I went to some phenomenal sessions and bought way too many books at the end of conference exhibit sale (all going into the dissertation). The one major disappointment was with the networking. I had big plans for connecting with folks who were doing public history in the region and in talking to other historians in my research fields. I am mostly uncomfortable in new social situations (but try to suck it up and make the best of it) and OAH isn't as focused on being graduate student friendly as NCPH is. So, the result was that I was not as successful as I had hoped and ended up coming away frustrated. By and large, the feeling I got was that I really needed to publish more before I would be willingly included in discussions. There's a different spirit at OAH than at NCPH.

Go figure that public historians are easier going and better at creating environments for social interchange.

One of the many things that NCPH has going for it is that their graduate student social event is in the evening, rather than at 7:30am. The evening event provides a great kick-off to connecting with other graduate students and getting that bonding/plugging-in going into full gear. If you're a graduate student and not signed up for this, find out if there is still a chance to get one of those free tickets to this event!

The snack breaks in between sessions are also a great time for continuing discussions from sessions and stopping to talk to people whose names you've only seen on the covers of your books. And the way that NCPH handles student poster sessions offers an excellent time for interaction among diverse professional audiences. I suspect that the speed networking event will provide much of this as well.

But what I like most about NCPH is the culture of the meeting. At NCPH people tend to be interested in talking to up-and-coming professionals, introducing them to other professionals with similar work or research interests, and exploring what others are doing regardless of academic or publication pedigree. There is generally less of a feel of power heirarchies or pretension that you might find at other academic conferences. All in all, NCPH manages to provide a setting for individuals to discuss (in both structured and unstructured ways) public history regardless of how much they have published or how far along they are in their career or education.

Perhaps its graduate friendly environment is why it has so many graduate student members and growing graduate student participation. Regardless, I think that it speaks well for training and professionalism in the public history field. I also think that it will have an impact on long term professional development.

We'll see what stories come out of networking at this year's conference.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weather forecasts

The long-term forecasts for the weekend of the conference are in, and they look... pretty good. Highs of 50 or so, lows in the high 30s. Chance of showers - hard to know yet what that means. But bring an umbrella.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ready to go?

A Po-Boy Dressed, with a Side of Local History: Documenting local history in post-Katrina New Orleans. (poster session)

Have you proofread it? Yes? Well proof it again, twenty more times. Getting ready for the poster session has been a hectic adventure. Trying to figure out the best way to present history to the public is what we do-- and it is often difficult. But with the poster session, we are trying to find the best way to present public history to scholars. Do we emphasize local history, or do we present more on digitization? What is the most alluring?

I'm trapped in a maze of file formatting, on-line downloads, and e-mail attachments. When everything is digital it allows for more attractive options, but it can sure make things more complicated. I'm wondering now if we should have just gone with construction paper and a glue stick. I've done my fair share of social studies fair projects, and I'm certain I haven't lost my skills with a hot glue gun and markers.

However we do it, we really are looking forward to sharing our experiences, excitement, and challenges with everyone at the conference. Using festival to explore local history is fun, and broadens public exposure to public history. At festival, we are allowed to be silly, campy, and maybe even weird. We can reach many people who may not step foot in a museum-- but will attend every festival in the city. In creating this poster, it has been a challenge to capture the undiluted essence of New Orleans, and translate our experiences so anyone, in any city, can become part of a local history festival. I sincerely hope we meet our goal.

I consider public historians to be artists of history, and I look forward to meeting fellow creatives!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Providence Here We Come!

As Cathy said on a previous blog, NCPH's upcoming meeting in Providence will be the largest gathering of public historians ever. Anywhere. Anytime. Period. 525 public history professionals and students will be heading to Providence for what promises to be another awesome NCPH meeting. I'm very excited to see the names of so many first-time attendees, and hope they will all enjoy the conference as much as I do every year, participate in the sessions and activities, and maybe add their voice to our conference blog as well. I'll get to meet some of the new folks at the Speed Networking session set up by our program committee, arranging fast-moving face to face dialogue between veteran - I've learned never to say "old" - public historians and those new to the field. I hope these mini informational interviews will give participants an inkling of the great variety of roles filled by public historians. The conference will have great sessions, fabulous tours in and around Providence, fascinating plenary speakers, and probably more than a little fun, including the NCPH endowment fundraiser, always the best party in town. My favorite part of this year's conference is that there will be no presidential address in 2009, which is a really good thing because I won't have to give it! Better get working on that for next year - meanwhile, see you in Providence!
Marianne Babal, NCPH President

It's a record...

With a week to go before the conference starts, we've already broken our own record for registration numbers. Our highest attendance ever at an NCPH conference was 476 people, at Santa Fe two years ago, and we now have more than 520 registered for the Providence event.

While these are big numbers for NCPH, you may find yourself thinking, "This is still quite a small conference, compared with some of the mega-events staged by academic and professional organizations." And this is the beauty of the NCPH conference - it attracts many people from within the field of public history, but it offers a very human-scale conference-going experience, with lots of opportunity for connecting with like-minded colleagues, students, and practitioners. Speaking for myself, I'm really looking forward to another wonderful gathering!

New Bill to Boost History Education, Reignite Culture Wars

[Greetings fellow public historians! I am cross-posting this from my blog because I think it is relevant to our field. --Larry]

Senators Robert Byrd, Edward Kennedy and Lamar Alexander have introduced a bill titled "Restoring American History and Civics to Classroom Prominence." Alexander (pictured here) described the bill in his floor speech, saying it "will help to put the teaching of American history and civics back in its rightful place, in our classrooms, so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an American. The legislation which we have introduced would expand summer academies for outstanding teachers, authorize new teacher programs, require States to set standards for the teaching and learning of U.S. history, and create new opportunities to compare the tests that students take on U.S. history."

Alexander's office also issued a press release which boiled the legislation down to bullet points, stating that the legislation would:

• Authorize 100 summer academies for outstanding students and teachers of U.S. History and align those academies with locations in the national park system, such as the John Adams House or Independence Hall
• Double authorization for funding “Teaching American History” programs in local school districts, which today involve 20,000 students as a part of No Child Left Behind
• Require states to develop and implement standards for student assessments in U.S. History, although there would be no federal accountability requirement as there is for reading and mathematics
• Allow states to compare history and civics test scores of 8th- and 12th-grade students by establishing a 10-state pilot program that would expand the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)

The most exciting parts of the bill are the first two items. One hundred summer academies is a lot! Tying them to the National Park Service is an interesting idea, and a tribute the NPS lobbyists, who deserve a big raise. Summer academies or institutes have been among the most successful parts of many, many Teaching American History projects, and the model is also used by the NEH and Gilder-Lehrman Institute. If one goes to the NPS History pages, and begins exploring the many historic National Monuments, historic trails, and National Heritage Areas (and when were those created, anyway? I had not heard of them) you can see the many possibilities for these institutes. I am already thinking of the NPS historic sites in my region, and the possibilities of summer institutes.

The second item, doubling the funding for the TAH program, is wonderful news. The Teaching American History program is designed to improve the teaching of American history in the schools by bringing together teachers, historians, and enough resources (by which I mean funding) for them to do some interesting collaborations. I have been deeply involved in the TAH program from the beginning, writing grant proposals, teaching the teachers, and most recently as an evaluator and consultant.

I really dislike the third item. I can see the goal here, making states develop history standards will help to ensure that history is taught and valued in the public schools. But who writes the standards? I see these standards becoming a political football and reigniting the culture wars of the 80s and 90s on the state level. Remember the disastrous reception to the 1994 National History Standards? This was a top-down attempt by an idealistic but politically naive history profession to impose a new set of historically sound standards on the nation's schools. Denounced (unfairly, but predictably) by Rush Limbaugh and Lynne Cheney as being politically correct, they were condemned by the U.S. Senate, 99 to 1. Lets pick that scab, shall we?

The last item, using NAEP to roll out a pilot project for standardized testing in history, also runs the risk of politicization. The great dilemma here is that in the era of NCLB high-stakes testing, that which is not tested does not get taught. And that which does get tested is "taught to the test"--stifling the teacher creativity that is one of the great strengths of our system.

Overall this bill is great news. Thank you, Senators!

Historians: Let's get out in front of this. Go to the NPS site and see what historic site matches your specialty and pick up the phone. But then make contact with your university School of Education (I know, I know) and find out how to get involved in the drafting of those state standards. This kind of bureaucratic work is time consuming and unrewarding. But not nearly so time consuming and unrewarding as teaching your survey classes in ten years if you do nothing and your class is full of young people who were taught all sorts of incorrect historical mischief in the public schools!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Art+History opening at the John Nicholas Brown Center

If you get to Providence a day early, you're invited to the opening of Art+History at the JNBC:

Art+History is an exhibition and community programming series about the processes of interpreting history. The John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage has commissioned Carla Herrera-Prats and Jill Slosburg-Ackerman to make new artworks influenced by the physical and historical parameters of the Nightingale-Brown House. Built in 1792 and boasting gardens designed by the Olmstead landscape design firm, it was home to five generations of the Brown family and now houses the JNBC. Art+History is a catalyst for conversation about how historical narrative is crafted and a different model for engaging audiences in historical sites and museums through contemporary artwork. The exhibition is curated by students in the master's in public humanities program, Meg Rotzel and Rosie Branson Gill.

Learn more about Art+History at the expanded project site

April 1 – October 2, 2009

Opening Reception

Tuesday, March 31

5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Outside Lies the Magical City

When I tell friends from other walks in life that I am going to a conference their usual response is, "Oh, right a 'conference.' So what are you going to do with your paid vacation?" It is hard for them to understand that for us, these conferences really are the main attraction. You get to see your favorite books walking around in person! (for more on how much I love history conferences, see my earlier post) In short, history conferences (particularly public history conferences) are not like those "conferences" we see in the news linked to outrageous misuse of tax dollars. NCPH is not a boondoggle: we work, and learn, and yes, there is the obligatory partying...oh, I mean networking!

But having said that, I do think that it is important to take some time to get to know the city that is hosting the conference. The surrounding city is part of the context and flavor of each conference and I believe that it is important to experience that aspect as part of a comprehensive conference experience. I always find at least one block of sessions where nothing truly grips me as being compelling, and I use that time to go do some exploration. While I do often have some landmarks set aside that I want to visit, I often like to just meander over a city on foot to see what I happen to discover.

In part, I think this comes from my survey training at the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU, but I know that it is also heavily influenced by me reading John Stilgoe's Outside Lies Magic early in my Public History classwork. What it comes down to is that I think one of the best ways to experience a place is on foot. You get that visceral experience of the landscape/streetscape that you can only acheive by hoofing it.

I end up gathering interesting examples of architecture, signage (I'm a signage fanatic), public programming, public planning, etc., and you get a real feel for the people in those spaces. I also have a habit of getting photos of myself interacting with public art/landmarks. That makes for good fun on facebook when I post the photos (the best one is me posing at the wrong end of the Bull on Wallstreet when I was in Manhatten for OAH...good times).

Even those who do not have the same penchant for mischief that I have will get a lot out of exploring the conference city. Go to the sessions that NCPH has to offer and interact with those walking books (or walking exhibits or public programming), but also make time to discover Providence while you're there. Get that authentic experience!

#ncph2009 - That's twitter-speak for the conference

Looking forward to talking about conference while it's underway - even if you're not there? Follow the conference on twitter, or join in: we're using the hashtag #ncph2009.


Scallops, drinks, fundraising. Oh my! (Follow the brick-lined road to the wonderful city of Tazza)

Too many Wizard of Oz references?

This year’s Endowment Fundraiser has moved locations. Originally scheduled for the Providence Children’s Museum, it is now being held a mere two blocks from the conference hotel (Biltmore) at the chic Tazza Café. Built in 1898, the Alice Building in Providence, is home to lofts, art galleries, bookstore as well as Tazza Café. A local downtown hotspot, Tazza offers live music, art for sale, eclectic cuisine, and local flare in its historic surroundings. Tickets are still available for purchase at the registration table on the 17th floor of the Biltmore. Student tickets are $45; Individual tickets are $75. Meet us in the hotel lobby at 6:45 pm to walk to Tazza (linking arms while singing and skipping is not required). Of course you are welcome to come to 250 Westminister Ave anytime between 7:00 and 9:00pm (don't forget your ticket).

Your contribution is greatly appreciated and helps NCPH continue to offer awards and new programming.

Please join us.
After some fits and starts, the Working Groups' case statements are now posted on the NCPH website. Participants were selected for each group when they answered the call issued last October. As a warm up for the discussion, they have written 2-3 page statements about their particular interest or approach to the group's topic. Statements are posted for the benefit of the group and for anyone else who is simply curious. You are welcome to sit in on the working group conversations during the conference. This year they cover a wide range of material, from public history labor issues, to historic preservation, racial diversity, the civic value of history, and new digital media, to commemorating the Civil War and preparing to teach public history.

Monday, March 23, 2009


This year, the Program Committee & Local Arrangements Committee have really tried to emphasize social networking. In addition to "speed networking" and the consultants reception (instead of a breakfast), we are also going to try dine-arounds. The purpose of dine-arounds is to provide a venue for conference participants to meet others with similar interests.
The following Dine-Arounds will be offered during the NCPH Annual Meeting, Saturday evening, April 4th. If any interest you, please sign-up at the registration table. Most can accommodate 10-12 people. Please feel free to join any that interest you, even if you are not directly affiliated with the topic, group, or theme. Of course, graduate students are invited to attend any dine-around. In fact all of them should have the phrase "and anyone interested in working. . ."

1. "Arizona State University Alumni, Students, and friends of Noel Stowe." Restaurant: Blue Elephant.
2. "National Collaborative for Women's History Sites." Restaurant: Union Station Brewery.
3. "History Education in the Public Sector" Restaurant: Cafe Paragon.
4. "Junior and mid-career faculty." Restaurant: Kabob & Curry.
5. "National Park Service staff, consultants, and anyone interested in working for the NPS." Restaurant: TBA

If you have an idea for a Dine-Around that you would like to host, please contact me at mbingman@iupui.edu. Its best if you have a local contact to co-host, but we may be able to help you out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

While I think that my reasons for going to conferences will to some extent remain the same, the primary reason that I love going to conferences as a graduate student is that I find them inspiring. I honestly come away from conferences positively high off of ideas. And that is what has made me a conference addict. I love the thrill of new ideas, of sharing ideas with other people working on similar projects, and really just expanding my intellectual horizons. Of course, one of the biggest thrills is learning about possibilities for projects that I had never thought of before or new ways of looking at a topic.

Going hand-in-hand with this is my need to ask questions. I'm generally not afraid to ask questions (or make a fool out of myself) and use conferences as an opportunity to ask experts and colleagues about research questions that are weighing on my mind. I've never been big on being star struck, but it does tickle my geeky soul to be able to talk directly to the historians who have written the books that I dearly love and have shaped my path as a historian. Writing up my questions of an author's work in a book review helps me to frame my interpretation of that person's book, but asking for feedback directly is so much more gratifying.

Yes, this does sometimes backfire. I've gotten a little over excited about grilling two different prominent southern historians (and I'm hoping that they forget both my name and face), but one of those instances resulted in me being asked to write an exhibit review for the JAH (word of advice, don't quote someone's book at him in the middle of a session...that's a little too sycophantic). Also, those occasions have made for great stories afterward (and what historian doesn't love a good story?). So my advice is don't be afraid to put yourself out there and take the opportunity to engage other scholars, ask questions, and explore new horizons.

It is also kind of amusing to be able to say in a seminar discussion after a conference, "Well, when I was talking to Cathy Stanton last week about this very topic, she said..." For historians who are already well established in the field, these kinds of conversations are normal. For grad students...well, I just think that it is cool.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Underground Railroad and Public History

Run for Your Life: The Underground Railroad and Public History

James Brewer Stewart, this year's NCPH conference keynote speaker, has written powerfully about the abolitionists, an early contribution to a key topic that has changed dramatically. When his book, "Holy Warriors" appeared in 1976, historians tended to interpret anti-slavery activism as part of a wide range of ante-bellum utopian, social reform movements. These days the focus has shifted from white religious abolitionists to an emphasis on the black public sphere, decoding slave narratives, and the network of African American helpers who made the Underground Railroad a path to freedom. Documenting the historical evolution of appeals to "Let My People Go" to the direct action imperatives of "Let's flee slavery now!" is an important part of public history work on this popular topic.

Historian David Blight has edited a superb collection of articles dealing with conflicts of heritage and history, called "Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory" and James and Lois Horton have collected state-of-the-art essays in "Slavery and Public History." On the web see sources from the National Park Services site The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom http://www.cr.nps.gov/ugrr/. The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Abolition and Resistance has in-depth resources at www.yale.edu/glc/

Check out podcasts, tours, museum objects and library documents from the Run for Your Life projects on the New-York Historical Society website. www.nyhistory.org (or directly https://www.nyhistory.org/web/default.php?section=whats_new&page=society_detail&id=43)
--Kathleen Hulser, public historian, New-York Historical Society

Sunday, March 1, 2009

An introduction

Hello, NCPH community. I am the chair of the NCPH graduate student committee. This has been a great opportunity to learn more about how the organization operates, to develop relationships with John, Melissa, and the other Indianapolis folks, and to meet some really fantastic students around the country. We've been working on several projects for the annual meeting, including expanding the mentoring program, developing a speed-networking opportunity for new professionals, and an FAQ list (from a graduate student's perspective) about the NCPH meeting. I will also be guest blogging from time to time here before and during the meeting.

Over the course of the next month, I'll be posting items from the FAQ list that we developed. The whole document has been uploaded into Scribd and will also be excerpted in the March NCPH newsletter.

NCPH Conference FAQs

I graduated from Indiana University in 2004 with a B.A. in History, a certificate in Jewish Studies, and a minor in East Asian Languages and Cultures. With all of these incredibly practical degrees in hand and a spirit of idealism in my heart, I joined Teach For America and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. For three years I taught different versions of U.S. history—standard, ESL, inclusion, AP, IB History of the Americas—and AVID at West Charlotte High School. These various experiences, professional and personal, got me thinking about how individuals and communities think about the past, where they encounter “history,” and the challenges of making these processes accessible and meaningful. I moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 2007 to enroll in Brown University’s masters of public humanities program. While my interests have often shot off in all directions, the core of my academic study has been how to craft enriching educational programs and experiences that deliver humanities, especially history, scholarship and make it relevant for diverse audiences.