Sunday, December 26, 2010

"The Heritage Hatchet" in Washington State

A useful and chilling post over at the Seattle blog Crosscut highlights another blow to history and heritage in the draconian state budget just proposed by Governor Gregoire. The Heritage Capitol Projects fund is to be eliminated, cutting $10 million from state heritage organizations and ending a program that since 1997 has helped fund historic preservation in the state. Crosscut lays out the impact of the decision:

So, the Seattle Theater Group will not get money for improvements to the historic Moore Theater ($531,259); the Museum of History and Industry will not get funds to fix plumbing and ventilation in its new museum space ($1 million), the Seattle Department of Transportation won't get additional funds for restoring King Street Station ($700,000), the Phinney Neighborhood Association won't receive a grant to renovate its historic community center ($994,950), SAM won't get help with new storage space for its collection ($30,890), the Center for Wooden Boats will miss out on money to build its new education center at South Lake Union park ($1,000,000), and Historic Seattle will lose restoration funds for the landmark Washington Hall in the Central District ($470,000).

And the list goes on for projects all over the state: the ship Lady Washington in Gray's Harbor, Tacoma's historic granary at Fort Nisqually, the Officer's Row housing at Ft. Vancouver, the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, the Blue Mountain Heritage Society's Smith Hollow School, the Maryhill Museum near Goldendale, Snoqualmie's railway museum, these and many more will lose out under the current plan.

The actual impact is greater than $10 million because the grants required $2 in matching funds for every state dollar.

As the details of this budget emerge it is clear that we are facing a disaster of historic proportions as the state walks away from maintaining its history and heritage and decides that these are no longer a function of government. Among the other monumental decisions in the budget:
  • Cut all state funding for the parks, many of which are historic parks. The parks will have to sink or swim with whatever recreational and camping fees they can generate (including $5 or $10 to visit a state park), and it is anticipated that many will simply close. Goodbye, Spokane House.
  • Slashing the budget of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and merging the agency with the Department of Natural Resources.
  • Eliminate other statewide historic programs including Barn Again, which helps owners identify and maintain the historic barns that define many of our rural areas.
What remains for history and heritage in the state budget? Not much. Though the budget will be cut, the Secretary of State will continue to maintain public records (as required the state constitution) many of which are historic through the state archives. (Full disclosure: I have a half-time appointment with the Washington State Archives.) The Washington State Library will take big cuts but it seems likely it will remain open in some form. Although the Archives and Library preserve historic records, neither offers extensive historical interpretation and outreach like the state historic societies and parks.

We are at a crossroads in Washington State. If we travel down the road the governor has outlined we face a future without a past. Admittedly she has only poor choices--the state budget must be balanced, and voters overturned even a small tax increase on soda pop in the recent elections. And yet there are other places that could be cut in a budget that still includes money for golf courses, state prisons crowded with non-violent offenders, and various big-ticket roads and building projects that, while necessary, could be delayed until the economy improves. The governor's constant refrain, that her only choices are to cut history (or whichever cut she is defending) or eliminate vaccines for poor children is simply not the case.

Please take a moment, right now, to contact your state representatives and protest these cuts. This post on the proposed MAC closure has links and details on how to do so.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Debate Over Little Bighorn Battle Monument

NY Times: Debate Over Little Bighorn Battle Monument: "A political tug of war has raged between the National Park Service, Custer buffs and Indian tribes over how best to fix a litany of problems with the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, in south central Montana."

"Custer's Last Stand" by Thomas Hart Benton, 1943.
The above is an interesting article about how a decaying infrastructure at the Little Big Horn is forcing interested parties to come up with a compromise solution. The Crow Nation in particular is flexing its political and moral authority over the issue and demanding a leadership role in interpreting and event which is a turning point in their history and happened right on what became their reservation.

The NY Times has an archive of Custer stories that provide background and snapshots of the man's declining historical reputation:

You might notice no articles between the late 1920 and the 1980s above. It seems that the Times has put articles from that era back behind a pay wall. I am  not sure when this happened or why!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Save the MAC!

Those of you in Spokane may already know that in her proposed 2011-2013 budget Governor Gregoire has proposed closing the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. The doors would be closed and the staff would be reduced from 34.8 to 2.8 full-time equivalents--basically someone to mow the lawn. The museum exhibits and the Campbell House would close, the cultural events would end, and the public would lose access to the historic records and collections that the museum holds. The Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma is to get the same treatment. For the historical community in Washington State this is an unprecedented disaster in the making.

State Budget vs. the MAC

The attached statement and supporting documents from the MAC Museum board president relate to the Governor’s budget made public today. Her budget has plans to close the Museum to the public.
How can you help?

     1. Contact your elected officials and tell them how important the MAC is to you and this community.
     2. Contact five of your friends and ask them to do the same.
     3. Become a member of the MAC!  

Let your representatives know how important the MAC is to our region and, for the preservation of historical and cultural treasures that can be found nowhere else.

This is just the first step in the budget process. Our legislative delegation has been extremely supportive, and we are working closely with them.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.
We are moving full-steam ahead in anticipation of da Vinci exhibit opening on June 3, 2011.  Best wishes for a happy holiday season.

Chris Schnug, Museum Board President

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wanted: Founding Fathers

Who says there aren't any public history jobs? A friend sent me this advertisement for "Founding Father Performers" at Historic Philadelphia. They don't require singing and dancing abilities but I think those are just assumed for this type of position:

Founding Father Performers, Historic Philadelphia, PA
Posted By HISTPRES On December 10, 2010 (7:06 am) In Other

Historic Philadelphia, Inc. seeks historical interpreters to portray Founding Fathers.
  • Thomas Jefferson: mid-late 20s/early 30s; at least 5’10”; Virginia accent; red hair preferred
  • John Adams: 40s/50s; no taller than 5’8”
  • Benjamin Franklin: 60s/70s
  • George Washington: 40s/50s; at least 6’; athletic build preferred
  • Alexander Hamilton: 20s/30s at least 5’8”
Part-time paid work, April through October, 2011; could be extended.
Rehearsals – $12/hour.
Performance – min. $50/show.
Housing/Transportation not included.

To Apply:
Auditions by invitation only; held in mid-January 2011. For more information visit

HPI is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
Send picture (in .jpg or .jpeg form) and resume (in .pdf, .doc or .docx form) to – or via U.S. mail to
Historic Philadelphia, Inc.
Attn: Auditions
150 S. Independence Mall West Suite 550
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Deadline: 01/08/2011

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Digital Toolbox for Graduate Students in History

Readers, help me out here. What does a 21st century graduate student need to know in the way of digital tools and resources? I am trying to develop a presentation for incoming students in our graduate program in history. Here is my list so far, what should I add? I am trying to identify both tools and the minimum skill set that students should try to master with each.

  • Students need to master the Google search engine. They should know how to search for phrases, exclude certain terms, filter by date range, search within a domain, use the cache to view expired pages, and how to frame a good query in the first place. I am surprised how many students who grew up with Google don't know these things.

  • Google Books is the historian's boon companion, offering access to millions of books, searchable and sometimes downloadable. Students should master the advanced search features, be able to set up their own libraries, and be able to share, save, and organize what they find. Students should also know the other big book/content projects,, the Hathi Trust, and Open Library.

  • Zotero is a citation manager and so much more that helps tame the information overflow of the web. Students should be able to set up a Zotero account, sync their files, create Zotero items for items in multiple formats, create a library and share it with other Zotero users.

  • Students should use an RSS reader to simplify keeping track of blogs and other changing information. (I love this Common Craft video, RSS Readers in Plain English. I have been using Google for this but I suspect there are better solutions. Should I recommend Feedly? Help me out here.

  • Students need to be able to capture, edit, save and organize images. They should be able to use a digital camera to take notes in the archives, back up and share their photos online, and capture images from websites. My preferred tools are Picasa and Picnik.

  • Dropbox is the preferred online backup for your files. Did I ever tell you about the friend whose laptop with two year's worth of dissertation research was stolen? Fortunately she had backed up her files--on disks that she kept in her laptop case. Don't let this happen to you.

  • Twitter is an important source for finding sharing information and Tweetdeck seems to be the best management tool.

  • Finally, I want to have a section about managing your online presence. Students should have a professional email address that is a recognizable version of their first and last names (and really, it should be Gmail), should have accounts at LinkedIn and, and should consider blogging and Tweeting--or least claiming their real name on Twitter if it is not too late. More importantly students should learn how not to leave incriminating evidence online. Future employers are not going to be impressed with how wasted you got in Cancun or by those photos of your new tattoo.
Wow, the above list is already longer and more intimidating than I wanted it to be. And yet I don't want to leave anything out. Please post your comments and suggestions below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Briefly Noted

Some things that I wish I had more time to explore:
  • Memento is an experimental "time machine right in your web browser . . . [to] . . . explore content from a date in the past" according to the Library of Congress.
  • Google Earth 6 is turning heads (see above)with its scary-good integration of street view into the virtual world. But not all the street views available in Google Maps show up in Earth yet.
  • Building on Google Earth 6, HistoryPin allows you to "pin your history to the world" by inserting historic photographs into the street view. I am so going to do this with a class.
  • Did you see where the FCC came out today with a very strong statement of support for net neutrality? Change I can believe in.
  • ...and I have been meaning to tell you all that my employer, the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, is tweeting. I mostly write the tweets, and so far they have focused on exploring the 92 million digital objects in our collection. I may be a while. Follow us here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

History of USSR for children

If I taught Russian history I would show this at the final exam, hand out blue books, and tell the students to analyze it:

Type your summary hereType rest of the post here

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guest Post: Two faces of public history in Seattle

[My friend Katrina Gulliver came through the great Northwest last month. Being a hip digital type she blogged a few of her observations and has graciously allowed me to cross post this excellent piece from her blog Notes from the Field. The original post is here.]

During my recent visit to Seattle, I saw two sides of what many people experience as "public history". The first was Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Located near the tourist destination of Pike Place Market, this century-old establish is an example of public history in a form that was once much more common. They have on display various items of the "freak show" variety (shrunken heads, deformed farm animals) as well as old-fashioned amusement machines (still operational!) such as an eighteenth-century animated diorama of a murder, and Stereoscope pictures.

Of course it is primarily a retail establishment more than a museum, and they sell quite a range of items, from scrimshaw to candy.

Most intriguing of their exhibits were the two "mummies" they had on display. They are both described as cases of natural environmental desiccation of a body. Their most famous, named "Sylvester" is as they describe it the body of a prospector, felled by a bullet, and found out West in the 1880s. He is naked but for some kind of cloth around his hips; judging from older photos it has been changed.

A card gives their explanation of his history. He bears a visible bullet hole, and the scars from older injuries involving buckshot, but little is known about him.

Interestingly, and contra the information on the wall beside him, some scientific analysis of Sylvester have suggested he is not what he seems. As this article details, there is evidence indicating that he was not a natural mummification at all, but was treated with an embalming technique involving arsenic. Intriguingly, the article says this was popular among late nineteenth-century sideshow exhibitors: perhaps he was created for public display?

The female mummy they name "Sylvia", and is a woman from Latin America who died in the early nineteenth-century - presumably from natural causes. She still wears the stockings and shoes in which she was buried. Is it wrong for this (presumably) Catholic woman's remains to be on display? If Sylvester and Sylvia were indigenous, it would be illegal now for them to be used as museum exhibits. But for European dead people, is it ok? I don't know. I'm white, and would I be disturbed and offended if a member of my family were displayed like that? Hell yes. But I was still gawping at these two like everyone else....

Next, to the more respectable end of public history, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.
Obviously not in the Klondike, but in Seattle which was the starting point for a vast number of prospectors heading North in the stampede following the discovery of gold in 1897.
In a downtown building, the former Cadillac Hotel, this museum is partly underground - suiting the mining theme.

We were given a knowledgeable introduction by the Ranger on duty, Gene Ritzinger. He was wonderfully well informed about the history of the gold rush and the region. One display is a recreation of a provisions store: regulations put in place by the Canadian authorities decreed that everyone arriving in the Klondike had to be carrying supplies for one year.

The museum is very well laid out, with something of interest for children and adults, with games like this "Strike it Rich". The informational chart, however, implies a gender parity of those heading for the goldfields, when in fact women were in the minority.

Other activities including pencil rubbing of seals - this is a nice touch, and a way of providing something hands-on without resorting to stupid games.
The information about particular miners includes artefacts like the diary and camera of William Shape (a wealthy New Yorker who seems to have gone for the adventure as much as the pursuit of gold).

I also learned that John Nordstrom used the money he made in the goldfields to establish his first store in Seattle, which later became the major department store chain bearing his name.
There is a documentary film about the gold rush from 1973 narrated by Hal Holbrook. It has colour photos (hand tinted, I assume) and also utilises the "Ken Burns" technique of moving focus across these images to tell the story. Engaging, and informative, without condescending to the viewer.
The Klondike rush is an interesting phenomenon in itself - and not one I knew a great deal about beyond Jack London-esque images. The fact that it was very much a result of modern communications (that thousands of people knew of the gold discovery almost immediately, and the transcontinental railroad allowed them to quickly make their way to the West Coast - a great contrast with the slow journeys of '49ers). It was an arduous and unsuccessful journey for most - only 1 in 5 even made it as far as prospecting.

Many of those who returned stayed in Seattle, and were able to memorialise the stampede by forming clubs, staying in touch - and becoming a civic force in their own right. Modern urban life and technology allowed them to make this event part of their public identity.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Submit a Cliopatria Award Nomination

The History News Network seeks nominations for its 2010 Cliopatria awards for best history blogs. Each year the award is given in the categories of Best Group Blog, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Post, Best Series of Posts, and Best Writer. If you are a supporter of history blogging, please take a minute and nominate a few of your favorites. Northwest History won Best Individual blog in 2008, it was very gratifying and made a real positive difference in my career.

I am still thinking about some of the categories but my nominations so far are as follows:

Best Individual Blog: Boston 1775. Billed as "History, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts," the blog is really much more than that. Blogger J.L. Bell does primary source blogging, reporting his latest historical discovery as is it were today's news. Along the way he provides a master class in the use on online primary databases. And he frequently promotes local history gatherings (I should do more of that) and offers a scholarly perspective on current events such as the Tea Party movement. When I won the Cliopatria two years ago my first thought was "Dang, J.L. Bell has been robbed!"

Best Group Blog: Preservation Nation, the blog of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It shows how an "official" blog of a major organization can be relevant and compelling. Of course if someone wanted to nominate Off the Wall, the National Council on Public History blog to which I contribute, I would not object.

And by the way if you are looking for quality history blogs to add to your RSS feed you might take a look at past winners of the Cliopatria award.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What Happened to Google News Archive Search?

Update: Paul Jeffko of SmallTownPapers (which looks to be worth checking out) points out that Google does have a page listing all of their digitized newspapers. Thanks Paul!

I have been pretty enthusiastic (giddy, really) about Google's project to put historic newspapers from Spokane and other cities online. Though this has been an incredible resource in my local history courses, it was never easy to get to the historic newspapers, with the search function buried several layers down in the advanced menus at Google News.

The, sometime late this summer, Google News was redesigned and the ability to get to the historic newspapers disappeared! The good news is that the newspapers are still online and the search function for them still exists, you just cannot navigate to it from the Google News site. So, dear reader, here you go:

Google News Archive Search - Advanced Options

I have no idea why Google buried the link or what this means for the future of historic newspapers at Google. The official Google News Blog is silent--though maybe if I combed through the About News Archive Search pages I'd find out.  If you have any rumors or speculation, feel free to share them in the comments.

["Auto Carrying Giant Potato..." from the Spokane Daily Chronicle, June 22, 1915 p. 2.]

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cell Phone Tours

Get your phone out to follow along with this post.

I was at the Seattle Art Museum a few months ago and was impressed by the cell phone interpretation they have running through the museum. In an age when museums are going through expensive contortions trying to use technology to improve visitor experiences, I found the cell phone tour a simple and elegant a solution.

The pictures below show a few examples, and the phone numbers are still active. Go ahead and call them as you look at the images. (I was going to download the audio and link it here--but you people need to meet me halfway here!)

This carved argylite box is accompanied by an interview with a modern Indian carver. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 123 to listen.

This 1850 ceremonial headdress of the Tlingit people is enhanced by the creation myth it portrays. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 124.

One more example is this modern glass interpretation of a Killer Whale. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 122.

You can see all of my photos from the SAM here. The museum also put all of the audio up online for free download. I downloaded a bunch of them before I came to the museum, but once I was there i found it far easier to dial the numbers in front of me than to fiddle with iTunes on my phone. A museum friend told me that these phone tours get used even after the exhhibit comes down, apparently from people who are looking at their vacation pictures and dialing the numbers.

So in conclusion--cell tours, yay! Of course museums can make mobile technology far more involved and complicated if they like. This NY Times article surveys some of the mobile apps for iPhones and Androids that museums are beginning to use. What jumps out at me from the article is that none of the apps seem to be very good! And how many of your visitors are carrying smart phones, and will have downloaded your app in advance of their visit? I think around 20% of Americans carry smart phones. And of course there are all kinds of interactive kiosks and other intensive technologies out there, all of which seem expensive, prone to breaking, and quickly outdated. By comparison a cell tour is dirt cheap to produce, leverages a piece of technology that nearly visitor already has, and has a potential reach beyond the museum walls.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eastern Region Archives, Digital Archives open house set for October 12

OLYMPIA: In honor of Archives Month, the Washington State Archives is offering an open house tour and demonstration of its Cheney facilities on Tuesday, October 12.

The event includes a 2:30 p.m. tour of the State Archives’ Eastern Region Branch conducted by Eastern Regional Branch Archives Assistant Lee Pierce. A demonstration and tour of the Digital Archives will take place at 3:30 p.m. Digital Archivist Kerry Barbour and Assistant Archivist Larry Cebula will demonstrate the Digital Archives’ website, and Network Administrator Harold Stoehr will lead a tour of its state-of-the-art facility.

The ERB Archives holds government records for 11 counties, cities, local government offices, school districts and cemetery boards.

“From attendance records for one-room schools to Spokane Garry’s death certificate to frontier court records, the Eastern Regional Branch has the raw materials of our history,” Pierce said. “There are literally thousands and thousands of historical nuggets for people to uncover.”

Now in its sixth year of operation, the Digital Archives preserves almost 100 million records from Washington state and local governments.

“We’re proud to have the first Digital Archives of any state in the nation,” Barbour said. “We have a goldmine of documents and photos for genealogists, history buffs, researchers, students and anyone else to access and enjoy. Our Digital Archives is a state-of-the-art facility that brings Washington’s past to us literally at our fingertips.”

Some posters of colorful birds-eye maps of Spokane and Port Townsend will be given away as door prizes to a few lucky visitors who come to the Cheney facilities on October 12.

The Eastern Regional Branch Archives and Digital Archives facilities are located at 960 Washington St. in Cheney, on the campus of Eastern Washington University. Both are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding state holidays.

The Eastern Regional Branch Archives can be reached at (509) 235-7508 or . Digital Archives can be contacted at (509) 235-7500, ext. 200, or .

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Who Will Save America's Vanishing Songs?

1859 drawing of an phonautograph, the first device capable of recording sound. You can listen to some of the first recorded sounds here. Illustration from Wikimedia Commons.
NPR recently ran an interesting piece, Who Will Save America's Vanishing Songs? The story was inspired by a paper from the Library of Congress' National Recording Preservation Board [huge PDF warning].

Both pieces report that in some ways it is the most recent musical tracks that are the most endangered. "Older recordings actually have better prospects to survive another 150 years than recordings made last week using digital technologies," according t the report. Many smaller bands only release their music digitally, sometimes via a MySpace page or similar site, with no thought to digital preservation. Modern copyright laws have become so restrictive that "Were copyright law followed to the letter . . . it would brand virtually all audio preservation as illegal." And don't even get us started on the multiple digital tracks, alternate versions, and bonus tracks that make up modern music releases.

The report is not optimistic about preserving older media either. "Public institutions, libraries, and archives hold an estimated 46 million recordings," the report tells us, yet "degree programs to train professional audio archivists are nonexistent."

I found the report a discouraging read. Popular music is one of the best sources that we have for getting into the mindset of people in the past. Popular music is an invaluable source for social history and a great teaching tool (see this post on teaching with digitized music from Edison cylinders).

What is to be done? "This study will be followed by publication of a national plan developed on the basis of the recommendations of task forces convened to discuss the findings presented here," we are told. Apparently it cannot happen soon enough.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"You as a Professor should stop bringing into the 21st century all this negativism"

What is the responsibility of a historian when visiting historic sites? Particularly if the historic interpretation at the site is found wanting?

Back in June I toured a historic house museum in the south. The interpretation there was so problematic that I wrote a letter to the director. I posted a modified version of it here, in which I removed any identifying information so as not embarrass the volunteers: Open Letter to the Curators of the Baron Von Munchausen Historic Home. You should read that post if you have not already before you proceed.

Last month I received a reply--pretty blistering in parts, but with a lot of value in the way it illustrates the world view of at least some of the people who run historic sites, and the difficulty of getting them to improve the interpretation. I have removed specific references to the home and city, otherwise the letter is exactly as it was received.

Dear Mr. Cebula:
First of all, thank you for your historical
critic regarding the tour of the Munchausen
House...As you probably have learned that
many times history is abused and many times
told by so-called experts that reveal their
interpretations of what really took place 200 plus
years ago...It reminds me of the game many
years ago taught to me in the name of "gossip"..
By the time 10 people received a message told
to the first person, it changed and was
altered quite a bit by the time it hit the last 10th person...
Only the first person knows the truth.

The Declaration of Independence was written by
men of great strength and jeopardizing their
own families to sign was a signal of the type of
men that existed "then"....Can you deny that the
King would not have wanted to stop this document
if he could? The Crown for many centuries has
been guilty of intimidation, warnings and many
times murders that are masked as accidents..
If Benjamin Franklin said himself "'We must all
hang together, gentlemen, or else we shall most
assuredly hang separately." do these words sound
like a man who is not afraid of the consequences
in signing that beautiful document?  How can you say some of the signers
didn't suffer! We have a wonderful book in the
office "Signing Their Lives Away" put out by
Quirk books that would answer all your questions
in regards to their lives after signing...

The question about women being engaged and married at an early age is true in the South...
Because of a short life-span back then, it would
certainly have sped up the marriage process...
Both the wives of Baron Munchausen died in their with tuberculosis and the other during child birth....Of course not everyone died or
married young but the times were possibly more harsh on women than men and because
Ignorance and information
not given to that century made them more
vulnerable to fevers, infections and unsanitary
conditions for child bearing....

Yes, Baron Munchausen had slaves to manage his
2,500 acres in nearby town...
That, unfortunately was the law of the land with
Southerners and Northerners taking advantage...
Grant and Lee both had slaves.....
The House you visited had cooks and maids and a
carriage driver that were slaves to maintain the
property...If you go back to Africa and realize
that the black slaves that were rounded up , were rounded up by
their own blame should be shared by
everyone background is Greek and
I am proud that Greeks never allowed Greeks to
be given as slaves by their own....Now, I'm getting off the
subject at hand....The visitors that come to this
House want to be entertained by "sayings" from
the 18th century or "ghost stories"...You have to
understand the younger visitors know very little
about the Revolutionary War period, due to the
fact that the schools have gone downhill and do
not give this generation a good education ..The
younger students can barely start a sentence
without the word "like, like" and continue to
ramble with the worst English imaginable..

..We have a little difference of opinion in
regards to "Education" in the 1700s...We are
referring to our area, where it was
much more difficult to become educated as
apposed to a child in New England, where they
of course were established much earlier....Munchausen's
daughter "Princess Peach"
was sent to England boarding schools and came
back to our town where she decided in
to open a School for Girls in the
late 1780s... Her husband was stationed there
as a Doctor....

The Museum has for over 20 years given school
tours to 4th graders, gratis....Many times we
started telling the children about the slaves that
cooked and planted...The public schools that we
would give the history tour had a large percentage
of Black students, they seemed embarrassed to hear
that their forefathers were the slaves....many times
we would hear other students tease them about
being a slave...It was very disturbing to us that these children would feel less of a person if we
continued to banter about slavery....our "Mission
Statement" for this house is to preserve our
history, patriotic service and educational projects...Not to bring into the mix about a most
heinous practice that existed over two centuries ago...I feel that bringing up a hateful subject would
be cruel to the student, who would start hating
the messenger ..details of cruelty is a subject
most people with sensitivity do not want to hear about....So there you have it.
You as a Professor should stop bringing into the
21st century all this negativism...instead bring
the students out of the "Hate" mode so they
can live their lives with a more positive attitude...
and teach them about good things that people
do...the outreach of people that are in peril reach
out to America...not Russia or Greece or any
other country...make them proud that this
young land has given you and me a chance to
live a good life...that's all...Sorry for the delay in writing
back, but I was on vacation...

Patricia Pangloss
Manager-BVM Museum

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Patrick Henry Said What?: Or, How to Fact-Check an Internet "Quote"

An unfortunate side effect of this information superhighway thing is that a lot of the information that gets passed along is wrong. This is as true of historical information as any other kind. The web is crowded with imaginary black confederates, crank constitutional theories, and historical "quotes" that no one ever said.

A former student of mine is always putting up one historical "quote" or another from Brainy Quote or ThinkExist on his Facebook page. These sites are full of made up and real quotes side by side (Mark Twain in particular suffers terribly at their hands, along with the Founders and Yogi Berra). And these websites seem to plagiarize one another with abandon, so once something is out there, it is everywhere. So now I tell students to trace their quotes back to the source: "Find me the document by that person that is the origin of the quote," I tell them.

Case in point, the following "quote" for Patrick Henry, which is so widespread that it gets over 800,000 Google hits: "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government -- lest it come to dominate our lives and interests."

Sounds great, patriotic and stirring and making a political point that has considerable modern-day relevance. But Patrick Henry never said it. He never wrote it. It is fake.

How can I be so sure? Google books is often a good source for getting to the facts. Here is the search. We see that the Henry quote appears in ten books from the last 15 years, including the Congressional Record (apparently by Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina), The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers, and 
Chuck Norris' magisterial Black Belt Patriotism.

Yet the alleged quote appears not at all in any earlier works--not in any of the hundreds of books of Henry's writings, books about the constitutional debates, or biographies of Henry that are in the Google Books database. In fact it first pops up in print in 1994 (dawn of the internet era!) in a political book. If Henry really said something so quotable in his lifetime it is inconceivable that no one thought to quote it until 1994. The quote is a fake.

Further evidence that the quote is spurious is that it does not sound like Henry, who was after all an anti-federalist and opposed to the constitution, which he considered a Federalist plot. Hell, Henry refused an invitation to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, famously explaining "I smell a rat."

I could have performed this exercise with hundreds of other "quotes" from the Founders that you see plastered on bumper stickers and misspelled on Tea Party signs. So where do we look for real, verified historical quotes? My first suggestion is to read the primary sources. If you want to know what any one of the Founders thought about the Constitution read his collected writings. You could begin here. These are men whose thoughts on government were for the most part highly nuanced and sophisticated. No one-sentence take away, even if it is verified, is going to capture the richness and complexity of their thought.

OK, some of you are not going to do that. If you must go to a quotations website, use Wikiquotes. A spin-off  of the Wikipedia project, Wikiquotes tries to raise the bar by organizing the quotes into three categories: "Sourced" for verified quotes, "Attributed" for quotes whose provenance is uncertain, and "Misattributed" for things that are flat out wrong. It is a good idea, but crowd sourcing is only as good as the crowd, and as of this morning their Patrick Henry page included the fake constitution quote as "Sourced!" I fixed it--let's see if it stays fixed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

With Marcus and Narcissa to Pensacola

I just got word that my proposal has been accepted for the 2011 Annual Meeting of the National Council on Public History Conference in Pensacola this April. I am excited because the NCPH is by miles the most interesting history conference and Pensacola sounds pretty nice as well. Here is the proposal I submitted:

The Many Deaths of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman
The killings of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman cast a long shadow in the Pacific Northwest. Since the American missionaries died at the hands of their Cayuse charges in 1847, their deaths have been reinterpreted with each new generation according to its own needs and preconceptions. Today the landscape of south-central Washington and north-central Oregon hosts numerous and contradictory interpretations of the deaths of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman--morality plays with different moral lessons.

My presentation will look at some of the different ways that this controversial historical event is and has been presented in monuments, museums, and other public places. In particular I will focus on three locales: Whitman Mission National Historic Site, established in 1936 and (despite considerable updating in recent years) devoted to the “heroic” interpretation of the missionary encounter; Tam├ístslikt Cultural Institute, established by the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes and where the Whitmans are presented as dangerous invaders and cultural imperialists; and Nez Perce National Historical Park, established in 1965 in a partnership between the National Park Service and the Nez Perce and other native peoples where the death of the Whitmans is presented in a more even-handed manner. I will briefly examine other public monuments to the Whitmans including sites such as Whitman College and the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

The presentation will be incorporate many images, sound clips, and video from the sites examined.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Special Event Tomorrow at the MAC

David Nicandri, Director of the Western Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma, will be at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture tomorrow, Wednesday September 15 at 6:30 p.m. to talk about "Deconstructing the Lore of Lewis and Clark." Announcement below the jump.

Nicandri is an excellent speaker and is as deeply immersed in the expedition as anyone I know. This should be good!

Wednesday Night at the Museum!

This new series of lectures and presentations will offer a wide range of reflective and forward-looking programs based on our exhibits and collections, as well as contemporary culture, history, art and film. Wednesday Night at the Museum partners include Spokane Chapter of the American Institute of Archaeology, Contemporary Arts Alliance (SpIFF), and the Visiting Artist Lecture Series. (There is no charge for the Archeological Society programs or the Visiting Artist Lectures. MAC programs and CAA/SpIFF films are $5.00.)
Museum and partner members receive special email calendar notices of the schedules for Wednesday Night at the Museum programs. Please watch for updates and edits to programming at
Wednesday, September 15  "Deconstructing the Lore of Lewis and Clark"  Author and historian David Nicandri will discuss his book, River of Promise that fills the gaps in our understanding of Lewis and Clark's legendary expedition. The MAC is proud to welcome Nicandri who is the director of the Western WA State Historical Society in Tacoma.  6:30 PM  in the Eric A. Johnston Auditorium  Admission is $5 to all.

"Metaphorically speaking, I came to appreciate the value of simply keeping the oar in the water. I imagine that this is something that Lewis and Clark imputed to the men with great regularity - it's a great life-lesson."    

      --David Nicandri

Monday, September 13, 2010

Peer Review 2.0?

Interesting piece over at the NY Times: For Scholars, Web Changes Sacred Rite of Peer Review. The article concerns the partnership between the Center for History and New Media and the Shakespeare Quarterly to experiment with an online, crowd-sourced system of scholarly peer review. The Chronicle of Higher Education also has a good article about the experiment, with some valuable remarks in the comments section.

Peer review, for those of you in the real world, is the process by which scholarship is vetted by experts in advance of publication. Peer-reviewed books and articles are considered the gold standard in academia, particularly for tenure and promotion. To say that a book or article is peer-reviewed is to say that it has been closely examined by another scholar or scholars with expertise in the field who looked it over for factual accuracy, relevance to other scholarship, originality, clarity of argument, and other factors. The big question is "Does this manuscript add to our understanding of its topic?" Peer-review in the humanities is usually single-blind, which is to say that the reviewer knows the identity of the author but the author does not get to know the identity of the reviewer(s). This is supposed to encourage the reviewer to be frank and honest. The reviewers can usually recommend publication, recommend publication after some specific revisions (the dreaded but often useful "revise and resubmit) or outright rejection.

It all sounds good on paper, and on paper is where traditional peer review takes place. But as the Times notes, "Clubby exclusiveness, sloppy editing and fraud have all marred peer review on occasion." That is putting it politely! I think that everyone who has been through the process has enjoyed thoughtful, constructive criticism and advice from conscientious reviewers. Some of us have also had reviewers who seem to have skimmed our manuscript and sunk our hopes of publication with half-baked objections. Though reviewers are supposed to be anonymous this very often breaks down in the small worlds of most academic subdisciplines. (Hint: When you put down your work a a peer reviewer on your C.V., don't list the name of the person whom you reviewed, because your university might put your CV online and blow your cover. I should add that Jay was the thoughtful and helpful type of reviewer and is an excellent scholar.)

And the process is glacially slow. Reviewers are paid at best a few hundred dollars for closely examining a book manuscript that could run many hundreds of pages. For an article we are paid nothing at all. We do it as a service to the profession, and because we want someone to do it for us when we submit a manuscript, and we do it on top of the many other duties that come with being an academic. So it is not unusual that it takes weeks and months for reviews to get back. The situation seems to be getting worse as academic publishers are placed under increasing strain. A friend of mine was encouraged by a major university press in his field to submit his book to them, eight months later he has no feedback and the editor is not answering his emails. My friend was hoping to leverage a book contract for a promotion, this will now have to wait another year.

So how did moving the process online and calling for greater participation work out for the Shakespeare Quarterly? I think it proved a great success.

The special issue of the Shakespeare Quarterly to serve as the guinea pig for the experiment focuses on “Shakespeare and New Media.” The peer-review period ran for three months and was widely publicized in the digital humanities world. You can see the papers and all of the review comments here. There was also a project blog.

My first impression was that there were fewer comments than I expected on most of the articles, particularly compared to the many thousands of edits and active talk pages for even moderately popular Wikipedia articles. The first requirement of crowd-sourcing is a crowd, and not that all that many Shakespeare scholars came to this party. The first essay, "Networks of Deep Impression: Shakespeare and the History of Information" by Alan Galey has about thirty comments, including the author's replies, and most of the comments are from 3-4 people. The second essay, Kate Rumbold's "From “Access” to “Creativity”: Shakespeare Institutions, New Media and the Language of Cultural Value" received nearly 100 comments.

As I began examining the comments, however, my opinion changed. The bulk of the comments are very thoughtful indeed, and the authors usually respond with equal professionalism. The scholarly exchange is similar to what happens at the best conference--at those rare occasions when 1) no one goes over their time and 2) the conversation period is not dominated by some blowhard making speeches from the floor.

A nice example of the exchange is in this section of Rumbold's essay (click on "5 Comments on paragraph 5") where Rumbold goes back-and-forth with three reviewers about the interpretation in a particular paragraph. This is light years better (and faster!) than the usual exchanges of typewritten comments via the intermediary of the journal editor.

The online peer review was both similar and different from normal scholarly peer review. There was no anonymity. The reviewers wrote their critiques under there real names. I wonder if this did not cause them to pull their punches in their more critical comments? At the same time, the experimented differed from a genuine crowd-sourced effort such as Wikipedia. The Shakespeare Quarterly reviewers were recruited by the journal editors from known scholars and had to be registered into the commenting system--it was not as if anyone with an interest in the topic could create an account and sound off. I think both of these were probably good decision at this stage in the experiment.

One wonders if the open source model tested with this issue of the Shakespeare Quarterly is sustainable. Can scholars continue to be recruited for future issues? There are some technically adept humanities professors out there, but there are still just as many who use their computer monitors to organize their Post-It notes. Will online peer review continue to make reviewers use their real names? I would love to see another experiment where the reviewers were screened, but anonymous. And would the model work with genuine crowd-sourcing--open registration, the ability of reviewers to rate one another's comments, etc.?

The print edition of this special issue of the Shakespeare Quarterly comes out on September 17. I don't know how the articles stack up in the world of Shakespeare Studies, but I think that the issue marks a milestone in the development of the digital humanities.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Post for Jerry Handfield

Jerry Handfield, the Washington State Archivist and one of my bosses, loves these Team Digital Preservation videos. DigitalPreservationEurope has created a series of these cartoons to help explain basic concepts of digital preservation. There are a half-dozen videos in the series so far, you can see the rest here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

At Gettysburg, Moral Panic Disguised as Historic Preservation

[Note: This is cross posted over at Civil War Memory.]

The Civil War Preservation Trust has just released a video decrying the proposed building of a casino near Gettysburg National Battlefield. I think the video is wretched and illustrates nearly everything that is wrong with how we remember and memorialize our history in this country.

Some background: A developer wants to open the "Mason-Dixon Resorts Casino" within an existing hotel and convention center a half-mile from the boundary of Gettysburg Park. Pennsylvania has allowed casino gambling since 2004, starting with slot machines and now including table games such as poker. A 2005 attempt to build a casino in Gettysburg was defeated. Now the developers are trying again, and the Civil War Preservation Trust and others are fighting back, in part with this video:

My objections to the video, and the cause, are as follows:

1. Why do we care what Sam Waterston and Matthew Broderick think about this? They are actors, people! They only pretended to have fought at Gettysburg. McCullough was the only real historian they used for the production. Show me David Blight and we'll talk.

2. The battlefield as it currently exists is hardly pristine--whatever that might mean in such a context. You can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting one gigantic monument or another. Now these monuments, many erected by battle survivors in the years and decades after the fight, are interesting historical artifacts in their own right. But they represent a tremendous departure from the way the field of battle might have looked on July 1, 1863. Beyond the matter of the monuments, the landscape is different from what it would have been in 1863. The trees have grown in (though the National Park Service is currently working to restore the 1863 landscape), the open fields are full of grass instead of crops, jets fly overhead. The smell of powder and rotting flesh are gone... It is not as if the battlefield were immaculately preserved and about to be ruined.

3. My strongest objection to the video is the fetishistic treatment of warfare as a sacred activity more meaningful than other human activity. We can't have people gambling, for God's sake, it cheapens the memory of three solid days of people slaughtering one another. Susan Eisenhower (whose expertise is helpfully captioned as "Grandaughter of President Eisenhower") complains that the casino is an attempt to "exploit the brand that is Gettysburg." But surely gambling is more wholesome than people lining up to blow one anothers' limbs off?

I know, I know, Lincoln started it: "But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract..." The Biblical idea of consecration by blood was very popular in the 19th century. The 19th century is where it belongs.

4. This is selective outrage. The proposed casino will be a half-mile from the boundaries of the park and in an already existing hotel complex. (I had to look that up, the Civil War Preservation Trust would have you believe they are ready to bulldoze Little Round Top to make way for the slots.) A quick Google Map search for "shops" shows dozens of commercial businesses roughly the same distance from the battlefield, including the Cannonball Olde Tyme Malt Shop and Dirty Billy's Hats. Thr problem with this business, as the video makes clear around the half-way point, is that people will be gambling, and gambling is bad. I actually agree that gambling is a social ill, but it is also legal in Pennsylvania, like selling ice cream and hats.

5. My God, the over-the-top rhetoric in this video is terrible. It discredits not only the cause but the very idea of historic preservation. We are told that the casino will somehow "prostitute" the site. If this casino is built, we are assured, other casinos will pop up like toadstools at the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, Ground Zero, Lincoln Memorial, and presumably, your grandma's grave.

6. Where does it end? There were perhaps 10,000 conflicts within the Civil War. This National Park Service page lists hundreds of them. And notice that the anti-casino forces are objecting to something that is not on the federally defined battlefield at all, but nearby. One person calls for a "buffer zone" around the park--but how wide that buffer is supposed to be, and what commercial activities will be allowed within it, are mysteries.

The campaign to block the casino is not a legitimate effort of historic preservation. It is a moral panic being propagated by Puritan scolds. And it reminds me terribly of another current attempt to use history to block American citizens from exercising their rights to build a legal facility on their own land. Civil War Preservation Trust, meet Sarah Palin.