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.