Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Library of Congress - C-SPAN Video Library

The Library of Congress - C-SPAN Video Library: "C-SPAN's original feature documentary, The Library of Congress, is a behind-the-scenes look at the national repository, providing the history of the institution, a tour of its iconic Jefferson Building, and glimpses of some of the library's rare book, photo, and map collections."

You have 90 minutes to spare, right?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Coming Soon: The Spokane History Mobile App

We have an exciting new project here at the Public History program at Eastern Washington University. We will soon be unveiling a smartphone app--for both iPhone and Android--that will offer tours of historic sites around Spokane and the region.

The Spokane Historical app will be an adaptation of an existing app, Cleveland Historical. At a conference a couple of months ago I met Mark Tebeau, Director of the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University. He is doing a bunch of neat digital stuff with his students, including the Cleveland Historical app. He was looking for a few partners to expand the reach of his app. I had been looking for a mobile platform for which my students could develop local content. Perfect!

Here is a YouTube that demonstrates the app. I like that it can have text, photographs, audio and video for each site. There is a YouTube channel with all of the short history videos that they have developed. Here is the YouTube promo for Cleveland Historical:

My students last quarter created a series of historical tours of 5-8 stops each. They did the EWU campus, Spokane Falls, Manito Park, Greenwood Cemetery, Bing Crosby's Spokane, Peaceful Valley, Kirtland Cutter buildings, and the Spokane Downtown. The Center for Public History and Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University will be providing some technical support including rebranding their apps and releasing them as "Spokane Historical," creating an Omeka database (here it is) for the content, and providing the training materials they have developed to my students.

Spokane Historical should be available in the iTunes store and Android marketplace this summer. I am very excited and have a lot to do, including raising some money, partnering with other Spokane institutions (interested? email me!), developing some logos and branding, and above all working with my students to develop some first-class mobile history tours. I will keep all of you informed!

In a few days I will post some of the content that my students created.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Western History Association: A Scholarly Organization Charts a Future Course

A few days ago I blogged about my mild frustration with voting for new leadership at the Western History Association without adequate knowledge of the candidate's positions. As I put the post together I was reminded of the WHA's Next Fifty Years Committee Report from last year and the response that I wrote at the time. I thought these would make a worthwhile post at a time when every professional academic organization is wrestling with questions of identity and relevance.

The Next Fifty Years Report was the beginning of an admirable planning process to determine the future of the organization. The committee made recommendations in six categories: “Identity,” “Membership,” “Rethinking Constituencies,” “Finances,” “Governance,” and “Publications.” The report is thoughtful and makes many good recommendations--the WHA recommends amending it mission statement and logo to be more inclusive, expanding membership among minorities and other traditionally excluded groups, raising more money, etc. Though exceedingly modest in its recommendations the report is certainly a step in the right direction.

With the issue of the report, the WHA asked its members to weigh in--and did they ever! The organization received over 80 replies, many quite lengthy, and published them at its website. The volume of replies is testimony to the attachment and enthusiasm of its members for the WHA. The report and responses make for an interesting read for anyone interested in the future of scholarly societies. Below (lightly edited) is mine--but I would be interested in reading some of your takes as well:


As a western historian, a frequent attendee of the WHA conference, and a member of the WHA Technology Committee I am glad to see this report but disappointed with the contents. My overall reaction is that this is not a report about a historical organization, it is a report about a history conference and a journal. These are two methods of dispersing information that were developed in the 19th century and are of sharply decreasing relevance today. The conference and journal have become the tails that wag the dog. Possibly a mutant dog, what with two tails and all, but a dog nonetheless. The WHA should be about scholarship, teaching, advocacy and collaboration in all its forms. If the organization is simply a governing structure for a conference and a journal, the organization is not very interesting.

Some more specific reactions to individual recommendations:
  • More grad students is fine, but don't allow more than one per panel as they need to learn how to present from more seasoned historians.
  • I love the idea of appealing to members to bring along and sponsor their grad students.
  • The other most promising area for growth is to bring in more public historians--museums, historic preservationists, Forest Service and Park Service interpreters, and archivists.
  • The finances recommendations are largely unworkable, except for the idea of a speakers’ bureau. The prizes are so small it seems silly to work to develop endowments for each. The real benefit of a prize is that you get to put it on your vita and get a promotion, which is worth far more than any of our prizes.
  • The yearly themes are largely imaginary--we all propose to present whatever we are working on and tweak the title to echo whatever buzzwords are in the theme. And that is how it should be. (Heck, I cannot remember the theme from any year I have attended or even last fall--was it Many Wests? Western Stories? The Enduring Frontier? To Infinity and Beyond?) 
  • The publications section of the report was far too timid! We live in an era with more historical discussions involving greater numbers of people than ever before. They are happening online and we have removed ourselves from them and hence the whole organization becomes steadily less relevant. We need to take the WHA publications online and make them free and open access.
  • Create a WHA community blog, titled Many Wests or something like that. Allow any member in good standing to make posts. Appoint a half-dozen moderators. It could quickly become the place to discuss western history online, and would be a huge advertisement for membership in the WHA.
  • Publish the journal online and open access under a Creative Commons copyright, and link it to the group blog. Each article would become a discussion node for the topic and a place where professional historians interact with teachers, students, and the general public. We can still mail out a paper copy to those who want one. The idea that people join the WHA to get the journal is wrong, I suspect that virtually no one joins to receive the journal, they join to attend the conference or to support the organization.
  • Do adopt Montana: the Magazine of Western History and make it the first journal to get the above treatment. Its more popular style would make for an easier transition.
  • Get past issues of both journals out from behind the pay walls of JSTOR and MUSE and to where Google can find them. Every one is a potential advertisement for our organization.
  • Leverage our online presence with a Facebook page and Twitter account.
Things that are not in the report but should be:
  • Be an advocate for history. The near-silence of the WHA (and every other historical professional organization) as the government is poised to eliminate the Teaching American History program (that has pumped $1 billion into history education) is maddening and inexplicable. Where are the action alerts, the lobbying, the advocacy?
  • The conference needs more and shorter sessions--add lightning rounds, poster sessions/cocktail hours (posters + booze = win), lunchtime digital show-and-tells. And for the love of God, please ban the reading of papers out loud.
  • Organize a THATCamp to run before or parallel to the conference.
  • Connectivity--free wireless is simply a necessity, no matter what it costs, particularly if we are looking for a younger demographic. Free wifi is how conference goers will tweet and blog the conference and get the word out to a larger world of potential attendees.
  • A huge need for those of us working as public historians, digital historians, and in other nonconventional areas but with an academic tie is to be able to offer peer review of our scholarship to skeptical tenure and promotion committees and deans. The WHA should offer this as a service. 
  • Members could volunteer to serve as blind reviewers of digital projects, exhibits, etc., and the WHA would be the clearing house to put together the reviewers and the reviewed.
I am pleased that the WHA is on better financial footing these days and want to support it any way I can. At the same time I am skeptical about the future of all of our professional organizations. We need to adapt more quickly. Let me know what I can do to help.


Larry Cebula

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Western History Association: Who Should I Vote For?

I love the Western History Association. Their journal is generally interesting, the conference is a lot of fun, and the associated H-Net listserv, H-WEST, is one of the more interesting and active H-NET lists. That said, the WHA like all of our other professional organizations is defined by the 19th-century model of academic societies--it is largely a conference, a journal, and a newsletter. (Tomorrow I will post a few thoughts on possible new directions for th WHA.)
I just received my ballot to vote for new members of the Council and Nominating Committee. And the positions actually seem to be contested, so the vote matters. The ballot helpfully pointed me towards the 2011 WHA Spring Newsletter as a source for more information about the candidates.

Alas, the candidate biographies are just that--prose versions of the professional vitae of the candidates, with no hint of why any of them want to hold WHA offices. We get their academic affiliations, their publications, the length of time they have been members of the WHA, and sometimes a bland statement of their desire to serve. The candidates truly are an impressive group of women and men. I am sure they have specific ideas for the future of the WHA. I wonder why the WHA did not ask them to include such information in their biographies? As is, I have no reason to vote for or against any of them. I probably won't send in the ballot at all.

This is particularly disappointing because the WHA is making a very serious attempt to explore the future of this scholarly organization. In 2010 a "Next Fifty Years Committee" issued a report [PDF] with recommendations. They invited member reaction and received many thoughtful comments, which they compiled and shared.

So where do these candidates stand on such issues as the shift to digital publication, expanding the WHA membership, lobbying, supporting graduate students and independent scholars, etc.? It would be nice to know.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Continuing the Fight for TAH - A Message from the NCHE

What follows is a recent "Action Alert" email from Peter Seibert, Executive Director of the National Council for History Education. The NCHE has been by far the most active professional group in the fight to preserve the Teaching American History program (really you should join the organization). With Seibert's permission I am posting the email here. If you would like to receive these alerts, drop him an email at

Good Morning Advocacy Team,

I will be on vacation from the 6th to the 17th so I wanted to quickly touch base with everyone about key advocacy efforts both on-going as well as thinking strategically into the future.

As we noted in the last email, our focus is upon the 2012 budget as this is really where the battle needs to be fought. If we lose the budget battle and TAH is defunded then our consolidation concerns become a moot point, as the program will no longer exist. In the month of July, a couple of critical things will be occurring:
  • On July 26 will begin the House mark-up of the budget. Realistically speaking, we know that this is a tough one for us. Rep. Duncan Hunter’s bill eliminating TAH will probably pass (although I still think it is going nowhere in the Senate or with the White House). In support of that, budget cutters have eliminated all TAH funding from the proposed House budget. Thus, our energies (thinking strategically) need to be about targeting Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House to (a) encourage them to raise the flag of funding TAH as part of this mark-up (b) laying the groundwork for TAH to be put back into the budget when the House and Senate eventually meet in conference. Our target list is as follows:
    • Reps Andrews, Holt and Payne in New Jersey
    • Rep Rehberg in Montana
    • Rep. Kingston in Georgia
    • Rep. Simpson in Idaho
We have folks in all of these states working on these people right now.
  •  The Senate will probably begin their budget considerations this fall, after their recess in August, so we are continuing to look at key members on both sides of the aisle as we lay the foundation for that discussion. Over the last two weeks, NCHE partisans and I have met with staffers in Senators Rockefeller, Wicker and Cochran’s offices to discuss this matter. Partisans have also met with other Senators on both the HELP and Appropriations committees. Particularly vital was the effort that secured a letter from Senator Mary Landrieu (LA) to Senator Harkin (Chair of the HELP Committee) asking for $46 million for TAH and new grants to be made in 2012.
  • Senator Harkin’s staff continues to announce that they will be bringing forward the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by the end of July. We believe that ESEA will contain Secty. Duncan’s recommendation on consolidation of TAH with other PD programs although this is not assured (particularly since a majority of the consolidated programs had their funding eliminated in the 2011CR). We also believe that Sen. Harkin is doing this without any Republican support thereby opening the door for some negotiation on all of this. The introduction of this will cause a big splash no doubt but remember that this is only the beginning. We do not know for sure what the House will be doing, how it all will end in conference and if anyone will have the will to proceed with this considering the debt ceiling, the budget and the forthcoming elections.
  • The House Education and the Workforce Committee is currently looking at a Teacher Accountability Act that will probably deal with PD issues. We understand that since they believe that TAH does not work that they will lump history in with other PD disciplines under Title 2. Further, there is some discussion about funding cuts to Title 2 that would cause additional issues. This may not come up before the fall.
We have a lot ahead of us and much to do! A few rays of sunshine in all of this:
  • The belief is that the budget cutting frenzy of the 2011CR will not be necessarily repeated insofar as the education budget is concerned. Both houses seem to be focused on much bigger issues than the Ed funding stream.
  • We have never run into anyone on the hill who dislikes history. Their issues with TAH are really about issues within the program that can, and probably should be, changed going forward.
  • We are working on providing you with data from our partisans showing accurate and graphic proof of the impact of the program. Stay tuned, as this will be an important tool for us in the fight.
  • We have heard that many House members are feeling the heat at home from their constituents because of the huge number of programs that were cut this year. In particular, the brutal clear-cutting of the forest on the earmark question has come home to roost. We continue to support our friends and colleagues at National History Day and We the People as they fight to get this decision reversed.
Finally, we have to keep fighting. If we lose any one of these fights…it is over. The folks who are receiving this email are working now in 26 states on this issue. Keep it going and lets save TAH. We did it once this year…we can do it again.

Peter S. Seibert
Executive Director
National Council for History Education

Monday, July 4, 2011

Conserving the Declaration

I am back from a month of travels and have much to post. But today, Happy Fourth, and take a moment to enjoy this National Archives video about preserving the Declaration: