Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Biggest Indian Contest" Mystery Solved

In my last post I shared this picture of Spokane's "Biggest Indian Contest" and asked my readers: What the hell?

Spokane Mayor Burch with 'Biggest Indian' Contest Winner'
I got a couple of good responses. Over on the Northwest History Facebook page (and you have "liked" the Northwest History Facebook page, haven't you?) Charles Hansen pointed out that the photographer is Charles Libby. The Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture holds the complete works of Libby, who is famous for his detailed records of the photographs that he took. I could head over there and ask to look at Libby's notebooks.

Riva Dean, the fantastic reference librarian at the Northwest Room of the Spokane Public Library, nailed it:

Hi Larry. I just saw your post this morning and then this afternoon, I realized where it came from! We have a file of photographs of the opening of the Indian Canyon Golf Course. There are lots of photographs of Indians dressed up and doing some pretty odd things – like shooting bows and arrows while someone is teeing off. This photograph is included in the file and it says “Mayor Burch greeting the ‘biggest’ Indian present for the golf opening ceremonies in May 1936.”

So there we have it--the Biggest Indian Contest was a promotional stunt for the opening of a Golf Course. Dean sent along a link to this 1935 Spokane Chronicle story about the event:


We can't just leave it there, however. The opening of the golf course was kind of a big deal in Spokane. The promoters played off the name of Indian Canyon and invited numerous native people to the grand opening, and photographers to record the event. Some of these images are similar to the staged, racist photographs of the period that tried to draw humor from the supposed contrast between native peoples and modern technology. Others are simply documentary or at worst playful. Here are a few from the University of Washington's digital collections:

Wenatchi man named George Nanamkin showing archery skill,
Indian Canyon Golf Course, Spokane, Washington, April 26, 1936

George Nanamkin golfing


Wenatchi man named George Nanamkin golfing

Wenatchi young people attend the opening of the Golf Course

Finally, in April of the next year the Spokane Daily Chronicle ran a photograph of George Nanamkin and some friends, again at Indian Canyon but this time in everyday dress. "Indians See Many Changes in Site of Historic Battle" the headline reads, though so far as I know there was never a battle at this site. From the sweaters and cardigans in the image, it looks like Nanamkin was there to play golf for real that day. I love the contrast between this image of real individuals on a holiday compared to the staged images above:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What was the "Biggest Indian Contest?"




This morning I received an email from Seattle-area historian Knute Berger with this wonderful image attached. The picture is from the Spokane Historic Preservation Office image collection at the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives where I work. The caption reads: "Spokane Mayor Burch with 'Biggest Indian' Contest Winner" and lists the photographer as Charles Libby.

Knute wondered if I knew anything more about this striking and a little strange image. I do not. I know that Arthur W. Burch was mayor of Spokane from 1935 until 1937, so that dates the photograph. A Goggle search suggests that "biggest Indian" contests were something of a thing in the early-20th century and are continued by a few First Nations groups in Canada today. And that is all I have.

But why should I do all the work on this blog? Dear readers, does anyone know anything more about this contest or this photograph? What was the "Biggest Indian Contest?" Where was the photograph taken? Who is the winner? How long did the contest continue?

I'd love to know more about this image.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

SpOMa Exhibit @ the MAC Soon to Close!



Spokane friends, if you have not seen the terrific SPOMa: Spokane Modern Architecture, '48-'73 exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, your time is running out. The exhibit closes on January 12.

SPOMa is the most innovative exhibit that the MAC has created in some time. Spokane is revealed to have been a hotbed of modern architecture in the 50s and 60s:  "The 25-year period between 1948 and 1973 saw an unrivaled burst of architectural creativity in Spokane—greater than that of anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest. Trained by Walter Gropius, schooled in Europe, wooed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and determined to push the design envelope, Spokane’s mid-century architects changed the face of the city and received national recognition for their efforts." Who knew, right?

Photographs, plans and drawings of such modern design icons as the Washington Water Power Central Facility and St. Charles Catholic Church are exhibited alongside mid-century modern furniture, jazz records, and other even a timeline of modern design in Spokane. A small movie theater created within the exhibit shows a loop of films that includes and excellent 30 minute documentary, the brilliantly-titled When Spokane Was Modern. Here is a trailer for the film:



SPOMa is an exhibit that will make you see your city in a new way. Unfortunately there are no plans to produce an exhibit catalog or to make the video available after the show--so check it out before it is gone.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Some Great Images from the Washington State Digital Archives

One of the jobs my students do at the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives is to create tweets for our Twitter feed. We had a lot going on this fall and I dropped the ball on keeping a regular stream of tweets, but we are about to resume. My grad student in charge of this, Anna Harbine, has been finding some really wonderful images in our collections. Here are a few of them:


A colorful 1931 decorative historic map of Washington State. From sea monsters to Chief Joseph, Washington has it all. The historical illustrations around the map are particularly interesting.



This 1912 map, "Yachting and Cruising Waters of the Pacific Northwest," includes a spotting guide to some of the more illustrious yachts that trolled those waters in that day.



Above is a really striking photo of canoes gathered at Neah Bay for a Potlatch.



Seattle after the Great Fire of 1889. Spokane and Cheney burned down the same summer.

There are many thousands more images of Washington history at the Digital Archives--not only photos but maps, property record cards, marriage licenses, naturalization certificates, and so much more. I am really proud to be a part of the team there.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Girls Who Read

Not Northwest History but too wonderful not to share--Mark Grist spoken performance, "Girls Who Read:"

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Propose a Session for the NW Archivists Conference in Spokane

The Northwest Archivists are "a regional association of professional archivists, users of archives, and others interested in the preservation and use of archival materials in the Pacific Northwest United States, including Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington." Their annual conference moves around the Northwest and next spring is is going to be in Spokane. Here is the Call for Session Proposals, with a nifty online submission process. The theme this year will be "Moving Forward: Reaching New Audiences with the Past."

Submission Deadline: Friday, January 17, 2014 

Notification of Acceptance: Mid-February, 2014 

 Northwest Archivists is holding its annual meeting in beautiful Spokane, Washington, May 29-May 31, 2014 at the Davenport Hotel. We are excited to discuss new and innovative ways of reaching new audiences with the past using our archival collections! We're keeping our theme broad in an effort to invite a wide range of presentation topics. 

Here are some topic suggestions: 

  • Providing archival education and instruction to students, older adults, local communities, etc. 
  • Curating exhibits to engage a changing audience 
  • Implementing outreach activities and events for local communities 
  • Developing and using new tools (or old tools in innovative ways) to provide access to collections 
  • Connecting and collaborating with Native American and Alaska Native groups through archives 
  • Using social media to connect users to collections 
  • Refining or expanding collection development policies and strategies to provide archival audiences with new sources of information 
  • Developing and implementing marketing and branding strategies 


And, of course, feel free to brainstorm your own ideas and submit your proposal(s)! Questions? Contact Natalia Fernández, Program Committee Chair, natalia.fernandez@oregonstate.edu

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Voices of the Pioneers - Classic Oral History Brought Up to Date

From 1955 to 1971, the Friends of the Spokane Public Library performed an admirable public history project. They recorded a series of oral histories with notable early settlers of Spokane and the surrounding regions. Though the 1950s and 60s might seem like long after the white settlement of Spokane in the late-nineteenth century, it is well within the range of a human life, and they were able to gather both eyewitness accounts and family stories one generation removed. The interviews were recorded on tape and sometimes shellac records. In the 1970s they were transferred to cassette tapes to be shared with the public. Transcripts were created for most of the interviews.

The Voices of the Pioneers collection is a treasure trove of information that is often found nowhere else. It includes eyewitness accounts of the Great Spokane Fire of 1889, stories from the mines of Idaho and the wheat farms of the Palouse, the founding of prominent Spokane institutions such as the Spokesman-Review and Gonzaga University, and so much more.

A couple of years ago one of my grad students here at EWU, the excellent Shaun Reeser, digitized the records, tapes and transcripts and worked with the staff of the Washington State Archives to get them online.The collection is a great resource for anyone researching or teaching the history of the Inland Northwest, but if you are not familiar with the Digital Archives website, it might be a bit confusing to find what you are looking for.

Here is an index to the collection, prepared by the Spokane Public Library in the 1970s. This might be a good first stop to get a sense of the what the collection includes.

The audio files are here, The Washington State Archives has a nifty tool that allows you to keyword search untranscribed audio, so you can explore the collection that way. Try "Indians" for example:



The transcripts are here. Due to the architecture of the Digital Archives website, the transcripts are not directly linked to the audio files. There are a couple of audio files for which there are not transcripts, and a couple of transcripts for which the recordings were not located, but the overlap is probably 95%.

I have a team of students in my Digital Storytelling class working with the recordings right now and they are coming up with some wonderful entertaining stories. They are editing down the original interviews into 60- and 90-second podcasts for use in the Spokane Historical smartphone app for local history. I will highlight the best of these when the class in complete in December.

The Voices of the Pioneers collection at the Digital Archives website is really a fun place to explore, and a cutting-edge match of classic oral history and digital technology. Give it a try!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Come See Historian Peter Boag at EWU

EWU is fortunate to be hosting a talk by Dr. Peter Boag, the Columbia Chair in the History of the American West at WSU, who will be speaking this Thursday, October 24 12:00-1:30 in 119 Hargreaves Hall on the Cheney campus. Boag's talk at EWU is titled "Reflections on Cross-Dressing in Western American History."

Boag is, as they say in this profession, kind of a big deal. His first book, Environment and Experience: Settlement Culture in Nineteenth-Century Oregon was a ground-breaking work of environmental and intellectual history about how the first white farmers in the Willamette Valley saw and shaped their environment. His second, Same-Sex Affairs: Constructing and Controlling Homosexuality in the Pacific Northwest, explored a 19th-century world that many historians had ignored, the rich history of homosexuality in the northwest. Boag continues to explore boundaries of gender and sexuality in his new book, Re-dressing America's Frontier Past, which won the Ray Allen Billington Prize from the American Historical Association this year. 

The event is open to the public and all are invited!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hearing History: Preserving Washington Voices

The Washington State Archives is celebrating Archives Month all over the place.

You knew it is Archives Month, right?

Here is Cheney we invite you to a special event on Saturday, October 26 Join us at your local branch of the Washington State Archives on Saturday, October 26th as we celebrate Archives Month! Our annual open house this year includes tours of the facility, refreshments, workshops on oral histories and genealogical research, and viewings of our holdings here at the Digital Archives and Eastern Region Branch.
This year’s theme, Hearing History, highlights the preservation of Eastern Washington oral histories in collections such as Women in Legislature and Voices of the Pioneers, and in student projects from Eastern Washington University’s History program. Here is the schedule:

9:30-11:30: GENEALOGY WORKSHOP
(limited number of seats are available, contact us to reserve a spot!)

11:30: DOORS OPEN
"When is that event again?" October 26, sir.

11:45-12:45: YOUR CHOICE OF:
* Guided Tours: Digital Archives or Eastern Region Branch
* Oral History Workshop: Part I: Learning the Ropes Hosted by Dr. Laura Phillips, EWU History Department

1:00-2:00: YOUR CHOICE OF:
* Guided Tours: Digital Archives or Eastern Region Branch
* Oral History Workshop: Part I: Learning the Ropes Hosted by Dr. Laura Phillips, EWU History Department

2:30-3:30: YOUR CHOICE OF:
* Guided Tours: Digital Archives or Eastern Region Branch
* Oral History Workshop: Part II: Guided Practice Hosted by Dr. Laura Phillips, EWU History Department

4:00: DOORS CLOSE

For more information or to reserve a spot for the genealogy workshop: 509-235-7500

Monday, October 14, 2013

Smokey Bear, Shutdown Scapegoat

Will the Republican party punish the National Park Service for the shutdown?

The question appears ridiculous on the face of it. The NPS did not cause the government shutdown--the Republican party did. The NPS had no choice in the matter, their orders came from outside the agency, and those orders only followed federal law (specifically, the Anti Deficiency Act of 1884). The NPS is not at fault.

However, in the hyper-partisan political atmosphere of the moment facts and logic have little sway. The images of closed National Parks have served as the dominant visual representation of our failure of government. Reporters looking for a clip to illustrate their shutdown stories could hardly do better than send a camera person over to the nearest national monument to shoot some video of the closed signs. Bonus points for including an NPS employee (working without pay) turning away a visitor.

NPS sites in Washington D.C. quickly became proxy battlefields in a partisan war. This picked up steam when a group of awesome old veterans refused to accept the closure of the World War Two Monument on the National Mall and walked past the barricades. Cliche-addled reporters quickly turned this into a "veterans storm the monument" meme. On the right this scene was transformed into an act of resistance to President Obama. One Republican congressman, Randy Neugebauer from Texas got the bright idea that it would be good publicity to go down there and shame one of the NPS rangers in front of the TV cameras. It did not go well for him:



Though Neugebauer was widely condemned for his attempted bullying, the right doubled down on their anti-Park Service rhetoric and have found an audience in doing so.

Don't believe it? Check out the stunning comments on the National Park Service Facebook page post announcing the NPS closure. Some are supportive, but hundreds are crude insults and ideological attacks from confused people who seem to blame the National Park Service for the shutdown. Just in the little slice of comments captured below, park rangers are equated with Hitler's brown shirts and worse:


...and it goes for 1200 comments, more than half identical to the ones above. The commenters are apparently being whipped up the right wing internet sites. Mark Steyn penned a piece, Park Service Paramilitaries for National Review. "The NPS has spent the last two weeks behaving as the paramilitary wing of the DNC," Steyn writes. He plays with phrases like "shock troops" to accuse Park Service rangers of being Nazis without actually saying it. 

National Review is the flagship of American conservative thought, and does not have to be explicit to point the way, they know that others will follow. I don't have the heart to link to examples, but a search for "park service" + gestapo gets 43,000 hits. Similar results are obtained when you swap out gestapo for "brown shirts" or "Hitler youth." 

So a substantial part of the American population is irrationally angry at the National Park Service right now. What will the results be?

Long before the shutdown, the National Park Service was in the sights of certain politicians. Talk of privatizing the National Parks was commonplace during the Bush years, but still considered a fringe idea. Now it has come roaring back with a vengeance. Alternatives to outright privatization include turning the parks over to the states. One can easily imagine the fate of many of western parks under the management of deep red states, with reduced funding, hunting seasons, increased private concessions, greater motor vehicle and airplane access, and maybe a few clear cuts for good measure. 

Privatization probably won't happen, but the fact remains that conservatives have identified the National Park Service as the enemy, moving the agency into an ideological category that they had previously reserved for labor unions, ACORN, and the Environmental Protection Agency. At the very least we can expect that, even when the shutdown is over, Republicans will push to slash NPS funding even further, install greater political "oversight" on the agency, and fight tooth and nail against the creation of additional park units. 

The shutdown will be over soon, but the Park Service may feel the effects for years to come.





Sunday, September 1, 2013

On the Need for a New Spokane Garry Biography


Garry, meet Barry. (Photo courtesy of the Spokesman-Review.)
I love this story in today's Spokesman-Review, about how local teachers and historians Brian Huseland and Barry Moses uncovered Spokane Garry's native name, which had been lost to history for 200 years. They discovered a transcription of an 1828 letter written by Garry when he was at the Red River school, a letter he signed "This from your son, Slough-Keetcha.”

Now we do not know what Slough-Keetcha meant or even how it was pronounced--yet. We do learn from the article that Barry Moses is on the job, so I think we are going to find out. Barry is a professor at Spokane Community College where he works in their Institute for Extended Learning. He blogs quite actively at Sulustu, often on historical topics, and sometimes even in the Salish language. He is active in the local historical community as well. I am pretty sure that Moses will figure it out.

Here in Spokane we talk about Spokane Garry all the time, but not with any discernment or wisdom. The broad outlines of his life are often retold: He was born around 1811 to Spokane Chief Illim-Spokanee, sent to a missionary school at Red River in 1825 where he learned the English language and Christianity, and returned to Spokane in 1829. Garry set up a school near present-day Drumheller springs for a few years but soon gave it up, and died (poor and forgotten, it is usually told) in a tepee in Indian Canyon in 1892. All over Spokane, markers and monuments retell the story, always in the same manner.

There are numerous problems with this telling. The first is the condescending, "Lo! The Poor Indian!" nature of the tale. Garry--a dynamic and important leader and historical actor--is presented as someone who was acted upon, a supporting actor in a familiar pageant of white conquest. He is presented as a helpless object of pity, another of Edward Curtis' Vanishing Race. Even most modern stories continue in this tone from the HistoryLink article to a 2008 piece in the Spokesman ReviewThis interpretive sign near Garry's last home summarizes the usual maudlin story:

At Indian Canyon. (Photo courtesy of Sulutsu.)
The second problem is how much of Garry's long and important life get left out of the traditional story. Garry's story is truncated, jumping sixty years from the young man who established a school to the very old man who died on the edge of a fast-growing city. Oh sure, a few incidents from those decades get retold, usually items that reinforce the above narrative. Left out or insufficiently explored are the extent of Garry's leadership in the 1840s and 50s, an 1844 Indian expedition to California that Garry led, his participation in the Walla Walla Indian Council, his evolving religious views (though often presented as a Christian hero, Garry took two wives and seemed to practice his own syncretic sets of beliefs), and his role interpreting between his people and the white invaders who began to flood the region in the 1860s and 70s. The last decades of Garry's life are particularly ripe for exploration--he may very well have watched Spokane burn in 1889. One wonders what he thought?

For such an important figure, Garry has largely eluded the attention of biographers. The best thing we have is William S. Lewis' The Case of Spokane Garry, published by the Spokane Historical Society in 1917. Yes, 1917. There is also Thomas Edwin Jessett's 1960 Chief Spokan Garry, 1811-1892: Christian, Statesman, and Friend of the White Man. Garry has had a large role in many other works about Plateau peoples, from Ruby and Brown's The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun to my own Plateau Indians and the Quest for Spiritual Power. All of these books are either hopelessly out-of-date of deal with Garry only tangentially.

So we need a new biography.  A new study could probably turn up new facts about the life of the man who we now know was Slough-Keetcha. More importantly, a new biography could turn up new perspectives and insights. Slough-Keetcha's life included the fur trade, the arrival of the first missionaries, the coming of white settlers, the Indian Wars of the Plateau, various and important negotiations with the government, the shrinking of the tribe due to malnutrition and disease, native economic adaptations to their new realities, the rise of the city of Spokane, mining opening up in much of the Spokane Indian homelands, the creation of the Spokane Reservation, and the relocation of much of the tribe. Every one of these events is under-studied, and in every one of them Slough-Keetcha had an important role. A proper biography of Slough-Keetcha would be a retelling of the early history of the Inland Empire, from a native point of view.

If only there was someone--a Spokane Indian with a scholarly bent, a graduate education, knowledge of the language and culture, a tireless researcher with the good will of the scholarly community--to undertake such a work. Anyone know such a person?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Propose a Paper for the PNW History Conference

Here it is--the official Call for Papers for the 65th (!) annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest History Conference.

The theme this year is “Citizenships in the Pacific Northwest.” Like all good conference themes this is more of a suggestion than a requirement, if you are doing interesting work in Northwest History you should be able to work the theme into the title of your presentation! The conference is April 3-5, 2014 at the Inn at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay in Vancouver, Washington. As ever, the conference is sponsored by the Washington State Historical Society.

"Tell me more about your research, professor..."
I have been coming to the PNW conference on and off for about 20 years. In some ways it is my favorite conference--small enough that you can meet everyone, lots of interesting work being presented, a nice mix of grad students and public historians to leaven all the blowhard professors. On the other hand, I am always left with the feeling that the conference could be a bit more than it is. The promotion and organization of the event has sometimes been uneven. It did not help matters when the sponsoring organization, the Washington State Historical Society, was cut back and nearly eliminated in the continuous series of budget crises from 2008 until the present. Finances though, seem to have stabilized, and it is time to reinvigorate this important conference.

I am on the committee this year and will be working to try and broaden the attendance and presenters at the conference. I hope to take a van full of grad students down to Vancouver, and also to recruit some new voices to present their research. Some of you can expect a call!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Toughest Historical Reenactment you will ever see

What sort of events are suitable for first-person historical interpretation

In July of 1946, two black couples were lynched by white vigilantes near Moore's Ford Bridge in Georgia. One of the men, Roger Malcolm, had been accused of stabbing a white man in a fight. A group of 15-20 men, led by "a big man who was dressed mighty proud in a double-breasted brown suit," stopped a car in broad daylight, forced out the two couples inside, tied them to a tree alongside the road, and shot them approximately sixty times. One victim, George Dorsey, was a U.S. Army veteran recently back from the Second World War. Another, Dorothy Malcolm was seven months pregnant. Though the identity of the lynchers was quickly established, a grand jury failed to act, and the murderers were never brought to justice.

For the past seven years, a biracial group called the Moore's Ford Memorial Committee has done a historic reenactment of the lynching. I am awestruck at the moral courage that it must require to do this. Warning--this is hard thing to watch:

 

Like a lot of public historians I have mixed feelings about first-person reenactments. Done well, first-person interpretation can take the visitor back in time and give them the opportunity to interact with history like no other interpretive strategy. Badly done first-person interpretation is far more common and really painful to experience.

What is happening at Moore's Creek, though, falls outside of the normal categories--it is reenactment as a political act. A newspaper report describes it as "equal parts theater and chilling lesson in Georgia history," That is not exactly right, however. This is historical reenactment as protest. The reenactors are not only seeking recognition of what happened, they are demanding justice. Some of the murderers may still be alive in the Moore's Creek area, and this reenactment takes place right under their noses. Some of the participants explain their motivations in this video:



Another article about the reenactment here. Are there similar politically-motivated reenactments of historical crimes out there? This is a fascinating phenomena.

 (First video via Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory.)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Charlie LeDuff Canoes the Rouge River



This video is a terrific little piece of local reportage and public history. Charlie LeDuff is a legend in Detroit, where he is known for such reporting as Waiting for the Detroit Police and Meals on Wheels, Charlie LeDuff Eats Cat Food. In this video he explores Detroit's urban Rouge River, supposedly the most polluted in the country. It is a trip through history, as well as sewage.

The Rouge River may be the worst-polluted urban river in the U.S., but it is by no means the only one, and I think this exploration could be replicated in many American cities. In Hartford, two explorers have documented the underground Park River (video here) for example. And here is a little news video about kayaking the LA River (and getting arrested for the effort).

What lost or neglected streams and rivers would you like to explore (or have someone else explore!) in your community? What historical stories would it tell?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Open Letter to the Historians of the 22nd Century: Sorry for All the Stuff

So today I read one of the sillier posts I have ever seen on an academic blog, in which the author bemoans an imagined decline of diary-keeping in the present era. Future historians will have nothing to write about! The author urges us to sharpen our quill pens, pull out a piece of vellum and begin journaling. "This is your duty," he proclaims. "Create that thing that historians crave—real, firsthand accounts."

The silliness, of course, stems from the fact that the author is using a blog on the internet to complain that no one is writing about their lives anymore.

The truth is precisely the opposite--we are living through an explosion of personal writing and documentation that is unprecedented in human history. Over a billion people are on Facebook, posting about their days, complete with pictures. Half a billion are on Twitter. There are tens of millions of blogs. And let’s throw Instagram and similar services into the mix. And of course there is email–which is indeed being saved, as recent news revelations about the NSA should reassure all of us.

Cats, in particular, are being documented to an amazing extent.

And before anyone sets up the straw man of comparing your aunt Edna’s Facebook updates (“Doubled the prune juice this morning–will let you all know how it works!”) to Mary Chestnut’s diary, let me point out how extremely atypical are the handful of historian’s favorite diaries. As every working historian has come to realize, for every Mary Chestnut or George Templeton Strong, there are a hundred surviving diaries of stoic Norwegian farmers or busy mill workers are that are considerably less than illuminating:

Noviember 2, 1863: rained.
Novermber 3, 1863: Raind
Nobember 5, 1863: Cow dyed.
Novebmer 8, 1863: Did'nt rain

In contrast, future historians of my era (for whom this post is written) will have information sprayed at them with a fire hose.

Imagine if Thomas Jefferson had a Facebook page, commented on pages of his FB friends, tweeted (“Tip to fellow planters: Increase farm income w/ a nail factory manned by young slaves! #slavery #childlabor #Monticello”), and an Instagram (“Used the sepia filter for this pic of Sally on a bearskin rug. #naughty”). Plus all of his contemporaries FBing and tweeting about Jefferson! We would have vastly more information about the man. And Lord knows there is no shortage of primary source information about Jefferson as is.

The real revolution in personal writing and documentation for our era, however, is the way that it will illuminate the lives of we peasants. Every fry cook at McDonald’s has a Facebook page. And as I hinted above, it is not just that people are writing more than ever before. Future historians will have hundreds of millions of images (from Instagram alone) of people's daily lives. Add tens of millions of videos. And then there is the metadata--GPS locations for those posts and images, networks of friends and sharing, tags and hastags! For broader context the 22nd-century historian will pull up an archived Google Street View of the neighborhood, see what cable services the subject subscribed to, and peruse old Amazon order histories and wish lists.

At this point I can hear some of my contemporary readers (those nattering nabobs of negativity) saying "Not so fast--most of these sources you name are commercial services, with privacy policies and limited sharing. It isn't like you can just pull up the Facebook pages of all Cleveland fry cooks and sort by the text 'salmonella.' And how many of these records will even exist in 100 years?"

Not yet, you can't, but you will be able to. My 22nd-century readers will of course be aware of the Steve Jobs Personal Privacy Elimination Act of 2037, but even readers of my own era should know about the rapid erosion of privacy. Even before the phenomena became apparent, there was a general principle known as the "75 year rule" that most government documents became public after that amount of time. And as for the saving of old Facebook posts and the like, data is money, and data is security, and storage costs continue to fall like a stone. Our LOL Cats are safe for eternity.

So to all those future historians who stumble across this blog post long after I am dead: Sorry for all the stuff. I know you people are going to have unimaginable tools for sorting, thinning, combining and analyze the mountain of "real, first-hand accounts" that my generation has been thoughtlessly creating. Still, I know that on some days you must grow weary of examining the 746 thousand variations on a single meme. You must sometimes think "Stupid dead person, when your hard drive gets full don't just buy a bigger backup, sort your damn files!" You must spend days reading the Facebook feed of some 13-year-old who later became famous and feel despair.

Sorry about that, historians of the 22nd century. I am sorry that I made so many blog posts featuring someone else's YouTube video. Sorry that so many of my Facebook updates are vacuous. Sorry that  my Tweets bring down the tenor of the entire medium. Sorry about all of my files undescriptively labeled DSCimage987234534.jpg and GrantProposal2,docx. Sorry for the mess.

I did make you a present, though:


Monday, June 10, 2013

Hozomeen: A Story about Chert, Identity, and Landscape

How did I not post this before? This beautiful and interesting film features some of the work National Park Service archaeologist Bob Mierendorf has done in the North Cascades, with a focus on the flint mines around Hozomeen:



If anything, the film underplays the scale and importance of the discovery. Mierendorf has spent better than two decades championing the archaeology of the high country. For a long time archaeologists had written off the pre-contact history of the North Cascades highlands, arguing in part that the rich environment of the coastal lowlands meant that Indians seldom ventured far into the mountains. The theory gained strength from confirmation bias--because scientists knew that Indians did not use the mountains they did not look for signs of habitation there, and because they had not found signs of human habitation (that they had not looked for) they knew the areas were uninhabited. Many fields suffer from similar received wisdom.

Tramping around the North Cascades, Mierendorf quickly realized there were extensive signs of pre-contact human utilization, and began gathering evidence. This article from the magazine of Washington State University tells some of the story. Or you can hear the man in his own words in a podcast on this page.

I knew Bob a bit back in the day, when I cleared trails and cleaned campgrounds for North Cascades National Park, and it is good to see the things that he was telling us over campfires 20 years ago coming out in print and becoming the new narrative of native peoples in the North Cascades. Congratulations Bob!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cats: Getting their Stupid Paws in Your Stuff Since 100 A.D.

Here is a fairly cheesy local news spot about a fascinating artifact--a Roman brick found during excavations at Fort Vancouver. And it has paw prints!



This article from the Atlantic, 1 Kitty, 2 Empires, 2,000 Years: World History Told Through a Brick does a better job explaining the discovery of the brick, its likely origins, and how it came to the other side of the world in the fur trade era. What the author misses in the story of the brick, I think, it the reason it was saved. Though the early inhabitants of Fort Vancouver did indeed order bricks all the way from England, this seems to be the only Roman brick in the lot. I think it was far more likely carried as a curio, valued for its great age and the ancient footprints.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hacking the Academy--Now in Print

Hacking the Academy is now available in print. Hacking is the product of a digital humanities experiment to write a book in a week, on the theme of "hacking the academy." The volume includes an essay from myself, a repurposed version of one of my most popular blog posts: "How to Read a Book in One Hour."  The book is released under the University of Michigan Press's new Digital Culture Books series.

I am very glad to see the volume and may adopt it in my next relevant class. I am not sure why it took this long to come out--we wrote the book in a week and waited two years for the print version!

That said, my initial description of the project holds: "Hacking the Academy is interesting for both its content and its approach to publication. The content focuses on "how the academy might be beneficially reformed using digital media and technology," particularly "writing that moved beyond mere complaints about the state of the academy into shrewd diagnoses and potential solutions." The essays are organized into three broad categories: "Hacking Scholarship," "Hacking Teaching," and "Hacking Institutions." The essays alternate between provocative big-picture, "this is how we ought to start doing things" pieces (such as David Parry's Burn the Boats/Books and Jo Gildi's terrific "Reinventing the Academic Journal") and more immediately practical pieces such as "Unconferences," a how-to guide by Ethan Watrall, James Calder, and Jeremy Boggs."

So go buy a copy--or read it here for free.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Stanford to Pay Humanities PhDs to Go Away

Recent history PhDs trek to the Ed department
Once upon a time, I worked with an old man who had a sad secret.  When the man was young, he had fallen deeply in love with a girl whom his rich parents considered an unsuitable match. The parents dealt with this embarrassing problem in way that is long-established among the wealthy, they offered the woman a large sum of money to go away. She accepted. By the time I knew the man these events were decades in the past, but the resulting sadness was still fresh.

Why am I reminded of this story when I read about Stanford University's new plan to help its unemployed recent PhDs by offering free tuition if they will enroll in the MA in Education program and become high school teachers? "Sorry that PhD training is not going to get you a job. How about a free MA in something more employable and we call it good?"

Not that they are presenting it that way of course. "Society needs good teachers at all levels,”  Associate Dean Debra Satz, told Inside Higher Ed. “In Europe, it is much more common for high school teachers and others to have advanced degrees.”

I think it is also from Europe that we get the model of paying inconvinient people to go away.

The Stanford plan is terrible in all kinds of ways. High school social studies jobs are already scarce, and it is not clear if a PhD will make a job seeker more competitive or less. While a broad knowledge is absolutely necessary for a good high school teacher, the hyper-specialization and research focus of a doctoral program is not a path to that broad knowledge. The time commitment is enormous--perhaps 7 or 8 years to the PhD (though Stanford is trying to cut this to 5) and then another 2 for the education degree--for a job that you might have landed with an undergraduate degree. And as a Facebook friend of mine said when I shared the article, "Hope they can coach a sport."

The real problem of course, is the overproduction of PhDs in humanities fields. Year after year, and despite the warnings, thousands of your people come to places like Stanford to earn a PhD with the unlikely goal of becoming college professors. "The primary goal of Stanford's Department of History's graduate program is the training of scholars. Most students who receive doctorates in the program will go on to teach at colleges or universities," Stanford tells its prospective history graduate students, offering a link to "placements." The link is broken.

Everyone knows that the answer is to radically reduce the number of PhD programs and their graduates--but no one actually wants to do it. Faculty love teaching intimate graduate seminars rather than surveys in the lecture hall. Grad students are needed to grade
Crikey, it's an education degree!
freshman papers and run discussions. The grad students themselves are completely committed to the system and invested in the idea that it is they who will find the golden ticket in the Wonka Bar. College administrators rise through the ranks by not rocking the boat. And every year the job market gets worse.

The problem with unemployed graduates is that they don't leave. They drag out their degrees to postpone the horrible problem of repaying student loans without a job. Their stipends run out and they hang around, begging for a course or two to adjunct and access to the library. In the article one Stanford professor complains about engineering students "parked" in postdocs that were meant to be temporary. The weight of unemployed former and current graduate students gets greater each year, and their presences depresses faculty and current graduate students alike. Stanford had to do something.

I do wish these students success with their MA degrees in education. Teaching in the public schools is a noble profession, and arguably far more important to society than is being a college professor. The Stanford plan just seems a roundabout way to get there.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Thanks for the info on your blog, but . . ."

Well, you cannot please everyone! From the morning electronic mailbox comes this missive:

Dr. Cebula: 

I found the "Patrick Henry Said What?" entry on your blog while searching for the origin of the attributed Patrick Henry quote about the Constitution not being an instrument. Thank you for exposing the error of this attribution. I teach AP U.S. History, and I am always on the lookout for information exposing erroneous historical claims. 

The food was terrible and
the portions too small.
But I wonder about your hit-and-run attack on the Tea Party. What is the reason for that? Are Tea Party members unique or even unusual in misquoting (and misspelling, ah, that was a nice touch!) the Founders, Framers, et. al.? I think that they are not, any more than those who assert that the Constitution contains the phrase "separation of church and state" in an effort to rebut religious objections to abortion, or the congressman who referred to the "Good and Plenty Clause" of the Constitution to--if I remember correctly--justify ObamaCare. Seems like a cheap shot to to me. 

Maybe you fallen victim to some cultural/geographical snobbery too, although why anyone teaching in Cheney, Washington, population 10,590, would feel superior by reason of location is beyond me. (Perhaps there are cultural wonders in Spokane of which I am unaware.) But, in your "No, You Cannot be a Professor" entry, you note that it's not worth pursuing a history Ph.D., because any professorships would only be available "in some part of the country usually only seen on American Pickers [sic]." Another cheap shot? 

I certainly am not urging you to suppress your political or cultural thoughts or biases. But I think that it would be more honest of you to just do an open and fully developed hit piece on grass-roots conservative political movements, or on the cultural shortcomings of "flyover country," rather than to take snarky little shots in the course of discussing other subjects. 

Sincerely, 

John D. Unimpressed 
Major, U.S. Army, Ret. 
Somewhere, Oklahoma

John, for all I know you may be correct. Certainly with as few readers as I have for this blog, I should not risk alienating any. Let me explain where I was coming from when I wrote those bits.

Wrong on two levels
The Patrick Henry post was aiming for bigger game than debunking a spurious quote from one Founder, the idea was to set out a procedure for fact-checking internet quotes. Near the end of the piece I wrote that "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," my only mention of that grass-roots Koch brothers run political
group. Col. Unimpressed protests that the Tea Partiers are not "unique or even unusual in misquoting ... the Founders."

Actually, they are. In fact there is a whole, award-winning book by Jill Lepore devoted to the Tea Party misinterpretation of the American Revolution. Or just Google about for Tea Party "quotes" pages and fact check them. Here is the first one I found. I checked the first five--four of them are made up.

I have never in my life heard anyone claim that the Constitution contained the phrase "separation of church and state" (though it certainly does establish that principle, and the phrase is an actual quote from Jefferson) or a "Good and Plenty clause." The left has its wackaloons, to be sure, but fabricating "quotes" from the Founders is a right-wing phenomena.
Founders edition

As for the other charge, of elitism and snobbery against the heartland, I don't think that is particularly valid. My post discouraging students to try to become history professors was not to save them from the imagined indignity of living in the Midwest, a place I happily called home for a dozen years while teaching at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. I pointed out that there are no jobs, that a PhD can take ten years, that there are enormous opportunity costs in starting your career a decade after your peers, that a PhD in history can leave a person prepared to do little outside of academia, and that the pay for professors is terrible.

I also wanted to point out that having any chance at all for a tenure track job necessitates being willing to take a job anywhere at all. So I wrapped up my arguments with this line:

"Frankie! Seen a tenure-track job in here?"
"If you go on for a PhD, instead you will find yourself with student loan payments equivalent of a home mortgage but no home (and no equity), no retirement savings, and banking on the thin chance of landing a job in some part of the country usually seen on
American Pickers."

Dear Readers, I submit that a piece of writing as fine as that requires no further defense.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Misquoting Jesus in Spokane

Big local event coming up! EWU and the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation are bringing Bart Ehrman to town to give a history talk: Misquoting Jesus:Discrepancies in Christian scripture. Ehrman teaches Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is the author of 20 books about the Bible, and is one of the top New Testament scholars in the world. He is a big deal, and a very engaging and witty speaker. YouTube is full of the guy.

The event is at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 23, 2013 at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, Downtown Spokane, Wash.. And it is free! See you there.




Saturday, May 18, 2013

Olmsted Online

Well, look at what a pretty thing this is!


Olmstead Online is an archive of plans and projects of the Olmstead firm across the United States. The Olmsteads were the most prominent landscape design firm of the late-19th and early-20th century America. The project is in its initial phase and the only state with a rich set of content is Washington. A FAQ page tells visitos that "received a grant from the federal Transportation Enhancement Program with a pilot to digitize plans and maps of the Olmsted-designed landscapes in Washington State." Lucky us! The interactive map of Washington State shows that most of the firm's work was Spokane or the Puget Sound region, with a scattering of projects in other corners of the state:



Zooming in on individual sites reveals shows us what is under the hood at Olmstead Online. The data set for Cannon Hill Park, an Olmstead park a few blocks from my house, lists 13 files including contour maps and sketches for buildings--but the only files online as yet are two planting plans. They are pretty neat:


Most of the Washington Olmstead sites are like this--a couple of interesting images but far more intriguing image descriptions that have not yet been uploaded. The site reminds us that for all of the Olmstead's fame as park builders, a huge amount of their firm's business was landscaping the grounds of private residences. Look at the details on this preliminary grounds plan for the mansion of H. W. Cowles in Browne's Addition:



This is a project in the early stages and the gaps are quite visible. Some of the locations on the map contain no images at all. Search features are wonky. The non-interactive timeline add little to the site. And there is very little information about the project itself. How did they choose which images to put online? Are more images on the way or is this it? What about the other states? Still, Olmstead Online is a compelling resource.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Damn Hippies

Posted without comment, a 1970 letter to Seattle mayor Wes Uhlman:

This is taken from the Vintage Seattle Facebook page, which credits the image courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, Record Series 5287-02.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Digital Public Library of America's View of the West

Last month saw the launch of what may become the digital repository for American history--the Digital Public Library of America. Aiming to unite "the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world," the DPLA has correctly been called the latest chapter in the dream of a universal library. So let's check it out.


The DPLA is headed up by Dan Cohen, former Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and clearly the right man for the job. There is a Board of Directors of impressive individuals from various elite east cost institutions. The DPLA is starting up with a sack full of grant money and some high-profile content partners such as the Smithsonian.

Though there are a raft of articles about the launch of the DPLA, I would recommend this episode of the Digital Campus podcast, which is devoted to the DPLA. Cohen is one of the hosts of this long-running podcast, and this special episode has Cohen discussing at great length the goals of the project, concerns about its potential impact on other public libraries, decisions made about the interface and search abilities, and an API for developers. I do not see a counter on the DPLA site to tell us how many items are currently available, but in the podcast Cohen explains that the site will launch with millions of objects, and quickly ramp up to tens of millions. Let's see what they have!

A search for Spokane brings up 491 results. Fortunately the tools for refining a search are robust--on can refine by file type (text, image, sound, moving image), by date, by language, by owning institution or partner, by location and by subject. Really the site design is superb--the DPLA is simple, intuitive, and works as well on a smartphone or tablet as on a laptop. Drilling down through my results I caught sight of a cool 1956 tourists guide to Spokane. What you can do with items at the DPLA depends on the hosting partner--most of the search results at the DPLA take you away from the site to the partner's website. At the Ramsey collection, images can be magnified and explored with a slick interface, downloaded in a variety of resolutions and formats, and even embedded:



So what else can we discover about our far-from-Harvard corner of the world at the DPLA? The results are a bit of what the English call "a dog's breakfast," a mix of uneven content. The results reflect the collections of the largely east-coast content partners. So we find gorgeously-digitized botanical specimens collected along the Spokane River in the 1890s and now housed at the Smithsonian, quite a few cultural objects from the Spokane tribe also from the Smithsonian, some fascinating printed volumes that I had not seen before from various sources, odds and ends of government reports, scattered photographs from different archives, and even an MP3 of the call of a ruddy duck.  I love this 1878 photo of the Spokane River near Fort Spokane. This part of the river is long-since flooded by the hydroelectric dams:


So already a month after launch the DPLA has significant content for our neck of the woods. It would seem churlish to complain. The content though is of certain particular types, reflecting the DPLA partnerships so far. Government reports, surveys and tourists guides, biological and ethnological collections from 19th-century Smithsonian looters explorers, nearly everything about Spokane is from someone who had no connection with the place except to have visited. The whole enterprise reminds me just a little of the classic New Yorker cover, The World As Seen From New York's 9th Avenue:


I jest--the vision of the DPLA is not so myopic. And there are a few western partners, including the Mountain West Digital Library and---well actually they are it so far. This worthy project is at an early stage, of course there are holes. I do hope however that the DPLA staff recognizes the problem, and is actively seeking partners all around the country. There are a tremendous number of digital history projects out past the Hudson, many featured over the years at this blog. I even work at one of them.

Dan, give me a call.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Short Video on the Internet Archive

I am a huge fan of the Internet Archive--often referred to by its URL, Archive.org. The Internet Archive is a non-profit dedicated to "universal access to all knowledge." They have a dizzying array of audio and video recordings, an ebook interface that is far superior to that of Google Books, and a "Wayback Machine" that allows you to view webpages that have since been deleted. This brief video highlight some of their work--and their elegant server farm. Enjoy:  
Internet Archive from Deepspeed media on Vimeo.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spokane Historical's Guide to Dropping Out of the Bloomsday Race

Bloomsday, Spokane's annual 12k run, is this Sunday. About 40,000 close friends will converge on Spokane to race on a beautiful course that will include such Spokane wonders as Riverfront Park, views of the falls, the Peaceful Valley neighborhood, and Riverside State Park. And along the way they will pass a lot of important historical sites.

If you are one of the thousands of people who walks the route instead of running, I have a suggestion. Take your smartphone, download the Spokane Historical Smartphone app, and turn your water breaks into learning opportunities. Better yet, abandon the race and just explore the history of Spokane. Here is some of what you will discover:

Starting Line: You and your 40,000 friends are going to spend a while waiting for the race to begin, and fortunately Riverside is one of Spokane's more historic streets. Take a few minutes with Spokane Historical to learn about the Great Spokane Fire of 1889 and landmarks like the Davenport Hotel and the Great Western Building.

Mile 1: Still on Riverside Avenue, you are now skirting the edge of the historic Browne's Addition neighborhood. Look up at the MAC (the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture for you out-of-towners). Consider dropping out of the race in favor of a more genteel walking tour of Browne's Addition. Or stop at the Elk for a Bloody Mary. You don't have to run.

Mile 2: Having ignored my suggestion to drop out a mile back, you are now puffing up a hill above People's Park--which served as a special campground for hippies and the like during Expo 74. This was the only time that hippies were welcome in Spokane.

Mile 3: Now you are running past Greenwood Cemetery, a classic Victorian burial ground. Get off the rat race and explore this magical place with Spokane Historical. Learn about Spokane Garry, Spokane's Civil War Veterans, Mary Latham, and the mysterious hidden tunnel.

Mile 4: To your left is Fort George Wright. This historic site was home to black soldiers, and a totem pole. In 1911 Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech here--listen to a recording.

Mile 5: As you huff up Doomsday Hill, look out to where Natatorium Park used to be. Don't you wish you were there now?

Mile 6: The West Central neighborhood is Spokane's poorest neighborhood, but also the site of some spectacular mansions such as the Glover House and the Richardson House.

Mile 7: It is never too late to quit! Check out the historic Spokane Courthouse. Or continue across the iconic Monroe Street Bridge. Learn what the falls meant to the Spokane Indians and read Sherman Alexie's wonder poem and art project That Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump.

Did you finish the race? Very well then--but spend some time walking around the downtown with Spokane Historical. We have over 250 Spokane stories online and on your smartphone!