Monthly Archives: April 2011

99 Year Ago Today…

Late April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the early hours of April 15.  It has been 99 years, but we still remember the Titanic because it is a reminder that mother nature always has an advantage over man and his creations.

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Where’s Harvick?

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Public History Series: Memory

I could not think of a better post to conclude the Public History series with than one on Memory because it plays into EVERY aspect of the discipline.  The key word in public history is “public.”  We create a link between academic history and the public by making history accessible by everyone.  Memory, in this case, is not a singular term, but a collective term.  The term most often used is “American Memory” and it is very important for public historians to understand.  The knowledge that slavery was bad and immoral is pretty common, and it is a negative memory within the American population, but that does not make it, and other controversial topics, easy to display.

Slavery, and other controversial topics are difficult to deal within a museum.  A museum that chooses to ignore the topic tends to enrage a portion of the population, but those that demonize slaveholders anger yet another part of the population.  Presenting such a controversial topic has been done in many ways.  One way, which causes a great amount of publicity, took place a few years ago at Colonial Williamsburg.  They held a mock slave auction in the town square.  This would have been a common occurrence in the Colonial Era, but was not something the public was interested in in the early Twenty-First Century.  It caused a lot of controversy and they have not attempted to do it again.  Slavery is still discussed within Williamsburg and they even offer a tour that focuses specifically on slavery within a colonial town.

Enola Gay

The other, and more famous, example of a controversial museum display was the Enola Gay.  In 2003, the Enola Gay went on display at the Smithsonian and was presented in such a way that angered those who were against the use of the bomb as well as Japanese-Americans.  The Smithsonian did correct the display, but the results upset veterans whose lives were, arguably, saved by the use of the atomic bomb to end World War II.  The Smithsonian solved the dilemma by taking down the display and leaving the aircraft on display with no interpretation.  The Smithsonian took the easy way out.  The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is controversial, but they have not close their doors in response to protests.

The key to remember when it comes to memory is that there are two sides to the same story.  The Civil War is a great example of this.  It is nearly impossible to make everyone happy when displaying any controversial topic in history; therefore, it is important to display the history in a way that is truthful and unbiased.  Allow the visitor to draw his/her own conclusions.

Memory is such a great topic to complete the series because it really does play a key role in how we present the history in all the sub-disciplines of Public History: local/regional history, oral history, historic preservation, documentary editing, museum studies, documentary film and visual arts, historical archaeology, and archival work.

It is important to remember that Public Historians are ultimately working to educate the public and should be wary that some events could be painful or offensive to a portion of the population.  This does not mean, however, that it should be brushed over or ignored.  This is, I believe, where public historians differ from academic historians.  Academic historians write for each other, and there are not many within the public that read academic journals or books.  It is important for public historians to use the academic techniques to present history to the public in a way that is accurate and unbiased.  That is the goal of myself and the goal of Public Historians.

-Eric

NOTE:  This is the tenth and final post in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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Martinsville Videos

Here are the 3 videos that I took on Sunday!

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!!!

Warmup lap

43 Cars in 17 seconds!!

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A Disloyal Fan

Going to my first NASCAR race was quite an experience.  Races at Martinsville are always exciting and yesterday’s did not disappoint.  Kevin Harvick won, my first race and my favorite driver wins, and I missed it.  I left early because the crowd was beginning to thin out.  Harvick was running mid-pack at the time.  After I left, Harvick’s team played pit strategy and took only two tires.  This moved Harvick up in the running order.  As he said in Victory Lane, the car came to life!

I am deeply depressed that I missed Harvick’s victory and I plan to go to the Martinsville race in October to make up for it.  Here are a few things I am going to do differently to make my experience better: 1. Different Seating.  I sat in the fourth row off Turn 4 on the front stretch.  The sound of 43ish cars accelerating off the corner for 400 laps has really affected my hearing (temporarily of course).  Which bring me to number 2. Better ear protection. Ear plugs did not keep the sound of the cars from affecting my hearing.  A headset probably would have been better.  3. Strong sunscreen. My arms are burnt to the point of discomfort.  4. Bring a friend.  I went by myself and that was a mistake.  I literally got bored watching the race by myself, but I could not find anyone who wanted to get up early to get there.

So, if you go to a race sit about half way up in the grandstand.  It will be easier on your ears, but you will also be able to see more of the track.  Wear ear protection, I wish I had used better protection.  Wear strong sunscreen because sitting there for approximately 5 hours had taken its toll on my arms, and do not go alone.  It is always more fun to go to events in groups.

I will go to a race again.  I am too big a fan not too, but you can learn from my rookie mistakes.

Here are some of the photos I took, videos coming soon!

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Public History Series: Archives

One may wonder what the difference is between an archivist and a documentary editor, and that is a fair question, but there is a clear answer.  Documentary editors often spend their entire career dealing with the papers of one individual, whereas archivists tend to work with large collections of documents relating to a variety of topics.  There are many types of archivists, but I am going to focus on three.  They are city/county archivists, business archivists, and governmental archivists.

City and county archivists control a vast amount of information.  They tend to be in county court houses or city halls, and they are the people to see when you are searching for land records or deeds.  There are very complex systems of tracking land ownership and, it seems, every city and county handles it differently.  It is, therefore, nearly impossible to begin your work without the assistance of the local archivist.  There are other types of archives at the local levels, and they really fall under the category of Local/Regional History.  Families tend to donate documents from their grandparents or parents after they pass away and these are often donated to local museums.  These documents may or may not contain important information to the museums, but they do for genealogy and those records may be important when filling out forms for the National Register of Historic Places as well as a wide variety of other research.

North Carolina State Archives

Business historians are becoming more and more prevalent in the business community.  Large corporations produce a vast amount of paperwork (memos, quarterly reports, etc.), but many corporations also hold a large number of Patents and Copyrights.  Research into this area becomes necessary when Copyright or Patent claims arise.  This is a growing profession and should be considered by those with an interest in archives as well as business.

The most common type of archivist, however, works for the government.   There are many different positions available for an archivist within the government.  The military employs historians (usually civilian) on EVERY base to keep records and produce reports for the commanding Generals.  The National Park Service employs archivists to work on historic sites and in museums.  The most popular job within the government, however, is working for the National Archives.  There are a wide variety of jobs within the National Archives and the most important thing they do is the declassification of documents.  This requires the skill of interpretation that a historian possesses.  Documents are placed in boxes according to subjects and each document must be read and placed in its proper location with the possibility of cross-referencing (meaning it deals with more than one subject).  This process is tedious and may explain why the National Archives is behind in brining declassified documents to the public!

I have had some archive experience when I worked at the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri.  There is nothing like reading through documents that have not been seen in decades.  Archivists do this on a daily basis and it makes for an interesting career.  Many public historians choose to go this route since there are a wide variety of options within the field.

-Eric

NOTE:  This is the ninth in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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