Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions and the Writing of History

This week’s reading gave an in depth look into the many facets of archival management. In a compilation of archival studies from India to South Africa, Antoinette Burton has captured a sense of the global scope in history’s cornerstone. Historians, as well as other disciplines rely heavily on the accuracy and availability of “traces of the past collected either intentionally or haphazardly as ‘evidence’.”(3) Due to the digitized nature of society, there has been a reliance on the ability to research via internet, as well as traditionally. Although, there is a wealth of information available on the internet, it must be verified in a conventional and tedious manner. The reason lies with the ever changing amounts of information available in cyberspace. There may be an abundance of information stored on a variety of websites and database, however, the legitimacy of these sources drastically shortens the list.
How to deal with these issues? Renee’ Sentilles offers to historians to reconsider the mastering all major material on a subject. Academicians have often implied a comprehensive knowledge of primary and secondary sources on a particular topic. In a more practical sense, however, Sentilles suggest historians change the concept of being a specialist to a more interactive and engaging approach. (142)
Cyberspace archival research offers a balance of efficiency and thoroughness. Both historians and students are required to carefully analyze the information provided via the internet, as well as compile viable resources into publishable contributions. Technological advances have forced many to side with the sensibility of balance between wealth of information and validity of sources.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity"

Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity explores the historical preservation practices and issues faced in, both, the United States and Britain. The US has romanticized history into a marketable, revenue generating entity. Preserving history has become very popular in the United States to the end that tax incentives are being acquired by individuals purchasing historic sites. Great Britain, however, has taken a social class approach to historic preservation. Britain’s preservation process is controlled by the ruling class, first, as an extension of their aristocracy and, lastly, as a tool conveying the country’s history to the public. In addition, British citizens question the authenticity of the interpretation being displayed. On the other hand, the United States is more decentralized. Despite the phases historic preservation has taken in the US, patriotic and economic, the public maintained control in determining what was historical.
Diane Barthel has done a wonderful job of not simply sharing a historiography of the preservation field, but presenting a comparative of approaches to historical preservation. Although the US has moved to a more economically motivated system of preserving history, there has been an effort to educate the public in a melting pot fashion. There are many histories present in the United States and are authentically expressed in the nation’s historic sites, monuments and museums. Conversely, Britain contains lavishly detailed historic scenes, the history of its public is not represented in the “Preservation Project” of the country hindering the ability to communicate authentic references to the past. History is, ultimately, an interpretation that must be shared by those acting as the authority, as well as the people represented in the exhibit, monument or writing.

Monday, September 8, 2008

“Whose History is it?”

The first three chapters of Edward Linenthal’s “Preserving Memory: the Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum,” gave a detailed the challenges faced in creating of the Holocaust museum. Although, President Carter initiated the project, the measuring stick would be set by the Jewish community. As debates ensued on the importance of the museum’s construction to the Carter Administration; which, if any, group of the Jewish community (living or deceased/Polish Jews/Ukrainian Jews) should be reflected in the historical exhibits; the location of the museum and, most importantly, how the term Holocaust would be defined. A question continued to ring in my mind, “whose history is it?”
Carefully researched and documented, “Preserving Memory”, revealed the constant removal of Jewish sentiment from holocaust ceremonies, specifically, when generalized references were made concerning the Jewish struggle while grandiose observances recognized the Polish, during a visit to Warsaw. Linenthal described forgetfulness as “treachery of memory,” however whether American or Eastern European Jewish the focal point remained clear: to never forget and learn what was perpetrated against a people in history. Blatant oversight and omission of the history of a nation reflects a reporter/historian’s feelings of the group’s historical insignificance. However, the persistence of Elie Wisel ensured the historical content of any commemorative event always reflect the Jewish community at large, not merely a portion. The inclusion of other groups in the Holocaust museum commemorations was unacceptable. I would also question the inclusion of other groups, who have been victims of discrimination, being involved in focus groups and committees for this project. The inquiry can only be made with those who are closest to the Holocaust experience and, therefore the authority also lies within the Jewish community.

Friday, September 5, 2008

What is Public History?

The debates discussed in these two articles remind me of the long standing argument of what is history: a social or hard science. John Gaddis, in “The Landscape of History,” discussed there not being a single dependent or independent variable, experiment and outcome would not work in the discipline of history. He states “Historians are prepared to acknowledge tendencies, or patterns” or “intersecting variables.” As to within the historical community there is a question of what public history is? The National Council on Public History, in Cathy Stanton’s article “What is Pubic History,” drafted a definition stating "Public history is a movement, methodology, and approach that promotes the collaborative study and practice of history; its practitioners embrace a mission to make their special insights accessible and useful to the public." Dissecting this definition has brought me to the viewpoint that public history is a methodology and an approach, but a movement I could not agree with. Although, Denise Meringolo makes a good case in describing her position as a “community organizer” galvanizing communities to “push its own sense of boundaries and exclusiveness,” I am not sure I agree. The works of historians, in the varied forms of articles, exhibits or museums, should enlighten and inform the public on particular themes or areas of study. Public history is the medium in which this conveyed to participants and patrons. However, it can be coupled with the communities or societies in which historians study as viable for historical references such as personal accounts. It is after reviewing the materials or experiencing the exhibits, a community is either compelled to respond in the form of protest or community revitalization.
Katherine Corbett and Howard Miller’s definition describes public history “as a joint endeavor in which historians and their various publics collaborated in trying to make the past useful to the public.” Corbett and Miller’s article, “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry” provides countless examples when historians, utilizing the public history approach, adopted or rejected the shared inquiry, shared authority model. Often in the development of historical projects, historians, with their academic training and scholarly research, disregard the viability of the general public as a form of reference or as an authority. The project to create instructional materials that would infuse national and local history in the American history classes of St. Louis secondary teachers proved to be a lesson in shared inquiry and shared authority. In spite of the team’s original sources, lesson plans and support materials, teachers did not have the equipment to support high-quality graphics of original document or simple student-teacher paralleled textbooks. The group of historians did not include the authority, St. Louis teachers, in the curriculum development process. Though revisions were made and the curriculum is a model in the St. Louis area, historians oft times disregard the history that is closest to them: the public.