NCPH recap: Day Four, March 19

I’m recapping my NCPH 2016 experience.  I’ve already written about the first three days of the conference and some of the great workshops and sessions from those days.  The final day of NCPH included a great keynote address and the bittersweet nature of a conference winding down.

Awards Breakfast and Presidential Address

The awards ceremony celebrates the winners of the numerous awards offered through NCPH including book of the year, public history project of the year, and others.  The awards were followed by Patrick Moore’s presidential address titled “Places, Privilege, and Public History: A Journey of Acknowledging Contested Space”. Moore’s talk took the form a personal narrative exploring his exposure to history in his childhood, youth, and professional life and the personal realizations he developed about how history is interpreted and experienced.

Moore raised questions around interpretation – is it possible to overlap different historical narratives? To share space in history? How do we as professionals reframe questions to look at things in different ways? And how do we talk about people who ‘lost’ who are not part of popular narratives? It is crucial that we give history and authority back to communities and provide opportunities to people who have never had their stories told.  It can be deeply challenging to recognize your own privilege but that recognition can make for better professionals and better approaches to historical work. This talk was great mixture of reflection on the public history profession and a call to arms around approaches to challenging the exclusive past.  A very fitting presidential address considering the theme of this year’s conference.

Not Lost and Not Forgotten: How to Help Cultural Communities Preserve Their Sacred Traditions and Sacred Spaces

Singing and Praying Band
Singing and Praying Band

This was one of the most unique conference sessions I’ve ever attended.  It focused on the African American Singing and Praying Bands of Maryland and Delaware and one of such bands actively participated in the session.  The session hinged on the idea of how historians can document cultural communities and what tools are needed to build collaborative partnerships – especially around the documentation of spiritual traditions.

Prior to this session I had zero knowledge about the Singing and Praying bands.  The session did an excellent job of highlighting how these bands are deeply connected to church culture and African American history.  The bands brought people together, they were the worship experience of many early Methodist societies, and have a connection to the participatory worship that links back to the slave trade.

This session also picked up a number of themes that were discussed throughout the conference – the need to build relationships of trust within the community, the fact that history can be deeply personal and that personal experience has a place in historical narrative, and the fact that successful collaborations are a relationship, not a project. Having the singing and praying band participate in this session was a great experience – it brought the community history to the forefront and showed the nature of this deep history.  It also brought community voices and community realities to the forefront – something that could not have been accomplished by someone simply presenting on this topic.

Cemetery Activism Roundtable

The final session I attended at NCPH 2016 was a roundtable focusing on cemeteries and the use of cemeteries to present more diverse and inclusive historical narratives.  The discussion was facilitated by Lynn Rainville of Sweet Briar College and included Steven Burg, Shippensburg University; Savannah Darr, Metro Louisville Planning and Design Services; Dennis Montagna, National Park Service; and Ryan Smith, Virginia Commonwealth University.

This session focused primarily on the preservation and documentation of community cemeteries and African American burial grounds.  The presenters all highlighted the need to advocate for cemetery preservation, the need for community engagement around these sites, and how to get people to care about these sites — particularly if they exist in an area which the impacted community is no longer represented in the population.

NCPH recap: Day Three, March 18

I’m recapping my NCPH 2016 experience.  I’ve already written about the first two days of the conference and some of the great workshops and sessions from those days.  I presented on day three and also had the chance to attend some great sessions and the inspiring public plenary.

Transformative Archival Methods: Inclusivity, Partnerships, Human Rights, & Activism

This panel was one of my favourite of the whole conference.  It included Trudy Huskamp Peterson, Human Rights Working Group; Marla Ramirez, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign; and Patrick Stawski, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. This session was frames around the idea that access to archives is an essential part of professional archival practice and that archives can be transformative within a human rights context.  A lot of what was covered in this session was very relevant to ongoing conversations in Canada around Indigenous archival material and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Trudy Huskamp Peterson‘s discussion of the International Council on Archives (ICA) Human Rights Working Group was particularly inspiring.  It also raised a lot of questions about best practices for archives, access, and marginalized communities. Archives have the ability to be play a key role in transitional justice processes but they need to be preserved in order to do so — archivists need to actively consider human rights claims when they are appraising documents. Similarly, archives need to be accessible to victims of human rights offenses and archives need to do a better job of communicating with marginalized communities about how access can be gained and facilitate connections to records.  Trudy also touched on the need for professional discussion around displaced archives and the role of archives within human rights contexts more broadly.  I was particularly struck by the irony of the fact that the ICA working group draft document on human rights is not publicly accessible, when so much of its content emphasizes access as a right.

Trudy’s presentation was followed by Patrick Stawski‘s discussion of archivists as ‘memory bandits’ who engage in a proactive redistribution of archival memory.  Stawski spoke a lot about the politics around archiving community materials and raised an important point around the language we use — we talk about acquiring collections, but in the case of communities we need to think and talk more about partnerships and address how we can support the origin of the materials.  Stawski also highlighted how archives are the beginning of relationships and archives around human rights are often connected to living communities and we need to evolve are archival practices to address changes within the communities we are serving.  This presentation also included a discussion of the transformative nature of records and how there can be a huge value in examining records that cause discomfort.  Records that document trauma can be directly linked to community healing and the redistribution of memory.

The final presenter in this session was Marla Andrea Ramirez who spoke about creating platforms for silenced voices, filling in archival silences, and the important of oral history in transforming historical narratives. Ramirez’s work focused on transgenerational oral histories to create narratives that reflect both survivor and community experiences in relation to the deportation of Mexicans in the 1930s from the United States.  She also spoke about her work with family archives and documents help by individuals that explain their history that don’t exist in official historical narratives or government archives. Ramirez’s talk emphasized the power of oral history to highlight the long term trauma that archival records do not capture and the need for establishing trust and patient relationships when doing this type of oral history project.

This was an extremely powerful panel with so many perspectives and experiences relating to archives and trauma. As Canadian archivists start to consider their own role in reconciliation, access, documenting the impact of colonialism and residential schools looking to examples outside of Canada has the potential to be extremely useful.

Finding the Embedded Archivist

I was fortunate to present on this panel organized by Jennifer Black of Misericordia University.  The other presenters included Marc Brodsky, Virginia Tech; Suzanne Catharine, University at Albany, SUNY; Jessica Garner, Misericordia University, Mary Kintz Bevevino Library; Noreen O’Connor, Kings College and myself.  This session brought together archivists, faculty, and a student and looked at the potential of embedded archival instruction and the power of moving beyond ‘show and tell’ archival instruction.

I learned a lot from my fellow presenters and gained a few new ideas for instruction exercises, such as: having students examine a rare book or other item with the question of if it should be de-accessioned; or telling students they are the head of a brand new archives facility and having them consider how they would design the space to be used by archives staff.  Both of these examples highlight important work that archivists do and get students to engage with some of the difficult questions associated with archival practice.

This session also highlighted the need for the archival community to talk more broadly about instruction strategies, techniques, and successes.  There are a lot of great archivists and faculty partnerships out there that can be used as examples but they often require substantial digging to learn about.

Using Spatial History to Challenge the Exclusive Past

This panel included discussion of the “Spatial History in the Public Square” project by Bradley Andrick and Kevin Borg of James Madison University, the “Canal Lives on the James River and Kanawha Canal” project by Gregory Hargreaves of the Hagley Museum and Library, and the “98 Acres in Albany: Documenting a Demolished Neighborhood” by David Hochfelder, University at Albany, SUNY.

There were some interesting discussion around technology used in these three different mapping projects.  The Canal Lives utilized Omeka to setup a very basic visualization of the cannal and embed underrepresented stories of those who built and worked in the canal region. The Public Square project was more complex and used digital map tools to overlay archival Sanborn maps with present day terrain and to include metadata within the maps for contextual information.  This project used completely open source software including Leaflet, GMP, and github.  They wanted to create something that would by easy for other communities to replicate using similar Sanborn maps and a bit of hacking.  I loved that aspect of the Public Square Project.  The 98 Acres in Albany project focuses on the social history of urban renewal and highlight the experiences of individuals from diverse backgrounds.  The site appears to be currently setup on a WordPress blog and is very narrative driven currently.

These were all interesting mapping projects and were connected by their desire to highlight unrepresented narratives. However, I was very concerned by the fact that all the presenters on this panel were white males and the community voices were lost in their presentations.  Despite their work seemingly revolving around silences communities those voices did not seem to have a place at the table for the project administration or overarching project decisions. In the case of the Canal Lives project there was a particularly jarring moment where the presenter indicated they were using ‘placeholder’ images to show what slave or servant individuals probably would have looked like.  I understand the desire to make projects visually appealing but using an image of a historical document or explaining why there were no photographs of a marginalized person might have been a more appropriate option.

Public Plenary

The public plenary was held at the Ebenezer AME Church a short walk from the conference hotel.  Titled “Uprising in Focus: The Image, Experience, and History of Inequality in Baltimore” amd moderated by Elizabeth Nix the plenary included photographers Devin Allen, J.M. Giordiano, director of Ingoma Foundation Paula Gregory Harris, and long time Baltimore residents Robert Birt and Devon Wilford-Said.

This event was open to the general public and focused on the history of activism and protest in Baltimore in response to racial injustice.  It focused on both the 1968 protests following the death of Martin Luther King and the 2015 protests following the death of Freddie Gray and used images as a lens for looking at the past and present racial divide in Baltimore.  The church was packed for this event and the narratives of the panelists highlighted the need to look beyond the images of protest presented on CNN and other major news sources.  Devin Allen’s talk in particular was inspiring and deeply moving.

Other Fun

This was a busy day – I also attended a membership committee meeting and participating in a Canadian public history meetup. One of my favourite parts about NCPH is getting the opportunity to connect with other public history professionals from all walks of life.  The Canadian contingent this year included a number of fellow Western alumni who it was great to see again and discuss the challenges particular to public historians in Canada.

NCPH Recap: Day One, March 16

LGBTAnother year, another NCPH conference down.  This is by far my favourite conference.  It brings together so many diverse perspectives, there is a welcoming sense of community, and the sessions are always dynamic and engaging.  I had a fantastic time in Baltimore at NCPH 2016 and over the next week or so I will be recapping my experience at the conference and exploring Baltimore.

This was the first year I was able to participate in any of the pre-conference workshops.  The “Daring to Speak Its Name: Interpreting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pasts at Historic Sites” workshop facilitated by Susan Ferentinos, Frank Futral, and Megan Springate was a wonderful way to kick off the week in Baltimore.

The workshop included a broad discussion of challenges interpreting and integrating LGBTQ history into mainstream historical sites and common historical narratives.  The session allowed for substantial discussion of participant ideas and projects.  The workshop opened with Sue Ferentinos highlighting some of the different ways that LGBTQ history has been interpreted – monuments, memorials, special events/exhibits, and reshaping of existing programming.

We also spent considerable time talking about the challenges or ‘issues’ around interpreting LGBTQ history.  Some of the issues that resonated most with me was the idea of archival silences or silences in the historical record.  How do you tell a history that isn’t well documented?  And without imposing present day identification and terms on the past?  And who has the right to tell these stories? And how do you tell it without ‘whitewashing’ or generalizing the very diverse range of experiences of LGBTQ communities.  As an archivist much of this conversation made me consider the need to more actively engage in documenting present day queer communities, so that future generations have more information and the ability to tell this history more fully.

The session also pointed participants to a number of resources including:

And the morning concluded with participants workshopping ideas around LGBTQ history interpretation at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site and specifically Val-Kill the home of Eleanor.  Overall this was a great workshop with great ideas around engaging with LGBTQ past and the need to be more proactive in documenting this history. There was also a lot of enthusiasm for more LGBTQ history at future NCPH meetings in terms of working groups and presentations.

Following this workshop I concluded Day 1 of NCPH by helping the Resume Building Workshop and attending the Opening Reception.  I had a mentee for the conference so the opening reception was a chance to meet her and orient her to the conference.  I also had dinner with a number of the Canadian attendees at NCPH – and it’s always great to connect with those great public historians.

NCPH 2016 Plans

The National Council on Public History (NCPH) conference for this year is almost here.  Next week I’ll be heading to Baltimore, MD for NCPH 2016.  It looks like it’s going to be a great conference with a wide range of panels, walking tours, workshops, and other events.  The full conference program is available on the NCPH website. I planning on taking in a variety of events including:

Wednesday March 16

  • 8:00am-12:00pm “Daring to Speak Its Name” Workshop
  • 5:30-6:00pm I’ll be attending the “First Time Attendee and Mentor/Mentee Pre-Reception” as a Mentor.
  • 6:00-7:00pm Opening Reception

Thursday March 17

  • 7:30-8:00am As part of the membership committee I’m attending the NCPH New Member welcome.

Friday March 18

  • 10:30am-12:00pm I’ll be presenting as part of the “Finding the Embedded Archivist” panel.  The panel is focusing on archival instruction, partnerships between faculty and archives, and teaching about archives in substantial ways.
  • 1:30-3:30pm Membership Committee Meeting
  • 6:00-7:00pm The Uprising in Focus: The Image, Experience, and History of Inequality in Baltimore public plenary.

Saturday March 19

  • 8:00-10:00am NCPH Awards Breakfast and Presidential Address

I”ll also be attending a variety of sessions but if you’re at NCPH in Baltimore and want to connect I’ll definitely be at the above events.

Anishinaabe Inendamowin (Thought) Research Symposium

Last week I attended the second Bi-Annual Anishinaabe Inendamowin (Thought) Research Symposium at Algoma University.  It was a great day and included speakers on everything from sustainability, to the power of food, to decolonizing railways. The symposium also included scholars from a range of backgrounds including community members, all levels of students, and academics.  It was nice to see such a diverse group of participants and to learn about so many interesting projects.  Some of the highlights for me included:

Sustainable Education Practices

Yvonne Vizina was the keynote speaker for the day and spoke on her academic and professional work relating to sustainability.  I found her work relating to the integration of Indigenous knowledge in science education and her curriculum development advocacy particularly interesting.  Her talk also focused on role Indigenous people have to play in environmental science and the need for the incorporation of Indigenous voices in policy development relating to sustainable environmental practices.  Yvonne also spoke about her work on the Indigenous Science From Place project which examined the inclusion of First Nations and Métis perspectives in the Saskatchewan school science curriculum and the impact that inclusion had upon student outcomes.

Urban Indigenous Youth For Change Panel

This panel featured Candace Neveau, Jordan Tabobondung, Rihkee Strapp and was chaired by Mitch Case. I’ve heard this group of youth speak a few times before and it is always an inspiring experience to hear about their community driven work and the success they’ve had in engaging local youth.  The discussion focused on how the panelists were involved in the local and other communities, what Indigenous innovation means, the role of Indigenous ways of knowing in their work, and advice for other Indigenous youth looking to become involved in similar work.  The panel included many powerful words and examples of being dedicated and driven to create safe spaces, open the lines of communication, and look at problems from Indigenous perspectives.

Work to Aid Healing and Reconciliation

Maggie McGoldrick, a PhD Candidate at Queens and an AlgomaU grad, spoke on her research relating to Indigenous centered archival movements and specifically the work of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre to aid healing and reconciliation. I’ve been in touch with Maggie over the past couple of years while she’s started this work and its great to see the early stages of her research coming together.  Her presentation focused on archives as site of memory and the power of archives to act as collective memory.  She also spoke on the need for historical documents and lived experience to interconnect.  I look forward to hearing more about Maggie’s work as it progresses.

Archives and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Workshop

I recently facilitated a workshop on Archives and the TRC as part of Huron History Day: An Active History Pre-Conference for High School and First Year Students.

The workshop focused on the history of residential schools, the unique challenges of residential school archives, the TRC, and reconciliation more broadly.  When planning this workshop I was a bit worried about the range of backgrounds that might be attending and how to include survivor experiences.

Typically when working with high school students at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre I have invited a survivor into the archive or classroom and students learn through their discussion with the survivor.  In the case of this workshop the time constraint and location meant this wasn’t possible.

This ended up being a blessing in disguise.  It caused me to think critically about engagement and turn to other great educational resources.  I modified and incorporated two of the activities from the 100 Years of Loss edu-kit created by the Legacy of Hope Foundation and drew on Project of Heart resources.

One of the activities I modified from the edu-kit focused on examining the before/after photographs of Thomas Moore.  I used a different set of before and after photographs but employed the same type of questions to the workshop participants.  Questions about identify, why the photographs were taken, and the impact of residential schools on culture all sparked meaningful discussion. This simple activity worked really well to introduce the topic of residential schools in an engaging manner.

I also incorporated an activity that allowed students to read a first-hand survivor statement about their experience in residential school.  This activity brought home the importance of incorporating survivor experiences into the archival record and highlighted the impact of residential schools on individuals, communities, and all of Canada.  Allowing students to speak about what they read in small groups and then as a larger group allowed for a range of participation and discussion.

I closed the workshop with a discussion of the Project of Heart and we debriefed while students decorated wooden tiles in memory of a residential school student.  This artistic activity allowed me some time to interact with the participants on an individual level and check in on the feelings of the group.  There were also a handful of teachers participating in the workshop and this activity served as an introduction into the Project of Heart and allowed me to invite them to engage their classes in the POH initiative.

Overall I was very please with how the workshop went.  A short workshop is by no means long enough to cover residential schools in depth.  But I feel as though participants left with a deeper understanding of the legacy of residential schools and many of them left with a desire to learn and do more.

Upcoming Presentations and Conference Travel

I have a busy couple of weeks ahead of me with some personal and work related travel on the horizon.  On the personal side I’ll be in Southern Ontario and Buffalo, New York.  As usual while traveling I’ll be keeping an eye out for interesting public history initiatives.

From October 1-4, 2015 I’ll be in London, Ontario at the New Directions in Active History Conference at Huron University College. During the conference I’ll be:

  • Thursday October 1: Running a workshop on “Archives and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission” for high school and undergraduate students as part of Huron History Day.
  • Friday October 2: Jay Young and I will be delivering a workshop titled “Active History in the Archives.”  A description of this workshop can be found in the conference program.
  • Saturday October 3: I am chairing the “Engaging Popular Conceptions of History” panel featuring Jason Ellis, Josh Cole, and Geoff Keelan.
  • Sunday October 4: I am also chairing the New Directions in Active History closing panel made up of Megan Davies, Alan Corbiere, and Hector MacKenzie.

Other than those fixed commitments I’m looking forward to connecting with the Active History editorial collective in person, taking in some of the great panels, and engaging in conversations around active history.  I’m also looking forward to being back in London which I haven’t visited to since I graduated from Western.

2016 NCPH/SHFG Joint Conference Topic Proposals

Last year the National Council on Public History introduced the idea of topic proposals for its annual meetings.  Topic Proposals allow individuals interested in submitting sessions to the conference to receive feedback on their ideas, recruit other panelists, and further develop their ideas with community input, prior to submitting their final proposals to the conference committee.  The History@Work blog has written about last year’s success of the topic proposal idea.

This year the deadline for topic proposals was June 1st.  A complete list of the 40 topic proposals received by NCPH can be found here. There are a lot of creative ideas and lots of people looking for feedback and potential collaborators.  It’s a great way to connect with people who might have similar ideas for presenting at this year’s conference and connect with other like minded public historians.

New Directions in Active History: Institutions, Communication, and Technologies

There is less than a week left to submit papers to the New Directions in Active History conference.  The conference will be held October 2-4, 2015 at Huron University College in London, Ontario more details about the conference and the  CFP are below:

The term “active history” carries with it a diverse range of meanings. In different contexts, it  can refer to: the broader public diffusion of historical knowledge, approaches to research that “share authority” with the communities being studied, a more focused use of historical knowledge as a tool of well thought out public policy and politics, or even specific fora like ActiveHistory.ca. These different meanings and emphases are linked by the ideas that history can and should play a more constructive role in contemporary cultural and political life and that historical knowledge should be much more than a tool of patriotism or the rote memorization of events, dates, and people. In this, it dovetails with recent discussions about the meaning and future of history, from John Tosh’s Why History Matters (2008) to Jo Guldi and David Armitage’s more recent The History Manifesto (2014).

The low cost of websites, podcasts and other digital publishing mediums opened the door to a new form of publishing aimed at communicating these goals, finding common ground with the open access publishing movement. As a primarily web-based project, ActiveHistory.ca is interested in, but is not exclusive to, using the internet to bring historical perspectives to a wide audience. This website, which emerged out of a 2008 symposium, was never intended to be the only approach to active history and we would like to come together again to explore the many approaches to engaged/public/applied/active history.

In marking these varying definitions of Active History, this conference seeks to explore these shifting dynamics through a series of practically-oriented workshops, paper and poster presentations that take stock (or, suggest new directions in) the state of historical knowledge, its uses, and mobilization. Conference organizers are particularly interested in presentations that explore the ways institutions function to enhance or detract from the knowledge of history in popular culture, the nature of historical knowledge as it is mobilized and contested in the wider society, digital approaches to history, or alternative ways of recording, marking, and disseminating and understanding of the past and its processes.

Proposals for papers or posters that address these themes or other aspects of active history are welcome. Proposals should consist of a titled 250 word abstract that includes the author’s institutional and/or community affiliation and contact information along with a one-page curriculum vitae. We plan to publish a selection of conference papers through ActiveHistory.ca’s peer-reviewed papers section in addition to featuring conference-related content on our group blog and History Slam! podcast.

We will also be arranging four specifically focused panels on the following topics. Please indicate in your submission if you would like to participate on one of these panels:

  • Active History, Heritage and Museums
  • The future of public history programs in Canada
  • Community engaged history
  • Active History beyond the Academy

Proposals should be submitted no later than April 15 to Kaleigh Bradley at activehistory2015@gmail.com

Questions or inquiries about this conference can be made at the same address. We are also looking for additional sponsorship for this event. Please contact us, if you are interested in supporting this conference.

Ongoing Challenges: Paper Writing and Committee Work

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Challenges.  What did you wrestle with in 2014?  What did you learn?  What challenges do you foresee in 2015?

This past year I wrestled with how to turn down great projects that I simply didn’t have time to do justice to. In 2015 I foresee a few new challenges including:

  • Finalizing a paper on sports images and residential school archives.  This was one of the few projects I took on part way through 2014, as it draws directly on a lot of the work I’ve done with the Rev Father William Maurice fonds in the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  
  • I’m continuing to be part of a couple of public history committees and part of a conference organizing committee. There will be lots of planning and implementation work in the next year relating to those commitments.
  • I will be returning to work in June 2015 after taking seven months off as maternity leave.  This will be another huge life/work adjustment.