A public historians responsibilities

What are a public historians responsibilities? A good question especially in today’s less than friendly political climate where any thing and every thing is a controversy to some one no matter how careful you are to be controversy free and try to please every one. Or as the situation for historians is best described by Cathy Stanton in her rephrasing of Shakespeare ” some public history work is born political, some becomes political, and some has politics thrust upon it”. After reading her post “Hardball history: On the edge of politics, advocacy, and activism” I get the feeling that she is arguing that the public historian has a responsibility to side with and support certain controversies with their scholarship and academic background and for the most part I agree… to an extent, we do owe it to scholarship and the public to inform and teach as much as we can about certain controversies and to dig up and present as much information as we can about the history of issues, but we have to be careful as historians to not go past the line of historian and into that of trying to be a politician. We have to separate our history and our scholarship from political advocacy lest we fall victim to having politicians and other interest groups twist and corrupt both the historical scholarship that we have worked so hard to present and the historical memory of an event to suit their political agenda. There are to many sides and angles with in the political world all angling to try and get one foot up on the other, we shouldn’t let history become a casualty of such political one-upmanship for this is how history itself is erased and simply becomes another tool of oppression. It’s one thing to say ‘oh well I’m not worried about that, the current government would never do that, they’re on my side’ but that’s the thing about government, the people in charge change, just because they’re on your side in one election cycle doesn’t mean they will be the next time, so giving the tools of history to be politicized to one election cycle means your giving it to all of them. History and public historians have a responsibility to the public to pull history out of the political quagmire and show to the public ‘hey look, this is how it really was’ with out any political spin or agenda attached. Public historians have the unfortunate responsibility of having to walk the tight-rope of historical truth, political advocacy, and public opinion. That isn’t to say in small doses or when properly balanced any of these things are necessarily a problem far from it, they’re quite good things, it’s just when historical accuracy and scholastic integrity is sacrificed at the altar of political agenda that problems begin to arise. We have to be careful not to become that which we fear and that’s all I’ve got to say on the matter.

The Archive. Is it public or not?

Is the archive public? if it is how much of it should be public and how much of it shouldn’t be? Why should the archive be public or not?

All good questions to which of course there are varying answers to depending on the archive in question and the situation, which of course isn’t the most firm or hard line answer but when is any thing in terms of public history and its ethics really hard line? well okay some things can be hard line but most things really aren’t and all depend on the situation at the time. Personally I think most archives should be open to the public at least some degree, that doesn’t mean that the public can come in and check out the objects and books with out supervision of any sort of oversight at all but they should at least be able to view the objects if they ask and have a member of staff present to ensure the safety of the object in question. I believe the public has a right to at least some level of access to archives be they governmental, university, civil, or other wise because but that access comes at the price of having to be under supervision while in said archives.

Lets look at the Auburn Special Collections and Archive as an example. The Auburn Archive has some public aspects but it’s not fully open to the public. The public can’t just waltz in willy nilly and ask to be taken back in to the stacks or view certain collections and the public can’t take portions of the archive with out asking but there is still an open to the public face and the public is allowed in to view the archive and some of its material that is out in the open and they are allowed to request and view some of the objects so long as they are being supervised with the objects themselves. The biggest problem over all with the auburn archives is the lack of publicity in it’s existence. It’s in the basement of the library and there’s really not much directing traffic to it. I think a change that could help make that archive more public is just a little more publicity regarding its existence, how can the public make use of an archive if they don’t know it exists after all? the only other change I could suggest to the Auburn archives is perhaps a bit of modernization in the department itself, it is in the basement and it has that sort of basement feel to it, giving it that sort of stereotypical basement dwelling archival feel to it, thats probably not necessarily their fault given they need a good area with climate control and space is limited for both the university and the library but if they could manage a better location that would aid in making it more public

Objectifying history: or an object biography blog post, take your pick

    

 

The object is a mid sized military style hat with a metal pin in the middle of the front flap. It is made of a medium weight suiting material in an olive drab color. It appears well taken care of with no visible signs of distress or mistreatment. While it is a costume piece the hat itself is nondescript enough and well constructed enough that it can be worn at any time of the year. The object appears to have been either hand stitched or stitched with a sewing machine rather than mass produced. Beyond the basics the hat itself is a costuming piece and reproduction of a hat found in the Star Wars series of films on the officers of the villainous empire which implies a level of cultural significance behind the hat itself.

The hat is a significant indicator of cultural history being a representation of how people interact with a culturally significant piece of mass media entertainment and how people remember said media in their day. An often overlooked aspect of history particularly history regarding objects is how mass media and how society interacts and remembers that media influences their cultural memory and with a great number of fans creating and memorializing their favorite films through costuming and other forms of object history.

What do we do with the confederate monuments (early in the mornin’)

First and foremost, the monuments shouldn’t be removed, they are still a part of history and  to destroy or remove them is to remove that history even if we don’t like that particular aspect of our past. That said, if we do remove them I don’t think they should be destroyed but rather moved into a museum or a park and placed beside monuments built to demonstrate the other side to the war, monuments dedicated to the union and abolitionists so as to create the full story of the civil war rather than letting these particular monuments stand on their own. Own their own they have a complicated and sometimes negative connotation in the public memory, if they where moved to be with other monuments or placed with in a location that could at least provide connotation to their collective memory.

Visiting the senior center: an informal response

Personal reflection first, Questions on ethics next. I think our trip to the senior center went rather well over all and was a big hit with the seniors themselves. I know with my particular group it was a little bit awkward because one interviewee came in later and neither women seemed to know the other that well so it left a little bit to be desired in how things where answered but we still got a pretty good amount of recording in. In terms of my own interviewing style I think it could use a bit of work, I got lucky in terms of how willing the two ladies where to talk and go into some details with out prompting but I found it difficult myself to get some follow up questions in. This may have been due in part to the nature of the interview with two interviewees rather than a one on one situation and myself feeling a bit awkward if I asked to many questions of one person and not the other. When it comes to objectivity and oral history I think it’s our responsibility to try and maintain a semblance of objectivity in our interview questions lest we lead the interview to produce the kind of responses we want, that doesn’t mean we should try and keep the interviewee’s answers objective, far from it as we’re seeking their subjective responses to our objective questions. Similarly we hold the responsibility to the interviewee to firstly be honest with them about what is being recorded and why and how we as historians intend to use the recorded interviews as well as to not use subjective questions to not create a one sided recording

Responding to Trouillot

First and foremost trouillot’s writing was a bit of a slog but an at least fairly straight forward slog until his side track into what almost seems like a rant on constructionists and the Holocaust which in terms of his argument is still valid, but doesn’t quite fit the narrative structure that had up until that point been laid down. From what I gathered his argument is mostly that in history there are two sides to the story, what happened and what people think happened.