UMBC at 50: Final Site Story Drafts

As promised, the final draft of my site stories.

In conducting research on both the University Center and the Commons, it was important that each building became more than physical structures of concrete, brick, and glass. Their existence are testaments to UMBC’s consistent, yet imperfect effort to create a cohesive campus community.

The University Center

Location: 39.254506, -76.713346

Before 1982, student life and campus activities at UMBC took place in a variety of inconvenient locations for the majority of students who commuted to campus. When the University Center, known on campus as “the UC”, opened its doors between Meyerhoff and Sherman Halls, it moved the center of campus life to the traditional academic zone of UMBC’s campus in order to cultivate a real, cohesive community.

The UC provided the UMBC community with a variety of amenities, including the campus bookstore, a dining room, a ballroom, and lounge space. Upon its opening, commuter and residential students alike enjoyed meals in the UC Pub, or congregating outside on the patio. Amenities and lounge space aside, the UC also provided office space for some student organizations such as the Student Government Association and the Retriever—UMBC’s student newspaper, and storage space for others.

The amount of space available for student organizations became a point of contention as the UC was built. Students agreed that campus activities needed to be made more accessible, but they were also concerned that the consolidation of student-centered space would create a “space grab” among academic departments wishing to expand in campus spaces previously financed by student fees. Their concerns were confirmed when the UC opened with spaces for only sixteen of the fifty-two student organizations, while the Theatre department proposed an expansion of its performing space in the former bookstore.

UMBC began to outgrow the UC within the first decade of its operation as the result of increased student enrollment. While many of its student-centered functions moved to the Commons when it opened in 2002, the UC is still used by students in a variety of ways. On a nice sunny day, you will see students congregating on the outdoor patio, drinking Starbucks or eating Chick-fil-A, both of which are on the first floor. The UC Ballroom remains a popular venue for banquets, step shows, and other performances by student organizations. The Retriever and WMBC, UMBC’s radio station also remain in the UC.

Home to the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, the Psychology Center for Community Collaboration, and the English Language Institute, the UC is indeed changing its function over time. Presently, the UC slated for a full renovation to provide space for new traditional classrooms as well as active learning spaces, and will become the University Learning Center.

Photo Caption Text:

  1. Students walking past the University Center, March 1982. Photo courtesy of University Archives. Special Collections. University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Suggested Tags:

UMBC Campus, University Center, Student Spaces, Catonsville, Halethorpe, UMBC Public History Partnership

Sources:

-University Archives. Special Collections. Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County:

Richardson, Severns, Scheeler, Greene and Associates, “UMBC Master Plan Report,” Box 32, Folder 30, President’s Office records.

“UMBC Master Plan Report Addendum” Box 51, Folder 37, President’s Office records.

“UMBC 1990 Facilities Master Plan.” President’s Office records.

Retriever Articles:

Margaret Guenther, “New Center Provides Showplace,” Retriever, September 8, 1981, 3.

Loreen Afua Wutoh, “New Board for Center,” Retriever, September 28, 1981.

Margaret Guenther, “Groups Argue Union Uses,” Retriever, September 28, 1981.

Brett Hammond, “Space Allocation Unfair,” Retriever, April 19, 1982.

David Hyman, “Lines Greet Students at Center,” Retriever, September 7, 1982.

Lisa Hammett, “Plans for the UC Strive to Revive Former Center of Campus Life,” Retriever, September 10, 2002, 3.

-Online:

UMBC, “Building Growth: The 2009 UMBC Facilities Master Plan Update,” http://www.umbc.edu/campusplan/Implementation/Building%20Growth/index.html.


The Commons

Location: 39.254788, -76.710868

By 1990, administrators at UMBC faced a problem. The student body had outgrown the University Center within ten years of its opening. One possible solution was to create a new activity space and have two campus centers, but the voice of the student body was clear: in order to continue building the campus community, there could be only one campus center. There was no space to create an addition to the University Center on Academic Row, thus the Commons was designed and built, opening in 2002.

A collaboration between the architectural firms of Perry Dean Rogers and Design Collective, the Commons shifted the center of campus life away from Academic Row to a new, emerging quad facing many of the residence halls to the north and east. In a nod to UMBC’s history and its past attempts to create community on campus, the Commons is built on the foundation of Gym I, one of UMBC’s original campus buildings, which housed both physical education space as well as the Commuter Cafeteria.

While there was consensus that UMBC needed the Commons, there was conflict as to how to pay for it. Business owners in Arbutus and Catonsville worried that the potential retail space in new building would create competition and isolate students from their surrounding communities. Students and families worried about the increased fees that would be used to finance the space.

When it opened on the first day of the Spring 2002 semester, the Commons expanded student services and amenities previously located at the University Center, such as additional meeting space for all student organizations, a flexible performance space, retail space, and study areas. As a twenty-first century building, 2,200 ports were included in the Commons as more students and staff migrated to portable technologies. The innovative design of the Commons—marked by two large corridors that intersect at the center and the use of glass walls to light up the space—won a design award from the Maryland Society of the American Institute of Architects. This functional and aesthetically pleasing space is also student-centered; the majority of the spaces in the Commons are controlled by the students themselves.

Originally built in the face of projected enrollment increases, the Commons remains a bustling center of campus activity. As UMBC continues to grow, a new Student Services/Student Life building will be constructed to address strains currently placed on the Commons.

 Photo Caption Text:

  1. View of the Commons from the South Plaza, facing the Quad. Photo via UMBC Admissions Counselors’ Blog.
  1. Panoramic View of the Commons. Photo via UMBC Flickr

Suggested Tags:

UMBC Campus, Commons, Student Spaces, Catonsville, Halethorpe, UMBC Public History Partnership

Sources:

-University Archives. Special Collections. Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County:

“Facilities Master Plan Update, 1997-2007.” President’s Office records.

Retriever Articles:

Tracy Soltesz, “New Center Fees Less Than Reported,” Retriever, February 24, 1998.

“Growing Pains,” Retriever, September 4, 2002.

Baltimore Sun Articles:

Lisa Respers, “$30 Million Student Commons Planned at UMBC,” Baltimore Sun, May 16, 1996.

Ann Walker, “UMBC’s Proposed Mall Isn’t Very Neighborly,” Baltimore Sun, May 25, 1996.

Alec MacGillis, “UMBC Shows Lighter Side,” Baltimore Sun, January 30, 2002.

-Online:

UMBC, “Building Growth: The 2009 UMBC Facilities Master Plan Update,” http://www.umbc.edu/campusplan/Implementation/Building%20Growth/index.html.

 

 

The BCS and #campushistories

Stadiums all over the country have been filled with faithful student and alumni fans, cheering on their favorite teams in the College Football playoffs and bowl games over the last two weeks. Those who were unable to snag a ticket have cheered (and anguished) in home and in public, all suited up in their school colors. I came across this tweet in my timeline after the watching the Cotton Bowl game…

It really made me think… How many of us know, understand, and appreciate the complex histories of the schools we pledge our allegiance to? 

For the 2016 NCPH Annual Meeting, I am participating in a working group exploring campus history as public history. I have always been drawn to institutional histories; my undergraduate thesis focused on the intersection between 19th century philanthropy and the development of private schools, specifically my alma mater. Personal interest aside, this past year clearly illustrated that ignoring the complexities of institutional history has consequences (e.g., the University of Missouri, Princeton University) If you are on twitter, you should follow the hashtag #campushistories–members of the working group have been sharing all kinds of thought-provoking content.

For my part, I will discuss and reflect on my research to develop content for a digital tour of UMBC, focused on specific campus buildings. The tour is a collaboration with Explore Baltimore Heritage for UMBC’s 50th Anniversary. The first drafts of my site stories from last spring can be found here. The final drafts (which I should have posted months ago) will be my next post.

 

 

The List: What I Read this Semester

Scholars need to be able to discuss and cite the works that help them develop new ideas; however, the process of stepping back and reconsidering one’s sources can be useful for the scholar themselves. Generating this annotated bibliography was valuable for my own learning in that I forced myself to examine everything I read and figure out how it led to shifting my focus. It also reminded me that this is only the beginning–I have a LOT of research ahead of me.

Fall 2015 Annotated Bibliography

How do African Americans tell the world what it means to be African American…on their own terms?

Collective Memory

Funkenstein, Amos. “Collective Memory and Historical Consciousness,” History and Memory, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring-Summer, 1989), 5-26, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25618571

Funkenstein, a historian of science and Jewish culture, wrote this article in an attempt to find and name a middle ground in the discussion of the validity of the study of collective memory. This middle ground is historical consciousness, a form of collective memory that is critical, reflective, and is borne from the professionalization of history as a discipline.

Gedi, Noa and Yegal Elam, “Collective Memory –What Is It?,”  History and Memory, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring-Summer, 1996), 30-50, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25618696

Gedi, a philosopher, and Elam, a historian, argue forcefully in this article against the use of collective memory in the professional study in history. They assert that collective memory is little more than a synonym for tradition, myth, or custom; as a result, the acceptance of collective memory within the discipline is in fact a rejection of history as a science.

Kansteiner, Wulf, “Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies,” History and Theory 41 (May 2002): 179-197, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3590762

Kansteiner, a historian of modern Germany and Holocaust studies, provides an insightful and multifaceted examination of the study of collective memory. The article is concerned with the absence of scholarship on the sources of collective memory and how it is received by group members, which can be explained by a lack of clarity between collective and individual memory. Kansteiner proposes both an embrace of and distancing from the philosophical underpinnings of collective memory as defined by Halbwachs.

American Visual Culture/Visual Representation

Boime, Albert. The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.

In this text, Boime, an art historian, used the tools of both social history and art history in order to analyze numerous paintings and sculptures in order to interpret the power dynamics between those benefitting from white supremacy and those suffering under it. A significant portion of the text is devoted to the work of Freeman Henry Morris Murray, a co-founder of the Niagara Movement who is also credited with being the first African American art historian.

Berger, Martin, Sight Unseen:  Whiteness and American Visual Culture. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.

Berger, a professor of art and visual culture, examines American visual culture as conceptualized and created by whites in the nineteenth century in an attempt to understand the problem of race—as experienced by whites. There is a deliberate analysis of nineteenth and early twentieth century visual texts “with no visible links to race” to discover what they can tell us about American whiteness, and American racism.

Harris, Michael D. Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Harris, an artist and art historian, examines racist imagery as a reinforcement of white supremacy throughout American history, particularly in the nineteenth century. The text also offers contemporary and present-day responses to that imagery by African American artists. Of note is the text’s coverage of visual representations of African Americans at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

World’s Exhibitions/Expositions/Fairs

Findling, John E. and Kimberly D. Pelle, eds. Historical Dictionary of World’s Fairs and Expositions, 1851-1988, New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

This text provides an overview of the international exhibition as an event, as well as its impact on the countries that hosted them. Initiated as a project to collect and centralize information regarding every exhibition since 1851, each fair is presented as a separate entry with annotated bibliographies for further exploration, written by a variety of authors.

Greenhalgh, Paul. Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fairs, 1851-1939. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1988.

This text, written by an English art historian, examines the international exhibition as a tool of imperialism throughout the world, designed to educate (or indoctrinate) the masses. Individual exhibitions are discussed, but within the framework of larger themes, such as event organization, funding, motivations, and display design.

Intersections

Brundage, W. Fitzhugh, “Meta Warrick’s 1907 ‘Negro Tableaux’ and (Re)Presenting African American Historical Memory,” The Journal of American History 4 (March 2003): 1368-1400, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3092547

Brundage, a historian of the American South, delves into Warrick’s work at the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition of 1907. Of note in this article is its discussion of the emphasis on progress in presenting African American history, and the ways in which African American collective memory was dominated by men.

Kachun, Mitch. Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915 Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.

Kachun, a historian of African American history and memory, examines the legacy of freedom celebrations in African American communities. This examination focuses on the community desire to create a usable past and challenge the prevailing narrative that African Americans have no history prior to enslavement.

Paddon, Anna R., and Sally Turner, “African Americans and the World’s Columbian Exposition,” Illinois Historical Journal 1 (Spring 1995): 19-36, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40192873

Written by two journalists, this article seeks to challenge the narrative that the lack of African American representation at the Chicago World’s Fair reflected racist ideology. By highlighting the small and varied levels of involvement of African Americans at the event, the authors attempt to assert that the connections made at the World’s fair led to future African American organizing efforts.

 

Building (and Seeing) My Thesis

By early November, I was experiencing major difficulty verbalizing all the connections I was making as I read a wide variety of sources–books, and journal articles; history, memory, and art history. This impacted my ability to discuss the ways in which the sources were in fact transforming my focus. As a result, I turned my notebook vertically and began to sketch out some of these connections.

I spent some time transferring my sketches into Prezi so I could share them here; it is based on the following sources:

Brundage, W. Fitzhugh, “Meta Warrick’s 1907 ‘Negro Tableaux’ and (Re)Presenting African American Historical Memory,” The Journal of American History 4 (March 2003): 1368-1400, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3092547 

Harris, Michael D. Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. 

Greenhalgh, Paul. Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fairs, 1851-1939. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1988. 

Kachun, Mitch. Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. 

Kansteiner, Wulf, “Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies,” History and Theory 41 (May 2002): 179-197, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3590762 

 

Fall 2015: From Independent Study to Master’s Thesis

 

Over the course of this semester, I worked through an independent study with the hope of defining and developing what would become my Master’s thesis in History. What was originally planned as an exploration of the ways African American communities used photography to create, document, and share their collective identities and memories in the years between Reconstruction and World War I became something else altogether by the end of October. In the course of my readings, I became increasingly interested in African American representation and collective memory on display at World’s Fairs from 1876 to 1904.

While the first World’s Fair held in the United States took place in New York in 1853[1], I am making the choice to concentrate on three specific fairs that took place after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment but before American entry into World War I—the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition of 1904. Each of these fairs commemorated events in American history, that both speak to the country’s greatness and its shame, most specifically, the subjugation of peoples of color for the benefit of white Americans: the Declaration of Independence, Columbus’ “discovery” of the “New World”, and the Louisiana Purchase. In my thesis, I want to examine the ways in which existing visual representations of African Americans (created both by themselves and others) of the period intersected with the African American desire to create a usable past at the World’s Fair—an international event designed to “simultaneously glorify and domesticate empire.”[2]

The first thing I wanted to accomplish via research was to hone my understanding of collective memory. Already familiar with Rosenzweig & Thelen’s The Presence of the Past and its premise that an overwhelming number of Americans already use their understanding of the past to negotiate the present; what intrigued me was the way in which African Americans tended to blur the lines between individual and collective memory.[3]  I set out to establish a theoretical understanding of collective memory, reading, taking notes, and working through various theories and criticisms of memory and memory studies. Foundational understanding aside, I need to dig deeper into the roots of African American collective memory; I suspect this will be the largest area of concentration for my future thesis research. Additionally, I am interested in using sources written by African American scholars in this area.[4] I am also continuing to research the concept of the international exposition as well as the individual fairs themselves.

Operating under the assumption that in order to confidently analyze the intersection of externally created visual representations and internally created collective memory, I spent a considerable amount of time this semester exploring the history and impact of visual representations on the American consciousness during the time period. I strongly believe that historical work is made stronger by an interdisciplinary approach, so I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming reacquainted with art history and criticism again. The works I read on visual representation and American visual culture—Michael Harris’s Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation, Albert Boime’s The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century, and Martin Berger’s Sight Unseen:  Whiteness and American Visual Culture—influenced the shift of my focus.

In the next blog post, I will be sharing more about these and other works that have guided my thought over the semester—and hopefully, through the next year of research.

 

[1] John E. Findling and Kimberly D. Pelle, eds, Historical Dictionary of World’s Fairs and Expositions, 1851-1988 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), 52.

[2] Paul Greenhalgh, Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fairs, 1851-1939, (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1988), 54.

[3] Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia, 1998), 150.

[4] I would be remiss here if I did not thank Kelisha Graves (@KelishaGraves), who was kind enough to point me in the direction of some texts to assist in my research.

The Reflection: What Public History is To Me

I struggled to find the words to create my definition of public history. I spent more time this semester delineating differences between public history and traditional history, instead of clarifying what public history is for me. After a lot of thinking and notetaking, I drafted an initial, working definition of public history:

Collaborative and interdisciplinary in nature, public history challenges traditional, singular narratives of historical events. Public history seeks to construct plural narratives that help people understand their past and present.

As I reflected on both this new working definition and my work this semester, I realized that as much as I desire to broaden the historical record to make it more inclusive and useful for understanding the world around us, this goal cannot be accomplished without collaborative and interdisciplinary work. Historians are well known for being “neither natural nor trained collaborators”.[1] As a result, many individual historians are able to exercise exclusive inquiry and authority. On the other hand, shared inquiry and authority are considered cornerstones of public history work. The depth to which all public historians exercise shared authority and inquiry is a topic for a separate blog post; here, I simply make the point that in order for public history to successfully work for the public good, it is essential for the public historian to collaborate across communities and disciplines.

In Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities, Andrew Hurley asserts that “inner-city communities can best turn preserved landscapes into assets by subjecting them to pubic interpretation at the grass roots” (italics mine).[2]  Collaboration on these projects rest on examining and laying bare assumptions, motives, and goals in order to find common ground. Although Hurley refers to archaeology and oral history as “alternative research methodologies” rather than legitimate disciplines in their own right that can be used in conjunction with traditional historical approaches, he concedes that all three can help uncover the history of places, even transmitting “narratives up to the present”.[3]

One of my favorite readings this semester, Ari Kelman’s Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek tells the compelling story of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, a site that would not exist without collaboration—and contention. Native American tribal groups, local landowners, historians, and the National Park Service had to work together in order for the site to be realized. While reading, I was particularly struck by the consequences of relying too much on one set of assumptions when the NPS presented the draft map of the massacre site.[4] I could feel the tension as if I was in the room. Whereas the NPS relied on that which was observable (archival research, archaeology) to create the map, the Sand Creek descendants relied on their cultural practices (oral tradition, veneration, and spiritual guidance) to know the boundaries of the massacre site in their souls.[5] The development of the Sand Creek massacre site—one which challenges the traditional narrative of the Civil War—was a long, arduous and interdisciplinary process which also utilized archaeology, oral history, as well as geomorphology (the study of landforms and the processes that create them).[6]

Roy Rosenzweig noted in The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life that the audiences for our work are in fact ready for the complex, plural narrative. Our job as public historians, then, is to figure out “how we can talk to—and especially with—those audiences”.[7] One way to talk with our audiences is by sharing, or even giving up authority within public history institutions. The entire premise of Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World is that the process of sharing authority does not equate to an institutional loss of historical training or expertise. Instead, institutions lose only “the assumption that the museum has the last word on historical interpretation”.[8] In the chapter on community curators, Kathleen McLean suggests that institutions abandon the binary of “expert” and “novice”; visitors (both real and virtual) should be viewed as “…”scholars” in the best sense of the word—people who engage in study and learning for the love of it”.[9] I especially enjoyed reading about the “Cool Remixed” exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California. It was the successful product of collaboration with local teens after interacting with works in the art gallery. The museum’s placing of the exhibition as a local contrast to a traveling exhibition served as a reminder as to why I am studying public history: to begin a new career at a museum or historical society, focusing on community outreach and education.

At the same time I was reading, discussing and learning about collaboration, I had the opportunity to practice it. This semester, my class worked in collaboration with UMBC Special Collections to research and develop content for a digital tour of UMBC, which will be part of Explore Baltimore Heritage. In the first half of the semester, I worked in a group to create a research report, placing specific buildings and spaces in specific historical contexts. My group was interdisciplinary in background: one group member had an extensive background in architecture and historical preservation, and the other had experience in historical interpretation at Fort McHenry. Our interests and experience helped us to divide and plan the work fairly easily. I think we might have been a bit tentative in our attempts to collaborate with each other, but overall, I attributed any difficulties as practice for public history work outside an academic context.

What I have appreciated most about the project—and really all of my assignments—this semester has been receiving feedback that forces me to reconsider my own operating assumptions. Having been initially trained as a traditional historian, I was anxious about blogging my thoughts and receiving feedback. Once I realized that I needed to share authority and inquiry in order to become the public historian I want to be, I found myself looking forward to receiving feedback to revise my approach or understanding of texts, my sections of the group research report, as well my site stories. Where I may have been tentative in my group, I was open to collaboration with the class, my professor, and our service learning partners. I am appreciative of having had this process, and I am looking forward on building on my experience—and perhaps, my definition of public history.

[1] Katharine T. Corbett and Howard S. Miller, “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry,” The Public Historian 28 (2006), 36.

[2] Andrew Hurley, Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010), 2.

[3] Hurley, 184-185.

[4] Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2013), 135.

[5] Kelman, 139-141.

[6] Kelman, 276-77, 279.

[7] Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia, 1998), 189.

[8] Bill Adair, Bejamin Filene, and Laura Koloski, Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (Philadelphia: The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, 2011), 13.

[9] Kathleen McLean, “Whose Questions, Whose Conversations?,” in Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (Philadelphia: The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, 2011), 71.

The Danger of a Single American Story—The National Park Service, Imperiled Promise, & A Call to Action

When thinking about American public history on a macro level, the National Park Service (NPS) comes to mind for many. It has undertaken the task of using places and objects to assist visitors in building, developing, and deepening their understanding of what it means to be an American. Its prominence and lofty mission statement aside, it has also struggled with the core methods of public history practice: reflective practice, reflection in action, shared inquiry, and shared authority.[1]

NPS has a history problem. Despite being “the United States’ anthropologist, archaeologist and historian”,[2]the work and process of history has consistently taken a backseat to preserving the natural resources under its stewardship. Even with the acquisition of historical sites early in its existence, NPS viewed history as an additive that was not core to its preservation mission.[3]Within the NPS, history has become primarily a tool of preservation (especially after the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966), as opposed to functioning as the basis for socially and culturally relevant interpretation at sites.[4]

When history is not used to help people “negotiate through the present”,[5] it deteriorates into facts and content; this deterioration is present at many NPS sites. As a result, these sites tell a single American story—a rigid story, based on factual events, free of controversy. Overreliance on a single American story presents issues for public history practice. It prevents the sites from being truly reflexive and reflective; regardless of the multiple studies and commissions undertaken to revive the NPS,[6]individual sites continue to operate under superintendent autonomy, where the practice of history lies with one person.[7]This overreliance also eliminates the need for shared inquiry and authority in its most basic sense; there is no urgency to collaborate with others (such as outside historians or visitors) when the single American story is being employed. While there are many examples of solid public history practice at work within NPS, they exist as exceptions, not as the standard.[8]

The tension between what public history should be and how it is put into practice at NPS sites is real, and is felt by those working on the front lines. At the Annual Meeting of the National Council on Public History almost two weeks ago, I attended a session on revealing the interpretative process. During the session, several employees of the NPS expressed frustration with internal stakeholders who resist current interpretations, even when they are challenged with sound scholarship.[9]In the collegial spirit of the meeting, panelists and fellow audience members encouraged them to start with the administrative histories of their sites as research tools to track interpretative change over time;[10] they also referred to the working group on administrative histories during the Annual Meeting.[11]

I conducted a search for tweets related to the working group; there were only four. The first tweet, however, was the most intriguing: “Policy without funding is just conversation”[12].The OAH completed Imperiled Promise in 2011, making almost one hundred recommendations to advance the role of history in the NPS;[13] the report even took care to incorporate parts of A Call to Action, published in the same year by NPS as a response to past reports and recommendations. I was disappointed but not surprised to see in the 2013 update that of thirty-nine actions to “advance the Service toward a shared vision for 2016 and our second century”,[14] only four were completed, and two actions were revised. Many of these actions need funding in order to make them a reality, and the NPS has been consistently “subject to unpredictable changes in funding”[15]. Despite the prestige of the NPS, it faces the same fiscal pressures of many public history sites. Looking ahead to the centennial of the NPS next year—and in light of a Fiscal Year 2016 budget request of $300 billion (reflecting an increase of $432.9 million from the current fiscal year)—I am hoping to see more policy, and by extension, more history in the NPS.

[1] Katharine T. Corbett and Howard S. Miller, “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry,” The Public Historian 28 (2006), 18.

[2] Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2013), 21.

[3] Barry Mackintosh “The National Parks: Shaping the System,” (Harpers Ferry, WV: National Park Service, 1991), 28-33.

[4] Anne Mitchell Whisnant et al., Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service (Bloomington, IN: Organization of American Historians, 2011), 54-55.

[5] Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia, 1998), 18.

[6] Whisnant et al., 13-14.

[7] Whisnant et al., 59-60.

[8] Whisnant et al., 32.

[9] Anne Whisnant, Twitter post, April 18, 2015, 9:41 a.m., http://twitter.com/amwhisnant.

[10] Anne Whisnant, Twitter post, April 18, 2015, 9:48 a.m., http://twitter.com/amwhisant.

[11] Anne Whisnant, Twitter post, April 18, 2015, 9:50 a.m., http://twitter.com/amwhisnant.

[12] Tara Mielnik, Twitter post, April 17, 2015, 9:55 a.m., http://twitter.com/tmmvol.

[13] Whisnant et al., 7.

[14] National Park Service “A Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement,” (National Park Service, 2013), 2.

[15] Whisnant et al., 26.

UMBC at 50: Site Stories

This semester in HIST 702, I have been working to develop content for a digital tour of UMBC, focused on specific campus buildings. In the first half of the semester, I worked in a group to create a research report, placing the buildings in specific historical contexts. Below are the drafts of my site stories…

The University Center

Location: 39.254506, -76.713346

The University Center, known on campus as “the UC”, opened its doors in 1982 and moved the center of campus life to the traditional academic zone of UMBC’s campus.

The UC provided the UMBC community with a variety of amenities, including the campus bookstore, a dining room, a ballroom, recreational space, office space for some student organizations, and storage space for others. Upon its opening, commuter and residential students alike enjoyed meals in the UC Pub, or congregating outside on the patio.

As the result of consistent enrollment growth in the 1980s and 1990s, UMBC began to outgrow the UC. While the UC is currently home to the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences and the English Language Institute, many of its student-centered functions moved to the Commons when it opened in 2002. The UC is presently slated for a full renovation to provide space for new traditional classrooms as well as active learning spaces, and will become the University Learning Center.

Photo Caption Text:

  1. Students walking past the University Center, March 1982. Photo courtesy of University Archives. Special Collections. University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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UMBC Campus, University Center, Student Spaces, Catonsville, Halethorpe, UMBC Public History Partnership

The Commons

Location: 39.254788, -76.710868

Built on the site of Gym I, one of UMBC’s original campus buildings, the Commons was planned and designed to be the new center of campus life at UMBC. Located between the traditional academic zone of campus and an emerging academic quad, the Commons serves as a point of connection for the entire UMBC community.

When it opened in 2002, the Commons expanded student services and amenities previously located at the University Center, such as additional meeting space for all student organizations, a flexible performance space, retail space, and study areas. As a twenty-first century building, 2,200 ports were included in the Commons as more students and staff migrated to portable technologies. The innovative design of the Commons—marked by two large corridors that intersect at the center and the use of glass walls to light up the space—won a design award from the Maryland Society of the American Institute of Architects.

Originally built in the face of projected enrollment increases, the Commons remains a bustling center of campus activity. As UMBC continues to grow, a new Student Services/Student Life building will be constructed to address strains currently placed on the Commons.

 Photo Caption Text:

  1. View of the Commons from the South Plaza, facing the Quad. Photo via UMBC Admissions Counselors’ Blog.
  1. Panoramic View of the Commons. Photo via UMBC Flickr

Suggested Tags:

UMBC Campus, Commons, Student Spaces, Catonsville, Halethorpe, UMBC Public History Partnership

From Storefront to Monument: More Questions than Answers

I was genuinely excited about reading Andrea Burns’s From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement. In particular, I looked forward to learning more about the establishment and development of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (now the Anacostia Community Museum or ACM), especially in light of its relationship to the Smithsonian Institution. Despite some of my issues with the content and structure of the text, I found it to be very informative. There were numerous pieces of information about the development of the ACM as well as DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, the International Afro-American Museum (now the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History or MAAH) in Detroit, and the African American Museum of Philadelphia (AAMP); after reading, I had several questions around implications for public history practice, specifically in communities of color.

From Storefront to Monument asserts the creation of black museums in black communities is connected to the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s. While Carmichael and Hamilton’s Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America is quoted directly (p. 6), this connection does not appear to hold up throughout; the one exception is the nuanced explanation of the connection between black power and black museums toward the end of the book: “At the same time, black museum leaders had to modify the ideals of black power in order for their museums to function…black power must also be seen in the context of black institutional development among black professionals an white institutional policymakers…Successful black museum makers understood that whites could be important to the black museum movement, though not central to its vision” (p. 157).

Throughout the text, I noticed a peculiar tension between the need for black museums to curate and share their culture and the need to have appropriate expertise for the task at hand. At the ACM, director John Kinard asserted that it was important for the museum staff to design and execute exhibits–despite consistent outside criticism–even if they lacked professional skills (pp. 98-99). It is probably safe to assume there is no critical mass of qualified museum professionals of color at the time the black museum movement begins. I wonder how the museums expected to outlive their founders and earliest advocates. How much work do museums (all, but black museums in particular) in order to cultivate the next generation of museum professionals? Who is expected to lead these institutions in the future? 

Connected to this tension is the lack of archival facilities (and resources needed to maintain such facilities) associated with the black museums. What is the process by which these institutions (and by extension, the black community at large) embrace the understanding that creating and preserving history is as important as presenting history in an attempt to correct “the false and distorted history of the Black Man” (p.31)? The DuSable Museum lost the opportunity to house Carol Moseley Braun’s papers in 1999 to the Chicago Historical Society (p. 137). Just last year, it was announced that Toni Morrison’s papers will be housed at Princeton instead of Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. In order for black history to be told over time, it’s important that we (both the museums and the community at large) understand how to collect and responsibly preserve our past in as many forms as possible.

Which brings me to implications in and for public history practice. If we accept the concepts presented by Corbett and Miller (2006) as a methodology for doing public history work (which I do, in spite of their warning that there is no one-size-fits-all methodology), how do black museums fare?

Public History and Reflection

In terms of reflective practice, these institutions evolve directly out of this notion–that knowing oneself (and by extension, the community) is important; the museums were created so that the communities in effect know themselves and recognize their own worth (pp. 5, 6, 15, 20-21, 31, 32-33, 39). They tend to struggle with respect to reflection-in-action; most of the museums exist and act in a state of reaction–specifically, reaction to the lack of visibility in both academic history and in the museum world. However, one could also make the argument that this could be connected to the consistent (and unfortunate) turnover in black museum leadership.

Public History and Collaboration

I question the voracity of the museums’ consistent use of shared inquiry: while Burns highlights the development of the ACM’s exhibition “The Rat”, I wonder about the paternalistic approach these institutions take on in determining what stories get to be told (to the local black community, the black community at large, and to the rest of the world–i.e., white people) and how? Connected to what I perceive as a paternalistic approach is another question. Who constitutes the “black community” and who is in the “black establishment”? The not-so-easy answer to this question is that it depends on who you are talking to and when. Museum founders such as Margaret Burroughs and Dr. Charles Wright would have been viewed by many in the community at large as being members of the establishment because they had money and social capital. Interestingly, Wright’s own museum struggled with interacting with the community following the Detroit riots: “should we build in the heart of the ghetto? Will ‘these’ people be as interested in a museum as to a recreation…[sic]?” (p. 83). Wright himself also believed that the creation of a national black museum was “a matter that must be controlled by black people who think black” (p. 163). Founders of the black museums claimed authority over “blackness”, and desire autonomy in telling their (our?) story.

In thinking about shared authority, it appears that the power tends to rest with those who champion the individual museums, as opposed to the community designated as the beneficiary of the museum’s work. For example, there did not seem to be any shared authority with the community at large in planning for AAMP (p. 49, 61, 63, 71). In Detroit, Mayor Coleman Young’s administration exerted power as the MAAH as they moved from Frederick Douglass Avenue to the center of the city, even if the results appeared to be questionable (pp. 143).

Black museums perform a public service; they actively work to fill a void in the retelling of American history. That said, in order to remain relevant in both their local communities and in the museum world, they must embrace collaboration–with each other, with “mainstream” institutions, and with the communities they serve.