News and Notes: August 15, 2014

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Personal/Professional Notes

  • NPS Fundamentals Training: The National Park Service annually hosts an intensive “Fundamentals” training unit for new employees that involves both online and on-site courses. This training includes an introduction to the Park Service’s history, interpretive training, and opportunities to network with Park Service employees around the country. I applied to participate in the Fundamentals program a couple weeks ago and just received confirmation that I’ve been accepted into this training program for the 2014-2015 year. Over the next few months I’ll focus on completing the online courses, but from February 24 – March 5, 2015, I’ll be at the Horace Albright Training Center, which just so happens to be located at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. How about that! I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon before and can’t wait to meet other Park Service employees while doing a little sight-seeing.
  • Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site on Twitter: The powers that be have given me the keys to the ULSG Twitter account. If you’re into Twitter and would like to stay posted on what we’re doing, give us a follow at @USGrantNPS.

Recommended Reading

  • Amy Webb at Slate argues that social media makes the mourning process more difficult for those experiencing loss. “Using social media to broadcast the news of a tragedy is a good way to help inform a community,” argues Webb, “but one-click condolences don’t help people deal with loss. In fact, it accelerates a social norm that would otherwise take several weeks: sending heartfelt letters, sharing memories in person, even showing support by spending a few hours together to help sort paperwork or mail.” How might these changes affect the ways we remember and mourn our departed friends and loved ones?
  • Sheila Brennan at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog Preservation Nation argues that museum curators should take their historical objects out of storage and place them on public display for visitors to view and even touch: “By making more objects available, visitors can truly interact with the things that drew them inside the museum in the first place. We all talk about the power of objects, but rarely can a visitor directly engage with them at a museum.”
  • Following Brennan’s arguments about making collections more accessible, the Glensheen estate in Minnesota recently enacted a new series of public programming initiatives that open the estate’s collections to their audiences for viewing and touching. In 2009 only 27% of the estate’s budget was filled by museum revenues. That number is now around 66% thanks to these changes.
  • Theodore R. Johnson writes a thoughtful essay on ways the United States federal government could apologize for slavery. Should the government apologize for slavery? It seems hypocritical for the government to apologize for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II while doing nothing to acknowledge the wrongs of slavery in this country.
  • Al Mackey from Student of the Civil War has been on a roll lately with some great essays about West Virginia’s entrance into the Union in 1863, what it really means to do “revisionist” history, and neoconfederate nonsense. Be sure to check out his blog if you’re into studying the American Civil War.

A Brief Note on Ferguson

As an American citizen, native St. Louisian, historian, and blogger, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the events that have taken place in Ferguson, Missouri, over the past week. For eight years during my childhood I lived in a home that was about ten minutes away from Ferguson; I’m not currently living in St. Louis county, but I work in the county and I’m still pretty close by. The current ongoing debates–the actions of Mike Brown and the Ferguson Police Department prior to Brown’s death, the tenuous relationship between a mostly white PD and a mostly black population, and the militarization of police forces around the United States since 9/11–play into a larger historical narrative of contested notions of freedom, equality, and democracy in the United States that demands our attention. The fact that these debates are being played out in my community affects me deeply, and it’s my hope that peace and justice come to all of St. Louis.

Rather than writing a full essay or engaging in political activism about Ferguson, I believe it’s best to wait for more information to come out about what exactly happened. I also think it’s important to listen to what the residents of Ferguson have to say about these events rather than attempting to speak for them. Anyone seriously committed to understanding the situation must also read up on the history of St. Louis. Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a couple nice essays here and here about the crisis that hint at the historical context of these events, while Colin Gordon’s book and interactive website about urban decline in St. Louis are highly recommended. Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates also recommended on Twitter Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, which spends a considerable amount of time looking at suburbanization efforts in St. Louis after World War II. I haven’t read this book yet, but I plan on reading it soon.