Notes from the Field
Interpreting Gender and Sexuality at Historic Sites
This article is the first of a series reporting on the survey NCWHS conducted in Spring 2014 on “Interpreting Gender and Sexuality at Historic Sites.” Prompted by the events described below, the survey also probed some other themes in and around the interpretation of women’s history, which we will report in future posts. Here, NCWHS boardmembe rMarla Miller starts the ball rolling by sharing an expanded version of her remarks at the recent NCPH meeting in Monterey, California.
In March 2014, I had the pleasure of participating in a session at the annual meeting of the National Council on Public History called “Gender: Just Add Women and Stir?” with Bill Adair and Laura Koloski , both of the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Leslie Guy from the African American Museum in Philadelphia; and Cathy Stanton, a public historian whose many hats include professor at Tufts University and chair of the NCPH’s Digital Media Group.
The session emerged from a 2013 study trip to historic sites in and around Boston hosted by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage in which participants, which included Cathy Stanton, were (as the session proposal indicated “struck by the wide variety of ways they saw gender and sexuality interpreted—or in some cases, not interpreted at all.” The session would pursue some of the questions prompted by the trip, including “Where is the interpretation of gender and sexuality in 2013/2014? How do we move beyond the ‘just add women and stir’ model of gender interpretation? How do we build on the progress made at a small number of historic sites now interpreting LGBT history? What are your questions? Join us for a spirited conversation about the future of gender and sexuality at historic sites.”
Don't Throw it Away: Documenting and Preserving Organizational History
by NCWHS board member Peg Strobel
I will begin with a mea culpa: For most of my early years as an activist, despite being an historian I did a terrible job keeping primary documents generated by the organizations I was in. To make up for my irresponsible past, I’ve spent (parts of) the last fifteen plus years on a project called Don’t Throw It Away! I invite you to join me in this work.
In 1995, archivists in the Special Collections Department of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and I created a booklet, Don’t Throw It Away! Documenting and Preserving Organizational History, and offered classes and workshops to help grassroots organizations get their records in order. (A longer explanation of the early stages of this work is found in Margaret Strobel, “The Don't Throw It Away! Project at the University of Illinois at Chicago,” NWSA Journal, Vol. 12, no. 2 [Summer 2000]: 163-70.) In 2006, we revised the booklet to address issues of electronic records. A pdf of the 56-page booklet is available at <http://www.uic.edu/depts/lib/specialcoll/pdf/DTIA.pdf >.
The idea is this: People who care passionately about issues and who work in un- or under-funded organizations typically prioritize organizing the next demonstration or meeting over organizing their documents and getting them into a repository. So, the booklet and the workshops aim at four points: 1) why is it important to keep good records and deposit them somewhere that historians of the future can find them, 2) what is it important to keep and how do I do it, 3) what are the pros and cons of donating organizational papers to a repository, and 4) how do I find and choose a repository, if I want to donate?
The Betsy Ross House unveils upholstery workshop
The NCWHS is pleased to welcome a new institutional member, Historic Philadelphia's Betsy Ross House. In the article below, museum director Lisa Acker-Moulder describes an exciting new initiative there, to expand interpretation of women in artisanal trades in Revolutionary Philadelphia. Welcome aboard, and thanks for sharing your exciting new program!
The Betsy Ross House recently created a new living history exhibit designed to further expand visitors’ understanding of Betsy Ross and her work beyond flagmaking. Dressing the Bed (made possible with funding provided by the Coby Foundation, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) takes place in the site’s fully-functional upholstery shop and is staffed by first-person Betsy Ross interpreters.
The National Historic Landmarks Program’s Women’s History Initiative
The text below comes to us from Caridad de la Vega, Historian at the National Historic Landmarks Program, and Alexandra Lord, Branch Chief/Historian at the National Park Service's National Historic Landmarks Program. It draws on their in-house report on the progress of the Women’s History Initiative as well as a NHL nomination developed by R. Laurie Simmons, Thomas H. Simmons and Charles Haecker, and illustrates--through a discussion of the recently-recognized Ludlow Tent Colony Site in Colorado--the many ways women’s history is documented in this program of the National Park Service.
During the past four years, the National Historic Landmarks Program has engaged in a dramatic effort to extend its reach to reflect a full spectrum of people and events that participated in building the nation. While the more traditional subjects of prominent leaders, monumental architecture, and the military and its conflicts continue to be honored with additional listings, the Program also recognized many other aspects of the past.
Beginning in May 2012, a new Secretarial initiative focusing on women’s history was introduced, joining two other Secretarial initiatives (the Latino American Heritage Initiative and the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Initiative; to learn more about those efforts, click here).
Taken together, these new initiatives have resulted in the designation of thirty-one new National Historic Landmarks, all of which reflect and tell complex stories regarding the diversity of the American experience. These thirty-one National Historic Landmarks represent 70.06 percent of the new properties presented to the Secretary of the Interior for designation as National Historic Landmarks since May 2011.
Mitchell House Receives Preservation Award
NCWHS welcomes news from members of the Collaborative. The following comes from Jascin N. Leonardo Finger, curator of the Maria Mitchell House (Nantucket, Mass) Archives and Special Collections, sharing word of their recent and successful efforts to conserve the Mitchell homesite.
From its founding in 1902 to the present day, the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association has focused on astronomy, the natural sciences, and the preservation of the historic Mitchell House, where America’s first woman astronomer was born in 1818. The MMA promotes the legacy of Maria Mitchell through its programs for adults and children and following the principles of how Maria Mitchell taught – learning-by-doing. This hands-on approach permeates all of the departments at the MMA including the Mitchell House, Archives, and Special Collections.