Preserving Stairs

8 May

by Caitlin Dentamaro-

Preservation is important in many ways because it helps the future learn about the past. Houses in Edwardsville date back hundreds of years. In my best friend’s house, they have stairs that date back to the Civil War. With the Civil War having its 150th anniversary this year, I thought that the stairs should be talked about. The stairs, at this point, are very wobbly, painted white and missing chunks of wood out of the different panels. The staircase has been painted over and over again, but the original wood is still intact. The landlord of the house refuses to fix the stairs or even change them out because he wants to preserve the entire set. I feel that this is important because the landlord appreciates history and what the staircase has to offer. Even though the house has been updated throughout the years, the dangerous staircase will always be left, leading into the basement.

Preserving Baseball Stadiums

8 May

by Nick Junge-

As years go by, current historical ballparks such as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are continually being preserved. Unlike other ballparks such as the old Busch Stadium, which was replaced for a newer stadium, these two stadiums are constantly being preserved. Why do certain cities keep their historical ballparks for many years while others continually build a new stadium at every chance they get? I believe that it becomes a sense of pride. Wrigley field and Fenway Park are among the top ballparks in the country with great atmosphere and historic architecture.

Wrigley Field has many concerns that are being addressed each day such as falling bricks and out of date services. The organization always finds ways to preserve their landmarks. When the day comes that these ballparks are replaced, will they become storage for old cars seen earlier in class, or possibly become a museum in itself.  Becoming a museum would be very interesting to see. The museum could entail all of the team’s history and events that the stadium may have held other than baseball. Not only are these sites for baseball, but they hold many memories that families will never forget even after it is gone.

The Bunker Hill Tornado

8 May

by Heather Gustafson-

The town I live in is Bunker Hill, Illinois. The most common way people give directions to their homes is “Go to the flag pole and…”  I’ve always wondered why they put a flag pole in the middle of the biggest intersection of Bunker Hill and curiosity got the best of me. In my research, I found that a gazebo used to site where the flagpole once stood. It was used for bands to perform in during special occasions and parades. Looking for more information, I found on the Bunker Hill Library’s website that in 1948 a huge tornado struck Bunker Hill with little warning. Up to 80 percent of the town was leveled, 19 people were killed, and 126 injured. Being about thirty minutes from the nearest hospital, and many people without homes, a refugee camp was set up at Meissner School which was one of the few buildings left standing. The school was used as refuge, a temporary treatment center for those injured, and a morgue until the injured and dead could be moved. To help with the devastation the Salvation Army, National Guard, Red Cross, American League and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post all pitched in to help Bunker Hill rebuild and cope with losses.The flag pole was later donated to replace the gazebo.

Tornado

Meissner School in the Aftermath of the 1948 Tornado

I find it extremely interesting how much information I found searching for a flag pole in my town. A way of telling directions now has historical significance in my eyes. I encourage all of you to think of something simple in your town, something you pass by on a day to day bases and see if you can find history related to why it’s there.

Save the Church or Let It Be?

8 May

by Heather Gustafson-

Before attending SIUE, I graduated with my associates from Lewis and Clark Community College. During breaks I would spend a lot of time on the campus grounds admiring the beautiful architecture of the Main Complex, which is the building facing Godfrey Road. It is the original building from 1838 when the campus was Monticello Female Seminary. Beside the Main Complex is a church, which I found very odd on a community college campus and so I decided to look into it. The Godfrey Memorial Chapel was built in 1854 and originally located across the street in what is now a small shopping complex. The building, in 1979, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for Illinois due to the fact that it was “one of the six most authentic copies of New England church architecture beyond the North Eastern United States.” It was moved in 1991 to the opposite side of the road on LCCC campus. I remember when I was younger, every time we drove past the church my grandparents would tell me how they watched the church being moved. At the time I didn’t believe them, I mean how could you move a building? The church is currently used as the music department for Lewis and Clark College, and appears to be in good shape.

I have made many observations over the years, which make me wonder if the chapel is being used in the most efficient ways. One observation I made during my freshman year at LCCC, when I was on a tour for orientation. The tour guide took us to each building giving a small description of the history and which classes were located in what building. However, she never mentioned any history about the church which I would assume would be a common question due to the fact that the college has no religious affiliations. Another observation was that the chapel of the building was never opened to the public (although it is open by appointment); all the music classes were held in the basement of the church. I find it a bit odd that the church was saved to be used as a roof for the music department. It’s a beautiful church and it’s sad that it isn’t being used to spread knowledge of the town or college history. It’s just there.

Reflections: Labor History and Public History

8 May

by Jeremy Manczuk-

My primary interest–in the broadest sense possible–in historical studies is labor history. Prior to taking this class I would have said–but only if asked–that I had a reasonably solid grasp of the issues and debate surrounding the field. Unlike the majority of my classmates, I am not a museum studies major and I have never had a class in the program. Before this semester, in fact, I had not stepped foot in a history museum for many years. This course in public history has not only introduced me to unfamiliar ways to view the motives behind museums, the intricate tightrope-walk nature of the relationship between academic historians and public activists as they attempt to create a historical narrative both can live with, and the precarious profession of the historical preservationist but it has also taught me of the many ways–both sophisticated and simplified, short and near-sighted – that labor issues can be presented to the interested public.

Perhaps the most intriguing of these possibilities is the notion first proposed to our class by Cathy Stanton in The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City and reinforced by Michael Wallace in Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American Memory of the trap public historians can fall into by creating the impression of a simple, easy-to-follow linear narrative of rising industrialism, a peak of labor production, and the eventual demise–a retreat into the realm of heritage–of the work a community once invested itself so heavily into. For Stanton and Wallace, and me for that matter, this approach does not satisfy the need for a more developed approach to introducing the cyclical nature of the rise and fall of labor opportunities within a given community based on the larger story of capitalist endeavors and abandonments. The demonstration of this type of continuity, without question, is a difficult task to aspire to. It is certainly much easier and takes less imagination to craft a display of worker’s tools or to hang a photograph of a group of miners but it leaves matters of great importance–matters that should be considered and discussed–unacknowledged.

In my opinion the notion of continuity–and how best to engage it in the multi-faceted province of public history–has been one of the most essential themes of the semester. As we have talked about several times–and as I have repeatedly considered as I prepare to write a blog posting or think about our cooperative efforts with the Lincoln Place Heritage Association–we cannot effectively interpret the past unless we are also willing to contemplate the present.  If we separate the two the result is stale and uninteresting. The same is true, I think, for the analysis and presentation of labor issues. If we disassociate then from now, if we isolate here and there, the effort we put forth and the description we employ are ultimately inept and unhelpful.

Schmuhl School

6 May

by Regina Mangun-

I grew up in New Lenox, Illinois, and I attended Schmuhl School for kindergarten. The building had been around since 1932 and officially became a part of the school district in the 1950s. In 2000, the school became a historical landmark and was moved from the southeast corner of route 30 and Schoolhouse Road to the northeast corner. I remember my grandma taking me to watch the school be moved across the street. Many people were present to show support for the historical society and the work they were doing to make the school a historical landmark. Today, the school has been restored and people can visit to see what it was like to attend Schmuhl School.

I am proud to be a part of the school’s history and am glad the building was preserved instead of being destroyed. In the case of this school, I think too much history would have been lost if Schmuhl School had been demolished. Many generations of New Lenox citizens attended that school. Today, classes go on field trips to the school and learn about its history. They may even learn that their parents or grandparents went to that school.

As I have mentioned before, I am hesitant when it comes to preservation and when it should be utilized. It is important to remember history and historical landmarks, but we do not want to live in the past! However, with Schmuhl School, I think it would have faded into the background history of the town if it had not been preserved and marked as a historical landmark. The area where the school used to sit has become a shopping center and continues to change with the times. I am glad that the school is across the street to serve as a reminder of how the town used to be.

Oral History and Family Stories

6 May

by Regina Mangun-

In class we discussed oral history and then we were given an assignment to interview someone significant in our life. I interviewed my mother and asked her about growing up during the Civil Rights Movement. Some of the stories she told me I had already heard before, but I did not remember the exact details. I was glad to be recording because I knew that now I would always have that information available to me.

I enjoyed the oral history assignment because it made me realize the value of interviewing and recording someone’s history. We discussed in class how the information provided in the interview is not always factual and how a person who is not necessarily an educated historian is providing it. I believe that when conducting an interview, the emotion behind the stories is more important than how accurate the information is. Oral history offers the ability to hear an “average Joe’s” point of view, which people can relate with more, as opposed to trying to remember straight facts.

From my experience of interviewing my mother, I realized that there are a lot of family stories that will probably not be passed down because the next generation in my family has not heard them. My mother is the oldest of seven and I know that her younger siblings often ask her for clarification of family stories because they were too young at the time to remember it themselves. My family is very close and I am one of the older cousins. It occurred to me that some day my younger cousins might come to me asking about our family history and fun stories. I want to be able to share our family history with them, and I am going to try and use oral history to do that. I know that I personally have a terrible memory when it comes to retelling a story, but I am going to try and record some of our family stories so they can be shared for generations to come.

Mr. Lincoln, Who Are You?

6 May

by Katie Gieselman-

A large part of preserving history happens in a classroom when we are young. In elementary school, children are trusting of their authority figures, so it makes perfect sense that they absorb and believe everything they are taught in history classes. I was completely guilty of this as a child, in fact most of us probably were. It wasn’t until I got into college that I truly began to question all sides of the story when it came to history. I remember leaving a few college classes thinking “why in the world wasn’t I taught this in school?” For example, in elementary school we are taught how great of a hero Abraham Lincoln was. He freed the slaves, won the civil war, and practically saved the world like super man… I’m surprised he didn’t have a cape in textbook pictures of him! Upon leaving a college course I was given an entirely new picture. I learned so many things about this historical figure that he quickly dropped on my favorites list. I honestly felt kind of cheated.

Recently I have overheard a few students asking “Why weren’t we taught this in school?” and it really got me thinking. Are we doing our students a favor by sheltering them from the truth? I would argue no. I think at a young age you can’t dive into too much detail when it comes to history, but in middle school I do believe that students should be given all sides of the story and allowed to make the decision of what they believe is true for themselves. I really don’t think we are doing our students a favor by not allowing them to form their own ideas. It is certainly not preserving history if all sides aren’t being told and its not allowing students to become deeper thinkers. I also think that showing them all sides would allow them to pick out biases in history, which I feel is an important skill for later on in life. Let me know what you think… Are we doing our students a favor?

Reflection: How Can a Public Historian Present the “Right” History?

6 May

by Gemma Tennyson-

As public historians, many strive to present history in the best representation possible. We all attempt to not have any prejudice, but is that really possible? Maybe in a perfect world this could be true. Every interpretation of history is going to be biased in one way or another. Sometimes it is not only the preference of the creator of the exhibit, but others invested to the project. There will always be outside forces that public historians have to consider when presenting histories, including audience, their own governing authority, and co-workers’ preconceptions about the given subject. Each of these are contributing factors in any public history field.  The question is how, as public historians, do we tell the “right” history with all these outlying pressures?

Public historians need to realize who will utilize their exhibits, displays, etc. Obviously there are going to be restraints because the point is for people to come to see the exhibit. How can a public historian create an exhibit that pleases a mass audience?  I am a firm believer in presenting the truth. This is one thing that should never be compromised. An audience will take much more from a well researched truthful story than misrepresentations that have other intentions in my personal opinion. The audience is an important part, but there is only so much emphasis on them. There will be issues if you try to please the audience too much because it leads to other intentions not related to the end goal. If there is too much importance given to the audiences then you are biased by the fact you want a large audience in spite of the information they will receive.

Another important issue than many public historians have to deal with is the governing authority of the institution in which they are employed. This is also the same for working with community partners or corporations. This causes all sorts of issues for public historians. How can you make a good exhibit that is within a budget and pleases the bosses while still achieving the set goal? Can you present the best representation possible while still representing the interest of the employer? This is a question of ethics depending on the job.  This type of problem needs careful consideration not to present a biased history, but also to present a history that will be accepted by the employer.

I have asked a lot of questions above. Each of these are common issues throughout the public history field.  I would be the first to say I don’t have all the answers because all situations are going to be different. As a public historian, it is important for us to begin to think about and experience some of these problems. I think that as long as we start facing these issues sooner than later it can help us develop a better understanding to draw from as we each enter the workforce.

Reflections: Public History

6 May

by Diana Yost-

As a graduate student working in the field of historical and museum studies, I have had the opportunity to enroll in several different classes related to museum work. Fields I have studied in the past include exhibit design, collection management, and curatorship. However, this past semester I ventured into a new realm for me, that of public history.  Stepping out from the behind-the-scenes work of collection databases and exhibit label making, public history has helped challenge my perspective on how to communicate history to the public. There were two specific topics from the class that really made me question my role as a public historian. The first topic was that of the documentary, specifically our talks about Old North St. Louis and the documentary film about the Pruitt-Igoe housing development. The second is the idea of a community project, relating to our work with the Lincoln Place Heritage Association.

As a professional or academic historian, it is important to find an effective way to communicate history to the public.  I feel like a balance must be struck between popular and professional history. It is our job as public historians to give the public not only historical truths but also to present to them overarching themes and connections to the broader picture. At the same time, we are met with the difficult challenge to keep the public interested and keep them coming back for more. The situation gets even more complex when working with a community to tell a history.

Earlier in the semester we viewed a documentary film called The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, which detailed the conception and ultimate failure of a public housing experiment. The challenge with this film is how to present the story of the neighborhood while accurately portraying all sides of the story. Prior to the film, my knowledge of the project was the perception of it falling into disrepair and plagued by violence. The filmmakers did an excellent job at fusing this side of the story with the perspective from the residents who live there, showing how there were close knit communities and that this development was a home to so many families.

I relate the making of this film to our work with the Lincoln Place Heritage Association in that we are telling the story of the neighborhood, but we are met with the challenge of not just showing the one-sided perspective of the residents, but the historical implications of the neighborhood as well. We have discussed in class several times how we can, as historians, find that balance between the selective history the residents chose to tell and the other history of the neighborhood that may be brushed under the rug. The members of the Association have a specific story they want to tell about the neighborhood, but we as public historians have an obligation to be objective in our history and to tell more than just one side of the history.

As public historians, we not only meet with the challenge of communicating history to the public, we also are challenged when working with the public to tell history. While working with a community to tell a history, it is important for us as historians to not just tell a one-sided history, but to leave the public with a better understanding of the picture as a whole.

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