Since meeting in Avondale, I’ve been thinking a lot about our role as public historians and how we best use our resources and time in developing an interpretive plan for this city. After reading the Trouilot book, I am very interested in the “silences” that have crept into our histories. What stories have not been told, or which stories have been told, but not in a truthful or authentic way. Who has the power when it comes to telling these stories and shaping the history of a group or a place? I don’t really have answers to these questions, but I’ve been thinking about them a lot in relation to our jobs as public historians and our jobs as people going out in the world and speaking to our friends and family about history.

I think the “silence” in history can also be seen clearly in the Confederate Monument debate. Who has the power? Clearly since the beginning of this country’s history, the power has been given to white, landowning men and America has really silenced other voices and other history. In relation to the monuments, I think that is a key component, whose history are we telling with these statues? Who are we honoring and commemorating? And who are we silencing and forgetting? I know that the majority of Americans do not think that the monuments should be taken down, so how do we talk to them about this?

I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think I have a better idea of how history can be silencing and how we as historians can go about talking to our friends and family about these types of issues. I’m looking forward to getting more into this as the semester progresses and figuring out how to think about these things as we are talking to members of the Avondale community!

Also, stay dry and safe everybody!

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Interpretive Planning

After visiting Avondale Estates, I’ve been mulling over potential planning objectives for the current semester and thinking about how they fit into an overall interpretive plan.  One aspect of “Interpretive Planning: The 5-M Model for Successful Planning Projects” by Lisa Brochu that I found particularly helpful was that it provided an overview for the interpretive planning process that could be applicable to a wide range of institutions and entities.  This overview included interpretive plans created for a certain community or locale, like Avondale Estates, highlighting the benefits of a certain community being able to share their values and experiences with outside visitors and fellow residents.

Thinking about an interpretive plan for Avondale Estates that encompasses the diverse, multivocal experiences within this community is certainly a large undertaking, but I think one of our primary objectives should be to engage with as many perspectives and backgrounds as possible.  There seems to be more vocal residents with long-standing memberships within the community, like the members of the garden clubs or the elderly cohorts in women’s and men’s clubs, but I think it would be important to access narratives that might be otherwise silenced, overlooked, or neglected.  The question is: how do we ensure that we are effectively reaching the diverse members and households that compose the Avondale Estates community?  How do we ensure the information that we collect or the corresponding IP that we generate is representative of the community at large?

I’m curious to hear everyone’s thoughts regarding this matter.  It seems like it would be beneficial to reach out to more short-term residents or households that were established within the past few decades.  I was also thinking that it might be helpful to break up the community according to location and sample a certain number of households within every neighborhood or residential area.  Whatever we decide, I don’t think that we as public historians can get any more “public” than engaging with an entire community and I am very much looking forward to this experience!



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Avondale Annexation

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In the south, confederate statuary and historical sinage has surrounded us all of our lives. Except for those that are extremely culturally and politically active, it seemed as if no one cared. Now, all of a sudden  you have this intense debate over what statues should or should not come down.  I really would like to know where this urgency comes from.

My own opinion is that these objects and names have been inserted into our physical, mental, political landscapes by forces that had and have the voice and power to impose their will on the general populace at different times in history.  Was it the right thing to do? It depends upon who your audience is and what the people who were in charge at that particular time and place thought so.

The problem is now; and now there are many new voices with power who think that the statues should be removed.  I can relate with the emotions and pain  that many of these statues evoke in people. I also, see them as teaching tools  that should be put in a proper context like a museum or history center; maybe even a cemetary for some of larger memorials that are commemorating soldiers and battles. In these places people can reflect on the stories and conflicts behind the statue.

When you get rid of a statue, you erase the event. Is getting rid of these statues going to erase the horrors of “chattel slavery”, the Jim Crow era, the abuse of police power and the prison system. I believe that these statues placed in a proper context should remain as a constant reminder of an event that if the outcomes were different could have changed the whole course of the modern world.

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Planning: Some thoughts

I confess to still be wrestling with the confederate monuments. I have a few concrete ideas, but I’m still fleshing out my understanding of how to deal with them in a complete fashion. I think ultimately these monuments will need to be dealt with community, by community, and I hope the process involves many different voices engaging with one another civilly. Through thinking through my issues with the monuments, I find I want to think about planning as much if not more, which flows into this weeks readings.

One thing my experience has taught me is that planning is vital to beginning any new project. Our readings this week laid out several valuable frameworks for approaching planning for me it usually comes down to a few fundamental points to consider

  1. Objectives
  2. Audience
  3. Resources


This one thing I’ve struggled with a bit in my career and eventually learned to embrace. When starting a project or creating a proposal for anything have an idea of what it is you are trying to do, how you think you may do it, and what you hope to accomplish. I’m always drawn to the discussion of what you hope to accomplish, specifically the how you prove that you’ve done what you set out to do. On page 29 of Interpretive Planning for Museums(IPM), we see the discussion of how the GPRA began to require funding agencies accountable to the outcomes that grant awardees were aiming for. I think this was a major turning point for how cultural memory institutions related and understood their users. This shift towards being user centered is vital to the success of any organization. I found this point from page 30 of IPM to be really important:

First, that the role of museums is to support their community’s ability to thrive by providing learning opportunities; and second, that museums provide opportunities, platforms, and materials from which visitors are able to construct their own meaning

So if we use these ideas as our focus, then we have to construct objectives that relate to this focus. These objectives must also be obtainable and measurable. I will say measuring a communities ability to thrive will be complicated. I can think of a way to do that at this moment. This second idea of learning opportunities and platforms is far easier to approach and prove that these objectives have been accomplished.


Understanding your audience is a vitally important aspect to any planning activity. I found the discussion of markets in the 5M model book to be very helpful, especially understanding the various types of markets that you may be working with. An understanding how you are trying to target and how to work with that target group is also important. I’ve failed at this a few times in my career. A major example was a series of workshops I created to help graduate students utilize library resources. We planned the workshops to be hosted at two campuses and at varying times. What we didn’t think about was how the workshop times didn’t work for the different types of graduate students that each campus had. One campus was principally for commenter students who worked full times, so the times an hour before class weren’t appropriate for them because most arrived just in time for their class. The students on main campus which were more traditional graduate students was a difficult group to find a time that worked because their courses and assistantships kept them busy at different points throughout the day. I learned that while I thought I understood the audience, I hadn’t done enough research to really understand the various types of graduate students we were trying to reach.


When thinking about resources, you have to think about not only you object resources and funding, but you Human Resources. Our text talked about this some, but I wanted to emphasize the need to understand the skills, training and time of the staff/co-workers that you’ll be working with. Time is a major understanding everyone on a project needs to figure quickly. Can people be pulled from other duties? Can the project be done in a given period with other things going on? Etc, etc. Human Resources are usually the most important resources for a project success.

So that’s kind of how I perceive planning basics, I’m definitely really excited to work with everyone on the interpretative plan for Avondale Estates with everyone.

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Shared Authority Fail: Art and Interpretation on the Atlanta BeltLine



A screenshot including a sampling of the BeltLine artwork along with WSB-TV’s reporting of its controversial reception

Art on the Atlanta BeltLine: Context is Key

Now in its eighth year, Art on the Atlanta BeltLine (the “largest free, temporary outdoor art exhibition in the South”) recently opened its annual fall show featuring a piece along its Westside trail (passing over Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) which has evoked harsh critique from community residents. A photographic series purportedly intended to showcase Canine Cellmates, a program which involves jail inmates in domestic canine training (to provide an opportunity for inmates to “exhibit responsibility and accountability with measurable goals” and to “experience positive physical contact and unconditional love”) was installed with one rather brow-raising oversight: though the program serves male inmates of all colors, the photographs installed along the trail singularly featured black men – displayed without any context to explain the photographs or the Canine Cellmates program.

Almost immediately, passersby – members of the Westside’s predominantly black community – began asking, “why?”

Suzanne Guy Mitchell, an early commentator on the photographs, posted the following to Facebook Sunday evening, tagging the BeltLine’s Facebook page:

“Atlanta Beltline, black men in jail as art? In the black community? Are these the images that we need to be projecting? How could you think this is okay on any level?”

Suzanne’s response to a commentor who explained about the “dog training program in prison that works wonders for inmates and dogs” was evocative of the harmful nature of the photographs: “Wonderful!” Suzanne wrote. “I’m thrilled for the program. I’m all for rehabilitation. It’s critical. My issue has nothing to do with that.”

Other voices would join Suzanne’s in just a matter of hours.

“Justifiably Upset”: The reaction

A sampling of public comments on Facebook regarding the blunder (and the BeltLine’s official response) show that members of Atlanta’s Westside community feel almost unanimously robbed of one thing: a voice in the discussion of what is displayed in their neighborhoods as “cultural” or “normal.” Here are some of the responses community members posted on their Facebook accounts within just twenty-four hours of the story’s going viral (shared here with permission):

“So the Atlanta BeltLine has a new art exhibit! But before you get excited. It’s probably one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. The Beltline came and destroyed the idea of affordable housing. And then blessed you with this…” (Kyle N. Lamont)

“…This [installation] is in part why we are adamant the community must be at the table during development of the SWATS region. We… are ensuring moving forward we are present to represent the interest of our community collective… this art installation just shows how completely #disconnected they [BeltLine] are from the real SWATS community.” (Robby L. Caban)

“Glad the city listened to citizens [and removed the art] I found this artwork to be very disrespectful and distasteful. It definitely makes you feel like something racist was intended…” (Jontai Woodson)

“Eastside BeltLine gets koi pond art. Westside BeltLine gets black men in jail. As art. This is so wrong on so many levels. File this under ‘WTF were you thinking?’ Whose decision was this? I want names.” (Kelley Jackson)

“Here is the thing… Once you put it into the universe, it’s forever in the minds of those who saw it, and the different narratives are created… Apologies aren’t necessary, because they’re [apologizing] for PR reasons only…” (Tiffani Real)

In addition to the social media response, other responses have been garnered via interviews with news outlets, such as this one which was collected from a Westside resident by WSB-TV reporter Tyisha Fernandes: I think what we have in our society is a system that criminalizes being African American and to go into a neighborhood that I think is 90% black and just put up these pics of black men as prisoners is a bit toxic.” 

According to Fernandes’ report, she spoke with the director of the organization responsible for the photoshoot, who said: “The photos were never intended to disrespect or offend anyone, but since they were posted without any context, [I] can understand how they were misunderstood.”

What do you think?

Had Art on the BeltLine representatives identified Westside community members as shareholders in their initiative and consulted with community leaders regarding the installment of the photographs prior to their placement along the trail, could the installment have garnered a more positive reaction?

I’m certainly inclined to think that voices like Suzanne Mitchell’s, along with Lamont’s, Caban’s, Woodson’s, Jackson’s and Real’s, if consulted, could have guided this installation toward success in its intended purpose, which was to showcase a positive program that is aiding people of all colors and from all walks of life. (Consider how the photograph included in this AJC article regarding the jail dog program, with it’s balance of ethnicity differs from those posted on the BeltLine.)

Without those critical voices, the photographs – with their disproportionately black subjects, displayed in a majority black neighborhood, and displayed in unavoidable contrast to installations along the Eastside and shown completely out of context – sent a message that was unjust, unfair, and harmful – not to mention, extremely damaging to an already-tense relationship between the BeltLine and the community it purports to serve.


Comments invited.

Posted in Best Practices, Case Study, community based history, Discussion, heritage, Interpretive issues, Public history profession, Race, Urban history | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What to replace monuments with?


In response to the article about the possibility of a Missy Elliot statue in VA. I feel that although the nation is speaking with an outcry that warrants these monuments to be taken down, we as public historians must look at this issue in much further detail than the average citizen. When these monuments all come down, then what do we replace them with? Well first of all who says they have to be replaced with yet another statue. Although Missy Elliott may be from Virginia and has done a lot for her community, putting a statue of her up without public input would do more damage than good in my opinion.
1.We can either leave the pedestals empty as a reminder of how insensitive our nation has been, especially to minorities. These empty pedestals will remind future generations of how our nation came together 150 years after a Civil War and removed symbols of racism and divisiveness throughout our great country.
2.We could replace the monuments with state symbols. I’m sure that no one would disagree that state symbols insight pride and meaning to the lands.
3.Historians may consider having these pedestals replaced with gardens or water fountains that may be calming and peaceful. Working side by side, gardens can help us grow as a country and people. All this can be done symbolically by Nature.

But however we move forward with replacing these confederate monuments, we must use interpretive planning. Whether deciding where to house or display the displaced monuments or whether trying to figure out what to replace the empty pedestals with, we must be mindful that our next steps are very critical and could either further divide or bring closer together our nation. We should implement shared authority, shared inquiry, and use the 5-M Model. I do not feel that the decisions will be made quickly, but will take years to develop as much of an inclusive exhibit as possible for the American people, whether we are talking about a museum for the old monuments or a new display in town squares and in front of courthouses across these lands.

But back to Missy Elliot, if we start with this type of suggestion, we are then leaving out other artists and famous people from Virginia. By putting up a statue of Missy Elliott, this would and I hate to say it, leave out yet another group of people. These symbols and statues should unite cultures not further drive wedges between. If new statues are to replace these monuments, I feel they should be multicultural to show different races of children playing together in harmony. And although this may not be reality in our everyday lives, I feel that it is a good reality to strive for.

In closing let me leave you with this article about New Orleans wanting to replace a confederate monument with a statue of Brittany Spears. My fear is that we would put more emphasis of celebrities and somehow minimize the controversy of the confederate memorials in lieu of idolizing celebrity status that has nothing to do with learning.

Broxton Harvey

Petition: Replace Confederate statues with tributes to Britney Spears

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