Beyond Preservation – Avondale Estates Considered

In this week’s discussion about Avondale Estates, I could not help but think about this past week’s reading in context to our project.

First and foremost is the consideration of the author who asserts that these types of programs applies “mostly to inner city neighborhoods” and the fact that it seeks to draw upon the experiences and insights of others as being necessary to understanding the unique challenges confronting residents of inner city neighborhoods.

I never gave much thought about the issue of buying an old home and the challenges that can confront residents when the value of their homes place them in financial hardships after their acquisition “value” adds to their debt to income ratio.  Its one thing to envision living in a historic district, but quite another to realize the goal only to find out that the assessment of increased property values may make remaining in the home economically feasible when property taxes levied are double and tripled that of what you were paying the previous years.

With respect to Avondale Estates, Hurley’s book talked about the problems and challenges confronting these preservation projects and the mandate that responsible preservationists pay attention to the “scars of racial discord,” “utilizing University resources effectively”, “balancing skill transfer and product delivery, and “wrestling with conflicting perspectives of the past” (94).  All of which are part of the challenges we are faced with regard to the AE project.

I also like their use of terms like “public archaeology” and “adaptive reuse.”  I thought about my trip to Philadelphia this past summer when I went to the site of Ben Franklin’s old house.  There were three plexiglass windows that when you look down upon them are supposed to show aspects of the “excavated” remains of his original home.  Its difficult to see through the windows now, but fascinating to think about it in terms of archaeological remains.*usz5NbPFmFbfTSQ5z3VjgztJFN%21j4yBfmlMrcB9rdu4GRm14XJF5nU

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Monuments as Part of The National Conversation

Coming from New York, it once felt like the discussion over monuments was “distant” for me, primarily because the discussion was over confederate statues, and since no Civil War battles were fought on Long Island, it just wasn’t something my neighbors would discuss.

That is starting to change, however, because New Yorkers have started to have conversations on what our own monuments mean; recently, protesters defaced a statue of President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt is something of a local legend-he’s an “iconic” Long Islander, along with Billy Joel and Mariah Carey. His home in Oyster Bay is a landmark and major tourist attraction. However, he was incredibly problematic, especially with many of his international policies and views on race.

Although this isn’t the first time that this has happened, it is the first time after the events in Charlottesville. I hope that fellow Long Islanders/New Yorkers can start to have a real conversation about Theodore Roosevelt, and what his legacy has meant.

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I’m going to be honest. Our book this week, Beyond Preservation by Andrew Hurley, threw me for a loop. As many of you know, my main focus for the past few years has been academic history, and that comes with a collection of proficiencies and spots of ignorance. This post is about one of the latter.

As an academic historian, its hammered into you that your work will probably not be read by very many. Very few of us get read outside of the twenty other people who are interested in the same subjects we are. Unless you’re Robert Darnton or Eugene Genovese, the largest impact your books and articles will have is when Ken Burns asks you to help on a documentary or a pop historian like Eric Larson reads your book, takes a few facts out of context and propels you to the level of footnote in a book about a chicago-based serial killer during the Columbian Exposition. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s pretty normal for a lot of traditional and untraditional academics to never expect to really impact the world except indirectly.

But even if you do write The Great Cat Massacre (It’s a book by Robert Darnton. If you haven’t read it, do so now. Skip class. Get no sleep tonight. Just raed it!) your motivation is probably to see history in a new and complex light by drawing emphasis to a particular moment in history or just trying to see an old one differently. In terms of impact, however, academics hope to encourage a more complete understanding of their topic, which can lead to increased empathy, a better understanding of the community dealing with that history, or a thousand other things, but generally they fall into the categories of intellectual or cultural change, not social, economic or urban change, except subtly.

Sorry for the long-winded paragraphs, but I’m trying to get you to understand my position. I never considered that history could alter the world around me in any way, but changing the hearts and minds of those who studied it. Even the Art of Relevance and Silencing the Past felt like intellectual and cultural approaches to public history, engaging with and shaping a community’s understanding of itself. However, Hurley’s ideas feel tangible. Revitalizing inner cities, gentrification, raising land values and huge demographic shifts can all come from a public history project. That is not to say that there aren’t other forces at work here besides historical preservation, oral histories or public genealogical workshops, but public historians do impact the communities we work in and for and the decisions we make have consequences, ones that we might love to see like badly needed revenue or a stronger and more inclusive community identity, or some ones that might be a little hard to swallow such as rising land values driving lower-class minorities into other neighborhoods.

We have power and I’m still getting used to that.

Posted in community based history, Discussion, Preservation, Public history profession, Urban history | 1 Comment

Can a White Supremacist Be Pacifist? What do I Do? 

So, I never expected to be confronted with my own “Confederate Monument” so-to-speak in the context of the American Peace Society but I did, and it blew my mind. I suspected there would be western exceptionalism but I never expected a peace advocate of influencing eugenic thought for Nazi Germany.

I was struggling with one of the articles and the papers concerning David Starr Jordan, former VP of APS, noted “pacifist” and professed “admirer of Japan.” In my thesis, I wanted to briefly touch upon his advocacy, but I grew increasingly disturbed as I re-read a 1906 article that was so orientalist and white nationalist, I started doing some background research to gain better understanding for my paper.

I thought about this in connection to our public history class and our discussion of truth and “white-washing” of history, especially with recent discussion on confederate monuments. Now I come to a cross-roads in my research re: “peace advocates” as something that should be questioned or documented historically in this paper. What does this mean that he’s touted as a pacifist” but his advocacy broaches a previously unconsidered “third” realm of pacifism (if it can even be called pacific) that his beliefs were not rooted in the “morality” or biblical doctrines against war but the fear over the decay of the Anglo-Saxon Nordic race through the deaths in war of its strongest men?

This attached article from last year was written in response to Palo Alto, CA referendum that sought to change the name of its middle school amidst the controversy of his influence in eugenics and subsequent “forced-sterilization” laws enacted in Indiana and California.

Swarthmore SCPC is NOT the repository for his papers, but it does makes me think about this “legacy” of peace history and our responsibility as historians. No mention is made of any of this information and I was a little sad. Does this Quaker school have a responsibility to truth in this matter, as say, for instance, the reconsideration of Confederate monuments? Is it my place to bring this “inconvenient truth” to their attention? Does this mitigate his “identity” as a peace advocate? I think I’ll have to think about proposing a paper for a conference on this matter.

Wendy Giere Frye

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A Note on Engagement: The Flower House in Detroit

I also really enjoyed the concept of the Funeral for a Home and wanted to compare it to the Flower House installation in Detroit.  Like Mantua in Philadelphia, Detroit has a long history of population loss, disinvestment, and residential vacancies.  Hamtramck, where the Flower House installation took place, is actually a city within the city of Detroit that has been comparatively steadily populated by first-generation immigrants (it was a city of predominantly Polish immigrants during the first half of the 20th century and is now home to immigrants hailing predominantly from Middle Eastern countries).  While living in Detroit, I remember the Flower House installation attracting a lot of media attention and considered it to be a successful way of bringing in people to a part of the city that they normally would not venture out to.  However, after learning about the level of community involvement that was incorporated in planning the Funeral for a Home, I am disappointed that Lisa Waud, coordinator of the Flower House, did not use the installation as a opportunity for engagement with local residents.  While Lisa Waud is a florist and not a public historian nor a grassroots activist, her Flower House idea highlights a common issue that often occurs in community-based projects in Detroit.  All too often, outsiders will alter the social or physical landscape of the city without ever interacting with the residents who live there and assessing their needs and wants as community members.  While the Funeral for a Home gave agency to residents in the community they were working in, the Flower House effectively strips agency from local residents.  I think this is a valuable lesson for public history that is reflected in Nina Simon’s discussion of relevancy… engage engage engage with the local community!

Link to an article about the Flower House installation:

Flower House in Detroit


Posted in Best Practices, Case Study, community based history, Discussion, Public history profession, Urban history | 2 Comments

Funeral For a Home

During our class discussion last week, I found the article on funeral for a home quite interesting.  As we all live in Atlanta we can see how gentrification takes place in certain neighborhoods and not others.  One doesn’t have to venture too far from Downtown Atlanta to see abandoned or run down homes.  Just as in Philadelphia in the Mantua neighborhood with row houses that are abandoned and crime infested.  But it’s wonderful how a simple project can invoke so much pride in ones community.  By researching the home and giving the space an identify, the project took on a life of it’s own by restoring a culture.  I can’t help but to see the struggles of these communities after years of prosperity to become worn and torn down.  But the funeral for a home shows how sharing authority and engaging the community can assist in providing history to ones that may have either forgotten or not know about at all.  This type of event and project can be seen as a success in providing keys to get citizens in the room.  And by addressing issues or arguments that they see as relevant helps to create an environment in which people can learn and others can share knowledge.

Broxton Harvey

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Dekalb County resolution to remove Decatur monument

I found this article with an update on the Confederate Monument in Decatur. It looks like Dekalb County approved a resolution to have it removed. This seems like a complicated case of who physically “owns” history, whether it’s the city, the county or the state. I am interested to see where this goes and will continue to be watching.

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