PublicHistory Historical Interpretation and Place-Based History: Three Strategies for Presenting and Exploring Inclusive Histories on the Landscape

AHA Session 148
Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Joshua Goode, Claremont Graduate University
Joshua Goode, Claremont Graduate University

Session Abstract

This panel considers a diverse set of strategies for historians, especially public, for crafting place-based history: vector models, commemoration location, and public-private collaboration.

First, Charles Romney demonstrates the utility of vector space models to measure conceptual shifts in the use of Habeas Corpus in the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Between 1852 and 1880, judges oscillated between defining Habeas Corpus as a right of white descendants of the English common law or as a writ available to all residents regardless of race. In the 1880s people from a wide range of backgrounds sought access to the writ to solve domestic difficulties at the same time that increasing immigration intensified the judicial debate over accepting petitions from Asian migrants. How widely did Habeas Corpus circulate in Hawaii during these years? Did the expanded application of the writ to household disputes and non-white migrants change the conceptual architecture of Habeas Corpus? In this paper, Romney discusses his use of computer code in the programming language R to explore the writ’s mobility and shifting conceptual architecture in the first forty years of its use in the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Vector space models let us see how ordinary people in Hawaii changed a limited judicial writ into a expansive legal right as Habeas Corpus circulated beyond the Kingdom’s judicial chambers to apartments, boats, and houses.

Second, Jennifer Koslow discusses the recent ways in which inter-governmental city/county agencies of the city of Tallahassee and Leon County, Florida have used commemorative location to produce a new official history of the lived experience of segregation and actions of civil rights protest. In the past five years, governmental bodies have placed memorials in prominent civic spaces to make past injustices visible to the present. Koslow will discuss her participation in two projects related to this history: Tallahassee’s Civil Rights Memorial Sidewalk (CRMS) and the Smokey Hollow Commemoration (SHC). The CRMS exposed the temporal footsteps of protest and made them permanent. The SHC resurrected the spirit of a displaced African American community through the construction of “spirit houses” and a Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS). Koslow also considers the difficulties these projects encountered because of alterations in the landscapes upon which the city and county desired to situate these commemorative testaments.

The final paper by Aaron Shapiro analyzes the problems and promise of public-private historical collaboration in National Heritage Areas (NHA). The NHA program, whose roots date to the first Reagan administration, can be viewed as both effective public-private cooperation and part of a larger move toward privatizing parks and historical interpretation. NHA sites may present “feel-good” history, encourage economic development, or interpret or avoid complex and controversial histories. By focusing on NHAs, from the blues culture presented in the Mississippi Delta NHA to the environmental history highlighted in New England’s Blackstone River Valley, Shapiro’s paper explores the relationship between historical interpretation and place-based history in the nation’s public, semi-public and private spaces, highlighting the processes involved in presenting more inclusive histories on the landscape.

See more of: AHA Sessions