Unit 8-The Promise and Perils of Digital History



In the video of KRON TV’s  “1981 Report on the Internet” the seeds of a digital newspaper are sprouting. Although the online paper was five dollars an hour, not much competition to a twenty cent print version, the  “prophecies of an optimistic digital future call out to you.” But there were skeptics. Marxist historian of technology David Noble warned  “a dismal new era of higher education has dawned.” Thankfully his doubts of a digital era were unfounded. And today, everything has its own website, even our very own Ronald Scheck.  (ronaldscheck.com )

In Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History, the authors examine  the ability to store data as well as to access it. They explain how “online accessibility means, moreover, that the documentary record of the past is open to people who rarely had entrancee before.” Digital archives allow anyone from an elementary student to a serious academic to enter the former priviledged “inner sanctum.” Flexibility and diversity allow the web to “have given a much louder and more public voice to amateur historians.” The web offers connection and “interactivity” that “so far suggests how we might transform historical practice—the web becomes a place for new forms of collaboration, new modes of debate, and new modes of collecting evidence about the past.” Some critics believe the disadvantages of online history are “problems of quality and authenticity.” The fear of photo-editing rewriting history and the History Channel serving as the new authority exits.  But a more serious problem is the “real potential for inaccessibility and monopoly.”

And here is the key message of the book: “Historians need to confront these issues of quality, durability, readability, passivity, and inaccessibility rather than leave them to the technologists, legislators, and media companies, or even just to our colleagues in libraries and archives.” The authors question why we should build a historical website. Historians need to be creative and not narrowly defined. Historians should wonder “how digital formats will survive into the future.”


Photograph courtesy of http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/


Cohen, “Is Google Good for History?” 

According to Dan Cohen, Google is good for history. Not only is it merely good, according to him, “Google is probably the most powerful tool in human history for doing just that,” which is sifting through evidence. Everyone with internet access also has Google Scholar, Google Books, and newspaper archives. One issue Cohen sees in Google is their metadata problems. Of course there will be errors and although “haste makes waste” Cohen understands that Google is trying to improve. Cohen believes that the internet has given historians new methods of research. He argues that the “existence of modern search technology should push us to improve historical research.” He also complains that Google makes it “difficult to download the OCRed text from multiple public domain books–what you would need for more sophisticated historical research.” In order to solve this, Cohen pushes historians to work side by side with Google.


Photograph courtesy of Business 2 Community http://www.business2community.com/social-media/what-about-google-0463714#moCgYmPFBj3UB4Tc.97

In the two communities of the civil war in Blevins’, “Valley of the Shadow and the Digital Database” the popular website has longevity, but is dated and “lacks is the kind of flexible, horizontal experience that has become a hallmark of today’s online user experience.” Blevins’ excitement about the possibilities of the site are innovative and collaborative. His critiques garner comments, some fair while others are defensive; “It wasn’t easy like you youngsters have it today.” As Larry Cebula pointed out the twenty-three rooms in the site’s portal, possibly to mimic the original archival research, he thinks it may not be the best way to teach history. After all, one great aspect of digital history is the accessibility. The site is very user friendly but definitely dated. Finding diaries and sources is easy but not fun.

Krause and Yakel’s “Interaction in Virtual Archives: The Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections Next Generation Finding Aid,” examines online finding aids using a survey and interviews. Collections of American soldiers in Russia after WWI is documented using Web 2.0 technologies. User accessibility on this site includes a comment section, user profiles, and “allowing archival researchers to contribute.” (288) Incorporating a similar sheet style allows users to “foster a sense of place” while bookmarking the pages of interest gives the users a sense of ownership. (293) Much of the study was based off of user information. One user was a student while five others were the public. Some were researching family genealogy. Many people thought that browsing in particular was a very important aspect the site but the “sixty-five fully digitized collections are the most important feature of the site,” as well as social interaction (305). This site is drab.




History in the National Park Service

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service

The National Park Service has a great responsibility. It protects human stories and nature.  As much as “two-thirds of the system’s nearly four hundred parks exist explicitly to protect and interpret cultural and historic resources.” (11) The NPS encourages education and claims that its core purpose is history. The NPS states that its wish is to “explore whether the present practice of history in the agency is sufficiently robust, current, and flexible enough to enable the NPS to fulfill its promise of creating an inspired, informed, and thinking citizenry.” (12)

The NPS is always evolving and learning new techniques as well as new ways to strengthen and improve its mission. Including history is of utmost importance. History is central to the work of serving the American public. The NPS admits that “for far too long, academe’s own culture and structure have prevented many talented scholars from engaging with history in the national parks—in effect reinforcing the insularity that NPS practices build from within, and preventing us from recognizing and nurturing our common purpose” (17).

The public must be engaged, interested, and educated. In order to achieve this, the NPS has agreed to lift social media restrictions, and the effect is that they “are seeing hints of its potential to reach new publics” (43). Using Facebook and Twitter is one way the NPS is keeping up with what the public expects.

At Antietam National Battlefield, the NPS allows onlookers to imagine themselves as Confederate soldiers standing in the Sunken Road, about to be killed by Union soldiers but then explains how a poster in the Antietam visitor center is supposed to “transport us back” to the bloodiest day in American history (45). Can a poster achieve this?

The National Park Service sought to “strengthen its presentation and interpretation of history” and so it collaborated with the Organization of American Historians (50). The OAH-NPS partnership, as well as the strengthened relationships between the NPS and the America Historical Association benefit the park, academic historians, as well as visitors. This collaboration “creates a lively, vibrant, and innovative history practice at the NPS” (53).

While the NPS views its achievements as examples of “lively, vibrant, and innovative history practices” others disagree (53). Some described NPS history as awful and  “stagnant and irrelevant to today’s generation and issues” (53).  The NPS wants to correct this and it wants to answer genuine questions that the public asks and connect with visitors. To correct the problems, the NPS stresses the importance of leadership for history, which “is not only abstract and inspirational; it is also a managerial reality” (60). The NPS also recommends better training for interpretational needs as well as staff training. It recommends updating qualification standards and “prioritizing hiring master’s level historians” (74). Building trust is also an important aspect to the NPS. The public can handle controversies in history. The NPS seeks a revitalized history program that will engage the public and “guarantee NPS historical stewardship into the future” (119).


Photo courtesy of HomeRoom- http://blog.ed.gov/2013/11/the-national-parks-americas-best-idea-for-authentic-learning/


The Whitman Massacre in 1847 is told through two different sites: the NPS and Historylink.org.

According to Historylink.org, the Whitmans were cordial with the Cuyuses and “Tiloukaikt, a kind, friendly Indian, welcomed the Whitman’s baby as a “Cayuse te-mi” (Cayuse girl).” Soon Whitman steered his focus away from the Indians and began attracting white settlers. The combination of thousands of settlers and the measles outraged the Cuyuse, who eventually killed fourteen people. Five of the Cuyuse were surrendered to prevent war, including the friendly Tiloukaikt, who was sentenced to death.



The Whitman Massacre- Image courtesy of legendsofamerica.com

In the NPS version of the massacre, the agency asks the public if it was “Revenge or Retribution”. The public can make up their own mind by viewing Facebook posts, You Tube videos, or reading “1,000 pages about the Whitmans.” The public is encouraged to educate themselves through various portals on the site.

In “Uncomfortable History: The `Whitman Massacre’” from The Seattle Times, Keiko Morris explains how the Whitman’s “aura of glory has faded sharply five decades later, in a time of greater respect for cultural differences.” Whitman is no longer only viewed as a hero, even though a 9-foot bronze statue of Marcus Whitman still stands in Walla Walla. The truth of the American experience is tragic, complex, and often brutal. It is multi-sided and according to Superintendent Terry Darby, “you can’t live this close to an Indian community and not be sensitive to their view,” Darby said. “We want to show both points of view and not alienate one. So if it sounds like I’m waltzing through a minefield, I am.”



Unit 6: American Indians and Public History

Will the Real Sand Creek Site Please Stand Up?

On November 29, 1864 the Sand Creek Massacre, or battle, depending on whose historical lens one chooses to look through, occurred in Kiowe County. The “correct history” in this story illustrates how “memories are shaped by politics” (3). Both the Cheyenne and Arapaho, as well as the National Park Service (NPS) and multiple other historians and residents argued over very different events that occurred in the massacre. John Chivington, the Colorado militia who led the Sand Creek Massacre, was “pressed by examiners on whether his troops had violated the rules of civilized warfare, killing women, children, and the elderly and plundering the enemy’s camp for valuables Chivington first dodged the question and then dug in, maintaining that Sand Creek had been a legitimate engagement” (13).

The NPR’s Mary Bomar noted that the story of America needs to be told “faithfully, completely, and accurately,” be it noble or shameful (20). It was looked at through George Bent’s Cheyenne lens and Chevington’s patriotic hero lens. Was it a massacre or a battle? The Indians raised white flags but soldiers from the 1st Colorado Regiment “paid no attention” (23).

In A Misplaced Massacre, Kelman explains how the “correct history” depends on the audience. For example, “disentangling the massacre from the Civil War served both nationalist and internationalist aims at the time,” because the Civil War was supposed to be seen as “a good war.” (55) Once again, history was molded to fit the intended audience. To memorialize the massacre, the project had “incommensurable goals: national unity versus local autonomy versus tribal sovereignty” (43).  The Cheyenne and Arapaho are different entities so even on a tribal level, there were different stories. Both claimed to have a living memory of the horrible massacre and on another level, whites claimed the memory as a battle from the civil War. Who owned this collective remembrance? And where exactly did the massacre happen?

Lysa Wegman-French and Christine Whitacre believed their historical work could help both the NPS as well as the tribes. They were able to look back at history through an indigenous lens because of their education. Wegman-French attended the University of Boulder-Colorado where Patricia Nelson-Limerick, a leading scholar who has “placed the experiences of Native Americans on par with those of European settlers.” (90) Wegman-French’s excitement grew upon realizing that the Bent-Hyde regional maps mirrored an 1890 U.S. Geological Survey map of southeastern Colorado, but her hopes deflated when faced with the reality that it was drawn from a “flawed original” (99). And then came the “Eureka moment” with the finding of Samuel Bonsall’s map of military sites in 1868 (101).

Once the NPS was ready to tell the story, they had to accept that the massacre was “a central part of the Cheyenne’s past and future” and therefor the narrative should not be told by federal authorities (109). The NPS confidently presented a draft of “the village site,” angering the Cheyenne who already distrusted the government. And then another clue appeared. The Soule-Cramer letters were found which “validated much of the testimony taken during the congressional and Army hearings from Sand Creek” (174).

Once the site was identified, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historical Site Establishment Act was marked with a powwow and “people in the West congratulated themselves for having opened the door to cross-cultural reconciliation” (181). But the fight was not over. Conflicting narratives continued to pester the Sand Creek memory. While Greg Michno peered through a “military and pioneer perspective,” and told the Indians to “get over it,” the rebuttals poured in (225). Eventually, the “right” place was found and according to Laird Cometsevah, “Sand Creek will never be forgotten” (262).


Photo courtesy of nps.gov http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/cultural_diversity/Sand_Creek_Massacre_National_Historic_Site.html

Whitesboro To Change Racist Town Seal After ‘Daily Show’ Visit

Similar to the Sand Creek memorial story is the Whitesboro town seal episode. After the Daily Show visited Whitesboro, the townspeople voted to change the seal illustrating a white man choking a Native American that “was meant to depict a historic wrestling match between the village’s white founder and an Oneida Indian.” The truth of the Oneida Indians may stand a chance at telling the real history through a broader lens.

Buzzfeed, 9 Questions Native Americans Have for White People

The Buzzfeed website asks whites questions that are “thought provoking.” For example, “Why do you tell me I don’t look like a Native American?” Some people may view Native Americans as people with long hair and war paint, and while this is wildly inaccurate, the movies can and have shown a stereotypical version of Indians, similar to Chivington’s story of “faceless savages.” Why do people think Native Americans look a certain way? There is an expectation that we have learned from someplace, either the entertainment industry or school, that is selling stereotypes.

Mourning Dove (Christine Quintasket) (ca. 1884-1936)

Christine Quintasket, an Interior Salish woman, “collected tribal stories among Northern Plateau peoples in the early twentieth century.” Once again, history was molded due to a certain audience. Because Heister Dean Guie “envisioned the collection as a series of children’s bedtime stories, all mentions of sex and violence were eliminated, and most of the legends were simplified and shortened.” Mourning Dove and McWhorter, who remained active in the editing process, removed moral points, “superstitions,” and creation stories that might bring ridicule from a white audience.



Photo courtesy of nps.gov http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/cultural_diversity/Sand_Creek_Massacre_National_Historic_Site.html



The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum

The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum

The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, located at E. 12114 Sprague Avenue, is a pleasant surprise. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm.  Tucked between an old tavern and a dentures clinic, the museum sits inside the quaint Opportunity Township Hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Above the museum’s entrance an old plastered sign reads, “Anno Opportunity 1912”. Upon entering the museum, Jayne Singleton, the museum director, greets me and allows me to peruse the exhibits.

With roughly one to two-hundred square feet per exhibit and artifacts covering every inch of wall space, one must take it all in for a moment. The first presentation is labeled “Electrifying the Modern Woman.” Pictures of the Pacific Northwest’s leading ladies adorn the walls; Mary Arkright Hutton, a suffrage leader; Matilda Greenfield Johnson Stegner Narup, who ran the only store on Trent; and Stella Schafer Torrey, who operated the Spokane Valley Maternity Home. Faded white dresses of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century pose on manikins in the corner.  Antique toasters, scales, and kitchen appliances fill a display case and old, worn bibles lay across a table next to rocking chair. A turn of the century, black dress is an example of the common color of wedding dresses before the Victorian era, when white became the fashion. A nineteen-twenties radio show plays music from the 1930s before it is interrupted by a White King soap ad. This tiny room transports me back in time.

Across from the “Modern Woman” room, “Ye Old Book Shop” displays Spokane Valley books for sale. Above, old dolls eerily rest on a balcony, peeking through wooden beams. A section on Spokane orchards showcases a ladder used by orchard workers and a display of pictures of Valley farms fill the wall. Just a few feet to the right stands an eight-foot Shell gasoline pump introducing a Felts Field display. The museum is proud to present a log book from Lt. Hick’s flights and points the reader to a signature, although it is difficult to read. It is possibly the signature of James Buell Felts (1898-1927).

A new exhibit titled, “Under One Sky” tries to tell the story of the Valley during the nineteenth century. Interestingly, the street I grew up on, Desmet, was named after Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, whose picture is hung next to Chief Seltice. Arrow heads, moccasins, and gathering baskets are displayed while raccoon pelts and a deer head help to tell the story of fur trappers in the Pacific Northwest. Although the display cases are chock-full of Native American relics, the exhibit fails to give a history, but it does show some heritage from tribes like the Nez Perce.

The museum turns a corner and moves into the age of communication. Telephones and a switchboard sit next to a floor-to-ceiling miniature representation of a central telephone office. Behind the display is a distracting neon-magenta light. It is another new exhibit from the Smithsonian titled, “Man on the Moon” or maybe “Are We Alone”, or possibly “Earth From Space.” It is hard to tell what the title is with all the signs on the walls but the black-lit room and Star Wars music pushes me inside. A countdown to the moon landing plays on a computer. Satellite photos from NASA and images from the Mars Rover “Curiosity” present images of space. “Where were you on July 20, 1969?” a sign asks.

The space exhibit marks the end of the trail but Jayne explains how the archive is located in the back. Central Valley High School pictures from the early 1940s cover the walls and high school yearbooks line the shelves. The archive is open to the public and includes miscellaneous books and pictures about the Spokane Valley and surrounding areas. A patron sifts through deeds of St. Joseph’s cemetery while Jayne explains her historical background and then sees me out.

The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum is a happy, optimistic place. There is no evidence of President Hays’ executive order to relocate Native Americans to the Spokane Reservation in 1881. The museum is romanticized and is intended for an audience who wants to go back to a “simpler time,” rather than to get an education. The museum’s audience can range from school age to elderly and everyone can find something to marvel at.

This tiny local museum appears insignificant from the outside and although it is not the Smithsonian, it is packed with historic relics and is a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, or hour. Plastic cows mingle with sewing machines and a taxidermy, white owl dangles from the ceiling.  It is just the kind of place to discover a fragment of local history.

Historic Preservation

In Beyond Preservation, Andrew Hurley discusses preservation in the inner-city neighborhoods in the 1970s. Revitalizing the city to highlight historic features proved prosperous to both residents and tourism. But there were critics. According to Hurley, “many traditional preservationist goals were sacrificed on the alter of profit,” and landscapes for profit “were barely interpreted at all” (19). Rather than unifying the communities, they created a divide. Subjects like slavery were ignored while the past became romanticized. According to a survey conducted in the late 1990s, women and African Americans were “severely underrepresented” or absent from historic markers (33). The situation needed improvement to say the least.

In order to get neighborhood involvement and interest in restoration, public history and archeology helped residents to engage. An example of this is the Scott Joplin House where African Americans in the community made up 90% of the café’s patrons (114). The café served a community need and strengthened community presence. When people focused on the community needs rather than profit, it also prevented gentrification.

Cultural features in neighborhoods as well as natural features need restoration or protection. Inner-city neighborhoods also need to “improve access to recreational space, and ameliorate the deleterious effects of dirty air, soil contamination, and water pollution.” (123) This is why environmental history is important to stabilizing inner-city neighborhoods. Combining environmental history with architecture and public history can be a catalyst for economic growth (199)

The videos in Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered List are great examples that illustrate what Hurley’s book is trying to capture. St. Ignatius hospital in Colfax was the first to serve Whitman County in 1892. Seven decades later, the building was a mix of Victorian era and modern style that housed an assisted care facility. Presently unused, the building is full of mold, asbestos, and is looked upon with “serious concern.” How can the city use this building in a productive way? Is there is a way to ‘green’ the building and minimize carbon impacts while engaging the community?

The plan to demolish the 1909 Jensen-Byrd building in 2012 was shot down by the Spokane City Council. Thanks to members of the Spokane Preservation Advocates, the building was saved. According to Juliet Sinisterra, owner of Sun People Dry Goods Co. “The Jensen-Byrd Building is irreplaceable.” In the article, “WSU to make Jensen-Byrd building a gathering place,” David Wasson explains that the historic Jensen-Byrd building will now be the “focal point of a new plaza and gathering place that also will serve as a downtown gateway to the Spokane campus.” It is a part of Spokane’s character and although there is not a timeline nor a budget, hopefully preservation advocates, architects, and public and environmental historians can come together for a creative and beneficial use for the building.