The Preservation Technology Podcast


Preservation Technology Podcast

Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation.


137. Activism in Archaeology


Megan Reed: Thank you for joining us. My name is Megan Reed. I'm with the Preservation Technology Podcast and I am here with...

Dr. Christopher Barton: Dr. Christopher Barton. I'm an Associate Professor of Archeology at Francis Marion University.

Megan Reed: Thank you for joining us. Today, we're going to be talking about your book Trowels in the Trenches. Can you explain to me how you connected archeology as a tool for activism?

Dr. Christopher Barton: My work is not a standalone work. There's a lot of other archeologists who have done similar things. Randy McGuire, Megan Springate, Alexander Jones, have done a lot of similar work. When I was in graduate school, many, many, many years ago, I read Randy McGuire's, Archeology as Political Action, and it helped to inspire me and inspire the people I was working with to then develop a volume that had different contributors and people from all different parts of the world studying different times and different topics, and bringing them to discuss archeology and using archeology and our craft, or at least as a medium of social activism.

Megan Reed: Great. What motivates you to bring this book together?

Dr. Christopher Barton: Tenure. No, so it's a bunch of different things. I was raised in the Catholic household and in it, we were taught that I'm my brother's keeper, and those of us that were given certain privileges that we need to take care and we need to help and lift up people that have been less fortunate. In terms of archeology, I'm not trying to say that this is some type of white knight and shining armor. No, the idea here is that I have a unique set of skills, and with utilizing those skills, I can work with people, we can find meaning. The idea is me as an archeologist, I'm not the gatekeeper of the past. I don't turn around, and we don't go out to sites, and we don't excavate sites and look at sites and say, "All right, this is why it's important. This is why you should save it, and this is..." No, when you're talking to community stakeholders, when you talk to members of the public, the idea is that this is pragmatic, this conversation.

I live in South Carolina right now, and if you can't tell from this nasally accent, I'm from Jersey. I am a middle-aged white dude from Jersey, and if I'm going to come down here to South Carolina and I'm going to work in rural Pee Dee region where I'm at now, I don't hold a monopoly on that meeting. I don't know what it means to be from the Pee Dee, right? I sure as hell don't know what it means to be Black, but the idea is that I work with people as equal partners through this collaboration to go out and study the past.

What we try to do through this type of work is that we understand our situations where we are in the present today. How do we get here? Okay, well, we got here from issues that might have happened in the past. If we're talking about the Pee Dee, we're talking about slavery, we're talking about antebellum period, post bellum period, Jim Crow, all this. Well, if we can study that and understand these legacies, well how can we make that into a brighter future? How can we understand that this is the situation that we're in, and how we got here and how can we try to make positive changes to make it a better world for all people?

Megan Reed: That's a great point. For the book, did you find any difficulty in choosing which topics to talk about in the book?

Dr. Christopher Barton: I went back and forth with the editor, and I think it was one of the peer reviewers. In it, I was talking about the idea of archeologist social activism. A lot of people wanted archeology as social activism to be radical, and it very much should be radical. Literally, the title of the book of Trowels in the Trenches, the idea is that it was supposed to be like trench lawn, and this idea of this battling back and forth. And initially, that was what I wanted to run with, this idea of radical, punk rock archeology. But what I found out, at least in terms of my reading and talking with people in different fields and everything was that all archeology is a form of social activism.

You think of the archeologists who are out there working day in and day out, doing backbreaking labor, what are they doing? They're doing it so that they can try to inform us in the present about something happened in the past. Through that they're trying to teach us and trying to enlighten us to make again, us more informed in the future. So one of the difficulties that we had was basically arguing that, that all archeology is a form of social activism. Now granted, it's not all in the same medium as varying spectrum, so we kept getting back to was the idea that archeology social activism is not a product. There's no level of uniformity that comes out. Rather, it's a process, and it's a very, very varied process. There's a lot of trial and error that takes place. I always joke around that I've lost more hair becoming an archeologist than I ever did before. Could also be because I have a toddler, but here's the question for you. What do you think the role is of archeology?

Megan Reed: I feel like we are an educator to the public of things that happened in the past and how we can learn from it as a way of our educating our public and our fellow people about different aspects of the history, and how we can either improve upon it or learn from it in a way to take us forward to the future.

Dr. Christopher Barton: Yeah, and that's a great answer, but going up through undergraduate, graduate school, and all these other, you got a lot of old white guys like me that are teaching it, right? They were obsessed with lists, and they view archeology as essentially an inventory. This is what we found. We need to check off all these boxes, and that's what archeology is. But then over time, thankfully we've pushed that. We've had to work with people like Mark Leone and Ann Yentsch , and what happens is we start to push into talking about social meaning. What is the meaning that is imbued, that is both reflected and reconstructed through these types of objects? That was a foundational stepping point for us as archeologists.

I think we're in another stage now that we've understood that look, we understand about social meaning, we understand about lists, but we are in a very unique position as scientists, as craftspeople to utilize this knowledge that we've had to then use that as a form of social activism. Think about the work that archeologists can do. We can talk about issues of pollution. We can talk about issues of unequal access to healthcare, unequal access to food, all of these historical lineages that we can talk about and legacies that continue today, and we can have fundamental conversations.

With the book, we've basically created three ideas. One is can archeology be used for social activists? Do you think it can?

Megan Reed: Yeah, I think so, yes.

Dr. Christopher Barton: The idea to think that we as archeologists, at one site or in one site report most people aren't going to read except for some, is somehow going to take that, and that's going to create profound change. I don't think that's going to happen, and I think it would be beyond naive to think that a single individual is going to be able to create such positive change in the world. But the idea is that we are in a field that society has deemed important, and that if society has value in it, we have college courses that are dedicated. We have the National Park Services that has aspects that are dedicated. That since we have some type of value in that, then we can take that, and we can use that limited influence to then create some type of change. Even if that's small incremental change, it's still some type of positive effect.

Megan Reed: All topics of trying to connect archeology to social activism are important, but why did you choose these specific topics for your book more than other ones?

Dr. Christopher Barton: The idea is we're always talking about intersectionality, so the different idea. The idea is we want to get a lot of people from different places, and a lot of people are studying different things. Then one of the things that's kind of happened within this growing dialogue and discourse within historical archeology or within social archeology as social activism as archeology is that, and I'm very guilty of this, it's really kind of been curtailed to just historical archeology. What we wanted to do was broaden that to say that look, we have articles in here talking about the Paleolithic and gender identity. We have people studying Jihad takeover in Timbuktu, so the idea was we're trying to diversify it, say this isn't just U.S. Eastern seaboard historical archeology, that rather this can be global and it can have no temporal balance.

Megan Reed: That's great. How would you like our listeners or readers of your book to take away from reading it? Is there any specific things of how you want them to leave with when they read the book?

Dr. Christopher Barton: Yeah, so the idea is that don't ever think of yourself as being powerless in society. Even the fact that you're engaging, that you're reading with an archeology that might not be in your typical reader's list, or you might be thinking about something differently. Just the idea that you're getting somewhat out of your comfort zone, that you're starting to think about different things, in different ways, it's a positive thing for you.

What I would also say, and this is a much more personal note. I'm dyslexic. I have learning disabilities and my whole life, I had people telling me that college isn't for everyone. I was a construction worker, in oil refineries back in the day, and that maybe I should just stick with that. I think I talked about that in a book, but one of the things that I'd like people to take away is that we all have little bits of limitations that either society puts on us, or even sometimes we put it on ourselves. You can overcome those. Sometimes it's going to be a struggle and sometimes even overcoming might seem insurmountable, but I've struggled with writing my entire life. I've struggled even with reading my entire life. If you've helped to set your mind to it and you have a determination, and you help with others, no book that is ever written, is written by a single individual. It is a community that comes together, helps support them, and that's what this book is.

If you're thinking about this in your own personal life and you get done reading it, don't think that you're alone in your struggles, and your ups, and your downs, and everything. You are with a community of people that support and love you. That is really hippie.

Megan Reed: No, that was great. That was great. My last question for you is what advice would you give other archeologists who want to try and take their research to promote it as part of a social activism?

Dr. Christopher Barton: All right. So what I would say is I think the future of archeology needs to be is two things. This is a conversation that Paulette Steven has it right now in her amazing book, but we need to decolonize archeology, and we need to democratize. We need to push away from the pyramid structure where, the archeologist, is at the very top and then students are seen as labor. Community members are seen as somehow on the outside. We need to look this much more like very broad concentric circles that are constantly overlapping.

I mentioned earlier about how I'm not from South Carolina. When we discuss sites and we try to select sites for excavations, my students are part of it. My students have a unique knowledge of what it means to be from the Pee Dee, of the history of it. They have extended social networks. Don't look at students just as labor, right? Students are your collaborator. They have unique insights.

What I would suggest for somebody thinking about doing this, in terms of looking at social activism is never think that you're limiting yourself. If you're just going out and writing a site report, and you're talking... You might add a word that you never put in before. You might be talking about... For instance, I'm talking in another book about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and I struggled over how to actually discuss that. How do you discuss that relationship? Eventually, I turned and used the word rape. Coming from my background and all the cultural baggage I bring, and it was a struggle for me to do that. Changing one word. Is that necessarily a form of a social activism? Well, probably not for most people. It's not radical, but the idea within my mindset, it took me a little bit out of that comfort zone, and then kind of progressed through it.

So again, what I would say is never think of this type of social activism that's just so radical. It's something that can be implemented in any site report. It can be implemented in any scholarly presentation. But the idea is that we need to understand, and to steal a line from Stan Lee here, but with great power comes with great responsibility, and we have tremendous power in our society, and we need to use that to promote good.

Megan Reed: That's great. Thank you so much for joining us and being a part of our podcast.

Dr. Christopher Barton: Thank you so much for having me.

Megan Reed talks with Dr. Christopher Barton about practicing activism through archaeology.

136. Preserving and Sharing the Story of Women's Suffrage


Jason Church: This is Jason Church, Materials Conservator at NCPTT, and today, I'm talking with Joanne Westbrook. So what is your official title and position? This is for my own knowledge, actually. How is the Park Service tied to the National Women's Party?

Joanne Westbrook: So my name is Joanne Westbrook, and I work for the National Park Service. I am one of the museum curators for the National Mall and Memorial Park. It is a rather large park, with more than 32 individual sites and reservations across the District of Columbia. So we've got a pretty big reach, and my specific responsibilities are working with Ford's Theater National Historic Site, and the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument.

And the relationship with the Park Service and the NWP, the National Women's Party, goes back to the 1970s. So the National Women's Party have their final headquarters on Second Street, right across from what is now the Supreme Court. It wasn't there originally when they bought the house. And in the 1960s, it came under threat from development for the Hart Office Building, which is right next door now. And there was a large outcry from the Washington, DC community to protect the house, not only because of the work of the NWP and their contribution to women's suffrage and then women's rights throughout the 20th century, but also because it is one of the oldest standing buildings in Washington today.

So a lot of preservation support came out, and they were able to successfully lobby Congress to not take the main building. There were some other buildings next door that NWP owned that were demolished, unfortunately. But the main house, what used to be known as this Little Belmont House, is still standing.

In the 1970s, the National Women's Party wanted to take this a step further, to make sure they wouldn't have to have this discussion and this public outcry to help them again. And so in the 1970s, they were successful in getting the house listed both on the National Register and as a national historic landmark, and they were able to successfully lobby Congress to create a partnership agreement with Department of the Interior, through the National Park Service, who helped them maintain the grounds and the collection.

And then in 2016, President Obama issued an order to make the site a National Monument, so the National Park Service was given the house, and the National Women's Party was allowed to continue to use it as their headquarters and maintain the collections on-site. So we have been close partners for over four decades now.

Jason Church: Well, you brought it up, so let's talk about your amazing collection. There are other sites with also amazing collections, but in my mind, yours really stands out with your amount of textiles.

Joanne Westbrook: Yeah, absolutely. So the National Women's Party has actually been collecting since the 19-teens, when they were lobbying Congress for the right, for women's suffrage. And luckily, we had some women in the party who were very forward-thinking and knew that this was going to be an important organization and important work to commemorate for the future. So they began collecting a lot of two-dimensional objects, the archives, things like that. Some of them, they donated to the Library of Congress in the 1920s. And as you said, we have an incredible collection of textiles that they used in their marches, in their protests. Everything from the iconic tricolor banners that they carried on their banner poles to banners made in honor of different women, banners that were carried by different groups of professional workers, artists, women in the federal government, banners carried by state contingents who came in to lobby for women's suffrage.

So it's really incredible, and the collections also have quite a bit of other material related to the work of the NWP, so we have a lot of the printing blocks that were used to create their publications, first with the Suffragists and then with equal rights. We also have quite a bit of furniture that the NWP used, from the teens down into the 1990s, when they were still lobbying for women's rights and hosting different events and different people from Congress, all sorts of movers and shakers in the city of Washington, DC. So it's a fantastic collection.

Jason Church: So is the National Women's Party still collecting banners and protest material?

Joanne Westbrook: So the National Women's Party actually ceased their lobbying efforts in 1997 and became a 501(c)(3) organization focused really on education about their work and about the continued need for work for women's equality in the United States and around the world. So they're not collecting as heavily as they used to. However, they did collect a little bit around the Women's March back in 2017.

Jason Church: So if someone comes to visit the collection, what would they expect to see?

Joanne Westbrook: The collections that are on site normally and available for visitors to see include scrapbooks that were created by some of the founding members. There are a lot of bold materials, so some of their publications, a lot of the pamphlets they were handing out in their campaign for women's suffrage. We also have some really neat commemorative pieces that they would do as well, little ceramic figurines. We've got a makeup container branded with Logan for women's suffrage. We've got sashes of course. We also have, what I think are really cool are three pieces of textile that were stolen by one of the women who were arrested when they were being held in the workhouse. It's some really iconic, really important pieces talking about the work at the NWP and what it took to have this successful campaign for women's suffrage.

Jason Church: So we talked about these textiles, which are now 100+ years old. What is it like to store and conserve all of these variety of materials? I know a lot of them are satin. What is that like for you?

Joanne Westbrook: So I love textiles and I also hate textiles from a preservation standpoint. So I do have some conservation training early in my grad school career before I realized that I wanted to work with collections on more of a holistic level. So my lens in viewing collections is always from that preservation standpoint and textiles present very unique challenges, especially I think the textiles of the National Women's Party present even more unique challenges because many times when the women were putting together these textiles that were part of their marches and their protests, so it's costumes that they had in tableaus; there are tabards that they would wear over their clothing. They weren't making them like they would make their own clothing, like they would make textiles that they knew would be used many times and needed to have a long life.

So textiles are very fragile normally, light damages them and you can't undo it. It all adds up through the lifetime of an object. If they're dirty, the dirt can also damage them more when they're in storage. And we see that a lot with women's party textiles because as you can imagine, they were wearing these marching through the streets even when they were getting arrested. And so we find there's been a lot of wear and tear on these textiles and that ages them and makes them a little more vulnerable to the agents of decay. So part of how we deal with these challenges is we try and store them properly as much as we can.

We, with all the banners, we roll them in, you get a tube and muslin and you wrap it and make sure that it's protected from light and other pollutants as you can. For as many of them as we can, we keep them in the Park Service’s Museum Resource Center, which is a 53,000 square foot climate controlled facility out in the suburbs of Washington DC to help prolong their life. We try and keep the textiles on a rotation when they're on exhibit. So if you go to the site in one of the rooms, you can see a cap and a cape, and we rotate that out every few months to try and limit the damage that we can. And we're actually really excited. We're looking to have a collection condition survey done this fall to have some expert conservators come in and kind of look at the collections and give us an update on our priorities for the second century of stewardship.

Jason Church: So as a curator, what is your favorite object in the collection?

Joanne Westbrook: Oh my gosh, that's so hard. That's like being asked about your favorite child.

Jason Church: We won't tell the other objects what you choose.

Joanne Westbrook: I appreciate that. Oh my gosh, that's so difficult. I'm new to working with the Women's Party with their collection. Previously I had been at the Museum Resource Center working with the collections of other parks in the region. So I'm still learning about the collection. And honestly, the banners are great. The banners are iconic, but it's some of the printing blocks, and I know that sounds really weird, but it's a plate of metal. It's a wooden block. But I'm more concerned about the work of history, how these organizations did the work that they did to create a change in our country. And so for me, the printing blocks are really emblematic of that because so much of the work of the Women's Party was constantly pushing out their own publications. So not only the Suffragist and Equal Rights, but their pamphlet, their broadsides, educating the American people about why this was so necessary for women, this way to become more equal with men and this fundamental right for them to have.

And it was so impactful and so influential and it really turned the tide in suffrage and the American people's perspective on women's suffrage and how essential it was for them to get this right. And so I love these printing blocks and just thinking about the number of hands that held it and the purpose they put it towards and how it was one of their fundamental ways to reach the American public and really change the tide on women's suffrage in America. And we do in fact have the printing blocks that they used for the program that they handed out for that first march in 1913. And we were just working with that the other day. And I think that's why it's foremost in my mind.

Jason Church: And you have the printed material that matches all the printing blocks?

Joanne Westbrook: I think we do, between what the Women's Party is still managing today and then also what they had given to the Library of Congress I'm pretty sure. No one has had the time to go through the printing blocks and start matching up the publications and how the images were used, but it's a future project that I'm already starting to plan out in my head to work with the Women's Party on getting all those things matched up.

Jason Church: That would be a fantastic project.

Joanne Westbrook: Absolutely. And I think the printing blocks are also a really cool way for our interpreters to have some hands-on activities with the kids. Because with museum collections, a lot of times they're behind glass, they're kind of remote, especially some of the printing blocks that have raised metal designs. So the Nina Allender cartoons, we have a lot of those. We could make those 3D printed and then that could be an activity that our interpreters have with students on teaching them this is how the work gets done, this is how you do the work of progressive action and activism and draw parallel with some of the things that are going on today and have them stamp and make their own publications, which I think would be really cool.

Jason Church: And that would be a really cool project. So does the museum and the collection loan out pieces, and if so, what are some of the more requested pieces from the collection?

Joanne Westbrook: The National Women's Party, I think has between six and eight loans right now. As you can imagine, it's a of climate increased attention. So right now we've got loans with the Brandywine River Museum, with the Library of Congress, with the National Archive, Virginia Historical Society, the Library of Virginia. The Skirball Cultural Center has actually borrowed two pins to do a really exceptional exhibit on Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and that's a traveling exhibit that will be coming around the country over the next year and a half or so. So yes, we do loan objects out. It's always really important museum collections, not only that we preserve them, but allow them to be used for the benefit of the American public and to educate those folks who can't come into the house. Not everybody who wants to come into the house can come into the house, just because it is a small historic site.

Not everybody can travel to Washington DC. So it's really important for the NWP and the NPS to make these collections more available to the entire country and even folks around the world. Some of the most requested things are the banners. They're beautiful, they're iconic. It's what people really think of when they think of the Suffragist marching, the Silent Sentinels and the work of the NWP in the 19 teens to advocate for women's suffrage. We also frequently have requests for some of the membership buttons and some of the other historic memorabilia that's associated with the NWP and their struggle for suffrage. But of course, much of the most prominent historic memorabilia is already on display at site. And so we really like to keep it at the site as part of our exhibits. And because they are such important talking points for our rangers who interpret the site. It's an incredible collection.

It's been created and curated by women for its entire history and by the organization that created it. And again, it's just a fabulous collection of some of the work that the Women's Party was doing.

And of course, it's not the only story when talking about women's suffrage. It shouldn't be the only story since this was just one organization that was working towards suffrage. And we do have issues with the legacy of the NWP and NAFA and their illusion of women of minority groups who are also trying to advocate for women's rights. Then of course, the split in order to get southern states to sign on to women's suffrage was often to exclude black women voters because there was still such degradation and resistance in the South. So it's not the full story, but I think it's an important story and it's one that I'm proud that the Park Service is hoping to preserve in perpetuity for the benefit of the American public.

Jason Church: Well, thank you, Joanne. We really appreciate you talking to us today, and we will definitely recommend all of our listeners to go look at your virtual exhibits.

Joanne Westbrook: That is our sincere hope too. And in the meantime, people have two avenues for accessing the collections online and the house itself. They can go to the official NPS website for Belmont Paul, and that's for Belmont Paul. Or they can find the National Woman's Party, And if you go online, you can find all of their collections have been made available. They've done a really fantastic job of getting their collections database online. So you can see an incredible amount of pictures and everything that tells the story of the historic work that the NWP has done. What we have today is only a small subset of what there was back in whatever period you're studying. And that's especially true with those banners because a lot of times the banners were ripped out of their hands, they were destroyed. So I am all the more grateful for the incredible collection banners that we have and their inspiring messages then, and I think a lot of them that are still applicable today.

Jason Church: Absolutely. Thank you, Joanne.

Joanne Westbrook: Absolutely.

Jason Church talks with Joanne Westbrook about preserving and presenting the National Women's Party collections at the Belmont-Paul House.

"...the National Women's Party has actually been collecting since the 19-teens, when they were lobbying Congress for the right, for women's suffrage. And luckily, we had some women in the party who were very forward-thinking and knew that this was going to be an important organization and important work to commemorate for the future..."

135. Pursuing a Career in Preservation Horticulture


Catherine Cooper: Hello, my name is Catherine Cooper. I am here with...

Erin Fogarty: Erin Fogarty, the Conservation and Historic Gardens Horticulturist at the Gardens at Elm Bank in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for joining us today. Could you talk about how you decided to combine horticulture and conservation?

Erin Fogarty: So, I want to preface it by saying that I grew up in an area with a lot of public gardens. My childhood home was more or less 15 minutes from Winterthur, Longwood, Hagley, the cream of the crop of historic gardens. So I had a lot of exposure to historic public gardens and horticulture from a really, really young age. I've always liked being outside. I've always liked history, especially in regard to architecture. And when I was looking at grads, I was given the opportunity by Dr. Jules Brook, a professor who later became my advisor that I really loved working with, who said, "Hey, I have this historic garden called Gibraltar in Wilmington, Delaware that we'd like to do some historic preservation planning on.

Little did she know that this is a garden I went to when I was nine years old. And ever since then I've wanted to make it beautiful again. I think that landscapes are really, really fascinating. They're constantly changing. So unlike a period room or a historic building, to a lesser extent, you could spend all the time in the world maintaining a historic landscape or you could leave it completely alone, put a fence around it, never touch it, and you're still impacting what it looks like 10, 15, 20 years in the future, which is terrifying, but it's also such a cool opportunity.

Catherine Cooper: So what does preservation horticulture entail?

Erin Fogarty: Really it depends on who you ask. It's in some ways a really old field. We have conservation of historic landscapes going back to the Ladies Mount Vernon Association in the 1860s, but as a data backed and records backed kind of systemic discipline, it's really new. For me it kind of has a similar vibe to translating literature. So you take every single thing you know about a garden or a piece of art or whatever, but also social context in which it was created. A lot of the landscapes that I've worked on were developed in a time before the estate and capital gains tax, which does really, really impact what people were doing and how they were doing it. And use all of that in combination with knowledge of what it's like right now. So how many people are there to take care of it? Is it open to the public? What's its environmental vibe? And use all of that to restore it in a way that honors that original vision, while also making sense for both its current environmental situation and also to the people who will be using it and interacting with it.

So, something that I always end up having to do is adjusting plantings for changing shade conditions. So they plant trees, they want them to be little, the trees were left alone, now they're 60 feet tall. That changes what you can do there. That has happened to me before. Transitioning from it just being a garden in someone's backyard to a garden that is now visited by the public, tens of thousands of people per year; knowing if the owner had access to a greenhouse that would impact what plants they could put in, things like that. Basically finding out what made it special when it was created, and finding a way to convey that specialness. And on the day today, it's a lot of just being covered in dirt.

Catherine Cooper: Congratulations on your new position with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Could you tell us about your current project for them?

Erin Fogarty: Yeah, so Massachusetts Horticultural Society is a public garden in an old Estate in Wellesley. So about half an hour outside of Boston, give or take. And the garden was designed in 1916 by Percy Gallagher. He worked for Olmsted Brothers Firm and it was designed for Alice Cheney Baltzell, whose father had a major role in the founding of both American Express and Wells Fargo. So what we’re talking about is like unlimited money. [Olmsted Brothers] designed a bunch of gardens, but one of the gardens they designed was a kind of Asian inspired water garden. So it’s an Asian Japanese garden made by a white guy who’d never really been to Japan, if that makes sense. But it’s a time period where everyone was really, really interested in that style of design. Elm Bank was not really gardened for about 70 years from 1938 to 1996, in which time that this Asian garden was not managed and all these plants which were brought over and kind of introduced to American gardens from Japan, many of them did so well in the area that they’re now invasive plants.

So right now, my job is to rehabilitate this water garden in a way that, again, honors the original design while making sense for us right now. It’s a super cool design. It’s basically a kidney shaped pond with a bridge in the center modeled after the Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko, Japan. If you’ve seen that Japanese red bridge, that’s what it looks like surrounded by really dense, overflowing beds of mostly woody perennials that continue in a curated woodland for about a little bit over an acre. And I’m holding off because the main things that define the project are its challenges, which I know you’re going to ask about in a second.

Catherine Cooper: Feel free to go right into the challenges.

Erin Fogarty: Okay. So there are three major challenges. The least challenging thing is that we don’t really have any pictures of the site. The woman who commissioned it, Alice, was really, really private, like so private that the only photos we have of the garden were those that were taken by force when the garden won a Massachusetts Horticultural Society award. So, an award for garden design in the 1930s. As part of winning the award, the garden had to be written about [and photographed] in a landscape magazine. So we have those, but those are mostly detail shots. So there’s nothing really showing the whole garden. And I have plant lists, I have blueline drawings, but it’s really difficult from the shots we have to tell what in that design was and was not implemented. But that’s not a huge deal. I have the designs, I know what they meant to put there.

The second most challenging thing is our site. So,the garden is located within a protected wetland area associated with the Charles River. And because of that, any decision we make will have the potential to impact someone’s garden 10-15 miles downriver. We are working with a local Conservation Commission, and, we file permits and they give us permits to tell us what we can and can’t do with the site. So right now what I am allowed to do is I can use any mechanical means, any physical means of removal I want. I can’t use any chemicals, I can’t use any stump treatments, which again considers that we’re so close to the water. And the river does have a really, really big impact on the people of who live here in eastern Massachusetts; it’s great, but being that close to the river does lend its challenges.

And we also have a really, really significant population of invasive species. So the site after Alice Cheney died in 1938, there was a minors seminary, so like a seminary but for children who used the site until 1971 and they practiced what’s known as mow and blow maintenance. So they would mow the grass, they would blow out the leaves, leave everything else alone. Then it was a tech school for a couple of decades until Massachusetts Horticultural Society took it over in 1996. And again, when the tech school was there, they didn't really do much in terms of maintenance of this area, especially because it's kind of out of the way of the main drag of the estate. So we have a ton of invasive species that were allowed to grow functionally unchecked for 60 or 70 years. What that means is that there's a lot of cutting, there's a lot of sawing.

There is a lot to do to just peel back the layers and find out what the physical boundaries and any physical features of the site would be. So there's stuff growing over that flagstone path that I mentioned earlier, which allegedly the flagstones were taken from the restoration of Independence Hall in Philadelphia in the early 19 teens. I'm not sure if I believe that or not, but there's some big species everywhere. Our main issues are. Glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) and Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) round-leafed bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), things like that. All but the bittersweet were introduced to the site intentionally as part of the original design. Which is cool. I mean, it's an interesting story to tell about how horticulture has changed, but trying to dig out the site from the growth has been a lot.

Catherine Cooper: What are your goals for the completion of the project?

Erin Fogarty: We are aiming for a really slow, really conscious rehabilitation. The traditional way things like this have been practiced are you pay an architectural firm six figures, they come in, they do a big plan for the site, and then you drop another six or seven figures in an all-in-one restoration where you take everything out and then you put new stuff back in. But the view we're taking is kind of gardening the garden back to life. So what that means is that we are just gardening it and making slow but meaningful steps towards turning it back into something, which allows us to use the area for education. So for training people in landscape remediation, landscape history, environmental stewardships, and it also allows us to find cool stuff that would've been lost if we were to rip everything out all in one go.

I found some mountain laurel and some snowball bushes that were covered by bittersweet for God how many years, and that granularity is really, really cool to be able to do. And also being able to get people out there, get them into the woods. It's a really once in a lifetime project, it's really cool. I want to retain the original feel of the design while adjusting for where it is now. Right now I am data gathering for the 198 species in the original design. So that means finding original descriptions in catalogs from the 1920s. That means figuring out where all the species are from, what kind of light conditions they like, both to figure out what that original design felt like and to propose potential replacements.

Catherine Cooper: Are you allowed to use invasive plants in remediation of a design?

Erin Fogarty: I don't think that the Conservation Commission would allow us to do that. Also, just because of the wet nature of the soil, it would be a bad scene. That's not to say we're dead set on using only native species. Because of the nature of the site, there are some native species that are really, really aggressive. I know I talk about dealing with bittersweet and buckthorn all the time, but one of our biggest tests have been native grapevines. Just trying to pull these huge, huge vines out of the canopies of trees. They're native, but that doesn't mean they're right for what is there. We'll probably end up using non-native species, but we most likely will not use any invasive species. That's not to say we'll be getting rid of some of our larger specimens of things like Norway maple (Acer platanoides). Those might stay, but I don't anticipate introducing any more invasives to the site.

Catherine Cooper: So how do you make recommendations for replacements in a plan like this?

Erin Fogarty: It all just depends on what each individual plant contributed to the landscape. What function it was playing, both ecologically and aesthetically. So I'll usually look at when it flowered or when it looked its best, which usually means flowering, but could be in foliage color and what textures and what colors it would be bringing to the landscape at that point in time. And finding something that would mimic that as well as it could for the site while not also causing an issue. How do you replace something like English ivy, which has something that non-invasives don't always have. Texture that was used as a ground cover that has the waxy leaves that's really, really low. How do you find something that has all of those things that won't stick out in the design but will also not be super aggressive and not climb up the trees?

Catherine Cooper: So what would you recommend for others who want to get involved in horticultural or landscape preservation?

Erin Fogarty: Truly the number one recommendation is to get out there and find a garden, and garden. You can find local historic landscapes through the Garden Conservancy. They're a really popular group that assists in preserving and transitioning private landscapes to public landscapes. You can also go on a website called Garden Visit to look for landscapes in your area. So find a landscape, find one that speaks to you, and start finding out how you can volunteer. That's the best way to learn and to understand landscapes is to actually spend a lot of time there working the land, engaging with it, learning its little quirks. There's a reason that if you're at a landscape for less than a year, you don't really know it. Your first year working at any landscape is just figuring it out. It doesn’t require a lot of skill and the gardeners would totally be thrilled to have you help out. I know I would. If you're in the Boston area, come hang out with us at Elm Bank.

You could also start studying the history of your area. One of the things that's really popular and that I like to do is in spring, go into the woods and go daffodil hunting. If you find daffodils in the middle of the woods, you're likely to find an old house foundation or an old sidewalk or a street. They're a pretty good indicator. So just learning the history of your area. But in terms of stuff you can do from home, looking at pictures and documents in the Smithsonian Archive of American Gardens, a lot of which is digitized for gardens that you might be interested in gardens in your area.

There are some good books by a person named Robyn Karson that you can check out at your local library that are a cool read if you're interested in historic landscapes from a historical design standpoint. If you're looking at colleges, looking at grad school levels, look at historic preservation programs. I'll always... University of Delaware's historic preservation certificate program. You're in an area with a lot of historic gardens, take a visit to Philadelphia so you can check out some historic landscapes, things like that. Number one recommendation is to just garden. That's the best way you can learn about plants, how they were used, is just to spend time outside.

Visit Elm Bank. Visit Gibraltar in Wilmington, Delaware if you have the chance. Gardens are cool. I mean spend time outside. A lot of people tend to overlook historic gardens as something for older people or something pretty traditionalist. But there's some really, really, really cool stuff happening in terms of historic landscape preservation across America right now. Check out places like Bartram's Garden, if you can. You're in the area. It's awesome.

Catherine Cooper: So if someone wanted to visit Elm Bank, are there particular hours or email in advance?

Erin Fogarty: We're open 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM or 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM depending on the day from April 1st through the end of October. We're also open at the Christmastime for a lights thing. But if you were to go on the website and sign up for the volunteer list, you would get emails when we are working in the water garden, and that is something that happens year round. You can find me on Instagram at @Old.Plants, I'm trying to put more of the gardening stuff on there. Also follow Massachusetts Horticultural Society at @Masshort, and that way you can keep on top of all the relay really cool stuff we're working on.

Catherine Cooper: Wonderful. Thank you so much for speaking with us and taking the time.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Erin Fogarty about starting a career in preservation horticulture and her current project at Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

134. Increasing Access to Primary Materials through Digital Portals


Catherine Cooper: My name's Catherine Cooper. I am here with...

Jake Mangum: Jake Mangum. I'm the project development librarian for the Portal to Texas History.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for joining us today.

Jake Mangum: Absolutely. I'm happy to be here.

Catherine Cooper: I'm wondering if you could tell us what the Portal to Texas History is and how you got involved?

Jake Mangum: Certainly. So, the Portal to Texas History is a digital repository for cultural heritage and historic materials from across the state of Texas. We've worked with about 465-ish partners to digitize and make freely available over 1.8 million items. That includes over 800,000 issues of newspapers, 450,000 photographs. We have 80,000 maps, we've got legislative documents, we've got books. We've got journals. Basically we've got 36 different media types all available on the Portal to Texas History. Again, all of our print materials are full text searchable. So if someone is looking for a specific name or a specific event, they can type that in and it'll pull up all the print instances we have of that.

I got involved with the Portal kind of by accident. I was a graduate assistant here in the library, finishing up my Master's in Library Science, and I happened to be at an event the same time that my current boss was at the event. And we were talking, she said, "You're in the library, I'm in the library, so we should sit together and talk a little bit." So we did. And she mentioned that she had a position open, and if you're wanting a position in an academic library, you take every opportunity and apply. If you're being told about it, you apply. So I applied and it turned out that it worked perfectly because the position that I'm in, I act as a liaison between the digitization lab and partnering institutions. My areas of specialties in library science school were academic libraries as well as digital imaging and archiving, so I was able to bridge those two different areas together in this position.

The Portal to Texas History, like I mentioned, has 36 different media types currently available on it. As well as we've been working on a project called Texas History for Teachers, in which we've worked with a historian here in the university, some Texas history teachers to create course curriculum based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards, that the fourth and seventh grade... Well every grade has to teach to specific standards within the state. And fourth and seventh grade specifically deal with Texas history, so we are focusing on creating course units for those grades in particular starting with seventh grade.

And one of the cool things that we're doing with that is we actually have been able to do work with a camera system called Matterport, which allows us to do virtual field trips to museums with historical significance that touch on, like the TEKS . So we're able to take students and do a field trip when typically like you're not going to be able to go to Goliad. Those aren't the field trips that schools tend to send students on. So you can at least get a better understanding of what the museum looks like and what the area looks like through these Matterport virtual field trips. The Portal to Texas History, is at Whereas the Texas History for teachers is

So, we just added an education dot in front of the website address and that is still a work in progress. We initially did some materials for it several years ago, and as learning standards changed, things got quickly out of date. And so now it was a 2020 project that is turned into a really great long-term substantial project.

It probably wouldn't come as any sort of real big surprise to know that probably a third of our users are genealogists. Since we do have such a large collection of newspapers, like I said, over 800,000 issues of newspapers. There's a lot that can be gathered there. Genealogists, teachers, students, historians of all different levels and expertise can access it. So those are the main groups. My position, I don't typically interact with them a whole lot directly unless they're having issues or concerns and sometimes they will contact me and ask for guidance and assistance through their searches.

What I really want to see the Portal do and be able to accomplish is to continue to expand the understanding of what Texas history is. Right now, my goal is to tell the stories of underrepresented communities within Texas. So typically history tends to be told by the older white men and there are a lot of other voices that need to be shared as well to fully understand what the story of Texas is. There are a couple of different ways that we are pursuing adding those materials to the Portal. One, we recognize that a lot of history has not really been preserved properly through the official institutions that are responsible for preserving everyone's history. They haven't really preserved everyone's histories, so the communities have had to find other ways of preserving their own history. So it's materials that are in churches, materials that are in families passed down from family member to family member. And one of the ways that we've worked with this to reach those different groups that wouldn't necessarily have funding to do a digitization project is we have a project called Rescuing Texas History in which we offer up to a thousand dollars’ worth of digitization, metadata creation, and hosting of materials on the portal for board applicants. And we've specifically in the last few years, made it a point to target those groups that have been disenfranchised, basically, in the past. So we're actively seeking those out and trying to reach out to those communities. My email is Jacob (J-A-C-O-B) dot Mangum (M-A-N-G-U-M) And if you go to and scroll down, there's also a section called Rescuing Texas History. I think we got it covered with everything.

Catherine Cooper: Yeah, I'm sliding other questions in here. Okay.

Jake Mangum: Yeah, it was perfect.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for joining us.

Jake Mangum: Absolutely, absolutely. I'm happy to do it. It was really good seeing you again.

Catherine Cooper: Good to see you too.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Jake Mangum about working on the Portal to Texas History.

133. Analyzing Art Materials Used by Franz Kline


Catherine Cooper: Hello, my name is Catherine Cooper. I am here with- Cory Rogge: Dr. Corina Rogge or Cory Rogge. I'm the Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Menil Collection. Catherine Cooper: Thank you for joining us. Cory Rogge: Pleasure. Catherine Cooper: Could you talk a bit about Franz Kline and why his art is so important? Cory Rogge: So Franz Kline, who was born in 1910 and passed away in 1962, was one of what's often known as the big three of abstract expressionist artists. So he was considered on par with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and yet when you go to the literature and look at him, there's not very much written about him. So while you might walk into a gallery, a museum and see his art, there's not really a lot known about him. And so we saw him as important both for the reason that his art's hanging on walls and should be studied. It hasn't yet been studied, but also to try to bring his name back into the fold, to have him be recognized as an artist on par with these artists and others of his time, like Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston. We started the book with the nucleus of our own collection here at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, where we have four paintings and an ink sketch on paper by Kline. And as we began looking at artworks, we realized that they were all different. They were all aging differently. They were all made with similar materials, but he was using them in different ways. And we decided that we just couldn't understand our own works without extrapolating, without going to other works. And our works were from what we would consider his mature periods. So from 1950 to 1961 is our latest. And yet how did his early training impact how he was working later on? And so we began reaching out to other institutions who held works by Kline in their collections. And that included the National Gallery of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Harvard Art Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, and asking if we could come visit and look at them. And what was really amazing was that even though some of these museums have conservation scientists on staff like myself, not all of them do. And even the ones that did, they're overworked. They don't have enough time and bandwidth to look at or do all of the work that's requested of them themselves. And so we were met basically with open arms where these institutions came to us and said, "Look, take the samples you want, do the analysis you want. Tell us what you find, but please take this opportunity to help the field, to help us and to help yourself." So it was really gracious and welcoming. And then at The Metropolitan Museum of Art where we were looking at more paintings by Kline, they had a greater concentration, including some of his early works from the 1930s and 1940s. Their scientists were actually able to work with us, and so they did the sampling and collected the data, and then we collaboratively analyzed it together and it really created a richer experience because we were finding things in Kline's works that we didn't understand and just the ability to talk that over with a colleague, "I'm seeing this. What are you seeing? Are we crazy? Is this an artifact," really deepened the research and led to new avenues of research and new findings that went up beyond Kline himself. It was a really wonderful chance we got to visit all these institutions. We got to make new friends out of people that we had only maybe known slightly before. It was great. And that's the wonder of conservation and conservation science, which is that we're kind of all in there for the objects and it's just a very collaborative and welcoming community. It's easy to write an article about maybe one artwork or two, and I've written papers on things that have hundreds of samples, but here we were telling not only a story about his materials, but his materials through time, and then also trying to contextualize him in his time period. So how he worked compared to his friends and colleagues who were also working in New York at the time. Then also in doing this research, we realized that there were so many myths surrounding the abstract expressionists. Everybody thinks that they worked like the famous Han Namath movie of Jackson Pollock, which makes it look like he's just kind of almost randomly applying paint to a canvas. And so there was this idea that abstract artists encounter a canvas and painting is all action. It's all un-premeditated, and that leads the public to the idea that this is slap dash. This is easy, that it's something a child could do. And what we were seeing in Kline's work was so antithetical to that idea. His works were carefully planned out. He did do sketches and he worked from them. He very carefully considered his composition, and that's what gives his word a striking power that they have when you look at them in the galleries. Most of them are black and white. Most of them involve brushstroke lines, but they are so carefully composed that there's tension and balance and it's really difficult to do something that way. And so all of these things combined, the science, the art history, the contextualization, the myth busting meant that it was just too big for a research paper. And we really felt that to give him and our findings their due, we needed to make it into a book. One of the things that we were struck most about with Kline's works are the variety of condition issues that they have. So they can vary from the very simple, like his early paintings were largely small, but he moved a lot. So he moved studio to studio to studio. As he kept getting evicted, they'd tear down the place he was living, and that resulted in just sheer physical dents and dings to his artwork. So we've seen some of that. Later on in his works, he begins using a lot of zinc white paint, and a lot of artists still do, and a lot of artists his contemporaries did. So it's very common. But the problem with zinc white paints is that the zinc in the pigment can react with the oil binder and make what are known as fatty acids. So zinc bound to a fatty acid from the oil. And this is in some ways good. Metals can promote drying of oils, give you a nice film. But these soaps can also migrate through the paint layers and then form laminar layers in between different colors of paint layers, or they can conglomerate into little almost ovoid or spherical pustules. It's kind of a painting acne and lead paints do this as well, and zinc soaps in particular then if they are forming little pustules, they can spall the surface paints off. If they are forming laminates, these flat plainer films, they can cause paint layers to split apart so that you'll lose the upper paint layers and leave only the bottom most paint layers behind. And they also make paint films more brittle. So paint we think of when it's dried as being hard, but it actually is a little bit plastic. It can respond to mechanical changes to dimensional changes of the canvas or to the panel support caused by temperature and relative humidity. But if the paint film becomes too brittle and it can't do that, it just cracks. So we have zinc soap problems in Kline's paintings. And to be fair, not all zinc soaps are bad. So it's the films and the pustules that are bad. But zinc soaps that are just kind of hanging out there mixed in with the paint layer themselves can be perfectly fine. So we have a painting, Corinthian II, which has zinc soaps, but they're dispersed throughout the paint film and it's in perfect condition. But we have other paintings where we're getting these films and then that's causing issues because we're losing flakes of paint. But then there are other problems like Kline used in some cases, paints that were under bound that have too much pigment relative to media, and that produces a paint film that's very coarse and brittle. It's almost like sand. It just wants to fall apart, and that's not very good for it. So most of the time when he kind of knew what he was doing when he painted let's say straightforwardly, his paintings are thin for the most part. They don't have very many paint layers, but we have a painting where there are 17 paint layers because he kept struggling to get his idea across. And the weight of that paint film on the canvas causes mechanical issues. So there's this whole diversity of problems that potentially face people that have Kline paintings. And it's only really by looking at them closely evaluating whether they have multiple paint layers, perhaps taking cross-sections, looking for multiple paint layers, looking for these under bound paint layers, doing analysis to see whether you have zinc soaps and what kind they are that you'll know what's happening. And in terms of research, I think for everybody across the board who deals with these modern paintings, we'd like to know why the zinc soaps behave differently. We don't understand the driving force behind their movement within the paint films. And so that's a big issue. If we could figure out why they were moving in certain cases and not in others, we might be able to stop it and help paintings stay in the kind of okay state of having zinc soaps. The book response, it's gone out into the world, it's still new and young, and you can read reviews of it on Amazon where some people are like, "This is the most important book about Kline ever written, and that makes us feel good." And other reviews that are like, "Well, if you want pictures, don't buy this book." Well, we have pictures. They're just small because it's a modest sized book. This isn't a catalog from a gallery show. But I think that in general, it's really informing museums and all the private owners who own Kline's work on how to think about them going forward. And hopefully it will also in the future change the art historical scholarships surrounding him. So we're pleased with it. The individuals who are specialists in the field of abstract expressionism seem to have welcomed it, so it's good. And in terms of research going forward, we looked at a very small fraction of Kline's works. There's obviously a lot more to be done. What's really fun right now is that coming out of the book, we were contacted by a gallery who had one of Kline's easels that he used in his studio, and it's got paint all over it. And so we actually purchased it for a relatively modest price and are starting to look at the paint on the easel. And then Kline's second partner's son contacted us, said, "Hey, I actually have one of Kline's palettes." And he mixed his paints flat on a table and would use paperboard as a palette. And he asked if we would like it, and we of course said yes, and he very kindly donated it to the museum. And it's covered with colored paints. So now we have paints on the palette, paints on the easel, and paints on the painting, and we're trying to coordinate. And the palette's marvelous. It's got huge globs of paint, like he just squirted paint out of a tube, was going to use it, walked away for the night and then just never came back. It's a very human object in that way. We don't know when he purchased the easel. It occurs in photographs from the late 1950s. So we expect he was using it then. And in fact, in some photographs, you can actually see the easel in his studio and behind it, leaning against the wall is one of the paintings in our collection, which is fun. And then the palette was probably towards the end of his life. He passed away in 1962 and had kind of had to stop painting because of health issues late in 1961, early 1962. Kline's marvelous. I joke that I've spent so many years with him that I've really grown to love him as a person, even though I've never met him. And if I could go back and have dinner with one historical figure, he'd be high on the list. He seems like he was a really good person, a person who helped others, who was good friends with the artists of his time. One of the few people that didn't have arguments with other people. He wasn't ego driven in the way that some artists are. And he loved cats. And my favorite painting of his is a painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the 1940s, and it's of his cat Kitzker. And the cat itself was a tuxedo cat, but the painting got these beautiful blues and magentas and purples in it. And to me it's just the cat poised, ready to go out, out of town over the roofs of New York out hunting, and it's just paused and is staring back at Kline. It's marvelous, and I hope that someday it will go on view for people to see. But there are photos of it in the book, so you can see it there. Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much, Cory. Cory Rogge: It's a pleasure.

Catherine Cooper talks with Cory Rogge about Franz Kline's art and examining the materials he used.

132. Stories of Colorado Women Serving in WWII


Catherine Cooper: Hello, my name is Catherine Cooper. I am here with...

Gail Beaton: Gail Beaton.

Catherine Cooper: So Gail, could you tell us what led you to deep dive into the history of Colorado women during World War II?

Gail Beaton: Well, I've always been fascinated with World War II and especially the Rosie the Riveter character, and then when I was a high school teacher, I wanted to present the home front to the students in a manner that would be very interesting to them. So I developed a character called Gail Murphy, who's a bullet maker in Denver during the war. One of our facilities here used to be a Remington arms plant, so I gave this presentation for years to my students, and then it kind of exploded on me and I started giving it to all sorts of organizations throughout the state. And one time in 2014, I was giving it to a 1940s Forever group, and a woman came up afterwards and said she loved the presentation, but I didn't say anything about the army nurses, and I said, "You're right. I concentrated more on the home front and just barely mentioned women in the military."

Didn't even say anything about the army nurses. So I said, "Were you an army nurse?" And she's like, "Well, yes, I was in France and Germany during the war," so I said, "Could I please interview you?" And she agreed, and after several hours I thought, “these stories have to be told.” I mean, there was so much I had no idea about that it was time for somebody to find out and tell the stories. So that's kind of how I got into it.

Catherine Cooper: Could you explain how you chose to create the umbrella of “Colorado” for Colorado women?

Gail Beaton: I was interviewing and finding more stories, I realized that there were women here in Colorado that maybe were from Tennessee and never touched base in Colorado until after the war, and I thought, "Well, their stories are going to be missed. A Tennessee historian probably isn't going to track them down in Colorado, so I need to include their stories too." So I kind of expanded into those who also were in Colorado perhaps after the war.

Catherine Cooper: How did you chase down all of these histories; how did you conduct the search?

Gail Beaton: A lot of it was done through the internet. Fortunately, many things are now digitized. Of course, I went to museums and archival collections throughout the state. There's oral history collections at the Library of Congress. The University of North Carolina has a wonderful one on women veterans. Of course, I looked at, it felt like all the books on the women in the Air Force, service pilots or defense plants, all the general books that one would expect. And then I found women through a number of different sources. One woman I interviewed that I'd met through a presentation actually was talking to a woman at her hairdresser and found out the woman was a cryptanalyst during the war. So there were all sorts of little avenues that I was able to make.

Of course, I did tons of reading between transcripts and newspaper articles, obituaries, the census records,, diaries, letters, so a lot of different sources were used. I chose the vignettes trying to show the breadth and depth of Colorado experiences. So I tried to get vignettes that were women from the eastern plains and the Western Slope as well as the front range. I tried to include Anglo women, Latinas, African American women, even a woman from Eastern Europe. So that was one reason to include the different vignettes, especially at the beginning of the book. I actually was able, I think, to make sure that I got all my favorite stories in there. Some of them, I had to push a little hard with the editor and the reviewers, but I managed to hold my line on that.

Catherine Cooper: You’ve organized the book by field of service; could you talk about how and why you chose that particular strategy?

Gail Beaton: It just seemed logical to me to split the women into the three major areas of their contributions, women in the military, and then on the defense plants and then in volunteer activities. In doing the military, a number of people said, "Just combine the Army Nurse Corps and the Navy Nurse Corps because they're military nurse corps," but they actually had very different experiences during the war, and so I wanted to split them out.

And then also it just seemed logical to me, I guess maybe I was thinking that the military women were so unusual. Let's start off with them. Then I organized them according to when that particular branch was organized. So the Army and Navy Nurse Corps were before World War II and then followed by the WAACs, which were the first ones with the Army Corps in 1942. Then I guess I chose the second most unusual, and that would be the defense plants. And then the third, the women on the home front was kind of typically women's work or women's jobs doing volunteer activities, whatever war it is or peace time, that seems to be something that women are especially told in to do is volunteer work. I also wanted to highlight a woman in each chapter so that the beginning of every chapter would highlight a woman and her experiences in that particular branch or volunteer activity and things like that. Again, trying to show the diversity of Colorado women and their experiences.

Catherine Cooper: Who do you hope reads the book and what would you like them to take away from it?

Gail Beaton: Obviously, I'd like everyone to read the book. I know that's not going to happen, but I think first and foremost, I would like that the children and grandchildren of this greatest generation read the book because I think it's very important for them to understand what women did during the war and their male relatives also. I put in the end of the introduction that when a person dies, it's as if a library burns, and I really feel that's true, and in writing the book, I interviewed a couple dozen women and a couple of men, and by the time I was done and the book was published, 10 of those had passed away. And then since then, two more have passed away. So I'm kind of down to three surviving women. This really saddens me, and so I hope that the children and the grandchildren would find out their parents or grandparents stories before they're gone, and then I'd like the younger generations to read it and kind of come away with two main ideas.

One is that women can meet any challenge. They just need to be given the chance and they need to grab the chance or force the opportunity. And secondly, I'd like them to know that Americans can set aside our differences economically, politically, social differences, and actually come together and do some pretty great things and accomplish a lot. So I think those are kind of my two main goals in it, and it's why I continue to do my Rosie character and do book talks and things because I think it's important. These women meant so much to me that I think it's important for their stories to be told. Rosie has changed so much, and I have gotten so many new things. First started out to be a 30 minute, "This is what bullet makers do and other women are doing other things," but now I can talk about the all-girl orchestra from Denver that traveled through the United States.

I can talk about women that were crop dusters during the war because the men aren't being crop dusters in Oklahoma. So it's made me so proud to know just the great things that women have done, and so many of these women that I interviewed became friends. My army nurse that kind of sparked this whole book just passed away in July at 100 years and one week, so I saw her two or three times a year until COVID, of course. And so they were always so humble. “We just did it.” “It wasn't a big deal.” “I'm proud of what I did, but it was just they asked us to serve, we served.” “They asked us to not go to school for the first two weeks of our senior year to pick skins off of peaches. We did it. We went back to school.” So it's made me very appreciative.

It's made me very proud. I think one thing that also really hit me is how much these women went through. We're sitting here in 10 degrees weather today, and I think of these women working on airplanes outside fixing the bomb mechanism and women who are washing their hair in a helmet out in Europe in the coldest winter in 1944 and 45. It amazes me, and I have to stop and think, "This is just amazing that these women did these things and I know their male counterparts went through the same thing also." Just the physical deprivations that they also went through as well. We also don't think about women with PTSD and things of that nature until we look at our recent female veterans, but the women I talked to went through a lot of that also and found that they couldn't talk to people about their war experiences, especially in the military.

Catherine Cooper: What would you recommend to people about trying to capture a bit more of these libraries before we lose them for the people in their lives?

Gail Beaton: I think if they would just ask them to maybe bring out the scrapbooks photographs, that generation has them. They're not on their phones, and that's what these women did for me. They brought out their yearbooks and their photographs and their medals and things like that, and let me pour over them and ask them questions. I think if you just get them talking, a lot of them will talk and they'll open up. Ideally, it would be wonderful if one could videotape it, but even to just have it on a recording and have that voice as it goes forward, I think as we lose our relatives, oftentimes we think, "Oh, if I just could hear their voice again," and so the women that I interviewed, I made a transcription, which was painful [transcribing is tedious work] of their oral interview, as well as DVDs to give to their families or to hold for themselves, and I think that's really valuable.

I could submit them to the Library of Congress's Veteran Oral History project. One of the gentlemen that I met in all of this regularly does that. He works up in Northern Colorado and he has gone to interview all sorts of male and female veterans for any war, and then he submits the DVD to the Library of Congress, so that would be something to do. I know a couple of the universities here also will accept those. I haven't asked the libraries, but I can't imagine that they wouldn't at least keep them in their archival things too.

Catherine Cooper: Absolutely. Gail, thank you so much for sharing all of this with us.

Gail Beaton: You're welcome.

NCPTT's Catherine Cooper speaks with Gail Beaton about her deep dive into collecting the stories of Colorado women who served both abroad and at home during WWII.

131. Telling Stories in Museums


Catherine Cooper: Hello, my name is Catherine Cooper. I am here with...

Adina Langer: Adina Langer.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for joining us today, Adina. You recently published a book called Storytelling in Museums. Could you talk about how or where storytelling is in museums in the public awareness and then also in the GLAM fields [galleries, libraries, archives, and museums]?

Adina Langer: I would say that storytelling as an approach within museums has really come of age within the past 20 years or so. Museums have undergone a kind of paradigm shift from being places that are primarily concerned with connoisseurship and preservation of the most exquisite artifacts of the human experience or the natural world to one where they are primarily about education and engagement and helping people to understand their place in the world and how connecting with the past can enable them to better experience the present, to make sense of their lives. And so museums have become sites of communication, and storytelling is at the heart of that process; and GLAM fields are all related to each other in this endeavor. When I think about what museums do and where stories are captured, where they are preserved, where they are interpreted, where people make connections across that spectrum in the GLAM fields, each one has kind of a different piece of that puzzle.

So if you think about archives as sites of gathering and preservation and accessibility, the key being to make what is within a repository available to those who are seeking it, to those who can benefit from those kinds of connections. Many museums have their own archives or book special collections, same with libraries. Really it's this preservation to interpretation kind of spectrum. And then if you are on that interpretation side of things, how do you select what you are going to focus your energy on as an institution, and where do you draw your inspiration and how do you serve your community? Story gathering, storytelling, has increasingly become central to, I would say, all of the GLAM fields in that way.

The book project has its origin story. I facilitated a session at the American Alliance of Museums conference in 2016. And the topic of that conference session was personal narratives in museums, so how museums use personal stories to then engage with these larger public narratives. And that came from my own experience as a curator and museum professional having recently transitioned, relatively recently from working at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City, which was engaged in a huge oral history effort and also the startup process to create its inaugural exhibition experience for the public. And I had transitioned into a role as a curator of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University, where we were also engaged in an oral history project. And we were in the process of beginning to emphasize the narratives from that first person testimony that we were gathering, really amplifying and emphasizing that in our exhibitions and public programs. And I wanted to engage more deeply with the ethics of that. Who were we as institutions to be excerpting to some extent from people's narratives in order to engage with these much larger historical topics, to serve diverse audiences, to serve this inter-generational kind of bridge purpose, the burden of collecting contemporary history to some extent, and even older history, when you have first person narratives available to you, the burden is to make sure you get that before you can't.

And I had seen that already at the 9/11 Memorial and some of the folks that we interviewed who had been responders, survivors, had passed since I had started there in 2006. And of course, in dealing with the World War II generation, we were really approaching the end of their natural lifespan. So that pressure was on us. And then what do you do then? What is your fiduciary responsibility as an institution, as an educator in both being the memory carrier now for these people who chose to share their stories with you? And then also understanding what the next generation doesn't know, what purpose bringing in diverse narratives can have in helping them understand the past. So I didn't want it to just be me. I actually reached out back then to history Twitter or museum Twitter, which was very robust back in 2015, 2016, and found some wonderful folks to be part of that original panel. Margaret Middleton, who is an independent designer and increasingly a scholar of the LGBTQ+ experience, and especially in museums and in public history.

I had contacts from the Tenement Museum, from the 9/11 Museum, and I found wonderfully through Twitter a contact in Australia who had managed multiple museums that were dealing with World War I memory and the integration of Indigenous stories. It was a great group of people to talk through these issues together. And I felt that just that panel, that there was more to do, there was more to say. So of course, segueing into the pandemic, I remember the day getting just the normal sort of outreach from AAM, "Hey, do you have a book idea? Something you've thought about doing?" Just a proposal. So I went ahead and did that and said, basically pitched that it was the right moment to capture the state of the practice. There were so many people doing amazing things in this area, why not create a book of essays that helped to illuminate what storytelling in museums is like in the 21st century?

As we were starting to move into the sort of second-third even decade of the 21st century. When my initial pitch was accepted, they basically said, "Hey, develop this further. What are your chapters going to look like? Who's going to participate? What's the overall scope of your project? And we'll let you know if we want you to develop it into a full book." So from there, I kind of reached out through all my networks of contacts, and my goal was diversity writ large. So both from personal perspective, diversity of people's lived experience and also diversity of the kind of museum professional they were or are. Were they working in education, curation, collections, social media, even sort of museum adjacent fields that weren't necessarily just engaged in creating exhibitions, in public programs, geographical location, etc. Lucky for me, a lot of my contacts back from graduate school and from my time in New York City had moved all over the country.

So I had this sort of built in geographical diversity through that. I had a wonderful contact who I had worked with in Morocco who agreed to write a chapter about the changing museum practice in Morocco in the 21st century. And then other people gave me other people. So I ended up with a designer who's worked in the U.S. and Canada and in various countries in Asia, and Margaret Middleton had moved to the U.K. So I had a little bit of an international element to this as well by the time I gathered all of these authors together. I've worked with the National Council on Public History on their blog History @Work for over a decade. So that was kind of what gave me the confidence to say, “Hey, I can edit a book.” I've done a bunch of editing, and I'm used to working with people who live all over the place. But I had never undertaken a project this big before. There was a lot of learning involved certainly.

There has been a marked shift in the field toward looking past this notion of shared authority, which I think when I was coming up in graduate school that was kind of the watch word, institutions has a certain kind of cultural authority, and by reaching to community members, we are sharing that authority. And this is still a good thing. But moving past that even further and really homing in on what members of the community want, what they're going to get out of this relationship. It's not so much a relationship of institutional largess, but it's one of partnership. And if people want their stories to be told, how can you help facilitate that? If they don't want their stories to be told and if they don't want them told the way you've told them in the past, what's your ethical responsibility?

And a particularly powerful conversation facilitated by the National Council on Public History's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, (I'm not sure if that's exactly the name), on this notion of ethics of care, made a really strong impression on me [This event took place on July 8, 2020 on Twitter and was called “An Evening with Aleia Brown.”]. This idea that it is more important to listen perhaps than to assume in your relationship with historical story keepers. But at the same time thinking through, “okay, well then as a museum, what are your ethical responsibilities? Who are the people who have a claim on that process?” And that includes the people who are entrusting you with their artifacts and their narratives, and those are deeply related, but also the future generations that you're holding this material for. And that you're changing your interpretation and you're looking to help people who are coming to you as a bridge between their own lived experience and that of others who they want to connect with.

They want to understand, whether that's the people of the past or people from cultures that are different from their own. So the chapters in this book all come out of that moment where there is a really deep reflection and orientation toward engaging with the institutional wrongs, certainly coming out of the pandemic and the period in 2020 when there was so much looking inward. And also looking across, and some people were calling for “death to museums,” right? This idea of “are these redeemable, these institutions?” Are they incurably colonialist? Are they incurably racist? Can you overcome your origins by playing a useful living responsible role in society today? And I can say, having written a book and connected with all of these professionals, that my hope comes from a place of seeing the deep desire among professionals to do that work and to use whatever privilege that they have in society to make the world a better place from where they are, and to repair some of the wrongs that were done to and within communities and across borders, and to do that by listening and by speaking, both.

This book is definitely for museum professionals, preservation professionals, public historians, art historians, all of us who are working in the fields using GLAM as a good basis there. But I do hope that it is accessible to people who are curious, who might not come from those fields. So that might include journalists, those who are used to covering museums in a particular way. And I've noticed this quite a bit. There's still a lot of assumptions being made in museum journalism about what kind of a hierarchy of museums there might be, the really big old institutions, are they more important than the small community institutions? And I hope that someone reading this book would see that within the field, things are changing in our understanding of what is important and of how we exist and why we exist, and people who go to museums and people who want to hear stories.

So if you've ever seen yourself in a museum and you wonder... Or you haven't seen yourself, and you wonder why, I would hope that there would be something for you in this book. And anyone who's interested in kind of that peeling back the curtain on a process. I know when I grew up, I loved going to museums. I never thought about them as places where real people work. It was sort of that magical, like, “oh, this stuff just kind of appears and oh, it's so cool.” And I think that there are still people out there and museums still do multiple studies, and they're still incredibly well trusted institutions within our society, which is increasingly challenged when it comes to trust. And so for people who want to understand how museums do what they do, this book can really provide multiple perspectives on that.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much, Adina.

Adina Langer: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Adina Langer about how people approach telling stories through museum exhibits.

130. Presenting challenging histories at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum


Catherine: My name is Catherine Cooper. I am here with...

Felicia: My name is Felicia Williamson. I'm the Director of Library and Archives at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.

Catherine: Thank you so much for joining us today. Could you give us a brief introduction to the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum?

Felicia: The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum started as a small museum and education center in the basement of the Jewish Community Center in North Dallas in 1984. And it really was a reaction to what many Holocaust survivors in Dallas and the surrounding area saw as a misunderstanding, or even a lack of awareness, of the Holocaust. And they really wanted a place to educate mostly school children, but also the general public about the Holocaust, and also significantly a place to memorialize their lost loved ones. Because if you think about the eighties, traveling to Eastern Europe was not easy, and for many people, they didn't know potentially where their loved ones had been murdered, and there was not a place to remember or visit. And so there was a real sense of layered loss around that place. And so they established a memorial room and an education center and museum, and then that vision grew and there was a concept to move that museum and grow that museum, move it downtown into downtown Dallas, into a larger facility.

That took, I think, longer than they envisioned. And actually the new museum that we're in now opened in 2019, and we expanded to include human and civil rights, which was a really big jump. And with the understanding that the Holocaust was just a genocide of immense proportion, but also was the first time that human rights was legally recognized and protected in some ways. And tying that into our understanding of human and civil rights as a backbone, and then expanding our understanding of what does it mean to stand up for your fellow man or human, and how can we as individuals make a difference? And trying to actually embed the whole experience. So that's part of what we do. And then also trying to be a convener for tough conversations, which is another part of what we do at the museum. But that first group of Holocaust survivors was 125 people. The community was a little larger than that, but that was the group that came together then.

For a long time, the museum really was volunteer led, like many small museums, but we're professionalized now. So I'm the Director of Library and Archives, and in that position, I'm in charge of the library, which has about 3,500 volumes, and then I'm in charge of supervising and managing the oral history collection. We started recording oral histories at the very beginning. What's really cool about that is we have some of those early testimony interviews, and we've gone back and interviewed those survivors in their later years. Of course, they were already grandparents when we were interviewing them in the eighties, and now they're great-grandparents sometimes many times over, and they're much later in their elder years and have given their life even more reflection. So that's really an interesting piece of the puzzle. And so we have about 200 Holocaust interviews from North Texas Holocaust survivors, and then we have expanded our oral history collection to include human civil rights topics.

When I think about human rights, that's the human condition, and it really includes almost anything. But we do in the exhibit have 12 strands of human and civil rights that we really do want to tie that back to. Then we have 20,000 archival and artifact objects in the collection. So the foundational collection was Holocaust related, so going up until I started collecting human and civil rights in 2018, but up until then was all Holocaust related. And then of course, most of those things are archival materials, photographs, albums, letters, and so on. But now when you think about human civil rights collections, I'm getting cell phone footage of mass shootings, protest signs. It's really changed the way we collect what we collect and how for a while it was very much a traditional archives with three-dimensional objects and photos and letters. Now I'm having to expand my scope of how I deal with things, but it's exciting and good, and I have multiple donor meetings a week, and we still bring in Holocaust related collections all the time.

We brought in a journal from a litigator at the Nuremberg trial that went on display. It was really significant, we brought that in and put it on display this month. So there's still Holocaust related content coming in, and people find things from their great-grandparents or grandparents or great-uncle, that still is evolving and coming to the surface. And then the human and civil rights pieces evolve, and we're becoming more known as a convener for those conversations and collections and testimonies too. So it's all moving, but sometimes different speeds and some starts and stops, I guess.

I think in the archives world, the conversation is always based in trust. I think it is just multiplied when there's trauma at the root of that conversation with a donor or a donor's family. Same thing with an oral history interview. To get someone to share their story, you have to have a relationship built on trust to even get started. And then that's multiplied by some multiple over when there's trauma at the root of the conversation you're going to have and they need to trust that you're going to handle their story with care. Collecting Hard Histories

I think what's been interesting for me, managing the collections and then our educators working with the materials and then putting them on display. So I also manage the artifacts on display. My academic background is in the Holocaust. There's not really any way to have an academic background in the entire history of human rights. So what happens is I'll have a donor meeting or an oral history testimony, and I find myself preparing for, let's imagine the entire history of Rwanda. I don't happen to have a PhD in that. I haven't written my dissertation in that topic. But then literally that would be that morning and then that afternoon I might have a meeting preparing for a donor meeting or an oral history testimony meeting with someone who was involved with escaping the Cambodian genocide. Well, again, you could have written five books about that topic and still have lots to learn.

So that has been a real adjustment, and by no means would I ever in a million years claim to understand the Holocaust. That topic is so immense. But I am more prepared and conversant in general on that topic because that is my academic background. And so it has put me kind of really in a situation where I want to learn more and be more conversant and prepared. And I also want to understand the communities I'm working with more. And then there's also a sense of how recent some of the trauma is. So if you have a Holocaust survivor, it's generally 75 plus years since the trauma. So the current survivors were children, which brings its own challenges. So if they're still alive, there were children when this trauma occurred and that, again, has its own challenges. And our team has been working with these individuals very carefully and professionally for a while now.

But when you have someone who, for example, was involved with a mass shooting here in Dallas a few years ago, or was a refugee from a recent crisis. That is a much more recent trauma and it's much more likely that they are talking to me about this for the very first time that they've ever talked about it. Now, it does happen that someone talks about the Holocaust for the first time in our offices, but it's just much more likely with these more recent traumas. So you just have to be really cognizant of that and prepared, and you can't really be prepared for everything that's going to happen. We do a process where we do a pre-interview where we try to understand the basic outline of someone's story so you can ask the questions that have meaning for the individual and for the historical context that you want to gather.

And I had done that in the course of the interview, the interviewee revealed something that was 10 time more traumatic than he had revealed in the pre-interview. Which I think is actually not uncommon and not a bad thing, and it was extremely powerful and also significant historically. But again, how do you prepare for that? That's impossible and it's not like you can plan. That's challenging. And again, instead of that interview taking an hour and a half, it took four hours. That's another thing when you're thinking about managing a department and time and resources and things like that. So some of that is just really challenging. Until you've built a museum, I don't think it ever really occurs to you. The theory is that you are prepared to present a topic to someone with a PhD or with a seventh grade reading level. All of that is compounded by the subjects we're trying to present, which is, I would argue some of the hardest subject matter that could ever be condensed into 16,000 square feet, which is the exhibit space that we have.

One of the things that's always struck me is I have a degree in history. You're taught to write to the level of 15 pages, 20 pages, but when you get into professional life, my bosses never want to see anything longer than one page. And if you're writing for museums, it better not be longer than a paragraph. And if you're writing for exhibit copy, it has to be extremely compelling to be longer than a sentence. So then you have to take all that learning you've had and unlearn it. Then you have to get these extremely complex subjects, and you can't assume anything about what people know and understand about these complex histories. Condense it way, way, way down, ax 90% of what you want to tell people. Then simplify the language without making it condescending and then present it and hope that they leave with maybe 10% of what you are trying to present, not because anybody coming through our doors is unable to understand the concepts, but because no one going into a museum is able to retain everything, me included. I mean, I'm a deep diver. I'm a museum junkie. It's just human nature. You can't digest that whole bunch of information.

So it's really hard to take all of that. What I do is look at artifacts as a way to connect, grab attention and help convey a challenging part of that history in a way that helps people make sense of something that's almost impossible to make sense of. One of the artifacts we have in the museum that people talk about a lot is a backpack that was worn by someone in the Kindertransport. We hear about that a lot, I think, because everyone sends their kids off to school with a backpack on, and the kids look at it and they're like, "Oh, I know what that is." And then they know, "Okay, that was a kid. Well, I'm a kid." And then the parents look at that and they say, "That's a kid that someone had to send away."

And then they connect emotionally and intellectually with what that means. That means someone was so afraid that they sent their child away. So then that artifact is not just stuck in a glass case and just left there. It's helping tell the story. So that's my job, finding artifacts that help tell the story and so that they remember and it stays with them. If I find artifacts that do that, that's really the thing that matters a lot. And it's not automatic. There's lots of artifacts I love that I want to give their day in the sun. I really love them. But if they don't help tell the story of the panel work that we're trying to tell, then I can't put them in the exhibit. One thing I did when I was pivoting from being the Dallas Holocaust Museum to the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, and I know this isn't for everybody, I cold called the 9/11 Museum.

I just asked to speak with whoever built their collections and people were really generous. I spoke with other people who had done really front lines collecting and controversial topics. I spoke to the people who did the collecting in St. Louis after the protest there. I just called people and said, "Hi, my name is Felicia. I'm trying to pivot to collecting human rights collections. What have you done to be successful? What do you wish you'd known?" And I was humble. I didn't try to say, "Here's what I can tell you." I was very honest. I have these sets of concerns and I'm looking for help, and people are very generous with their time and spoke to me. And a big takeaway from those phone calls, which I have seen to be true and this was born out in my experience overall, is that it's always going to be about trust building. It's just harder.

If you're afraid you're going to get too many collections, that's not the fear. And that a lot of them had seen a very slow trickle that once that trust was established in the community you're working with, it would turn into a bigger wave. But that breakthrough had to happen over a longer time if there's trauma involved. And I think that's absolutely true, and that in a way, it'll seem like building those relationships will take longer and you'll have to build trust and have some positive exchanges before a more steady wave of sessions or testimonies comes in. And I've certainly seen that to be true. The other thing that's been interesting, if you think about Holocaust testimonies and even collections, it really seemed to escalate in the eighties. And if you think about legacy, that was when survivors were retiring. They're looking to their grandchildren. Holocaust survivors were not terribly interested, and they saw it as a burden. They didn't want to burden their children, but they didn't want their grandchildren to be unaware of this legacy or to not have access to this history. And so then you see these museums popping up and these collections being donated, and these oral histories being recorded when they have grandchildren. So sometimes it's not the best time to broach some of these subjects until people are ready to face it. If the history is worth preserving, then do the work. I just would encourage new professionals or younger professionals to have a creative sense of problem solving and to ask for help. If there's any defining characteristic of my life as a professional, it's that I've never been shy about asking for help. And I've been very fortunate to have received lots of help from very smart people across the field in all kinds of professional settings, whether it's academic, special collections departments, museums, all kinds of people who've really helped me along the way, offering their abilities and skills. And then I'm always willing to do the same because we're all really truly trying to get the same ball up the mountain, I think.

Catherine: Thank you so much.

Felicia: It's a pleasure.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Felicia Williamson, Director of Library and Archives at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum about collecting and presenting challenging histories.

129. 50 Years of Remembering the Up Stairs Lounge Fire


Catherine Cooper: Hello, my name is Catherine Cooper. I am here with-

Bobby Fieseler: Bobby Fieseler, and I am a journalist and queer historian, and the author of a queer history book called Tinderbox about the 1973 Up Stairs Lounge Fire in New Orleans.

Catherine Cooper: Could you talk about what the Up Stairs Lounge Fire was for people who may not know the story?

Bobby Fieseler: Historically, the Up Stairs Lounge Fire was a notoriously unsolved arson fire that took place at a gay bar on the ragtag fringes of the New Orleans French Quarter. The gay bar was called The Up Stairs Lounge, and the arson claimed 32 lives. It was the deadliest fire on record in New Orleans history and the worst mass murder of homosexual Americans in 20th century America.

Yet this event, this calamity, which was very significant when it happened, received just a few days of media attention in its time, due to its queer overtones, and thus was permitted to become the historic mystery that it remains now, the way it lingers. The Up Stairs Lounge Fire is still officially an unsolved crime despite a bounty of evidence pointing towards the chief suspect: an internally conflicted gay-for-pay sex worker named Roger Dale Nunez, a man ejected from the Up Stairs Lounge Fire minutes before the fire began screaming the word, "Burn," curiously enough and despite the presence of this chief suspect.

It was the Sunday night of June 24, 1973. Sunday nights were significant at the working-class gay bar called The Up Stairs Lounge. It was called the Up Stairs Lounge because it was on the second story of a building, and it was hidden from street view. You had to access it via a single staircase that was the lone entrance and exit that was winding, so you couldn't even see where you were going to as you were heading up the staircase. Sunday nights were the biggest night of the week at the Up Stairs Lounge. There was a drink special for working class gays and lesbians called the Beer Bust. It was $1 for two hours of unlimited draft beer. This was New Orleans in the '70s.

The fire itself, the calamity, was deemed a kind of political inconvenience in its time, a hot potato due to its queer overtones. That's left us where it is now. The Up Stairs Lounge Fire as an event on the map of queer history, and American history now, but it still occupies an uncertain place where people don't know how to speak about it exactly.

Catherine Cooper: You open the book with a question, and I'd love to hear your answer, what does it mean to remember?

Bobby Fieseler: This was the question that occupied me as I was writing the entire book. What is the significance of it? Is it just a recitation of facts? Do we remember for revenge? Do we remember for trauma porn so we can make ourselves feel sad or victimized in the current day and age? I settled on it in the last line of the book. The first line and the last line of books tend to have a relationship, and as an author I didn’t even mean for that to happen, but so “what does it mean to remember?” Then the last few words of Tinderbox is “speaking at last their names,” in reference to the victims.

What it means to remember for me as I've come to understand this crazy story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire that's occupied about 10 years of my life and continues to, and it's something I think about on a daily basis, is that we can't change the past by remembering it, but we can change the way we reflect upon the past through the manner in which we choose to remember it. We can reflect upon the past in a way that's nihilistic, in a way that makes us feel powerless, or we can reflect upon the past in a way that tries to honor individuals who might be our forebearers, and in a way to try to offer some sort of symbolic restitution to people who did not receive respect, or dignity, or equal rights, or equal treatment in the past.

That's what it means for me to remember. As I talk about the Up Stairs Lounge, the more that I understand it is that history, and especially queer history or human rights history, occurs in this space of malleability where there are events that transpired that are facts that predate us, that affect us all because we live in the stream of history. It's like the invisible person in the room whenever we meet and talk about queer subjects oftentimes, especially in New Orleans, the Up Stairs Lounge is just this persistent reality.

To remember it is an act of connecting ourselves to that lineage, and at the same time, transforming. I hate to sound like a motivational speaker, I'm weirding myself out here. But it's transforming acts of hatred, acts of confusion, acts of disrespect, acts of unbridled pain into some meaningful matter that we can then consider in a contemporary context and use in all sorts of different ways. It's manna then to offer restitution to the past, the 32 victims of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire who were denied respect and dignity in their lifetime. In their deaths, actually, many of the Up Stairs Lounge victims did not receive religious burials, say.

Or it can be used as a statement to say how far we've come. To talk about this now means that we are a society that can talk about these difficult queer topics as opposed to the society in the past in the 1970s that couldn't talk about it.

Or it's a statement of never again. What happened there? The conditions that created the Up Stairs Lounge Fire, the fire itself, the fallout, never again. It can mean all sorts of things. It's an active back and forth, isn't it, to remember. In what we choose to remember, and then what we choose to remember in a public way.

Catherine Cooper: How has memory or storytelling around the fire changed since the event, both within the local community in New Orleans and outside of it? Because it did have that national feature to it as well.

Bobby Fieseler: In its day in the '70s, the Up Stairs Lounge Fire when it occurred, it was this literally explosive event that involved fire bursting out of the windows of this second story gay bar that was positioned like a castle keep where people who passed by it every day didn't even know there was a massive gay bar up there. And they were forced to all stare and reckon with this calamity and this violence and people literally burning before their eyes.

That drew a lot of attention in its span and in its time period. There were a few days of national coverage of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire because national media was suddenly interested in this. It was like a true-crime story, this high scope of death. 32 people dead, we have to devote coverage to it. The LA Times makes it a front page story. The Chicago Tribune makes it a front page story. The national TV news covers the Up Stairs Lounge fire. Then it became understood the type of bar that had burned and the character of the individuals, the qualities of the individuals, who had died within it. Then national media suddenly understood that this wasn't a typical true-crime story where the victims would be allotted all the ordinary sympathies.

In the '70s though, queer folk were considered to be of a criminal class. State laws and also local ordinances meant to clamp down upon what was considered a very dangerous subpopulation in the United States. So the idea that attention had been paid to this freaked the media out, freaked authorities out, and they diverted very quickly. It's what happens when anyone gets awkward, they scattered. Even though national media scattered, there was a persistent group of local and national queer journalists that tried to continue the story for about a week. They kept at it. There were activists that kept at it, and then those activists formed what was called the National New Orleans Emergency Task Force. They created an emergency fund and all sorts of things like that. They kept at it for a few months, and then that all faltered. Then there was local silence.

There had been an older institution that had regulated queer life called Euphemistic Living, or The Closet, or The Gay Underworld, or Open Secret, The Social Compact, however you want to reference it, and that clamped back and the Up Stairs Lounge was then foisted locally as this example of what happens when you out yourself. What are the dangers of outness, it's violence. It's you being subjected to dangerous living and a miserable death, that sort of thing. The Up Stairs Lounge was then utilized as this cautionary tale by semi-closeted New Orleanians, people from Louisiana, that would say, "This is an example of why we shouldn't be out, open, using our real names, showing our faces, fighting for our rights. And we certainly shouldn't be involved in politics saying that we're homosexuals."

That was the majority voice, but then there was a minority voice locally of activists that were activated. They were like the slow burning embers stoked by the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy who kept chatting about it, and they would do so for years. They became some of the most important gay New Orleans and lesbian New Orleans activists. Then they, in turn, became some of the most important gay activists in Louisiana.

A classic example of someone who was inspired to activism by the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy was the lesbian bar owner in New Orleans, Charlene Schneider, who operated the lesbian bar Charlene's. In her outrage over the way that the Up Stairs Lounge victims were treated in death, she became convinced the myth of live and let live in New Orleans, the idea that I can do my dirty thing in my corner and you can do your dirty thing in your corner and we're not going to get punished for it, the idea that that was a ruse because gays were consistently still being targeted within that atmosphere, incensed Charlene, and motivated her to open up ... It was a radical act. She, in 1977, opened up a bar for gay women and used her real name, and that was directly connected to her experience with the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy.

Then, there was this long battle, I could talk about this forever, decades where New Orleans fought itself about whether or not it was even okay to talk about the fire. There were parties for and against, and people like Charlene were saying, "We needed to talk about this and we need to connect it to a legacy of political action." People like the former Up Stairs Lounge bar owner, Phil Esteve, would say, "No, New Orleans Live and Let Live is the way that makes things safe. There's no gay activists in New Orleans because none are needed."

That was ongoing up until the first scholarship of the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy, which happens in the late '80s, and early '90s. There are local writers then and journalists that try to revisit the story. Then that continues into the 21st century where there is a tremendous explosion of scholarship and interest and discussion, first locally, then nationally, then internationally of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire. Where now it's not just debated whether we should talk about this event or connect it to a legacy of queer rights or queer wellbeing, et cetera, but it's the subject of musicals that are touring internationally. That there was an U p Stairs Lounge musical called The View Upstairs that recently played in Tokyo, translated into Japanese. These are folks in Tokyo, in Japanese, singing about something that happened to closeted gay folk in the 1970s French Quarter. It's insane when you think about it.

There are German feature story writers right now that are writing stories about the 50th anniversary of the Up Stairs Lounge and thinking about what does this mean for the legacy of international queer folk. That's a tremendous growth. The seed of activism and interest was like, I hate to use the biblical mustard seed allusion, but I am a gay Roman Catholic, so it's like it grew into the largest tree where there has never been more discussion. That sort of exponential growth will continue to happen with the Up Stairs Lounge Fire. But first, in a natural storytelling city like New Orleans, the Up Stairs Lounge Fire for a long span of time was the one story that was off limits. No more.

Catherine Cooper: We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the fire: June 24, 2023. Does the Queer, LGBTQ community have any plans to mark the event in New Orleans?

Bobby Fieseler: Yeah. There's a tremendous amount of public programming internationally and locally that's going to happen. I'm a board member of a local organization called the LGBT Archives Project of Louisiana, and we have a planning committee that's putting on a conference symposium for three days in New Orleans to be held at the Marriott Hotel, which is across the street from the historic site of the Up Stairs Lounge Bar.

We're going to host three days of discussion, of meetings and of tribute where there's going to be all of the authors who've written books on the Up Stairs Lounge, we're all going to get together and have a confab. All the people who've done artistic interpretations, people who've made musicals, created dance pieces, written screenplays, they're going to all get together and talk about things. Academics, religious folk, who've preached, elegized in some way the victims of the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy, their input and their impact. It's going to be an extensive thing.

It's June 23rd through June 25th. Then, of course, June 24th is the actual 50th anniversary of the tragedy. On that afternoon, there's going to be a very meaningful service at the historic St. Mark's Church, which is the church that on July 1, 1973, held the first Up Stairs Lounge memorial in the French Quarter. Then there's going to be a second line that leads us to the Up Stairs Lounge historical site, where there's going to be a small ceremony at the plaque where the Up Stairs Lounge existed, where the Up Stairs Lounge fell on the map, and there there's going to be a meaningful service.

There's going to be a combination of conversation, tribute, et cetera, to recognize this important event, to educate the public, to offer respect to the victims. Also to try to, as much as we can, continue to tell the victim's stories. The victims of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire were not just significant because of the way they happened to die, a lot of these individuals led fascinating lives. Each of them, you could make 32 movies out of each and every one of the individuals who perished at the Up Stairs Lounge. So fascinating was that the way that these were individuals who moved between worlds, who figured out how to live in very difficult circumstances. All of them had a unique way of coming to the Up Stairs Lounge that night, that bar that they considered their safe haven.

Catherine Cooper: If people want to get involved-

Bobby Fieseler: I would go to the LGBT Archives Project website, and you can find more information there. There's an Eventbrite page and all sorts of stuff like that.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much, Bobby.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Bobby Fieseler about writing "Tinderbox" and the importance of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire in LGBT activism as we come up to the 50th anniversary of the fire.

128. Sharing the Memoir of a Japanese Draft Resister of Conscience during WWII


Catherine Cooper: My name is Catherine Cooper. I am here with...

Gail Kuromiya: I'm Gail Kuromiya. I'm the third-oldest daughter of Yosh Kuromiya, who is the author of the book that we'll be discussing.

Art Hansen: And I'm Art Hansen, and I'm the editor of the book that we'll be discussing. I'm a retired professor in History and Asian American Studies at California State University at Fullerton.

Catherine Cooper: Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining me today. Could you talk about why it was so important to have Mr. Kuromiya's memoir, Beyond the Betrayal, published and made available to the greater public?

Gail Kuromiya: Well, if you look in the appendix of the book, you'll see that dad made a lot of appearances at conferences, universities, high schools, and whatnot, sharing his history of being a draft resister during World War II. He really wanted to get the story out to people who are interested, in particular, Japanese Americans and the younger generation. And he was actually hoping that that generation would spread the news. He felt the Japanese American community itself needed to clean its own house first and to acknowledge what happened during the war because it wasn't often shared from generation to generation. Thankfully, that's changing now, but he wanted to acknowledge what happened and learn from it and understand our own responsibilities for what happened.

Art Hansen: And from my perspective, I think Yosh Kuromiya's memoir is exceedingly important because although there were 300 plus draft resisters from the War Relocation Authority concentration camps during World War II, this is the only book-length memoir. There have been articles written, including ones by Yosh himself, but this is the only book length one. And most of the resisters have passed away. So, this was something that was exceedingly important. It was important to me too, because since 1972 when I started studying the Japanese American World War II experience, I have focused my attention on resistance activities by the Japanese Americans themselves. Not people who did things for the Japanese Americans, ministerial people and the like, but actually the Japanese Americans themselves. They had been depicted as being passive and not taking control of the situation and not defending their civil rights and their human dignity. In fact, I have found out that they did. And so, I wanted to showcase those kinds of stories. I think this is a very important story that is emblematic of this whole idea of victim self-representation of the wartime experience.

Gail Kuromiya: I was the one who was probably most interested in dad's work all along from the time he got involved in the early nineties, actually. He would send me printed copies of the talks he gave. But as a daughter, it was a juggling act. Some of the challenges were just dealing with internal family dynamics. Dad himself was pretty darn stubborn. And in some ways, he was his own worst enemy because obviously as a resister he had really strong beliefs and opinions. And as a daughter, that balance of power was a little different. A lot of good came out of that as well. My sisters and I all live far apart, so that was a bit of a challenge. And this was all when we were working on the first family version. Communication was pretty constant. That was one of the good things that came out of it. But that was also sometimes a challenge.

Art Hansen: In my case, to give it some context, I met Yosh Kuromiya in 1995 at a conference that was held in Powell, Wyoming, and focused upon the topic of remembering Heart Mountain. And it was a big conference and everything. And I met him standing in line waiting for some lunch together. And I was immediately struck by what a remarkable person he was. And we just really hit it off and we had some very good common ground. And then years later when Yosh wrote his first draft of his memoir, he picked three people to read it and to provide some commentary on it, and I was one of the three. And I told him that I thought he should consider getting it published by a university press. And I mentioned two presses. One, the University of Washington Press. And the other, the University Press of Colorado. And the reason was because both of those presses dealt with a hybrid audience. Not just academics, but also a general audience as well.

And I thought this was a story that needed to get beyond academia and out to the larger public. Yosh Kuromiya was able to tell a very powerful one. And then I didn't hear much about it again until years later when I was contacted by Lawson Inada, who has written the poetic forward and the poetic afterward to the book as it's published by the University Press of Colorado. And he said, "Art, I have been working with the Kuromiya daughters on a family history that Yosh has produced. And I would like maybe to have you help in some way." And I think he was suggesting that I might write an introduction or something for this family book. And so, I got a copy of the family book and it was very good. And as I read it and everything, I said, "This book needs to be out in public, and it needs to be something that a lot of people can read. No matter if they live in the United States or wherever they live, they need to read this book."

Then I decided I would like to be able to edit this manuscript, but there were a couple of problems. One, apparently Yosh had proceeded with submitting his memoir for publication consideration by the University of Washington Press. And the University of Washington Press had turned it down. One of the so-called anonymous peer reviewers of it remained anonymous, but the other one became known to me. And it was somebody that was very important to studying the draft resistance, which was Eric Muller, a professor of Law at the University of North Carolina. And Eric Muller wrote a book called Free to Die for Their Country, and it was all about the Japanese American draft resisters during World War II. And so, I decided that I would like to see the evaluation that Eric Muller wrote of the book. So the Kuromiya family, Gail in particular, sent it to me.

And when I read it, I could see why Eric was positive about the book, but at the same time, he had reservations. And he had 14 different points that he raised about factual mistakes that Yosh had inadvertently made. And so I felt that one of the things I had to do was to provide a firewall to these errors that he had made. In my endnotes, I was able to hitchhike off of Eric Muller's critique that he did for the University of Washington Press and plug in his comments and his objections to what Yosh had said. So that was one of the big challenges.

And the second big challenge was that Yosh Kuromiya was very infatuated with a book that came out by Robert Stinnett, and the title of the book was Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. And this was a book that was very controversial. In a sense, it said that Roosevelt knew when other people didn't that Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked. And he let it be open to attack because this provided a back door for the United States getting into war against the Nazis in Germany and against the fascists in Italy. That was the premise of the book. Yosh believed that this was the case. And so, when editing it, I had to go through many, many book reviews of that book by diplomatic historians and get a sense of their critical opinion. And I was able to show in the two-pages long endnote that there were book reviewers, for instance, that supported what Yosh supported about this conspiracy of Roosevelt's and the dastardly act of Roosevelt. And then there were many other reviewers of it that felt that he had not proved his thesis, that he had a warm barrel, but not really a smoking gun.

The other challenge I had was that a good friend of mine and a superb historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Diane Fujino, who had put a lot of time into putting forth the manuscript that was submitted to the University of Washington Press. And so, I didn't want to proceed with this project unless I had Diane Fujino's blessing. And she is one of the most gracious and nicest women. And she willingly said, "Art, go ahead with it." Diane Fujino was willing to take it to a second university press, but Yosh was not. He said, "I'm old. And at this particular point, all I want to do is to get this book out. And I'll get it out as a family book." Anyway, those were the main challenges that I had as an editor. Otherwise, there wasn't much of a challenge at all. It was a great opportunity and I was working with great people.

Gail Kuromiya: There's a lot of other people he didn't name that were really important to him, but primarily it was Lawson Inada, who Art mentioned, retired professor and former poet laureate from Oregon State. He's the one who connected Art with the family. Martha Nakagawa is a journalist in Los Angeles and close friend of both my dad and my stepmother. Art, of course. Without him, this book would probably be sitting on a shelf somewhere in the family version format. And of course, he acknowledged his daughters. My oldest sister, Suzi, is a retired professional graphic designer. She did the original layout for the family version, which was retained for the final version. My next oldest sister, Sharon, from New York, was dad's editor from the very beginning when he first started sending us files. And in the final version when we were working with the University Press of Colorado, Sharon was the one who tracked down all the images that we had used in the family version to verify that we had permission and copyrights and all that kind of stuff.

And although all of us are graphic designers, all of dad's four daughters, we weren't very familiar with the whole final publishing process. Design and layout are two things, but all that technical stuff is beyond us. And then my youngest sister, Miya, she's the only one of us who's still working. So, her involvement was minimal in the beginning, but she provided a lot of emotional support for all of us. And then dad acknowledged his second wife, Irene, who was not only his wife, but his personal assistant, his typist, secretary, driver, groomer, all those things. And I would add a lot of other people. My mother, Haru, was family cheerleader and supporter and all-around good sport, my husband Paul, for being so patient since this became my retirement job, essentially. And many other people.

Art Hansen: In most cases, the things that have come out on Japanese Americans have not put a premium upon the resistance of Japanese Americans themselves to their unjust incarceration during World War II. And their pauperization, really, as well as anything else. The loss of property, but also the loss of personal dignity and civil rights in the sense of being an American. I think that this adds to the array of other books that have come out that have focused on this resistance by Japanese Americans themselves. But the main narrative before was essentially that Japanese Americans were so desperate to be able to affirm their American citizenship that they would do anything that was necessary. Their attitude was, this is our government, right or wrong. And therefore, many of them gladly decided that when they had the opportunity to be able to be drafted into the military, they said yes.

And then they became part of the great 442nd Battalion and it is one of the most decorated units ever in American military history. And I think that's what the American public wanted to hear, the fact that no matter what you do to people, America's so important that you would never hold it for account. And I think what the Japanese American draft resisters did and what Yosh does in his book is to hold not only the United States government to account right up through the President of the United States, but also to hold into account the leadership of the Japanese American Citizens League, because they were corroborators with the US government in the incarceration of their own population. I think to have somebody like Yosh Kuromiya, they would like to look at him as being unpatriotic when in fact his whole act of draft resistance was patriotic. He believed in the Constitution of the United States, and we need to live up to that. And that's what he tried to do along with the other draft resisters of conscience is to make the United States live up to that. So draft resistance was exceedingly important.

Gail Kuromiya: The overall interaction I had with my father through this whole process, actually, he had been writing all through the years of his public speaking. And he told me that he had always intended on consolidating those writings into some kind of format. But I asked him at one point when my two boys were young to document all of these stories and these experiences that he had gone through for his kids, grandkids, and future generations. And a lot of his friends and colleagues encouraged him as well with his writings and his appearances. So, dad came up with this idea to make it a cooperative family project, which I don't believe we've ever done before in our family, but we all had our own families and we were living in different parts of the country. And his hope was that it would increase and improve our communication, which it did for me.

And so, in 2010, he sent me his first chapter out of the book. And one thing I do want to mention is that once he had his manuscript where he was comfortable with it, and we had done the family version, he was adamant that nothing be changed from his original manuscript through all of the publishing process. And other than grammatical errors and things like that, Art, to his credit, maintained that. The final book that people will read are dad's words. So, from 2010 until dad died in 2018, constant phone calls with dad, conversations that I probably never would've had the opportunity to have with him because it went beyond his experiences during the war as a resister and all the stuff surrounding that before they went into the camps, afterwards, my childhood, that type of thing. And of course, not all of that is in the book because it's not a tell-all book. But it was really valuable and it got harder and harder because dad started losing his hearing, and that made it really difficult. He didn't use the computer, so I have all his long hand-written notes. I took notes when I talked to him on the phone, which I'm kind of going through now and coming up with these little pearls of stories that I would not have known had I not been having this ongoing conversation with him. So that was the primary memory of this whole process. And even though the book itself is quite an accomplishment, I still think that the phone calls are what I will cherish the most out of this experience, because a lot of Nisei dads are not typically very talkative about their personal feelings and emotions. But I think, through this process, dad got more and more comfortable sharing that type of stuff. So that was a real positive that came out of it.

Art Hansen: In my case, I just have one story that I'd like to relate. It has to do with Yosh's widow, Irene Kuromiya. And when this edited version of the manuscript was being considered to be published by the University Press of Colorado, Irene had registered a protest. And it came to me and it hurt me a lot because I regarded and still regard Irene as a very close and dear friend of mine. She said, "Art Hansen, he was sent the manuscript by Yosh years ago, and he didn't even read it. He didn't even say anything about it," which was absolutely untrue. Not only did I read it, I wrote about a seven or eight-page critique of it, including even a copyediting section to it. And somebody reminded her of that fact. And I think she somehow rather had blanked on it.

What she was upset about more than anything is she felt that what Yosh wanted really was not a published book, but just the family edition for family and friends. That's all he wanted. And I had to, in a sense, go against that, by talking to Gail in particular, to find out at bottom what Yosh wanted. He might have said, "I want just the family edition," but he really wanted something that would get out to a much larger group so that this important story of not just himself, but the story of himself in relationship to the draft resistance movement would become public knowledge. And then almost to the end, Irene still wanted just the family book. But she came to the book event that we had at the Japanese American National Museum. And I think she was very gracious at that event. And you could tell that she was bubbling over with pride. She loved her husband so much and was so proud of his memoir and her own involvement in it. But I think all of the other stuff was washed away.

Gail Kuromiya: Dad wanted to present his manuscript as a personal account. He didn't want it to be an academic document. And he did want to get it out to the public. But at the same time, I think he had a mistrust of the commercial printing process. But one of the themes that he was trying to get across in the memoir, and we talked about this before he passed, was the role of the Issei, his parents’ generation who immigrated here from Japan. So, he attributes a lot of his decisions as being influenced by my grandfather and the morals and integrity he had.

But overall, I think the takeaway from the book is included in Cherstin Lyons' condensed review on the back of the hardcover version. And I believe it's a quote out of dad's text. It reads, "What is a citizen's rightful response to constitutional transgressions? What indeed is a citizen's responsibility when racially-based civil rights restrictions are imposed by an errant government?" I think that sums up the gist of it, even though Dad always told me that he didn't intend this to be a portrayal of him as a resister. Because he said even though that was a pivotal decision in his life, it wasn't his entire life. And that's why he insisted on including all of the rest of his life in the book as well.

Art Hansen: I think that the major takeaway of Yosh's book has been expressed nicely by Gail in that quote that she read. Actually, another important thing that I'd like readers of Beyond the Betrayal to take away is Yosh's entire life, not just his time in camp or in prison, et cetera, or fighting for the rights of the resisters against the JACL and others after the war. But really to see that his entire life is a tribute to not just his acts, but to the man himself and the character, the deep and abiding character of that particular person.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you both so much. This was wonderful.

Gail Kuromiya: Thank you.

Art Hansen: Thank you so much, Catherine.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Gail Kuromiya and Art Hansen about the importance of Yosh Kuromiya's memoir and sharing it broadly through publication.

127. The Past and Future of UNESCO World Heritage After 50 Years


Sadie Schoeffler: Okay. So this Sadie Schoeffler, and I'm here with--

Lynn Meskell: With Lynn Meskell. I'm a PIK professor, which is Penn Integrates Knowledge professor at the University of Pennsylvania with affiliations in a School of Design here, Historic Preservation, Penn Museum, and in anthropology.

Sadie Schoeffler: Wonderful. Okay, so we're here talking with you today about your publication, A Future In Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace. And it's a great time to be talking about this book because a lot of conversations right now are centered around world heritage, with the 50 year anniversary of the World Heritage Convention coming up. So Lynn, could you tell us a little bit about your publication, A Future in Ruins?

Lynn Meskell: The book started really because I was fascinated as an archeologist that world heritage sites, I'd worked at a few myself, were seemingly so important, and yet as archeologists we knew so little about UNESCO and its processes. How it works, the politics is behind it, and so on. So that's why I embarked on that ethnography. And in fact, I'm still working on UNESCO a decade or more later. It's one of those things you can't really get away from. And in a world of conflict and human rights violations, UNESCO is still central to those debates.

Yeah, I think what the drafters of that convention would say, one of the most significant things is that they put natural and cultural heritage together in one document. And so the conservation itself wasn't simply monuments, but also landscapes. And I think as we approach serious issues around climate change, for example, and environmental justice, that was actually very farsighted.

Sadie Schoeffler: So you see the future of UNESCO focusing more on topics such as climate change and environmental justice that come up now when we're focusing on sites that are already on the World Heritage List, and maybe future sites?

Lynn Meskell: I think climate change is very, very important, and we're going to see that debated pretty hotly with the Great Barrier Reef coming up this year being discussed as being potentially put on the World Heritage List in danger. But given the capacity of UNESCO, which is severely limited, particularly after the US withdrew its funding from the organization, there's not a lot that UNESCO can really do. It is a standard-setting agency. It does look after the World Heritage List and inscriptions, and I think we're just going to see more of the same.

It has really grappled with conflict, perhaps not as effectively as other agencies. And I think its resources, its personnel, its funding is severely depleted. So the glory days in some ways are kind of behind, like the Nubian campaign or Angkor. And now it just faces this raft of challenges, whether it's conflict or climate change, Indigenous rights, things that it's really not particularly well set up to do, wasn't designed to do, and has not mobilized very effectively. Hasn't even harmonized very effectively with other UN agencies.

Sadie Schoeffler: So now we're talking a little bit about the challenges that world heritage is facing, has faced, and continues to face, and how those challenges are evolving. Do you think that the processes for addressing these challenges are going to be something that'll be brought up at the coming up convention? And how do you think professionals like yourself are incorporating the legacies of UNESCO's convention into your own work?

Lynn Meskell: So to answer the first part of that question, given the structure of UNESCO, this is the United Nations. So the nations are the most powerful decision makers. And as you might imagine, they are not very amenable to critique. So anything that would change the convention, that would add additional oversight or scrutiny is going to be vetoed by the member states. So think of the power of the UN Security Council. It's that sort of mechanism.

And so the committee, which is made up of 21 nation states, are the most powerful players in the room, and they're the ones that are going to decide whether to put a site on the list in danger, whether to adhere to human rights policies, and so on. And states are very reluctant to do that. What they really want to do is inscribe more and more sites on the list so that they can garner this social and economic prestige of doing that within their own territory.

In terms of the second part of your question, what can academics and practitioners really do? I think it falls to us to work in the interstices, really. To work on issues like human rights or conflict. To do the things that UNESCO really can't do. So we have this incredible list that draws attention to sites, but in fact UNESCO is not a research agency and they don't really read our work for the most part. So we have to just go on independently and hope that some of our findings can be useful.

But we do additional work. UNESCO always wanted Civil Society to be involved, and it is very keen on academic networks. So I think it's really up to us to just carry on and do the best work that we can and realize that they can't do everything, and they certainly don't have the funds or personnel to do that. And I think that's a popular misconception about the power of UNESCO, particularly in the United States.

I have two fairly new projects since I came to the University of Pennsylvania. One is with the Arab Barometer, which looks at public opinion. And in fact it's the first large scale public opinion around cultural heritage for Iraq and Syria. And it's based in Mosul and Aleppo. And that's garnering interviews, long-standing interviews with 1,600 participants in each city about how they feel about the destruction of sites, the reconstruction, who should be involved, responsible, who should fund it, what are their priorities for heritage reconstruction. A lot of very emotional responses, too, about what they prioritized and what they felt most upset about during those sort of conflicts.

And so that's been very telling. You may not be surprised that heritage and its reconstruction comes quite low in priorities compared to other humanitarian concerns like health, security, stability, employment, education and so on. And that's a wake-up call for those of us who think that heritage is all about world peace and brings repair. That it's not enough to reconstruct a museum or an archeological site that we're interested in. We have to think about what people on the ground actually want and to try and make heritage much more about socioeconomic benefits and social goods as it were, and perhaps link more with other UN partners, in International Committee for the Red Cross, other sorts of things if we actually want to do something meaningful.

And the second project is with my colleagues at Wharton Business School here at Penn, looking at the 1,154 world heritage sites around the world and how they are positioned in terms of cooperation and conflict. And unfortunately what we're finding is that evermore increasingly the nomination of world heritage properties leads to increased conflict. And that's around everything from working with NGOs to the environment to the presence of rebels to bad labor practices and so on.

And that's a study that's done on every world heritage site and is a AI data scrape that includes 80 languages and sentiment analysis. And that's actually a pretty depressing set of results that show that world heritage has become less about cooperation and peace-building and benefits and more about the scramble for economic advantage, for exclusion, for moving people out, alienation, and so on. So it doesn't actually necessarily bring sustainable development and all the promises that are made by so many agencies. And also archeologists think that we're doing great things, but in fact we may be exacerbating tension.

Certainly, my colleagues in historic preservation here at Penn work very effectively with communities. And I have colleagues that have worked in the southwest, in the Middle East, and also in countries like Rwanda. And I think they're very impressive. In fact, if anything, I think maybe archeology could learn something from that historic preservation perspective. Archeologists, and particularly American archeologists, have traditionally thought, "Past subjects are dead, so we don't need to really worry." But in fact, a preservation angle is much more community-driven in living communities.

And that's what we're getting also clearly from our more global research as well, that this is not something that's anchored entirely in the past. This is absolutely a living heritage that matters to people. So I think there needs to be more interdisciplinary crossover too. And most of my work has been with people in other fields, including political scientists and economists and international lawyers. And the sort of work that heritage is so complex now that you do have to work across disciplines. That you can't do it otherwise. We need to understand how all this is playing out. And the last thing I'd say is that heritage is increasingly being used in the security sphere.

So there's the nexus around cultural property protection and the military. And we see that playing out in Ukraine most recently, but it has also been the case across the Middle East. And we've seen that also in Thailand, Cambodia, Mali, Afghanistan. Plenty of other places as well. So our materials are being taken up and considered and given some priority, and we're not part of that conversation. So I think we need to learn how others use our material or see its value or see it as a liability, and so on. So that heritage security nexus is I think our next big challenge, and it's already here.

I have another project that looks at not just world heritage, but other sorts of heritage sites in India. And I should say that, whilst UNESCO wants to privilege, obviously, the 1972 list, and the media take up on that, and that, in the popular realm, is obviously the thing that people think of when they refer to cultural heritage. They think of the pyramids or the Acropolis, or the Taj Mahal, and so on. But there are of course so many other thousands of sites.

So I'm interested in what's happening in India, particularly around heritage and conflict. India doesn't have to be a war zone to actually have conflicts or social conflicts, or those around gender, caste, and class. And so I think that's a whole other project in a country that has some 4,000 official sites on a register, and then 10,000 unofficial, and then many other thousands that are not necessarily reported. There's nothing like India for the scale of monuments and heritage. And so I think we need to diversify also and look at how other people are doing these sorts of preservation projects. Other countries, other sorts of living heritage, and so on.

Sadie Schoeffler: Thank you so much for talking with me today and for sharing with everyone your perspectives and experiences.

Lynn Meskell: Thank you very much.

Sadie S. Whitehurst speaks with Lynn Meskell about the past and future of UNESCO and World Heritage Site designations.

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