PastForward Reading List: Connections

By Forum Online posted 10-31-2017 15:44


We are continuing our annual reading lists leading up to PastForward 2017. As always, they present curated videos, articles, and projects that we hope will spark discussions in Chicago come November 14–17. Register for the conference today!

Through the Connections theme we will continue telling the broader American story at PastForward 2017. We will explore the importance of including younger demographic groups in preservation. We will learn about the potential of historic places related to music to create connections across generations and communities. We will hear about the role of historic sites in deepening our understanding of the varying, sometimes conflicting, narratives surrounding the more painful aspects of our pasts. And we will examine case studies of racial equity and inclusion playing crucial roles in place-based preservation.


Social Justice and Equity

This summer the Preservation Leadership Forum published “When Does Preservation Become Social Justice?,” a blog series that examined how and where our work aimed at saving historic places and telling all-inclusive stories of American history intersects with social justice. In her conclusion to the series, which was published a few weeks following the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Jacquie Johnson wrote:

Interpreting [many historic places, sites, and structures] through a social justice lens enables us to identify the systems and institutions that perpetuate inequality and see who is really being left out, disenfranchised, and oppressed—and who is making questionable claims of marginalization and injustice.

In “After Charlottesville: How to Approach Confederate Memorials in Your Community,” National Trust President and CEO Stephanie Meeks emphasized that, while preservationists “always want to engage with rather than obscure the past, we also recognize that many of these [Confederate] memorials were intended as, and are clearly still being taken to represent, symbols of white supremacy, and that public monuments in public spaces, and maintained with public money, should represent our public values.”

And in “Missing Lesson from Charlottesville: Heritage as a Driver of Inclusion,” Andrew Potts argued that, in response to the ongoing debate over Confederate monuments and other weighty heritage issues, we should come up with “an affirmative vision of how cultural heritage can promote social cohesion, inclusion, participation, and equity.”

In a recent Huffington Post article, Dr. Maria Madison, founder and president of the Robbins House Museum, posits that museums must unmask society’s inequities. She goes on to say that:

Sites such as the Robbins House have the unique opportunity to teach audiences about centuries of persistent inequity that either produced or prohibited transgenerational wealth and health. Often museums must inform audiences of what they were not offered in school: that inequities in citizenship, home and land ownership, education, employment and labor, justice and health have persisted by race, ethnicity, gender and lineage, to the present.

Diversity and Inclusion

At PastForward 2016 in Houston, documentary filmmaker John Valadez delivered a very emotional TrustLive speech that described his experiences as one of few Mexican Americans growing up in Seattle and emphasized the dearth of accounts of Mexican American contributions to American history. He views advancing those stories as an important part of his job because “it was [not just] the other people who really created the American story.”

Hear Valadez discuss his latest documentary, “The Head of Joaquin Murrieta,” with Fronteras host Edmundo Resendez. The film depicts Valadez’ own quest to return the remains of a Mexican man to California—where he was killed by bounty hunters in 1853—while simultaneously researching his own family’s history with a colleague from at New Mexico State University. (“The Head of Joaquin Murrieta” was shown during Hispanic Heritage Month on PBS channels. Check your PBS local listings for additional screening times of “The Head of Joaquin Murrieta.”) 

On Wednesday, November 15, as part of Diversity and Inclusion Day: Social Justice and Activism, the National Trust Diversity Scholarship Program, which is celebrating 25 years in 2017, will sponsor a speaker at the Preservation Luncheon: Craig Barton, provost of academic affairs at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and editor of Sites of Memory: Perspectives on Architecture and Race. Tia Blassingame discusses Barton’s book, juxtaposing it with White Papers, Black Marks: Architecture, Race, Culture, edited by Lesley Naa Norle Lokko. According to Blassingame these two works are among the first to show that “a reflection of societal attitudes toward race has only recently found a place in architectural discourse.” She goes on to say that “Sites of Memory focuses on collective, architectural, historical, and ephemeral memory of African Americans in the American built environment, [and] the essays of White Papers, Black Marks explore race as a construct for control established by white European colonists.” 


At the end of September, the first Bracero History Summit was held under the umbrella of the Rio Vista Farm National Treasure in El Paso, Texas. The summit honored the 75th anniversary of the 1942 executive order that initiated U.S. Bracero Program. Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva, a PastForward 2017 speaker, worked with her team at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Institute of Oral History to create this video about the Bracero program and its legacy.

In “Life and death on the border: effects of century-old murders still felt in Texas, Tom Dart examines the Texas borderlands through the lens of Life and Death on the Border 1910–1920, a major 2016 exhibition at Austin’s Bullock Texas State Museum. He declares that “some of the worst state-sanctioned racial violence in United States history” took place between 1910 and 1920. He connects with a group of people who lost their ancestors during that period, as well as with the academics who sponsored “Refusing to Forget,” a project focused on commemorating and acknowledging these century-old atrocities against Mexicans and Mexican Americans. 

Rad(ical) Women

In 2011 the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) published “Revealing Women’s History: Best Practices at Historic Sites”—the culmination of a decade in partnership with the National Park Service Northeast Region.  Over the past three years, the National Trust has been working closely with NCWHS to advocate for the preservation and interpretation of sites directly and indirectly associated with women’s history and the little-known historic figures who, at various times, have stood on the forefront of the fight for gender and racial equality. One of the goals of this work has been to activate these undiscovered narratives at National Treasures sites, beginning with the Pauli Murray House in in Durham, North Carolina. This collaboration also spurred the recent Forum Blog series, “Women’s History and Historic Preservation,” and will continue with a special pre-PastForward workshop in Chicago.

Preservation’s Relevancy

During the Future of Preservation Summit at PastForward 2016, we asked you to comment on a policy document draft. Following up on that conversation, David J. Brown, the executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust, offered his perspective, asserting that preservation must make broader connections in order to build a people-centered movement in “A Wider, More Generous, More Imaginative Perspective: Preservation in 2017.”

Based on some of the questions and discussions that came out of the summit, as well as other gatherings dedicated to discussing the future of preservation, the Trust released the final version of Preservation for People: A Vision for the Future in May 2017. As Stephanie Meeks said in her announcement, “We hope that this vision serves as a similar roadmap for our joint efforts, that it provokes discussion and encourages new thinking, and that it inspires you as we all work to move preservation forward in the decades ahead.”

One of the three components suggested for a people‐centered preservation movement is developing collaboration with both existing and new partners to address fundamental social issues and make the world better. In order to convey the importance of the past to future generations, we must educate them and introduce them to the full range of the ever-evolving American story.

Katie Rispoli Keaotamai, one of the speakers at a PastForward 2017 Learning Lab called “Education Factor: Sustaining Preservation’s Relevancy and Future,” wrote a post for the Forum Blog to discuss her work with high school students in the Youth Heritage Summit California program. She told us of about new tools—“geo-mapping, social media platforms, [and] graphic design”—that students used to present the stories of six sites affiliated with Cesar Chavez and the Farmworker Movement.

InWelcoming a New Generation of Preservationists,” Andy Grabel and Diana Tisue discuss the recent Millennials and Historic Preservation: A Deep Dive Into Attitudes and Values study and describe some ways in which young generations, especially millennials, participate in preservation and celebrate historic places and stories. 

Music as a Connector

This year we saw the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the site of the 1969 Woodstock music festival, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And the Summer of Love, the countercultural movement of 1967, turned 50, spurring celebrations in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide. Check out John Murphy’s review of “Revisiting the Summer of Love, Rethinking the Counterculture,” a conference held at the Northwestern University Center for Civic Engagement in July. He reports that, “with many living witnesses and engaged actors in the counterculture in attendance, the conference highlighted the tension between ‘written’ history, on the one hand, and history as lived by participants.”

Photosynthesis, an illumination art project of the historic San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers for the 2017 Summer of Love Celebration. | Credit: Melita Juresa-McDonald

In fall 2016 the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded for the first time to a musician/poet—Bob Dylan. Nashville’s Music Row, a National Trust National Treasure, played a significant role in Dylan’s career. In “Ben Folds Leads Charge to Save RCA Studio A on Nashville’s Music Row,” Carolyn Brackett, one of the speakers at the PastForward 2017 session about music, wrote about the iconic studios. Kate Flynn looks at five other music history–related sites facing development and demolition pressure. And in “The final bar? How gentrification threatens America's music cities,” Naomi Larsson explores how places like Austin and New Orleans successfully becoming “music cities” is threatening their sustainability and what tools they are employing to keep their musicians in town. 

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