Good news, readers! Missy Celii will now be featured weekly on Preservation in Pink. Every Monday you can read her latest preservation thoughts, antics, endeavors, and theories. She is a writer full of insight and humor, so be sure not to miss Mondays. Also, for interested readers: her bio on the contributors page has been updated.
There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee to lift your spirits. This article on CNN proves that coffee is more powerful that we thought. Hurricane victims are visiting coffee shops to get their favorite brew, but also use the internet, connect with neighbors, and resume part of their daily, normal lives. Even if it’s just temporary relief, it’s nice to know that communities can come together over a cup of coffee or a latte or tea, if that’s what you like.
It happens to be Starbucks that is doing such a thing, if you’re interested. Starbucks vs. local coffee shops? Well, that’s a debate for another day. It makes sense that if any business can remain open in such depressed times, Starbucks would be it. And in this case, if it’s helping to keep a neighborhood connected and full of hope (and preventing caffeine withdrawal), then it’s a good thing.
What would we do without coffee? It’s a normal part of everyday life in America, which, without it would turn people upside down. After all, there is that saying about it’s the little things in life that matter and one step at a time.
Enjoy your coffee today, everyone. And if you have the means to help hurricane devastated areas or the time (volunteer vacationism – recovery clean-up) please give it a thought.
Among oral historians, there is much discussion on transcription, editing, and how we as interviewers and historians influence and interpret the experience. There are so many factors of influence. Of course, as historians we influence what someone will say and then how other people will experience what has been said. From choosing which questions to ask, how to direct the interview, transcription decisions, and what is most important to share with others – an oral history becomes a product of many people.
One of the problems historians face is the fact that they are in the present world. Unless someone has been living as if he were in that particular time period, modern ideas, conventions, speech all affect how he views and thinks about a subject. It’s innate and inevitable. I don’t mean to say that people cannot get over this characteristic, but no matter what – someone looking at the present vs. history will always think differently.
Oral history is just what it is – it’s not 100% accurate due to memory and time and nostalgia, but it’s not necessarily less accurate than anything else. It’s slow; it’s stuttering speech; it’s changing what someone is saying in the middle of saying something else; it’s a big collection of information. [For a good article see: Susan Emily Allen Resisting the Editorial Ego]
An issue that I face at work is deciding how well the interviews are represented in the final product (to be a multimedia cd-rom exhibit with audio, photographs, an interactive map, and a timeline). Is the project using the full potential of the interviews? What is the purpose of this project? These are questions to consider when explaining the oral history project (project meaning what will be presented to the public). This is quite the task with a property that covers 10,500 acres, almost 100 years, and interviewees varying in ages from 50-90 all of whom lived there at different times, and the fact that is a complicated place.
I think it’s hard to capture the full life of every interview without listening to a large portion of every interview. But in reality, people would not want to listen to every interview. Why not? Because they are slow. Because there are so many false starts and changing of thoughts in the middle of sentences. Because people don’t have that much time. Because not everything in an interview is interesting – sometimes it’s just chatter. For these reasons, the multimedia project fits our goals perfectly.
And yes, my voice will filter into parts of the multimedia because of photograph captions and deciding what goes in the timeline. But it’s inevitable. I think combining oral history with present interpretations is sometimes necessary and beneficial. I don’t think that takes away from the value of oral history.
Everyone views oral history differently. I can see it with three varying definitions. Oral history is a practice (interview, transcribe, share), a means to research (by listening and reading materials from the interview), and a subject (how can we do this best? What is the most accurate? How can we best convey this material to people?) All uses and methods of oral history are worthwhile.
I don’t claim to be an expert; I’m merely a novice at oral history, considering I’ve only really (professionally) had this 2-3 year project and even though it’s been 30 interviews, it’s just one subject. Judging by how different every interview is, I don’t know that I could ever become an expert. But, I don’t think there is anything wrong with sharing oral history in the format of excerpts, whether audio or text. The reason we do oral history (there it is, as a practice!) is to learn about a particular subject so we can share it. Information is no good unless it’s shared. Oral history gives people identity and connects them to a period or place or group from which they would be otherwise removed. Humans like hearing from humans.
During my relatively short stint of oral history work so far, I’ve come to my own conclusions that oral history will serve a different purpose for every person and every project, and that’s okay. Transcription should match the interview as close to verbatim as possible and any sort of variation needs to be noticeable and in brackets. Some oral history projects will be more formal than others. There is room for all types of oral history and all three forms of it. (Please note that this is just my own way of thinking, nothing tested or proven.) If oral history is respected and used ethically then it is just as valuable as typical historical text and research, possibly more so if it has the effect of getting people interested in history.
Two more good articles to read: 1) Transcription: Shadow or Reality by David King Dunaway and 2) For the Record: Editing and Production of Meaning in Oral History by Carl Wilmsen. All three articles mentioned in this post I found through JSTOR in the Oral History Review.
*Note: If you have access to JSTOR or another research database, just search for “oral history” and you will find a wealth of articles by people who are a lot more qualified than I am to talk about oral history and more fluent when doing so. My thoughts are mine only, probably influenced by articles I have recently read, but not necessarily indicative of the oral history field. I welcome debate and lessons.
Last week I received the field school project: the HSR of the Hill-Woody House from Madison Heights, VA. Travis McDonald, our field school director, continued to work with Jesse on historical research, revising the measured drawings, and any other necessary work to produce the final product. Without Travis’ dedication to completing the reports each year, there would just be a bunch of random information lying around Poplar Forest and in everyone’s notes. On our last day we handed Travis a cd with the compiled text and photographs, which, although we worked hard to format nicely, it was far from perfect. And our measured drawings and detail sketches were not embedded in the report either. Travis was our editor in terms of layout, content, and in any other way that was necessary.
Yes, I’ve said this before, but to anyone who is even a bit interested, look up the Poplar Forest Restoration Field School and consider attending. It is extremely worthwhile and the most affordable field school you will find. I’d bet it’s even better than some of the most expensive field schools.
Just a few excerpts from the report.
The Groom Cross is located between Interstate 40 and old Route 66 going west out of Groom, Texas. It was built by Steve Thomas of Pampa, Texas in 1995. Mr. Thomas, disgusted with the huge billboards advertising XXX pornography locations along I-40 wanted to make a public profession of faith along the Interstate. Originally he wanted to put up his own billboard with Bible verses but could never find the appropriate verse. Instead, inspired by a cross built by a rancher in Ballinger, Texas, Mr. Thomas knew that he would build a cross. Built on private property donated by Chris Britten to avoid legal issues with the ACLU at a height of 190 feet, the Groom Cross is reported as being the biggest cross in the northern hemisphere. Recent additions to the area around the Groom Cross include a memorial in memory of the victims of abortion and a replica of Calvary, with steps leading to the crosses, and a replica of Christ’s tomb. The Stations of the Cross were just completed and feature life-sized sculptures of the events leading to Christ’s crucifixion. The Groom Cross is fast becoming a roadside pilgrimage site with the number of travelers visiting the site increasing exponentially.
Groom, TX photograph from Wikipedia Commons.
So, if you happen to pass a giant cross on your roadside adventures, know that it’s not really uncommon. It’s not historic, but it’s definitely Roadside America. Generally, no matter how strange something appears from your windshield, there is a reason that it exists. Half the fun is finding out why and the other half is just taking a photograph to share the wacky site!
Hurricane Ike, gas prices, downward economy – there just isn’t a lot of good news lately. Since I can’t control the news or the weather or the economy, I am at least trying to control how much of my income goes to fueling my car. Thankfully, I have the option of a flex schedule, which means nine hour workdays, but every other Friday off, translating into 60 miles less per two weeks. It may not sound like a lot, but it does all add up and make a difference, especially when I’m driving around 275 miles per week. Instead of filling up my car’s gas tank every week, I can go every eight days or so.
I’ve decided to ride my bicycle whenever possible. Sadly, this is not possible for the grocery store because I do not own one of those buggies for children that attach to the bike. (Someday I will!) However, I can easily ride my bike to the coffee shop, post office, and the bank. And I have been. For the record, I could walk, but I’m not a fan of walking; it’s either running or biking for me. And once again, the environment and preservation go hand in hand.
Mail: Riding to the post office is a much better option than driving for many reasons. 1) It takes the same amount of time due to the speed limit downtown, yield signs and trying to find a parking spot; hence it’s quick and easy. 2) I can just park on the sidewalk and lock my bike. Yes, I lock it because I’m paranoid that someone will steal it even though I’m in the building for about two minutes. Yet, on Friday, as I’m locking up my bike, someone parks his car, leaves it running and dashes into the post office. No one else was in the car. Huh? That was one of those I live in a small town moments. I’m still locking my bike.
Coffee: After the post office, I got back on my bike and headed to the coffee shop. Feeling extra environmentally friendly, I brought along my travel coffee mug. Once before I had seen a fellow customer fill up his mug rather than use the store bought cup. I figured that I could at least ask. To my surprise, the coffee shop worker was more than happy to allow me to fill up my travel mug. And an even better surprise: it only cost me $1.00 for a large 16oz coffee (my travel mug is 16oz.) Normally, coffee is $1.25 for a 12oz and $1.50 for a 16oz. This happens to be the cheapest and the best tasting coffee in town. I’m not sure how much it would cost if my mug were more than 16oz, but I’m sure it would still be cheaper than buying coffee and a cup.
The other exciting part about this coffee discovery was the fact that my coffee mug handle fits perfectly over the handlebars on my bike and it will not spill a drop because it is the superwoman of coffee mugs (it’s pink, by the way.) This convenience allows for my coffee to stay warm longer, for me to save money and trees, and for me to ride my bike rather than walking to the coffee shop. (Also, I don’t look like a dangerous fool trying to hold my coffee mug and steer my bicycle without dying.) Moral of this adventure: bring your own coffee mug and get one that fits over handlebars or in your water bottle holder!
ATM: Today I decided that after riding to the post office, I would continue the extra .75 miles to the bank so I could deposit a check. If it were during business hours, I probably would have gone inside the bank, but rarely do I make it there before 5pm. Thus, I figured that I could use the ATM. I got in line behind two cars and waited my turn, thinking about how much gas I was saving, how much pollution I may have inadvertently breathed in, and how I felt slightly awkward at a drive through ATM on my bike. But really, close enough. Motorcycles can go to ATMs, so why not bicycles. I continued to feel awkward as someone pulled in behind me, but this person was gracious enough to keep his car at fair distance. When it was my turn I rode up to the ATM and went about the usual business. It was nothing out of the ordinary. I think I’ll do that more often and get over the weirdness, which has to be just a societal construction anyway.
Biking notes: Saturday I repeated the mail-coffee routine but added in the farmer’s market. My best advice is to ride with some form of backpack so there isn’t anything swinging at your wheels. Most importantly, I obey traffic laws as if I were driving a car and pay extra attention since I know that people aren’t expecting me to be in certain places. Granted, I do have the advantage of living in a small town with a 25-35 mph speed limit downtown, one way streets, and a cycling population, but I still have to be careful. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to bike places, but if you do, you should try it. One more thing, I ride a mountain bike around town, not a road bike because I’m not confident enough to clip in and out of pedals whenever necessary. Being able to put my feet on the ground at a moment’s notice and not fall off my bike is much more comforting.
Here’s to using my bicycle for errands! I’ll see what I can come up with next.
Friday while driving into work, for some reason, all the cranes in downtown Charlottesville seemed particularly noticeable to me and I found myself caught in the age old preservation/planner power struggle. I started trying to imagine what the skyline of “Cville” will look like when the new towers (dear god at nine stories you can almost touch the heavens!) are built. I couldn’t help but get excited to think about being able to see a place I love from far away. I remember being a child and getting giddy when I saw the New York skyline in the distance and knowing that I would soon be there and the awesome feeling of watching the buildings ‘grow’ as we drove closer. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but wonder how different the downtown will be. Our BAR (Board of Architectural Review) is very level headed and makes some really good decisions, so I know any new building will be scrutinized and adapted to be the best possible design possible, but still how will the sense of place, time, and scale change when all the new buildings are finally erected?
Pondering this all day, I think -for me – preservation is more the big picture. Some would argue that it’s the buildings that make the downtown mall (well really the bricks make the mall, but you know what I mean), but that is not what makes downtown (or any downtown for that matter) special. It’s the way the buildings are arranged and the way they create the feeling of knowing you are ‘somewhere’ worth being. There is a there there. Will this really be changed by making the buildings taller? I don’t think so. I’m as saddened to see an old building torn down or facaded as the next preservationist, but sometimes I don’t think it is such a tragedy assuming they are replaced with another building that respects the balance of public/private space, complementing design, and the relationship to the street that the previous building had. But even as I write this, can such things ever truly be replaced? New York and Chicago for example, have some truly stunning skyscrapers today, but what about the ones from before. It makes me sick to think of all the Sullivans, McKims, Meads, and Whites, etc. that were torn down to make room for today’s skyscrapers. And what of those said lost treasures, what architectural gems did they destroy in their construction? Similarly, what new technology and design will one day lead us to tear down the Empire State Building or Sears Tower?
I think I should also note, that while the preservationist inside of me is sad to see the loss of any building or material artifact of our past, the environmentalist wants to do a back flip. Keep development where it belongs, which is on top of where it already exists. As the old saying goes, ‘farmland lost is farmland lost forever.’ These new residential, office, and commercial units need to go somewhere, so doesn’t it make sense to put them where development has already happened instead of green fields on the edge of town? And taking a step back to put things in context, what is more important, some old buildings or our children’s future resources? Makes it hard to argue for the buildings. The bottom line is that development needs to happen within the already established footprint of cities in order to ensure the long term sustainability of us all. As preservationists, it is our job to now figure out how to keep development within these existing bounds while protecting our limited historical resources. Not an easy thing to do, but I have faith that our passions and dedications will make it happen.
Happy Birthday to Maria Gissendanner!! Maria, I hope you spend your birthday enjoying one of your crazy off-the-beaten path adventures, where you’re sure to come up with good stories and photos, as you always do! Have a great day!
Good news, Preservation in Pink fans! As you know, the newsletter includes articles from everyone listed on the Contributors page, but so far this blog has been only the voice of me. Hopefully you don’t get tired of reading what I write, but just to shake things up a bit and increase diversity, Missy Celii is going to start posting preservation thoughts as well. I hope this encourages others to consider sending a post my way whenever you have an idea. I’ll post it and make sure to put your name in the byline and link your website if you’d like/have one. Enjoy!
P.S. Missy’s first post will be tomorrow! Don’t miss it!
In an attempt to continue spreading the word of Preservation in Pink, I have now created a Facebook group. If you have Facebook, please join! (Note, you have to be signed up for Facebook to view this group.) This website will remain the same, but the group will just show some love towards it!