Tuesday, November 5, 2013


When I'm reading a book and I get really engrossed in something, I sometimes feel a tickling in my brain.

This sounds alarming, but it's really not. That's the sensation of learning new things and creating new patterns of thought. Even after a torrid, decades-long affair with the printed word, it's still startling enough to break me out of my reverie and check over my shoulder, to make sure someone's not tickling me with a feather.

It's the feeling you get when one puzzle piece fits into another or when you wire up an outlet and a light pops on. It's like realizing the twist of a well-written screenplay, and feeling the wind knocked out of you, but in a good way.,

I can picture exactly what it looks like, too. Remember the old myth about the brain developing a new wrinkle every time it learns something? That tickle is your gray matter stretching and creasing, in a way that it just now figured out.

In college, that tickle is how I knew that I was onto something, and that I'm just made forward progress. The faintest little sensation in my cranium now makes me lean forward in my chair and reach for a notepad. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, signalling that you're on the right track.

Sadly, it's a sensation that I feel less and less nowadays, as work, daily life and other obligations take up more and more time, leaving less time for reading. But today, I'm not doing much of anything, and I cracked open a book. And there it was, hidden somewhere between chapters 3 and 4.

Hello, old friend.

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Do you suspect that the tickling is actually a nest of tiny spiders that just hatched in my brain? If you're a medical professional and you know the cure for spider-brain, please post it the space below. Quickly.

Friday, August 30, 2013

An Introduction to Google SketchUp

A few weeks ago I vowed to post about a program I've been using called Google SketchUp. Today is the day that I keep my vow.

SketchUp allows anybody with a computer and a decent internet connection to model existing and historical buildings in 3 dimensions. One of the best features of the program is called "Match Photo," in which the user uploads a photograph, lays out dimensions along the X, Y, and Z axes, and draws their structure using some very intuitive tools. If you assign your drawing a scale, SketchUp will even infer what the building's dimensions are, enabling you to create your models quickly and accurately.

2D views of my model of the historical Main Gate of the Charlestown Navy Yard were posted in the Portfolio section several days ago. For the last four days, I've been sparring with Google's 3D Warehouse, trying to convince it to accept an uploaded file of my work. Today it listened to reason, and I now present for your viewing pleasure the restored digital Main Gate.

This is the first of many models to come, because I have big plans for Google's modeling program for the masses. Click the following link to see the 3D view on Google's 3D Warehouse, and check back soon to see more.

Main Gate, Charlestown Navy Yard (Historical):

The main gate of the Charlestown Navy Yard ( historically referred to as the Boston Navy Yard) was constructed in 1903, on the site of the current Gate 1 of Boston National Historical Park.

3D model by

Monday, August 26, 2013

National Trust Re-Post!

The 2nd article I wrote for HistPres.com, "The Devil's Advocate Guide to National Register Listing," has been re-posted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation! See it here. And if you didn't get the chance to see the original post in its original form, go and visit Meagan and Laura over at HistPres.


In other news, the Portfolio section has been updated with more samples of boxes I'm trying to tick while pursuing Humanities employment in a terrible economy. We have some 3D Modeling, some Grant-Writing, and some Exhibit Development, with more to come. So check them out. After you read the article, of course.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Update! August 10

I blinked, and now the summer's almost over. And I realize that I haven't posted for a while. I have no excuses except for the usual ones, like work, looking for work, side projects, and the occasional nap. So here's my last four weeks in a nutshell.

WORK. The summer may be winding down, but you wouldn't know it to see the crowds outside of Boston National Historical Park these last few weeks. Every tour we've sent out, every talk we've given at one or another historical site, every time we've had to resuscitate one of our rangers because they drew out a sentence too long, it's all been observed by hundreds of people. Where does the time go? God only knows. It's probably lost. Like everyone else in Boston's cow-path streets.

INTERVIEW! The first interview I've had in almost a year. It was for a preservation organization in Boston, and while I didn't get the job, I was able to muster some excellent references (thanks, Meagan and Laurie!) and put together a pretty good portfolio. Just getting brought in for the interview was exciting; it means that I must be doing something right.

ARTICLE PUBLISHED! Meagan and Laura over at HistPres.com recently published a second article of mine, "The Devil's Advocate Guide to National Register Listing." It's already been shared a few dozen times on Facebook, and it's going to be re-posted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation later this month. So that's cool. Check out the links: give Meagan and Laura a visit, and go heckle me on their forums. All the cool kids are doing it.

GOOGLE SKETCHUP! I've been wanting to write a blog post about this amazing program for months now, and I just can't seem to make the time. Let's just say that it's 3D modeling software used by many historical institutions, from preservation organizations to museums, and it has enormous potential for the field of digital history. I made a few models for my portfolio, and a few have been submitted to Google Earth to be vetted and uploaded to the internet. Expect to see more on this subject in the next few months.

FREELANCING! Throughout the last year or so, I've been networking like crazy. Since most historical organizations are going through tough times financially, and very few are hiring permanent, full-time employees, and the few that are are being overrun by applications from PhD's with centuries of experience, I thought that some of these organizations might be interested in contracting out some work to reasonably priced freelancers. So I've been gathering references and letters of recommendation, brushing up my dozens of resumes, and meeting as many people as possible. And it finally seems to be paying off! I've been in contact with several institutions who are interested in the possibility of working together. I'm not going to say who (it'll ruin the suspense!), but I'll definitely post updates once I get them myself.

That's all. Check back. Cheers.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Car made of People

Ah, Linked-In. I'm still not completely convinced that this Facebook for networkers is worth the time and the effort that I put into it, but I'd rather use it and not need it than need it and not use it. In any case, while updating my profile summary today I got my brain juices flowing, and now I can eloquently explain why I do what I do.

To get into the obligatory metaphor, ever since Henry Ford popularized the automobile for the American public, cars have been getting more sophisticated and more complex. A repair that a mechanic could have completed without incident 10 years ago now requires a specialist. In recent years, cars have incorporated increasing numbers of electronics, specialized equipment, and luxury items. One guy can fix your built-in GPS, but you need to see a different guy about the problem with your electric windows, or the gauges in your dashboard.

Likewise, humanity is becoming increasingly diverse and complex. In an increasingly crowded and competitive world, the struggle to succeed individually while co-existing with other individuals is getting more and more complicated. Billions of people all trying to exist together, and at the same time trying to improve that existence for as much of humanity as possible. And being social animals, they create millions of political, social, and cultural institutions, groups and organizations, sorting themselves into these different factions based on their unique personal outlooks.

If you think of the human race like an automobile, each person and faction of persons represents a part in an enormous machine that needs constant maintenance. Each part intersects with the others in different ways, and sometimes the gears don't mesh and the oil doesn't pump. When different portions of humanity have contradictory needs, you get wars, social unrest, decreasing resources, and all sorts of nasty things.

Seriously though, this is bad. To address these problems, you need to understand their causes. To understand their causes you need to study all sorts of interesting fields, like economics (it's interesting to some people!) psychology, sociology, and... you guessed it... history. Think of each one of these fields as a different bit on a souped-up spy car. Studying each one will help you figure out how a different part of human society functions. But to get a feel for the entire complicated blueprint of human existence, you need to crack open a history book, because this is a manual that will let you know how a tiny portion of those parts have interacted in the past.

I went into this field because I like to know why things are the way that they are. Studying the past allows you to understand the present, but also to make preparations for the future. The more I learn about the origins of modern institutions, the better equipped I am to plan my own life.

And this is exactly why the recent, persistent cuts to American humanities and social sciences are such bad news not only to social science majors, but to the nation as a whole. The human machine is not going to stop changing, or even slow the process. Governments and individuals are constantly blundering into situations that a quick review of the historical record would reveal as an easily avoidable mistake. Would you trust a mechanic who didn't understand how your car brakes function? Human society is infinitely more complicated, with more parts than the most technologically advanced car, and we're not even close to understanding how all of those parts work. It's going to take a LOT of mechanics to keep that work going, but that won't happen if these fields are continually being looted of funding.

Here's hoping that the brakes don't give out.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Firing a Musket, in Peace and War

The Bunker Hill Monument on Breed's Hill, Charlestown, MA.
In the life of a young museum professional, there's work, and then there's shooting muskets (for work).

Which is what I did on Thursday at the Bunker Hill Monument, because I recently started my third season at Boston National Historical Park. One of the programs offered most weekends at the park is a demonstration of 18th century musket firing, made somehow less cool (or cooler?) by the NPS-issue olive-green overalls and ball cap. I'm sure I either looked ridiculous or awesome with my protective goggles and bright orange ear-plugs, accentuated by a period cartridge box holding 15 black-powder rounds, and a five-foot long replica flintlock.

It was fun either way.

However, much like our colonial forbears who marched to fight the British Army in 1775, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Unlike our forbears, I had the opportunity to learn musketry without anyone shooting back at me. Nevertheless, after carrying the weapon outside and following the spotter's instructions to load and prepare the piece, I pointed the barrel up at the sky and had a realization...

I'm not sure I could have done it.

I'm not sure that I could have shot at another human being. I'm not sure I could have killed another human being. I'm not sure that I could have coolly loaded and fired what is essentially a low explosive packed into a confined iron tube, with cannonballs and musketballs and all manner of hell raining down on me, watching my friends get blown up and shot and bayoneted. Not for as long, as bravely, or--the embarrassed part of me wants to say-- as foolishly.

And another part of me, the inquisitive, analytic part, wants to know how they did it. How did the rebel Americans-- few of whom had anything like practical military experience-- decide to march to Breed's Hill in June of 1775? How did they decide that they could stand up to the British army, one of the greatest military powers in 18th century Europe? Alternately, how did the British foot-soldiers (many of whom were no doubt intelligent, rational, nervous men) convince themselves that they could cross nearly half a mile of open field to attack a fortified position guarded by other men with the above-mentioned weapons?

When I first picked up my replica musket and pointed it at the sky, I was nervous. After I had fired a second time, and then a third, I was less nervous. It wasn't until the fourth or fifth try that my nerves began to subside, that I realized that I had acquired a knack for the piece. I had learned its secrets. I imagine that the same thing happened in 1775 to the rebels inside the fort on Breed's Hill, and the redcoats they were defending themselves against. The Americans, having largely confined their weapons to the hunting of game, probably had the same sort of hesitation as I did at the thought of using their weapons on other people. Having spent a good part of their career training to do just that, the British soldiers might not have even thought about it, because they had already acquired the knack. Once that happens, do you think about what you're doing, or do you just go through the motions?

No one alive today will ever know what it was like being on an eighteenth-century battlefield. Even modern soldiers--who are better equipped than most of us to understand the mindset of the combatants on Breed's Hill--are not able to fully relate. God willing, none of them will ever have to endure the agony of surgery with nothing but rum to dull the pain, or fight off the inevitable infections without antibiotics. None of them will be used as cannon fodder, sacrificed like human pawns on a chessboard in an era when human life didn't mean what it does today. By most accounts, war today is hell; back then, war was hell without anesthesia.

When we conduct these kinds of demonstrations, we call it living history, but we're not really living it. When our cartridge boxes are empty, the simulation stops and we go back to our modern lives. At best, we're pretending history, and because we can't reproduce everything about the situation faced by these men, the pretending never becomes real. Some things are simply impossible to connect to.

But at least now I know how to fire a flintlock.

Friday, May 3, 2013

On Finishing Things

When I was studying history in college, we didn’t take tests. We wrote essays. These could be anywhere from 10 to 30 pages long, and they’d be stuffed full of information and analysis that we pulled from old books, old libraries, and old professors. Each of us would start the writing process two or three months before the due date and bit by bit begin filling in an outline put together to guide that process. If my classmates were anything like me, no sooner had they written one paragraph then they immediately began to rewrite it; adding information, changing their argument, emphasizing and cajoling.

Usually we could expect to write at least three of these every semester, and they were all due within a few days of each other at the end of term. Inevitably, there were conflicts with other assignments and other commitments. These conflicts were irrelevant; the essays had to get done. No matter what. With so much class and study time being spent essay-ing (not a real word!), our final grade revolved around our writing. It wasn’t enough to juggle the workload, or to finish assignments, we had to finish them well

Five months ago, I started writing an application for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Research Fellowship program. The day after, I started an application on behalf of a local museum to receive some grant funding. Two days ago, on May first (May Day, for our pagan and/or socialist readers!) both applications were submitted successfully. I feel like I just got out of school for summer vacation.

Not that I didn’t enjoy the research, the writing, the process of taking raw data and crafting it like clay. If I didn’t enjoy all of that, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. But the thing I like even more than the doing is the finishing. Not because I no longer have tasks to accomplish or deadlines to meet, but because I had a goal and I achieved it.

If nothing else comes of these last five months of work, that will be all right. If the museum doesn’t receive its funding, I will be disappointed, although probably not as much as the actual staff. If the NEH doesn’t select my research proposal, I’ll wish that they had. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t accomplish anything.

Five months ago, I wanted to learn grant-writing, and I wanted to apply for a fellowship. Note that I didn’t say that I wanted to get a job as a grant-writer (although I would take one!) or that I wanted to receive a fellowship (although I would absolutely take it!). Five months ago I wanted to do something new, and I wanted to see how well I could do it. Because of that I spent an entire winter in two volunteer positions; 40 plus hours a week of late nights, conflicting deadlines, and writer’s block. And because I did once, I can do it again; better than before. Without even considering the professional implications, I’d say that’s a winter well spent. And now that one thing is finished, it’s on to the next thing.

That being said, the Chinese have a proverb that’s somewhat relevant: “Butcher the donkey after it’s finished its work at the mill.” So there’s that perspective to consider, too.

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If you don't hear from me again, either I'm in hiding from student loan collection agents or... well, just stay away from the Plymouth meat markets for a while. Post your condolences in the space below.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Update! March 28

Welcome to the new edition of "Will Interpret for Food!"

I've noticed something encouraging in the last few weeks. Ever since I posted that article on HistPres.com, I've gotten a jump in visitation stats, quite a few of them first-time visits.

Since this site is being operated partly as a networking tool, and since I want first time visitors to come back, I've decided to do a little bit of site maintenance. Remember that lovely neon green color that used to be splashed across the background? Gone. Obviously. The new layout should make it a bit easier to read posts and links, as well as being a bit more in tune with the overall theme of this blog: History.

I've also taken the liberty of reorganizing the site. Most new posts will be sorted into three categories; "Work," "Play," and "Musings." These are grouped together at the top of the page for easier navigation. And as a result of the work that I've been doing for my internships over the last few months, I also have some project samples to incorporate into my "Portfolio," which will look a little more complete in the coming weeks.

New content coming soon, so I invite you to come back and check it out. Also, if you're a first time visitor (or even if you're not), feel free to either subscribe or follow by email. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Preservation or Parking Lot?

I was talking with a Plymouth resident this afternoon when the subject of the 1820 Courthouse came up. For those who don’t know, the Courthouse is a local landmark purchased several years ago by the Plymouth Town Meeting in order to carry out renovations and restore use to Plymouth citizens. For the town’s 400 year anniversary, approaching in 2020, some town planners have recommended that Plymouth use the Courthouse as a focal point and welcoming center for the large influx of tourists that are expected to visit America’s Hometown.

So anyways, the Plymouth resident. The conversation veered back and forth; we talked about the types of shops that make up downtown Plymouth’s main street (mostly bars and antique shops), we talked about local politics (surprisingly factional) and we talked about the town’s upcoming quadri-centennial. The Courthouse was mentioned, as was its potential role in the celebrations. It was then that my companion made a statement that made my blood run cold.

“It’s an eyesore,” he told me, pointing in the direction of the structure. “I think we should knock it down and turn it into a parking lot.”

Whoa. Were we talking about the same building? Was there another courthouse that I didn’t know about? Maybe the structure that he was referring to was a decrepit old slum, or a crack den. Certainly we couldn’t be talking about the elegant, centuries old building that marked the northern entrance into Plymouth’s historic district.

But we were. Incredulous, I listened as he laid out his arguments for the parking lot idea; the increasingly political atmosphere of the redevelopment project, the mounting costs, the lengthening delays. It was reasoning by a not-unreasonable individual, who’d decided that the cost and sacrifice to preserve this particular cultural icon simply wasn’t worth the trouble.

And rather than try to convince him, I walked away. Just like that. Part of it was my unwillingness to catch such a political hot potato, part of it was simply surprise at the direction the conversation had veered. I didn’t know the arguments, didn’t know the parties involved, didn’t have the statistics, couldn’t form the responses. Couldn’t make my case.

So I went home, and I got on my computer. And now I’m going to try again.

  1. THE EYESORE. I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I can’t help but wonder whether anyone actually thinks that this,

is more of an eyesore than this.

Some people don’t like certain types of buildings, or certain types of architecture. I understand this. But whether early 19th century construction is your cup of tea or not, I’m fairly certain that more visitors to Plymouth will stop to appreciate the Courthouse as it currently stands than if it was razed and paved. People don’t often spend their vacations taking pictures of parking lots, after all.

  1. THE POLITICS. The 1820 Courthouse was purchased in 2009 by the Plymouth Town Meeting, which is currently leasing the property to the Plymouth Redevelopment Authority (PRA) for adaptive reuse. The political arena is further complicated by another set of acronyms, the 1820 Courthouse Consortium (1820 CC), which represents a diverse set of interests and is charged with incorporating the building into a reinvigorated waterfront district.

With the number of voices clamoring to have a say on the issue, it’s no wonder the project is raising so many hackles, or taking so long. However, all of these voices have come to a consensus on one thing… the Courthouse ought to stick around. Town Meeting bought it, the PRA is (re) developing it, and the 1820 CC is working on ways to integrate it. The question is no longer “should we?”  but rather “how should we?”

  1. THE COST. “The town bought it, and now the people have to pay for it.” Well, yes. Just like a businessman maintains his place of business, or a homeowner his home. It costs a lot of money to stabilize and preserve a historic structure. There are historical and architectural surveys to be undertaken, planners and construction firms to pay. As noted in a report issued by the Urban Land Institute, "given the condition of the existing buildings, the cost to develop the property will be high, for either preservation/adaptive reuse or demolition options.” (Urban Land Institute, p. 14)

But two things make this project different. First, the Town of Plymouth has long branded itself as a destination for tourism. Between the months of May and September, thousands of out-of-state visitors will visit Plymouth attractions, shop in Plymouth stores, eat in Plymouth restaurants. They come here to see what makes Plymouth different from other towns, including old buildings like the 1820 Courthouse. While certainly necessary for tourism, a parking lot is a convenience to your visit, not the reason for it.

Second, this statement assumes that Plymouth residents will have to shoulder the bill all by themselves. The historic nature of the structure means that there are Federal and state resources available to help pick up the slack. Some of the possibilities proposed in the Urban Land Institute's report include Historic Tax Credits, the Community Preservation Act, Community Development Block grants, and more. Coupled with the downtown revitalization project that the Courthouse is supposed to highlight, the town has the potential to receive a very large return on a very subsidized investment.

The issues surrounding this building are… complicated, much more so than this short post may make it seem. And just to be clear, as far as I know it's not currently in any danger. This was a private citizen I was speaking to, a citizen with legitimate concerns and no more or less control over town policy than myself.

But armed with the facts, maybe next time I see him we can have the discussion that we should have had earlier today.

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Are you a Plymouth resident? Is there, in fact, another nearby courthouse (previously unknown to me) currently operating as a meth lab? Did I get all worked up over nothing? If so, please include info and photos in the space below so we can all disregard the post above.
"1820 Courthouse: Plymouth landmark boasts venerable history." Wicked Local Plymouth. March 6, 2013. http://bit.ly/16YDYBg

Urban Land Institute. "1820 Courthouse Corridor Redevelopment." Plymouth, MA. Sept. 11, 2012. http://bit.ly/14oOEJC

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thoughts about Mills

Because let's face it; we all have them.

Plimoth Plantation has recently taken over the running and interpretation of the Jenney Gristmill, a reproduced 17th century structure on the shores of Plymouth's Town Brook. When I showed up for my internship in the Plantation archives several weeks ago, my boss asked if I wanted to help research (and perhaps develop) exhibits for this new site. The other option on my to-do list for the day was to work my way down a list of book titles, about thirty or so pages long, and check off each item with a big red pen as I found them on the shelf. I chose to do the research.

My task was simple; locate images and descriptions of similar structures that might influence the appearance and operation of the Jenney Mill. There are no period images of the original mill, built in 1636 by Plymouth Colony resident John Jenney. So we have to do the best we can with the pictures we can find.

In no particular order:

A horse-driven mill. I applaud their creativity, but horses were expensive to transport from Europe, and the impoverished Pilgrims didn't have them.

A child-driven mill. Economically feasible, but currently frowned upon in liberal Massachusetts.

These are all very nice, but what we're really looking for is a mill that the English could have built in New England, with period materials and tools, and utilizing New England resources as power supplies.

A Chinese water-pounding mill. Close, but on the wrong continent. 

Also, for people who pay attention to the millenia-long East/West technological race, the above image of the Chinese mill is of a machine believed to have existed in the second century CE. The image below is a rendering of the earliest known comparable European mill, built in Ireland five hundred years later.

Although to be fair, the Irish at this time had a Viking problem they were probably worried about.

The best images of European Renaissance-era technology come from French and German documents, and these are the sources that start yielding paydirt.

Bingo. John Jenney would be proud.

Check back in the next few days to see how we put together an exhibit for the Jenney Gristmill. In the meantime, you can read more about the Plantation's new acquisition here.

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Is that your child driving the mill in the 16th century engraving above? After five-hundred years, it's about time that he starts earning a living. Post your address in the space below to claim his back-pay.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Blogging for other Bloggers

Remember Meagan and Laura from HistPres.com? Well, after the interview that I had with them several months ago, they were nice enough to invite me to write a blog post for their website. The result: "Diamonds in the Rough: Sprawl, Preservation, and the Recent Past," published just a few days ago. The article narrates the post-WWII popularity of the ranch house. Many examples of this style are passing the 50 year mark necessary to be officially labeled "historic." What's to be done with them now? Read on to find some suggestions.

"Diamonds in the Rough: Sprawl, Preservation and the Recent Past."

In other news, check back in the next few days as I update you on a very busy February. I've been assisting in the creation of Plimoth Plantation's Jenney Gristmill exhibit, which goes live this week.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Playing Hooky

I haven't been able to write as many blog posts as I would like lately. Here's why.

In the next few weeks, a local museum is applying for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. I'm writing the grant. So one or two days a week, when I write, I'm using a lot of technical jargon and numbers. You do NOT want me to post this grant and have you read it. Trust me.

My dog ate the post.

Two days a week, I'm volunteering in Plimoth Plantation's archives, learning the ins and outs of data and collections management and hearing all of the juicy library gossip. Oh, the gossip. It's like Downtown Abbey without all of the servants.

My dog ate the reason.

I want to apply for a research fellowship to do research and... I dunno, get paid for it or something. The deadline's in May. I know that this is 3 months away, but what with the dog eating everything in sight I figure that I should give myself some time for a few false starts.

3. Job. Contacts. Per week. Massachusetts Unemployment is a cruel, hard mistress.

Meagan Baco has very kindly invited me to write a few blog posts for HistPres.com. If I screw up a post on Blogger, I have the power to take it down and delete your taunting comments. If I screw up on HistPres... well, I don't want to screw up on HistPres. So I'm taking my time writing this one.

Fellowship research for the rest of the day; hopefully I can get back to posting regularly in the next few days.

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Do you have a convenient excuse that I didn't think of? Well, don't post it just yet... the dog is watching. Give it ten minutes.

Friday, February 1, 2013

$550,000 Face-lift for Plymouth's Burial Hill?

When the Pilgrims first began dying on the cold shores of Massachusetts, their friends and loved ones buried them in the soft sand of Plymouth Beach. A few months into its existence, the town was in a much better place; the weather was warming up, a few houses had been built, and the bodies of the departed could be interred in the town's ritzy Burial Hill district.

This historic burying ground in Plymouth holds the final resting places of the colony's governor and historian, the venerable (and tedious) William Bradford, his fellow Mayflower passengers William and Mary Brewster, and John Howland, the Pilgrim who fell overboard.  For religious reasons, the very early settlers did not mark graves with headstones; the oldest known stone is that of Edward Gray,  buried here in 1681.During the colony's early years, the hill was the highest point in the town; a strategically important spot upon which the pragmatic Pilgrims built a fort that doubled as a place of worship.

In the spring, the Plymouth Community Preservation Committee will ask the town meeting to approve article 16F. This legislation would allocate $550,000 dollars to restore up to 1,000 headstones on the slopes of Burial Hill. The issue has been on the table for several years, and has faced persistent competition from other restoration projects. However, it's likely that the state of Massachusetts will approve the site for National Register of Historic Places status sometime this year, making its upkeep in the meantime that much more urgent.

Whether you find yourself on Burial Hill as a heritage tourist, a jogger, or a ghost hunter, the passage of this funding will keep this remnant of the Old Colony looking (relatively) young and open for everyone to enjoy. Fingers crossed.

You can read more here, at Wicked Local.

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Are you the person who painted graffiti on the graveyard's very nice map of Plymouth Harbor? Do it where everyone can see in the space below. I triple-dog dare you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

An Interview with Meagan and Laura, Preservation Professionals, Part 2

For part 1 of this interview, click here.

Aaron: Both of you are on Linked-In, I believe I’ve seen you on Twitter a few times… you guys are already starting to expand your brand a little bit, so the website is on the ups. I’m glad to see that.

Meagan: I don’t understand Twitter, but I’m trying to participate in the National Trust’s Twitter Chat, You basically write something intelligent, and then edit it down into nonsense! We think in the future, if we have a better discussion board, I could get all my bloggers together, maybe in a video chat, and try to expand and connect people. We’ll probably be more involved in the future with media and the internet.

Aaron: What is your favorite part about your job? This could be working with the National Trust, this could be working in preservation, working in archaeology, anything like that. What is the best thing about what you do?

Laura: So, I’m an archaeologist for the National Park Service at San Antonio Missions, and I think the best part of my job, and why I always wanted to work for the NPS, is that you have a really captive audience. It’s not just an archaeologist out in the middle of the forest exploring a site! There’s always people who are really interested in history and archaeology who I can talk to. That’s my favorite part about my job.

Aaron: What about you, Meagan?

Meagan: My favorite part about being a preservationist is community activism. That there are people whom are mounting their own grass-roots campaigns and starting their own projects. You know, getting off the couch and thinking of something to do with a building; buying a building, saving a building, developing re-use plans because the city won’t pay for one on their own. I guess what’s interesting to me is getting to the point where the preservation can happen. You can’t redevelop the building until you know that it’s not going to get demolished. Just continuing to educate through positive events as well as protests about the importance of the building to individuals, to community groups, to elected officials. Just organizing that, and being a part of something. That’s why I run the blog; I love that I can put something online and a couple of thousand people will see it.

Aaron: Is there some project you’ve always wanted to pursue, but couldn’t because of a lack of time or budget? If you had a blank check and as much time as you wanted to do whatever project you wanted, what would your project be?

Meagan: One, it’s not always money, it’s a lot of hard work. Hist Pres is something we wanted to do, so we did it. I don’t necessarily use money as a retardant to my imagination. What I would do, I would love to own an historic building, I would love to live in it, I would love to have that building host my businesses. I would also like to host community meetings, or other events, with kind of an open-door policy. Either a small-business incubator, or a place where community groups can meet. Just to be a hub for community revitalization in a city. That might not be something that I would have to do on my own; in the future I would like to be a Main Street manager, like the manager of a business improvement district, or a community association that’s very active. But if I don’t ever find that job I would love to buy a building. It’s pretty simple, but I would love to do it.

Aaron: Maine is selling lighthouses, from what I hear! In your opinion, since preservation and/or archaeology are largely hand-on kinds of jobs, how important is the internet to the field as a job hunting tool, a source of industry-relevant information, and as a tool for public outreach? Let’s start with your website. I think that your website sort of answers that question, but go ahead and give me your thoughts, if you would.

Meagan: What we’ve found is that the majority of jobs that we post are not hands-on jobs. A lot of the jobs are education and interpretation, management, research… they’re not necessarily as hands-on as graduate schools will lead you to believe. And also, there are specific degrees in material conservation; honestly, chemists do a lot of that work. But [the internet] is essential for jobs, and also for ways to get involved. Laura had mentioned to me before we started that the internet is the only way to apply for government jobs. And a big majority of preservation jobs are government jobs. As an activist tool, I point to Egypt.

Aaron: That’s the example on everyone’s mind, I think.

Meagan: And actually, Buffalo’s Young Preservationists, which I am a part of, we started a Facebook but we also have a smaller community that gets emails and an even smaller one that gets texts. So I think that the internet fuels our ability for direct contact, but what I do in terms of advocacy is publishing at a national level.

Aaron: Let’s go to the second part of that. What do you think of the internet as a source of industry-relevant information?

Meagan: Well, the government sites for preservation, like the Advisory Council, is not a good website and is not updated regularly. Previously NPS was not very good; they’ve since updated. Statewide it varies; some states have searchable databases for National Register properties, some do not. I do not see the internet as the way to get the best preservation information; but preservationists still say to look at the National Park Service preservation brief. They haven’t been updated since, I don’t know. Before Laura was born! You know, the only membership, really is Forum,and that’s paid. So… I don’t know, really. There’s some great websites out there. I think that Preservation Directory filled a need as the preservationist’s telephone book. And Preservation Nation has a great blog and they’re updating their main website. Ever since their new outlet program kicked in, it will be a lot more about connectivity and getting people together. But it terms of technical information I would point to Association for Preservation Technology, and if you’re a conservator the AIC, etcetera, etcetera. I would still got to the professional organizations for real information.

Aaron: And what do you think of the internet as a tool for public outreach?

Meagan and Laura: NUMBER 1!

Aaron: A resounding number 1.

Meagan: There’s a couple of things I learned about advocacy through the internet. It’s really important to focus on your website; one. And then social media, because there are people who don’t have accounts, and they have ads, and they take down posts… I don’t put a lot of stock into fad social media. I think your website should be a representation of the best work your company or initiative can do.

Aaron: One last question for both of you. Do you have any advice for history professionals who want to do what you do?

Meagan: What do we do?!


Aaron: That’s up to you to decide! From what you’ve told me it sounds like, between the two of you you do pretty much everything.

Meagan: If you’re interested in historic preservation, I would suggest, if you’re still in school, seek out courses in architectural history or public history. Then, wherever you are, look for regional organizations that have a docent training program. Learn your downtown, learn about one specific building, but in a lot of cases you’re trained in the stock information to say to visitors. When I was working with Buffalo Tours, they had some very talented historians who in their own research came up with something, and then created a tour that became an official tour of Buffalo Tours. So if you’re interested in historic preservation, the good thing is there’s usually something happening. A friend of mine in Buffalo officially considers herself an activist historian. If a building is going to be demolished, she does all sorts of research. She’ll reach out to descendants who are still alive. She has the ancestry, genealogy and the research background to get involved. Laura, what do you think?

Laura: If you’re already a professional and not [in school]… I guess there are some classes that you can take that provide a little introduction to historic buildings. Like if you were a history professional focusing more on… non-building history!

Meagan: Well, you could try to find a certificate program, like the National Council for Preservation Education. Or you could find a docent program. Or there is one national organization called the Institute for Classical Art and Architecture, and they have a lot of classes but they’re very expensive. Depending on how much you put into it, I think there’s a way to learn about it. So, 1; seek out academics, 2; get involved.

Aaron: Sounds like good advice to me. Ladies, thank you very much for agreeing to sit down and go through all of these questions. You’ve given me a ton of information; I think I may actually be able to get two posts out of this!


HistPres. Web. 19 Jan. 2013. http://histpres.com

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An Interview with Meagan and Laura, Preservation Professionals

Meagan Baco is a Historic Preservation advocate currently working in Washington, D.C. Laura Burghardt is an archaeologist working at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Since graduating from the College of Charleston and Clemson University, the two have started HistPres.com, a website dedicated to Historic Preservation jobs and emerging professionals. Through a complicated linkup involving Skype, smartphones and Google Hangout, we were able to sit down one night and have a surprisingly audible conversation about their work and interests.

Aaron: I’m speaking with Meagan Baco and Laura Burghardt, and we’re talking about Historic Preservation, archaeology, and the internet. Good evening to both of you!

Meagan and Laura: Good evening!

Aaron: Let me start out by saying thank you both for agreeing to talk with me tonight. Can both of you tell me a bit about yourselves and your entry into Historic Preservation?

Meagan Baco: I guess I'll start. I was always interested in Historic Preservation, and before I went to [graduate] school I had a degree in “Urban Planning lite,” as I like to call it; an environmental design program. So then I went and I got my Master’s and met Laura. She had this great system of finding jobs and she used to send me jobs sometimes. So we decided to be entrepreneurial and see what we could figure out. We knew that the internet was obviously very important; none of our friends had a portfolio website, so we made our own portfolio website on iWeb and got our own domain names. And that was really the start.

Laura Burghardt: I think it was also a lot of frustration with the only available preservation job website being Preserve Net and Preservation Directory, which post really rarely and usually they’re jobs for people with a lot of experience. To find entry-level jobs, you had to check so many different websites; museum job sites and architecture. They were all in different places and it took a lot of work to get all of them together. To my mind, that was one of the biggest advantages to making our website, was that people could go to one space to find all of these jobs that are relevant and not just preservation jobs but jobs that are related enough to preservation so that if you had a background or interest you would be interested in those jobs.

Aaron: You mentioned that you had a system for finding jobs. Can you tell me a little about that?

Laura: I sought out websites that might post preservation-related jobs.

Meagan: Like state websites or SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) websites. Once we found a place that had a job post, Laura bookmarked it.

Laura: At this point, I have more than 100 websites that I go to; I open them all in tabs. I go through all the new jobs that they’ve posted and look through each one to see if it’s relevant, if people who are interested in preservation would be interested in it. That’s how we find new jobs to put them in one place for people to find.

Meagan: So it’s not so much of a system as a lot of work! Laura usually does that over the weekend, because of work. So Laura will give me a pretty long list of jobs, and I will enter them into the back-end of our website and set an expiration date. So on a daily basis I’ll go through, check the expiration date, and post things that are going to expire in the next couple of days. It’s really the boring stuff that we do. I post like 5 or 7 every other day, and answer all the emails. I get every preservation newsletter I can sign up for, and I check those for opportunities and jobs. And then if I see something on Facebook or I get an e-newsletter about an awesome project, or a project that needs help, or a project that’s completed, I ask them to submit a blog, and so I manage the weekly blog. We’ve been doing that since last October, and it’s really one of my favorite parts of the job, and I think it’s really starting to come into its own. And we like that; we don’t want to be just a jobs board.  This next group of website improvements that we’re trying to raise money for we’re going to try to communicate what your projects are, trying to connect people nationwide who are doing interesting projects, or who need help, etc. Trying to connect people, to make it more of a hub than just a jobs board.

Aaron: How did both of you get drawn into Historic Preservation? What made you decide that you wanted to go into this field in the first place?

Laura: People ask me this a lot! I really don’t have a good answer, other than that I was so interested in the past; I used to play pioneer with my sister. That’s how I got interested in it. I think the reason I went more into Historic Preservation instead of History is that I like the historic aspects of conservation, and working on buildings.

Meagan: Laura, didn’t you know what school you wanted to go to before you went to it?

Laura: Yeah, when I was in high school I already knew that I wanted to get a Master’s in Historic Preservation. I flew through undergrad; I was so, so excited to get to Charleston.

Meagan: Laura’s exceptionally organized and plans ahead better than a lot of people do. In high school she was already thinking about grad school. It probably does come from whenever, in your childhood when you figure it out; it took me a lot longer. When I was a teenager I was into the environment and environmental sciences and that’s what I wanted to go to school for. But I didn’t really want to go into science, so I was going to go to school for either geology or geography. Geology is a lot of memorization, and geography is already settled. So, not much to do there! I ended up going to school for urban planning and realized that my favorite places were all historic places. So, that’s how I got involved. I took a year off between undergrad and grad, and my brother was living in Charleston so I looked up “Historic Preservation Charleston.” He said I would love it there. I applied to the College at Charleston and Clemson University Joint Program, and I went to school.

Aaron: Why would you say historic preservation is important?

Meagan: Well, there’s just so much in historic preservation. You can technically say what Laura does is historic archaeology, which I would say is almost historic preservation. Where she works, with the Park Service, she’s literally digging up new history to explore. Or you could be an architectural historian, doing more in the research library. You could be a preservation specialist; rebuilding or redeveloping a building. Or you could be a preservation advocate, which is what I am. I research, aggregate and promote historic preservation and related projects – all to make historic places, official or not, more appreciated, and better used. All of those things are quests for knowledge and education; it’s learning something new, it’s sharing it, and it’s exploring and investigating the importance of our lives, and other people’s lives. I think that not too many things are permanent, and I think that even fewer of them are of importance. To me studying how we used to live, and the craftsmanship… there’s importance to that. Someone laid that brick, someone designed that building. It’s just kind of amazing how disrespectful we are to a building that shows any sign of age.

Laura: That’s why I think that archaeology and historic preservation are so related. They deal with things that people left behind, and even though the people are gone, these are the things that are left; the archaeology and the buildings.

Aaron: It’s kind of a question of time periods, isn’t it? One of you deals with the older stuff, the stuff that’s been abandoned for some time, and the other deals with structures that were constructed more recently, that are still livable, by modern standards.

Meagan: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yeah! Laura digs up the buildings and I try to make sure they don’t become those ruins!

Aaron: Can you describe a typical day managing your website?

Meagan: It’s a system where Laura looks up the jobs and I get the email and I input them all. And then I post them every day as they are set to expire. And then I go through my newsletters. What’s different about our website from other sites is that we don’t post everything. Preserve-Net probably posts everything that gets submitted to them; so does Preservation Directory. What we provide is a lens that says this is a job you’re probably qualified for, that seems interesting, and hopefully you’re getting compensated for. I try not to post a lot of volunteer positions. I post a lot of things that are events and professional development and webinars so people can develop their own career while they’re looking for work. I think that’s a situation that a lot of people are in. That’s the daily of the website, and we keep track of all of our expenses; we’re a business. We have to do the taxes; that’s a learning experience. We’re a registered LLC (Limited Liability Company), that’s a pain!

Aaron: And you’re both collaborating on this even though one of you is in, I believe, Buffalo, New York, and the other is in Texas?

Meagan: Laura’s in Texas and I’m in Washington D.C. now. Actually, the website never existed when we lived in the same place.

Aaron: What is it like collaborating over the web like that?

Meagan: Laura and I know each other pretty well, and we’ve been running it for a while. I’d say it’s pretty easy. If, one week, someone’s really busy and isn’t going to get to it… text each other. Call each other.

Aaron: At this point you’ve gotten past the trial period!

Meagan: Yeah, things are actually looking up. I think we’ve gotten the site to the point where it’s attractive to businesses and school to put some attention into it, in ads and sponsored narratives and things like that. It’s always going to be free. But we also do career consultation service; we’ve helped over 50 people with that, and that’s something we both enjoy doing. But we don’t want to keep making money on the unemployed. But they’re usually in school, and $75 in the great scheme of things is usually just a great night out. But we’d like to get some more partnerships that bring in money so that we can filter that back into improvements to the website. We don’t make any money on the website.

*     *     *     *     *

Due to the huge amount of information that Meagan and Laura were able to provide me with, part 1 ends here. Come back next week to read part 2. If you can't wait that long, please voice your displeasure in the space below. It won't make any difference in the long run, but you'll feel better.


HistPres. Web. 9 Jan. 2013. http://histpres.com.

PreserveNet. Web. 9. Jan. 2013. http://www.preservenet.cornell.edu/