Reading Response: Local Sites & Community History

This module is highly relevant to my digital public history project, as it is essentially a local history project and if I were to expand it beyond a prototype, it would probably look something like the Postville Project – a combination of exhibitions, digitized materials (including items contributed by users), and links to related resources. The chapter by Gordon and the article by Gutterman really identify one of the core issues of my project, the tension between the community and historians/scholars/curators. Gutterman pretty much nails something I’m trying to work through in my project: “sometimes the public does not want to hear the histories educators and scholars need to be told” (105). Gordon gets at it, too, when she describes how the Penderlea museum does not make a point of mentioning how residents had to be white, which is (to my mind) pretty important in understanding the New Deal. Gordon sort of talks about how community history museums can tend towards nostalgia, but the rest of her examples are community history sites focused on and often run by people that have historically been marginalized, which makes it easier and less problematic to talk about “indigenous curation.” The Penderlea museum reads more like nostalgia or like it’s presenting a version of history that ignores the unpleasant parts, and this is something I want to avoid in my project. I also don’t want to alienate community members, but in the case of my project, failing to acknowledge and deal with Detroit’s racial history could alienate other community members.

I was also interested in Gutterman’s discussion of framing users as “historical subjects” versus “historians” and wonder what role broader historical contexts and connections (which Gordon seems okay with throwing out in the case of community museums) might play in helping users become “historians.” Being able to analyze some historical event or object (or, for that matter, to challenge other analyses and interpretations) is easier if you’re able to place it in some sort of context, and this to me seems to be where the educative role of public history comes into play. I didn’t dislike Gordon’s chapter, but I did want her to think through more of what goes on at somewhere like Penderlea versus the Shoshone museum, the educational role of public history, even when it’s community-based, and the perils of nostalgia (and how it can function, say, to prop up white supremacy).

On a completely banal level, I really liked OutHistory’s related resources page and might try to duplicate it in my own project.

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