Archive for Project Management

A Stint as Acting Director of the National Council on Public History


“NCPH INSPIRES PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WITH THE PAST AND SERVES THE NEEDS OF PRACTITIONERS IN PUTTING HISTORY TO WORK IN THE WORLD BY BUILDING COMMUNITY AMONG HISTORIANS, EXPANDING PROFESSIONAL SKILLS AND TOOLS, FOSTERING CRITICAL REFLECTION ON HISTORICAL PRACTICE, AND PUBLICLY ADVOCATING FOR HISTORY AND HISTORIANS.” – NCPH MISSION STATEMENT –

 

Last week, I wrapped up three months as acting director of the National Council on Public History (NCPH), a professional organization that supports practitioners putting history to work in the world. I’ve been an active member of the NCPH for about fifteen years–regularly presenting at annual meetings and volunteering on numerous committees, most recently on the Local Arrangements Committee for the 2017 NCPH annual meeting, which will take place in Indianapolis in April 2017. The opportunity to further engage with the organization arose when the NCPH Board of Directors and executive director, Stephanie Rowe, approached me about filling in for Stephanie while she was out on maternity leave.

As many of you know, I worked for thirteen years at the Organization of American Historians, the largest professional society devoted to United States history. My recent time on staff at the NCPH allowed me to once again get behind the scenes at a historical organization and support the profession by fostering community among practitioners and providing assistance as they carry out their important work.

The NCPH is an extremely well-run institution, so jumping into such an important role proved to be easier than I was anticipating. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations of the non-profit, my projects included collaborating with the NCPH vice-president, Marla Miller, to appoint volunteers to the NCPH’s numerous committees; enhancing the NCPH’s partnership with the International Federation for Public History as the IFPH prepared for its annual meeting in Bogotá; and responding to input and advocacy requests from the organization’s members.

I enjoyed this chance to apply my skills and experience in an executive capacity while also assisting a historical organization with a short-term staffing shortage. I hope to take on similar efforts in the future, so please do let me know if you are aware of such opportunities.

Stephanie Rowe and Sue at the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Stephanie Rowe and Sue at the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Blithewold Mansion, Garden & Arboretum: Request for Proposals


Water Garden at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum

Water Garden, Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For the past few months, I have been consulting with Blithewold Mansion, Garden, & Arboretum as the organization prepares to undertake a National Historic Landmark (NHL) nomination of its historically significant landscape. Overlooking Narrangansett Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island, Blithewold is a Country Place Era estate that magnificently blends landscape design, architecture, and decorative arts into an integrated whole. In addition to representing a outstanding example of this era of landscape design, Blithewold also allows for an exploration of the work of designer John DeWolf and the role of women in American landscape history, an aspect of the project I have particularly enjoyed.

Together with the excellent staff at Blithewold, Inc., we have now completed a plan for the nomination and posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for parties interested in completing the NHL nomination. We seek individuals or teams with experience evaluating historic designed landscapes and expertise in American landscape history and women’s history. If you are interested in learning more, you can find the RFP posted at http://www.blithewold.org/news. Deadline for proposals is July 1, 2014.

One Year Since “Telling the Whole Story”


Participants of "Telling the Whole Story"

Participants of “Telling the Whole Story.”

Last week, we passed the one-year anniversary of “Telling the Whole Story: Women and the Making of the United States,” a meeting of the minds held at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington, DC, December 10-11, 2012. The symposium was a joint effort by the National Park Service and the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) and brought together an exciting array of women’s historians from both inside and outside the park service. I served as one of the organizers and facilitators of this event, and I deeply enjoyed seeing the passion and creativity generated by this gathering.

The event was part of a larger initiative by the NPS, assisted by NCWHS, to expand women’s representation in the history being told by the agency. And this initiative in turn is the outgrowth of a call made by then Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar in March 2012. You can see a video of Salazar’s announcement at the end of this post.

The purpose of this symposium was to develop a specific set of recommendations for park service staff to strive for as they move forward with their goal of expanding women’s history. By the end of the two days, the group had developed nine recommendations, which we presented to Secretary Salazar. These suggestions were later distilled to eight concrete goals for the park service to pursue, addressing women’s history in NPS programs, national parks, agency policy, and community outreach. Catch all the details in the symposium report.

Two elements of the women’s history summit seemed to me to be particularly important. First, while the goals we developed are far-reaching in their potential to expand women’s history within the NPS, they intentionally dovetail with other efforts underway within the agency. For example, one of the goals calls for an NPS interpretive framework that is inclusive of the wide range of women’s experiences, a vision that is all the more likely to be accomplished because a revision of the framework (an official NPS document) is currently in process. By linking our goals to other initiatives within the agency, the team sought to accomplish substantive changes despite the current government climate of sequestration and scarcity.

A second noteworthy element of this effort was the substantial contribution by both the interpretive branch and the cultural resources branch of the NPS. The NPS lovers among us will remember that Imperiled Promise, the recent report on the state of history in the NPS, specifically called on these two divisions to work more closely in telling the American public about its past. “Telling the Whole Story” was an early example the agency putting Imperiled Promise into action.

“Telling the Whole Story” was just the first step in the park service’s larger women’s history initiative; work continues, guided by the recommendations developed a year ago.

 

Watch a two minute video about Secretary Salazar’s call to expand women’s history interpretation:

Reflecting on “Imperiled Promise”


Statue of Abraham Lincoln, Hodgenville KY.

Lincoln Statue, Hodgenville, KY. Home of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.

Between 2009 and 2011, I had the pleasure to serve as project manager for team of historians–Marla Miller, Gary Nash, David Thelen, and Anne Whisnant–assessing the state of history within the National Park Service (NPS). The Organization of American Historians, working in partnership with the NPS, had engaged this team to take a comprehensive view of the national park system and its success at conveying the story of the nation’s history; reflect on ways the agency might improve upon its efforts; and write a report that would serve as a road map as the National Park Service move towards its centennial in 2016.

It was a special privilege to have a behind-the-scenes view as this amazing crew of historical thinkers grappled with the very real issues and constraints face by the NPS in protecting and interpreting cultural resources. The team’s report, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Parks, was released in 2011, and I’m pleased to say that thus far it has avoided the fate of many government reports that end up languishing on office shelves a few months after their release. Instead, Imperiled Promise has sparked a s

National park ranger looking at Washington Monument

Photo by Susan Ferentinos

ubstantive effort on the part of the NPS and its supporters to implement the team’s recommendations and use the report as a launching point for a reinvigorated agency that respects the role both rangers and historians play in protecting and interpreting the nation’s historic treasures.

The report’s authors won an award in 2013 from the National Council on Public History, which stated that the report’s “incisive analysis supplies an agenda that will guide the practice of history in the NPS for decades to come.” More recently, Rutgers University–Camden last month hosted a symposium on the State of History in the National Park Service (#HistoryNPS), designed to continue the conversation begun by the report. Now, the blog History@Work has published a three-part series reflecting on the gathering called “Collegial Questioning: A New Forum on History in the U.S. National Park Service.” Check it out!

 

I am proud of my small contribution to this conversation, and I encourage the National Park Service to continue its efforts to build upon Imperiled Promise to provide an even richer field in which the public can explore the nation’s past.

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