Race and Cultural Landscapes

The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Nov. 10, 2017.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Nov. 10, 2017.

It was an honor to be the first interview for The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s new series on race and landscape. There are many narratives written into the fabric of the mission gardens, and some of the most significant revolve around the representation and erasures of the Native American past, particularly the history of the mission period and early California statehood. Despite decades of activism and some hopeful initiatives for more inclusive and critically reflective interpretation, the mission gardens remain paradoxical — historical yet timeless, beautiful yet violent, secular heritage sites yet sacred. Join the conversation about what the California Misison landscapes mean. https://tclf.org/race-and-cultural-landscapes-conversation-elizabeth-kryder-reid

Who owns the past at the California missions?

The question “who owns the past”? has been asked about antiquities being contested by museums and source nations (Kate Fitz Gibbons, James Cuno), about Indigenous narratives and anthropologists (IPinCH), and about the place of intellectual property in our cultural commons (Lewis Hyde).

At the California missions the question of “who owns the past?” is a multi-layered one. The majority of the historic sites are owned by the Catholic Church in some manner (Diocesan properties, a Catholic University, etc.), while two are owned and managed by the California State Parks. In cases such as Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Jose, the sites are managed in partnership with not-for-profits. These administrative structures are formative in the framing of the interpretation of the past at the missions. Another layer is the question of the tangled narrative of church and state. What is Catholic history? What is California history? And how do those two relate? The most pointed questions about who owns the past at the missions surround the place the Native American past in the narrative (Deana Dartt, Phoebe Kropp).

Along with these deeply ideological aspects of the question “who owns the past?” are the quite pragmatic issues of control of access to images in archival collections. Historic photographs and other visual culture related to the missions are in collections of museums, archives, historical societies, and the missions themselves. Much has been done to making these materials accessible to general audiences. Most of the larger institutions have digitized their collections. The Online Archive of California is a rich and remarkable resource that provides the public access to the collections of more than 200 repositories through a simple search interface. But anyone wanting to do more than view images, such as including them in  publications or digital scholarship, must navigate the labyrinth of permissions and fees that many institutions require. There is a move toward more open access to digital collections. The Huntington Library, for example, delegates seeking copyright permission to users.

Louis Choris, Vue de Presidio Sn. Francisco
Louis Choris, Vue de Presidio Sn. Francisco (San Francisco Presidio), 1822. Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Yale’s Beinecke Library provides downloadable high resolution copies for free, noting that they are “committed to providing broad access to its collections for teaching, learning, and research in accordance with Yale University Policy. The Beinecke’s Website, catalog records, finding aids, and digital images enhance scholarship and promote use of both the digital and the original object.”

The vast majority of repositories, however, still charge fees. For some, these permission and reproduction fees are seen as vital revenue. Particularly troubling , however, is the practice of subcontracting out reproduction to for-profit such as the University of Southern California Digital Library which contracted the reproduction of some digital collections to Corbis (recently acquired by Getty Images).

The question of “who owns the past?” is a vital one at multiple levels, but for those trying to expand the voices telling that story, the sale of images to generate income or make a profit are barriers that limit the democratizing of knowledge and the broader engagement of public in curating their own history.

JustIndy Event at Bethel July 24th

Experience Black History: Community Celebration and Remembrance

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Indianapolis
414 W Vermont St, Indianapolis, IN 46202
July 24, 2016
Time: 12pm to 3pm

The event is a collaboration between the Bethel AME Congregation and the IUPUI’s JustIndy: Tracing Race and Place Project

On July 24, the greater Indianapolis community is invited to join in the celebration of the physical place that is currently home to the oldest African American congregation in the city. The congregation is relocating and starting a new chapter in its long life.

Bethel, the oldest African American church in the city of Indianapolis, founded in 1836, was once a vital part of a thriving African American community located in the heart of the erstwhile Indiana Avenue Jazz District. Over its 180 years of existence, the Bethel AME Church has played a vital role in the Underground Railroad, the founding of the NAACP in Indiana, the founding of the first formal School for Black children in Indianapolis, and the development of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.
The church building and the property are in the process of the being sold and will soon become a hotel. When this occurs the building will be altered greatly and its heritage no longer discernible.

We invite you to visit the church, experience the history, bear witness to what once was and will never be again.
Transition and change are a part of any vital society but so is honoring and remembering those that have made those changes possible.

Visit the sanctuary, see and hear the A. B. Felgemaker Co., Opus 878, 1905, one of a kind organ, and take photos, share stories, and participate in this historical moment. At 1pm, Joyce Moore from the Urban Patch will speak on the importance of communities using their histories to enrich their futures. For more information, please contact Kisha Tandy, KTandy@Indianamuseum.org and Andrea Copeland, ajapzon@iupui.edu

For more about the JustIndy project, see the JustIndy page

Evolving from digital opportunist to digitally inflected

On the eve of our final day of Doing Digital History 2016, I can characterize the past nine days with far more certainty than my next steps. I have been introduced to a rich menu of tools applicable to a variety of research and public engagement methodologies. I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know a cohort of mid-career (and thank you for the flexibility in that definition) historians who have been a delightful community of learners. We’ve shared our skepticism and enthusiasm as we wrapped our brains around r and Omeka, as we played around with rectifying maps and tagging images, and cheered on the Nationals.

Doing DH 2016 at the Nationals game.
Doing DH 2016 cohort at the Nationals game.
I am less confident in articulating the next steps after these heady two weeks. I have dozens of pages of notes to digest and an equal number of bookmarked sites and sources to explore. I also have links to or downloads of more than 20 specific technology tools to experiment with. I’ve always been a digital opportunist – casually using the tool at hand to do what needed to be done at the moment. But now I have a whole new sense of the digital humanities landscape and its possibilities.

So, what am I going to do next? I plan to continue to develop this site, and hopefully keep up the occasional blog. I also plan to develop a second site, http://www.californiamissionlandscape.com using Omeka to create teaching materials and lesson plans to accompany my book of the same title due out this winter. I will explore with colleagues how we can develop an online space to host digital community-based and collaborative projects. I also intend to experiment with some of these tools in my classes. Finally, I will use what I’ve learned these past two weeks to continue to lead the JustIndy project. I hope to apply not just the tools but the concepts and pedagogical issues we’ve discussed to develop JustIndy into a city-wide interactive exploration of the history and spaces of social inequalities.

In short, I leave these two weeks in Arlington grateful for the generosity and patience of those who led the seminar, inspired by the examples of the amazing digital humanities projects we’ve explored, invigorated by the intellectual curiosity and fascinating research of my companions on this journey, and excited to move forward into a digitally inflected teaching and research practice.

California mission music

Music was a significant part of both Native California and Spanish colonial culture. In the context of the missions, music was introduced as a part of the worship practices and as a way to train Native peoples in the traditions of western music as an element of creating, in the view of the Padres, “gente de razon” or civilized people. Reconstructing the musical practices of the missions has been a project of many historians and musicians listen. For example, see Craig Russell’s From Serra to Sancho: Music and Pageantry in the California Missions and the history of the Jose Carabajal violin at Mission San Miguel.

These efforts to perform historic music raise many interesting questions. What were the soundscapes of the colonial period missions and how did music fit in? How did the missions differ from the soundscapes that Native peoples were familiar with prior to the arrival of the Spanish? Even if the performances of mission music is accurate, how can we know how Native people heard and understood the sounds? And beyond the sonic experience of the music, what can we understand about the significance the embodied experience of performing the music in which bodies were simultaneously generating motions and sounds synchronized under the direction of a choir director? What is the potential of performing historic music on historic instruments to engage audiences in new ways? And finally, how does the interpretation of music in the context of colonial missions shape how those audiences understand the past? Was training in western-style music beneficial or can it be seen as yet another imposition of Spanish expectations on Native bodies?

Music clip from:
Cantar Quiero
Music of the California Missions

Recorded at Loyola Marymount University
Produced by John Fleherty
Associate Producers:
Ron Schmidt, SJ and Luis Proenca, SJ

A collection of engaging music that highlights the artistic contributions of the Franciscan friars who develeoped the California Missions. Music was an integral part of life in all of the Missions, marking the day´s activities. Listen and enjoy the many styles here, from Latin Mass settings and Gregorian chant to new compositions set for multiple vocal parts and Hispanic folksongs with memorable melodies and lively rhythms.

Published by World Library Publications, ISBN 978-1-58459-307-2

What can we learn about heritage from word frequencies?

The “heritage turn” has been noted by many scholars, and this simple Google NGram tracking the frequency of the terms “archaeology”, “heritage”, and “cultural heritage” from 1850-2007 demonstrates the rising use of heritage and, to a lesser extent, cultural heritage. Interestingly, a search for “critical cultural heritage” produced no results, perhaps reflecting the shifts in book publication since 2007.

Among the interesting issues this simple word use trend suggests is the relative infrequency of “cultural heritage” in contrast to the term “archaeology” which has a much older, but more disciplinary specific connotation. Increasingly interdisciplinary connections within the cultural heritage profession being formed among archaeologists, archivists, educators, preservationists, historians, conservators, anthropologists, and geographers, as well as the various staff of governmental, non-profit, and or cultural organizations and agencies. These heritage professionals are producing important scholarship, as is evident in journals such as Heritage and Society and International Journal of Heritage Studies that claim the common ground of heritage. In spite of the growing prominence of this iterdisciplinary, innovative work, cultural heritage is still a minority shareholder, at least in a linguistic sense within the Google Books universe.

The trend line also raises questions about the branding or public recognition of the emerging heritage field. When establishing the Cultural Heritage Research Center, one of the biggest hurdles was communicating what cultural heritage is. University administrators and potential funders know what archaeology is, but were only vaguely familiar with cultural heritage. And the premise articulated by Rodney Harrison, Laurajane Smith, and other leading figures in critical cultural heritage only further complicates the branding challenge. Because critical heritage studies recognizes that heritage is itself a construct that can be used to understand historical and material expressions of social difference and exercises of power, it is a powerful and important analytical lens. But for the heritage studies, an emerging field of heritage that has yet to achieve visibility in popular discourse, deconstruction seems to undermine the legitimacy of the enterprise.

Finally, the trend lines suggest that there is much work to be done in about the “value of heritage” in the basic literacy of communities. What is heritage? What is cultural heritage? Who cares and why? Digital humanities, and particularly text analysis tools that can mine massive numbers of documents, seem useful for beginning to explore these questions.

Annotating images

To experiment with ThingLink, one of the new tools we were introduced to in our second day of Doing Digital History, I used an 1888 engraving of Mission Santa Barbara’s “sacred garden” as a base image. I then tagged it with a label and a note, and added links to images that similarly used the visual convention of the posed padre in front of the fountain.

I make a more in-depth argument about the interplay of the marketing of the missions and the reception of the growing body of mission visual culture at the turn of the 20th century in my forthcoming book, California Mission Landscapes: Race, Memory, and the Politics of Heritage (U. Minnesota Press). This simple exercise in annotating images raised similar challenges as the monograph. The similarities of the visual compositions of the images are fairly obvious. But the significance of those posed figures is far more complex and nuanced than simple tags can convey. The conventions of posed “exotic” figures mirrors similar practices at the Alhambra and other iconic monuments on tourist routes around the Mediterranean. The presentation of the missions as monastic sites with landscapes reminiscent of centuries’ old European garden traditions helped to elide the Catholic parishes with the enthusiasts of both romanticizing California’s colonial origins and promoting tourism in the increasingly Anglo-dominated social and political elite of the state.

The constructed gaze of the mission gardens is evident in the assembled montage of ThingLink tags, but the historical context is less evident. How is this more cogent than a Pinterest board? And what’s the deal with the banner ad I’m apparently stuck with? I am left intrigued but not yet convinced of the potential of annotating images as a tool for engaging with visual culture. And I look forward to learning more about how others are mobilizing these tools in productive ways.

Doing digital history 2016 – first day impressions


Doing Digital History 2016 – not as sexy but also not as scary as I had imagined. At least for the first day. The best part so far? 23 other people exploring fascinating topics and wanting to learn new tools to do and share their work. And this community of learners is being supported by experienced instructors who know their stuff and want us to succeed. Pretty awesome opportunity.

As much new technology as there is to master, I’m struck by how many of the challenges are  familiar. Who is my audience? What do I want them to understand, feel, and do? What are the key outcomes and how can I assemble my raw materials and frame my argument most effectively to accomplish them?

And what are the possibilities of all this new media to not only reach new audiences, but to do research with and for communities in new ways? Shared authority and community-curated content are laudable goals, but how does that really work in media and forums that are seemingly even more complex than traditional formats?

And, finally, how can I mobilize the visual power of technology in ways that are both more accessible and more memorable than text-dominated media? I want to engage people in the histories of social inequalities across space and time and to highlight the enduring significance of landscape in reflecting and reifying social relationships. Are there digital history tools out there that can help me do this? Looking forward to discovering ways to realize my vision for JustIndy and for translating California mission landscape history into compelling curriculum. Stay tuned!

Thinking critically about cultural heritage