Post #13: Vacation pros and cons

After reading Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth Century American West by Hal Rothman, I do not know at what level the tourism industry of the West (or probably any area for that matter) hurts or helps the area.  The effort to change the area to make it more sellable to new visitors drastically changes the area and impacts the lives of the locals who were there first.  The question still remains if it is better for a local area to change with the time and welcome the tourists and money or to not welcome the change and risk the possibility of falling into economic recession due to no new funding for the community?  Living in Northern Virginia for over 25 years now, my family and I witnessed this same conflict when Walt Disney World wanted to build a new park “Disney’s America” near Manassas VA in the late 1990s.  The prospect of jobs for many in the region clashed with the impact of such a large amount of visitors and construction that must happen to create a new Disney World.  Neighbors were against neighbors and many protested (including my mother and I) against such a crazy park which would whitewash the complex history of America.  I am sure there would not have been a slave trading post or a Native shopping district at a local fort, which would have shown the real America to international tourists.

I wonder of Rothman’s take of the recent economic bust of many areas like Las Vegas and his take on the economic impact to the communities.   Or how places like Vail and Aspen had to change to welcome the Hollywood stars or other rich clientele and the Annual Colorado Film Festival which mixes fashion and movies.  Rothman mentions with more money and economic stability more people are vacationing, but traveling far to vacation still costs lots of money for travel.  Shenandoah National Park on the East Coast was established mostly for East Coasters to be able to take a day trip to leave the crazy city life of Washington DC or New York City, a day drive and a few day stay.  The travel out west for many East Coasters still requires more than a few days and more money than a car ride for a day.  Many places out West still require more travel after an airplane touchdown, increasing the cost of vacation.  People in various professions (including mine) cannot afford to miss a few days of work to go on vacation as the job does not offer vacation leave, or make enough money to afford fancy hotel and travel.

Rothman noted that these impacts were usually bad, as it increased property prices and made it hard for the working people afford to live with richer people who vacationed in Lake Tahoe, Vail, Aspen or Santa Fe.  The minimum wage of the area could not compete with the cost of living, so the workers would be forced to live on the outskirts of town or further away and commute every day.  Some vacationers would be probably appalled if they had to share the same dinner table or hotel floor with the hotel help or maintenance staff.

Post 12: Bridging Cultural Divides

Ari Kelman’s A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek, is a great book as it exposes the sometimes conflict of oral histories clashing with written documentation, along with the interdisciplinary paths which must be walked to grasp past history.  Kelman’s focus is the Sand Creek area in eastern Colorado, and the massacre which happened there in 1864, as US Army forces attacked a Native camp.  Various kinds of information can be part of and twist memory: time passed, connection to event, location during event, and outside influences.  The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes did not want their history of the event or location to be misunderstood or overpowered by the US Army history, so they continued their decades long struggle to fully represent their history of the event.

Kelman’s review of the struggles of the National Park Service to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and all stories are told is a struggle that has happened at other parks.  My classmate last semester worked at Manassas National Battlefield Park and she noted that there were no mentions of the Black soldiers of various Regimens which prepared camps and moved supplies.  She has been working with them to now have the soldiers’ voices be heard to all visitors.  The move towards having more voices heard throughout history is long and hard; conducting documentary research, oral history, and archaeology which takes time and money.  Time and money are some things which some governments do not readily supply during the recent budget crises across America.   With some actions like NAGPRA and other federal government laws, funding must happen to document history before it is gone by way of the bulldozer.

Kelman’s Chapter “The Smoking Gun” has a great section on archaeology, which is very informative and pivotal to many parks and other historic places across America.  Many places of known history (if not well protected on personal land) are artifact hunted by many people so that they can have a shiny object on their shelves to show their friends.  Archaeologists are scientists who scientifically and systematically note and record where artifacts are recovered; there is a lot of paperwork.  The placement across the land and down into the ground can tell a lot about what happened in that area over time.  I have been doing archaeology for over a decade and never in any of my jobs or finds have I done a cartwheel like some of the archaeologists did while testing the land on Sand Creek (pg. 129).  As it was noted in the book the Bowen Family had many artifacts that they had recovered from their land over the years, but without the exact location upon the land it becomes just a box of broken rocks and metal.  Many relic hunters go after the glory pieces that would look cool on a shelf, but the other smaller artifacts like the flakes which come from the making of the arrowheads and other personal artifacts tell a story of the daily lives and work areas of the peoples of the past.

Can all National Park sites or historic places have every voice heard?  Does current history at parks make a good side and bad side?  Much of US history is still very controversial to people and similar to the Natives in Kelman’s book, there is a lot of emotion when discussing and discovering history.  Usually the people noting history in America is the people in power; the white rich people.  Dedicated research, time and money will hopefully let us hear the voices of the past that have been silenced.

Post #11: A Very Complex Empire

My focus in work and personal interest has been east coast colonial history so Pekka Hamalainen’s The Comanche Empire was very mind opening for me, as I did not know this complex history of the Comanches in the south and southwest.  I do not know if most people are in the same boat as me but I would have found it slightly helpful if Hamalainen discussed more worldly events or major events in America and the events’ impact or not on the conflicts and reactions of the Comanches and Spanish (pg. 130).  This information about world or east coast events would just be a way to tie in the events of the Comanches with other events, it would not need to be a compare and contrast.  His book covers the empire of the Comanches from about 1750- 1870’s, and the conflicts and resolutions between Spanish, Mexico and European traders; but as the “Embrace” happened in 1786, there was little if no discussion of the end of the American Revolutionary War and those impacts on the borderlands between English settlers on the east coast (pg. 107).  Perhaps there was no major influence or interaction of the Revolutionary War on these groups that were further south and west than the major battles, and that is why he didn’t discuss it.

Hamalainen’s Chapter 6 “Children of the Sun” was a very interesting chapter.  Perhaps it is my anthropology background or the details in which he discusses the everyday life of the Comanches, but the information in this chapter definitely created more of an understanding and connection of living the everyday life of Comanches.  The organization on the micro and macro levels assisted the Comanche empire to grow as large as it did over the years.  Their constant threat of political, economic and inter-social conflicts had to be resolved and worked out thru all the divisions and groups to make sure that it all ran smoothly as a society (pg. 239).  The breakdown of the social status of women and slaves (which they seemed to be almost the same), was mostly for labor only.  The necessity of the men to hunt and feed the large community in turn created more work for the women as they had to then skin, clean and prepare the hides for sale, or for personal use.  The known history of the Comanche as raiders was reiterated in this chapter as Hamalainen discussed the need for more working hands led to the need for more slaves (pg. 258).  The personal look at everyday life for these groups brought forth the struggle of the people, living off the land, constantly in flux and surviving thru the worst of it to create the large Comanche empire.

The visuals throughout the book were very good and the maps definitely helped me understand the movement of the groups across the southwest and south mid-west.  For me it might have been slightly more helpful if there was a map earlier in the first chapter to give more of a perspective of the movement of the Comanches as they began to expand across the plains.  I began to flip thru the book looking for a map when I started reading, so that I could get more of a mental map while picking up the details in the text.

Post #10: Railroaded

Post 10: Railroaded

Richard White opens his book Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America with a problem relating to the various groups building railroads across the west: various track sizes that do not match.  That had to be confusing and frustrating when attempting trade or travel.  (pg. 2).  If that was a beginning problem of the railroads in the late 1800’s, many more problems are sure to follow.  The main problem which White focuses on is the corrupt companies, corporate failures and mistakes of building railroads across Canada, Mexico and the US.  I am really surprised that with so many problems that most of the railroad systems created in the late 1800s survived into what we know today.  The intense competition and politics between the various western railroads complicated people’s lives and created reasons for bribery to many politicians.

There was a recent article on NPR which stated that there are many farmers with grain, corn and soybeans waiting for the train, but the trains are all tied up in oil productions further north into the Dakotas.  This is a very similar situation to the production and need for transportation which White addresses in his book.  White noted that many people moved out west where the railroad was built to begin a farm and use the modern transportation to move goods.  Unfortunately, eventually the goods failed and the people moved away, creating an area which the railroad still moved through but did not create money as there were no good to take to market, in turn costing the railroad company money with no profit.  Though during the late 1800s if more trains were needed they just built more, unlike today and the more complex routes of passenger and freight trains.  Over the years many railroads have shifted their routes to move the most goods, but as this story states the railroads are needed further south for the grain and bean productions.

I enjoyed the more personal stories he told within the end of chapters sections in “A Railroad Life”.  These small sections expanded on some ideas and gave more details to the overall story.  Richard White makes a very interesting point on page 317, with his discussion about photographs and how it freezes time and doesn’t give the whole story.  Historians need to remember that some photographs are staged and usually photographs do not include all the people of a specific story.  The example relating to this book would be the famous picture of “The Last Spike” driven to connect the railroads in Utah.  The historical picture from 1869 shows many of the workers and conductors celebrating, but is missing a large demographic of the other railroad workers…the Chinese.



(National Archives 594940)

A modern historian recently recreated the scene with some of the descendants of the Chinese railroad workers.  This story can also be found on NPR.

Post 9: Travel not necessary

Post #9 : Travel not necessary

The Montana Memory website is a great tool to learn about the history of Montana without having to travel across the country.  Similar to the Library of Congress website one can download the images at various sizes, to save on your computer.  The documents and photographs on the Montana Memory website contained a short description which had details of the item and date ranges, which was helpful.  I felt that the initial zoom which each document or image opened as was a bit too zoomed in, but did show the quality of the scans (which were good and high).  The full page books were also available on the public domain, as the description paragraph stated, and probably would have been an easier read through another service.  The Montana Memory website would be a great starting point to figure these things out and expand on research.  The educational section with the topics divided by subject as in “Montana Agriculture”,  “Maps”, and “Native Americans” was  great help to see how their collection was divided and being able to see what items were in each various subjects.  The website stated that learning plans would soon be attached, creating a helpful resource for educators not only in Montana but also across the US.

I also searched for other states’ historical societies to look at their website.  Oklahoma and Utah both had similar websites as Montana, containing images and documents, all scanned for access on the internet.  I had some technical issues with the California historical society website has I could not get past the main pages…nothing would open.  Could just be a glitch on my end.

The Digital Public Library of America was another cool website that I discovered thru Montana Memory.  The DPLA had great images and documents from all over the US, and would be another great starting off point for research of all things historical.  With the endless possibility of the internet, travel is not fully necessary to research far off places.  Researchers must also keep in mind that not all information is on the web, and that local libraries might have research only books, which are too old and fragile to even be scanned.  These rare books could be journals or county documents which would be very helpful in writing a full comprehensive history of an area.  For large research papers, travels are probably still necessary.