On March 2, Preservation Kentucky hosted its first annual graduate student symposium. Held in conjunction with the University of Kentucky Historic Preservation Program’s annual conference, the symposium brought students from several Kentucky institutions together to discuss current issues in historic preservation. The U of L was well represented by Annelise Gray, a student in the public history certificate program. Annelise gave a great talk about the Jefferson Jacob School in Prospect, Kentucky. She began her work while enrolled in History 610, Introduction to Historic Preservation. She is now putting the final touches on a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Annelise’s research has uncovered the history of segregated education in northeastern Jefferson County. The Jefferson Jacob School was built expressly for African American students during Jim Crow. Annelise is to be commended for her dogged research skills and commitment to finishing a large and elaborate project. Way to go Annelise!
Students from the University of Kentucky, Northern Kentucky University, and Western Kentucky University also participated in the symposium. Kathy Martinolich, a student in the UK Historic Preservation Program, discussed her thesis research. Martinolich is interested in series-designed-and-built buildings from the recent past. Using gas stations as an example, she explored the challenges commonly encountered in evaluating and nominating such properties to the National Register. Matthew Yagle of Northern Kentucky University followed with a short synopsis of his research on the Lincoln-Grant School, a African American high school in Covington. And, last but definitely not least, Sarah McCartt-Jackson of Western Kentucky University discussed efforts to expand the range of properties eligible for nomination to the National Register as Traditional Cultural Properties (TCPs). Each of these presentations inspired good discussion. Collectively, they showed the kind of cutting-edge work taking place at Kentucky universities.
Overall, the graduate symposium suggested the health of historic preservation training in Kentucky. It was great to see professionals-in-the-making come together to talk about their work and share ideas with one another. Attendance suffered because of inclement weather (the tornadoes that devastated several communities in southern Indiana and northern Kentucky hit later in the afternoon), but those who stayed asked good questions and had useful comments to offer. I’m already looking forward to next year’s symposium. Having regular forums of this kind promises to improve the quality of preservation training at institutions across the state.
– Daniel Vivian
One reason Louisville is a great place for public history is the number of active organizations with a vested interest in local history. Yesterday I attended a Louisville Historical League workshop that reminded me of this. The League dates to 1972. It maintains an active schedule of public programs and field trips. With over 600 members, it one of the largest organizations of its kind in the Ohio River Valley.
The League is mainly devoted to promoting the study and appreciation of local history. But it’s also somewhat unique, in that its members take frequent field trips to historic places and are actively engaged in preserving historical materials. I find it to be one of the most interesting organizations that I’ve encountered. Its members are dedicated, thoughtful, and knowledgeable, and its lectures series is first-rate. I’m always impressed by the speakers they bring to Louisville and the topics they explore.
Yesterday’s session focused on research: how and where to do it. Several archivists from local institutions spoke about their collections and procedures for using them. Then, a panel of experienced researchers talked about what they do and recommended strategies for investigating particular subjects. Joe Hardesty of the Louisville Free Public Library, Jim Holmberg of the Filson Historical Society, and Tom Owen of the University of Louisville Archives and Records Center all spoke during the first session. The following panel was formed of Joanne Weeter, Stefanie Buzan, Rosemary McCandless, Deborah Lord Campisano, Gary Falk, and Rick Bell.
Hearing the various presenters talk reminded me of two things. One is the richness of historical materials here in Louisville. The Filson, the Free Public Library, and the U of L all have extraordinary collections. Their holdings include manuscripts and published materials, oral histories, historical maps, architectural drawings, and and newspaper clipping files. Each is easy to use and very accommodating of researchers. It’s also noteworthy that these three institutions are only part of what’s available in the Louisville area. The Louisville Metro Archives, the American Printing House for the Blind, and National Library of the Sons of the American Revolution also maintain very strong collections. In short, Louisville has a surfeit of great collections — and great archivists. Every city should be so fortunate.
The other subject I found myself thinking about is the multiplicity of historical knowledge. Interest in the past takes many forms, and so does knowledge about it. As academics, it’s easy to become solely focused on scholarly debate and historiography. But this is only one mode of inquiry into past eras — and one mode of sharing information about the past. The Louisville Historical League is representative of a much broader range of public engagement with history. Its members are genealogists, neighborhood historians, students of niche subjects, and enthusiasts. Some of them are serious scholars, while others are hobbyists. Regardless, all are interested and invested in studying the past and sharing information about it. As a group, they underscore the multiple forms in which historical knowledge comes and the many different modes in which it is disseminated.
So, the next time you have a few minutes to spare, take a minute to check out the League’s website. It’s a good introduction to the organization and what they do. And it’s a good way to become familiar with happenings that make Louisville a great place for doing history of almost any kind. Few communities have as strong a network of historical organizations and institutions.
– Daniel Vivian
For more information about yesterday’s session, take a look at Discover Louisville History. Below is a photo of yesterday’s panel on researching local history.