First, I want to thank all you patient Eggheads who have patiently waited for the February post, which has now become the March post. I wanted to get the best possible sources of information and tap expertise available to me, which sometimes takes longer than one first assumes. But it is always worth it in the end, as I hope you will agree with by the end of this post.
Public History first developed in c. 1970s as a result of an over-abundance of PhD level historians and not enough traditional academic positions available to employ this glut of History geeks. So the field of history got creative and combined with other movements, such as peoples’ history, cultural history and social history, thus introducing a new way to examine our own past and extend an awareness of historical knowledge to the mythical, everyday common man. It is not traditional history that focuses on “Great Men,” like President John F. Kennedy or major political events such as World War II.
But what is public history? There are many different ways to describe public history but the following definitions are something of a majority rules definition. According to Emma Wilmer of the Public History Resource Center, “Public history is history, practically applied.” Robert Weible, in his essay, “Defining Public History: Is it Possible? Is it Necessary?” found at the American Historical Association website states, “. . . a majority just defines the field by the workplace: academic history, they assume, is practiced within the university, public history elsewhere.” The National Council on Public History, in an essay, “What is Public History,” defines public history as, “. . . history that is applied to real-world issues.”
Alison Twells, in her 2008 essay, “Community History,” defines peoples’ history as a “. . . the belief that all histories should be acknowledged as History;” Historylink.org identifies a key feature of peoples’ history as a reliance on primary source materials, oral histories and eyewitness accounts. According to Raphael Samuel in his article “What is Social History?,” social history, “. . . prides itself on being concerned with ‘real life’ rather than abstractions, with ‘ordinary’ people rather than privileged elites, with everyday things rather than sensational events.” “. . . cultural history can be exercised in every field of activity: politics, economics, kinship, gender, religion and all their interlocking and overlapping domains,” writes Miri Rubin of the Institute of Historical Research.
I am sure you are wondering how ArtEgg’s history comes into play with these various strains of historical practice. At its most basic, ArtEgg is public history practiced outside the academy. As well, “real-world issues,” come into play when considering hurricane Katrina and its effects on ArtEgg and its tenants. Additionally, ArtEgg as a peoples’ history adds to the overall body of knowledge of the city of New Orleans, which is capital “H” history. Too, these essays that have been presented in past posts are largely based on primary source materials, including oral interviews, newspaper articles and maps. These primary sources will be the star of the ArtEgg history.
It is also a social history. With the property having hosted not just one, but two grocers, (H. G. Hill and Loubat-L. Frank), square 596 provides a lens to examine the shift in “making groceries” from a market-based supply to the modern mass-produced grocery stores. It is hard to think of a more “everyday thing” than grocery shopping.
This particular factor also shades the ArtEgg history into cultural history, which will examine the intersections of transportation, food production, and economics. Professor Michael Mizell-Nelson of the University of New Orleans points out that the proximity of the L & N railroad proved instrumental in the growth of commercial grocery stores. Philip Frank states that the frozen turkeys would be brought straight from the train, (which ran directly alongside the building). Currently, this set of tracks referred to by Frank is not in use, though the nearby Union Passenger Terminal Line is still utilized today. Further investigation is needed to determine if the defunct rail line is a remnant of the Louisville and Nashville railroad.
Professor Michael Mizell-Nelson, of the University of New Orleans maintains that, “This once essential industrial corridor needs to have its history researched and made public. The histories of those buildings deserve to be researched and shared, even if well-heeled visitors to New Orleans will never encounter them.” Further, Mizell-Nelson asserts, “It’s refreshing to find an art space whose patrons and community of artists delve deep into the history. I hope that the ArtEgg history project becomes a replicable model for similar art spaces.”