Sunday, February 24, 2013

Happy Days are Here Again, the New Deal and Prince William Forest Park

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) left a lasting mark on our nation’s landscape. Created during the height of the Great Depression, this New Deal era program put thousands of young Americans to work while raising awareness for the conservation of the nation’s natural resources. The CCC replanted forests, fought forest fires, worked on soil erosion projects, and cut thousands of hiking trails throughout the country. 

Welcome to Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park, a national park south of Washington DC, offers insights into the CCC and one of the New Deal's lesser-known programs, the Recreational Demonstration Area.

Camp Cabins
Recreational Demonstration Areas were created for the purpose of taking sub-marginal farmland and reclaiming it for the public good. The government purchased over- worked farmland and relocated farmers to more fertile locations, while the CCC went to work reforesting these areas. The reclaimed land was transformed into regional parks with camping and hiking amenities. One of the key goals of this program was to provide recreational opportunities in an outdoor setting for the urban poor. The idea of social welfare and cultivating a human crop of healthy Americans was just as important to this progressive era movement as the conservation of the natural environment.

Originally called the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area, Prince William Forest Park contains five different rustic cabin camp villages complete with bunkhouses, mess halls, arts & crafts buildings, and small swimming holes. Set in the backdrop of the forest, these camps were designed specifically for the urban youth of the DC metropolitan area, and provided an escape from the city. In true progressive era fashion, the Recreational Demonstration Area aimed to bring people back to nature. This goal was sought as part of improving physical and mental wellbeing.

Hiking through Prince William Forest Park or staying the night in one of the park's many rustic cabins, gives the visitor an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Civilian Conservation Corps and learn more about the legacy of the Recreational Demonstration Area programs of the 1930s.  

Arts & Crafts Cabin

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Does this Place Matter to You? Searching for Relevancy at a Professional Conferences

February 6-8, 2013 marked the annual Saving Places Conference in Denver Colorado. The conference was organized by ColoradoPreservation Inc. (CPI).  CPI is dedicated to promoting historic preservation by providing education, training, expertise and advocacy to communities throughout the state of Colorado. This state historic preservation conference is an important part of CPI’s outreach and brings together preservation professionals and local community members passionate about historic places in the Rocky Mountain region.

This year’s conference was entitled, The Language of Preservation: Building a Relevant Message for the 21st Century. Like sustainability, resiliency, inclusiveness and green, the word relevant is one of those popular buzz words in today’s society. In the historic preservation field, relevancy has become the antidote for declining interest and waning public support for historic preservation. Many of the conference sessions touched on this very topic: how do we make historic sites relevant within our society?

In other words, how do we make people care about the historic places we care about? This begs an even bigger question, should people really care about historic places? Do these sites truly reflect our diverse American culture? 

Questions about relevancy are part of a larger issue regarding history and how we learn about the past. Often our first experiences with history are in the classroom. We're handed dusty text books full of historic facts and are expected to commit these facts to memory. And then not too long after, we're tested on remembering historic dates with only one right answer. At an early age we are taught to think of history as static facts which result in clear outcomes. 

However, this robs history of its most valuable and enduring quality:

Actions in the past result in diverse outcomes for different people and historic events are wide open to interpretation from multiple perspectives depending on your age, gender, ethnicity, or religious background. In the search for relevancy we must be willing to embrace numerous human experiences throughout history. And historic sites provide an opportunity to explore the multi-cultural layers of our nation’s past. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

War & Peace & World Heritage, The Future of Babylon

The Ancient Middle East

Recently, I attended a presentation entitled Babylon and Beyond: Preserving Iraqi Cultural Heritage at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. This presentation gave me a greater appreciation for the work of heritage stewardship and brought to light a new found sense of personal freedom. 

The presentation was given by Diane Siebrandt, who shared her experiences working for the U.S. State Department in Iraq. She focused primarily on many of the historic sites in Iraq, the cradle of civilization. Often called the fertile crescent, this region of the world was the birth place of ancient Mesopotamian civilization.

Reconstructed Ziggarut at Ur
At first glance of the presentation's topic, I was quick to assume that part of the lecture would discuss the looting of the Iraq museum. This incident took place in April of 2003 and received a great deal of media attention. However, the looting was not the primary focus of the presentation. Neither were the politics behind the war or the Taliban’s role in the destruction of other world heritage sites. Instead, the presenter introduced us to key historic sites in Iraq like Babylon, Ur, and Ashur. She provided unique insights into how these places are being both protected and conserved. 

It was inspiring and refreshing to listen to how Diane Siebrandt chose a proactive approach that emphasized the future and not the past. Her presentation brought a positive air of change to an area of the world that has lived in the dark for far too long.  

Mesopotamian God Gilgamesh
Another key point of the presentation was on the work that has been done to provide training and access to educational resources for preservation professionals in Iraq. Too often I have taken for granted basic resources like books and the Internet. Living in America, access to education and the development of professional networks seem like a given, but this is hardly the case in many places around the world. The freedom we have to communicate openly and exchange ideas is both a privilege and a responsibility. This presentation gave me a chance to reflect on how fortunate I am to even have the opportunity to write this blog and share my views with friends and colleagues.

As highly criticized as the war in Iraq has been, this presentation brought to light a different side of the conflict that is often overlooked: freedom. Learning about the emerging Iraqi freedom to exchange knowledge in an effort to preserve their own ancient heritage made me appreciate my own freedom and the sacrifices of service men and women who make this freedom possible.   

Vintage Postcard from Iraq