Monday, March 9, 2015

Undergraduates Doing Local History in Spokane, Washington

Larry Cebula
If you don't read Larry Cebula's blog "Northwest History," you really should.  In my opinion, Cebula, who teaches public history at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, is one of the most interesting public historians in the blogopshere today.  His blog even has a "mission statement!"

Cebula and his students are in the midst of a project to provide digital markers for every site of historical significance in the Spokane area. What a great way to get students excited about the past in their own backyard!

Check out this piece on Cebula's project at The Spokesman Review.  Here is a taste:

On a cold gray Tuesday afternoon in Cheney, Larry Cebula tells his students to grab their jackets. The Eastern Washington University history professor pulls a long, wool overcoat over his suit, throws a scarf around his neck and looks out at his class: “Let’s take a walk.”
They walk across campus – in twos and threes, across lawns of crunching brown leaves – to see what has become of the place where, 130 years ago, a mob broke into the rickety wooden jail, looped a rope around the neck of an “unnamed Indian,” lobbed it over a sturdy branch and yanked it until the man was dead. These students have read yellowing articles about the incident, but history looks different when you’re standing there.
When they get there, they stand silently in a semicircle looking for evidence of that past. But this corner – at Fourth Street and College Avenue – is ordinary. There are no bloodstains, no scars from the frontier justice executed here so long ago. There’s a yellow fire hydrant. A parking lot. A light post. A red and white “No Parking Here to Corner” sign. A spindly, fatigued tree. Runners in neon speed by. A car passes, windows vibrating from a bassy stereo.
“What should we do here?” Cebula, 54, asks his students. “What should we do with this site?”
They’re quiet for a second. Then a student with an Amish-style beard says a monument would commemorate something no one would want to remember. “Although I would say I would rather have a monument than this nasty parking lot,” another student counters. They all laugh.
Well maybe a monument won’t happen, Cebula says, but what about something less permanent? Something less formal?
For the past two years, in fact, Cebula and his history students have bypassed bureaucracy and popular opinion, compiling digital markers for more than 400 historical points of interest in the Spokane area. They do it digitally, on the website SpokaneHistorical.org and its matching smartphone app.
Read the rest here.