All posts filed under: Historic Preservation

Posts about places that matter

American Patriots

Today — May 8, 2020 — is the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (or V-E) Day, when the allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. World War II was a time when the countries of the world came together to combat bigotry, racism, fascism and hatred. I had a father, uncles, and aunts who volunteered to serve, one of whom was at Normandy on D-Day. Many men and women made the ultimate sacrifice in those years. Yet all went to war because of what happened when xenophobia and demagoguery supplanted real leadership. Last month we passed the 155th anniversary of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army on April 9, 1865. The victory, while complete on the battlefield, was not capable of eradicating 250 years of racism. So we all soldier on for a better, more just world. Abraham Lincoln said it best when he spoke of the reasons for the Civil War — and our unfinished task as Americans — at the dedication of the Union cemetery at Gettysburg: …

COVID-19 Claims the Life of the Last Surviving Monuments Woman

Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite had — by any account — an amazing life. Born in Boston on August 24, 1927 to Japanese citizens, her father was a prominent dentist and professor at Harvard. As noted on the Monuments Men Foundation website: “The family was befriended by Langdon Warner, the legendary scholar of Asian art and future Monuments Man in Japan following the end of World War II. The Fujishiro household became the center of the Japanese community in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Japanese students, professors, and scholars from the many universities surrounding Boston would flock to parties expertly hosted by Motoko’s mother.” She and her mother and brother were forced to relocate to Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, while her father was arrested for espionage and put into an internment camp. He later returned to Tokyo a broken man. Motoko survived the war and became one of 27 women who worked for the Arts and Monuments Commission — popularly known as the Monuments Men. After the war, she reinstated her United States citizenship, lived in …

Belonging

During this pandemic, many of us are feeling vulnerable. Some may be wondering if or where we belong in a world that has dramatically changed. Brené Brown says that our belonging to each other can’t be lost, but it can be forgotten. She came to understand the simple yet profound answer to the question of the difference between fitting in and belonging out of a conversation with a group of middle school students. “Fitting in is when you want to be a part of something” they explained. “Belonging is when others want you.” With my background, Brené Brown’s thoughts on vulnerability and belonging led me to think about history, storytelling, and our use of selective memory to keep others out of our narrative, to ensure they don’t belong. If we confront our feelings during this pandemic, we may come to realize the ways that we have made others feel vulnerable in the past, perhaps by omitting or erasing their stories as if they don’t belong. History isn’t what happened. It is a story about what happened. …

History and Hope in the Midst of Denial and Darkness

Harry S. Truman famously said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” Each day we are facing a crisis that some describe as “unprecedented.”* Serious? Absolutely. Life-changing? Unquestionably. Worthy of all our attention? Definitely. But unprecedented? Thankfully, historians are speaking up to help make sense of what we are facing today, and to provide hope for what can come. John M. Barry — who, in Rising Tide, wrote one of the best histories I’ve read of how a disaster changed our country for the better — has also written a book that is invaluable in understanding our current crisis. Barry’s 2004 work, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, makes him the historian who arguably knows more than anyone about the 1918 flu influenza that is the public health event most often compared to today’s outbreak. Barry writes that in that year, “a new respiratory virus invaded the human population and killed between 50 million and 100 million people — adjusted for population, that would equal …

Servant Leadership

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Max DePree, the long-time CEO of the furniture and design pacesetter Herman Miller, wrote those words in his small but influential book Leadership is an Art, and they’ve stuck with me through the years. In the early 1980s, as I was preparing to take my first leadership post as the executive director of a nonprofit organization, I read Robert K. Greenleaf’s 1977 book Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. A humanities major without any background in management or business, I was looking for guidance on how to lead, motivate, and manage people. Greenleaf’s words resonated with me, even if I didn’t come close to fully understanding their implications. “The servant-leader is servant first,” he wrote. “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” I went on to study other management and leadership theories, attended a Harvard Business School executive …

Saving the Past Has a Past

It is surprising that a field that has focused so much on the preservation of history has an unfortunate blind spot to its own history. Historic preservation is one of the longest-lasting examples of community development, land use reform, and public history in the United States. The stories of the past efforts of our fellow citizens to ensure that parts of our history are with us today and tomorrow are varied and fascinating. Yet many, both inside and outside preservation, tell themselves a simplistic and usually inaccurate story of how we came to value parts of our past in a country that too often only values the new and what’s over the horizon. The recently released second edition of Giving Preservation a History, edited by Randall Mason and Max Page, is a strong attempt to reverse our trend at historical amnesia in the preservation field. Through seven essays retained from the first edition, six new essays prepared for the 2020 book, and two concluding chapters to wrap both works together, the editors have endeavored to put forward …

Searching for Utopia

Americans have a long history of living with an eye on the horizon, seeking something shiny and new. The first religious communities of New England, founded to escape the tyranny of the established churches in Europe, led to Roger Williams and others leaving those new settlements for Rhode Island to escape the tyranny of the Puritans. The Jeffersonian search for freedom in land led to grid-and-garden patterns of development across much of the Midwest and West and, eventually, the push out of the city into the “land” of the suburb. Communitarian journeys to places like New Harmony, the Shaker villages, and (a personal favorite) the 19th century English town of Rugby, Tennessee are part of the story. Henry Ford noted that, “We shall solve the problem of the city by leaving the city,” so Ford, George Pullman and other industrialists, up to and including today’s Silicon Valley elites, have constructed company towns and “E-topias” to build something new in the land of opportunity. All of these examples and many more are part of Alex Krieger’s …