I will begin this post with a brief update on the exhibit label I am writing for the Independence Seaport Museum. My particular label will be, briefly, discussing American interventionism in Murmansk, the Russian port where the Cruiser Olympia was stationed, and how those in the region reacted to the American presence. Dr. Lowe supplied a government document last week that essentially summarizes the history of America’s intervention in Murmansk which, although I try to remain critical of the source, altered my understanding of what the Olympia was doing there. According to the text, it was not about interfering in the Bolshevik revolution in Russia as I expected, but about preventing the Germans in World War I from obtaining millions of tons of military armaments from the Murmansk and Archangel ports in Russia. That is a brief overview of the subject. Based on what I read from that source alone I drafted a very rough draft of my exhibit label. My goal over the next week or so is to accumulate other sources that can corroborate or correct the source I already have, and then improve what I write for the label to reflect that.
In regards to the larger, semester-long endeavor regarding the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 in Philadelphia, over the past week I’ve reached out to a number of individuals who could provide significant information regarding, not only the influenza pandemic, but how it pertains to the larger American history of people with intellectual and developmental disability. Thanks to the connections made during my undergraduate internships (about which more can be read in my “About Me” page) I reached out to Drs. Elliott Simon and Jim Conroy, and more recently Mr. Greg Pirmann. Dr. Conroy and Mr. Pirmann are both among the leading figures in preserving the memory and history of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, and both are fantastic fonts on knowledge of the institution’s history. Dr. Simon is a connection at the Elwyn School in Med-ia, PA which was also an operating school and institution for persons with intellectual and developmental disability in 1918. I have yet to hear back from Dr. Simon and Mr. Pirmann (e-mails to each of them were sent only recently), but Dr. Conroy got back to me last week, providing a much appreciated introduction to Pennhurst’s history regarding the influenza pandemic in 1918. He also pointed out that, although the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance archive does not contain any documents involving the pandemic, the Norristown State Hospital could, with a bit of digging, contain useful records on those who succumbed to the epidemic while at Pennhurst.
In summary, this has been a pretty productive week for both of these projects, and I really look forward to how they develop over the next week or so.
In Beverly Serrell’s book, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, she provides those working in museum’s or other fields that require an understanding of writing exhibit labels a comprehensive and detailed outline of how to do so. In this text, Serrell focuses on the importance, not only of conveying the materials concisely, but on how visitors will interact with it, and how best to cater exhibit labels to visitors. She opens the book with her “10 Commandments,” which provide brief summaries of what she explains in detail throughout the rest of the text. These 10 Commandments are:
In short, Beverly Serrell’s Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach is a completely eye-opening text that has left me feeling better prepared as I approach writing my own exhibit labels for an upcoming exhibit label assignment with Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum.
 Beverly Serrell, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015): p. 2.
 Ibid, p. 7.
 Ibid, pgs. 327-329.
John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History is seemingly a “Great Man” approach to history, but also approaches the subject matter from an ecological, if not better called “epidemiological” perspective. In the first chapter to this book, Barry gives the reader a brief introduction to the history of medicine, chronicling this history from as far back as Hippocrates until just before the 1918 influenza pandemic erupted, thus granting the reader context to where medical science stood just prior to the outbreak. In this introduction to the history of medicine Barry focuses on the contributions of men like Hippocrates, Galen, Harvey, and others who mark the progress that medical science made throughout the centuries leading up to the 20th. Throughout the rest of the book Barry also makes reference to the men, and several women, who contributed to managing, if not always successfully, the 1918 Influenza pandemic in the United States. Men like Paul Lewis and Simon Flexner who each played their own pivotal roles in studying and combatting the outbreak. Men like Wilmer Krusen, who, as a prominent member of the Department of Health and Charities, in Philadelphia remained adamant publicly that there was no epidemic despite vast amounts of evidence to the contrary. And men like Dr. Loring Miner, who due to his praiseworthy records made it possible for historians, like Barry, to conclude that the 1918-1919 Influenza pandemic could have originated in Haskell County, Kansas. Throughout the rest of the book Barry sought to support his argument that the 1918 influenza pandemic originated in Haskell County, Kansas (citing sources from the aforementioned Loring Miner), and in doing so used an epidemiological perspective to trace the disease’s path in reverse across the globe. All the while, Barry referenced all manner of primary sources from hospitals, military outposts, newspaper articles, etc. to better support his argument.
Historiographically speaking I found it interesting that several of the secondary sources to which Barry referred in this book varied in their approaches. Dorothy Ann Pettit, in her book A Cruel Wind: America Experiences the Pandemic Influenza, 1918-1920, A Social History¸ analyzes the 1918 pandemic with an eye to the future, similarly to Barry. Both of these authors use their historic works to caution contemporary lawmakers about the dangers of future pandemics that will, in their opinions, undoubtedly come in the future. Considering the recent Zika outbreak these warnings are timely. My one critique is that, at times, Barry’s warnings sound close to doomsday prophecy, and he makes his claim for the importance of funding influenza research at the expense of belittling other valid medical research being presently performed. Alfred Crosby’s book, America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918, examines the 1918 pandemic with a focus on the strange public amnesia America has regarding that outbreak, while also examining the importance of this historic outbreak with, at the time of publication, recent pandemics like SARS and Asian flu. Again, as with Pettit’s book, it is fitting that this book was published in the wake of such outbreaks, while also researching that public amnesia which can hinder decisions in the face of future outbreaks of disease. Richard Collier’s book, The Plague of the Spanish Lady: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919, takes a more social, or even oral history, approach, creating his story based on the personal experience of hundreds of survivors. Another of my critiques, here, is that there are certain demographics to which Barry affords little, if any, representation; i.e. women (with the exception of Anna Wessel Williams) and people of color, to name two. Where were women and people of color during this pandemic? How did it affect them? What roles did they play in its management or in their own communities as they struggled to endure the disease? Nevertheless, Barry’s book was favorably received. Reviewers like Norah Shire of Public Health Reports, Robert Welch of America, and Richard Slimowitz of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy all praised Barry for his masterful storytelling and for tying a significant medical and historical period into the present to encourage those in positions of authority to remain alert and responsible in the face of future pandemics that mankind could face.
Overall I think this book offers many things to historians and public historians alike. There are lessons that can and should be adopted in any potential exhibits on this oft forgotten, albeit traumatic, period in American history. Most of all I think the lesson to be taken from this text is its modern relevance. Within the text, Barry supports his argument of contemporary significance by citing recent outbreaks of various diseases and influenza strains like H5N1 in 1968 and 1997 and SARS and H7N7 in 2003. Barry’s argument that a new pandemic is not a matter of if but when holds clear merit. Therefore, it would make great sense for any museum or exhibition to draw connections between these outbreaks and that of 1918-1919 to both better engage the audience, and perhaps even promote the kind of mobilized change that Barry sought through The Great Influenza. Despite having some criticisms for the book, by and large I do commend Barry for taking an often forgotten piece of American history and using it to urge the public conscience to action, to which, given his presence on several government and university boards regarding medical research on influenza and pandemics post-publication, he would seem to be successful.
 John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (Penguin Books, 2004). P. 16.
 Ibid, pgs. 16,17, and 19-20.
 Ibid, pgs. 4 & 78.
 Ibid, p. 202.
 Ibid, p. 92
 Book summary from Amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/Cruel-Wind-Pandemic-America-1918-1920/dp/0971542813)
 Book summary from Amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/Americas-Forgotten-Pandemic-Influenza-1918/dp/0521541751)
 Book summary from Amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/Plague-Spanish-Lady-Influenza-Panademic/dp/0749002468)
 John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (Penguin Books, 2004). P. 71.
 Ibid, Pgs. 454 & 459.
The readings for this week focused on overarching themes of overspecialization in the historical profession and how to overcome it to better interact with a public audience, and how best to balance historical memory and heritage with the academic integrity that those in the historical profession seek in their work. In short, these readings provided a fascinating insight into serious issues that historians faced in the recent past, but would do well to learn from in the present in order to maintain relevance in modern society and into the future.
The Presence of the Past, by Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen focuses on the idea of “popular historymaking,” and how to incorporate that in historical work to better engage the general public. “Popular historymaking” considers the general public active participants in understanding history rather than passive consumers (Rosenzweig and Thelen, 3). The authors also sought to better understand how the public understands the past in order to better engage them in historical endeavors. The main argument in this book is that the past matters significantly to most people, and it is up to historians to better cater to their interest (Rosenzweig and Thelen, 7).
In Pennsylvania in Public Memory, Carolyn Kitch’s goal was to determine which of a lost way of life’s parts should be remembered, how, by and for whom, and at what “temporal distance” (Kitch, 4). She discussed throughout the book that in regards to industrial history it can be difficult for historic heritage sites to provide the evenhanded, objective history that most scholars would like, but achieving that requires time. Ultimately, she ascertained that heritage culture in history does matter significantly because it is “a public expression of our wishes of the present and because those wishes have implications for the future” (Kitch, 179).
In the prologue to Denise Meringolo’s book, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks, she sets up the focus of her book by redirecting discussion on public history from the typical attempts at defining what it is, towards what it is to perform historical work as a public service (Meringolo, 22). She referenced a study which indicated that the sources Americans trust most are museums and historical societies, not history classes or scholarly journals (Meringolo, 6).
In the first two chapters of his book Historians in Public, Ian Tyrell warned against overspecialization within history as a profession, using the history/culture wars of the late 1980s and 90s as a cautionary tale wherein history professionals estranged themselves from the public. In discussing the culture wars, Tyrell alluded to the difference between teaching multiculturalism in classes, and providing a diverse historical curriculum.
In Presence of the Past, Rosenzweig and Thelen asserted that the largest barrier to historic collaboration was not conservatives but rather those professional historians who, “failed to overcome habits of professionalization.” (p. 4) These habits are the ones which led to overspecialized scholarship to which Tyrell referred, which was so narrowly focused that the general public felt no desire to consume it as they could not relate to it. In her book, Pennsylvania in Public Memory, one of Kitch’s main goals was to ascertain how people (whether still in school or out) learn about history and through which mediums, supporting Rosenzweig and Thelen’s argument that to garner greater interest from the general public historians must consider how best to engage them, whether through innovative interactive technology or simply by presenting a history that they find relatable to their own personal history or identity. Thelen and Tyrell both addressed the Smithsonian’s Enola Gay debacle, about which Thelen wrote how historians were asked to “choose between the authenticity of a pilot’s memories of wartime service and the accuracy of written sources recovered by a historian” (Rosenzweig and Thelen, p 190). Kitch also discussed balancing academic integrity with memory in discussing how some of Pennsylvania’s industrial historic heritage sites exhibit a fair amount of personal bias. In reaching one of her ultimate conclusions (that time is really the only way to eliminate that bias in historic sites), she referenced the Harrisburg Civil War Museum which was more evenhanded than other sites she visited.
Each of these readings was fascinating and beneficial to someone intent on going into the Public History field. It is good to know going in what kinds of issues historians face in the field and learn what methods they use to overcome things like overspecialization, external bias, and balancing memory with scholarship.
I will conclude this post with my favorite passage from this week’s readings, which comes from Kitch’s Pennsylvania in Public Memory as she describes a 1928 Wurlitzer within the Latonia Theater near Oil City, PA. “The snare drum trilled and the doors swung open in front of the ceiling-high pipes, and I heard the opening notes of ‘When You Wish Upon a Star.’ As I watched the organ’s computer-programmed keys press out the song, I looked up at a sign hanging on the wall above. It reads, ‘The past stays with us.’ Most of the oil industry did not, but the Wurlitzer survives to remind us: This is what we once were” (Kitch, 167).
Welcome! My name is Derek Duquette and I am currently a Public History MA student studying at Temple University. Ultimately this website will serve as a, hopefully coherent, repository for responses to readings, projects, etc. that I complete during my time at Temple. Having just started, however, it is currently empty. Stay tuned for what I am sure will be an exciting adventure in public history!
In the meantime, allow me to tell you a bit about myself and my professional interests. I received a dual degree in History and German from West Chester University in 2016. My undergraduate thesis looked at religion’s differentiating role in the early 20th Century American and British versus German eugenics movements. While at West Chester I interned with the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance (PMPA) and the Elwyn School, creating and adding to their archives and finding aids respectively, and writing grant proposals for the latter’s future endeavors. My professional interests include oral history, digital history, archival preservation, American history of disability, and more broadly American history of oppression.