Calamity Camp Mining Site

Perched on a remote mesa on the Uncompahgre Plateau lies one of the last standing examples of a vanadium-radium-uranium mining camp in Colorado: Calamity Camp.  This historic site, which contains a variety of well-preserved structures, housed the men and their families that mined the area from 1916 to 1980.  I’ve had the opportunity to explore the structures on two occasions, one to monitor the condition of the structures, and one to help establish a protection plan in the event of a wildfire.  Calamity Camp is a unique site, providing a window into the lives of the families who lived in this remote location; it would have been a harsh existence.  No running water, no electricity, etc. into the 1950s!  All that remains are a couple of rock structures, including a bunkhouse, a rock and cedar post barn, outhouses, and wooden cabins, as well as hundreds of historic artifacts.  When visiting places like Calamity Camp, keep in mind that it is illegal to remove any artifacts or harm any structures on public lands.  Furthermore, if you see a sign warning of numerous open mine shafts, keep your distance.

 For more information:

https://www.blm.gov/visit/search-details/627/2

http://www.historic7thstreet.org/remembering/decpdfs/calamity.pdf

Living History Museums, Part 2: A Brief History

Historians can trace the living-history movement as far back as 1881 to the European open-air museums and farms. Trying to highlight the past in the United States can be seen after the Civil War (Anderson 1982). This effort was rooted in the need to preserve what civic leaders and middle-class professionals considered to be traditional American beliefs and cultural values, especially with the influx of European immigrants.  Those within groups like Sons of the American Revolution tried to find ways to best display examples of their ancestral and national values.  Hoping to create a sort of shrine to the past, these places (mostly historic houses and landmarks) made history a place to visit.   A few traditional historic houses and farms later evolved into living history museums, but for many years these sites espoused and aimed to glorify the cultural values of the Founding Fathers through costumed interpreters and activities.

The most influential living history museum is Colonial Williamsburg.  In 1926, John D. Rockefeller was convinced to fund a project that would restore the entire Williamsburg community to the time of the American Revolution, since it was considered the birthplace of American liberty (Leon and Piatt:66).  Once completed, Colonial Williamsburg gained a reputation for authenticity, with restored houses and recreated activities. As early as the 1930s, costumed interpreters guided visitors throughout the museum.  Everything was neat and orderly (i.e. no representation of slavery or other grittier aspects of history), representing a bygone time lost to the urban post-industrial world.  Spurred by the national fervor created by Williamsburg, many more outdoor living history museums were created during the 1950s.  Again, a nostalgic era was portrayed with costumed hosts and craftspeople demonstrating life as it supposedly once was.

A more realistic interpretation of the past was born out of the cultural uproar of the 1960s and 1970s that spurred the deconstruction of outdated historical theory and the rise of ‘new social history.’  Long neglected subjects would become the new focus of this theoretical revolution: women, African Americans, working classes and confining political and cultural strictures.   The past was being explored in a variety of novel methods, from experimental archaeology to revolutionizing how the past would be presented.

Emphasis on the elite figures of the past (i.e. Founding Fathers) shifted to the common and ordinary.  As for living history museums, interpretive presentation shifted from simple craft demonstration to the social, economic, religious and political standing of various figures within the community.  The concept of first and third person interpretation was taken to a higher level: many living history sites strived to move from simply having guides give a passive interpretation of history to a more authentic experience by having history literally come alive.  There is still the trend at many historic houses and museums to keep an idyllic and comfortable sense of history, forgetting that the past had weeds and filth littering the roads, and that the people themselves carried a fine layer of dirt.  Interpretative programs continue to evolve and positive change has been seen at museums like Colonial Williamsburg by bringing the more uncomfortable aspects of history to life.

[Keep an eye out for Part 3: Criticism of Living History]

References:

Anderson, Jay. “Living History: Simulating Everyday Life in Living History Museums,”       American Quarterly 34 (1982), 290-306.

Leon, Warren and Margaret Piatt, Chapter 3: “Living-History Museums,” in Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig. History Museums in the United States: A Critical Assessment. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Magelssen, Scott. Living History Museums: Undoing History through Performance. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2007.

Marshall, Howard Wight. “Folklife and the Rise of American Folk Museums,” The Journal of American Folklore 90 (Oct-Dec 1977), 391-413.

Rosenzweig, Roy and David Thelen. The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Tivers, Jacqueline Tivers. “Performing Heritage: the use of live ‘actors’ in heritage presentations,” Leisure Studies 21 (2002), 187-200.

Visitors and Misconceptions

Visitors

During the winter, I used to volunteer a NPS visitor’s center.  We would get a lot of international visitors who thought the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans still lived at the ruins (to be fair, they didn’t know the history of the southwest).  They were genuinely perplexed why no one was there, which took a great deal of explaining how the site had been abandoned 500-600 years earlier (and I am TERRIBLE at speaking French and German).  It was all well-intentioned, but I think I left both the visitors and myself confused.

Wolfe Ranch, Arches National Park

While making my way on the Delicate Arch trail at Arches National Park, Utah, I passed by a rough looking wooden cabin, corral, and outbuilding.  Being the history nerd that I am, I wandered over to the interpretive sign to find out what on earth people were doing at this remote location.  A John Wesley Wolfe left Ohio in 1898 with his son to live in a drier climate; they settled at this location with some cattle.  The cabin you can see now is a later construction that Wolfe’s daughter (and her family) made them build, a better dwelling with a wooden floor and windows.  Very fancy.  It’s amazing that six people lived in this building!  Maybe that’s why they all eventually moved back to Ohio . . .According to the Arches National Park website, the Ranch and acreage were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

For more information:

https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/historyculture/wolfe-ranch.htm

Book Review: Introducing Postmodernism By Appignanesi and Garratt

Theory in any discipline can be extremely difficult to grasp.  Bring in postmodernism and many students are completely lost.  This book helped me understand the postmodernism movement when I was first introduced to historical and archaeological theory.  Appignanesi and Garratt answer such questions as, what on earth is false postmodernism?  Eclectic postmodernism?  The Anthropic Principle?  Introducing Postmodernism is a great companion to any theoretical textbook/compilation of works for an undergraduate theory class.  I found myself pulling out this book even for my graduate anthropology theory class.

Through cartoons and brief but concise explanations, the authors trace the complexities of the postmodernist movement in art, theory, science, and history.  Reading original texts by Derrida and Levi-Strauss can bring on massive headaches—this book, however, breaks down such authors’ concepts into something understandable.  After reading about major postmodernists and their thoughts brought to life via drawings, I was then able to tackle some of their writing.  Although, Derrida still has me scratching my head.