A lot, as it turns out. At an informal session designed to open a conversation among public historians about how our work does (or might) relate to growing concerns about climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, and related issues, participants teased out a range of ways that we could address these issues through our public historical practice. Some ideas and themes that emerged:
* Public historians have a unique set of talents (and perhaps then an actual obligation) to speak out in ways that encourage our various publics and colleagues to think about the historical processes relating to our current patterns of consumption and waste. How did we get here? And what can that tell us about how to get out of the problems looming on our environmental horizons? Public historians are good at posing those kinds of questions in engaging and inclusive ways.
* Historic sites are potentially powerful platforms for modeling as well as depicting less wasteful, more conscious consumption. Several participants commented that recycling is not new - it is disposability that is very recent. Showing other ways of living/producing/consuming is important, and we should take take our own interpretation to heart in the management and running of our own workplaces and historic properties.
* We should be linking with other historical/environmental organizations to find out what they are doing in this area.
* There is a tension between hope and despair when thinking about these issues. Looking at historical examples of other grass-roots movements (eg. abolition and suffrage movements) and paradigm shifts can help us lean toward the "hope" side of the equation on this one.
* Our conferences themselves can be places for us to change our consumption and energy use patterns, as NCPH has tried to do in many ways with our meeting in Louisville. But more clearly remains to be done, as session participant Harry Klinkhamer discovered when exiting the session room...
Posted by Cathy Stanton.