The Ripple Effect: The Positive Outcomes of an OAH/NPS Project on African American History North of Boston

Endorsed by the Society for History in the Federal Government (SHFG)

Friday, April 1, 2022, 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: African American; National Park Service; Public History and Memory


From 2018‒2020, Dr. Kabria Baumgartner and Dr. Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello led a project to uncover, recover and produce a report on the histories of African Americans in Essex County, Massachusetts, just northeast of Boston as part of a project solicited by an OAH/NPS funding partnership. The work proved more challenging than anticipated, but the positive outcomes proved greater than imagined. This roundtable, including a project scholar, graduate students, a regional archivist and National Park Service staff will explore both intended and unintended positive impacts of the project on interpretation, regional public history and social justice ecosystems, K-post-secondary education, and knowledge transfer.

Session Participants

Chair and Panelist: Eizabeth A. Duclos-Orsello, Salem State University
Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello is a publicly-engaged interdisciplinary scholar/social-justice activist with twenty years of experience linking higher education, museum, social service, K-12, service-learning and cultural sectors in both the US and Europe. She is Professor and Chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies Department/Coordinator of American Studies at Salem State University teaching courses in American Studies, urban studies and social/cultural history. She was founding University Fellow for Civic Engagement and member of the Working Group on Racial Justice’s steering committee. At SSU and elsewhere in the US and Europe she has taught undergraduate/graduate students in departments of History, English, Art History, American Studies, Humanities and Women’s/Gender Studies. Her scholarly work—much of it public-facing—explores intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, immigration, religion, place-making, and the cultural construction of community. Social justice is central. She is author of Modern Bonds: Redefining Community in Early Twentieth Century St. Paul (U Mass Press, 2018) and editor of the forthcoming Teaching American Studies: State of the Classroom as State of the Field (Kansas, 2021). She is the Co-PI on the OAH/NPS funded project “African Americans in Essex County, Massachusetts.” Other work explores the history of Franco-Americans, Catholic women’s activism, documentary film and the social contract, equity in higher ed, and shared authority in community-based museum work. She has worked as a legal advocate, museum educator, writing instructor and director of TAH grants. She is a sought-after consultants for museums, non-profits and universities and blogs/offers public testimony on the value of the humanities for civil society. She is the Chair of the Board of Mass Humanities, is a former Jesuit Volunteer, a two-time Fulbright Scholar (Luxembourg, 2010/Greece, 2016) and a Whiting Fellow (Cote D’Ivoire, 2015). She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies and a B.A. in History/Sociology.

Panelist: Amita Kiley, Lawrence History Center
Amita was raised in Lawrence, MA and graduated from Northeastern University with a B.A. in American History in 2004. Her experience growing up in Lawrence fostered a love of the city and a strong sense of wanting to preserve its history. In 2001, as part of Northeastern’s Co-operative Education program, she found herself working at the LHC as a preservation assistant. She continued her professional career after graduation at the archive. In 2015, she moved into her current role as collections manager and research coordinator. She works closely with LHC’s director and local historians, coordinates and supervises volunteers, handles walk in visitors and school groups, and ensures that the hundreds of research requests LHC receives a year are answered in a timely and thorough manner. Amita is a member of the Mass History Alliance, Society of American Archivists, New England Archivists, and the Strikers’ Monument Committee of Lawrence, MA. Amita is a frequent speaker on all things Lawrence History Center and enjoys introducing others to their mission of collecting, preserving, sharing, and animating the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people.

Panelist: Melissa Kleinschmidt, University of New Hampshire
Melissa Kleinschmidt is a doctoral candidate at the University of New Hampshire. In her doctoral studies, she is particularly interested in early modern women’s epistemologies, early modern women’s practice of medicine, and the spaces where these epistemologies and medicine interact. She is also interested in how women’s medical practices interact with other intellectual shifts, especially religion, science, and race. She recently presented at the 2021 South-Central Renaissance Conference on depictions of women’s medical practice and nation-building in Lady Mary Wroth’s sprawling romance, Urania, as well as the 2019 CLA Conference on medicine and intertextuality between August Wilson and Shakespeare. Her dissertation, tentatively titled “Manual Culture, Women’s Medical Practice, and English Health in Early Modern English Literature,” argues that early modern women’s medical practice was not only grounded in the tenets of expectations prescribed in early modern domestic and conduct manuals, but also participated in broader nation-building enterprises—as is seen in depictions of women’s actions in the works of Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and Lady Mary Wroth.

Although she is an English major by trade, Melissa is also invested in understanding the ways that the many historical persons, events, and artifacts influence the ways that we perceive our world today. She brings these interests together in her research and her classrooms.

Panelist: Emily Axford Murphy, National Park Service
Emily A. Murphy is the Curator for Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site. She holds a BA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, Annapolis, an MA in American Studies from the Pennsylvania State University, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Boston University. Her dissertation, “To Keep Our Trading For Our Livelihood:” The Derby Family and Their Rise to Power, examined how mercantile families used material culture, social connections, and political participation to exert control in 18th-century Salem, Massachusetts. Before returning to graduate school, Dr. Murphy was the Curator of Photographs and Assistant Registrar of Special Collections at the Maryland State Archives, and a part time staff member at the Hammond-Harwood House, where she curated the exhibit Annapolis Masterpiece: 150 Years of Photography at the Hammond-Harwood House. She is the author of A Complete and Generous Education, a book on the history of St. John’s College, and her major publications for the National Park Service include the walking tour guide Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Salem, and Merchants, Clerks, Citizens, and Soldiers: A History of the Second Corps of Cadets. Her work on the military history of Salem earned her the Honorable Order of St. Barbara from the United States Field Artillery Association in 2008, and she is currently working with the Historical Services Department of the Massachusetts National Guard to create an exhibit on the history and collections of the Guard at the Salem Armory Visitor Center. During nearly 30 years of work in the public history field, she has used a variety of public and private records as well as material culture to interpret the lives of people who have left few written records behind. She brings to her work a strong belief that good history is inclusive history, and that finding the stories of those normally overlooked can only improve our understanding of history and guide us in the preservation of the buildings and objects left behind. In relation to the narratives that have developed around major events and historic sites, this can make visitors uncomfortable when the often-simplistic stories developed for children and popular culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries turn out to either be fabrications or gloss over painful truths. Examining how female and minority perspectives engage with or reject the predominant narratives is one way public historians, particularly those in the National Park Service, can contextualize and reinterpret our nation’s history as it is reflected in our public lands.