Al Hester

Return to Interviews

Interviewee: Al Hester
Interviewer: Cane West
Date: September 27, 2016
Accession #: PHP 015
Length of Recording: 58:45
Sound Recording
Summary

Al Hester is a 1999 graduate of the University of South Carolina Public History Program. Before attending UofSC, Hester worked seven-year career in the National Park Service where he developed an interest in public land management. At UofSC, Hester specialized in historic preservation. He completed his internship with the Francis Marion National Forest, and completed a thesis on twentieth century public land management history and preservation. His current position is Historic Sites Coordinator for the South Carolina State Parks. Interview includes discussions of a comparison between the NPS and South Carolina State Parks, the enticement of studying preservation in the capital city, and the role of public history organizations in the sensitive discussion of race and other present-day social issues. Hester also discussed the role of South Carolina state parks in addressing the concerns of the International Sites of Conscience, the prevalence of PhDs amongst leading public history professionals, and recent developments in shared historical authority

 

Keywords

Francis Marion National Forest | Historic Preservation | Historic Sites | International Sites of Conscience | Internships | National Council on Public History (NCPH) | National Park Service | Public Land Management | Shared Authority | South Carolina State Parks

 

Transcript

Cane West: This is Cane West. Today is the 27th of September, 2016 and I am interviewing…

Al Hester: Al Hester.

CW: For the USC Public History Archive Program. We are conducting this interview at his office on the grounds of the state capitol. So, like I said, let’s start out with some foundational basics. What years were you in the program, and what is your current position?

AH: Ok, let’s see. I entered the program—I guess that’s the right term—in 1996 and graduated in 1999 with a concentration in the preservation track.

CW: When you’re telling your family or you’re at a cocktail event, and you’re telling people what you’re doing now, what do you tell them? How do you spice it up?

AH: Well, that’s a good question. I probably should have an elevator speech like really down pat, but I don’t. What I would say is I do history in a non-academic setting; doing history for the public in the context of a museum or historic preservation or the archives. But in my job with the state parks, it’s really just a jack of all trades history job that involves historic research, that involves historic preservation—little bit of dabbling in archives and cataloguing projects. So, you know, it’s a little bit of everything doing history outside of the classroom setting.  And that’s usually something that people understand I think.

CW: And what is your specific title?

AH: Ok, my title is Historic Sites Coordinator, but the previous position was always Chief Historian, which sounds really cool, right? You want to be a Chief Historian. For some reason, in like ’97 or ’98, when they advertised it, they made it Historic Sites Coordinator. I don’t know why that was exactly, but that’s what it was. It makes sense because I work primarily with the state historic sites, though I also work with state parks, too. The bulk of my time goes towards historic site interpretation, and things like that.

CW: There’s not a functional difference between Chief Historian and Historic Sites Coordinator?

AH: Well, I mean there is no Chief Historian for State Parks now. I would assume I would fill that role. Probably when the position first started, and I think the first Chief Historian for state parks was in the early ‘70s, it was probably someone who primarily did research and less preservation. So he did exhibits and things like that, and then increasingly, they took on more duties related to historic preservation or museums collection management as compared to just sort of researching.

CW: So you’re part of some sort of changing role.

AH: Yeah, it’s evolved.

CW: You were a National Park Service ranger for 7 years, or so. Something like that. What did caused you to change? Did you go to grad school after those 7 years?

AH: You’ve worked for the Park Service. So you know the whole putting your time in as a seasonal ranger, and you know how difficult it is to get on permanent. So I did that, worked as a seasonal park ranger in interpretation and did law enforcement with the idea that that would be a good path towards getting on permanent, and then I discovered the idea of public history and graduate school and decided to do that. And right about the time I decided to go back to graduate school, I got offered a permanent park guide position. And you know, the permanent park guide positions, they are sort of limited. I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to go to graduate school.’ But my intention was that I wanted to work for the National Park Service because the Park Service has the most amazing resources, such good people to work with. I mean, it has its problems, but also it’s got a lot of superlatives. I wanted to do that. But then, getting my degree here and finding out the opportunities with the state park system—that was a pretty good thing, and I was able to pick up the job here.

CW: So you actually had choices between what you thought you wanted to do professionally and sort of a professional training situation with the public history program here. What was there within the Public History Program that you were looking for?

AH: Ok, well, not to be just practical minded, I was looking for some place that included funding, and not all programs obviously do. I don’t know what the program is like now, but in the late ‘90s, you got an assistantship, and it was 20 hours a week that paid for most of the tuition. It was a good deal. Other places I applied there was anything from no funding to just a little bit of funding. So that was good, but that’s not the whole story. We were living in South Carolina at the time, and I became very interested in South Carolina’s history, and being able to study here was good from that standpoint.

At the time, Connie Schultz and Bob Weyeneth I really wanted to work with. That turned out to be true. That was a good thing. And Dr. Weyeneth always says a Public History program in a capital city has some advantages because of the state historic preservation office or statewide public history entities or public history entities. So, that was a positive reason, and that’s one of the reasons that I came.

CW: Were you looking at other programs? Was there anything about the academics of the program specifically?

AH: It’s hard to remember. Incidentally, I thought I wanted to study colonial history and 19th century history. I ended up doing 20th century as the main focus of my thesis. I also applied to William and Mary to the American Studies program and other programs that weren’t Public History programs. But I really think it was Public History that I wanted to do. As far as the academic end, I think I had an idea at the time that I wanted to take traditional, graduate level history course work because I was an English major, I wasn’t a history major. I had a lot of ground to make up there. I guess that was one positive aspect about Public History versus a Museums Studies program or something like that. I needed to get the history content.

CW: How do you feel about these specialized programs without the Public History realm? You could have gone to a Museums Studies. You were on the Preservation track here and you think that sort of worked for you in general for Public History programs?

AH: Yeah, I mean, it worked. I was satisfied with the program, and it served me well. I have thought about this some since then, and since that time the joint Clemson-College of Charleston Historic Preservation program has gotten up and running. And it’s a very different kind of thing. I’ve worked with students who are there, and I’ve worked with students at the USC Public History program, and they are really coming at things from different angles. So the emphasis on technical skills, you know they are getting a lot on hands on conservation and paint analysis. Also some lab analysis and chemical testing. And that stuff is great, but as I’ve been on the job, I guess 17 years now, I was fascinated by that stuff at first, and it is very important, but after a while you start asking, “What’s the most meaningful thing here?” I find that Public History gets at the real meaning of why we’re doing this, and it just seems to have more of a social purpose. It’s great to preserve paint layers on 18th century buildings. It’s fascinating, I love that, but getting at the intellectual side of public history, over the long haul, I think it’s going to keep me engaged.

CW: You’re talking about the meaning of things and social purpose. Any recent things with new developments and new social purposes for your work?

AH: Gosh, I don’t want to be boring and talk about my biography like “My career biography, it’s so important” but, when I first started, I was all about historic preservation and wanted to go to masonry training workshops and replicate hewn timbers and what’s better restoration or rehabilitation. Those are great topics but now I am more interested in conveying important stories to people. Obviously in South Carolina race is a very important one. I spend a lot of my time thinking about the history of race in South Carolina. We have a number of plantation sites in the park system. We talked about that before. And so you ask about events.

Obviously the Emanuel Church shooting in Charleston is a pivotal moment. I think a lot of people in the profession obviously are thinking about how to apply public history the way it benefits the present. It really galvanized people here in South Carolina but nationally to really think about how public historians can contribute to current discussions about race and social justice and things like that. That is not in my job description, obviously. The state park service is not comfortable with political things—and rightly so. This is a state agency, but we have a role in those discussions.

CW: You said that you switched during your studies and then you just now mentioned the shooting in Charleston. Was there an event or a moment while you were studying that you think was part of a narrative of shifts or started to make you shift?

AH: You mean that shifted interest from preservation to more sort of public history?

CW: And maybe from the colonial period to the 20th.

AH: I don’t know; that would probably require a whole lot of soul searching. I think that the shift from being interested in more technical preservation (and I was always interested in broader history) that’s happened since I got out of school. But I was interested in both during graduate school, and I mean, the stuff is all intertwined. That’s the good thing about having a generalist public history job. Today I was talking to our Chief of Maintenance about a masonry repair project, but I’m also putting together descriptions of parks for the new statewide African American history app. I may have departed from your original question.

CW: That’s totally fine. Speaking of your generalist approach—you also do preservation, interpretation—but you’re also getting at the meat of why history matters. How do you understand the role of a position like yours within the larger academic history field? So you came into a public history program that’s embedded into a larger history program.

AH: I’ve thought about that some lately, too. I’ve got an MA. I think increasingly PH practitioners are probably going to the PhD level. You know, I often think of the PhD as almost the certification of being a real Public Historian, and I know that that’s kind of silly because I think that practitioners with an MA can really do good public history, but it’s hard to keep up with people who are coming out of PhD programs. The amount of information that they’re able to absorb during their graduate training is huge. You really have to learn a bunch of stuff to get a PhD. I have no intention of going back and getting a PhD. I don’t need one for my job. But I do feel like in the academic public history world that is very important, and I think that a lot of the people who are leaders are ones who have their doctorates.

CW: Do you feel like you’ve been able to push scholarship in any way through your multiplicity of historical work?

AH: I would say not real successfully. There are so many chores and duties that you have to do and I have not done much in the way of publishing. I have done a lot of research over the last 17 years and its gets transformed into things like exhibits. It’s transmitted to field staff who are interacting with the public on a day to day basis. It’s not wasted at all. It’s very applied. But it’s rarely compiled and published and that’s something I want to do more of. I’ve done a little bit but I don’t have a lengthy publication list on my resume. Is that what you’re getting at?

CW: I was thinking of your extending the national register into the 1950s at some of our local parks in order to get that story of race and segregation and preservation. And so I’m wondering if that’s one of the ways that you feel you are participating in the larger discussions?

AH: Formal reports like nominations. I’ve done my share of a few of those. You can look at something like an exhibit project where you contributed something on the exhibit team to the text and the images and the artifacts and the overall storyline as a publication of sorts. That’s a way of looking at it, too.

CW: with those kinds of themes that you’ve put in your exhibits, what motivated you to highlight those more recent themes. Were they lacking in some way or did you feel like coming out of the Public History program or your development since then it came to mind more?

AH: I mean, I was interested in the history of race in South Carolina during graduate school, and my thesis talks about African Americans who were living on the Sumter National Forest. So that’s a thread that’s carried through the whole way. And when I got into the state park service there was a feeling among some of the staff—and they were absolutely right—that there is a ton of work to do. And I remember in my first or second week meeting with a group of park interpreters. We formed an African American interpretation committee, a working group. And those people came and left. That’s been a thread that I’ve continued with. It’s really slow, though. In some ways, we’ve just scratched the surface on doing more inclusive interpretation at state parks. And it takes a long time. Shouldn’t, but it does.

CW: With inclusive interpretation, one of the things that develops me here in the program is that I’m around a lot of students from a lot of different backgrounds. What was your sense of the diversity in the Public History program?

AH: Yeah. Um, it was not that diverse. I don’t’ remember specifics. It was very diverse from a gender stand point. From a racial standpoint, I believe around the time I started there were a couple of African Americans—including Derrick Hart, that the Hart Award was named after—but, yeah, it was not a highly diverse group of us graduate students.

CW: Class? LGBT?

AH: Class…there was some variety there.

CW: You were also from Texas so you have a little bit of regional diversity.

AH: Geographic diversity. Yeah. I guess there was some geographic diversity. I think there was a transgender student in the straight, conventional—whatever—history at the time. So a little bit.

CW: I always wonder about who I’m going to unintentionally start learning from throughout the course of my career. We’ve talked about the History Program. Did you have sense of the relationship maybe among students? Maybe between faculty or whatever it might have been?

AH: It seems like a long time ago. There was a lot of interaction between…what’s the proper term? The regular history students?

CW:  I don’t know, academic?

AH: Yeah, yeah. It seems to me there was a lot of interaction and we worked together on a used book sale and there was a graduate student association of some sort. You were taking seminars in classes. It’s still the same way I assume.

CW: Was there a difference?

AH: There was. There was some unnecessary back and forth about what was better—a traditional history approach or a public history approach. Who was more likely to get employed. You know, that kind of stuff. There was some controversy that some letter somebody wrote.

CW: Somebody in the program?

AH: Yeah I think so. I can’t remember how that played out. That was a while ago. I’m sure Bob Weyeneth would remember.

CW: So when you were thinking about your own set of skills that you were learning, what did you feel like you as a public historian-minded person were able to contribute after your time in the program?

AH: I have maintained my connection to the program over the years, and that’s been easy to do since I’m here in the program. We’ve hosted assistants. I wish we could still do that. We haven’t been able to do that since 2007 or 2008. When the recession hit, we lost all of that funding. You know I’m hoping we can get it back at some point. It was great to have 20 hours a week. I mean that’s gold to have that. There’s so many things to do. Our graduate students that we had worked on a bunch of great projects. So that was one way that I was involved. Working with students doing research projects. Haven’t hosted a lot of graduate interns, but undergraduate public history interns, we’ve had a lot of those come through.  And that’s good, too. Not very many of them have gone on to do graduate work, but the one or two who have, it’s been like “Yeah that’s a good success story.”

CW: Were you required to have a summer internship?

AH: Yes.

CW: Where did you go?

AH: I did my internship with the Francis Marion National Forest with their heritage program run by their archaeologist. That was a really good experience. I was real focused on parks and natural resources and land management agencies. Getting a job in that part of the world. That’s why I focused on that.

CW: Did it help get this job?

AH: I don’t know, but I do know one thing that did help. For the preservation course where you do a National Register nomination, I chose Paris Mountain State Park. So I did a historic district nomination for them, and I also did a class assignment to do a preservation plan, and I did that. And I think that helped. It certainly made me known to the people up here.

CW: Your thesis work was on Sumter. It was on land management processes and the reaction of the local community. Where did that idea come out of? Were you working with the specific professor who was more influential?

AH: I worked with Ken Clements. He’s done a lot of work on Hoover era conservation. But, I just knew I wanted to do something on National Parks, National forests, state parks. I knew that was sort of the area I wanted. I looked for good stories that haven’t been done, and the Sumter National Forest history, not much at been done on that.

CW: I want to take you back to your very first memories of either talking to your parents about entering the program or your first memories of that first semester in the program, as you’re trying to convince them or convince yourself.

AH: Well, I had been out of undergraduate for a number of years living on my own. And my parents had always been interested in history. It wasn’t something that I needed to convince them of. As far as starting the program, it was quite intimidating because I had an English major. And though I had been working in the Park Service in interpretation at historic sites, I was not prepared for the amount of work involved and the amount of reading in the seminars. The amount of short papers and the class discussions that were pretty demanding. So, that first semester I found it to be pretty tough. And I was also commuting. I wasn’t living in Columbia but at Poinsett State Park at the time and commuting because my girlfriend at the time—who is now my wife—was working there. So that added to the difficulty of it.

But in preparation, and this was also part of deciding whether or not to go to a Public History program, I audited a class at the University of Massachusetts with David Glassman who I think does really interesting stuff with environmental history, and memory and stuff like that. So that was a great introduction. It really excited me, and I think that helped prepare me a little bit. But the reading was not as heavy as some of the seminars I had to do. It seems like that’s my memory.

CW: And you had mentioned Connie Schulz and Dr. Weyeneth, were there any other Public History professors that took you under their wing or were big influences at the time?

AH: Well, if I remember right, they were it as far as teaching Public History at the time. Allison Marsh wasn’t here yet and Casey Greer wasn’t here yet. I didn’t do the museum track, so I didn’t do anything with McKissick or anything like that. Bob and Connie, from a Public History standpoint, were the main people, but obviously I had professors that I really liked in the traditional History seminars.

CW:  Somebody had to convince you to shift forward 150 years in time.

AH: I think some of that was probably triggered by just looking at institutional histories of conservation industries. So many of them were created in the early 20th century. That’s what drove me to that.

CW: Nobody was putting up interpretive panels in the 1750s.

AH: That’s where we laugh, and he has to transcribe and say “Ha Ha Ha.”

CW: Last year at NCPH—by the way the work you do is so much down my alley, which is super exciting—you talked about inclusive histories with cultural landscapes, and it still seems that cultural landscapes—while mentioned—are not what we immediately think of when we think of preservation. How did that question of cultural landscapes build on your training? How has it helped develop your training since your time in the program?

AH: I think it’s a natural fit if you’re interested in the history of parks, and conservation and forest history, and things like that. I was really interested in thinking of cultural landscapes going back to when I read Changes in the Land. It was like ok, you see this rock was in the middle of the New England woods and see an old road remnant. You know, it’s a little bit romanticized, but that captured my imagination about cultural landscapes. So, I don’t know if I’m answering the question.

CW: How would you define a cultural landscape for someone at this [proverbial] cocktail party?

AH: The NPS, what is it, something like “a geographic area that…” I mean I would say a cultural landscape the landscape around us that has been shaped by human uses and human designs over the whole span of human history. There’s all kinds of layers and examples and the capital grounds we’re looking out on—and I’m thinking of explaining to someone who doesn’t know anything about them. I get examples of “well there’s on right there.” And all the paths and the trees are part of cultural landscape elements.

CW: And what do you like about cultural landscapes? Where does the passion lie for you?

AH: I guess in two areas. One, it’s understanding how we interact with the so called “natural resources” whether those are forests or view sheds or individual trees or things like that. And I’m sort of fascinated by that interface. But cultural landscapes are great to study because they get you outside and that is something I love to do. If you like to recreate—hiking, that sort of thing—which I’ve always been interested in, cultural landscapes let you do that. But, I mean, this idea of cultural landscapes being a way to help people understand things like race and power, it’s great. I’ve talked to you about Hampton [Plantation]. I think you were on that trip to Hampton. Our focus on the architectural masterpiece of the big house makes it much more difficult to do that. But if you can walk from the Big House to the former enslaved settlement to the rice fields to the cemetery, that landscape tells that story. That’s a kind of an example of a landscape that can tell you inclusive stories.

CW: I can only cheer on your work, and you just told me historians get to go hang out outside sometimes, depending on what they study, which is awesome. Do you think that your emphasis on cultural landscapes has helped shift how the South Carolina State Parks interprets their sites?

AH: I mean, I hope so. That’s the goal. It’s to improve what we are doing. Improve what we’re preserving and how we preserve it. Improve the stories that we’re trying to make accessible to visitors so they can discover that history. So it’s hopefully a story of progress.

CW: Any recent successes that you can highlight with your cultural landscape emphasis?

AH: Well, I do feel like we’ve made good steps forward at Hampton [plantation]. You know, it’s hard being a central office staff person versus a field staff person because they are there every day interacting with visitors, and I talk to them about how visitors seem to be responding to changes that we make, and I think that it’s working, but I’ll also do things like look at trip advisor to look at reviews of sites. It’s really a great thing to do if you’re in historic site interpretation is pay attention to those reviews. Just the comments on Trip Advisor. You get the idea.

CW: (Unintelligible)

AH: And we are a state agency. We aren’t political, we aren’t partisan. So there are some limitations in government agencies and non-profits. We have to be sensitive and have to be respectable, and that’s the way it should be. That’s a tangent.

CW: I’m all about tangents. If you could go back and change something, what would you add?

AH: Well, in graduate school, it’s kind of overwhelming the amount of stuff you got to pay attention to. I would have taken more advantage of stuff, but that’s hindsight. I worked about as hard as I could.

CW: Any recommendations on how, what to take advantage of?

AH: Actually, it’s funny you say that because that’s something I could still do now. Lectures outside of class and visiting speakers. I don’t think I had time to do much of that, and I don’t think I have time now to do much of that, but I’m here in a university town, and wouldn’t it be great to do that. There’s always symposiums. Historic Columbia was doing a Civil War symposium this last weekend, which I couldn’t go to, but you got to live life, too. Can’t just do history stuff the whole time.

CW: During your time at the program, were there any unexpected changes that shifted you on a new path?

AH: I mean, I’m sure there were. I can’t really think of anything specific. I’m sorry I don’t have much to add to that.

CW: With your interest in colonial history, are you still about to tap into that theme in addition to your 20th century?

AH: Yeah, that’s another great thing about this job. We have the first successful European settlement site in the state—Charlestowne Landing—and I spent several years working on the redevelopment project for that, you know learning about 17th century archaeology. The primary sources for that period are really great. I’ve been able to do that. We’ve got several other sites that are colonial sites, and we’ve got 19th century sites. So, you get to work with all different periods. And, um, that’s cool. That’s really cool. And that’s what makes working in a central office or regional office setting—and I’m talking to you because I think you’re interested in the National Park Service.

Working at a site or a park is great because you can just really delve into that specific history and have more interactions with the public, but, I mean, how long can you do that? If you’re working in more of a regional role, you can deal with multiple sites and a broader span of history, so that’s something to think about. There are some good National Park Service regional office jobs. People actually get to be regional park historian. You don’t have to be Chief Historian of the National Park Service. So, I think there’s really good opportunities.

CW: Something about that public history generalist that allows you to constantly tap into ongoing topics about a variety of different stories. You have at least done several interviews, and if you could give a recommendation to the program or to a student, do you have a vision for Public History going forward? Things that you think, “Hey, I hope we don’t miss out on this thing that’s going well.”

AH: As you know the National Council on Public History is such an important resource for keeping up on stuff like that. There are tons of people who are doing cutting edge stuff. We’ve got to take care of the basics. If I can keep up with some of those cutting-edge things and maybe we can tap into a few of those, then that’s great. Really looking to the leadership of that organization. As far as the vision for Public History, I don’t, I mean…

CW: There’s not a lot of time to be able to do that, so it almost seems like you’d only be able to pick one thing, maintenance plus this one thing, as the occasional infusion of whatever it might be.

AH: I guess for me personally, some of the really important things that I think are coming out of the Public History mindset are things like working in collaboration with our visitors and our communities. That whole “shared authority.” And I’m interested in trying to create a descendants advisory group at one of our plantation sites. It’s kind of difficult to do, but that’s an important thing for me as much as what Public History can do. And, certainly, we’re really focused on race, class, and gender and all that, so trying to get to that as much as possible.

CW: That’s sort of like the general academic work infused with your public history work. Informing the Public History work, the race-class-gender triad.

AH: It’s funny. It seems like we’re obsessed with that [triad], but it’s really, really important. It helps people who, in case of the parks, can see their own history in the parks. That’s crucial. One of the struggles that the National Park Service has, and also the state parks, is, diversity of visitors and users. It’s not as high as it should be, same thing with staff. That’s really important, and then there’s a lot of history of environmental preservation having an impact on people’s understanding of that is really important. And in South Carolina, we haven’t done a lot of that. We really haven’t. We’ve got a whole coastline and we need to look at the impact of sea level rise and help people grapple with that. And Parks are good places. If you’re going to Honey (unintelligible) Island, which suffers from beach erosion, what a great place to come to terms with that. Whether it’s caused by coastal processes or climate change, it still helps you.

CW: The National Park Service talks about Climate Change as one of their focuses. Is that something that is also part of the South Carolina?

AH: Obviously, it’s political, and I really applaud the National Park Service for taking leadership. And they can take leadership in that area where the South Carolina state park service can’t because of, you know, state politics. I think everybody in the Park Service—I shouldn’t say everybody—plenty of people in the Park Service are wanting to do that, wanting to talk about the potential effects of climate change.

CW: You talked about climate change, you talked about race-class-gender, you talked about people’s stories, hearing their stories, descendants’ groups, memory. Have you had conversations with people about why it is you pursue Public History? What it is that is the value?

AH: Other professionals, sure. People who work in allied fields like archaeology are doing the same kind of stuff, same processes going on. In interpretation, also. Which really is a separate profession in some ways, professional interpreters. As far as the general public or people who aren’t as connected? No. Probably need more of that. People have different views about what history’s purpose is. Honestly, you don’t want to come across as having an agenda. You want to come across as being interested in history for history’s sake, which we all are. The political realm can get complicated.

CW:  Has your participation in the political realm of history taken away, or masked potential activist?

AH: I’m glad you’ve brought up that term because that is obviously a big deal in public history right now. I agree with people who want public historians to take a more activist role. I see no problem with that. That’s not the same as taking on a real partisan political. It’s wanting to make sure history addresses contemporary issues, and I think that’s really important, I’m really intrigued by Coalition for the International Sites of Conscience. I often look at their website and think, “Our sites should be part of that,” but I don’t know if we can swing it because sometimes it’s viewed as maybe a little bit too political, maybe a little bit too activist. But I can say to Park interpreters, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do a program that uses history to address the complicated issues around race in South Carolina, and unabashedly talk about the Charleston shootings and how that relates to what we’re talking about?” I haven’t really had many of those conversations, but there seems like there shouldn’t be any barrier to doing something like that. Does that make sense?

CW: We talk about how history is political, but literally, here on the state grounds, history is political, and has a reality there, and you have to be aware of that reality.

AH: I just come back to a state employee and a government employee has a goal, responsibilities to not, in their professional life, be partisan. In your personal life that’s different, but you’re being employed by the people of the state. People have different political viewpoints.

CW: What if the history is partisan. Is that possible?

AH: I don’t know. Say you were telling the story of unions in the textile industry or something like that?

CW: Or segregation at a CCC camp.

AH: Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, but we’re forging ahead with that kind of stuff. We talk about African Americans in the CCC and the segregated camps. And they can read our interpretive wayside on it. We just finished a set of waysides at Lake Greenwood that talks about segregation. I was researching today the segregation of Edisto Beach and the story of desegregation there. It’s a great story. We’re on the cusp of doing an interpretive sign there. I guess political may be a not helpful term. I think talking about how history relates to historical and current issues of social justice is what we should do.

CW: When you think about your audience for these messages, who do you typically imagine as you’re constructing these things? Maybe it changes from site to site.

AH: It does change from site to site. Like, at Edisto Beach, it’s going to be a completely different kind of user than at Redcliff Plantation. Because the beach goer at Edisto might not be thinking about all about the history of the site. And that’s why it would be so great to have a wayside there, right on the beach that says, “1965, a group of 13 African American students were arrested here because they challenged the segregated operation of the park. And that makes people stop and think, and then they continue on with their picnic. And you know, at Hampton, somebody maybe really seeking out some really in-depth stories.

CW: Do you think we should teach history to people who’ve decided that their day is going to be centered around history, or should it be infused with everything else they do. Is it appropriate interpretation to have a beachgoer who thinks for a few minutes and then goes, and it’s now one part of also buying drinks and throwing Frisbees, and jumping in the water. How do you think about Public History being infused into people’s daily lives?

AH: It should be both depending on what park and what resource we’re talking about. And you know, the natural parks, as we call them, the recreational parks, you could spend weeks there learning about the history. We do have specific history programs at those parks, so it might be something more than just reading a wayside in passing. There could be a whole hierarchy about the amount of time and thought that people put into it. But it’s really important for people going to any historic sites or any parks…there’s nothing wrong with people enjoying themselves. That said, and this is something we struggle with. There are some really difficult and dark stories that we want people to come to grips with. So, I tend to want to emphasize those more, but I also totally understand people want to come to, you know, Historic Dorchester State Park and have a picnic, and that’s perfectly find, too.

CW: If you could tell people in our program or any program, do you have Al’s Corner of Advice, Corner of Wisdom. Here’s what I want you to also think about or also have questions about?

AH: I think I’ve just about exhausted myself of any potential pearls of wisdom so I don’t know. Say the question again?

CW:  Something that you find is constantly giving you new passions or new questions? A perspective or a way of thinking that you would like to pass on? That could you tell an incoming public history student?

AH: I think I would say, from what’s worked for me and been very valuable, is continued connects with the Public History program in a university, and a university library and things like that. I know you can’t always do that because you might go and get your public history job way off and don’t have access. But if you can, that’s very inspiring. You get to talk to professors; you talk to students; you get to learn about interesting projects. So that’s really good. And in the same vein, connections to professional organizations like NCPH, and the farther I’ve gotten into my career, the more important that is, I think.

CW: Do you have a sense of recent Public History projects or students that have seemed to have a lot of new stuff to offer because we weren’t having conversations about that before?

AH: I think there’s a lot of examples. And I’m not real familiar with what current students are doing. I’d be interested to know what you’re doing. I don’t think I’ve had a chance to talk to you much about that. And, I see Public History students coming to this building, the Edgar Browne Building, built in 1970, where they’re really tackling the architecture of the recent past. So I could give you a list of names of people who are doing great stuff, but I think it suffices to say that there is a lot them.

CW: The reason I ask that is about whether the program is about giving people the basic knowledge or giving a basic knowledge that they are almost immediately about to go in and, not push PH forward but continue the evolution of the field. What is the PH role, to give somebody the equivalent of 10 years’ experience?

AH: Either would be a good thing. You definitely need to get the basics. And if you just get the basics, that’s ok because the basics in Public History are pretty good. They involve taking special approach to history. You’re looking at it from a research standpoint or an educator’s standpoint. I’m thinking of it for an application. So even if someone comes out of a PH program and only has a little bit of job experience, I’m very interested in that person. We recently hired a public historian who was maybe a year out of school, and I think I understand some of his thought processes, and I’m glad to have him on board.

CW:  Can you articulate the difference in how people approach their historical questions?

AH: We’ve already talked about that a lot where you’re looking at some of the social implications of teaching history, preserving history, but it’s also using certain history tools of knowing about archives, artifacts, object care, the perils of preserving buildings and restoration, destroying layers of history. Some of that you’re going to get from a technical program, but it’s pretty much a PH thing, I think.

CW: Not everybody responded, or when asked, was willing. What motivated you? Did you have any thought process?

AH: I saw Allison’s email. I didn’t respond but I should have. I didn’t get around to it. I’m not real eager to sit and talk about this sort of thing, but I’ve actually enjoyed this. It’s surprising because you get to talk about things you don’t usually talk about. So I appreciate the questions, they’re interesting questions. But as far as my motivation to do it, I feel an obligation to the program which has benefitted me a lot.

CW: If you could describe the narrative of your profession in a word or maybe a sentence.

AH: That sounds like too creative an exercise for me. But thanks for coming by.

End of Interview