Experts all agree that human beings can mitigate climate change by changing how we use energy for heat, light, movement, and production. Stewards of heritage sites and collections can engage the public at the grassroots level to raise awareness about the cultural and socioeconomic reasons for past choices that have contributed to climate change.
This book will help cultural institutions identify ways to interpret new stories through historic places and resources, especially if staff have made the commitment to “go green.” Without place-based context, discussions about energy focus primarily on the science, and not the human experience. By reminding us of our past practices and values regarding energy production and use, historic places can inspire different ways of thinking about transitioning to different energy sources, and question the doctrine that high energy use is necessary for progress. Public interpretation can expose the vast energy infrastructure and the impact of energy extraction, production and use on place.
Historic sites offer place-based contexts for visitors to interact with and think critically about the processes and the impact of energy development in, for example, a maritime village. This book synthesizes science with the humanities outside of popular media and other politicized spaces to identify different kinds of energy resources in many historic collections or sites. It supplements current calls for economic and policy changes, because as stewards of historic places, we need to do what we can in this “all hands-on deck” moment to prepare for shared stewardship of our future.
Leah S. Glaser, PhD is a Professor of History and Coordinator of the Public History Program at Central Connecticut State University. She earned her B.A. from Tufts University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in history and public history from Arizona State University. She has worked in the field of public history and historic preservation for the last thirty years, consulting with municipal, state, and federal agencies, including positions at the United States Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service. For the last twenty years, while publishing around water power and electricity, she has worked closely with the National Council on Public History to emphasize issues of environmental sustainability through conferences, committee work, and publications.
II. The Energy of the Forest
III. Water is Life, Water is Power
IV. The Cultural Power of Steam Energy
V. The Power of Fossil Fuels: Energy from Coal, Oil, and Gas
VI. National Security and Alternative Energy:Nuclear Power During and Beyond the Atomic Age
VII. Emphasizing Energy Diversity: The Past and Future of Renewable Energy
VIII. Energy, Access, and Equity:The Infrastructure of Electricity
Recommended Reading: Annotated bibliography of resources on energy and energy use.
Glaser challenges history museums and historic sites to flip the narrative of technology as progress. Instead, she poses, let’s reinterpret existing collections and places to ask provocative questions about the production, transmission, and consumption of energy in America as it evolved from a preindustrial society to a highly industrialized and consumption-driven nation? She rightly asserts that adapting to human-induced climate change will require significant cultural shifts in addition to redirecting policy decisions and economic imperatives. To meet this challenge, Glaser provides curators and interpreters with an excellent guide to the historical scholarship and a wealth of case studies that reveal new ways to interrogate the past as we all grope to understand the magnitude of environmental problems before us.
This timely, important book is a model for new sustainable public history. This insightful and gracefully written study demonstrates the urgent need for thoughtful context in support of interpretation of energy at museums and historic sites. Glasser deploys decades of research at the intersections of environmental and public history toward a new framework for historical interpretation of energy from steam to green.
What a unique addition to the Interpreting History series. While energy is central to life, few—if any—existing studies connect energy themes to actual museum exhibits to educate our intellect and senses. Leah Glaser has set a path to several routes of useful inquiry about the history of energy.