Thursday, February 6, 2014

An Interview with Mark Hall-Patton, Expert on Local Historical Preservation

This is Brandon McCormick again and I am back with a new blog. I  thought it would be interesting to hear from an accomplished expert in the field of local history and a new voice.  Mark Hall-Patton and I talked about his views on history and its preservation over a phone interview. 

Mark Hall-Patton has worked with museums for over 30 years and is currently the Administrator of the Clark County Museum system, Las Vegas, Nevada. He is an accomplished historical writer with more than 400 published articles and 2 books: “Memories of the Land: Placenames of San Luis Obispo County”, and “Asphalt Memories; Origins of Some of the Street Names of Clark County”. Mark is also known for his appearances on national television as a visiting historical expert for a History Channel program, Pawn Stars. He is an accomplished figure in the historical community whose insights yield a wealth of information on an array of topics surrounding local history.

Mark Hall-Patton

Questions for Mark Hall-Patton:

When did you first discover an interest in history?
As long as I can remember. I always tell people I started building museums when I was 8. I built them in the patio at home when I was a kid. I’ve always enjoyed history. I would be the one sitting and listening to the old timers talk. It’s basically what I’ve done all of my life. 

How did your initial interests transform into physical action to preserve history?
When I was a senior in college getting ready to receive my Bachelor’s form the University of California-Irvine, one of my professors asked me what I wanted to do in graduate studies.  I mentioned museum work, so he told me about a program at the University of Delaware which was teaching courses on museum studies, so getting involved in that program was my first step to becoming a preserver of history.

Why is it essential for a community to preserve their past?
From my standpoint, a community needs to know where it comes from and cannot know that without having knowledge of their heritage- especially those communities which expanded relatively quickly such as in Las Vegas where I work.  The fact is many residents of these kinds of towns had no idea that their community had a history to be told. If a collective community has no comprehension of its past, how can the people truly value the place in which they are living? What makes your town unique from all the other towns?

What attributes of local museums are essential for communites?
One thing above all else that history museums do specifically is provide a space where local communities can learn informally from tangible artifacts and get a sense of what the reality of the heritage of an area is for themselves.

How does knowledge, or ignorance, of history affect someone’s everyday life?
Ignorance means you do it over again: if somebody has done something and it didn’t work they are going to turn around and do the exact same thing again. It is much along the lines of insanity to be ignorant of history as you will likely do the same things over again expecting different outcomes. If new arrivals to a community are unaware of the history of the town, why should they care about it, if they find no bonds with it.  History ties into the competition between cities in essence for residents. You will lose important parts of what makes your community special, and what makes you, as a person, a participant in that history.

Could there be improvements in local historical education in public schools?
Local history and some other forms of historical education,  in public schools are terribly lacking. All too often, histories of all kinds are made to conform to politically correct or “necessary” views with no deep understanding, context, or appreciation left with the students. In simpler terms, it is like the Charlie Brown cartoons - all the children are hearing from the adults are muffled noises. And I’m not saying we have to emphasize the bad parts of our history, but they need to be made public and discussed as it too is a part of our larger story. If we don’t teach our children why and who we are, they will be lost when it does become important for them to understand the who and why in later in life.

Is utilization of the Internet through means such as social media paramount to a successful environment for history?
The Internet is a glorified typewriter, another means invented by which we can send information out to more people than before. As much as the internet is now a useful tool for spreading information, there is just as much danger that it could spread misinformation. Unfortunately most resources on the Internet are lacking credibility. Even worse, young people who use social media the most are not being taught correctly how to separate the good sources from bad ones. So while museums can use this technology to spread great information and attract people to their museum, be aware that it needs to be made clear that nothing can actually compare to the unique experiences of actually visiting a museum.  Your interest in and actually seeing the concrete evidence of a communities’ past through the artifacts on exhibit, which cannot be replaced or done anywhere else. In surveys, museums are the second most trusted sources for historical information, right behind family members if I need to emphasize this anymore. To cut right to the chase, blogs like yours are fine unless they cross the line and get off topic: for example, if you are a local history museum in the Puget Sound, don’t be posting articles on Ancient Egypt.

Any final words of encouragement to impart on those interested in exploring Gig Harbor’s history further?
In my experience, there is no better task in the world for a person to fulfill than through promoting, teaching, and learning history. It is not like you have to stand at a street corner preaching about history, but share it with your friends whenever you have a chance.  Encourage them to read the local historical blogs or articles and visit the museum. The fact is life has fewer mysteries and is so much more far-reaching and satisfying when you know your history. 

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