Tuesday, May 27, 2014

7 Questions with Doug Shipman, CEO for The National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Doug Shipman, Chief Executive Officer for The National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Doug Shipman  has an extensive educational background in issues of race, ethnicity and gender including undergraduate and graduate studies in topics including the relationship between economics and poverty, the history of American minority groups and religion as applied in social movements including the American Civil Rights movement, the Indian independence movement and the Buddhist environmental movement in Southeast Asia.

He has also served as a facilitator for discussion groups exploring racial understanding in Richmond, VA and Cambridge, MA. Doug has an MPP (Master of Public Policy) from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University with an emphasis on domestic politics; an MTS (Master of Theological Studies) from the Harvard Divinity School with an emphasis on religion in public situations and politics and a bachelor’s degree with High Honors from Emory University with majors in Economics and Political Science. In 2010, Doug was named one of the New Leaders Council's "40 under 40" in the area of political entrepreneurship.

How did you get hooked on history?
My Mom was a big history buff who loved to give me historical biography books as a young boy.  I loved the stories of faraway places and the people who changed the world.  As I went to college and beyond I continued to formally study history with a focus on religion and social movements throughout time.

What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
History has become a way for me to connect with people and places.  I’ve often traveled to places because of their historical significance to “see it for myself”.  Some of those places have included exploring ancient Buddhist caves in India, ruins of great temples in Turkey, synagogues turned into mosques in Spain, swimming in the Sea of Galilee in Israel and climbing over the ruins of palaces in Thailand and Indonesia.  History has given my imagination a lens to view the world as we find it today and see what it was long ago.

How has history been a part of your professional life?
My interest in American Civil Rights stories led me to a broader interest in human rights and global movements.  These stories and histories are the basis of the building of the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights here in Atlanta.  I’ve tried to combine a knowledge of history with good story telling to illustrate how history can be relevant in both understanding current human rights issues and inspiring current individuals to take up the cause of human rights.

Why is history important?
History grounds each of us in something deeper than today.  History gives us a way to see patterns and explore why the world looks as it does and why people believe what they do in the present.  I have always found myself more confident and more excited in moving forward by understanding the context that can only be gathered through the understanding of the historical precedents of a person, group or place.

What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I can’t pick just one period—so many periods offer so much insight.  The foundational years of any of the world’s great religions are amazing periods, as is the height of the ancient Greek and Roman empires which continue to inspire so much literature and film.  World War I and II provide great wisdom as to why the world works as it does today and highlights the impact of so many individuals on the course of modern history.  And of course, the 1950s-1960s in America during the “Civil Rights Years” is full of inspiration and tragedy as so many worked for greater American freedom.

Why is it important for people to understand history?
Understanding “our” history, whatever may be included in “our” gives individuals and groups a chance to see how they fit into the greater course of history.  This understanding can also illuminate the forgotten meanings of words, phrases and names which can often uncover forgotten wisdom.

How will National Civil and Human Rights Center help people better understand history?
The Center will bring the stories of civil and human rights movements to the broad public—many of whom have not lived through a rights struggle and may only know by name the stories of the great defenders of freedom in American and internationally.  The Center will also host programs, seminars, events, films and educational programs that will allow individuals and groups the ability to deeply understand specific historical situations or issues in hopes of inspiring them to work for rights today.

Join the Movement to build the Center today—put your name on a tile in our lobby!


Doug Shipman
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
404 991 6974
55 Ivan Allen Blvd., Suite 510
Atlanta, GA 30308

Visit our website: www.civilandhumanrights.org

Follow on Twitter:  @DougShip @Rightsctr

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

7 Questions with Dr. Herman Viola, Historian and Curator

Dr. Herman J. Viola is a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
A specialist on the history of the American West, he served as director of the Museum's National Anthropological Archives in addition to organizing two major exhibitions for the Smithsonian. "Magnificent Voyagers" told the story of the United State Exploring Expedition of 1838-42, and "Seeds of Change" examined the exchange of plants, animals, and diseases between the Old and the New Worlds as a result of the Christopher Columbus voyages of discovery. Prior to joining the staff of the
Smithsonian Institution in 1972, he was an archivist at the National Archives of the United States, where he launched and was first editor of Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives.

Dr. Viola's research specialties include the American Indian, the Civil War, and the exploration of the American West. He has authored numerous books on these topics, including Exploring the West, After Columbus, Warrior Artists, Warriors in Uniform,  The North American Indians, and Little Bighorn Remembered: the Untold Indian Story of Custer's Last Stand. He is also the author of the middle school social studies textbook, Why We Remember.

Dr. Viola received his B.A. and M.A. from Marquette University, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University/Bloomington.


1.       How did you get hooked on history?

As a child I was very asthmatic and so I could not play sports.  There was no television then—I was born in 1938. A cousin got me a library card and I began to read and I learned to love books and reading. My favorite books were about animals and history, especially Indians.  I loved to talk about the books I read and I would tell my teachers what I learned. 


I went to a Catholic grade school and my teachers were nuns.  One day just before the dismissal bell rang my 3rd grade teacher asked me if I had read anything interesting that I could share with the class.  I got in front of the class and told one of the stories I had read. I think it was about the knights and King Arthur’s court.  Thereafter, every once in a while, I was asked to tell a story.  Looking back on it now I realize the teacher had run out of things to teach and used me to fill in the time till the dismissal bell rang, but that got me started as a historian, a teacher of history.

2.       How has history affected your personal life?

History has been a vital part of my life.  If I had any talents, it was as an artist.  I would often draw pictures of the historical events I read about. The nuns at my grade school recognized my artistic skills and I often was assigned the task of drawing scenes from history on large sheets of paper that other students would color.  These would be hung on bulletin boards in the hall ways for parents to see during school visits.  I would be absent from class days at a time doing these drawings.  I received my best grades despite my absences from class.

Perhaps the most remarkable use of history in my personal life was during my navy boot camp.  After my graduation from college, I took a wrong turn at a recruiting office and ended up at Great Lakes Navy Boot Camp instead of Officer Candidate school.  Needless to say, I was one of the few college grads in my company. Most of the recruits were high school dropouts from the Chicago area. They were a rough bunch.  Once it was discovered I was a college grad, the other recruits would question me.  Is it true you went to college? What did you study?  When I told them I majored in history, they would laugh and say “What a dumb ass subject. No wonder you are a sailor instead of an officer.”  I would say, no, it is really a great subject.  It is so interesting.  Did you ever hear of the Alamo, Custer’s Last Stand, Wyatt Earp, etc?  They would say no, of course, and I started telling my bunk mates a story from history during our evening rest period while we spit shined our shoes for morning inspection.  By the end of my nine week boot camp, each evening I would have 20 or 30 sailors sitting in a circle around my bunk, all polishing shoes and all listening to my stories.  Invariably, after evening chow, one of the sailors would ask, “Hey teach, what’s our story tonight?”  We had no TV’s in our barracks and they were not readers.

It was this experience that convinced me to go for a master’s degree in history after I left the navy.  My original plan had been to go to art school.   The rest, as they say, is history.  This experience also led me to get involved in writing history text books for high school because I was convinced a well told story would interest students and enjoy history no matter how dysfunctional their backgrounds.

3.       How has history been a part of your professional life?

My original academic goal was to work at a museum as a curator.  While in college at Marquette University the city of Milwaukee was building a new museum, only a couple of blocks away from the MU campus.  To be a curator you needed a master’s degree in history so that is the program I entered at MU upon leaving the Navy.  However, the chairman of the History Department, F.P. Prucha, S.J., was so impressed with my master’s thesis---the biography of Thomas L. McKenney, who started the Bureau of Indian Affairs—he urged me to get a Ph.D. in history first. I went to Indiana University and got the Ph.D.  Then, as it turned out, the National Archives was seeking applicants for an archival training program.  Applicants needed a History Masters or PH.D.  Thanks to my biography of McKenney, I was hired to be an archivist with the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I remained at the archives for 5 years. During that time I started the archives history magazine, Prologue.  Then the Smithsonian, which was across the street, recruited me to run their Anthropology Archives.  Since my original goal had been to be a museum curator, I accepted.  It took awhile, but I was a museum curator at last, all thanks to my study of history.

4.       Why is history important?

The knowledge of history is vital.   History, in a sense, is the memory of mankind.  Without knowledge of the past, we cannot full understand current events and that knowledge, ideally, helps us from making similar mistakes that bedeviled people in times past.  I titled the middle school social studies textbook I wrote, Why We Remember, because youngsters always ask, why do we have to know that, why is that important?  So the book outlines why it is important to know facts and to remember them.

5.       What is the role of curators in preserving and promoting history?

Curators are scholars who specialize in certain subjects.  Usually, they have several advanced degrees and work in museums or art galleries.  Their specialties can seem very narrow, like the study of aquatic beetles or 18th French portraiture, but they fill an essential role in science and the arts. Usually curators are responsible for a museum’s collections in their subject areas and so they control access to these collections by other scholars and the public.  Often, they are called upon to participate in exhibits that showcase the treasures in their custody.  At the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, where I worked for more than twenty years, curators have specific titles such as curator of botany, curator of entomology, and the like.  I was the only one in the museum with no specialty. I was simply curator.

There is some belief today that the role of curators is dying, but that is erroneous.  The role of curator is evolving, adapting to the major changes in museum research and publication brought about by the technological revolution. Curators are becoming more public figures through educational programs, especially in the arts.  Thanks to the internet, curators are empowering a wider audience through collaboration and innovation not only within their institutions but also in the virtual world.

6.       What incomplete stories of American Indian or Western history are left to be told?

At first glance anyone interested in these topics would think there is nothing left to research and write about.  The key is to find a topic of interest and then study what has already been told or written about it.  This should raise questions.   What is missing?  Is there another side to the story that has been missed?   One area of research that has many possibilities is biography.  Even very famous people often have not had a biography written.  My whole career as a historian evolved from a term paper topic I was assigned.  My professor, Fr. Prucha, was writing a book and needed to know about Thomas L. McKenney, the man who started the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  When I got the assignment I was very upset because no one had ever written his biography so I had to do considerable original research in archival materials and this was before the computer.  My term paper received an A and I became fascinated with McKenney.  Fr. Prucha suggested I write my master’s thesis about him, which I did.  I then made him the topic of my doctoral dissertation.  My dissertation then became my first book.  That book led directly to my next two books because I discovered no one had written about two important topics that McKenney dealt with: the portraits of American Indians by Charles Bird King and the story of Indian chiefs who came to Washington, DC. to meet the president of the United States

All this resulted from a term paper assignment I did not want to write.  Now, when I speak to school students, I tell them to always be happy with their assignments because they could open a door to their life’s work. 

7.       What accomplishments in history have been most rewarding to you personally?

I am proud of many things of the things I have accomplished during my career.