Thursday, April 30, 2015

7 Questions With Author Eric Jay Dolin

1) How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?   
I have always loved stories about the past, especially early sea voyages and the travels of explorers. However, my main interest throughout school, and for most of my career, was marine biology and the environment.   

I grew up near the coasts of New York and Connecticut, and since an early age I was fascinated by the natural world, especially the ocean. I spent many days wandering the beaches on the edge of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic, collecting seashells and exploring tidepools. When I left for college I wanted to become a marine biologist or more specifically a malacologist (seashell scientist). At Brown University I quickly realized that although I loved learning about science, I wasn't cut out for a career in science, mainly because I wasn't very good in the lab, and I didn't particularly enjoy reading or writing scientific research papers. So, after taking a year off and exploring a range of career options, I shifted course turning toward the field of environmental policy, first earning a double-major in biology and environmental studies, then getting a masters degree in environmental management from Yale, and a Ph.D. in environmental policy and planning from MIT, where my dissertation focused on the role of the courts in the cleanup of Boston Harbor.   

I have held a variety of jobs, including stints as a fisheries policy analyst at the National Marine Fisheries Service, a program manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an environmental consultant stateside and in London, an American Association for the Advancement of Science writing fellow at Business Week , a curatorial assistant in the Mollusk Department at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and an intern at the National Wildlife Federation, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, and the U.S. Senate.

Throughout my career, one thing remained constant--I enjoyed writing and telling stories. While working on my dissertation, I realized I had the most fun researching and writing about the history of the degradation and cleanup of Boston Harbor, and was less interested in the policy issues and the hypothesis testing. About that time, in the mid 1990s, I started writing books that focused on history.   
Since then I have written eleven books, including my current project, and all of them have focused on some aspect of American history, which is my main interest. 

I love the process of finding great stories, researching them, and telling them in a way that is fascinating and informative. Despite my Ph.D., I am not interested in writing dense, theory-heavy,  academic tomes. The greatest compliment a reader can give me is telling me they enjoyed my book, and had fun learning new things  about history.

I think it is especially important to make history BOTH fascinating and informative because that is the best way to engage kids and get them to love and learn about history. Over the last 10-20 years there has been an explosion of well-researched, well-written, enjoyable history books that have broadened the audience for history. I am happy to be a small part of this trend.

2)   What role does history play or has it played in your personal  and professional lives? 
My love of history and writing gave me a new career. Beginning in 2007, I became a full-time writer of history books. That was an enormous change in my personal and professional life. I work from home now, and do a lot of the shuttling of kids after I write in the morning and early afternoon. I also do a lot of public speaking. After I publish a book, I go on a book tour during which time I can give as many as 80 talks at museums, historical societies, and libraries.  

I earn less money now than I did when I had a regular job, but I love my work now as I never did before (like teaching, you don’t go into writing for the money). With the support of my wonderful and understanding wife, and the continued success of my books I hope to be able to continue being a fulltime writer for many years to come. Whatever happens, I know I will always keep writing, one way or another.  

3)  Why is studying/knowing history important? 
Knowing history helps one understand current events by offering the background necessary to appreciate how things got to this point. It also makes you realize that many of the problems/opportunities that face us today are very, very old. And by having a fuller understanding of history, I believe it gives individuals and society a better chance of making good choices for a brighter future. But perhaps the most important reason to study/know history is because it is so much fun, and it allows you to look at the world in a more nuanced and richer way. A good history book is as good as the best fiction.  

4)  What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why? 
I love American maritime history, and within that, am most intrigued by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially from the American Revolution through the Civil War—a span that captures the tail end of the great age of sail. I am sure this an outgrowth of my early love of the oceans and marine biology. I live less than a quarter mile from the ocean, and I enjoy nothing more than walking along the beach and thinking about the animals that live under the waves, as well as all the people who made history on the waves (or under it, as the case may be). Nevertheless, I have written “terrestrial” histories, and will probably write more in the future. But my preference is decidedly salty. There is nothing better than a dramatic sea tale.  

5)  Your books cover a wide range of topics.   How do you decide what subject to
explore next? 
 I don’t have a strong background (or much educational background at all) in history, so almost all the topics I choose are things I know very little about at the outset (I wish I had taken more history courses in school!). This requires me to read widely and deeply to get to the point of being comfortable writing a solid narrative. Oftentimes, while working on a book I come across something that sparks an idea for another book. For example, while working on Leviathan , I read a book on early New England history that talked about how the Pilgrims depended heavily on beaver pelts for their livelihood. I knew nothing about this, and wanted to learn more. I read up on the Pilgrims, and then the early fur trade, and this led me to my next book, Fur, Fortune, and Empire.   Then, while working on FFE I learned about the extensive trade in sea otter pelts between America and China, and that got me thinking about the early relationship between these two countries, which led to my next book, When America First Met China .  

Right now I am looking for a new book topic. There was nothing in my most recent book (see below) that sparked another idea, so I am just bouncing around intellectually, thinking about what I like and what might be a good story to tell. This mainly involves me reading a lot and hanging out at libraries randomly wandering through the stacks, and every once in while grabbing a book that looks interesting, perusing its contents, then digging deeper if my curiosity is piqued. Once I find a topic that hasn’t been written to death, and excites me, my agent, and my publisher, and which we all think might find a good audience, then I will have found my next book project.  

6)  What current project are you working on? 
I just finished a book on the history of American Lighthouses. It was great fun to write, and it is a fascinating read (what else would I say!). It is a story about the evolution of the nation, war, technological innovation, marine disasters, hurricanes, and much more. At its core, it is a history about people, including Founding Fathers, brilliant engineers, imperiled mariners, daring soldiers, saboteurs, penny-pinching bureaucrats, ruthless egg collectors, and inspiring leaders. The most important people are the male and female keepers, who, often with the invaluable and at times courageous assistance of their families, faithfully kept the lights shining and the fog signals blaring. The book has well over 100 illustrations, and will be published early next year.  

7)  Where can readers find more information about your books?
For information on my books, please check out my website --   Since you are history teachers, and many of your readers are, it would be great if you could point them to the three videos I made for my last three books. I made these to tell the general public about the books, but I have been contacted by many teachers who said they have used them as a teaching tool to give an overview of the topics covered in my books. 

Here are the youtube addreses where you can see the videos:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

7 Questions with George Mihal, Digital Archivist and Founder of the Office of Image Archaeology

Introduction:  I am 57 years old and have lived in California for most of my adult life. I have worked in many different fields with modest success in most. I am and have been married to an incredible women for the last 30 years and have 3 dogs 1 cat and a 25 year old Parrot. Until the economic crash in California about 6 years ago I was a General Contractor doing mainly single family home remodeling. Right now I am driving a semi-truck and 48 foot trailer hauling steel coil. I hope that changes soon.
About 12 years ago my mother who was about 72 at the time decided she wanted a web-site where she could record our family photos as well as family genealogy. She asked my help with searching some of the genealogy information she required. While involved in this project I became aware of how much data was available but how little visual material could be found. Even when it was found is was generally a very poor image that was horribly pixilated when you tried to enlarge it. Anything worth viewing generally cost money or you had to suffer some internet indignity such as massive spam attacks or a pornographic add running on the page you wanted to view and a virus to boot. I decided with my web-site I would change that. Totally free, no advertising and photos you can download, view or print to your heart's content.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
    My interest in history and particularly photographs started very early in life. My                 Grandmother was an antique dealer in Pennsylvania. We lived there when I was about 5 years old and I remember a panorama photo of Old Ironsides she had above the sideboard in her dining room. My father sat me on his lap and told me all about it. That image has stuck with me all the rest of my life and today I own 11 panoramas dating around the turn of the century with the longest being 8 feet. The second pivotal moment in my life and what truly got me hooked was a history lesson about the Maidu Indians in Central California. It was a sixth grade school lesson where we learned about them from vintage photographs and more current printed materials and then got to build models of what we saw in the photos. I built a small section of a village that appeared in a cardboard mounted photo. The photo was very old and mostly destroyed so I could only see the portion I was to build. My imagination ran crazy while I tried to see in my mind the part that was missing. I was hooked forever.  
2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
     I scan old photos, photo albums, negatives of ever type and all types of home movie. Then the fun begins as I research as much information as I can about what is in the image. Negatives and film are the most interesting because I sometimes see things that have not been seen since the day the image was taken.
3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
    I have only a GED with no college so blue collar was pretty much what I have done all of my life, so my interest in history was not a factor at all. As a side business I am currently doing work creating family documentaries from old photos, film, documents and memories. I hope by this time next year to be able to rely solely on this as a permanent source of income.
4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
    Without getting into the politics of it I would have to point to our current administration for a lesson on the importance of both World and American History. Forgetting your history and doomed to repeat it and all that, (George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" ) never were more true words spoken.


5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
    I am most taken with history starting about 1840 to 1960. Photographs began to be fairly common about 1840 with the daguerreotype and 1960 is still early enough for me so much of it is new and not everyone had a movie camera yet or carried their camera with them every place they went as is done now. When you use film chances are that one print was generally made. So you had a negative and a print. While more could be made they generally were not. So unlike today where you have the option to create multiple thousands of digital images and send copies to a the world at the push of a button with film the photo becomes precious and few. Hmm, (loved that song).   I am very visual and I love a good mystery. Researching photographs fills the bill quite nicely. daguerreotype
6. What is the mission of the Office of Image Archaeology?
    My mission is very simple. To provide vintage amateur images for everyone to see and use freely without advertising. It is our heritage and needs to be preserved. The films I provide on YouTube do have advertising on them in hopes of getting a little help with the cost of preserving new films and photos.  
7. Why is your mission important for the sake of history?
    When something notable in history has happened we know of it because it was recorded in some fashion or another. If we are lucky some intrepid professional photographer was there either because they were hired or they were freelance and would sell their work to the highest bidder to make their living. We thank those gentlemen because without them much of what we see as visual history would not exist and the world would be a very poor place without it. But while the professional photographer was doing his work, standing back away and to the left or right was the guy or gal on vacation or perhaps they just happened to have a camera handy at the time and took the same photo but from a different direction or maybe they were the only one there with a camera and got a shot of something or someone that has never been seen because the negatives and prints have been in a box or a closet, basement, attic or safety deposit box for the last 50 or 100 years. That is the photo I want to see, that's the negative or film I want to expose to light for the first time since the day it was developed, put away and forgotten. CLOSET MEMORIES AND FADED DREAMS are truly a heritage belonging to all of us.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

7 Questions With Barbara Ortiz Howard, Women on 20s

Most days start out for Barbara Ortiz Howard on a scaffold, inspecting building facades, balconies and roofs or overseeing operations for the exterior restoration company she started almost 30 years ago in the New York City area. Undeterred by the challenges of being a woman executive in a male-dominated field, Barbara enjoys her mission of taking care of people and their buildings. She is the founder of the women on 20s campaign, a campaign to put a women on the twenty dollar bill. With the Women On 20s campaign, she aims, again, to literally raise the profile of a woman in a male-dominated field.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?  
I was a good history student in school. My understanding of history at that time, particularly in the context of the transformational late sixties did create a desire in me to support many causes. The problem was that after JHS and HS, I think I had one World History class in a seminar with 300 students in college and of course vowed never to do that again. I could not understand the professor at all!  Then I went off into a specialized area of study that excluded history.  
2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?  
History provides the context of our lives. Without this context we are seriously hamstrung in understanding where we are and how to unravel some of the greatest challenges facing us today on the planet.  We are also all part of history and are making it along with our generation and cultural beliefs. Perhaps the greatest sense of empowerment might come from the idea that we each have an opportunity to change the course of history and at the same time the most disempowering sense is that we have no power to affect history at all. I am thinking hey, we all have the former right here in Women On 20s.  Lately with the challenge of this campaign and my everyday life, I do think about our candidates and the obstacles they overcame on the road to victory.  Over this past winter, I so thought of Susan B Anthony going door to door on purpose in the dead of winter with her message of the need for reform.
3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I am in building construction restoration...though I dabbled in some historical/landmark restoration, almost all of my work is in buildings where everyday people live and work now.  It is hard to be both... but understanding the history of the buildings that I work in is central to my success.  What has happened here? What materials were available when it was constructed, what was the fad then, and how do we get it to function the way it was designed?  Are the original plans available?  What laws were in place when it was constructed?  All that relatively short term history affects effective solutions. 
In my career as a parent, it was useful to have role models for my children.  For my daughter I would have liked to have more available, something like Mighty Girl back then.  Still I am proud that she so loves Alice Paul today from the Alice Paul birthday parties we had.
4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
I think what I said earlier about context is the most relevant-said another way, how do you know what might be a good way to go without knowing where you have been?  While most of the responses we get are positive, it is apparent many basic history facts are not known, or poorly understood.  Worse than not knowing however is inaccurate history information that permeates our consciousness and drives bad behavior.  Much hatred is based on wrong information, propaganda intentionally passed along to further someone or some group's personal agenda.  When the true facts are laid out, most good people, and most people are good, will agree on courses of action.
5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
Visiting Seneca Falls I relearned history.  So much more meaningful for me to have the opportunity for hands on.  I am fascinated by the steadfastness of the abolitionists, suffragists and temperance leaders(who in large part  banded together to fight what we now consider domestic violence) and how these era progressives banded together, were true friends for decades and initiated huge positive change in this country.  This idea of friendship of these different people across groups informs me of what it takes to get there to be change.  Imagine had they not supported one another how much longer we would have had slavery and women would languish  without many basic different than in so many countries today that reek of human rights violations.
6. How did “Women on 20s” begin?  
A longish story but I have to say a number of things were brewing in my soul to have an aha moment.  First I had felt rather shocked and angered that I was not familiar with the Alice Paul story until I saw Iron Jawed Angels a few years after it came out.  I felt how could I, a pretty smart, successful woman with advanced degrees not know this part of history?  I didn't even really know the Stanton-Anthony story very well.  Meanwhile, I had been incubating the awareness that we were about to have our national Centennial right of Suffrage in 2020 back in 2012 and thought gosh what are we doing for this huge event?  And then I had my aha moment- there are no women on our currency. I immediately shared this epiphany with others in line with me at a very famous coffee shop. I got a few smiles as I often do as I strike up conversations with strangers in NY.   But seems others really hadn't known this, or why this was the case, so I started asking friends via email who on a list I had did they think would be a good candidate.  I asked other groups to take it on as I have a more than full time business, but I became aware that I was stuck with it.  Fortunately Susan Ades Stone, a longtime friend, saw the same need to change things and offered her life 200% pretty much over the past year to shape Women On 20s into the national movement I had envisioned. 
7. How can people get involved in the process?   
Glad you asked
1. Share widely with all your social media for sure but personal emails are the most effective.  Send an email to all family, friends and co workers with a link to the site and urge them to vote:   Assure them most people do not know all candidates but that they should(why we need the campaign really)...and there are bios on the site so they can become more familiar.  You can also ask them to send donations- we are a 501c3 organization, so all donations are tax deductible. Though we do almost all the work ourselves, we are not paid of course, but we pay people for lots of stuff and buy anything the campaign needs. 
2. Write a letter to your local and city newspapers saying why you support Women On 20s and how it has impacted you. In your article, provide the website link often and urge readers to go to vote.   
3. Send us pictures, selfies or with family and friends with a sign  that you voted on #womenon20s for --------- or 3 amazing women
4. Tell us you are in- by writing us at and giving us permission to share your name and contact info with other volunteers  Please give your home addressing city, state,  tel#, a little about what you do, student or teacher etc., or what you are really good at or love to do or how you want to help   
5. Go to your website and print out a flyer - we think it looks best on blue pastel paper and post in your gym, school, deli, supermarket, yoga studio, doctor’s office, office - you know anywhere you won't get arrested.  We have no bail program available sorry
6. Send us feedback on all else that will help the campaign.  Fact check for us you history buffs.  Do any of you know the truth about AJ birthplace in Waxhaw NC/SC?    Continue to speak up on our social media with your support and put the facts out there as misinformation forms bad ideas and behavior.   This is not an us vs them.  This is a win-win for America and possibly the world to have all people count as one.  W20 is about how we value each other and recognize we all have incredible worth and value and its time to recognize it!!!!!!  When we value ourselves, and one another, a lot of bad behavior goes away.