Watching Irma

By Nell Ziehl, Chief, Office of Planning, Education and Outreach

As Hurricane Irma bears down, threatening southern Florida, I keep returning to what is precious about that place for me. My family and many of my childhood friends live in Tampa and St. Petersburg, well within the vulnerable area recently highlighted by the Washington Post. I was born there, not too far from where my mother and my grandmother were born. The connection is live, and I’m worried about my people.

But what else persists? From my great-grandparents’ time, some buildings still stand. My grandmother’s house still stands, I think. Emotionally, I can’t separate the historic bungalow cottages from the live oaks or from the pelicans standing on the bay’s stone wall. The pink bricks that pave my sister’s street warm and glow in the sun — the fabric and the light are equally important. Every year, our family gathers at the beach in one of the few small-scale, family-run motels left, a few doors down from the Don CeSar, a towering remnant of Florida’s early resort industry. Although the Gulf itself draws us, still full of life and beauty, these places also matter – the human record of their construction, their imprint of time and place, the memories and attachments formed there.

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The author’s family in St. Petersburg

At the same time, our cultural heritage includes a heritage of loss. We understand that hurricanes come and go and that buildings, piers and even roads are ephemeral. Left alone, the landscape will reconquer. And behaviors also persist. After generations of weathering storms, many locals do not evacuate, despite news that the storms are not the same. Even armed with better knowledge about water management and the importance of ecosystem restoration to protect inland areas (not to mention the biological habitat and tourism dollars), Florida continues to permit development in ways and in places that are unsustainable, potentially exacerbating disasters and jeopardizing recovery.

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The Don CeSar after a thunderstorm

As we move forward into an uncertain future, with climate change fueling rising tides and more dangerous storms, we must adapt in ways that take all of these elements into account. What is the spirit of the place? What should we protect? What *can* we protect? And what do we need to change?

Too often, our regulatory and philosophical frameworks force divisions between the “built environment” and the surrounding ecosystems, even though the full character of a place includes the architecture, infrastructure, streetscape, waterways, plants, animals – and the people who live there. Cultural heritage is cultural memory, and that includes traditional and historic ways of adapting to the natural environment, including storms. And when buildings collapse, when the tangible fails, the intangible remains valuable and can inform a more resilient future.

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A saw palmetto preserve

Preservationists sometimes focus on limiting rather than accommodating change. But we, more than many other professions, have the ability to understand the evolution of a community over time and to help manage change in ways that protect quality of life and respect the character of place. I pray that Irma passes by without much damage. But more storms will come, and how we respond and rebuild will determine what we can carry forward.

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A Summer Spent at the Maryland Historical Trust

By Noah Jaques, Intern

As a rising senior majoring in History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I have spent the past two months interning at the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) in the Office of Research, Survey and Registration through the Governor’s Summer Internship Program. With the guidance of my mentor Nancy Kurtz, the office’s Marker and Monument Programs Administrator, I worked on exciting tasks both in the office and out in the field.

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The author practicing cleaning techniques in the field

While in the office, I researched and compiled the information necessary to make a robust virtual tour of monuments and markers related to African-American history that will soon be available on MHT’s website. I learned how to access archive materials to pair with my online research, so that I could paint the fullest possible picture of the historic people and sites that I covered in my virtual tour. The biggest challenge I encountered in making the virtual tour was ensuring that the information was presented in a way that would be appreciated by the public. I also learned the importance of using pictures to grab the public’s attention and utilized many of MHT’s pictures along with pictures from the web to create a satisfying final product.

In the office I also completed the less glamorous, but still fulfilling, work of uploading monument treatment reports to a database so that they are now accessible by MHT staff. I worked on uploading scanned postcards of historic sites so that they can be accessed digitally as well. Finally, in my spare time I began to put together a storymap of places in Maryland related to World War I.

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Assisting with monuments maintenance

In addition to my work in the office, I treated war monuments out in the field. I washed a Spirit of the Doughboy monument in Crisfield and waxed the Talbot Boys war memorial in Easton. These were valuable experiences because I learned about the expertise that is required by conservators to maintain monuments, exposing me to a new field of work. I also had the opportunity to tour monuments and other historical sites, including a WWI exhibit in the Maryland Museum of Military History at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore, the WWI Hammann-Costin monument nearby, and WWI and Revolutionary War monuments in Annapolis. I found the tour opportunities helpful and satisfying in the process of constructing my WWI storymap, and the information provided by my mentor was intellectually invigorating.

My time spent at the Maryland Historical Trust was a highly rewarding experience because I have learned about how history can be related to the public in the most meaningful ways. I have also made lasting professional connections, including not just those in my office but those I have interacted with in the process of completing my work. My future is brighter because of this experience.