Thoughts Post Baltimore Heritage Tour

So having gone on the Explore Baltimore Heritage tour of Hollins this past Saturday, there’s a couple thoughts I want to bring up that have been sort of steering my recent direction on the class project:

First I remembered why I don’t really like those heritage tours. It’s pretty much all old white people (with money) who go on these things. They bring with them equal parts nostalgia for a bygone era of mostly white baltimore, and a sort of necro-tourism fascination with blighted Baltimore that sort of feels akin to slowing down on the highway to watch a traumatic car crash.

Anyways, even though it was a nice day out and it felt good to walk around some neighborhoods I otherwise wouldn’t have, I couldn’t shake the sense that I was so clearly in a position that I generally loath. As we (a group of probably 30 white people and one black person) were walking around, I could hear local residents we passed by on the street mumbling under their breath “what the hell is this all about?”. Which I doubt anyone else in our group heard or gave a thought about. However I just want to say I get it!

Hollins is changing, or at least is existing under the threat of change. New condos are going up by the BioPark, that all the locals seem to despise, that are clearly designed to cater towards upper class medical professionals working in at UMD. Warhorse is talking about putting a bougie bar/restaurant in Hollins Market Hall, despite there not being a grocery store anywhere in the neighborhood. Being on the tour, I had a “guilty by association” feeling in my stomach. The feeling that we probably looked like a bunch of wealthy DC speculators walking around a crumbling neighborhood, looking for potential cheap investment opportunities; the same kind of people that are in many ways responsible for the lack of recent redevelopment progress in the area. All of which is to say, the everyday voices of Hollins Market, in most cases not as loud as the big money voices from out of town, are getting lost in the mix.

Anyways, my main takeaway for us is that we really need to be sensitive to how fragile and precarious the future of Hollins probably feels to many smaller voices that actually make up the neighborhood. I went through the interviews Sidney transcribed and tried to highlight quotes that I thought sort of hinted towards the potential threats and pitfalls of gentrification while pointing to what makes the area unique and vibrant on the ground. Hollins is not a neighborhood that needs our sympathy or our nostalgia, but at the same time we’d be remiss not to really draw sensitive attention to the potentially seismic changes which are right on the cusp of happening.

Basically, the last thing I want to be is another white guy walking around the neighborhood lamenting its “fall from grace”, without actually listening to locals to learn what I might be missing that makes it still great.

The Home Stretch

So we are basically in the home stretch of the semester and the project is beginning to take shape. In general I feel good about where we stand. However I do have some thoughts on how it could possibly be better. First some context though.

Terece and I went to the Southwest Partnerships monthly board meeting last night. It was very long but packed with a bunch of information about what is happening in the area. Without getting into too much detail, one of the more interesting things I took away from the meeting was the fact that the overwhelming majority of board members were white, and seemingly pretty affluent. I talked with one guy, Chuck, who I looked up afterwards and it turns out he works for UMD as a doctor and director of some department. Other members seemed to come form similar backgrounds and did the lion share of the talking. Not to say that this bad or good, just an interesting observation.

At that same meeting, there was a relatively heated back and forth between a few members and attendees about War Horse and the Hollins Market revitalization. In a nut shell, a few members were upset at what they perceived as a lack of transparency by War Horse. They complained that the company was holding “public” meetings without advertising them to the actual public. For example, War Horse apparently advertised the meetings via email and Twitter, which is problematic because not everyone in the community has internet access let alone Twitter.
On a similar note, at an earlier point in the board meeting one of the members suggested they could cut back on printing costs by switching the an online newsletter, to which another board member shot down because the effect would be to cut off access to information for those residents without the internet.

The reason I bring this up here is because I think the one component we are lacking in our project/zine is the prospective of the everyday residents of Hollins. The neighborhoods comprising the SW Partnership are majority African American, many of whom exist at or below the poverty line. I would suggest that these voices need more representation in our project. So Today in class Lia and I basically focused on trying to figure out how to get as many of these voices in our zine as possible. Given that the semester is starting to wind down and our deadline is approaching, I don’t know how effective we will be at getting this done.

It’s admittedly a bit invasive to just approach random people as a researcher and start asking personal questions so I don’t know what approach we could use to make this happen. We talked about maybe asking Curtis to be a conduit for introducing us to folks he knows in the neighborhood. Not necessarily folks in the business community, which I think we have pretty well covered, but just everyday average residents of Hollins. Their lives and perspectives speak just as much to “re-development” of Hollins just as much as the entrepreneurs and businesspersons who are more actively engagement in that process.

Anyways, this is just a thought. Either way I think we are in good shape!

Does the Hollins historic narrative make sense?

So I’ve included in this post (at the bottom) the most recent draft of the Hollins historical timeline. I guess my main question is does it seem to flow and make sense? Honestly it was pretty challenging trying to distill down all the research we did as a class, and some that I did on my own, into a cohesive and linear narrative. For me, it’s always been pretty hard to know just how much you need to say to convey an idea or the significance of an historical event without overstating your point, or making it too obvious to the reader/viewer. As Dr. Meringolo once told me, the idea is to make it seem like you are not telling your reader what to think, but at the same time you aren’t really giving them an option for seeing it any other way. It’s a subtle and difficult balance to successfully pull off.

My main issue with this particular Storymap, at this point, is too much text. Historical writing, especially in a public history context, is never made better by adding too much information. I like to think of it like you are in a museum and there is a text box bellow an historical object hanging on the wall. You don’t want to have to stand there for 20 minutes reading it like its some kind of academic article. You want to be able to read 4-5 sentences, get the message, and move on. I’d really love any suggestions on how to cut down on the filler, or condense the ideas somehow.

If you scan through the Storymap, you will notice that I included a good amount of buildings that we didn’t include in our initial research. I should clarify, that this was not my way of suggesting that those things don’t matter. They obviously do and are important granular social histories of the neighborhood. By including some other buildings of note, I thought it was easier to convey the broader history of the neighborhood, which obviously goes way back almost 200 years. For example, Hollins Market wouldn’t have existed without the railroad industry so it’s pretty essential that any timeline include a lot of discussion of the B&O.

This project has really made think a lot about how I might be imposing my narrative of history on a community by being too liberal with my interpretation of the available sources. As any historian will tell you, what we do involves a heavy dose of personal interpretation because we are constantly working with incomplete sources in order to tell stories that are organized and make sense to the reader. This interpretation often allows us to creative narratives that might not be apparent, or even real to others. For example, I doubt many whites who left Hollins in the 1940s-1950s, many of whom we wrote about in our person profiles earlier in the semester, realized they were apart of a larger movement that historians would one day called suburbanization, nor were they thinking of the social consequences of that movement for their old neighborhood.

To this point, I’m about half way through my graduate thesis UMBC and I keep having these recurring flashback/anxieties about how one of the persons I interviewed for my research about a year ago told me that the single event I’m centering so much of my story around wasn’t as important to them personally as I, the outsider, was making it out to be. My point is that even though I certainly wouldn’t argue that the event might not have been important to that single individual in the community, I as a researcher still feel like I’m telling a story that is both real and significant. That being said, I’m sure that if I went back to that person after I finish my story and gave it to them they would probably read it and be like “this is a bullshit version of the story”.

Which sort of gets to the whole “do no harm” approach of our research. As far as Hollins goes, I personally haven’t talked to a single person in Hollins beyond Curtis about the history of the community, and can only base this version of its history off the limited amount of time I have spent studying sources primarily online combined with an awareness of broader historical trends/events that offer context for those sources.

So in anticipation of class tomorrow, I guess I’d be curious to know if our class story of Hollins past, via the timeline draft, seems like bullshit? What else should we include, or maybe take out?