The November 2017 issue of The Public Historian takes a look at deindustrialization, heritage, and representations of identity. These are issues that have local, national, and international relevance. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, we have grappled with the issue of how to preserve and interpret, and reuse, the remains of our industrial past in places such as Bethlehem, PA, and Paterson, NJ, in very different ways. This issue of The Public Historian provides a wider perspective, with essays from academics and activists in Detroit, Glasgow, three regions in Australia, the Romanian Jiu Valley, and the German Ruhr. These essays explore the difficulties these sites pose for preservationists, public historians, developers, and tourism marketers. How do we preserve and reuse these large-scale structures and sites? How do we avoid nostalgia and interpret often difficult histories at these sites while also encouraging economic development and heritage tourism? How do we join the old economy and the new?
The Public Historian extends the discussion of these topics through a series of blog posts on History@Work that add Melbourne, two cities in Canada, provincial France, Pittsburgh, and the smaller cities of upstate New York to the conversation. These posts will run into the new year, so keep checking back or subscribe!
These essays and posts make clear that the decisions we make about how to incorporate the story of deindustrialization into current policies matters. As Christian Wicke, a guest editor of the special issue and the author of the first of these blog posts, writes, “These examples demonstrate that our historical cultures are being shaped by multiple actors outside of academia and we need to think out of the box to forge networks of critical memory activism to overcome silence in the public histories of deindustrialization. The hegemonies of narrating the past are not static; they can be manipulated and need counterbalancing by radical democratic action. Donald Trump’s election and his campaign, promising to reindustrialize America, are a symptom of national nostalgia, deindustrialization, and its mismanagement.” This issue of The Public Historian, and the related blog posts, hope to contribute to our understanding of how economic change, historic memory, heritage, and politics, and policy converge.