Public History is Messy

Written by: Lucy Oster



My position at Natchez National Historical Park is quickly coming to an end. The speed of the past eleven weeks has been confirmation that the earth really is spinning faster!

Although my project encountered some speed bumps along the way, making it so that I will not finish it by my last day, I have really enjoyed my time in Natchez. I have gotten to do a variety of interesting tasks, and have learned so much. My supervisor loves to say “public history is messy” and she is not wrong.

In my last blogpost, I was working on the inventory for NATC, but my co-member (shout out Gabby!) and I also got to do some inventory for Gulf Islands National Seashore this summer. Due to the hurricane risk at Gulf Islands, some of their collections are stored in Natchez (at the Historic Natchez Foundation, which is also where NATC stores some items). GUIS’s collection includes cannonballs (none of them are live!) with chalk labels.


Me among the cannonballs


My foot and a bigger cannonball.


This summer, I also took some photos of the park’s cultural landscapes. These photos were taken to document park spaces ahead of inclement weather, as Gabby wrote about in a previous and wonderful blog.


Me and the camera at the William Johnson House.


But enough about side projects. The main project that Gabby and I have been working on is the acquisition of a local public history advocate’s papers. We have been “processing” them, which is to say: cleaning and organizing them. I go through brushing dust and debris off of these papers, and then we attempt to make an order (usually archives prioritize original order but let me just say: there wasn’t one).

Everything is in early stages right now, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how they’ll be a couple years down the line, proud that I was the first (and hopefully only) one to brush gecko corpses off of them.


Gecko corpse!


Me, partially suited up (I don’t have my mask, gloves, or protective glasses on yet) to clean the papers.

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