Nothing happens fast when you are working on a collaborative public history project. There are a thousand pieces of a puzzle that must all come to together. Visits to archives, conversations with those who may know where information might be found, documents must be perused, phone calls made, emails sent, meetings attended, drafts of papers, and more drafts of papers, daydreams, lots of daydreams, favors asked, and favors called in. (Which reminds me I need to add Thank You notes to my ever-growing list of things to do.) All these things are all aimed at that magic moment where an exhibit, single artifact, or piece of writing strikes the viewer or reader with that A-ha! moment. They get it. It sticks. They take it with them down the road and they share it.
I just got back from my first Missouri Conference on History in Jeff City. It was my first conference where I delivered a paper away from the comfort of UMKC. That 20-minute paper took a year to come together and its not finished yet. If I taught and shared a tenth of what I learned it was a great trip. I participated and heard a lot of conversations where ideas and research was shared. There were authored PhDs, undergrads, grads, amateurs, and professionals all sharing their research and ideas, mingling together shaking hands, renewing old acquaintances and exchanging e-mails with the new ones. It was the most attended MHC so far and I’ve realized more than ever that creating history is all about planning and collaboration. No good project is the work of a single author, exhibitor, designer, or researcher. They’re already planning for the next conferences. In 2015 it returns to KC and I can’t wait!
Time, collaboration, planning, that’s what creates good public history. It’s an example of good old-fashioned American democracy in action and at its best. And it ain’t easy and doesn’t happen fast.