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We sat down with author, public historian, and PhD student Ross Caputi to discuss his first book, The Sacking of Fallujah: A People’s History, co-written with Richard Hil and Donna Mulhearn and coming out this year with the University of Massachusetts Press. The Sacking of Fallujah reveals how the people of Fallujah themselves experienced the U.S. sieges and sacking of the city, and the casualties, political destabilization, and infrastructure crises they faced in the aftermath. In this interview, Caputi discusses how the book came to be, and the reparations framework utilized by the Islah Reparations Project, which public historians can use to think about reparations and the forms they should take.

The Sacking of Fallujah is now available for pre-order on Amazon and from the UMass Press website. The book’s official release date is April 8, 2019.

Caputi’s next project focuses on the Italian village of Grumento Nova, and combines historical linguistics with oral history to document its distinctive language and how it has been shaped by modernization. You can find out more about his work here, and follow his Twitter @caputi_ross.

“…The stories we craft, and the stories visitors to exhibitions both bring to, and craft from, their encounters, can expand empathy and create transformative experiences, provide new insight and catalyze action.” Marla Miller, Professor, UMass History

The New England Museum Association (NEMA) held its annual conference in Portland, ME, on November 4th-6th. This year’s theme was “the language of museums,” and many sessions explored the importance of communication. Students, faculty, and alumni from the UMass Amherst Public History program attended the conference, and several of us maintained an active presence in the conference’s Twitter conversation, #NEMA2015 (click the link to see our tweets on Storify).

UMass Amherst Public History faculty, alumni, and students at NEMA 2015.

UMass Amherst Public History faculty, alumni, and students at NEMA 2015.

Many sessions that we attended focused on making museums inclusive spaces that combat systems of oppression, but there were also sessions on visitor engagement and photographing museum collections. Other members of the UMass Amherst Public History cohort attended sessions on objects and emotion, creating empathetic experiences, legislative advocacy, statewide collaborations, having difficult conversations in museum workplaces, and graphic design.

Here are some reflections from faculty and students on #NEMA2015:

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Julia Foulkes ’97PhD, UMass History

Why does the U.S. incarcerate more of its people than any other nation? Historians are just beginning to tackle this complex issue that has led to an explosion of prisons and people in them since the 1960s. (The latest issue of the Journal of American History brings together the most current research.) Public historians, however, have had little to say. With the exception of Eastern State Penitentiary, there have been few museums or public institutions that have delved into this controversial topic. Now an innovative practice-oriented consortium of 20 universities (including UMass!) is tackling it head on.

The Humanities Action Lab (HAL), headquartered at The New School in New York City, brings together public historians, activists, and scholars across the country to foster dialogue on contested social issues. The pilot exhibition was the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, which explored the 100-year history of the U.S. naval base that has been at the center of debate in the fight against terrorism. (UMass public history students worked on this exhibition, which appeared in Herter Gallery in the fall of 2013.)

Solobia Hutchins, Ruby King and Holly Richardson of the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC) protest at the construction site of a new women's jail in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 2006. Photo courtesy of the Arise for Social Justice Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Solobia Hutchins, Ruby King and Holly Richardson of the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC) protest at the construction site of a new women’s jail in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 2006. Photo courtesy of the Arise for Social Justice Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

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This post originally appeared on the National Museum of American History’s blog O Say Can You See

Smithsonian Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman’s Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum’s disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research. The blogs are part of the celebrations commemorating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the American Disabilities Act.

Chelsea Miller, M.A. Student, UMass History

What is disability? Performance artist, writer, and actor Neil Marcus encourages his audience to rethink disability as something that is not medical or physiological. Rather, Marcus suggests, “Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.” Based on this perspective, Marcus aims to live artfully: non-medically, non-stereotypically, and full of soul.

Neil Marcus outdoors with his wheelchair. Courtesy of Neil Marcus and Gary Ivanek.

Neil Marcus outdoors with his wheelchair. Courtesy of Neil Marcus and Gary Ivanek.

I found Neil Marcus’ poem, “Disabled Country,” on the museum’s online exhibition titled “EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America.” I felt moved by Marcus’ discussion of identity, disability, and “home,” especially within the context of my own experiences with art and disability. I contacted Marcus with a number of questions about his artistic motivations and creative process.

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