Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The difference between amateur and professional

As the photo above indicates, sure, I can build something out of wood that's more-or-less functional and, if given a sufficient amount of paint, I can even succeed in hiding some of the more egregious blemishes on what I build.[1]

Contrast this with what a professional custom cabinet and furniture maker can do:

The difference between the furniture that I have made and my friend Tom's artwork is vast. It's the difference between night and day; it's the difference between an amateur and a professional.

In the field of history, like the field of fine furniture design & building, there's a difference between amateurs and professionals.[2]

The Oregonian's D.K. Rowe recently wrote an article about the financial situation of the Oregon Historical Society in the aftermath of the November 2010 passage of a special Multnomah County levy.[3] In reply to this article, Dana Carlile writes:
    The Oregon Historical Society promoters' inability to learn from history (and arithmetic) might seem ironic if it were not so common among history promoters. People aren't interested in learning from history. If they were, the world would be a very different place. Just witness the past decade. Besides being exceedingly complex and uncertain, real history is frequently disturbing, subversive and humbling. Even sanitized and politically correct "history" peddled at exhibits and on TV cannot conceal that history is about people that are dead and eventually forgotten -- a fate most people don't wish to be reminded of.
    The OHS has two assets: an extensive collection of materials and some real estate. What it does not have is popular appeal or benefit. Let the state universities have the OHS collection to manage for serious researchers and develop the real estate to fund an endowment for such.
Dana Carlile is a"self-described amateur history buff."

In response to Carlile, Multnomah County Archivist Terry Baxter wrote a letter that (I'm led to believe) will be in the Letters section of an upcoming Oregonian:
    In a recent letter to the editor (March 14) titled “Selling History,” Dana Carlile bats .250 in his analysis of history and the Oregon Historical Society. Now that is above the Mendoza Line, but barely.
    He gets a hit with the comment that “real history is frequently disturbing, subversive, and humbling.” I’d agree and would add that it is diverse, multi-voiced, and always open to revision.
    He misses on the following three observations, though.
    History is not about “people who are dead and eventually forgotten.” History is about you and me. We use records and artifacts from the past as a mirror to see who we are and how we got here. History is the story that describes that interaction and we use it to understand ourselves, not the past.
    Nor is history only for “serious researchers.” History is for all of us. There is an explosion in both the sources available to study history and in the types of stories told by an increasingly diverse pool of researchers. There are a lot of strands in the rope called history – and they don’t all come from academic historians.
    And finally, the Oregon Historical Society has been a key source for that diverse research for over 100 years. Its appeal is clear. County voters paid to keep it in operation so we could use its collections to meet our various historical needs. We all have a voice and we all have stories to tell and OHS and history let us do it together.
Thanks, Terry!

[1] This is my home office laptop stand, by the way. I'm taking orders . . .

[2] This isn't a statement that Glenn Beck would agree with.

[3] D.K. Rowe, "Oregon Historical Society could end up no better off despite millions from taxpayers," Oregonian, March 8, 2011. See also here and elsewhere.



  1. Wow. I don't consider myself even a historical weakling but I can tell this Dana guy is a real piece of work. I can guarantee that guy doesn't make one move without considering his own historical consequences (ie, what have i learned from my past which will help me make this future choice), which means he is a hypocrite! Reminds me of those "tree huggers" in Oregon that live in the old growth and refuse to come down, but still use all kinds of tree products in their own life. I'm pretty sure they're living in a wood house! What's that saying about people in glass houses?

  2. I definitely agree w/ your point about Carlile being a hypocrite, in this respect: Someone who pursues historical research to help bring value to his own life, and relies upon public archives to do so, yet claims that history is only about "people that are dead and eventually forgotten."

    I challenge you, however, on your analogy with "treehuggers."

    First, based upon what you imply above, let me provide an explicit definition of "treehugger" as an activist who advocates for the preservation of old growth timber.

    Based upon this definition, for the group of all treehuggers working to save the last minuscule amounts of old growth forest, do all of these people, by definition, oppose timber harvesting of any kind?

    If they do not, then how is it hypocritical?

    If you assert they do, then I need to see some evidence that proves that all "treehuggers" oppose timber harvesting of any kind, OR, a different definition of "treehuggers" that address this potential inconsistency.

  3. Sorry, guess I shouldn't have used that particular moniker. Funny thing is, when I lived in TN I was considered a "tree hugger". It's not that I completely disagree with what some "tree huggers" support. According to your definition (which is only one of many possible) I could be considered a tree hugger myself. I like the idea of preserving old growth, and I am not opposed to all timber harvesting. However, I would not necessarily hug a tree to save it from being cut down just because it's old. If we're using your definition, then I guess my REAL problem is with so-called "activists" that are really pretenders. Those who purport to oppose timber harvesting (old growth or not), should have a little more to stand on than their words. That is what I mean by being a hypocrite. Thanks for the challenge!

  4. I definitely agree with this: "should have a little more to stand on than their words."

    Actions speak louder than words, as the adage goes.

    According to my working definition of "treehugger," I would definitely be a "treehugger." However much old growth is actually left in the U.S., I think that we'd be better off in the long run to let the old growth alone and manage our tree farms more effectively. I could easily write at least another large post on this topic, but, in summary, what I mean is that I believe we should stop immediately all old growth harvest, yet I don't pretend that I don't make photocopies or buy wood from the neighborhood lumber store to build things around the home (for example, the lovely computer stand I built a few years ago, featured at the top of this post).

    To bring it back to Carlile: He shouldn't open his mouth if he doesn't really know what he's talking about.

  5. Of course if none of us opened our mouths until we knew what we were talking about, there wouldn't be much talking happening.
    :-) I do agree with the rest of what you said though.

  6. Of course if none of us opened our mouths until we knew what we were talking about, there wouldn't be much talking happening

    Aha! Maybe that's the problem here -- too many people saying too much before they've made any attempt to educate themselves. "Better to remain silent and be considered a fool . . .," as they say!