We seem to be at best ambivalent about Columbus Day. Half the country takes the day off, the other half wonders why there's no mail delivery. And there are others who condemn Christopher Columbus for being a "genocidal maniac" not worth celebrating at all. The different perspectives reflect the changing views of history, and now, perhaps, is a good time to think more deeply about the past. A few upcoming events make that possible.
For example, October is Washington State Archaeology Month. There are events throughout the state that feature archaeology, history, and preservation, and the theme of the month is "Grave Matters," an emphasis on the protection and restoration of cemeteries. The state keeps a list of history-related events for the month, which include living history presentations at Fort Vancouver, a class on the basics of historical research at Bellevue Community College, and what sounds like a fascinating if weird lecture at the State Capitol Museum in Olympia on a 17th or 18th century Spanish shipwreck on the Oregon coast that introduced beeswax to the Pacific Northwest. Gobs of 17th century beeswax still washes up on Oregon beaches from that wreck, which sounds like it was the Exxon Valdez of beeswax. A list of events for the month can be found here [PDF].
This week is also key in determining the future of the Nuclear Reactor Building on the University of Washington campus, a story we've been following for months here on Crosscut. The Governor's Advisory Council will consider the building's nomination for both the Washington Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Designation on either list won't ensure ultimate protection for the building, however. Proponents of the nomination will be in attendance along with representatives from the University of Washington who are opposed. The UW wants to tear it down. The meeting is open to the public and will be held at Kirkland's Heritage Hall at 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 17. Other historic properties will also be considered at the meeting.
And if you are someone whose blood boils at the thought of historic properties being laid to waste, there's a chance for you to learn how to stop it. Historic Seattle is putting on an all-day workshop on Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford called "Protecting Historic Sites." It will cover what is eligible in the city of Seattle, how to rally grassroots support, feature success stories from around the city, and look at the benefits of preservation for property owners. Among the presenters will be the staff of the city's Landmarks Board and former Seattle city councilmember and preservationist Peter Steinbrueck. The workshop fee is $30 for the general public and you can register here.
I'm not sure whether any of this will resolve ambivalence about Columbus, but it serves as a reminder that history is living in the sense that it's being shaped and reshaped as we speak, and that how it's shaped is your beeswax.