In telling the stories of Michigan's past we are providing a crucial but often missing link in the chain of historical preservation.
The popular idea of preserving history is library shelves groaning under the weight of dusty old tomes, of warehouses with boxes stacked high to the ceiling, of specialists with white gloves working in quiet rooms.
But the maintenance and protection of physical artifacts is only part of the preservation of history. The other part, equally as important but often overlooked, is keeping history preserved in people's hearts and minds.
That's why the mission of the Michigan History Project is to support the development and distribution of movies, television shows, illustrated anthologies, graphic novels, interactive e-books and other compelling cultural resources that tell the story of our state and also relate important, universal themes and ideas.
Publish or Perish
The state of Michigan is well known for its magnificent lakes, forests, and natural beauty but is less recognized for its many important contributions to the American historical landscape.
George Armstrong Custer grew up in Michigan, married a Michigan girl, and led a brigade of Michigan cavalry in the Civil War.
If a concept isn't discussed, isn't regularly refreshed in the public mind, then given enough time it will be forgotten, no matter how important or memorable it may seem.
Let's take an example – the Civil War, which raged from 1861-1865, pitted brother against brother, took more than half a million lives, and transformed the United States in ways that are still being felt today. Surely such an important event could never be forgotten.
But imagine if writers stopped writing about it. Each year thousands of books and articles are published about the Civil War, making it one of the most discussed and analyzed events of all human history. What if that weren't the case? What if no more books were written about it? What if no movies were made about it? What if it was no longer taught in schools? After a few generations, hardly anyone would know about the Civil War.
As more years passed, the archives holding information about the war would decay and eventually be destroyed. (Not even digital archives last forever.) When the last bit of information about the Civil War disappeared, it would effectively be erased from history.
Preserve Through Telling
Cora Mae Brown was elected Michigan's first female African-American state senator in 1952.
To be fully preserved, history must remain alive in the public consciousness – in the hearts and minds of teachers and students, of writers and readers, of movie-goers and decision-makers and couch potatoes alike.
Most historical preservation societies are concerned with the safeguarding and storage of physical artifacts from the past – both important and essential objectives.
The Michigan History Project is also concerned with preserving our state's history in the hearts and minds of the people.
If the exciting, inspiring stories of Michigan's past are to survive the attritional effects of time, there is a crucial need for them to be told and retold to each generation.
History is not only the domain of specialists with white gloves in quiet rooms.
History is for everyone.
Guiding the Michigan History Project on its mission to preserve and publish the history of the state of Michigan are the following distinguished media and academic professionals.
Ken Burns has been creating thoughtful, compelling historical films for more than 30 years, including the landmark Civil War series that redefined the television documentary as a tool for popular learning. It has been said that more Americans get their history from his films than any other source. The son of an anthropology professor, Burns grew up in Ann Arbor while his father taught at the University of Michigan. His production company Florentine Films is headquartered in the quiet village of Walpole, NH.
JoEllen Vinyard, Ph.D., is a professor at Eastern Michigan University whose research and teaching concentrates on the history of Detroit and Michigan, with classes that often include trips by bus to tour sites around the state and throughout metropolitan Detroit. She has published several books on 19th century immigration in Detroit and on the history of Michigan. Students may remember reading her fourth grade text on Michigan in elementary school. Recently she has completed a study of grassroots movements in 20th century Michigan and a new fourth grade text that brings the state's history into the 21st century.
Jim Ottaviani works by day as a mild-mannered librarian at the University of Michigan but at night becomes the rugged and raffish writer of over a dozen hard-boiled graphic novels on the history of science. His award-winning books include Two-Fisted Science, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, Feynman, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikasand, and Imitation Game.
Michele Anderson is chair of the Social Studies Department at John Glenn High School in Westland, Michigan. In 2015 she was named National History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Anderson has been lauded for leading her students on creative and original community outreach trips and oral history interview projects with veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. She received the Michigan Historical Commission's Governor John B. Swainson award in 2013 for her efforts to preserve the memory of Michigan's defense workers and World War II veterans.
Karen L. Jania, a Michigan native, recently retired from the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan where she was employed for 27 years. She worked in Reference and was head of that department for 12 years. Karen is the current president of the Washtenaw County Historical Society and continues to be on the board of the Michigan Archival Association.
Vanessa Broussard Simmons has served for the past 16 years as supervisory archivist at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Before that she worked for nearly two decades as an archivist and preservation officer at the museum. She has received several peer recognition awards and is chair of Smithsonian Institution Archives and Special Collections Council.
D. E. Johnson's literary debut, a historical mystery entitled the Detroit Electric Scheme, was published by St. Martin's Minotaur in September 2010. The sequel, Motor City Shakedown, was published by Minotaur in September 2011. These were followed by Detroit Breakdown and Detroit Shuffle. Dan is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood, but had to hit his midlife crisis to realize he should get serious about it. After spending his childhood in Kalamazoo, Dan graduated from Central Michigan University and owned a business in Grand Rapids for many years. He is married, has three daughters, and once again lives near Kalamazoo.
Craig Barker, a native of Livonia, Michigan, has had a lifelong passion for the history of his home state. He pursued that passion by earning his BA in History from the University of Michigan and uses that knowledge as an Advanced Placement United States History Teacher at his alma mater of Stevenson High School. Over the last decade, Craig has conducted research into the history of the University of Michigan athletic department and enjoys trivia games and reading works of history in his spare time.
Shirley Brozzo, an Anishnaabe from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, is a professor at Northern Michigan University's Center for Native American Studies. She has a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's in English, both from NMU. In addition to teaching NMU's Native American Experience class – a study of the development of Native American history, culture, attitudes and issues from the prehistoric era to the contemporary scene, with a focus on the Great Lakes region – she created the class, Storytelling by Native American Women. You can find Shirley's stories and poems published in more than 25 sources.
Dave Dempsey has over 25 years of experience in environmental policy. He has published several well-received books on the conservation and environmental history of Michigan and the Great Lakes ecosystem, and was named Michigan Author of the Year by the Michigan Library Association and the Michigan Center for the Book in 2009. Dempsey's biography William G. Milliken: Michigan's Passionate Moderate (2007) and the book co-written with his brother, Jack Dempsey, Ink Trails: Michigan's Famous and Forgotten Authors (2013), were recognized as Michigan Notable Books.