Corporations, non-profits, public agencies, and other organizations are recognizing the value in researching, and subsequently leveraging, their histories. Making connections with the past can provide insight into organizational behavior and culture, and inform the making of strategic and operational decisions. The products of a high-quality historical investigation also can be useful in steeping new and existing staff in the culture of an organization, and in educating customers, communities, and public policy makers about its activities and their value. In short, applied history can help organizations perform more effectively and become better understood.
Historically based investigations vary in form and scope. Projects typically begin with an assessment of the availability of internal records. Materials identified as relevant to the project are organized and archived, with the assistance of a professional archivist, if the volume calls for it. Interviews of people inside and outside of the organization, transcribed and perhaps videotaped, also help to build the foundation for historical analysis. External material found in archives and in published sources provides critical context for assessing organizational behavior.
Oral history interviews, to be sure, may stand alone as end products. Indeed, they may be made available to wider audiences by posting them on academic or professional Web sites. The site of the Regional Oral History Office of the Bancroft Library, for instance, provides an outstanding example of the potential benefits of making collections available to wider audiences.
The development of internal and external historical sources, which may be textual, photographic, or oral in nature, enables the organization to execute projects that can improve the effectiveness of management, marketing, human resources, operations: indeed, any activity that affects performance.
The deliverables of projects may be strictly internal, such as strategic planning or business development memoranda and reports, training manuals, and the like. By publishing a scholarly history, a popular history linked to an anniversary or other milestone, an exhibit, oral history collection, or timeline on the Web, however, the organization has the opportunity to tell customers, professional colleagues, former employees, scholars, reporters, and others about its role in society and the economy.
Determining the facts is critical in cases with historical components. Often client records that might be used to determine the facts no longer are available. My research and analysis has proved crucial to law firms that have successfully defended clients in lead paint, asbestos, and other environmental litigation.
My support includes exhaustive research of available sources, content analysis, PRP assessment, market analysis, company timeline and genealogy construction, and the writing of white papers and other memoranda. In short, whatever fact gathering and analysis the engagement demands.
SOCIOECONOMIC ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT
Complying with the requirements of the National Environment Protection Act and environmental quality laws at the state level often demands assessment from a number of perspectives. In the decision-making process about land use, such as the construction of industrial and infrastructure and the restoration of natural environments, history plays an essential role.
As part of interdisciplinary projects teams, I provide historical assessments that inform decision-making by public agencies. When the U.S. Minerals Management Service requested a historical analysis of the impact of the oil industry on California’s central coast, for instance, I contributed a study of the evolving structure of the industry to each of of the stand-alone reports on each of the three counties involved as well as a separate inventory of all of the firms that operated in the region during the years of the study. On a subsequent contract, I responded to MMS’s request to review, evaluation, and synthesize all research on the coastal California oil industry with a report that made the findings of prior projects more accessible to both the public and policymakers.
I work with architectural historians to provide historical context in support of national and state historic register nominations under the guidelines issued by the National Park Service and state offices of historic preservation, California in particular. I also analyze building projects for Section 106 and CEQA compliance.
For the Historic Resources Inventory project of the City of Fremont, California, for instance, I researched the potential historical significance of an Associated Oil Company depot and several banks, including their directors. Subsequently I conducted several investigations for architectural historian Woodruff Minor, who was a principal investigator on the Historic Resources Inventory project. They included histories of several companies whose activities were clustered in an industrial district of Berkeley, California. I also conducted research for Mr. Minor in the writing of his book, The Architecture of Ratcliff (2006).
On the front end of projects, I work with executive managers, public relations staff, academics, and other professionals to structure and shape their book-length manuscripts, articles, and speeches into narratives that convey arguments and ideas clearly, compellingly, and concisely. I also assist authors by researching specialized topics particular to their projects. On the back end of projects, I review and edit drafts of manuscripts, articles, and speeches to the end of producing polished texts for delivery to audiences or submission to publishers.
I have reviewed manuscripts for the University of Illinois Press, Business History Review, and the Journal of Cold War Studies, and have reviewed more than two dozen books in journals and magazines. Recently, I served as consulting editor to Calliope magazine for its “Why Oil?” issue (January 2013). Currently, I am co-editor of the Consultants’ Corner blog on the History@Work Web site, a “public history commons” sponsored by the National Council on Public History.
I cut my teeth as editor of the Op-Ed page of the State Press, the daily newspaper of Arizona State University. I also edited the newsletter of the Phoenix office of Arthur Andersen & Co. and was a contributing editor to user manuals published by Synon, Inc.