In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Olympia, the city published a collection of historical essays. I picked it up a copy from the library a few days ago, and have a few thoughts.
1. I don't like that the edition was hardback, I don't like that the content is copyrighted. Hardback, 8.5x11 books are a bummer to read, seem worth keeping on your bookshelf as collectibles than actually reading them.
Also, while its not illegal for a local government entity to copyright a work, its not something I'm a big fan of. We should consider why the federal government is not allowed to copyright, and then think about why our taxes are used to put together content that we are not all free to use.
2. Using the phrase "People's History" is curious. Typically, something titled "People's History" is a reference to the seminal Howard Zinn history or an offshoot that Zinn himself edited. This book is obviously not of that series, and less obviously, doesn't even follow the same theme.
3. That's not to say that there aren't some good sections in the book. The sections on Rebecca Howard, Women, the Chinese Community and (in part) Little Hollywood were what I thought the book would be. Unrepresented stories of Olympia's history that don't get told much.
Its interesting that the most fascinating chapter and a topic I've never seen discussed anywhere else (Rebecca Brown) was written by the least experienced of the writers.
4. Important points of history missed.
The essay on John Miller Murphy by Roger Easton was pretty good, but it paints Miller as a up from the bootstraps newspaperman. An important part Easton missed on Murphy's return to Olympia in 1860 was that he came back to establish a Republican newspaper in 1860 near the beginning of the Civil War. Democrats up to that point had been in charge of territorial politics, but with the Democrats also leading the fight to secede in the South, Republicans were ready to take the advantage in Washington.
Daeg Aerlic Byrne's essay on Little Hollywood misses the point on why the city in the late 30s worked to remove the shanytown. In the paragraph that he writes that "something changed" and that "no available document explains why" Olympia city fathers would want to do away with Little Hollywood, he Byrne also names what exactly changed. The year before the city moved to get rid of Little Hollywood, the state legislature began funding what would eventually become Capitol Lake. Before they built the lake, they had to get rid of the shantytown, its pretty simple.
5. Still worth checking out from the library too. The book itself is a bit high priced ($35), but it does go to a good cause (the Bigelow House museum). What this book did spell out to me is the need to collect and encourage ongoing scholarship about Olympia's history.
Maybe after a year of selling the original run, why not post the essays online (minus copyrighted images) and develop an online historical journal?