Laurie Dickmeyer, 2016 Public Fellow

A PhD candidate in History, Laurie Dickmeyer is working with Orange County Parks to present Heritage Days

In 2009, when I finished my M.A. thesis on the contemporary environmental history of wildlife management at Banff National Park, I had imagined that my work on parks was more or less in the past. And for about six years it was.  I spent two years in Taiwan teaching English and learning Chinese and shifted to a new interest: nineteenth-century U.S.-China relations.    This topic has occupied me for 4.5 years at UCI.  When the announcement for the Humanities Out There Public Fellows Program and the description of OC Parks, Heritage Division found its way to my e-mail inbox, I saw an opportunity that combined my skills and interests, old and new.

For Winter and Spring Quarter 2016, I have had the pleasure to work with OC Parks, Heritage Division, as a UCI Humanities Out There Public Fellow.  OC Parks encompasses regional, wilderness and historical facilities, as well as coastal areas throughout the County of Orange. Within OC Parks, the Historical Operations Group manages and interprets 7 historical parks located throughout the County, each exploring a different avenue of the region’s diverse history. These historic parks include, the Old Orange County Courthouse, Heritage Hill Historical Park, Arden: Helena Modjeska Historic House & Gardens, Irvine Ranch Historic Park, George Key Ranch Historic Park, Ramon Peralta Adobe Historic Site, and the Historic Yorba Cemetery.

I have been collaborating with Justin Sikora, Ph.D. and Emily McEwen, Ph.D., both Historic Resource Specialists with OC Parks, as well as Humanities Out There Public Fellow, Anna Kryczka, Ph.D. candidate in Visual Studies.  Together we have been preparing a programming series focusing on the individual and familial connections to Orange County’s changing landscape as a result of its rapid urbanization and suburbanization.  We are planning this series in conjunction with an NEH Common Heritage Grant that OC Parks was recently awarded.  Utilizing the funds from this grant, OC Parks will be hosting four community history digitization days over the next year with the goal of not only providing free digitizing services to the public, but also as a means to help us grow OC Parks’ historical collections and tell more diverse stories throughout the historical park system.

Our goal was to take this program idea and make it a reality. Anna and I worked closely together on the logistics.  From drafting pitches for the events to researching recording equipment to contacting local historical organizations--we have been involved in many steps of the planning process. 

My work with OC Parks, Heritage Division has allowed me to use and further develop my historical training.  I attended a workshop at California State University, Fullerton, in order to receive some training in order to identify best practices for oral history projects.  Based on the workshop and my own experience conducting interviews for my M.A. research, I crafted oral history questions and related documents that volunteer interviewers will need on the day.  I also have put together a list of possible speakers for the history digitization days using academic connections at UCI.  These speakers will address themes chosen for each event: leisure, transportation, land use and development, and labor.

Through my work with OC Parks I have expanded my knowledge of Orange County’s history and historical resources.  Many of the skills I have developed as a graduate student researcher, writer, and teacher transferred seamlessly into this new context, and I believe that these experiences will appeal to future employers whether in academia or elsewhere.

Through the Humanities Out There Public Fellows program, six humanities graduate students interned one afternoon a week with a local cultural organization. These public fellows applied and expanded their humanities research, writing and analytical capacities – skills developed in a PhD program – in a non-profit setting. The 2016 Public Fellows were funded by individual donations to the Humanities Out There Program.  The Humanities Commons recently received a grant from the Luce Foundation to expand the Public Fellows Program in 2016-2017.