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Society for History in the Federal Government

SHFG Interviews were originally published in The Federalist newsletter issues noted below. See contents of all issues at 

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Theresa McCulla, historian of the American Brewing History Initiative, Smithsonian National Museum of American History (Issue 54, Summer 2017).

“The goal of the American Brewing History Initiative (ABHI) is to build the central, national archive for the history of beer and brewing in America. ABHI will pay special attention to the histories of home brewing and craft brewing, movements that date from the 1960s to the present. Early home brewers, those responsible for technological or taste innovations, agricultural producers, consumers, and those with lesser-known histories (particularly women and people of color) all fall within my focus. To tell their stories, I am particularly interested in items such as recipes and brewing logs, brewing equipment, communications of home brewing clubs (especially pre-internet), business plans and advertising materials, and patents or object prototypes. Oral histories with brewers, growers, and other figures in the industry will also form a crucial component of the archive.”


Kris Kirby, Superintendent, Manhattan Project National Historical Park (Issue 53, Spring 2017).
“Much of the uniqueness of this park is that it’s located in three states, and the NPS is partnered with the DOE in the administration and management of the park. While the geography definitely creates logisitcal challenges, working with another federal agency is a privilege and is one of the reasons I was interested in the job. I’m a student of political science and public administration, and I’ve always had an interest in government and its responsibility and subsequent benefits to our society.”

Peter Liebhold, curator, Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH) (Issue 51, Fall 2016)
“American Enterprise” employs the techniques we established in “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” It presents a complex story: the benefits, failures, and unanticipated consequences of American economic development. Visitors learn how business and work affected the nation’s history as well as their own lives—that business is important but not always just. Some people succeed, some get by, and some get hurt. Understanding the business development of the nation, and the corresponding social effects, is fundamental to the lives of the American people, the history of the United States, and the nation’s role in global affairs. “American Enterprise” conveys the drama, breadth, and diversity of America’s business heritage.

Joseph P. Harahan, former chief historian with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) (Issue 50, Summer 2016)
“By 2007, the Nunn-Lugar program was active across Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. I went to many sites, but not to Deglin Mountain nuclear testing tunnels in Kazakhstan, the massive chemical weapons storage site at Shchuch’ye in Russia, and the fissile missile storage facility at Mayak in Russia. These were large-scale cooperative projects that were sensitive to the national governments. Instead, I interviewed the American project managers and studied the official documents. I did travel with teams that monitored the elimination of nuclear submarines, strategic bombers, and long-range strategic missiles.”

Richard W. Stewart, former Chief Historian, U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) (Issue 49, Spring 2016)
“Military history is so expansive as a discipline and covers so many topics, that if historians limited themselves just to battles and leaders, much of the critical experience of an Army in a democracy would be overlooked. Manpower, training, demographics, politics, finances, the evolution of law in a democracy, and many other facets of society are reflected in our military, impact it, or are changed because of it.”

Elizabeth B. (“Barry”) White, historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) (Federal History, Issue 8, 2016)
“The first ‘situation of concern’ I focused on was Syria, where the conflict had yet to reach catastrophic dimensions. I commissioned a report by Ambassador Fred Hof that analyzed the likely trajectory of the conflict, most of whose predictions have now come to pass; drafted the Museum’s calls for international assistance to Syrian civilians and refugees; and worked with civil society organizations to advance civilian protection and accountability for the crimes being committed in Syria.”

Justin P. Ebersole, archeologist, National Park Service (Issue 48, Winter 2014–15)
“I am fortunate to be responsible for museum collections that contain both excavated and donated objects. At the C&O Canal, for example, our collections contain everything from original theolodites used by the Canal Company, to gold specimens associated with the Maryland Gold Mine at Great Falls, to prehistoric lithics and ceramics. We basically have at least 9,000 years of history represented in our collection.”

Donald A. Carter, historian, Center of Military History (Issue 47, Fall 2015)
[Forging the Shield is] a history of the U.S. Army rather than a comprehensive study of the Cold War in Europe. However, I think . . . that the presence of the Americans, complete with the logistical infrastructure, raised the stakes of any proposed Soviet incursion to the point where potential losses were unacceptable.”

Thomas Wellock, Historian, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Issue 46, Summer 2015)
“The post-Soviet era is an interesting moment in nuclear history wherein diplomats and experts have been able to carve out a fair amount of international cooperation on what had been a fiercely protected area of national control: reactor safety regulation.  After Chernobyl and the fall of the Soviet Union, previously reluctant nations agreed on the need for an international agreement spelling out a common understanding of reactor safety.”

Marc Rothenberg, Historian, National Science Foundation, retired (Issue 45, Spring 2015)
“My biggest challenge was to decide whether or not I should follow up with Merton England’s multivolume history of NSF. Obviously I had had experience with multivolume historical works. In the end, however, I decided to focus on becoming an agency resource rather than putting out volumes of Foundation history.”

Donna Graves, Public historian and cultural planner (Issue 44, Winter 2014-15)
“The scale and complexity of the surviving physical resources around the city [Richmond, CA] (a shipyard, factories, defense housing, a hospital, childcare centers, and more) caught my attention as we were developing the Memorial. When staff from the NPS regional office toured Richmond they realized that the WWII Home Front was not yet represented in any NPS units, so we developed a feasibility study for Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, which was authorized by Congress in 2000, the same year the Memorial was completed and dedicated.”

Richa Wilson, historian, U.S. Forest Service (Issue 43, Fall 2014)
“I worked with historic preservation and interpretive specialists from Russia, the National Park Service, and the State of California to develop a furnishing plan for the Rotchev House, a log building erected by the Russian American Company in 1836. We used the historic structure report that I had previously completed, archival sources, and additional on-site examinations to identify period-appropriate furniture and interior finishes.”

John Fox, historian, Federal Bureau of Investigation (Issue 42, Summer 2014)
The FBI has been involved in U.S. intelligence matters since its creation and has played an important part in the growth of American intelligence collection and its application. Unlike at the CIA, though, intelligence analysis did not develop into a significant discipline in the FBI. It was handled tactically, providing support to FBI case actions, rather than for building a strategic picture of the threats the Bureau faced or contributing to the efforts of the wider intelligence community to do the same.”

Samuel W, Rushay, Jr. archivist, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum (Issue 41, Spring 2014)
We had to determine if the federal government could retain a discussion because it involved Nixon’s constitutional and statutory duties as president, or whether we had to return it to the Nixon Estate because it was purely personal or purely political. From the tapes, I gained a greater understanding of Richard Nixon’s mind, his relationships with people, his management style, and the workings of the Nixon White House.”

Jeffrey G. Barlow, historian, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command (Issue 40, Winter 2013-14)
“It’s important to understand that the initial support for what became defense unification had come from the Army Staff during the final two years of the war. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall was convinced that if the existing defense organization continued into the postwar period the Army was likely to obtain less support for its budgetary requirements than the Navy would receive. While at the same time, Navy leaders were concerned that the Army’s proposal for a separate Air Force could lead to a diminished capability for the Service’s naval aviation component. These domestic debates were thus the primary movers in the unification fight.”

Victoria Harden, former Historian at the NIH (Issue 39, Fall 2013)
“When I realized in the mid-1980s that no one at NIH was interviewing the scientists who were addressing this new disease, I began conducting interviews, and if you read them now, you can see how much the thinking of individual scientists related to the state of knowledge at the time of the interview, thus how thinking about AIDS advanced over time. Scientists tend to discard ideas that don’t work out, but historians see value in knowing how the dead ends contribute to the ultimate working out of a problem. In 2001, I prepared the website in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Cancer Institute to mark the 20th anniversary of the first medical publication about AIDS (June 5, 1981). Since then, other interviews have been added, and they are heavily used by the press and students.”

Robert S. Arrighi, archivist/historian, NASA’s Glenn Research Center (Issue 38, Summer 2013)
The AWT was designed in the early 1940s to study reciprocating engines. The tunnel was powerful enough, however, to handle the turbojet when it emerged during World War II. The AWT tested nearly every early generation jet engine in the United States. The jet engine developed at a remarkable pace during the postwar years, however. Performance, power, and reliability increased dramatically. The real growth in jet engines was centered on the axialflow type of engine, which employed a series of fan-like compressor stages that increased the pressure of the airflow. Power was increased by adding additional stages. Designers sought to increase the performance of each stage by perfecting blade shapes and durability, and by using afterburners to augment the engine’s thrust. It became clear to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, later NASA) that the AWT would not be able to keep up with the more powerful engines that would emerge, so PSL was designed specifically to handle these larger engines. PSL was the agency’s most powerful engine test facility, and remained active until the late 1970s.

Charlene Bangs Bickford, Director of the First Federal Congress Project (Issue 37, Spring 2013)

Stacey Bredhoff, curator, John F. Kennedy Library (Issue 36, Winter 2012–13,)

David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States   (Issue 26, Summer 2010)

Richard Baker, Senate Historian (Issue 22, Summer 2009)

Steven Dick , Chief Historian, NASA History Division (Issue 2, Summer 2004)

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