Tasting the apple: new interpretation at Ft. Spokane

My classmates in #EWUHist544 and I are discussing the content that’s already on SpokaneHistorical.org for the Fort Spokane area. Eryn Baumgart’s blog has a thorough discussion of what’s there, and Adrienne Sadlo makes an important critique of the tone of some of the existing content. Josh Van Veldhuizen found some specific mis-interpretations in a story about officers’ housing, too, and I’m sure there are plenty errors that the class could correct. The consensus seems to be that it’s a worthwhile start, and that we can do much, much more.

EWU History 544 with interpretive ranger Greg Robbe at Ft. Spokane

EWU History 544 with interpretive ranger Greg Robbe at Ft. Spokane

The question on my mind is: what can we do together that we couldn’t do alone? I contributed a few posts to Spokane Historical last year, and it was a fairly collaborative process–I got great feedback from classmates, and there was some editing after my work had been submitted. But it was basically a project to write a story as a single author. On our trip to the Fort in October, my classmates and I got to share ideas and inform each other’s interpretations of the site in ways we couldn’t have if we’d just been sitting alone at our desks. So, how do we seize on that set of possibilities when we create new interpretations?

One of the strongest models on the site, to me, is this story, sited just upriver from the fort. It gives the history of a prized salmon-fishing site on the river from the days before Lake Roosevelt. The attached media tells a Spokane story about the creation of the falls, in both Salish and English. It think that’s a crucial thing to represent. As a team, I wonder if we can research and share “the view from across the river,” for the families who watched their loved ones make the journey to the boarding school, or the tuberculosis hospital.

Sharing an apple from one of the surviving trees in the orchard at Ft. Spokane

Sharing an apple from one of the surviving trees in the orchard at Ft. Spokane

During the trip, Adrienne Sadlo brought up an excellent point about “facilitated dialogue” in interpretation, and I tried to get at a related idea in my post about Ruby and Brown’s Children of the Sun. If our rules of interpretation chain us to a particular set of sources and a top-down dissemination of ideas, we can only expand so much on what’s already there. I’d like to see us take some risks. I think Logan Camporeale’s spot-on #theStoriesWeDontTell idea is exactly where we should focus our energy: the stories that aren’t rigidly sourced, that have to be fleshed out through some engagement with the reader’s imagination. It’s one thing to read that the orchard was part of the Spokane children’s re-education in the white man’s ways. It’s another thing to actually taste the apples.