Learning Spokane’s History One Field Trip at a Time

Posted on: August 15th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment

The Grand Coulee Dam on Washington's Columbia River.

Field trips might have been my number one favorite thing growing up. It was school, but not school. Learning without a blackboard and desk. Travel without parents -- unless you were the kid who ended up with a parent as a chaperone.

Sometimes it was a science museum, other times trips to Lexington and Concord, or Colonial Williamsburg -- but always it involved learning through place.

As adults we still experience that thrill, it’s a little less structured (after all, we are our own chaperones), but there is still that sense of experiencing a place by exploring.

Somehow this has become the year of travel for me -- and once I come back from New Mexico next week it’ll be full steam ahead for the Pacific Northwest where I will be attending the National Preservation Conference  at the end of October, probably my last “field trip” for the year.

Here are a few of my preconceptions:

  1. Spokane is going to be beautiful.
  2. The area has an incredibly rich and varied Native American history.
  3. Washington is one of the states on the forefront of energy development and sustainability

For a preservationist this leads naturally to some exciting field trip possibilities. For example, I know that one field session (called “Hot Dam!”) will take attendees to the Grand Coulee Dam. One of the largest electric power-producing facilities, the tour will go behind the scenes of this industrial site, offering a glimpse of water power in the Northwest.  I didn’t know I would love industrial heritage until I stepped onto the site of an abandoned mill and experienced what some call "the technological sublime" (so massive it's awe-inspiring). Having never been to the Hoover Dam, this trip feels like a great opportunity.

Or, if I want a personalized tour of the American Indian Archives at the Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) I’m going to hop on the bus for “A Coyote in the Henhouse.”  This isn’t the only opportunity to learn about native culture at the conference (we’re having a Pow Wow on Thursday night), but I’m excited at the possibility of seeing so many objects not on public display.

And then for those of us who love green building, multiple field trips that will let you see “Sustainability in Action," with unparalleled access to award-winning preservation and LEED certified buildings.

What can we learn about Spokane through field trips such as these? On one hand there's a multi-faceted view of the city: a sense of the industrial past and present, the Native American heritage, and the commitment of the preservation community to preserving green. In melding all of these trips together we’ll experience more than just a conference center, rather we'll get a broader sense of place for the Pacific and Inland Northwest.

Are you attending the National Preservation Conference? Learn more about great field sessions on our Staff Picks page!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.


One Response

  1. Linda Queen

    August 16, 2012

    Dear Priya – thank you for you wonderful comments about Spokane and the MAC. We are looking forward to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Conference in October in Spokane!