“Don’t make this about me,” Bob Hart says. He is executive director of Lane County History Museum and co-founder, along with Marsha Weisiger, of Eugene’s History Pub.
Weisiger is a history professor and also co-director of the Center for Environmental Futures at the University of Oregon, which focuses on the environment and social justice. She has a background in public history, as does Hart. History Pub seems a logical endeavor for them to cosponsor since public history is the practice of history outside the classroom or other academic settings.
The reason Hart asks me not to make the story about him is because of the interest I’m showing in a history presentation he gave at McMenamins’ Old St. Francis School in Bend. He delivered his talk, “Horses, Dogs and Oreodonts: Thomas Condon and His Fossils,” in character as the 19th century geologist Thomas Condon.
It was easier to impersonate Condon then, Hart says of taking on the famed geologist’s persona. “My beard was much longer.”
Condon helped prove that horses evolved in the Americas as well in the Old World, and his role in the study of geology in Oregon is monumental. Condon was Oregon’s first state geologist and the UO’s first professor of geology. He was also a minister first before becoming a scientist and an early advocate for the theory of evolution.
Given Hart’s enthusiasm for history, I am not surprised to hear his presentation at McMenamins went well. People were really interested, he says. It was that positive reaction to his talk which inspired his idea to bring History Pub to Eugene.
Weisiger contacted Hart in 2011, shortly after arriving from New Mexico to become a history professor at the UO. Hart had also moved to Eugene from New Mexico to be director of LCHM. The idea to work together came up then, but Weisiger needed to get established in her new job first before taking on extracurricular activity.
Three years ago Peter A. Kopp, then professor of public history at New Mexico State University, contacted her about possible speaking opportunities for his new book “Hoptopia: A World of Agriculture and Beer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.” Rather than holding a lecture at the UO, where it would likely only be heard by other academics, she thought of History Pub.
Kopp presented the series’ first topic “A Global History of the Cascade Hop,” and it was held at the then relatively new Ninkasi administration building on Blair Boulevard.
This past September’s topic was: “Should Lane County Change Its Name?” The issue regarding the name change illustrates how history can inform current policy. Joseph Lane was Oregon’s first territorial governor and is cited as having been a racist.
The panel discussion was recorded, as other History Pubs have been since the pandemic began, and is available for viewing online.
How is History Pub different from a history lecture? Weisiger says, depending on the topic, attendees are as likely to be seniors as they are college age. Another obvious difference is the consumption of alcohol. Meeting at pubs is a less formal type of social gathering. People are free to come, go, eat, drink and talk among themselves.
Due to social distancing measures, History Pub is currently inviting the public to meet on Zoom rather than in person. Is it as lively online? Weisiger thinks not. But it will have to do for now.
Weisiger says she and Hart, to borrow a phrase from pedagogy, are “modeling” drinking behavior from home.
History Pub meets monthly. The March 8 speaker is Gregory Nokes, who will speak via Zoom on “Jesse Applegate and the Modoc Wars.” The form to RSVP, as well as past recordings of discussions, can be accessed at LCHM.org/history-pub-talks.