Keren Phoenix and Brenna Miller.A Spokane resident whose invention transformed the shipping industry;  a woman who passed as a man and worked as a bartender, bronco buster, and longshoreman; plus preachers, prisoners, ranchers, immigrants, cowgirls, and soldiers are among the myriad people whose stories illuminate the history of the Northwest in Past as Prologue, a new radio program created by WSU historians Karen Phoenix and Brenna Miller.

The show is is a public outreach program produced by the WSU Department of History in collaboration with Northwest Public Broadcasting (NWPB) and host Sueann Ramella.

Airing every other Friday during NWPB’s 5:00 a.m. broadcast of “Morning Edition” and posted later online with audio and text transcripts, the program “aims always to connect past to present and bring engaging stories of Northwest regional history to public audiences,” said Phoenix, an assistant professor of history. “It shows how both regional and global history can inform our understanding of the world today.”

Past as Prologue features the work and expertise of WSU faculty at Pullman, Vancouver, and Tri-Cities campuses as well as alumni, graduate students and affiliates.

Each two- to five-minute episode relates historical people and events to current culture and issues: a 1920s Seattle bootlegging racket and modern drug cartels; end-times preaching in the early 1900s and politics today; the slow history of transsexual acceptance; the role of discrimination in building three Washington towns; and historical efforts by Pullman’s namesake to improve working-class lives.

The episode scheduled for Friday, July 9, features WSU history doctoral student Ryan Booth and his research into the complex roles of Native Americans who served as scouts for the U.S. military.

Newspaper clipping with text: Strange Case of Seventeen-Year-Old Nellie Pickerell, Who Refuses to Wear Skirts.
Today we would recognize Harry Allen as trans. That term and concept did not exist in 1912, but there were many people in the past who had been assigned one sex at birth, but later in life transitioned to the sex that they more readily identified with.

In the episode, “How Northwest Women in Rodeo Changed Perceptions of Ability,” historian Tracey Hanshew explains how women athletes of early rodeo provide broader understanding of women’s roles in rural history. In “‘What Is an American?’ Asks a Soldier from Pasco Whose Family Was Interned,” historian Robert Bauman discusses how the question defining who is an American is as relevant today as it was during World War II.

A woman riding a horse in a rodeo.
The women  athletes of early rodeo provide a broader understanding of women’s roles in rural history.

“Our goal is to examine, explore and share information about topics of significance and interest to Northwestern audiences,” Miller said. “These may include the Hanford site and/or global history connections that informed citizens should be aware of. The more our work can be made visible to the public, the more people can appreciate the relevance of history.”

Funding for the initial phase of the Past as Prologue project was provided by the Department of History and WSU Center for Arts and Humanities. Phoenix and Miller anticipate expanding the project to include additional educational activities as funds and capabilities become available.

Top photo: Karen Phoenix (left) and Brenna Miller.

By J. Adrian Aumen, College of Arts and Sciences