Public History on the Edge of Nowhere: A working group report

Photo credit: Giannis Angelakis

Photo credit: Giannis Angelakis

Our “Public History on the Edge of Nowhere” working group consisted of individuals from institutions that face issues of isolation due to physical location or a lack of awareness by the surrounding communities. In Nashville at the 2015 National Council on Public History conference, we sought to facilitate a group discussion centered on developing creative solutions for institutions lacking direct access to large populations. Continue reading

Project Showcase: Explore le Tour

Main-Logo-855x300Longer than the Olympics and arguably as prestigious, the most attended sporting event on earth is the Tour de France, which meanders through more than 2,000 miles of Europe’s most picturesque and challenging terrain. One cannot divorce the race from the surrounding cultural heritage and history. Yet this aspect of the Tour has not been fully integrated into the media surrounding the event.

This gap is what prompted me to create Explore le Tour as a side project to my full-time job in early 2015. The eventual concept is for Explore le Tour to become a comprehensive cultural and historical guide to the Tour de France route, where blog posts about specific topics are keyed to stage-by-stage maps and information. All this is geared towards enriching the television audience and traveler’s experience.

For those planning a trip to see the Tour in person, it offers ideas and context for things to see and do, many of which are off the beaten path. For the larger audience at home, the initiative serves as an armchair guide while watching the race on television. For Tour organizers, Explore le Tour offers an opportunity for increased fan engagement and possibly an expanded fan base thanks to the wide appeal of French culture across the globe. At the same time, the website moves to boost French tourism by marketing locations and events to the same global audience.

Join the peloton’s journey through France and history this July with Explore le Tour. Vive le Tour!

~ Alex Bethke is the Cultural Resources Program Lead for Navy Region Southwest in San Diego. He traveled to see the Tour de France in 2012 and launched Explore le Tour as a reflection of his three biggest passions, history, cycling, and travel.

Project Showcase: The Great Society Congress

Screenshot by Danielle Emerling

Image credit: Screenshot by Danielle Emerling

On October 15, 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson remarked: “When the historians of tomorrow write of today, they will say of the 89th Congress … ‘This was the great Congress.’” The president was elated that between January 1965 and December 1966, the 89th US Congress had enacted the most extensive legislative program since the New Deal. The Voting Rights Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and amendments to the Social Security Act, which resulted in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, were but a few of the transformative pieces of legislation passed as cornerstones of Johnson’s Great Society agenda. Continue reading

Public history and video gaming: Spontaneous digital remembrance

“Death is difficult under any circumstance. The death of a friend you only knew via the internet is something that this generation is just learning how to deal with.”–Matthew Miller, MMORPG.com

Players gather at the Shrine of the Fallen Warrior in World of Warcraft. Photo credit:

Players gather at the Shrine of the Fallen Warrior in World of Warcraft. Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment. Screenshot.

At the 2015 National Council on Public History (NCPH) annual meeting, I participated in a working group titled “Can Public History Play?” organized by Mary Rizzo and Abby Perkiss. It got me thinking a lot about play, virtual worlds, and how digital spaces–and the history of digital spaces–relate to our “real” lives. In many ways, digital worlds are designed to be spaces of play, but many also bring people together in new and sometimes very serious–even somber–and emotional ways.

Based on my personal experience, one of the serious ways gamers come together is through the creation of virtual world memorials dedicated to people who pass away in “real life.” What happens in digital communities when people die? What happens to that person’s digital presence? How do their in-game friends react? How does the company react? What does memorializing look like in a society of people who have never met, seen one another, or (in some cases) heard each other’s voices? Continue reading

“Mickey Mouse History”: A pop-up exhibit exploring fair use and public history

Popup TitlePublic historians rely on images, audio, and film to engage the public and interpret the past. But almost every professional has experienced confusion over copyright restrictions or faced expensive licensing agreements. Some of us may get by with using images from the public domain, but many historical images remain under copyright. What happens when you want to interpret Mickey Mouse, a comic strip, a National Geographic cover, or some other copyrighted work as a historical artifact?

There is a “culture of fear and doubt” that prevents public historians from making fair use of copyrighted works in their exhibitions, films, or other works. This pop-up exhibit at the National Council on Public History’s annual meeting in Nashville seeks to address that problem. The exhibit has two goals: to raise awareness about the right to fair use and to collect stories from public historians navigating the use of images and copyright law in their work. Continue reading

Outstanding public history project award: Histories of the National Mall

Editor’s Note: This series showcases the winners of the National Council on Public History’s awards for the best new work in the field. Today’s post is by Sheila Brennan, project co-director with Sharon Leon of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s Histories of the National Mall mobile website.

Historian of the National Mall map slice. Image credit: Sheila Brennan

Histories of the National Mall map slice. Image credit: Sheila Brennan

Every year, nearly 25 million people visit the National Mall and wander from monument to museum vaguely aware of the rich history of the space. Histories of the National Mall is a place-based public history mobile website designed to allow visitors to access that history while on the Mall itself. Created primarily for tourists and a secondary audience of history enthusiasts not physically in Washington, DC, Histories is accessible from any web browser on any phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University developed this site with support from a grant in 2012 from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The National Mall has a history of its own that is nearly invisible when walking its paths, and there is very little interpretation available on the Mall. Most visitors see what appears to be a finished product: a deliberately planned landscape with memorials, monuments, and museums symbolizing the history and values of the United States. The Mall, however, is a contested public space and its meanings, uses, and purposes have changed over time. In its earliest days, the Mall was a messy place where transportation arteries and commercial markets existed and was bordered by lively neighborhoods. Visitors, and many DC area residents, have no knowledge of the unregulated zone of muddy grounds, vegetable gardens, grazing cattle, or the slave pens that existed before the completion of the Washington and Lincoln Memorials. Continue reading

Adventures in crowdfunding: A museum’s perspective

A Lancaster bomber at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.  Photo credit: Doug Zwick

A Lancaster bomber at the Canada Air and Space Museum in Ottawa. Photo credit: Doug Zwick

From art museums collecting Instagram posts for mobile photography exhibits to natural history museums getting visitors to actively participate in digitizing their collections or museums using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Causevox to raise funds for special projects and exhibits, crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly prevalent in heritage and cultural institutions. Crowdfunding, which has been defined as “asking many people for ‘microdonations’ for a specific project or cause, usually within a specific time frame and online,” differs from traditional donor campaigns in that it is equal parts marketing, audience engagement, and of course, fundraising. Continue reading