Jack the Ripper Museum

In August 2015, a museum that had originally been billed as “the first women’s museum in the UK” opened instead as the Jack the Ripper Museum on Cable Street in the East End of London. ‘Jack the Ripper,’ an anonymous figure who murdered and mutilated at least five women in the late nineteenth century, has become the focus of a museum that had once been promised to represent and celebrate untold histories of women.

Photo by Claire Hayward

Photo credit:  Claire Hayward

The unveiling and opening of the museum has caused a great deal of controversy in the United Kingdom because planning permission had been granted for a museum focusing on women’s history. The change of use application for the site explained that the Museum of Women’s History would “analyse the social, political and domestic experience of women from the time of the boom in growth in the East End in the Victorian period through the waves of immigration to the present day.” There is already a museum of women’s history in the UK–the Glasgow Women’s Library in Scotland has been an accredited museum since 2010–but the Museum of Women’s History would have been a valuable addition to London’s public history sites and, furthermore, could have paved the way for improving the representation of women in museums across the UK. Continue reading

Genealogy and the problem of biological essentialism

Space-filling model animation of B-DNA, made with qutemol. Image courtesy Jahobr, Wikimedia Commons

Space-filling model animation of B-DNA, made with qutemol. Photo credit:   Jahobr, Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of mass amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Carolina Jonsson Malm is the fourth of these scholars.  To read the three prior posts, see Paul Knevel, Sara Trevisan. and Regina Poertner

There are many possible explanations as to why genealogy has become one of the most popular hobbies in our time. The last decades’ growing interest in local history and life stories could be one. The increasing public awareness of genetics and the potential of genetic engineering another. People’s sense of rootlessness and lack of social relations in a rapidly changing world yet another. Whatever the reason, it is undeniable that genealogy has become almost a social movement, involving millions of people around the world. In his article, “On Genealogy,” Jerome de Groot suggests that genealogy in many ways can be described as “a democratization of access to the past.”   As a result of the new digital technology and the improved accessibility of public records, anyone with time and inclination can search for their ancestors in databases and online. People whose lives and fates are not part of the traditional academic historiography are uncovered. Everyone gets their fifteen minutes–at least in the family historian’s genealogical tree. Continue reading

Genealogy from below

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of mass amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Paul Knevel is the second of these scholars.  We hope you will post your comments to add to this discussion. 

The largest family tree in the world, as claimed by the International Family Museum in Eijsden, the Netherlands.  Image credit: www.internationalmuseumforfamilyhistory.com

The largest family tree in the world, as claimed by the International Family Museum in Eijsden, the Netherlands. Photo credit:  International Museum for Family History

As could be expected by the author of the broad and lucid Consuming History, Jerome de Groot demonstrates in his article in The Public Historian an amazing ability to discuss thoroughly topics and themes that would for others take book-length or even career-length considerations. “Genealogy and Public History” thus not only deals with the various ways that genealogy and family history could be undertaken and imagined by various people and groups but also with such large and profound issues as the impact and construction of “knowledge infrastructures” in a digital age, the silencing character of the archive, the ethical sides of dealing with the dead, the neo-liberalisation of public space generated by commercial websites, “digital labour,” and many other themes and ideas. The result is a clever, multi-layered, insightful, and thought-provoking essay that challenges public historians to rethink today’s digital historical culture and practices, their own role, and the activities of millions of people (see the stunning figures mentioned by De Groot) who are doing genealogy and family history and thus trying to connect themselves with the past. Consequently, it is impossible to address in this short reaction all the topics and themes raised in De Groot’s article. Continue reading

History and tradition: Genealogical practice before 1700

Editor’s note: In “On Genealogy,” a revision of the plenary address delivered in October 2014 at the International Federation for Public History’s conference in Amsterdam, Jerome de Groot argues that widespread popular interest in genealogy, and the availability of massive amounts of information online, challenge established historiography and public history practice. He invites other public historians to contribute to a debate about how we might “investigate, theorize, and interrogate” the implications of this explosion of interest in genealogy. We invited four scholars to contribute to this discussion. Sara Trevisan is the first of these scholars. Please consider adding your own comments to the conversation below. 

Fig. 1 The Steward Window (1574), showing Banquo as the root of the family tree. Image credit:   

The Steward Window (1574), showing Banquo as the root of the family tree.  Image credit: J.H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History (New York: Longmans: 1901)

In today’s genealogical search, lack of evidence on a family ancestor signifies the impossibility to assess any further their role within the structure of our genealogical tree. Genealogy is to us”‘a gesture to completeness that is continually thwarted by the limitations of the archive,” and thus shows us that knowledge can have an end.1 The search for family origins is therefore destined to remain ever unfulfilled and frustrated due to the epistemology of ‘historical truth” by which it is ultimately guided. Yet, until the second part of the seventeenth century–when the principles of historical method still had not fully taken hold–the “mythical” aspect of family origins was an integral part of genealogical reconstruction. This was especially true for monarchs and noble families. Continue reading

International collaboration and comparative research

Image credit: Courtesy of William F. Willingham. Undertaking international projects presents challenges beyond the normal routine of archival and secondary research, oral interviews, writing, and revising. There are new issues, such as what language will the work ultimately be published in? What time frame will accommodate the needed international travel? What added expenses will be encountered that are not part of the consideration for work confined to historical research within one country? Who will be chiefly responsible for coordinating the work occurring on different continents and seeing all the elements of the work through to the end? Even such minor questions as map scales, monetary systems, and how measurements and distances will be presented–English or metric–have to be resolved for consistency’s sake. Continue reading

Amsterdam Museum, a people’s history

(Editor’s note: This post is the first of a two-part series looking at the Amsterdam Museum. The second post can be found here.)

Amsterdam Museum. Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Morin

Amsterdam Museum. Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Morin

As a certified History Nerd and lover of cities, one of the first things I do when I arrive in a new city is check out the local history museum. I’m particularly fascinated by the way a city’s historical development influences its contemporary identity (and yes, I think all cities have their own unique identity). In my opinion, the way a municipality interprets and exhibits its history is a window into that collective identity. Continue reading

Canadians and the NCPH

Canadian parliament building. Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Canadian parliament building. Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

The field of public history has a long history of its own in Canada.  The first programme was founded at the University of Waterloo in Ontario in 1983 (though it has since been disbanded), and the University of Western Ontario followed suit in 1986.  By the time Concordia University in Montreal, where I completed my PhD, established a programme in 2004, public history was a burgeoning field in Canada.  The National Council on Public History (NCPH) has long recognised the importance of public history in Canada, holding the annual meeting there four times, beginning with Waterloo in 1983, twice in Ottawa, 2001 and 2013, and Victoria, British Columbia, in 2004. Continue reading

Public history in a digital world: The revolution reconsidered

SONY DSC

Photo credit: Serge Noiret

On October 23rd, the University of Amsterdam will be hosting the first conference of the International Federation for Public History (IFPH), “Public History in a Digital World: The Revolution Reconsidered”. Several years in the making and spearheaded by the tireless efforts of Manon Parry and Paul Knevel of the University of Amsterdam and Serge Noiret, Chair of the IFPH, public history practitioners from Europe, the Americas, and Asia will come together for three days to discuss and debate what digital media brings to public history and where public history is headed in a digital world. Continue reading