Participation via social media was extra fun with the “album wall” during the music-themed aMUSE in August 2013. Photo credit: St. Catharines Museum
Like many community museums, we’ve had a difficult time encouraging and maintaining a young adult audience. We know that members of generation Y love information, history, museums, and artifacts. We also know that members of generation Y sometimes like to focus more on presentation style, technology, and media than on content. We know that they love an immersive, cultured experience. We also know that they love free stuff. So why has it been such a struggle to get this demographic through the front doors of the museum? Continue reading →
Unlike corporations that use historical images as a marketing strategy, museums, archives, libraries, and national historic sites are caretakers of history whose goal is not to distract from serious investigation but rather to promote it. We want people to understand context, to ask questions, and to dig deeper into sources. We appreciate the beauty of old objects and know that history can be fun. But ultimately we recognize that history has the power to motivate people to act in ways that have legitimate consequences in the world and on how human beings treat one another. So when a million people accept a feed such as @HistoryinPics at face-value, are we, perhaps, disappointed that an active and engaged citizenry has not stood up to challenge the whimsical imagery placed in front of them and asked “Can that really be so?” The practical consequence of people believing that John Lennon once played guitar with Che Guevara is probably little (this was one of the doctored images in the @HistoryinPics feed). The more urgent point is remembering that images can be doctored, human emotions can be manipulated, and we should always question what we see no matter how slick its presentation.
This strikes at the heart of the question about the public good and at the use of the word “History.” Had this account been called @ThePastinPictures, the outcry may have been more muted. The usage of the word “History” makes a difference. Continue reading →
Screen shot: History in Pictures https://twitter.com/HistoryInPics
Suppose you’d never heard of @HistoryinPics, and I told you that a new social media account had grown to more than a million followers by featuring a different historical image in its feed every couple of hours.
As a public historian, you might be intrigued. “Really?” you might ask. That sounds pretty cool.
In fact, how @HistoryinPics and its copycat accounts have grown has ruffled our collective feathers. From a cautionary article in The Atlantic about copyright to scathing attacks inSlate and on Sarah Werner’s Wynden de Worde blog about improper citation, inaccuracy (or downright untruth, in some cases), lack of context, and no links to actual historical research, the prevailing reaction has been negative.
Which led me to wonder: what’s at stake here? And can we have a conversation around this phenomenon that results in useful takeaways for public historians? Continue reading →
Eleven-year-old Liza Temnikova, as the character of Lubov (the Russian word for “love) during the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The ceremony, titled “Dreams of Russia,” was meant to evoke a child’s dream-like journey across her country’s landscape and history. Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru
I am a sucker for the drama of the Olympics. Yet while watching the ongoing Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, I have been struck once again by the continuous invocation of the past during the Olympics and–at the same time–the limited historical consciousness exhibited by the International Olympic Committee, national organizing bodies, corporate sponsors, and host cities. The Olympics cry out for the interpretive and presentational tools of public history. We should recognize and resist the tendency of the Olympics to mine collective identity, commemorative ritual, and public memory for national glory and material gain.
How are public history and environmental history connected?
As this year’s liaison between the National Council on Public History’s Annual Meeting in Monterey and the annual Conference of the American Society for Environmental History in San Francisco, I am tasked with this question. And how appropriate—this year’s theme for the NCPH meeting is “Sustainable Public History,” the ASEH’s is “Crossing Divides.” If the environmental historians will pardon my flippant use of the term, to me the connections seem “natural.” Continue reading →
I am generally not a fan of sound-bite history. In this age of information overload and attention deficits, however, I suppose we must consider ways of packaging history in short, audio-visual formats in order to reach a larger public audience. Richard Heinberg’s Post Carbon Institute video, “The Ultimate Roller Coast Ride,” is a worthy effort in this regard. A creatively animated survey of “300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Growth in Five Minutes,” the video opens and closes with the distinctive bass line from the late Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” The disturbing environmental message of another Reed song, “The Last Great American Whale,” might have better served the purposes of this production, which is to frighten us about the grim future we face barring radical changes to our energy lifestyle. Continue reading →
Ironbound residents march up Ferry St. June 1, 1984, in opposition to the construction of a huge garbage incinerator in the neighborhood which would have emitted dioxin and other toxic chemicals. Photo credit: Ironbound Community Corporation
Ironbound Community Corporation, a non-profit community organization in Newark, New Jersey, which celebrates its 45th anniversary in 2014, began working on an archive in 2011, partnering with the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. ICC’s unique environmental justice history, which gained it an early national reputation, is important to its city, state, and the country at large. Over the years, ICC has been the subject of inquiry from residents, organizers, and students of all ages throughout the US and even beyond.
From the beginning, those of us working at ICC knew that when we said ”archive,” we wanted something accessible, which would not just gather dust. A key partner has been the local branch of the Newark Public Library, which agreed to house the archive, help with the public access, and host special kick-off events for each part of the project. Each year ICC has added something new to the archive, and it now has three parts: Continue reading →
Conference Poster. Photo credit: Arts Extension Service at UMass Amherst.
For most of my experience as a public-historian-in-training, I did not often think about the arts in any purposeful way. I played in an orchestra from elementary school through college, have a not-so-secret love for musicals (my roommates are probably tired of hearing me sing Disney songs in the shower!), and enjoy visiting art museums as much as the next person, but I would not consider myself an artist. After all, my formal training is in history. This all changed last year when I decided that I needed some practical management skills in order to feel confident about running a historical organization after graduation. To learn about financial management, strategic planning, development, and the like, I decided to pursue a certificate in arts management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to complement my public history degree. I felt like a bit of an outsider in the Arts Management Program. Everyone that I met at the Arts Extension Service (AES) organization on campus that runs the arts management program was lovely, but I did not necessarily feel like I was part of that world.
My perspective changed on September 26, when I attended the Arts Extension Service’s conference titled “Arts Policy on the Ground: The Impact of the National Endowment for the Arts.” First, we had a lot to celebrate. Not only is AES commemorating its 40th anniversary, but the National Arts Policy Archives and Library (NAPAAL), which will be part of the UMass Special Collections and University Archives, is opening this year as well. NAPAAL currently contains publications and research reports from the National Endowment for the Arts, records from the Arts Extension Service, and will soon also include papers from Americans for the Arts as well as the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Continue reading →
Students at the Danville Correctional Center. Photo credit: Rebecca Ginsburg, Education Justice Project, University of Illinois.
It was a June morning when I got out of my car and walked towards the barbed wire and concrete of the Danville Correctional Center, a medium-security men’s prison in central Illinois. The guards behind the plate-glass windows cleared me through the six mechanical locked doors to enter the facility. I walked past the dining hall on my right and the cell-houses on my left towards the education building. Finally, I reached the classroom where I was holding a mock dissertation defense with a committee comprised of 15 incarcerated men. Continue reading →
Passersby in downtown Princeton, New Jersey, stop to inspect the Mobile Bread House on a Saturday afternoon in May. Photo credit: Richard Anderson.
This summer I prepared to facilitate a series of introductory public history workshops for fellow students in my graduate history program at Princeton. In thinking about how to present a range of formats and venues for public history, I planned to highlight alternatives to the usual, institution-hosted projects–an important message on a hidebound campus such as mine. This effort led me to survey various examples of mobile history endeavors, with the hope of illuminating the underlying goals and organizational processes behind them.
My investigation began not with a public historian but with an anthropologist who created a traveling bread-making house as a vehicle (no pun intended) for community building. Continue reading →