Museums, Mobile Devices, and Steve Jobs

While I found Nancy Proctor’s presentation useful as an overview of the state of mobile devices in museums, I don’t think it provided a useful framework to ensure the future viability of museums in America or how to adapt technology. While museums may have once been on the cutting edge of American culture and were created by innovative individuals, I think museums no longer attract the most creative segment of the population. Unlike when museums were created to showcase hip new content such as natural history, museums now seem to be perpetually lagging behind popular science and culture. One area where museums might become hip to cutting edge content is technology–both showcasing and utilizing it. We need some like Steve Jobs, Larry Page, or Sergey Brin–people who seem to a feel not only for what people want now, but what they will want a year or two from now. An innovative to both utilize and showcase technology would be to use robots and ai. Robots are likely not only useful to the military (which currently utilizes more than 20,000) or to assisted living facilities or nursing homes (for which they are currently being developed), but could be a innovative way to reach potential museum patrons. I would pay money to have a robot give me a tour of the Idaho Historical Museum.

Utilizing mobile devices for public history and education should not even be questioned anymore. They have become such an integral part of our lives that to not utilize them would make museums even more irrelevant than they already are. Another drawback unfortunately is that technology might actually usher in the death of museums as collections are increasingly available online. Robots could also make curators and docents an extinct profession (along with soldiers and caretakers). I’m not sure what the answer is, but ludditism probably is not it.

BIN LADEN IS DEAD–You heard it here first!!!

The Whitewashing of My Unprotected Brain (WMUB)

I don’t think I have ever read a publication that used more acronims than Our Unprotected Heritage(OUH). This even includes the technical manuals I had to read while I was in the Navy. I’m not sure who Thomas F. King’s (TFK) audience is, but OUH seems to be pitched to a very small group of people who regularly deal with the Light Green Laws (LGL) he saturates OUH with. I personally believe that the Bright Green Laws (BGL) are much more important and should take fiscal and enforcement priority–if I had the choice between cutting the LGLs or the BGLs in the coming federal budget I could face the demise of the LGLs with a clean conscience. I found it humorous that TFK spends most of the book discussing how ineffective the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historical Preservation Act (NHPA) are, only to suggest ways to correct them–on page 161-2–that would require legislation even more complex and unworkable than the already existing laws. A solution to the problem might lie in allowing more jurisdiction to loocal governments. I know of several local initiatives that have successfully impeded projects the community did not want to happen–Hammer Flats (HF), development of five mile and victory area (DFMVA), satelite towers in the same area (STSA). These might not all be cultural heritage related endeavors (CHRE)–which overall I don’t think are very important–but they do show that people can stand up to developers and businesses.

History is like a box of chocolates…

My reaction to the “They Have Blood on Their Hands” article is mixed. While the author’s assertion that there are racist overtones to the Sons of the Confederacy secession celebrations seems well founded, subjugating the tea party movement under the same banner is overly simplifying a very complex phenomenon. It seems to promulgate the myth of the importance cultural constructions of race, class and gender to people’s actions and political commitments, while ignoring religious and political value systems which may be as, or even more important. The article about the 4th grade textbook seems to illuminate a dilemma historians have yet to deal with adequately. What is the role of truth in history (if truth is a part of history)? Post-modern influenced might reject the assertion that historians can find truth. Even if we can, however, how and why is historical truth important and is this because truth itself has some inherent moral significance or is it due to its pragmatic value in influencing decision making and furthering positive policy outcomes? The pragmatic role of historical truth seems to be most in tune with a democratic society. The third article brings up the important question of whether–and if so, how–public history should be policed. While academic historians have largely pragmatic reason’s for policing themselves, I don’t think this is as prevalent among public historians and institutions. I’m not sure what should or can be done about this. The last article was possibly my favorite due to my own historical interest. The tendency to canonize the founding fathers is far from a recent invention of the tea party. Methodist in the 1840s baptized republicanism and the founders by asserting that the Reformation was the source of American freedom. This was not completely a naive acceptance of America’s political system since the separation of church and state did allow for the phenomenal increase of both the Methodist and Baptist denominations.

The importance of Peer Review

The main thing I came away from this blog with was how important peer review is to academics. Since a large portion of publishing seems connected to career advancement, peer review seems necessary to ensure that the process is as fair as possible. While I’m sure that our peers cannot verify all aspects of our work, including sources and citation, they can still help keep obviously fraudulent material from being published and advancing someone’s academic career. The importance of peer review for public historians is more of a gray area. I don’t know if their are any official mechanism’s to ensure accuracy among public historians or if it is even possible.

As to my response to the blog I can’t say it was very captivating. While I like pirates as much as the next person, I didn’t find reading about someone researching a pirate all that interesting.

Reading Recommendations

Here is one of my favorite blogs: It is edited by two fairly young histories, has numerous contributors, and focuses on American Religious history. It’s quite good at interpreting the religious meanings and significance of current events. One of my favorite threads is called “know your archives” and it provides great information for younger scholars making their first archive visit:

Preserving Boise

The question of whether to preserve any specific structure is an interesting one. Preservation has to be balanced against many factors, such as site usage, cost of preservation/renovation, and its cultural and historical importance. As with some of the Basque sites in the downtown area these factors can vary with time. While many sites which are now on the Basque block might have been historically important, it was not until recently, about the 1980s, that they became culturally important. Their cultural importance–rather than there historical–is what sets these buildings apart. For whatever reason it was not until the 1980s that the Basque community in Boise began to coalesque around a physical area in the city. This began when the old boarding house next to the museum was purchased. It became a rallying point for other Basque cultural institutions-such as the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, Bar Gernica, the Basque community center, and a few other resturants and stores. The success of the Basque cultural preservation (or it might better be termed cultural renovation) has lead to the non-Basque owners of other Basque sites (such as former chapels and boarding houses) to associate their building with the Basque community. The Boise Basque’s are an example of successful grass roots preservation efforts–as opposed to relying on the more formal structures described in our text. They show the importance of not only preserving buildings, but of connecting them with a vibrant culture.

Pertaining to Preservation

While the reading selections for this week were not the most engaging reading, they did provide a nice break from the Lukian style of weeks past. I found parts of the history of preservation fascinating. One thing I especially liked was the was the description of preservation in the antebellum period. The focus on preserving buildings for patriotic purposes was fascinating. I wonder how much the emphasis on preserving sites connected to great men or events in our past can be connected to the veneration of saints and holy places in Europe. While the Catholic church was a minority throughout much of the antebellum their was still a tendency to deify elements of our nations past – especially the founding fathers. The tendency to canonize our nations founders was especially true of George Washington who was often portrayed as a divinely appointed emissary.

The agitation of the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association is a good example of what might be termed an American ‘cult of the saints.’ The founding fathers–and especially Washington–had already been baptized into the narrative of our nations sacred history and mission. The Mt. Vernon Ladies Association–which seems to have been part of the broader evangelical reform movement–took the step of not only canonizing Washington, but of also extending his sainthood to his place of residence.

Discourse and the Humanities-A Social History of Cultural History

Timothy W. Luke’s monographic discourse on museum discourses is itself a useful way of analyzing the reception of cultural theory in the humanities. If a prospective historian was going to write a history of say…the spread of Foucault in academia…what framework would provide the most beneficial and useful interpretation? One could utilize a framework very much like that Luke utilizes in Museum Politics. In order to justify his assertion of the importance of museums he argues that they are central nodes in the narrative/discoursive networks used by states and societies to enculturate populations. Museums and exhibitions are discourses that can be “read” by academics to illuminate their intended–but as the culture wars show, often contested–reality shaping meanings and interpretations.

Unfortunately I don’t think cultural theory provides as good an explanation of the rise of a phenomenon such as cultural history as social theory might. I don’t doubt that the discourses of cultural history and cultural historians are tied to power, but I think the diffusion of cultural theory within certain areas of academia can be profitably anallyzes from a a more materialist perspective. One first might ask why cultural theory experienced most of its acceptance and growth in humanities related disciplines. This might first be done by looking at what the humanities produce. This seems to be primarily teaching and books and articles, in other words they mostly produce discourse and texts. This is opposed to the natural sciences/math/engineering that often produce material artifacts/technologies, or discourses and text that can lead to the successful manipulation of the physical world. In order to justify the not insignificant social resources expended on humanities professors there was a need to elevate the importance of our product. Foucault does this by elevating the importance of discourse and its ability to shape reality. Now instead of acknowlegding that the majority of material published by humanities scholars is related to the tenor system of career advancement (which is connected to increasing ones professional status), it can now also be proclaimed that our discourses shape reality (and thus that what humanities academics do is important).

Please Believe that Museums are Important!!!

I agree with LauriAnn that Luke (what a wonderful name!!) somewhat overstates the case for the importance of museums. Rather than being “venues where many key cultural realities are first defined,” museums seem to reflect cultural realities that have long since been defined and integrated into the dominant forms of power. Instead of being an engine at the forefront of cultural reality definition museums could be better understood as the cultural caboose.

This is seen in both of the controversial exhibits Luke provides as evidence. The revisionist interpretations in both “The West as America,” and the proposed Hiroshima exhibit had long been created and defined by such popular discourses as Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and by social history in our own profession. The reason for the controversy associated with these exhibits was that each side had substantial power behind it-the conservatives so just happened to be running congress at the time of the Hiroshima exhibit.

Luke also appears wide of the mark on the nature of entertainmentality and its relationship to museums. Entertainmentality-which Luke defines as practices that keep us held in some mutually prespecified manners- likely is much different in a democratic and free market society-where institutions must compete for people’s time, votes, or money, than it is described by Luke. The voluntary and competitive nature of American entertainmentality is anything but confinement/containment/occupation. Because of the democratic-in the political sphere-and the competitive-in the economic and temporal spheres-museums have to provide historical narratives and cultural artifacts that reflect the ways patrons want to spend their time, votes, and money. Museums have to be both democratic and competitive to succeed in a politically and economically free society.

On a final note: The usefulness of Foucault needs to be reexamined by academics in the humanities and social sciences. I realize he can help us justify our social value when confronted by the natural sciences-discourse anyone-but otherwise using Foucault seems little more than profoundly self-serving.

Technology is our friend!?!?

Ever evolving technogy holds great promise not only for academic historians, but also for society as a whole. The promise of technology to assist historians in their research and published works has never been greater. The ability of technology to assist historians can be seen into two current public history projects. The first the indomitable Richard White’s “Shaping the West” project which examines how railroads created new spatial patterns and experiences in the American West. This project uses a computer program to represent and manipulate maps and graphs.

Another public history project which utilizes technology is currently being implented by Don Alexander Hawkins. The aim of the project is to digitally recreate the capital at various periods in the 18th century. Ultimately a “video game” will be created that will allow the player to take a stroll through Washington during the 1790s.

While technology is helping historians recreate the past the most interesting developments are occuring in the field of cognitive science. While this may not interest public historians, historians of science may find it interesting. New technology will likely unravel the mysteries of human consciousness during my lifetime. One product of this is that the human mind and human consciencness will be able to be objectively studies. The subjective  realm will be destroyed. One project going a long in doing this is at MIT where researches are mapping the human nervous system. Actually its not so much human scientist that are doing this but a computer program that is being developed. Its not as exciting as mapping railroads or old capitals, but it’s still interesting (and might be more important).

Not only are scientist able to increasingly explain thoughts, emotions, intentions, and mental states, they are also increasingly able to manipulate the mind (by manipulating brain activity). The means to destroy selfishness, and ensure peace and equality are no longer an unrealizable dream, they will be achievable through technological advancement. A description of Rebecca Saxe’s work –who is creating what might be termed a physiological theory of mind–follows: “MIT scientists in Rebecca Saxe’s “Saxelab”—officially the Social Cognitivie Neuroscience Laboratory—already had techniques to identify the source of judgments and intentions in the brain. Now they have the power, via magnetic interference, to alter those ideas. Saxe’s earlier studies show a particular section of the brain is highly active when a person thinks about someone’s intentions, thoughts and beliefs. By disrupting activity there—with a magnetic zap applied through a device attached to the scalp—you can alter the process of judgment. Rather then intuition or personal bias, the judger must now rely more on facts and outcomes.”  (;