Interesting Sites to Explore…

Most of the history websites that I think are fun and worth looking at have it do with historic houses and museums. One site that I really like is one that’s a bit different than other museum websites because it incorporates a lot of the different fields that are important in museums. The Getty has links to their museum, research institute and their conservation institution. All of those areas are vital for museums, and The Getty does a great job of making them accessible to the public.

I also like Ben Franklin’s Interactive Timeline. I think for things like time lines, that can be really boring, this is a good example of how to make one more interesting. I had fun scrolling though and exploring different aspects of his life, and liked the little clips that were available to play. Things like this are great because so often, in this field, it can be easy to fall into telling just one linear timeline-story.

The last link isn’t really a reading… ok, so it isn’t a reading at all, but I still think it is worth looking at  :)  Strike it Rich! is kind of like Oregon Trail, in that you chose a historic character and try to win the game by, well, striking it rich. I’m putting this in for a couple reasons. First, because it’s kind of fun. Second, I love that public history websites can be games and still educational. People seem to forget that the public gets a lot of it’s knowledge about historic events because of entertainment (I know someone who thinks they know all about World War Two because of Call of Duty… really.).

Anyway.. links for your learning enjoyment!

After some thought…

I grow ever more annoyed with Timothy Luke’s chapter on botanical gardens. I had originally written a post about his treatment of the Holocaust museums, but I decided (after our class discussion) that his thoughts about the gardens particularly bothered me. He argues that “they are historically variable constructs that serve the cultural needs of variously evolving museum institutions and their audiences.” (p.126) This I agree with. Botanical Gardens are variable depending on when they were established and how they were curated over time, and they do serve cultural needs. Where I start to have one of those “eyebrow raising” moments comes when he starts going into the first/second nature arguments, and says “a spectatular image image of nature is fabricated,” and “rare plants can be cast as…an always abundant nature in artifice.” (127)

My problems with these statements come from the fact that it seems that Luke is leaving out something quite important to any cultural institution– the Mission Statement. Any institution with a mission statement is going to be working within it (if it isn’t, there’s other issues that need to be addressed.). He seems to believe that if someone wants to see nature, they should just go into the thick of things and see real nature. That, however, isn’t the mission of these gardens. Some places have a mission that only includes local flora. Other places, like so many Japanese gardens, is to promote well-being and ethnic understanding.

Luke seems to only present one side of the story when it comes to these locations. He doesn’t take into account that the whole goal of many of these cultural places is to transport someone to a different place and/or time, which would be impossible to do without the proper tools. While he seems to enjoy looking at museums, he is severely limited by his exclusion of evidence that doesn’t seem to fit into his highly critical and political scope.

Walking one fine wire…

Timothy Luke has a unique and interesting perspective when it comes to museums. While some of the debates he presented  have been familiar to me, other arguments about the underlaying political agenda of museums have been really thought-provoking. I think Luke does a good job of exploring the ideas behind controvercial exhibits and proving his argument with them, but he seems to forget that the vast majority of musems around the country are small or mid-size museums that rarely have these heated debates reagarding exhibit content. I don’t know if this weakens his thesis, but it does seem to show an area that he could have at least tried to explore. More than anything, it makes the constant tight-rope walk of exhibit curation seem a little more daunting.

The chapters about “The Crossroads” exhibit and those at the National Museum of American Art and The Autry Museum were particularly interesting to me. All three exhibits that are discussed are ones that are very well known in the museum world. Just saying the words “Enola Gay Exhibit”  to a curator will often get a reaction. I think because of a few things: first, it was a well researched exhibit depicting history that’s important to our culture. Second, the lesson curators wanted people to walk away with (the consequences of dropping the bombs, how that related to the Cold War and its relevancy to life in 1995) was a good one. Third, museums have to be as objective as possible, and choosing words like “vengeance” when it comes to war doesn’t show impartiality. While I think everyone understands the gravity of dropping the bombs, I also know that people don’t want to be made into the bad guy when they thought they were being heros. It all goes back to the balancing act that museums have to perform everytime a new exhibit comes along.

I say this with complete awareness of my bias–  I’m a little sad to read that, because of Luke’s arguments, people are now questioning the objectivity of museums. This is the theme I keep coming back to I guess– there is a very fine line that museums have to find, balancing between visitor appeal and historical accuarcy. We always have to ask ourselves “How do I make this relevant? How can I say what needs to be said in just a few lines of text? What artifact will reflect this topic?” I can confidently say that it would be impossible to have an exhibit that everyone was happy with. Despite all of that, I don’t know a single professional that would purposely make an exhibit that was completly bias or one-sided. No exhibit is perfect or can show every aspect in a complete way, which is one of the hurdles museums have to overcome.

Vaudeville = Fabulous Public History

Collection homepage for "American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920"
I stumbled across this website about 6 months ago when I was looking for information on the history of the entertainment industry. I find myself going back to it every now and then and just wandering around, there are so many great media pieces to stumble upon. The Library of Congress (LoC) created what is now their “American Memory” collection in the early 1990’s (1990-1994 as they experimented with digitizing their collections). It involves sound recording, prints, scripts, photos and moving images– what they call “the nations memory.” This collection is huge, over 9 million individual pieces kind of huge. For this project, I specifically looked at “American Variety and Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920.”
Harry Houdini to the left of Theodore Roosevelt.

As someone who believes that the evolution of entertainment and show business mirrors the evolution of American culture and values, this project was made for me. Although I’d like to think the LoC had the foresight and desire to spend all that time for just me, I’m sure their intended audience was much broader. They wanted to make these resources available to the American public, and anyone who was interested in the subject- both scholars and the layperson alike. I think accessibility is a direct result of their learning objectives: open the door for a better understanding of the history of show business and show how entertainment during this period tried to deal with hot topics (race, gender, ethnic stereotypes). Secondarily, it puts history in the users hands (or at their mouse) and to shows what American society one did during their leisure time.

Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley in the Oval Office.

I enjoy this collection not only because of the subject matter, but because you can listen to .wav clips of some really fun old recordings. They highlight a handful of recordings from Vaudeville-era performers demonstrating comedy routines, music and poetry readings in styles that were popular at the time. For anyone who is interested in cultural history of Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties will easily find a way to amuse themselves with this particular collection. I found this photograph of Houdini and Teddy Roosevelt together and couldn’t help but also think of the Nixon/Elvis picture taken decades later. Rock stars of their given generations! Losing yourself in rabbit holes is about the extent of the interaction of this particular site, though. There wasn’t much public feedback into the design that I could tell, but there are links to show how to use the collection, ask questions, etc., so it seems like the LoC welcomes interaction in that way.

This is a public history project that, with some scaling, could really highlight aspects of Idaho history. Digitizing collections is a time consuming process, but the end result is a product that the public can use in quite a few different ways. While it isn’t as sexy as some other public history projects out there, it is a project that’s easy to maneuver. If I was to use this as a template, I would be sure to add a little more interpretation. There are essays that, if they are read, are full of good information, but I would guess most people wouldn’t be interested in reading that much. Paragraphs that give a good explanation  for those who want something short, while fostering interest and telling where to find more information if they are interested would be much more useful.  What I like most about this site is that it presents history as more than a timeline or regurgitated facts. The collection can offer a new way to think about what was going on in society at a certian time and act as a completly different kind of primary source. 

Sources:

“American Memory” from the Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html

“American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920,” http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html

Photograph of Theordore Roosevelt and Harry Houdini, Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?varstg:98:./temp/~ammem_g6xk::

Photograph of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley, National Archives, http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2004/winter/images/nixon-elvis.jpg

Landscape as a historic document

The things that struck me most about the readings for this week was the idea of landscape as a historic document. As I went through the other chapters, I found myself going back to this idea and wondering how “our” landscape would be read a few decades from now. Would graduate students from a “Intro to Thirdspace Studies” be wandering around, looking at what was left, constructed and preserved from the 20-teens? The Boise metro area, as it is now, has such as strange variety of landscapes/thirdscapes. Parts of the city strive to stay sheltered in their track-home, built-to-suit suburbia. Ranches, pastures, farms and fields seem to be in the most random places- acting as a reminder that Boise wasn’t built on microchips and french-fry empires. I hope that those places, from farms to mansions, will remain in place, giving something for students of landscape history something interesting to study. Maybe it would be just as revealing, though, if these spaces were gone in 60 years. Richard Schein discusses racialized landscapes, and says they “can be seen here as a kind of autobiography, in that each captures social or cultural norms, values, and fears.” (p.217) I don’t think this only applies to the racial boundaries within a city. Things that we find important enough to keep, or suitable to go away, says just as much about who we are.

If there are students looking at Boise a generation or three down the road, I think they will have their work cut out for them. Our landscape is a confusing, but telling document about who we once were and what we hope to be.

The long and winding road

Like others have mentioned, many of these readings have brought a flood of road trip memories from childhood back to the forefront of my mind. I remember long rides in the hot car through the desert on the way to southern California to visit my Grandparents. For much of the way, we would drive on what used to be the iconic Route 66. My Dad would tell us why the road was important– how during the Depression people used it to escape the Dust Bowl, how it provided economic opportunities, all things that my siblings and I couldn’t have cared less about at the time. But the road is a theme that we encounter all the time, in movies (Rebel Without a Cause, Forrest Gump, Thelma and Louise), lyrics (country songs are full of them) and literature. Usually they are a symbol of freedom and possibilities.

In chapter 5, I was introduced to “odology,” a term I have never heard before. Although my inner-roadtripping child can’t believe I’m saying this, linking the study of roads and what they mean for American culture is an intriguing topic. Davis, on page 65, says these roads “would reveal that, despite its reputation…the strip was a vibrant social and economic space that fulfilled important civic functions.” I think approaching the study of the landscape from any of the four approaches discussed in chapter eleven would open up a door to understanding the automobile culture, and American culture as a whole. It ties into our everyday lives, entertainment, economy… Our love affair with the open road is an aspect of history that I certainly haven’t thought about, but is clearly a worthwhile subject.

My dad would be proud.