I just had an interesting meeting with Marshall Poe, historian, author, and founder of MemoryWiki, a MediaWiki-powered site that allows visitors to store personal memories. Last week, I had lunch with Sarah McCue, who launched The Remembering Site to help people record their family histories. MemoryWiki and The Remembering Site represent two different approaches to popular historical documentation, the former concentrating on particular events as the primary units of memory, the latter on whole biographies. But both sites are dedicated to fostering the kind of non-professional historical production to which Found History is dedicated. Good luck to Sarah and Marshall!
Just like VH1 and MTV, The Weather Channel has padded its schedule with history. Filling the gaps between this week’s flood, last week’s blizzard, and the tornado two weeks from now, Storm Stories is one of the Weather Channel’s only non-news programs:
Storm Stories focuses on the inspiring experiences of ordinary people who are placed in extraordinary circumstances due to the weather. Storm Stories features diverse programming ranging from a historical look at a typhoon that battered the Navy during WWII; to a Mid-Western family struggling to survive a tornado; to a group of snow rescuers falling victim to a deadly mountain avalanche.
The Weather Channel, presenting narrative accounts of past weather events, every night at 8 p.m.
I noticed this billboard on I-84 in Danbury, CT on my way back from Christmas in Massachusetts. Since then, I’ve been kicking myself that I didn’t stop to get a picture for Found History. But now I’m glad I didn’t. As I learned in my online search for the billboard, it turns out to be sponsored by something called The Foundation for a Better Life. Here’s how they describe their operation:
The mission of The Foundation for a Better Life, through various media efforts, is to encourage adherence to a set of quality values through personal accountability and by raising the level of expectations of performance of all individuals regardless of religion or race. Through these efforts, the Foundation wants to remind individuals they are accountable and empowered with the ability to take responsibility for their lives and to promote a set of values that sees them through their failures and capitalizes on their successes. An individual who takes responsibility for his or her actions will take care of his or her family, job, community, and country.
You can draw your own conclusions.
In any case, it looks like they’ve spent an awful lot of money on billboards and TV ads in which not just Lincoln, but a host of prominent historical figures, are used to embody certain selected (family?) values. Thus, Lincoln is “persistence”, Edison is “optimism”, Ghandi is “soul”, and Churchill is “commitment”. Obviously there are serious problems with this kind of historical argument, first and foremost the attempt to write biograpy in a single word. There’s also the choice of subjects, the choice of values, and the parings between the two. Still, I think the billboards do a pretty good job of tapping into popular notions of historical biography and are probably worth paying attention to … if only to know what we’re up against in our pursuit of the popular historical imagination.