A Pound of History

Starbucks

Does a pound of history amount to a hill of beans? Starbucks seems to think so. It’s pushing the history angle pretty hard in its 40th anniversary marketing campaign.

Briefly Noted: FOSS Culture; Digital Humanities Calendar; Guardian API; WWW Turns 20

GNOME Foundation executive director Stormy Peters has some advice on bridging the gap between institutional and open source cultures. Useful reading for digital humanities centers and cultural heritage institutions looking to participate in open source software development.

Amanda French has posted a much-needed open calendar of upcoming events in Digital Humanities, Archives, Libraries, and Museums.

The Guardian newspaper unveils an open API to more than 1,000,000 articles written since 1999.

20 years ago today: Tim Berners-Lee produced his first written description of the Web.

Honest Abe

Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library explores our ongoing fascination with Abraham Lincoln with 21st Century Abe. Launching officially on Lincoln’s bicentennial on February 12, 2009, the site will present reflections on Lincoln’s legacy by leading scholars and artists. More interesting is that between now and February, the project’s curators will also be using Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, a blog and other digital tools to collect public impressions of Lincoln in text, images, audio, and video. These popular impressions will sit alongside those of the scholars and artists on the website to present a fuller and ultimately more honest picture of what Lincoln really means to Americans two hundred years after his birth.

Years Ago

I have a confession to make. I actually subscribe to very few of the amateur history blogs I mention here on Found History. 10 Years Ago looks like an exception. According to it’s German author, “Every day a historic event will be posted which happened on the same day but years ago. The illustrations will all be done in a Moleskine 2008 Daily Planner.” Yesterday’s entry commemorates the 1964 opening of Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip with this image:

Whisky a Go Go

Today the blog remembers the 1966 debut of the television show Batman:

Batman

Very cool.

(Thanks Jerm.)

Happy Birthday "Blog"

Yesterday was supposedly the tenth anniversary of the coining of the word “blog.” These kinds of anniversaries (of terms, practices, social phenomena) make for very easy newspaper copy and very bad history. It’s obviously impossible to date the first time a word was spoken.

But to the extent that these bogus birthdays get history into the papers, I think they’re probably OK. Newspapers and magazines cover events not movements or conventions, and these artificial anniversaries serve to turn complex stories of (often gradual) change over time into something more clearly newsworthy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as writers use the anniversaries as hooks to draw their editors and readers into a larger narrative and don’t claim too much for the events themselves. Most of the time, I think they do a good job. Once you get past the headlines, you can find a lot of decent history in these happy birthday cards.

After 10 Years of Blogs, the Future’s Brighter Than Ever.

Tops of 2006

Yesterday Sharon inadvertently reminded me that we’re coming up on Found History‘s first anniversary by sending me a link to this list of the top five movie posters of 2006. Not only is the link a good fit for the Tops of All Time series (see also All Time On-Screen Hackers and More Movie Mosts), but it also harkens back to my very first piece of found history: a snap of the “Best of 2005” lists at the supermarket check out.

I commented at the time that New Year’s is an especially potent time for popular historymaking, a time for taking measure of things past and looking forward to things future. Well, here we are approaching the New Year again, and I’m taking measure myself. Many thanks to Sharon for the spark, and a very happy birthday to Found History. It’s been fun.

The Big Foot Riders of Wounded Knee

Rocketboom had a piece this week on the Big Foot Riders of Wounded Knee. For the past 19 years, a group of Lakota men have completed a ceremonial ride along the path Chief Big Foot followed from Bull Head, North Dakota to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where some 200 men, women, and children were killed in the last armed engagement between the U.S. Cavalry and the Lakota Sioux in December 1890. Each winter the event draws dozens of new riders and hundreds of new spectators far into to the Dakota Badlands. Correspondent Mitt Lee closes his piece with a question, which host Amanda Congdon invites Rocketboom visitors to answer:

This event is like so many things in Indian country. Different people coming together—Indians, folks who want to touch Indians, young people who love the idea of it all, the foreign press—all of these people coming together. It’s cold, there’s not enough money, and they come anyway. Longing for what? For spirituality? For connection? For what?

This question—why ordinary people do history—is the foundational problem of Found History. And if I hear Lee and Congdon correctly, Rocketboom and Found History agree that this question will only be answered by throwing it back to those people themselves, by taking stock of the many ways they do history and listening to their reasons why.

Lots of answers are provided by the Rocketboom visitors who answered Congdon’s invitation. Here are just a few of the more than 100 responses received:
Continue reading “The Big Foot Riders of Wounded Knee”

Google, Miro, and Commemoration

I’m sure many of you noticed the recent controversy over Google’s use of Spanish surrealist Joan Miro’s work in a logo commemorating the 113th anniversary of the artist’s birth. Intended by Google as a “tribute” to Miro’s “extraordinary contribution,” the artist’s family and their representatives at the The Artists Rights Society nevertheless cried foul and demanded Google remove the logo. Without admitting any copyright violation, Google complied with the family’s request.

A lot has been made of the implications of this brouhaha for artistic freedom. But I’m worried about the implications for popular history-making. Commemoration is one of the most common and important ways the non-professional public produces and understands history. This is especially true among the business community, which should not be undervalued as a producer and disseminator of historical information. The “anniversary edition” and the “birthday sale” are among the most widespread and most visible forms of historical expression in contemporary culture.

Miro was not the first person Google chose to commemorate with a special logo. These commemorative logos bring a little bit of history to literally millions and millions of people in a single day, many more than professional historians can ever hope to reach. Next time it wants to honor someone from the past, will Google remember the Miro incident and pass? That would be a grievous instance of found history lost.

History and the New Year

checkout.jpgWhen I launched Found History over the weekend, I didn’t fully appreciate the timing. It only occurred to me yesterday in the supermarket that late-December is a great time to start collecting examples of non-professional history. For the next two weeks or so, we will be bombarded by year-end retrospectives, “Best of 2005” lists, “Top 10” countdowns, and the like. Considering that the Romans named next month after Janus, their god of change, this kind of mid-winter popular retrospection probably isn’t a new phenomenon. Maybe the winter solstice, which happens later today, naturally puts us in a historical frame of mind. Whatever the reason, I think I’ll be busy for the next two weeks taking snaps like this one.