Lend CHNM a Hand

I have been happily distracted from this blog for a couple of months, but I’m returning with a quick post to ask your help in supporting the Center for History and New Media. CHNM is celebrating fifteen years of providing high-quality, free educational resources and tools to an audience that grows exponentially each year. Last year, sixteen million people visited CHNM’s websites and over two million people used our software.

Though the products are free, they’re not without cost. With your help we hope to continue our service and innovation for another fifteen years and beyond. The National Endowment for the Humanities has given CHNM a rare challenge grant, which will match donations to CHNM’s endowment for a limited time. To make your tax-deductable donation today, please visit: http://chnm.gmu.edu/donate/

Thanks for your support. I’ll be back blogging with some exciting news very shortly.

Found History's new imagery

I suspect most of you read this blog in syndication via its RSS feed, but those of you who visit the website will have noticed that I changed Found History‘s header imagery last week. As before, and in keeping with Found History‘s origins as a tribute to popular historymaking, the images are taken from a Flickr search on “found + history” for images licensed under Creative Commons licenses.

Here they are (at half size):

main.jpg

Original photo by phill.d

pages.jpg

Original photo by Ozyman

search_results.jpg

Original photo by coyotejack

archive.jpg

Original photo by Niznoz

A Few Small Repairs

Regular readers of Found History may have noticed that I removed the old tag line “unintentional, unconventional, and amateur history all around us” from the blog. When I first envisioned Found History, I thought I’d use it simply as a place to document my interest in and chronicle my chance encounters with non-professional history, mostly as it is done online. Long time readers will know that much of the work here at Found History has focused on things like “best ever” lists, timelines, and science fiction as historical narrative. These everyday engagements with the past are still of tremendous interest and very dear to me.

Over the years, however, I have been using Found History increasingly as a place to discuss some of my other main interests: public history, digital humanities, and my work and that of my colleagues at the Center for History and New Media. Obviously these interests—online history produced by the public, online history produced for the public, digital humanities in general, and CHNM’s self-consciously democratic brand of digital history in particular—are all very closely related and the connections between them are fascinating. I believe removing the old tag line will release me to explore each of these interests and the connections between them more freely and fully. Indeed, readers of Found History should see little change in the content of the site. But I thought it was time to formally recognize the ways in which Found History has grown over the years.

So today I renew my commitment to Found History with a new mission statement:

Found History explores public and digital history in all its forms. It pays special mind to the myriad ways non-professionals do history, sometimes without even knowing it. By taking seriously the work of amateurs and professionals alike, as well as new trends in digital history and digital humanities, Found History aims to foster a broader understanding of what history is and who should be called an historian.

I can’t say how grateful I am for the support of my readers. It has been a great ride, and I hope you’ll stay for the next leg of the journey. Thanks.

— Tom Scheinfeldt

WordPress Ho!

I finally took the plunge and switched from MovableType to WordPress. So far, I’m very happy. I had a few hiccups with with the .htaccess file, I had to manually carry over and re-upload some of my images, and the theme still needs some work, but otherwise I’m really surprised by how easy the whole process was. Everything should be working fine, but subscribers may want to refresh the Found History feed in their news readers just to be safe. Onward!

Back in the Saddle

It’s been nearly a month since my last post—the result of some project deadlines and a monster NEH proposal—but in that time I nevertheless managed to turn up a few hidden histories. Now I should finally have some time to write about them. Check back here in the next couple days for a few fresh nuggets of found history.

www.foundhistory.org

With help from Ammon, I have finally managed to give Found History the respectable URL it deserves, replacing the ponderous http://chnm.gmu.edu/staff/scheinfeldt/foundhistory/ with the elegant www.foundhistory.org

Please update your bookmarks, links, and news readers.

Lost … and found

Yikes. I can’t believe it’s been more than two months since my last post. I clearly haven’t mastered this blogging thing. I’m working on a couple things now, however, and I’ll try to do a better job of keeping on top of this in the future.

Finding History

With the launch of CHNM blogs this week, I thought I’d better get in the game.

In fact, I have been thinking about this site for quite a while. Since at least my undergradute days, I’ve been interested not only in history and historiography, but more specifically in the kinds of history done by non-professionals outside the university, the museum, or the publishing house. My undergraduate senior thesis, which examined heroic narratives of geology’s early history among scientists, was the first organized expression of this interest. This spark caught fire in my first job out of college, where my work with the Colorado Historical Society consisted mostly of traveling to small towns pegged for inclusion in the State’s historical marker program and working with community groups to write narratives that were both historically sound and acceptable to local sensitivities. (I often say that getting an American Legion Hall full of ranchers, farmers, indians, ski bumbs, and hippies in Craig, La Vita, or Ault, Colorado to agree on a single interpretation of environmental, military, or agricultural history is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.) After Colorado, I took my expanding enthusiasm for the processes of amateur, community, and other kinds of non-professional history to Oxford, where my dissertation examined the pratice of science history during the 1920s and 30s in the university, the museum, the industrial exhibition and World’s Fair, and other popular contexts. And though that paper spent a lot of pages on academic historians of science and science museum professionals, what fascinated me most were the kinds of historical processes, narratives, and uses devised by scientists, engineers, businessmen, politicians, enthusiasts, and members of the general public.

Now at CHNM, I’m constantly bumping up against this kind of non-professional history. Indeed, our own work in digital history is considered by many of our colleagues to be unconventional in its own right. But even more exciting to me than the particular digital work we do is the opportunity this work gives me to interact with a whole range of non-academic, non-professional, and amateur historians. The uniquely public nature of web work demands contact with new and unintended audiences, and the increasing interactivity of digital history means increased paricipation by those audiences in making historical knowledge. Probably the best example of this at CHNM is the September 11 Digital Archive, where tens of thousands of people have come to share their personal histoires and interpretations of 9/11. (Some examples of popular historymaking from the 9/11 collection will appear in a future post.) CHNM’s latest project, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, promises more of the same. Finally, I should also say that CHNM is run by the guy who literally wrote the book on popular engagement with history, so these sensibilities are really simply in the air.

To get to the point, I’m starting Found History as a place to log my encounters with this other history, to chronicle the myriad ways and places non-professionals do history — sometimes without even knowing it. Most of my posts will be textual or visual snapshots from TV, the web, and the world around me: those often unintentional forays into history by non-historians. A smaller number of posts will share my own thoughts on popular historical participation and practice. My ultimate aim is to foster a broader understanding of what history is and who should be called a historian. Over the past couple of decades, we professionals have come to realize that we don’t do history only for ourselves. It’s now about time we came to realize that we’re not the only ones who do it.