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.
Lots of bloggers are posting histories of Halloween today. Here’s a small sample, ranging from the Christian to the Socialist, from the synthetic to the sarcastic:
Late Update (Halloween Bonus): It’s not a history of the holiday so it doesn’t fit with the other links, but Syd Lexia’s history of McDonald’s Halloween “Happy Pails” is too good to pass up.
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.
When 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.