"Gone Too Soon"

More from the grocery check-out. I suppose I understand the pairing of John-John and Diana. But John Lennon and John Ritter?


Celebration of Roy

Readers of Found History and friends of CHNM will want to know that a celebration of Roy Rosenzweig’s life will be held at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia on December 9, 2007. Please see the attached invitation for details. Directions to Mason’s Arlington campus can be found online. Additional information, along with a memory bank of photos and stories of Roy can be found at thanksroy.org.



A Matter of Trust

I originally posted this at thanksroy.org, the digital memory bank we set up in Roy’s honor. I’m cross posting it here because I think it speaks to what makes a good public historian and what made Roy the very best.

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Of all the amazing qualities Roy possessed — intelligence, generosity, creativity, industry, wit, and so many more — the one that always stood out for me was trust. Roy trusted in history. He trusted in hard work. He trusted in fairness. Most of all, he trusted in people.

Roy was a collaborator. He was brilliant on his own, but I think he was happiest and at his best when he was working with other people. And people flocked to him.

I think Roy was able to gather so many friends and colleagues around him because he trusted them, often without prior cause and always without prejudice, and so people trusted him back. Roy showed us that the way to gain trust is to give trust, which is the same thing as saying that the way to be loved is to love. It’s the best work lesson and the best life lesson I have ever learned, and Roy was the best teacher.

I trust and love and miss him very much.

Yahoo! Time Capsule

This is huge, or potentially so. Yahoo! has launched what they are calling an “electronic anthropology project”—a digital time capsule of images, stories, video, audio, and artwork, all submitted by Yahoo! users. As of this posting, the project has collected more than 4000 objects from nearly 3000 people in just over a day. When the capsule closes on November 8th, the collection will be transfered for long term preservation with the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings project. Until then you can explore it through a very cool Flash interface. By any measure this a very welcome expansion of the practice of online collecting … even if Yahoo!’s claim that “this is the first time that digital data will be gathered and preserved for historical purposes” is patently and outrageously false.

One Day in History

The English History Matters (not to be confused with the U.S. History Matters—CHNM’s own “U.S. Survey Course on the Web”) is encouraging all England and Wales to submit entries to a “mass blog” on October 17 as part of their One Day in History drive. Organizers say they picked October 17—an “ordinary day”—because they are looking to record the “mundane and ordinary lives of citizens.” They are also asking participants explicitly to reflect on “how history itself impacted on them—whether it be simply commuting through an historic environment, or how business history influenced their decision-making, or merely that they looked up some old sports statistics or listened to some pop music from the 1960s.” Entries will be archived with the British Library, the National Trust, and other agencies. The group, a heritage advocacy organization, also encourages regular public contributions of photographs and stories to its website through it’s Share Your Thoughts section.

Late Update (10/13/06): “One Day in History” is now open for contributions in advance of the main event.

Late Late Update (10/18/06): “One Day in History” looks like a success. As of this writing, more than 500 people have contributed to site. Based my own experience with online collecting, I’d say that’s a more than satisfactory day’s work.

Haul This

Last night Jeremy mentioned an article from Slate about GM’s use of images of Rosa Parks and other historic persons and events to sell Chevy trucks. Here’s another article from the New York Times. Commentary on the ad—which also features images of Joe Louis, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, the World Trade Center site, and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—is roundly negative. The ad may well be in bad taste, but I was interested to read that the Parks Institute (an organization established by Rosa Parks herself) is in on the act, reminding us again that the politics of memory is a complicated business.

Building Histories

I wanted to post this before a new issue came out, but alas I didn’t make it in time. In case you missed it, the May 21st New York Times Magazine featured a series of articles on the question of why contemporary architecture, above all other art forms, inspires popular cultural debates. The editors’ brief introduction suggests a tie to history. “Buildings aren’t always set in stone,” they write, “Over the following pages, four illustrations document places with more than one past.” (The New York Times Magazine, 21 May 2006, p. 67) In other words, according to The Times, arguments over architecture are really arguments over history.

One article in the four-part series makes a particularly good case for the truth of this equation. In his piece Expanding on Jefferson, Washington College professor Adam Goodheart shows how decades-long disagreements over plans to build a new “South Lawn” at the University of Virginia are grounded in deeper debates about the role the past plays or should play in present-day life. He shows how campus architecture has motivated questions about appropriate modes commemoration and homage—in this case for Thomas Jefferson, founder of UVa and architect of the original Lawn. Ultimately, in Goodheart’s analysis, the debate comes down to a historiographical or historiotectural (my term) question: interpretation or imitation?

On one side is the faculty of UVa’s Architecture School, who have consitently argued for interpretation. As Professor Ed Ford says:

It’s like the pantheon, or Amiens cathedral, or the Kimbell museum—it’s not something you can replicate. If you build a copy of it next door, that will diminish the experience of the Lawn, not enhance it. (The New York Times Magazine, 21 May 2006, p. 84)

On the other side are partisans of immitation, including many prominent alumni, with some persuasive arguements of their own:

Whenever we represent the university on a postcard, we show the Lawn. That’s us—and that’s Classical. (Don Pippin, The New York Times Magazine, 21 May 2006, p. 84)

Quotes like this demonstrate how firmly the past is present in UVa’s architectural debates, how deeply it’s bound up with questions of identity. At the same time, Goodheart shows that these aren’t merely local questions. They extend beyond the university and the immediate players both in space and time. On the one hand, Goodheart points a full-page ad placed in the campus newspaper by external supporters of the traditionalist camp (including a representative of Prince Charles’s Foundation for the Built Environment). On the other hand, he points to an old issue of Architectural Forum, which even in 1934 observed:

The shade of Jefferson broods over Charlottesville. Misunderstood, embalmed by little minds in static thought, the revolutionist must turn forever in an angry grave. The grandeur of his University looks down at sycophants who ape his cornices at puny scale, forget his sense of space, and strive forever to repeat the form without the soul. (The New York Times Magazine, 21 May 2006, p. 85)

The built environment, and arguments about it, are thus important places for the popular construction of historical narrative and identity. At UVa and elsewhere, the physical persistence and lasting employment of architecture make the art form a uniquely powerful focus for popular grappling with the past. Of course, this will not come as any great insight to architectural historians or historic preservationists, and nor is it anything really new to me. But being primarily a textual historian and working in this text-based, virtual medium of the blog, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the bricks, mortar, and concrete of buildings. Clearly the public does not make the same oversight in constructing its own historical identities. Found History shouldn’t either.

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”

MemoryWiki and The Remembering Site

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!