300

Because it’s neither unintentional nor unconventional nor amateur, this may not belong here on Found History. But the new movie 300 is definitely historical, and it has managed to capture the fancy of widespread segments of the public, including movie critics, gamers, and many of my History 100 students. Very loosely based on Herodotus, 300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae and the three hundred Spartans who stood against the invading Persian armies of Xerxes. Its combination of ancient history, video game visuals, and ultra violence appears to be extremely appealing: in slightly different proportions, HBO’s popular series Rome shares the same three traits.

It seems to me that digital historians are well poised to capitalize on these new trends. Well, maybe not the violence, but we should be able to figure out something to do with the ancient history and gamer graphics.

Have a look for yourself

Late Update (3/20/07): Neal Stephenson, author of Snowcrash and the incomparable Baroque Cycle, has a great op-ed about 300 and the politics of sci-fi and historical fiction in this Sunday’s New York Times. Thanks to Roy for the tip.

Hot for Teacher

Because I completely fell off the wagon towards the end of the year, I’m going to extend the Tops of All Time series for another month. All told, I didn’t do too badly—fourteen posts in just this category in just under fifty days—but this time I’m really going to try to post something every day.

Today and tomorrow we return to the field of cinema, which I’m quickly realizing is a gold mine for “best ever” history. Today it’s The 10 Best Teachers in Movie History from filmcritic.com. What will it be tomorrow?

Bonus—guilty pleasure

Top of the Pops

I can’t tell who’s in charge of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, but he or she is definitely dedicated. Since late October, a blogger named “Xadai” has been counting down his or her favorite music videos, beginning with one of my personal favorites, #500, Boston’s “More Than A Feeling.” Each song gets its own post, which includes original historical commentary and a YouTube embed. As of this afternoon Xadai is down to #401, which at this rate means we should see #1 sometime in early spring.

Colonial Williamsburg on SNL

Saturday Night Live had a funny sketch this weekend exposing the anachronisms inherent in living history museums and exploring how family- and employee-friendly public history venues like Colonial Williamsburg struggle with historical realities (e.g. slavery) that aren’t so family-friendly. As of this posting the video is still available from NBC, but I can’t promise it will be there for long. I’ll try to keep an eye on YouTube and if it turns up there I’ll post an update.

Late Update (10/31/06): It looks like NBC removed the Williamsburg video from its site, and I can’t seem to find it on YouTube or Google Video. For now, we’ll have to live with SNL’s summary.

Collecting Computer History

Together with colleagues at CHNM, I have been working for several years now on ways to elaborate and extend the practice of online collecting, especially in the areas of history of science, technology, and industry. Some of the results of that work can be found at CHNM’s Echo: Exploring and Collecting History Online website, where our own efforts and many others are catalogued in the Collecting Center. There are lots of great projects listed in the Collecting Center, but most (if not all) of them are institutional or professional efforts of one kind or another. Two sites I recently stumbled upon make me think that we need to do a better job of including amateur efforts as well.

The first is Pastelero, which isn’t really a collecting site at all, but rather the personal blog of a Brazilian student, who in one post has put together a great collection of 25 years of television commercials for personal computers. Because it’s not soliciting submissions from the public, Pastelero doesn’t really qualify as a collecting site under the definition we’re using for Echo. But it’s close, and I think if we could encourage casual collectors like Pasterlero to open their sites up to include public submissions, we might have more success in achieving our aim of extending the practice of online collecting.

The second is the evolt.org Browser Archive, which more clearly qualifies under Echo’s criteria as an online collecting site. The Browser Archive is a truly amazing collection, which catalogues and provides free downloads of literally hundreds of more or less obsolete web browsers. (Take a look. No matter how geeky you think you are, I’m sure there are some you haven’t even heard of, much less used.) According to its founder, web developer Adrian Roselli, the Browser Archive started simply as an internal resource for his company’s usability testing work. Along the way, however, it “took on a life of its own” and was released as a public archive. It now encourages browser contributions from the general public, and from what I saw in the “Recent Changes” section, the public is responding.

The Browser Archive may not have started as a historical effort, but it now stands to become a real resource for computer historians. In that respect it shares a development trajectory with some of our greatest museum collections, many of which started without anything like history in mind. This amateur and unintentional aspect to historic preservation is a fact that we at Echo would do well to remember as we work to support online collecting in the history of science, technology, and industry.

Late update (10/18/06): It looks like PC World has tried to steal some of Pastelero’s fire with it’s own compendium of old computer ads.

(Very Nearly) Fighting Over History in the Ohio Senate

Despite media claims, polling data, and bureaucratic number crunching to the contrary, one of the main contentions of Found History is that people care deeply about history—sometimes to the point of fighting about it. For evidence of this you don’t need to go to Kashmir or Kurdistan or some other far off province where wars fester over real and perceived historical rights and wrongs. Look no further than the Ohio State Senate, where a recent debate over a bill to designate September 22nd “Emancipation Day” caused a real ruckus.

As first reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the debate turned heated after Dayton Republican Jeff Jacobson took issue with Columbus Democrat Ray Miller’s characterization of Abraham Lincoln’s ideas on emancipation. Miller shot back with charges of “revisionism” and was asked to desist in his remarks by Senate President Bill Harris (R-Ashland). Miller refused, Jacobson protested, and Harris quickly ordered a recess and abruptly turned off the chamber’s cameras—even as the senators continued their argument. Democrats later criticized this tactic as “baloney.” Harris said he was simply trying to maintain control. The real question is control of what: the Ohio Senate or American history?

Watch the tape and decide for yourself. (The good stuff starts at about 25:00)

Adults Only

Digg is running a story called “The best way to learn American history.” As a piece of amateur historical work, the link has a place on Found History. However this posting should in no way be construed as an endorsement, and I’m not going to say anything more except surf at your own risk.