Mining the Public?

Mining the Public

I have an academic crush and his name is Fred Wilson.

Everyone in the public history world knows Fred Wilson and if you don’t yet you will. Fred Wilson is a conceptual artist who is known for his challenge to traditional presentations of art and artifacts. In the public history world he is most notably known for his exhibit for Maryland Historical Society titled “Mining the Museum” in which artifacts like a gorgeous European silver tea set was juxtaposed to slave shackles. The kind of thing he does unsettles and is amazing! He dug deep (“mined”) the museum’s collection to say something new and valuable. I am most inspired by him and that is where I get my blog title “Mining the Public”. For me, mining the public is my public history philosophy which essentially is the belief that the general “public” has incredible complexity and wealth of historical knowledge…

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Skynet down at Jewel-Osco: The Grocer’s Progress

Illinois-based supermarket chain Jewel-Osco has announced that it will begin eliminating self-checkout lanes at a select number of their stores and plans to cut more in the future. They claim the major reasons for the shift are theft and customer satisfaction. The devices include glitchy/insulting weight sensors that prevent customers from bagging items that have not been scanned. In my limited experience with them (full disclosure: I am a conscientious objector Luddite) these marvels of labor-saving technology counter-intuitively require a living employee to approve and complete my transactions. Seemingly, the mere act of scanning and bagging groceries triggers these machines to suspect my character and withhold services until human reinforcements arrive. Inevitably, I turn indignant and fantasize about slamming a 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes through the screen and inciting other patrons to do likewise. Minutes later, an exasperated employee arrives, allowing me to complete my purchase without actually searching any of my bags, but not before my daydream has escalated to a Terminator-esque war against Skynet.

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Digital Exhibits: A Roundtable

As museums and historical institutions have increased their web presence, so too have we seen the rise of the digital exhibit. For public history graduate students, it’s almost impossible to escape a program without designing one of your own. Below, several past and current students of the Public History Program at Loyola University Chicago unpack the good and the bad of digital exhibits while adding some constructive suggestions along the way.

LFH Post

It is obvious that entering a digital exhibit is different from crossing the threshold of a physical exhibit space. What makes this difference important to us as public historians is how people react to what is being presented. In contrast to entering a designed physical space, the “threshold” one crosses when entering a digital exhibit on a computer screen has the same sensory experience as buying books or looking up pictures of cats. It is just another “click” in a long line of “clicks.”

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Is That a Podcast in Your Pocket?

This post is 1. a long time coming, 2. was inspired by Annie Cullen’s Public History Mix Tape and 3. was secondarily inspired by my own desire to create the “Public History Graduate Student’s Collection of Books on Tape”. Podcasts have become one the most utilized tools for conveying information, their topics are countless and availability, for most, is open. And in our society of continual multitasking (driving and listening to music are multitasking) podcasts are a powerful tool in reaching the public’s ear. They can be used by professionals to engage the public, and in return podcasts are a forum the public can use to debate interpretations by leaving comments or creating their own.

As an avid multitasker, these are a few of my personal favorite History Podcasts.

1. Stuff You Missed in History Class: As the first podcast I ever listened to, this one holds a special place in my heart, also it is done so well. Dialogues are more interesting to listen to then monologues and this podcast always has two hosts. The topics are wide ranging and, most importantly, the hosts share the sources of their interpretation.

2. Memory Palace: This podcast is focused on social and cultural history, taking short historical episodes and highlighting their emotional impact. It will occasionally pull at your heart strings. If you are not a fan of StoryCorps, you probably won’t appreciate this one as well.

3. Backstory: As other podcasts do, the hosts of Backstory take current events or topics and trace their developments. However, having three historians, as their tagline says “18th century guy, 19th century guy and 20th century guy”, adds depth and perspective that many other podcast do not.

4. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: As the title states, this is “Hardcore History”. Although Carlin can be over dramatic and less analytical then others, he provides an interests interpretation that engages the listener and, hopefully, provokes them to think a little more about historical events.

There are many, many more, so please share your favorites and opinions on these.

Navigating the Past from our Pockets : Instagram and Public History

Anyone that knows me personally knows I’m quite the nerdy hobby photographer. Just read my archives on this blog to find out for yourself. So, when I caved and finally purchased my first smart phone last December, I immediately uploaded Instagram and started snapping away. For those of you scratching your heads and asking, “Insta-what?”, Instagram is a smart phone app (now also available on iPads) that functions like Twitter for the aspiring photographers of the world. You snap photos, add filters, and can share your photos with other Instagrammers who “follow” your feed. In turn, you can follow others, too.

With Web 2.0 now all the rage, a variety of history-related apps are available for our smart technologies. From the Library of Congress Virtual Tour to Historypin to Oregon Trail, history is literally right inside our pockets and purses. Smart phone technology has in many ways democratized access to history and history-related resources like never before. Which leads me back to Instragram. As a public historian, over-eager photog and smart phone user, I find these three worlds colliding on my iPhone 5 all the time.  In their photo-sharing ways, Instagram users are also sharing, shaping and navigating the past. So, how do we explore history with Instragram? How do I?

Below are just some of the ways. I’ve included my original captions with the images. To follow my Instagram happenings, you can follow my account annie_cullen on your smart technology or take a peek at my online profile here. Disclaimer: yes, I take too many pictures of my cats.

Instagramming History
Dream bathroom. #cuneomansion #oldshit #latergram #publichistory @zhenshchina

Instagramming History
Last set of books for the last semester of graduate school.

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Around the Web (October 2012)

Periodically, a Lakefront Historian contributor surveys recent public history-related content that emerges on the Internet.  In this installment, Anne E. Cullen shares pop cultural videos, Facebook happenings, and a recent public radio controversy raising significant questions about oral history practice. Follow  The Lakefront Historian on Twitter (@LakefrontHist) for news updates as they happen.

  • Did you see the Lincoln Unite trailer that premiered during the latest Presidential Debate on October 3, 2012? What did you think of the trailer and the choice to air it during a presidential debate?
  • On the quirky design tumblr Branding the Presidents of the United States, the creator captures the character of each president with historic photographs and fonts.
  • If you’re a new public historian in the Chicago area, make sure to join the Facebook group “Chicago Emerging Museum Professionals” by clicking here.

teddy roosevelt

  • Have you heard about the recent controversy surrounding the interview of Eng Yang, a Hmong immigrant living in Minnesota,  by Robert Krulwich, RadioLab co-host? The Minnesota Public Radio News blog provides some thoughtful commentary in addition to sharing both a clip of the interview and the entire segment that aired on RadioLab on September 24, 2012.  The incident forces us to think about the politics of power, popular memory, and the relationship between interviewer and intervewee that lie at the heart of oral history theory and methodology.  Read Kao Kalia Yang’s response to the incident (the niece of Eng Yang who also served as translator of the interview in question) by clicking here.
  • PERIODS. is a critically acclaimed comedy film series that, among other things, reimagines the past in a variety of hilarious ways.

Around the Web (July 2012)

Periodically, a Lakefront Historian contributor surveys recent public history-related news that emerges on the Internet. In this installment of “Around the Web,” Anne E. Cullen highlights new digital collections and blogs, museum reviews, and pop culture happenings that exemplify public history online.  Follow The Lakefront Historian on Twitter (@LakefrontHist) for news updates as they happen.

LFH BlogImage source

  • Since we’re all about mythical figures re-examined through the lens of feature films here on the Lakefront Historian (read our recent roundtable reviews of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), we couldn’t help but notice another historical heavy-weight recently memorialized at the box office: Marie Antoinette. Farewell, My Queen, based on the award-winning novel Les Adieux à la Reine by Chantal Thomas,  hit theaters this July 13th. Watch the trailer here.
  • Threadbared’s review of the Tattered and Torn: On the Road to Deaccession exhibit on NYC’s Governor’s Island explores historical value, material culture, and costume collections.
  • Speaking of fashion and public history, in July the Chicago History Museum debuted an online digital collection showcasing their costume collection.  With over 50,000 pieces from the mid-18th century to the present, CHM’s collection is the second most expansive fashion collection after that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Another new online collection? Don’t forget to check out the Grateful Dead Archive Online which includes over 45,000 digitized items from the library at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
  • The Chicago History Museum commemorated the 1919 Chicago Race Riot with a blog post built around Jun Fujita’s photographs of the tragic violence.
  • Loyola Chicago’s own Women and Leadership Archives recently launched a new tumblr. The blog features fun and interesting photographs from WLA’s collections and also highlights other online content related to women and history.  Check out the tumblr here.
  • The National Archives is recognizing the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with a web research page highlighting Presidential records related to people with disabilities throughout US history.
  • And in honor of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, be sure to watch this amusing video that uncovers the secret history of the City of London.

Around the Web (May 2012)

Periodically, a Lakefront Historian contributor surveys recent public history-related news that emerges on the Internet. In this installment of “Around the Web,” Rachel Boyle highlights new columns, blogs, and posts that exemplify public history online.  She also anticipates the opening of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Follow The Lakefront Historian on Twitter (@LakefrontHist) for news updates as they happen.

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