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.

Continue reading “Navigating the Past from our Pockets : Instagram and Public History”

Advertisements

Summer at the Library of Congress

Greetings from Washington, D.C! I feel fortunate to be spending my summer in the nation’s capitol as a Junior Fellow at the Library of Congress. My internship is in the technical services section of the Prints and Photographs Division, working with a team on an ongoing rehousing and inventory project. The goal of the project is to consolidate thousands of boxes of unprocessed collections from two storage locations into a new storage facility in Maryland. Our job is to rehouse the material, organize it if needed (which is usually the case), create folder-level container lists, and update the catalog and finding aids used by the reference staff so that the collections are more accessible to researchers.

Admittedly, processing archival collections is not the most exhilarating way to spend a day, but I find photographs and printed material much more compelling than textual records, so I very much enjoy my work. One of the best parts is that I have the opportunity to work with a variety of collections and materials, and I get to choose the collections that I process. After processing eight different collections, I have a new appreciation for all that you can learn just by paying attention to visual evidence. Let me tell you a little bit about two of my favorite collections and what I’ve learned from the visual evidence (and a little bit of contextual research).

The American Humane Association

Horse ambulance
Horse ambulance operated by the Erie County SPCA, c. 1910

The American Humane Association served as “a voice for the voiceless” – advocating for the humane treatment of animals and children beginning in the late nineteenth century. The photograph collection illustrates the activities and interests of the AHA beginning around 1910 through about 1960. One of the most interesting aspects of the collection is that, taken as a whole, it shows how people’s notions of animals evolved over the first half of the twentieth century. Most of the early photographs deal with horses – either working in the city, on ranches, or being used in wartime. Early education campaign posters photographed in the collection urged people: “be kind to dumb animals,” “you can’t starve and beat your horse and have him haul the load,” and “don’t skip his meals.” By the 1930s and 1940s, these basic reminders of how to treat animals were replaced by charming photographs of children with puppies and kittens, and a special series called “Touring with Towser,” that demonstrated the best way to road trip with your dog, including having the proper equipment such as a dog bed, thermos, food, collar and leash, and even raincoat. By looking at the content of the photographs used by the AHA in their publications, one can see how animals changed from being generally utilitarian creatures to members of the family.

Continue reading “Summer at the Library of Congress”