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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A Public History Mixed Tape: Famous Figures

My colleagues have filled the Lakefront Historian with a number of critical reviews of historical fiction films.  And this year there so were many films to choose from: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Lincoln, Django Unchained, and others we didn’t even get to. But another popular medium of public history has recently caught my attention: music. I’ve been keeping a long list of songs about historical events and people. Below are just a few of those focusing on famous figures. They range from past presidents (and there are a LOT of those) to French monarchs in genres as broad as country to indie pop. How such songs both reflect and shape popular memory deserves its own line of inquiry on this blog. (In fact, read Rachel Boyle’s excellent review of Fun.’s music video “Some Nights.”) I hope you enjoy this mixed tape and keep your eyes peeled for more to come.

“Andrew Jackson” by Wallace House
“FDR in Trinidad” by Ry Cooder
“Hurricane” by Bob Dylan
“Abe Lincoln” by Best Friends Forever
“James K. Polk” by They Might Be Giants
“Alexander Graham Bell” by Sweet
“Killer Queen” by Queen
“Louis Quatorze” by Bow Wow Wow
“Eisenhower is the Father” by Best Friends Forever
“Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel
“Sacré Charlemagne” by France Gall
“Ballad of Ira Hayes” by Johnny Cash
“Cortez the Killer” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” by Simon & Garfunkel
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel (Sorry, I had to sneak this in.)

What are your favorite songs about historical figures and people(s)?

Oh The Spaces We Go. Citizens and family in historical spaces.

This upcoming May, I will be getting married. My future in-laws, The Hicks family, are multi-generational residences of Columbus, Georgia. They are proud of their city and eager to share its history with anyone who will listen, and as a Historian I am. In our most recent visit to Columbus, the Hicks invited us to explore Columbus’ Heritage Park.

The names and families that contributed to the building of Heritage Park.
The names and families that contributed to the building of Heritage Park.

Heritage Park is located in Columbus’ Historic District between Front Street and Broadway. Set next to the Chattahoochee River and the Columbus Iron Works (also known as the Convention and Trade Center). The site’s location implies the importance the river and the iron foundry played in Columbus’ development from a trading town to an industrial powerhouse. The interpretation presented at Heritage Park is focused on the industrial entrepreneurs and Columbus workers from 1850 to 1910. The Hicks shared that the families of these entrepreneurs are still running these businesses or others in and around Columbus.

The sculptures and structures represent the entrepreneurs of Columbus in the textile, gristmill, brick and foundry industries, as well as agriculture and forest products, dams and river trade, and Coke-Cola. Fact I did not know prior, Dr. John Pemberton, the creator of the Coke-Cola recipe, was once a pharmacist in Columbus. Looking at Heritage Park with a critical eye, the statue of Pemberton seems out of place compared to the other blue-collar representations. The interpretation provided little indication that Coke-Cola had changed or affected Columbus’ economic face or citizens’ lives. Steve shared that there is a continual debate between Atlanta and Columbus about the birthplace of Coke-Cola (of course he argues for Columbus because Coke-Cola continually funds Columbus events, buildings, and public programs). However, I understand the “claim to fame” Coke puts Columbus on the map within National history.

Continue reading “Oh The Spaces We Go. Citizens and family in historical spaces.”

A Time to Remember

It is Christmas time again, and the Magi along Sheridan Road slowly make their way to the manger outside the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts. This nativity scene is seen by, or at least passed by, hundreds of commuters to and from Chicago every day. I would like to draw your attention away from Chicago, and even the Land of Lincoln, to another popular, though perhaps more out-of-the-way, nativity scene.

Scene

Algona, Iowa, about 50 miles west of Mason City, is home to a unique nativity scene whose origins are sad, but enlightening. I first heard about the Algona Nativity Scene when I worked at the Camp Algona POW Museum over the summer of 2011. Camp Algona was one of some 500 base and branch camps that housed approximately 400,000 Prisoners of War in the US between 1942 and 1946. Unlike most World War II POW camps, Camp Algona is not forgotten, despite having no physical structures remaining. The memory of the prisoners and the camp is carried on by the museum, but those memories were maintained long before the museum opened its doors in 2004. The men held captive just outside town are remembered because of a gift left to Algona in 1946 by six POWs.

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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.

“I Don’t Know What I Stand For Anymore”: Fun., Postmodern Angst, and Civil War Memory

The casual radio listener cannot avoid the chart topping hit “Some Nights” by the band Fun.  As with their other recent hit, “We Are Young,” Fun. produces upbeat tempos and soaring harmonies that belie darker lyrics about the emptiness and purposelessness of life.  By applying the postmodern undertones of “Some Nights” to a music video dominated by Civil War imagery, Fun. meaningfully reflects and contributes to popular memory of the Civil War.

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