This week we looked at the National Museum of American History’s HistoryWired, Cleveland State University Center for Public History + Digital Humanities’ Cleveland Historical, the National Archive’s Digital Vaults, the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s Raid on Deerfield, and National Geographic’s Remembering Pearl Harbor. Judging based on interface and user experience, I found that some of these sites have withstood the test of time, while others have not.
The Berwickshire Place-Name Resource is a neat digital outcome of the University of Glasgow’s Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland: Evidence from place-names project. However, the website never states what it’s for. I don’t know if this is standard, but I expect a project/website to defend its existence immediately. I want there to be obvious text explaining why the project matters to different groups of people and what those groups will gain from it in the “about” or in some kind of introduction. The title of the project gives some hint, and the researchers do list their related publications, but these articles all appear to be behind a paywall. Why hide the research meat of a free resource?
As I write this I am struggling to condense four pages of single-spaced notes. For some reason, this topic seemed more exciting and more personal than other ones we’ve covered.
I kept coming back to a story that my mom loves to tell, about how she asked me when I was 10 if I wanted to go to Disney Land, and I said that I’d much rather go to the Library of Congress. I wanted to go to the LoC because I wanted to read an out of print book that I couldn’t find in my library network, and I didn’t know about interlibrary loan. My mom thinks this story makes her sound really good, because she raised a kid who would say something that obnoxiously precocious. She tells people that that’s just what we did, we spent our next vacation in Washington, DC, only the truth is that what we actually did was walk from war monument to war monument with my veteran grandfather. We didn’t visit the Library of Congress until our last day, and when we tried to go inside, we found it was closed for the day. I remember standing on the pavement, staring up at the building, my arms crossed against the cold. I was so angry. I had been thwarted.
I remembered this event, which I think of as my first research trip, because “Our Cultural Commonwealth” notes that high school students aren’t allowed into Library of Congress reading rooms. Years later, I now realize that the Library of Congress is not the oversized lending library I had imagined it to be, but this new information frames my trip as even more doomed than I had realized.
A year ago I took an excellent class on Enlightenment print culture. We spent a couple weeks (unexpectedly my favorite couple weeks) pulling apart the history of copyright law. When the Statute of Anne (1710) filled in a gap of lapsed monopolies and became the first British copyright law, it was unique because it was oriented less towards state or private control and more towards incentivizing creativity. This and later 18th century copyright laws were shaped by the changing ways books were sold to booksellers and to the public. In the mid-18th century, when books printed before 1710 were about to enter the public domain, booksellers scrambled to extend their rights. To me it sounds similar to the way Disney has extended its own licenses over characters like Mickey Mouse. Though I knew how early modern copyright works, I had no idea how modern copyright worked. Copyright laws present a lot of challenges to public historians: both in navigating fair use and in their responsibility to stretch that definition.
This post comes a little late because I misunderstood something said in class and thought we weren’t doing a blog post this week!
One thing I’ve noticed about historians is that they aren’t engaged in the constant self-reflection (and almost penance) that anthropologists do. There isn’t a lot of reflection on how they are doing, and if they’re doing it right, and what they can change, and how they can share their power more equitably. In fact, the sheer power historians hold seems overlooked. While anthropologists are constantly wrestling with the history of their discipline and its modern implications, historians are by comparison practically complacent. Yet historians have “gotten it wrong” in the past, and are liable to continue to do so.
This might be a terrible take– I’m just an enthusiastic undergrad, and there’s a lot I haven’t read and lot of conversations I haven’t had yet. But it’s my impression at this point that historians could stand to engage in a little more concern over the implications of their profession than they currently do– especially when it comes to digital preservation.
The first thing I noticed about the April 16 Archive was its navigation options. With 1,884 individual items, zero “collections,” and a long wordcloud of tags (with no apparent organizational structure), I did not know how I would begin my search through the archive. It seems the main organizational theme was like a blog– a single stream of posts, organized chronologically into pages with a set number of posts per page. This made me feel as if I were in a physical archive, and had to thumb through every folder before I could settle on one to look at, only the folders are sorted through the date they were received by the archive. In a physical archive this situation would be a nightmare, and it’s definitely not ideal for a digital archive either. I think this difficulty will make it difficult for historians to use the site in the future.
Digitization is a gift. Before I started brainstorming for this post, I imagined I would have a hard time coming up with drawbacks to digitizing books. After all, I’m no Luddite: I’m a tech-friendly post-Millennial. My first interactions with truly old books happened on the Internet Archive. But as I began to brainstorm, I was surprised by how many drawbacks easily came to mind. It turns out I have long been worried that my intense familiarity with digitized versus material sources may have resulted in some inadequacies. Like what?
The most Scottish piece of clothing most people can imagine is the kilt. But when you think of a kilt, you’re really thinking of a plaid pinned together around a man’s waist. Before kilts, both men and women wore plaids as an outer garment– essentially a woolen blanket functioning as a cloak.
For reasons not yet known, plaids became something of a national embarrassment in the late 1500s, and official bans on wearing plaids in public lasted into the mid-1600s, when they ended as abruptly as they started. Class and gender were important themes. About half the bans specifically forbid women from wearing plaids, and many lament the blurring of class lines that plaids create. Interestingly, plaids go on to become a powerful 19th century romantic symbol of Scotland and an important part of branding the 21st century Scotland.
My senior thesis is focused on figuring out why plaids were initially banned before they were embraced as a kind of national costume. To do this, I need to juggle a large amount of qualitative data; the timeline tool will prove very useful as I continue my research. I hope to update it as my transcriptions improve.
I mentally prepared to write this blog post first by agonizing over what public history even was. And more specifically, what was a public history website? The website of a museum, historical society, or historic house surely counts, but what else? Searching with only a vague notion of what I might find, I Googled ‘“public history Scotland.’ And scrolled through the many, many degree programs brought up in my links. (Is it that public history is rarely named except to train its practitioners, or is that Google knows I’m in my last year of undergrad with no firm post-May plans?)
The National Museum of Scotland (NMS) is the main branch of the National Museums of Scotland (also, unfortunately, NMS), which makes up four different museums in total (the National Museum of Scotland, the National War Museum, the National Museum of Flight, and the National Museum of Rural Life). The National Museum is located in Edinburgh, and is the result of the merging of a science museum with a history museum in 2006. Its collections are split into Art, Design, and Fashion, the Natural World, Scottish History and Archaeology, Science and Technology, and World Cultures.
I reviewed NMS’s app, Highlights, available free on Google Play and iTunes. I broke my review down into Content (further broken down into Usefulness and “Fun” Factor), Graphics, and Functionality. My final score will be the average of these three scores out of 10.