Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Final Blog Cohen and Brown

In this final blog for our Public History class we had to read three articles that were about the pros and cons of digital collections. Two of the articles were written by Daniel Cohen and one was written by Joshua Brown. The articles all dealt with this new and innovative form of archiving. The articles pointed out how digital archiving is becoming the norm for all archiving. In the Cohen and Brown articles the authors discussed how a digital archiving provides a variety of ways for people to use the web in order to contribute with others on collections while browsing the web and conducting research. The web is one of the fastest ways to gain information on almost any topic and this is the main reason many historians have started placing their collections in digital formatting. The authors also discussed how digital archiving is a relatively new way to archive material that holds a lot of potential.

The first article I read was Daniel J. Cohen’s article entitled “History and the Second Decade of the Web”. In this article he explains how the web has become one the great resources when it comes to the field of archiving. He does go on however to state that the web has also complicated matters when it comes to the preservation and recording of history. This class for example is a form of digital archiving. The use of these blogs throughout the entire semester we as graduate students have communicated back and forth sharing our ideas about the reading while reading each other’s response. It has been a fun process and one that I had never truly though of as being a form of archiving until these last articles. The web has several site people can visit where information can be found quickly and easily. The web is also a place where many of the sources can easily accessed by anyone who desires them or is willing to pay for them. What I like most about this article is that it talks up the benefits of the web but also talks about the disadvantage digital archiving can cause. It is true that history has benefited from the use of the web, but internet is an open system that anyone can use. I though about the website Wikipedia when reading this article and how people change information on the site that is not always correct. People use the web to access historical records and to discuss historical information and it is unfortunate that people abuse this wonderful resource. According to Cohen, only a few ever take advantages of all the web has to offer, this is something I do not totally agree with I feel that many more abuse it and use it in the wrong way.

In “The Future of Preserving the Past,” Cohen talks about digital collections and gives both the good and bad sides of this form of archiving. He tells something that I was thing while reading this article and that is how digital media become obsolete relatively fast and many times ends up failing. Where as paper documents are not completely destroyed is they get a worn or torn, digital media can be wiped out with a small starch or electrical failure. Digital Media does however offer something paper does not and that is it contains an enormous amount of storage space, while only taking up a small amount of physical space. Digital Media collections can take in anything and everything where as other archives can not because they simply do not have the space.

Finally I can to the Brown article this article basically stated that digital media has a few challenges it needs to over come in order for historians to fully accept it as a serious form of archiving. Brown state that when the web is used properly it becomes an effective teaching tool because it engages historian from all around the world into collaboration because Brown stated that historical images on the internet help to promote active inquiry among historians. All the articles were very good and I understand why both sides of archiving need to be discussed I do not feel that we need to go fully into digital archiving but everything that can be digitized needs to be digitized.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Davis, Toplin, Rose and Corley articles

In her article “Movie or Monograph? A Historian/Filmmaker’s Perspective, Natalie Davis discusses the problems that historical movie makers face. She focuses on how historians act as a type of consultant in the creation historical films. She tells how Hollywood often changes historical facts to get a more dramatic appealing picture that builds drama and keeps the audience engaged she states that their should be corresponding books of historical facts to cover and correct information left out of or contains inaccurate information that occurred during these film productions. Her main argument in my opinion is if people are going to do anything, then they need to do it right. She believes the corresponding books would be a move in the right direction. I believe that some people would read the corresponding book but I realize in most cases, far more people will watch the films than ever read the films corresponding books. It is well know amongst historians that historical accuracy is often eschewed in place of Hollywood drama. This is because the film makers want to produce films that are guaranteed to sell tickets than to tell the whole truth. A great example give was on the movie Pearl Harbor. This is a movie Davis stated a corresponding book was needed to go along with the film on Martin Guerre. I believe the corresponding book would be a noteworthy attempt at correcting all wrongs Hollywood has done during film productions while making films on historical figures, places, and events. However, I question if the corresponding books are produced if it will only be in vain because films almost always out perform literature in dollar amount but literature always out perform films in story told.

The second article I read was Robert Brent Toplin’s “Cinematic History: Where Do We Go from Here?” After reading the Davis article I can see why the Toplin article was assigned as well. The Toplin and Davis are really corresponding together quite well. Both Toplin and Davis advocated understanding the relationship between historical facts and film production is a very logical way. Toplin is a little different than Davis in my opinion because he offers more of an optimistic view of the problems that studios face while decisions on how to present history for entertainment over the need for historians’ need for historical accuracy in these films. What I found odd about this particular article was I could never quite figure out what Toplin was trying to argue. I found it interesting is he is just as much of a proponent for the involvement of historians in the process of producing the Hollywood films of history as he is of holding studios accountable for their portrayal of historic events. Then in another portion of the book he defends the filmmakers’ decisions to stray from telling the historical facts. In doing so the Toplin article does more than the Davis article in telling the story of film production. I like that Toplin argues that historians need to be active behind the scenes and provide these film makers with research for the films they produce. Toplin’s main argument is that these Hollywood films on history should not stand alone and be the essential primary source of review by film critics. In the case of these films Toplin believes it would be best for the critics to include in-depth interviews with any living person directly related to the events the film covered. In essence get a primary source’s view on the events to have something to compare to the events in the film.

The final article I read was Vivien Ellen Rose and Julie Corley’s article, “A Trademark Approach to the Past: Ken Burns, the Historical Profession, and Assessing Popular Presentations of the Past,” unlike the previous two articles this article covered historical documentaries more so than it Hollywood productions. The article covered Ken Burns’ documentary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony entitled Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. I am not familiar with any Ken Burns productions, after reading this article I am not sure what to think of him. I believe this article is a strong criticism of Ken Burns’ and his contributions to the making of documentary films even though I have never seen one. The authors believe that Burns lacks a since of historical professionalism when dealing with the past in the making of his documentaries. The authors also argue that Burns’ tends to create stories that are one-sided especially the documentary he did on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and their fight during the women’s suffrage movement. The authors believed that Burns tends to leave or take out historical facts that do not fit with his narrative. They wrote that Burns had completely disregarded any current research of these two women and choose instead to use music, photos, and information out of context because it his narrative better. According to the authors the main problem with Burns is he tends to mold historical content he provides to the viewing public. They also stated that he has his won specific definition of what history making is and how it should be done. What the authors of this article want the reader to know is the Burns’ documentaries are made on the lives of heroes, and it’s their story Burns was to sell to the public. After completing this article it seems to me that the authors’ major problem with Burns is they believe he tends to take only what can contribute to the story he wants to tell in his documentary and leaves out what the authors feel is important elements because it would not flow well in his film. The authors stated that Burns focuses on certain people only, and does not take into consideration new research on the subjects that could change the outcome of the documentary.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Terkel & Frisch

In his book Touch and Go: A Memoir Studs Terkel takes the reader through his life. He starts with his childhood and then tells of his experiences as a law student during the Great Depression. He tells how he started going to the theater at a young age which leads to him becoming an actor himself. He tells about how he not only acted in the theater but also started acting on the radio as well. He tells the reader about his life as a disc jockey after World War II and how he became involved with progressive politics during the McCarthy era. Terkel describes his later life as having a career as an interviewer and oral historian. This is where the heart of the book is in my opinion. Touch and Go is a great book that gives a great insight into life of Stud Terkel. I am not completely sure what an ideal Oral Historian is but having read this book I would say Stud Terkel is an ideal Oral Historian. He had a great sense of social justice and commitment to capture on his every interview he did. Terkel made Oral History into an art form. He had a true appreciation for what he was doing and when interviewing someone he made sure the interviewee felt wanted and needed same time. He wanted them to know he wanted to interview and recorded them. Terkel wanted to record the voices of people who otherwise would not be heard without him.
Michael Frisch book A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History was much more academic. This book was a collection of thirteen of Frisch essays. The essays are mostly evaluations of Public History projects in which Frisch argues that the collection in Public History projects go far beyond just Public History because they cover areas of importance in all parts of history and society. Public History collections provide not only information to the audiences that go to view the collections by supplying visual evidence and audio evidence but also show the relationship between the collection and audience.
These two books take vastly different approaches but key on most of the same issues. These two authors were concerned with the audience and the audience’s involvement within Public History collections. Both Terkel and Frisch cover the attempts to actively engage the audience in order to involve them in remembering the past. Terkel’s book was much easier for me to read and much more entertaining. Frisch book like I said earlier was much more academic but provide a great deal of information on the importance of Public History. I enjoyed both of these books very much but having read Terkel I wish I could have gone back in time and read Frisch book. The reason is Frisch became uninteresting to me and I had a hard time trying to finish it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century

In Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century, John Bodnar has presented an interesting look into public events. He shows events on the local, state and national level. These events included the building of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial down to local community fairs. John Bodnar’s views on the Vietnam Memorial carry many of the major themes and issues he uses throughout the book. He uses his ideas to help the reader explore the symbols behind American commemorations over the last century. Bodnar argues in his book that historical consciousness does not necessarily preserve the past, but rather historical consciousness address political matters in the present.

Bodnar uses this book to help the reader understand the concepts behind public memory through the use of vernacular cultural expressions. He explores and explains events that some people may have never heard of before or may not understand all the conflict that took place during the event. In my opinion Bodnar’s use of local, state, and national historical celebrations, shows the struggle that has helped to shape our country’s public memory. Vernacular interest refers to the native beliefs and language of a country has changed over the years. Vernacular interest usually represents diverse and marginalized groups but in recent years has come to represent more then just a small number of the population. Bodnar shows that while culture tends to reflect the ideas of the leaders at all levels of society, it is within these groups other divisive tensions occur in American society. Bodnar identifies these conflicts as being between rural and urban inhabitants, patriotic and leisure celebrations, and national, state, and local goals. These conflicts reverberate throughout the book. Bodnar also demonstrates that the changing power structure in America can be seen in the history of public commemorations.

This book reveals that the planning and implementation of commemorations mirrored the growing complexity of American life. Overall I believe this book is very good and does a wonderful job in explaining how America's struggle with vernacular and official memory has changed over the years. Bodnar has done a wonder job in supporting his arguments by showing the reader that public memory is far more complicated than one would normally think. I like to think of Bodnar’s views as being economic. By this I mean that memories are not free, they have a cost. It is how these cost have been paid for which has caused ethnic cultures to be virtually be eliminated for our nation’s memory. Bodnar has done a good job but at time his book was quite boring and dull. However, Bodnar is effective at showing the reader how public memory has been shaped by the societal elite and developed further by public officials. People interested in the social meaning of public ceremonials will want to read this book.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Written in Stone

In Sanford Levinson's book, Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies, he starts off by looking at the way Eastern European nations are dealing with Soviet-era monuments. In the book he examines several controversial monuments throughout the world some of these monuments include Confederate Monuments in the southern United States. Levinson has studied monuments as a way to explore the differences in how diverse societies deal with public space. In my opinion the way Levinson's explains how some nations preserve monuments as historical markers while other nations destroy monuments as catharsis makes for not only educational information and enjoyable reading as well.

The first half had more of a focus on Eastern European Nations Monuments while the second half of the book focuses on the American South and the racial overtones that are brought about by monuments to the Confederacy. I can remember a movement in my home town of Valdosta Georgia from when I was in middle school to remove the statue of Confederate Soldier off the Court House grounds. I had not though about the issue with the monuments that is still there by the way until I started reading this book. Levinson has created fascinating book with topics that every person who reads it can find something to relate with. The book covered topics ranging from the flying of Confederate flags over Southern State Houses. Every history buff should remember that South Carolina only removed the Confederate from flying on their State Capital in the last decade. The portion of the book that was about the statue of Arthur Ashe being placed alongside those of white Confederate leaders in Virginia was especially interesting to me. For those of you that do not know Arthur Ashe was from Richmond Virginia and most likely the greatest male African American tennis player ever. Arthur Ashe died of AIDS in 1993 but is remember for not only what he did on the tennis court but for what he did in his life. Arthur Ashe created a foundation to help address issues of inadequate health care with an infuses in AIDS research. What made the placing of the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue was an extremely big move for the city of Richmond in my opinion. It was a move that was also much needed. Monument Avenue was a place that traditionally was reserved for statues of key Confederate figures. The decision to put the Arthur Ashe statue there led to some controversy within the city. Some people felt since the city was once the capital of the Confederate States during the Civil War that Monument Avenue should be left to honor the Confederacy.

The book seems to have two separate halves with different visions. Neither half seems to have enough information that ties the first half of the book to the second half of the book. It is in my opinion that without a clear link the two halves just simply co-exist. I found nothing to tie them together except for the extremely short conclusion about the role of a changing public consensus in determining which monuments stay up. If the reader can get through what I consider to be a lot of needless information, then "Written in Stone" is a wonderful book. The book covers who chooses our public monuments and the values they represent if the reader can not follow what the author is trying to say is this book the reader will most likely put it to the side and find some other book on monuments. Levinson uses the topic Public History by using monuments in public spaces and how monuments speak of their nation’s identity. I feel what hurts this book the most is lack of information in each story. The stories seem incomplete in my opinion leaving the reader wanting more. I feel the book lacked on information and the author could validate this book more by placing more information on monuments is the book. However, it does not take away that this book is a wonderful read that can be enjoyed by all who read it

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History

In Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History, Antoinette Burton brought together seventeen people with archival experience some of which were professional historians. I enjoyed reading this book and learning about archiving as the archivists described their personal experiences and interactions with archives. One of the articles I found interesting was about an archivists who offered an interesting argument on how the wealth and prestige of Western researchers can gain the researchers entry into many highly restrictive archives. The article explained how it is important to be well known and have financial backing in order to view and study the collection in some archives. This particular article used the Uzbekistan’s Central State Archive as an example in explaining how wealth and prestige can help the archivist gain access to certain collections. The article described how the Uzbekistan’s Central State Archive severely limits the access of Uzbek researchers but has allowed other more well known historical archivist from Western to be permitted to view its collection. Jeff Sahadeo’s experience with the archives in Uzbekistan was a great example in my opinion. To gain access to the archives meant waiting weeks until a form detailing his research topic was accepted and filed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What I got out of this was had he been more well know in his filed his path to the Uzbek archive would not have taken as long. In yet another example of how archives can limit access is that of Helena Pohlandt-McCormick in South Africa. She views the archives there as incomplete. She even went so far as saying that the archives had been manipulated by the government. The article described the archivists in South Africa as “guardians” of the archives that make it nearly impossible to gain access to certain records. The article made it seem that the access to the archives is being limited because the archives may reveal injustices the government does not want people to know bout.
A number of the essays question what counts as an archive. According to the American Association of Museums an archive is a museum. While other articles question what counts as history? I believe these questions have been raised because some museums along with their archive have misinterpreted or misrepresented history. The articles encompassed in this book help to highlight the intentions behind the construction and subsequent management of archival collections. They provide the reader with the universally contingent nature of the researcher's interaction with the archive. These articles also challenge scholars to expand on their definitions of evidence so that they include oral testimonies from people who have typically omitted from archival collections in the past and Burton said these omitted people should be made as "dominant regions of truth".
I believe Burton has done a wonderful job in taking these articles of the archivist that have had very different experiences and putting these articles into one clear discussion about treatment of historical archiving. I also believe this book would be an important read for people interested in archiving. I believe it is a truly interesting book and not those just interested in history. The reason is this book encourages people to always question the nature of what we call history and not just history as a subject but the history of life.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity Diane Barthel

In Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity Diane Barthel compares the preservation movements of Great Britain and the United States. In taking a comparative approach, Barthel shows the reader that the preservation taking place in Great Britain has largely aimed at preserving traditional values. While in the United States, the preservation process is much more dynamic and democratic, though also more permeated by commercialism. Barthel examines these differences in the preservation movements in the United States and Great Britain. It is important to understand that Barthel felt there were two different reasons for the preservation movement in these countries.

Throughout the book Barthel tries and provide the reader information on the effects historic preservation has on what types of things get preserved. While many people including myself believe that historic preservation is the best way to save history for future generations, Barthel provides information to the reader that shows in some circumstance historic preservation is not always the best way to go. Barthel provides the reader with information concerning the issues when historic preservation been misused. She tells of the cons of too much preservation. In Great Britain Barthel tells how many Churches have been allowed to remain open, even though there is no reason or justification for the Churches to remain open. Over-preservation has become a growing concern in both Great Britain and United States. When to many thing get preserved they tend to lose a bit of their importance. When learned in our last reading that people should preserve thing that are important to them. While this may be true if too many thing get preserved the less important things being preserved can also take away for more important artifacts.

An example of over-preservation I believe Barthel provides the reader is when she tells of the preservation of war artifacts and other memorable. She tells how the Civil War Battlefields have attracted people for many years and how these sites help to stimulate the economies of their surrounding areas. I know this to be true first hand from going over to St. Simons Island in Georgia. While not a Civil War battle field a major site for tourist on St. Simons Island besides the beach is the “Bloody Marsh”. The “Bloody Marsh” is where the Spanish were lured by James Oglethorpe to an open area in a marsh. Oglethorpe placed his men around the open field as the Spanish regrouped, Oglethorpe left his men to try and rally more support. Soon afterwards a much larger Spanish force would emerge and engaged Oglethorpe's men. The colonists battled the much larger and superior Spanish army and forced the Spanish into a haphazard retreat. This is what is now known as the battle of Bloody Marsh. The state of Georgia has turned this area into nothing more than a tourist trap. What was once a beautiful historic site in order to preserve the history of the “Bloody Marsh” Georgia has destroyed the true history of the marsh in my opinion because they have made it into a story with recreated artifacts?

So what is that needs to be preserved and how should it be preserved? Barthel tells how social history has changed the meaning of what is considered an artifact. If we take what we have learned an artifact is anything that is important to another person that they feel needs to be preserved. Barthel provides the example of a package of cookies from the Gulf War used in a museum exhibit in the United Stated. She tells that before the new social history movement occurred a package of cookies would not have been used as a historic artifact in a museum exhibit. She also tells how the British preserved artifact with them same historical significance with their use of plastic cups in museum exhibits. I could see her argument but these items are what make an exhibit unique in my opinion and if these are not preserved how will they be remembered? Barthel does show concern in the over-preservation of artifacts but she also has concern for the problems that can arise from the lack of historic preservation.

This is a great book though in my opinion is difficult to grasp and get into because it is so detailed. This book contains a lot of information I found difficult to comprehend because of the academic nature of the book. She has done an extensive study in historic preservation by studying the collective movement of historic preservation and how these movement span across and among nations.