Lee Has Resigned But The Blog Goes On

Creating a blog was a personal challenge for me. I shy away from putting personal information on the Internet, which has meant no blogging for me (perhaps there has also been a lack of interest). But, creating a blog based on history, with a little fiction tossed in, where few know that I am the writer, has allowed me really get into blogging and figuring out how to best put history on the internet in an easy and accessible way. My goal with this project was to bring more attention to Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee and her experience surrounding Civil War. At Arlington House the history is focused mostly on Robert E. Lee, it is his memorial after all, but I feel that the history of women at Arlington House can be overlooked and that during the Civil War women played an important roll in society. Because of this I wanted to write about the history of a woman and Mrs. Lee turned out the perfect candidate. I have tried to stay true to her voice and her beliefs; because of this the blog can have a decidedly religious feeling about it sometimes.

While class has ended, or has almost ended, this blog will continue and while I think the content has been interesting for the first few months it will become more interesting now that Lee has resigned. The blog will now be following Mrs. Lee journey from her family home to her final resting place Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. In a few days Mrs. Lee will be posting about how her husband is telling her she needs to leave her home and that will in turn bring to her mind memory of the house and of her family.

I have enjoyed thinking about how to present Mrs. Lee’s history to the public and how to make the blog make sense. I want to present her family life and her intellectual life to the reader right as has she has to leave her family home because of the Civil War. It can be difficult to see her apart from her family because so much of her life was taken up with family and so in this endeavor I believe I have failed but I think that looking at her family life I have exceeded beyond my expectations. When writing about her family, her children and her husband, I think that Mrs. Lee’s personality comes through and that the reader can see how the Civil War begins to impact her life.  Through the blog I hope readers can see how the Civil War impacted not just the soldiers, but the civilians removed from the war as well.

Over all the blog has been much more successful than I ever imagined. I honestly thought that I might get a handful of views but people are consistently visiting the site. I have been pleasantly surprised. I am excited to see where the blog goes and where it ends up, whether or not I am the person finishing up the blog. I have really enjoyed the process and the current outcome of this project.



How Do You Age A Photo?

My project for class is the creation of a digital presence for Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee the wife of Robert E. Lee and the great granddaughter of Martha Washington. I have created a blog where I write as Mary about her life right before the Civil War starts and as the Civil War gets underway. As part of this project I got all dressed up and went into DC to take photos by buildings that were built or being built when the Lee’s lived at Arlington House. I now have 50 or so photos taken by buildings like the White House, the Washington Monuments, and the Smithsonian Castle. The problem I am having is that while I have made the photos black and white they still look very modern. The image to the left is a good example of what I am struggling with right now. I feel like the image doesn’t seem old. This may be because it isn’t old and there is nothing that can be done about that. I also wonder about the buildings that are in the picture that wouldn’t have been built by the time the Lee’s left Arlington.   So here are my questions: how can I age these photos and what do you think about the idea of modern life creeping into a blog that is based on history?  As far at the photos go I am working with a Mac in iPhoto and have made the photos black and white. I have looked at some of the fading but it seems like it only fades from the edges inward and that’s not what I want. I want these to look old but not like they were aged perfectly.  With the idea of modern life creeping into the blog I feel two ways.  One is that the blog is fictional so I feel like liberties can be taken with what is posted.  On the other hand if feels a bit odd having images that have cars in the background or an image of the entire Washington Monument in them.  If anyone has any ideas or suggestions send them my way. Thanks.

The Ugly Truth About Preservation

Is Bert Evil?  And, Should We Care?

There once was a website called Bert Is Evil.  It no longer exists.  Is it important that it no longer exists?  Perhaps it becomes important when we realize that it disappeared after September 11.  The image of Bert was inserted to an anti-America image and the creator of Bert Is Evil was threatened with legal action, so he deleted the site.  But, if you want it is still possible to see what Bert Is Evil looked like.  This is because of Internet Archive, a private organization that tries to archive the Internet.  This is a noble goal but one organization cannot do such work alone.  In his article Scarcity of Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era, Roy Rosenzweig writes about issues dealing with digital and physical preservation, the issues with each, and the relationship between historians and archivists.

The idea that the Internet should be preserved is catching on and people are wondering who is going to do it and how it is going to be done.  When this article was written, 2003, the government was not preserving the digital world, or records created digitally.  The National Archives does not require that digital record be kept digitally.  Rosenzweig then makes the point that even if digital record preserved the technology that they are preserved with may not be readable five years later.  It is not that the technology has deteriorated it is that it is now outdated. Rosenzweig states: “well before most digital media degrade, they are likely to become unreadable because of changes in hardware…or software.” While I am not always on the digital bandwagon the Internet has changed everything and it is time to conquer the problem of preservation.

But what will happen once the Internet is being archived faithfully?  It is very possible that once this happens there will be amazing amounts of primary source material available. No longer will historians be able to complain about not having enough information, they will be complaining about having too much information.  What will the world come to when historians have a plethora of information?  My sarcasm aside Rosenzweig’s point is a good one.  What will happen when scholars have too many sources, have too much information, have too many places to look?  While not having enough information can be frustrating at least a topic can be narrow and have focus.  This possibility could be a reality but only if society starts preserving all of the digital material being created right now.  Just preserving these records though is not the end it is merely the beginning of a process.

The Archivist and the Historian Should be Friends

What I found most interesting in the Rosenzweig’s article was his dissection of the relationship between archivists and historians.  After reading Nicholson Baker’s book Double Fold I had some idea of the disagreement between historians and archivist, and yes I am a bit biased on the side of keep everything.  After reading Rosenzweig’s article I think the relationship between the groups is better explained.  Historians want to save everything while archivist have to figure out how to store everything that gets preserved, not the easiest job.  What comes through the last part of the article is about the different directions that historians and archivists approach the topic of preservation.  Rosenzweig makes the point that both parties will have to change their attitudes before they have another conversation about preservation again, but he is adamant that both groups need to talk about how to preserve the past and how to preserve digital records as well.

Rosenzweig makes the point that in the beginning the historian and the archivist were friends.  They were part of the same professional organization, the AHA, when “historians saw themselves as having a responsibility for preserving as well as researching the past.”  Now perhaps this is a bit strong but the divide between being a historian and an archivist has become great.  To go by this strong characterization historians want to save everything while archivist have to figure out how to store everything that gets preserved.  What comes through the last part of the article is about the different directions that historians and archivists approach the topic of preservation.  Rosenzweig makes the point that both parties will have to change their attitudes before they have another conversation about preservation again, but he is adamant that both groups need to talk about how to preserve the past and how to preserve digital records as well.

Scarcity or Abundance is a valuable article for better understanding the complexities of preservation digital or otherwise.  The Internet has changed the way that documents are created and preservation of physical documents has never been easy.  How history is being preserved is important and it is equally important that historians and archivist understand what needs to be, should be, and is being preserved.


A Digital Museum?

I love museums.  I could spend days in a museum.  With some museums there are truly not enough hours in a day to see everything; with other museums there is not enough space to fit everything in to the museum.

So here we have the inquisitive museum visitor and the space confined museum curator.  What are they to do?  The visitor simply doesn’t have the time and the curator doesn’t have the space!  And, added to that some of the most interesting pieces a museum may own could now be too fragile to be put on display, but what is the point of conserving something if the public can’t see it?

Enter the Smithsonian Institute, a fine example of two problems that museums suffer, too much stuff and not enough space.   What is a curator to do?  Put it online, that is what a curator is to do!  At HistoryWired: A Few of Our Favorite Things the avid museum visitor and history enthusiast can explore the vast collection of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History.  On display now you can see pieces that are on display at the Museum of American History but also pieces that are not on display.

As implied by its name the HistoryWired website is a collection of the favorite things of the Smithsonian curators.  The website states that “With less than five percent of our vast and diverse collection on public display in our exhibit halls, we hope that Web sites like this will bring many more of our treasures into public view.”  When a visitor enters the “museum” they are shown a floor plan of the museum with rooms marked as Home, Clothing, Business, and the like.  Subdivided within these boxes are boxes of different shapes that the visitor can move their cursor over and discover what that box represents.  The sizes of these item boxes are determined by visitor voting, after viewing an item the visitor is then asked if they would like to see more objects like the one they were looking at.  The more popular and object is the bigger its individual box.  This voting system allows visitors to see what others have found interesting and noteworthy and let curators to change the exhibit to reflect what the public wants to see.  Read more about how to work the website here and more general information here.

This digital museum shows pieces directly related to the history of the United States whether that be the clothing of a time period or the invention of the computer a visitor should be able to find something that interests them.  The culture history of the United States is represented magnificently with items of clothing (highbrow and lowbrow), sports paraphernalia, musical recordings, and photographyScience, medicine, technology, are also represented in this digital museum.  With each image you click on you get more information about the item and the time period of the item.  Depending on what kind of item you click on you could be directed to a recording of music or a speech or articles written by Smithsonian historians.

With so many different pieces on this site one might wonder if it is difficult to find something pertaining to a specific time period or subject.  The answer would be no!  It is not difficult to search this site.  (Color me surprised!)  You can modify your visit by time period (like WWI or everything pre 1800) or you can look at items only dealing with daily life or whatever subgroup you are interested in.  You can even search for specific things like Woodstock or Hell’s Angels and find a match.  A hopeful search for airplanes or flight yielded nothing, a sad oversight I believe!

I have to admit that when I first started playing around with HistoryWired I was skeptical.  Very skeptical.  Why would I want to look online at objects that I could see in person?  After spending sometime looking at the objects displayed and reading about them I was won over.  I like that there are links to more information, that if you are looking at a piece of music there is a link to hear the music.  I thought it was great that I could look at a dress form the 1800s and then a playboy bunny costume and that each piece was given a historically valid reason for being part of the online collection.  This website manages to put what should be in several different museums all in one place.  Hours could be spent on this site but because of its formatting it does not seem overwhelming.  I do not think that this is what museums should turn into but I do think that it is a nice companion to a museum.  I look forward to more museums creating a site like HistoryWired.