Monthly Archives: March 2011

Zahi Hawass Reappointed as Antiquities Minister in Egypt

Dr. Zahi Hawass has been reappointed as Antiquities Minister in Egypt thanks in part to calls by UNESCO to Egypt to better protect their history during the turmoil of the revolution.  The move will likely upset some who wanted the entire Ministry removed, but the news is welcome to those in the Art and Historical communities.  Hawass has said he was contacted by the government to return and said, “I cannot live without antiquities, and antiquities cannot live without me.”

Source: New York Times

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Public History Series: Historical Archaeology

Historical archaeology is not a complicated subject.  It is much like regular archaeology except it involves digging at historic sites.  The key with historical archaeology is looking for the artifacts left behind by those who occupied the land.

Historical Archaeology can be pretty technical.  Like typical archaeology, digging is done in squares.  Artifacts are carefully removed and documented as to their proximity to buildings and landscape, but also their depth in the ground.  The depth is specifically important because it is possible to use that depth to determine its age.  Stratigraphy is a branch of geology used to determine the age of layers within the soil.

The artifacts found can also help in understanding who was there and when.  One of the most common and widely studied artifacts are pipe stems.  It sound strange, but pipe stems can help date a site to within a few years.  This then brings in another key term: terminus post quem.   This Latin term roughly translate to “the date after which.”  It essentially means that nothing found in a specific layer can be older than the oldest artifact.  While this all sounds complicated, it is rather simple.  If you find three artifacts and Artifact 1 is from 1850, Artifact 2 is from 1870, and Artifacts 3 is from 1905, then we know the site cannot be older than 1850.  This is true for more than historical archaeology.  This is also true when determining the age of a house by looking at the specific building materials and construction techniques.

Archaeology at Montpelier

Historical archaeology is important because it uncovers artifacts of everyday life as well as bones of animals.  Extensive studies have been done on plantations in the South, and James Deetz found, in his book In Small Things Forgotten, that slaves ate different types of meats.  This has been determined by studying the remains of animals near slave cabins.

Historical archaeology is ongoing at many sites within the United States.  One project that I am familiar with takes place at Montpelier.  They are excavating in search for items from the Madison era.  Things have been discovered include: remnants of slave cabins, kitchens, and artifacts once owned by the slaves on the property.  The work is ongoing as the property at Montpelier is quite large.

There is a need for students to work on these projects.  Montpelier has a summer internship program that allows college age students to assist with the archaeological projects.  While not all of them are public historians, several are.  It is a great opportunity to do field work and not spend all the time in an archive or museum.  It is one of the most exciting sub-disciplines within public history.


NOTE:  This is the eighth in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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Harvick Wins at Auto Club Speedway!

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Let’s Go Racing! – F1 Style

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button with the Mercedes McLaren MP4-26

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Public History Series: Documentary Film

While museums are a very common way for the public to experience history in the field, they experience history in their living rooms by watching historical documentaries.  These are often produced in cooperation with historians and public historians to ensure their accuracy.  There is, however, a very special technique required to take history from a book and put it on PBS or the History Channel.

Historical documentaries can come in two forms.  The first is the traditional “Based on Historical Events” film.  These films are a nightmare for historians because while historical sources are used in the production of the film, there is a creative twist to it that detracts from its accuracy.  In a film about George Washington, for example, he may be depicted talking with the members of his Cabinet.  We have an idea what was discussed, but we do not know the full dialogue, so that is filled in.  Other issues, architecture, costuming, etc. all add up.  If done correctly, everything would be period, but that is not always the case.  This is a popular form of documentary and they are effective at engaging the public.  They encourage a small portion of the audience to do further research, but the majority take the documentary film as fact.

The other type of documentary is the kind you are used to seeing on the History Channel or PBS.  That is the story of an event being told using actual images or videos from the event with historians commentating.  Perhaps one of the most famous filmmakers of this type is Ken Burns.  His series on the Civil War changed the way people thought about documentaries.  He used the right mix of reenactment, interpretation, and historical images to bring the Civil War to life.  That is not to say that every historian loves Burns’s work, in fact, a lot of historians hate him.  However, he does make entertaining films, and does it without sacrificing integrity.

So the next time you are watching a documentary on PBS or the History Channel, pay close attention to how well it is at telling a story and whether or not they are allowing the history to tell itself.  Also, watch the credits and notice how many historians worked on the project.  The History Channel and PBS have historians on staff to review the films before they are aired, but each project will have its own historians involved.  Be aware, all documentaries have some form of bias and that is usually easy to detect.  Once the viewer looks past the bias, there is an important story being told and it is up to historians and public historians to ensure the stories are told accurately.

NOTE:  This is the seventh in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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Public History Series: Museum Studies

Many Public Historians choose to work where the public is most likely to encounter history, museums or historic sites (I will use the general term “museum” through out the post, but the same is true for historic sites).  There are a wide variety of positions available in museums from curator to interpreter.  There are also several types of museums from private to those within the National Park Service.  No matter which museum you choose, you present history to a large audience.

The different positions available within a museum is numerous.  Aside from administrative positions, historians often occupy many of the major positions.  At the top is usually  curator and an advanced degree in history usually required.  The curator oversees all tasks within the museum, but most of the front-line work is done by other staff members.  Behind the scenes there are archivists at most museums.  A typical museum has a large collection of artifacts, and it is not possible to display them all at once.  The archivists job is to keep inventory of the museums collection.  There are also collection specialists that work on this as well.  Many museums will also employ preservationists/conservators to ensure the documents and artifacts are properly preserved.

One the front lines within the museum there are those who design the exhibits.  Exhibit designers usually are not employed by a museum, but they are hired by the museum from outside firms.  Smaller museums may have their staff design the exhibits, but this is often done by a group of professionals.  The most important members of a museum are the interpreters.  Most often they serve as a guide for visitors through the museum.  What the visitor remembers will most likely be what they are told by the interpreter.  There are many different kinds of interpreters.  The Park Service uses rangers and many small museums use volunteers to guide visitors.  The museums that get the most attention, however, are the ones that use interpreters and re-enactors.  A great example of this is Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.  All the interpreters are in period costume and work to create a living city environment for the visitors.  Williamsburg is not the traditional museum, but it is very effective.

The city street of Colonial Williamsburg

The different types of museums are also important to take into consideration.  Private museums are more common than public museums, but both do well at interpreting history.  The main difference between the two is funding.  Private museums are often funded through donations and that can cause issues with what is displayed in the museum.  As I discussed in the post about Local/Regional History, a local museum relies heavily on donations and if a prominent family gives a substantial amount, they may want their family’s history displayed in the museum or not displayed depending on the family’s past.  Public museums, like the Park Service, do not rely as heavily on donations, but they still have to be concerned about offending the public.

All museums have to be concerned about how they present history.  It is nearly impossible to display artifacts from an event without angering a portion of the population.  This is especially true when displaying artifacts from controversial historical events such as slavery, the Holocaust, or the use of atomic weapons on Japan.  These topics are difficult to begin with, but displaying them in a way that does not offend is nearly impossible.  I will discuss this more in a later post about memory.

Museums are the most important and most common way that the public comes into contact with history.  That is why it is important that the displays be accurate and tell a clear story.  Even if the topic is difficult for the public to deal with, it still needs to be told.  Public Historians often work in museums and many work for the National Park Service.  While in school, museums are a great place to intern and get a feel for life in a museum.  The Park Service has excellent internship opportunities and I interned for them last year.  Museums are important because they tell the story in a way a book cannot.  Bringing the pubic into contact with the artifacts is key to allowing them to understand history.

NOTE:  This is the sixth in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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The Super Moon

The moon is the closest to Earth since 1992 or will again until 2029.  This is the “Super Moon” as it appears over Virginia.

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Public History Series: Documentary Editing

Documentary editing does not refer to television documentaries, but to documents. When you conduct research on a historic figure, you go to the library and look for a volume of that particular person’s writings. You find what you are looking for, check it out, and use it in your paper. Have you ever wondered how those collections of documents are created? Very often what you have checked out is an edited collection of papers, not a complete volume.

Documentary editors seek ALL the papers related to a specific person. That does not mean, however, that they wish to publish every paper. What they will often do is release volumes of papers that are thematic such as, “The Presidential Papers of…”, “The Letters of…”, or “The Writings of…” These volumes are only a fraction of the correspondents or documents written by the historical figure. These volumes are very important to historians conducting research and the documentary editors themselves are often Public Historians. They have to have an interest in the subject matter, however, because it often takes decades to complete such a project. They also have to make the difficult decision of what gets published and what does not. There are volumes that include everything, “The Complete papers of…,” but most often only a selection of documents are published and that makes for difficult decisions.

That brings about some negative aspects of documentary editing. The fact that it can take a long time means that the projects often eat money. The research required very expensive and time consuming. Today, the National Archives and University Libraries have become a repository for these types of documents. Universities can use students or interns to go through the papers and make them available. With new technology, however, documentary editing has become an online project. The University of Virginia is working on the Papers of George Washington. A project that has been going on for decades. What they are doing today is making many of his documents available online. This saves the cost of printing and eliminates the difficult decision as to what gets published and what does not. With online archives, everything can be scanned and placed online for the reader/researcher to sift through.

There are drawbacks to online documents, however. Most common is credibility. Sites with the suffix .edu or .gov are usually safe and reliable but sites that end with .com and .org require a little research into the organization running the site. Bias can dictate what documents are published and what documents are not. Be wary of ALL sites and do some research into who is running them before using or citing them as a source.

Documentary editors have a difficult job in collecting the papers of an individual and determining what should and should not be published; however, new technologies, are making it possible for the documents to be published as a complete collection in an online format. This allows greater access to documents, but can create a credibility issue. Nonetheless, documentary editing is extremely important to historians and should be considered by those interested in conducting research.


NOTE: This is the fifth in a ten part series on Public History. The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6. A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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Public History Series: Historic Preservation

I have written about Historic Preservation in a previous post, but I wrote about the course I am taking and how we work to preserve buildings.  There are, however, different types of preservation.  The areas of preservation include buildings, books/documents, and artifacts.  I will go through them one-by-one.


As I mentioned in my previous post about HIST 593, in order to preserve a building, you must first learn how it was constructed.  This will allow you to identify the period in which the building was constructed, but will also help you determine the areas that may be the weakest structurally.  When preserving a building, it is important to maintain its character.  Putting aluminum windows or siding on a historic brick building would be inappropriate and would make it ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places.  The key to preserving any historic building is insuring the preservation of its character.

There are many aspects to preserving a historic building including replacing the building materials with traditional parts, decorating the house as it would have originally been, and preserving the outer appearance of the property.  That is the key for the National Register.  They understand that the inside will have been modernized (bathroom, kitchen, etc.), but the outside of the house should look as it did when the structure was constructed.

So how do we determine whether or not a house is eligible for National Register?  First the building has to meet one of the following qualifications: 1. significance by date (e.g. Plantation House), 2. significance by person (e.g. Monticello), 3. cultural affiliation (e.g. Slave cabin), or 4. significant architect/builder (e.g. Falling Water).  One of those qualifications must be chosen on the National Register Application, but that is not enough to justify the listing of a building.  The building must maintain integrity in several aspects including: 1. location (has not been moved), 2. setting (the landscape has not changed significantly), 3. design (no major additions that detract from the building), 4. materials (cannot be aluminum siding), 5. feeling (must convey a feeling of being historic) and 6. context.  None of these categories are concrete, of course, so it may be possible for a structure that has been moved if it maintains other forms of integrity.

Preservation and the National Register are not exact sciences, but there are a series of steps to insure the process is done correctly.  First, the National Register nomination is submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office (yes, every state has one!).  They research the building and insure the facts are accurate.  If they are, the structure is added to the State Register.  A committee than decides if the building is worthy of listing on the National Register.  If so, they send it on, but there is not guarantee that it will be listed.  The process is very long and requires someone with specific knowlege to research, and Public Historians fit the bill.


Declaration of Independance as it appears today

The preservation of books and documents are equally important and are very specialized.  These techniques often require certification and/or and degree in Library Science.  However, many Public Historians seek this type of degree or certificate after completing their Master’s Degree.  This is a very technical process, one that I have little experience with, so cannot elaborate too much on the subject.  Archives and libraries often employ paper conservators to ensure their collections are properly preserved.  One of the best examples is the National Archives.  They are responsible for some of the most important documents of our nation’s history: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Both are old documents and require regular maintenance, but they also require someone with specific knowledge to ensure that they do not degrade further.  This is a very important task and one that often begins with Public Historians.


As with books/documents, I have limited knowledge on this subject, but it is equally important.  Historians often specialize in knowledge of clay pots, etc. when they work on archaeological sites.  Their job is to responsibly clean artifacts that have been unearthed.  They may also have to piece together many pieces of a clay pot to get an idea of its shape and, therefore, its significance.  At Montpelier, there is an archaeology department that are working to uncover items that belonged to the Madison’s and their slaves.  They have archaeologists and conservators on site, but they also use students from JMU.  This gives the students hands on experience with artifacts and the processes involved, but is also moving the project forward at a rapid pace.

Preservation is a multi-facited sub-discipline within Public History that requires specialized knowledge.  I am sure there are others types of preservation that I have not included, but these are the most common.  Preservation is an important part of history because it ensures an objects survival for future generations.


NOTE:  This is the fourth in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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Is the First Generation iPad a Classic?

With the release of iPad 2, many are wondering place in history the first generation iPad holds.  Is the iPad a classic device already?  There has been much said about how the iPad was the best selling product release in the history of the tech world, but what does that really mean?  Apple is has a long line of successes beginning with the Apple 2 in the late 1970s, the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and finally the iPad.  These devices have changed the industry in their own way, but does the iPad belong in the same category of these other game-changing devices?

iPad 1

Lets begin by looking at sales.  Steve Jobs announced the Apple sold 15 million iPads in 2010 (including 300,000 on day 1!).  This sounds like a staggering number, but he also announced that Apple had also sold its 100 millionth iPhone in the month of February 2011.  Two devices that defined categories, two different milestones.  It is difficult to understand what this means unless we break down the numbers further.  The iPad went on sale April 2, 2010 and sold 15 million by the end of December.  That is a total of 274 days.  By doing simple math, we discover that Apple sold 54,744 iPads per day, 2,2801 per hour, and 38 per minute.  The iPhone went on sale July 29, 2007 and by the end of February 2011 had been on sale for 1,617 days.  That means that Apple has sold, on average, 61,842 iPhones per day, 2,576 per hour, and 42 per minute.  Four more per minute than the iPad.

There are other numbers that make one question the importance of the iPad.  The App Store has been a success for Apple on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad and Jobs was sure to announce that the App Store had approximately 65,000 apps for the iPad as of the beginning of March 2011.  The App Store, however, has over 350,000 total apps which means that only 19% of the apps on the App Store are optimized for the iPad.  Not nearly as impressive as you thought, is it?

Steve Jobs debuted iPad 1 January 27, 2010

The iPad has delivered some very impressive numbers since its launch, however.  Selling 15 million units of a new device does seem to be a record.  Those 15 million units generated $9.5 billion in revenue for Apple, a sizable portion of their revenue.  Users have also downloaded over 100 million iBooks since its launch last April.  That equates to approximately 253 downloads per second.  Apple did not release the number of apps downloaded during that same period, but I assume it would eclipse the number of iBooks.  The iPad currently holds approximately 90% of the tablet market share.  This is because there are still few competitors out there, but they are coming.  Blackberry, WebOS, Windows (yet to be named), Android (too many to list), they are all creating tablets to rival the iPad.

So is iPad 1 a classic?  It would seem that many people have chosen to keep their original iPad as opposed to upgrading to iPad 2.  A survey conducted on launch day of iPad 2 found that 70% of those buying an iPad 2 were buying their first iPad.  Does that mean Apple will increase its consumer base by 70%?  Probably not, but it does show that many people waiting for the iPad 2.  That is one thing with technology.  There is always a group of users that skip the first generation of products.  The iPad 2 is an improvement over iPad 1, but there is a sizable crowd that will keep their iPad 1 for another year and wait for iPad 3.

iPad 2

The simple answer to the question as to whether iPad 1 is a classis is yes.   A classic device changes things and the iPad certainly has.  The iPad can do everything the iPhone can do and it can do everything a MacBook can do, but the revolution is in how it does it.  The touch interface changed the smart phone market in 2008 and the iPad changed the computer market in 2010.  At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2011, there were over 40 tablets demoed, all destined to challenge the iPad.  At CES 2010, there were a few, but they never made it to production.  January 27, 2010 changed the tablet market forever.  When Steve Jobs held the iPad on stage in San Francisco, it was clear something had changed.  The first iPad went virtually unchallenged in 2010, but there are a wide variety of challengers lined up for 2011.  iPad was released to nationwide sellouts and a massive number of online orders, but will iPad 2 live up to its predecessor, the “Classic iPad”?  We will have to wait and see.

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