Ownership, Copyright, and Privacy

Beginning with a story about photojournalism and combat in Afghanistan, it was difficult to understand how the ethical concerns regarding a soldier’s death might inform ethics concerning privacy and copyright in historical documents. By the end of the Radiolab episode, I understood the conflict. Time magazine owned photos of Jonathan Taylor’s face by way of their contract with the photojournalist present with the medevac team. Time owned the photos, but consent remained with the next of kin. In the end, the family was treated with respect – but the full story could not be portrayed to the general public. In a sense, the photojournalist was able to take rules and ethics previously determined and apply them to the present situation.

In dealing with the medical records of subjects in the 1960s south, concerns of privacy and personal information may be somewhat similar. When reading this particular chapter, I found myself immediately asking why the solution to this problem wasn’t to consider an Institutional Review Board permit or simply contact the next of kin. I was actually surprised that the writer took so long into the chapter to mention why an IRB wasn’t applicable in this situation. I personally feel that having a group of historians set a guideline of ethical behavior for their own field might be slightly problematic. IRB committees are comprised of individuals from different specialties who can take the rights, safety, and privacy of individuals into account. In a field where there might not be any true objectivity, is it possible to design an ethical set of guidelines that can inform historians on the potential risks of historical research?

I am biased toward ‘no’. If it is true that one cannot really get to the heart of objectivity within history, then how can historians take an objective stance toward the potential risks to human subjects? We can argue that this information is vital to research and can inform academics about past phenomena, but in the end – who benefits? Is it the families, similar demographic groups, historians, or everyone? How or why is this information important? Without a perspective outside of history’s immediate and collective perspective, I am not sure that we can fully understand potential ethical risks.

While an IRB might not be appropriate, I do believe that a multi-vocal and varied review committee is the key to understanding what is or is not appropriate when researching personal information in the recent past. This of course barring the possibility of the consent by next of kin or descendant groups.

As I am just becoming familiar with the theoretical perspectives of historians, I am glad to know that the field is concerned with privacy, copyright, and ownership of the past. This is an issue we deal with regularly in anthropology. Not only when dealing with the past – anthropologists (should be) are consulting with descendant groups about their feelings regarding their ancestral group’s history, and there are informed consent forms filled out prior to ethnographic research. One of the additional issues that has been studied in recent years is also the concern over intellectual property. How can we project a more modern social construction like copyright onto either past peoples or indigenous groups and their traditional knowledge? Or – how can we not?

-Sarah

On Entitlement and Responsibility in Archives

This week, specifically “Sight Unseen” and “Opening Archives on the Recent American Past,” resonated with me as they relate to the tension between privacy and public knowledge. Privacy is very important to me, both personally and professionally, and my respect for the concept extends not just to the living, but to the dead as well. It is easy to get caught up in the deep curiosity that comes from research—we want to know as much as possible and the more intimate the better to try to form a comprehensive interpretive understanding, but at least personally I try to temper this curiosity with responsibility and respect. I do make exceptions, especially when it comes to my own family research, but generally I try to air on the side of caution with others.

Through my considerable experience as a genealogist, I understand just how personal family history can be to some people. As I sift through documents and records seeking clues to individuals and family units, I often come across surprises for the living. Some of these surprises, such as a Revolutionary War soldier, a politician, or even a slave who participated in a revolt, are eye-opening to the living and often provide them with a deep sense of connection to both history and their own family roots. Other surprises are more complex: a slave owner, a soldier who participated in the Trail of Tears, a murderer. These are often met with mixed feelings. Some find that these revelations help them to not only have a greater connection to the past, but they also give a stronger awareness of unbroken threads of injustice and oppression that continue to the present day—an awareness that leads to a dedication to do better than one’s ancestors. Some, however, refuse to acknowledge these “undesirables” in their family trees. They will share my positive findings with their extended families, but will leave out any of the perceived negatives, thus giving an incomplete genealogy for posterity. In the end, it is a person’s prerogative to do what she will with my findings. It is her business.

Regarding my personal genealogy, I tend to obsess over some of these surprises. I have multiple slave owners in my past (and I will forever remember the only slave I could find in records; her name was Dian), and one of my ancestors has the distinction of being among the first Europeans to kill another European on American soil. I also have a town drunkard, multiple child abandoners, and a more recent ancestor who spent considerable time imprisoned in a Kirkbride mental hospital in the early 20th century. I “own” all of these people and I feel free to talk about them and share their stories with people because they are mine to talk about, within reason. In some cases, especially my more recent ancestor, out of respect for his memory and dignity (even though he has been dead for decades), I keep details minimal and will never publish the emotional letters he wrote from the institution, which I hold in my private collection.

But my focus as a historian (other than incorporating digital multimedia) is on African American life in the South between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. The social activist in me wants to tell these stories in a manner that highlights the injustices done at this time—to expose the unfairness and inequality that still persists today. But I do not intend to be an activist, but rather an advocate. And as an advocate, I must acknowledge my voice within the work and separate my own activist feelings in favor of stakeholder wishes. One can individually rail against the system as an activist, but an advocate cannot work apart from the dignity of the community she is working with.

Working on the grassroots projects that I am currently involved with, Beacon Hill and Section 6, I have been learning that my indignation is my own and has no place in how I present my findings as a public historian. Some of my stakeholders lived through the era I am studying and presenting to the public, and many of them know the people that I am researching who are buried in Section 6. For those who grew up in Beacon Hill, they do not want to be treated like victims, but rather they want to highlight their achievements and their community strength. And the people I am researching in Section 6 have living descendants—in the absence of tracking everyone down, how much do I reveal publicly about my findings? For instance, I recently acquired the actual names of those buried in public and pauper graves—an incredibly rare find in cemetery research. Do I publish these names so that these individuals are identified and therefore memorialized, even though they couldn’t afford a personal gravesite and marker? How will this poverty—and publicizing of it—be received by their descendants? While some may find strength in honoring their dead and this may catalyze more interest in heritage study, others may feel betrayed or may cease any further delving into their pasts. I bear responsibility as the one who holds the information and plans to publish much of it.

I praise the journalists in “Sight Unseen” who opted for respecting the privacy of the soldier and his family over presenting a story to the public of the horrors of war. Could the photographic article have had an impact on the public’s view of war? Perhaps. But choosing a perceived greater good over the rights of individuals opens up a slippery slope. As historians of the recent past, if we choose our perception of the greater good over the desires of the living, we stand to lose public trust and cooperation, not to mention we risk being accused of being self-serving and exploitative. In the eyes of those whose histories we are exposing, we are not telling fictions but the real experiences of human beings.

Similarly, even the public availability of archives is a tricky matter. As “Opening Archives” discusses, many archivists value accessibility over the privacy of second or third parties. I see this as problematic for various reasons. First, in my opinion at least, our desire to know does not trump the dignity of any individual whose stories may be unknowingly exposed. The idea of publishing the entirety of a judge’s papers, which include a letter naming an adolescent victim of rape, is repugnant to me. I don’t really care how long it would take to sort through this collection to find similar documents or how long these documents have already been in circulation. To willfully include such material could ruin one person’s life; if the value of the collection is so great, then the mission to preserve the integrity of privacy should be just as great. Humane responsibility comes with being the caretaker of archives.

We have grown up in a culture of instant access to information. Millions, if not billions, of dollars are made every year in media coverage of the private lives of celebrities. Do we have the right to this information, just because these individuals have careers in the spotlight? Similarly, do we have the right to access (or even share) personal information on anyone, living or dead, just because it exists? What makes us as historians so privileged as to assume that all records, even intimate ones, of human beings should be freely accessible to us? Sure, we wish to use this information to tell stories of our human history, but why are we entitled to it?

If we are disappointed in not having access to the private archives of individuals, whose materials could shed light on important issues, then we should ask ourselves why these collection holders do not wish to share. For instance, there are very few, if any, public archival resources on Beacon Hill—its physical presence or its people. However, there is a wealth of documentation in private holdings. Individuals have mounds of photographs, newspaper clippings, and other articles in their personal belongings and have no intention of ever giving this over to a public archive, even posthumously. For people who have lived through segregation and urban renewal, who have been underrepresented or misrepresented, what incentive have they to give their physical memories to arguably the same people that have ignored, displaced, or profaned them for so long? This is where integrity comes in, and building trust at the grassroots level. For my own future project regarding Beacon Hill, these private archives are a gold mine to me—a way to personalize my research for others and to put faces to the names that I have accumulated for years now. It is possible that many of the holders of these archives will let me digitize their material for my virtual exhibition/memorial, but it will take me proving that I will only use this material according to their wishes and will not use them as part of a personal agenda. Could this stand to prohibit the richest story I can tell? Possibly. But these are their stories and their archives and it is not my place to exploit them, even if I personally think it will contribute to a greater good.

And that’s what it comes down to when we are in the realm of recent history. To publish findings against the will of those who have a stake in the tale is to be exploitative, regardless of how passionately you feel about an issue. While you are free to decide to share whatever best supports your narrative, regardless of the feelings of others, you do so at the risk of ever getting someone to share again. We have to make many decisions as historians and of course many are not easy. We are not examining particles in a petri dish, but human beings with complex histories and emotions. I just always keep close to my mind and heart that there are consequences and I try to build my integrity accordingly.

– Laurel Wilson

Who cares?! And other ideas…

So today I ramble…

As historians, we balance a fine line between the public and private. As public historians, we must constantly have the interest of the public in our mind. This raises a major question: “Who is the public?” I further push us to analyze the question of “who within the public is important?” A problematic question from the moment it is mentioned. With the popularity of the internet access to historical documents is more accessible than ever for almost anyone. So, who becomes then the public that we are writing for? Who do we need to consider?

Radiolab’s podcast about the photographs of the soldier debate, emphasizes the point of who is our public, who do we respond to, who do we owe. In a way, owing someone should not be our focus as historians, but in away when we do certain works, we are responding to a majority and to stakeholders. The photographs she took would have told an important story that comes with war, it would have told a story of unity, through the development of the photographs into the prayer, but due to stakeholders, the family, the story became one more of death.

With the advent of the internet and the access to newspaper articles and photographs from earlier days, people are more than ever learning about things that occurred in the past. Before the creation of digital open archives, people focused on information gained from books, oral histories and deep historical research, but still people could only find so much in that time. Now, we have the ability to research news articles from around the world, sitting in one spot. This access allows historians to learn more than ever! One of my favorite moments of having this access is learning about all the tabloid worthy actions of the Candler family, including Mrs. Candler having a male guest over at nights when Asa Candler was out of town. After that she was arrested for cheating on Asa, according to the articles, was friends with Chief Beaver and he arrested Mrs. Candler for Asa. While information like this is not vital to research or a thesis, as public historians it is fun to share and now with the internet we can share it.

For me, in my research, I likely would not be able to do the massive amount of research that I can do on Deaf history without the internet. Gallaudet holds all of its information from around the nation, actually even the world, on one site. Although, as I have mentioned before the site is rough, it is still better than nothing, before I would have had to go to DC and go through their archives on campus, if they allowed me in. Gallaudet through the use of the internet has also been able to gather information on Deaf cultures around the world. I am also able to view videos on Deaf President Now, from the 1980s, and protest that are happening throughout the world as the world Deaf community becomes reinvigorated. With the creation of the internet the question of who is our public becomes even more problematic, who cares about what we research, especially when they can research it themselves?  

Why I like to study Dead People

The material this week addressed two distinct but interrelated topics. I want to start with the issue of copyright and archival access before turning to the idea of free scholarship. As a historian who studies the mid-nineteenth century, I never run into the issue of copyright restrictions. Even image or artwork produced during that time, which I would like to include in my works, usually is openly available. I can however feel for all my peers who do more contemporary research (i.e. the dark art—the p. s. stuff—things after 1980) and struggle with the issue of access. Especially the story of the Malcolm X resources was incredible saddening, not just because there likely will never be a possibility to write a comprehensive biography based on the vast body of his work, simply because we do not know where all of his work is. Even more it is saddening that there are people, owning Malcolm X material, who rather keep those items in a vault hidden from everybody, only them knowing what treasures they have, and not share this material with a wider audience who could learn and benefit from this material. Would this not enhance one’s personal wealth too, knowing that one owns valuable civic documents that hold incredible humanistic value beside simple monetary value? But, this probably rather speaks to the general problem within the country for the past century and more. Rich individuals had always looked to their personal wealth and cared little about society and its needs. So nothing has changed between the Robber Barons and the 1% “movement.” Obviously, I personally think documents of historic value should not be in a private bank vault but in an archive, accessible to the public. If a donor wants to be a d***, they can always include stipulations that researchers have to ask for permission from them. It would not be ideal, as the story with the Martin Luther King papers shows, but at least there would be access and public knowledge.

I unfortunately encountered a similar issue in my own research once as I was digging through diaries by Rudolph Schleiden in the state library of Schleswig-Holstein. Hidden in one of the boxes was a finding aid with correspondence, but the librarians said they did not own those materials and had no idea where they were. Almost resigning to the usual war damage storyline, I did some more searching when returned to the United States and discovered that the correspondence was located in the university library of the Christian Albrecht Universität only a stone throw from the state library. I was crossed.

The issue of privacy and copyright was significant in the other piece about medical and student records from Civil Rights Era Mississippi. While for education purposes, I think the author was overly cautious and copyright holders overly vigilant on the issue of showing videos at conference or in classes. I can see where we cross a line when we make entire books, that are still on the market for purchase, available to students online. On the other hand, if I want to show videos without having to worry about the troubling nature of USG provided wireless internet, I think that we need to have some leeway to download/pirate those clips and audios for our class and integrate them into powerpoint presentations. Education purposes obviously stretch the limitations of copyright, but maybe there is also the need for some more freedom, after all we expose potentially hundreds of consumers to images or videos who might buy them.

On a final note and related to all this is the question raised by Roy Rosenzweig about free scholarship. Obviously, this is an issue people are torn about. Should scholarship, books, articles be free to the public? Having signed a contract with a university press that clearly said that only after the first 500th copies sold would I even get a small percentage of the money made, I have no, nor ever had, any illusion of making money of my writing. I write for promotions in my academic job or for new job opportunities, which will provide higher pay. Especially the smaller university presses might bulk at the thought of their already shrinking budgets being further curtailed by free books. At the same time, this might be an opportunity for university presses as well. They usually operate with small stuff and if they offered books as pdf or digital online, they would eliminate the high printing and type setting costs. I do not think that freely providing journal articles would be a major downfall for historic societies. Especially, organization like the Society of Civil War Historians, Southern Historical Association, Society of Historians of the Early Republic would all still have members because their journal is only part of why historians are members, the other is the networking and conferences, which would still provide a major draw. I can see why the overblown bureaucratic American Historical Society would sweat it. I have abandoned my membership because I hardly ever read the AHR whose articles are never remotely in my field of interest and whose meetings are overblown affairs with most jobseekers (like myself). In this case it would be the organization that had to change. Similarly, I think that groups like JStor, EBSCO, and especially Gale should make their material more accessible to the public, cutting dramatically their subscription costs. A broader opportunity to read the latest trends and information in scholarship could open the door for the public to become more involved and engaged.

Public v. Private – Can You Have Your Cake and Eat it Too?

Cultural institutions such as museums and archives are, at times, awkwardly positioned between public and private interests. Private donors of funds and collections have a major stake in the functioning of a given institution, and this may, at times, compromise the public good. Although public historians want, above all else, to provide access to and education of resources and materials, how do you negotiate with an apprehensive or even defensive donor?

Perhaps you can, as a public historian, have your cake and eat it too. Maybe you can, in fact, make everyone happy. That is to say, evaluating issues of access and privacy with a donor or stakeholder can be a major part of upholding the public good; protecting intellectual property may also be a part of it, too. This is not to say that research and archiving should be highly regulatory. Rather, we may consider smaller aspects of these issues more closely.

For example, intentionality may be an important consideration. Archives redacting info in accordance with donor requests can be necessary for establishing rapport and preserving materials that, though manipulated, may otherwise be lost entirely. Brown and Kaiser in their Doing Recent History essay, would probably agree with this to a certain extent. On the other hand, collecting royalties on Martin Luther King Jr.’s likeness and quotations in an instance of fundraising for a MLK monument seems cruelly profit-oriented. Drakes, in her Doing Recent History essay, would likely agree with this as well. Although examples more simply illustrate how to negotiate public and private concerns, a hard-and-fast standard is nearly impossible to determine.

In addition, it is important to note that there are more individuals (and potential private donors) who do not have an understanding of this balance because private ownership, privacy, and expression are highly valued in the United States. Often these rights are far more appealing to people than the public good which, in this case, involves access. This does not make people bad, but it indicates there may be a lack of education and incentive in this regard. Historians with a populist, open-access mission will have to address individual concerns and if they can strike a balance, they will be oriented towards the public good.

– Lauren Ericson

Privacy, Access, and the Recent Past

Currently, I am working on a project with Emory University’s Rose Library where I am writing about a scrapbook kept by a woman who lived in Atlanta’s Howell Station neighborhood in the early 20th century. Here are a few facts about her life: she was really worried about removing freckles and whitening her skin. She was also really racist, though probably no more so than most of her white contemporaries. She also believed that Leo Frank probably deserved to be lynched by an angry mob. One wonders, though, how she would feel if she knew her beauty secrets, much less the fact that she clipped a leaf from the tree used to hang Leo Frank, were going to be displayed on a website for public consumption a hundred years later. Personally, I am glad that I have this opportunity. The scrapbook lends valuable insight into day-to-day life in the early 20th century South. Were the roles reversed, I would admit that I wouldn’t be comfortable with everything a historian could learn about me, but I take the biased view that I’d be happy to advance the study of the time in which I live. Those who study the recent past, however, cannot avoid such concerns so easily.

Take, for example, the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. One collection in this archive includes records kept by medical students working at a public health clinic in Mississippi in 1968. These records include valuable information on the lives of impoverished African American families, but this information can also violate the privacy of people who are still living. Historians would be especially interested in what these records reveal about the patients’ family and social relationships, as well as social mores and religious beliefs. The same records also discuss the patients’ health, medical issues, hygiene, and sexual habits. It would be difficult for a historian to reveal such details in good conscience if they knew that publishing them could affect the personal life of someone who is still living. So how do historians balance privacy and quality research?

Photojournalist Lyndsey Addario faced a similar problem when she was embedded with a group of Marines in Afghanistan. When Lance Corporal Jonathan Taylor was mortally wounded in Helmand Province in December 2009, Addario accompanied the medevac team who tried to keep him alive. Despite best efforts, Corporal Taylor did not survive and Addario captured the process in a series of photographs that she hoped to use as the basis for a story. The military has strict rules for embedded journalists, however, and one of them prevents the publication of photographs that clearly identify a soldier without her/his permission. When the soldier is deceased, permission must come from the next of kin. Addario asked Taylor’s family if she could use her photographs for a feature in Time Magazine. Taylor’s father gave the issue a great deal of thought but ultimately declined permission, which forced Addario to shift her story’s focus to the medevac team itself.

In a way, Addario’s situation was fairly clear cut. The rules set forth by the military are fairly straightforward, where, for better or worse, free access is not a priority. Addario treated Taylor’s family with deference and respect, demonstrating a fair concern for her subject’s privacy. Historians and journalists lose something here, but it is also unwise to be insensitive to a family’s grief. In fifty to a hundred years, these photographs could possibly be unearthed for future research. This is cold comfort for historians and journalists, but at least there is little ambiguity right now.

In other situations, the boundaries are harder to define. Take, for instance, a diary where multiple living parties differ on what constitutes embarrassing information. In these cases, Laura Clark Brown and Nancy Kaiser believe that the concern must be equally shared by researchers, archivists, and donors. Archivists can redact documents, but this process is very time consuming. Collections can hold thousands of records which are often measured in footage instead of pages. Electronic records, provided there is a sufficient means to store them, can be even larger. While it may be easier to search electronic records, time is only one factor. There is no satisfactory standard for redacting records to insure privacy and retain historical utility. Brown and Kaiser observe that the standards set by HIPAA and the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act render documents useless for the purposes of most historical research. At the same time Brown and Kaiser encourage curators to have frank conversations with donors to limit embarrassing details about people who may still be alive. Historians, they caution, “must reciprocate by using sensitive materials responsibly.”

Kaiser and Brown’s solution is only a band aid, however. So long as there is a debate about how best to balance access and privacy in studying the recent past, it is likely that each collection in question will have to be weighed on its own, unique merits.

—William Greer

“From Civil War to Civil Rights: A History of the National Park System in Georgia”

On August 25th, 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th year of preserving America’s natural and cultural resources. At its inception in 1916, the Park Service managed thirty five sites. Since then, the number has grown to more than 400 parks, which host more than 280,000,000 annual visits. The parks of the state of Georgia comprise a significant element of this system. Georgia hosts eleven major sites that are under either direct stewardship of, or are partnered with, the National Park Service. These sites draw almost 7.5 million visitors a year, and National Park tourism in Georgia generates an average of $378,000,000 in annual economic benefits. Using the Omeka and Neatline platforms this project—titled “From Civil War to Civil Rights: A History of the National Park System in Georgia”—will build an interactive map and history of Georgia’s National Parks to help commend this achievement.

While the website for Georgia’s National Parks already has an interactive map, it can still be improved upon. The current map offers pop-up links that provide a brief description of National Historic Sites. The site does not, however, include the Arabia Mountain, Augusta Canal, or Gullah Geechee National Heritage Areas, or sites of the Trail of Tears. In its present state, the map offers a brief guide to National Historic Sites. This project will create a more elaborate version, which not only offers photo essays of individual historic sites, but provides a timeline of the history of the Park Service in Georgia. The current site offers potential visitors a brief overview. This project will celebrate the National Park Service’s contribution to the state by tracking its development and highlighting each place’s unique historic landscape.

As a model, this project will base itself on “Perspectives on the Haram”, a Neatline and Omeka exhibit designed by undergraduates at the University of Virginia. “Perspectives on the Haram” offers an interactive map and timeline that tracks the history of the Haram Mosque in Mecca through accounts of pilgrims, which range from 900 C.E. to present day. Viewers can access these accounts in two ways, either through the timeline or via a navigation pane on the right-hand side of the page. Each entry highlights a different part of the mosque on the map and opens a new pane with a description of each pilgrim’s account.

“From Civil War to Civil Rights” endeavors to do something more modest. A timeline of Georgia’s National Parks will be linked to a map of Georgia. Users can click on a site to open a photo essay of each park. For the purposes of this course, the site will focus on two sites: Andersonville and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Each photo essay will be based, in part, on written histories of the National Park Service, but much of the content will also derive from my own visits to and photographs of the sites themselves. New essays will be added to the project, until all eleven sites have been included. Andersonville and the M.L.K., Jr. N.H.S. will be complete by April 19, 2017. The remaining sites will be complete by December, 2017. Hopefully, this project will provide a new guide to the National Park system in Georgia, and what these sites offer to the state’s rich historical landscape.

—Will Greer

Bibliography:

Bearss, Edwin C. Andersonville National Historic Site: Historic Resource Study and Historical Base Map. Washington, DC: U.S. Office of History and Historic Architecture, Eastern Service Center, 1970.
“Brief History of the National Parks – Mapping the National Parks.” The Library of Congress. Accessed March 08, 2016. https://www.loc.gov/collection/national-parks-maps/articles-and-
essays/brief-history-of-the-national-parks/.
Dilsaver, Lary M. America’s National Park System : The Critical Documents. Lanham, Md.: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 1997.
Mackintosh, Barry. The National Parks: Shaping the System. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1991.
Meringolo, Denise D. Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.
“National Park Service History.” National Park Service History. Accessed March 08, 2016. http://npshistory.com/.
Runte, Alfred. National Parks: The American Experience. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1979.
United States. National Park Service. “Georgia (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service. 2016. Accessed March 08, 2016. http://www.nps.gov/state/ga/index.htm.
United States National Park Service. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Georgia: I Have a Dream. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1990.

Photo Credits:

Unknown Soldier’s Grave, Andersonville: author photo.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Gravesite: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5
/5e/Tombstone_for_Martin_Luther_King_%26_Coretta_Scott_King_at_MLK_Historic_Site_in_Atlanta.JPG

Project Proposal: Separatism and the Language of Slavery

For the project, I am going to do something long overdue and something new. I created a very simple website about one year ago (nielseichhorn.com) because a journal article about to come out with some important date was unable to include a large set of datasets I had compiled. Since the journals host institution was unwilling to provide web space, I placed the material online myself. It was an out of the box website with some alterations. I had long wanted to redo the site and put more of a personal touch on it and by default eliminate some of the cost involved with using a website builder online. For the project, I want to build an online exhibit that will eventually serve as a mechanism to promote my first book.

I am currently experimenting with EverWeb, a website builder software, to see if some of the ideas about the exhibit will be possible. It is not as user-friendly as an online for pay builder but that is the fun of this kind of work. I experimented this weekend with Sandvox, Freeway, and Adobe Muse. I am tempted to try Adobe Muse but the cost structure of Adobe products is not appealing to me as an occasional user and upon early experimentation, I found the program to be complex and requiring more hands-on construction. I had looked at wordpress and omeka as possible candidates, but found wordpresses base as a blogging site too limited and omeka’s layout not pleasing for what I envision for a website to host important datasets or a exhibit to promote a product.

The exhibit project is a continuation of what I am currently doing in the Public History capstone project. In that class, I am putting together a mock exhibit for the Fredericksburg National Military Park about Irish participants in the Civil War, which is based on my book project Separatism and the Language of Slavery (under advance contract with LSU Press). In the books, I also explore the experiences of Hungarians, Poles, and Germans from Schleswig-Holstein, I decided to make the exhibit about the Irish because of their military role in the war and their incredibly complex story, that at least is vaguely familiar to some people. The exhibit, depending on how interactive and visual I can make the presentation with copyright free material and the time I have available, would introduce Potato Famine torn Ireland and the culmination of the suffering with the six-day uprising by the Irish Confederation/Young Ireland Movement. From here, I transition the Irish into the sectionalism torn United States where they faced a new decision. Based on their background, experiences, and arguments, Irish migrants selected their favorable belligerents in the United States. The most significant moment comes with the myth of the Union and Confederate Irish brigade facing each other in combat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. Only one side had an Irish brigade at the battle. The exhibit concludes with the important reminder that Irish people, regardless whether in Ireland or in the United States, always had only one aspiration, freedom for Ireland and its oppressed people.

Niels Eichhorn

 

P.S. Bibliography to follow by email since it is much longer than 5 sources. Also thank you for the most hilarious classroom episode I have ever encountered!

Project Proposal for “Bygone Banter: Love Letters to Dearest Anne”

In 2014, a friend and I went to the Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market in New Milford, Connecticut. Always on the eye out for unique tchotchkes, clothing, and other eclectic antiques, I was over the moon when I noticed a stack of letters sitting in a shoe box. A quick scan of the envelopes revealed that these were World War II letters – “Sgt.” and “U.S. Army” on the return label, postmarked in the year 1944. And all were addressed to one woman, Anne Silver of Canton Center, Connecticut. Quickly checking to see that the envelopes in fact contained letters, I turned to the dealer and asked how much. Fifteen dollars poorer and forty letters richer, I left quite happy.

After spending that afternoon pouring over the letters, I was able to determine that Anne Silver and Sgt. Cliff Seger corresponded quite a bit throughout the War. Only correspondence to Anne was in the pile, though, so I had little way of knowing what she might have written. However, two of letters that were not by Cliff, and were to or about Anne, were in the mix. In fact, I had acquired forty letters representing three different romantic relationships with three different soldiers: Cliff, Felix, and Herman. This turn of events, or correspondence, somewhat shifted my perception of these love letters, and inspired me to utilize them in this project, two years later.

The goal of this project will be to digitize all forty of the love letters in this collection. I will scan each page and envelope, and upload them as JPG files to Omeka. Using Omeka, I will use Dublin Core archival standards to catalogue each item, to include titles, descriptions, creators, dates, formats, languages, provenance, and tags. The combination of the original document scans with this metadata will provide a substantial introduction to the material. Fortunately, the letters are generally in fabulous condition, with little fading and staining, and very legible handwriting. However, some may need to be transcribed, in which case the original scans and the transcriptions will be included.

In addition to the online archive of these letters, I will create an online exhibit using Omeka and Timeline JS to narrate and contextualize the correspondence. Because the correspondence is entirely one-sided, and we do not have a representation of Anne’s words, it is important to try, to the best of my ability, to fill the gaps in this story. With this exhibit I have three main goals: to correlate the date and content of Cliff Seger’s letters with larger World War II events, to surmise Anne’s experience based on primary and secondary source material of the Homefront, and to contextualize Anne’s three relationships with a perspective of wartime gender and sexuality.

Fortunately, the World War II era is extremely well preserved and researched. Primary and secondary sources will undoubtedly contribute ample evidence to contextualize Anne’s love letters from Cliff, Felix, and Herman. For example, beginning with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the events that follow into 1943 can introduce exhibit users to the history of the War itself and to the beginning of the correspondence on December 17, 1943. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a thorough timeline that could provide initial understanding of political and military events, which could then be supplemented with primary sources such as articles and headlines from The New York Times. Homefront materials abound as well, existing in publications, popular media, photographs, and oral histories. Materials related specifically to Connecticut at the time may be helpful for determining Anne’s experience, such as the University of Connecticut’s oral history project “Voices of the Second World War” and the war-related materials of “Connecticut History Illustrated” of the Connecticut History Digital Archive. In addition, genealogical data from Ancestry.com databases may help consider the family backgrounds of Anne and Cliff.

There are countless pieces of scholarship that will be valuable to this project. For example, Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin considers various manifestations of femininity at the time, including romantic and familial relationships, female icons and entertainers, and the “wrong kind” of woman, such as prostitutes and unwed mothers. Through these lenses, Yellin provides a vast approach to understanding war-era women, and she may provide insight into Anne’s life at the time.[1] In addition, Thanks for the Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II by Jane Mersky Leder explores the revolutionary changes in romantic and sexual love that coincided with revolutionary changes in politics and warfare. Topics including women waiting stateside, popular culture, letter writing, and the post-war marriage and baby boom may all shed light on the dynamic between Anne and Cliff, and perhaps her other suitors Felix and Herman.[2] In addition, B. Lee Cooper’s Journal of American Culture piece “From ‘Love Letters’ to ‘Miss You’: Popular Recordings, Epistolary Imagery, and Romance During War-Time, 1941-1945,” points to the significance of popular music in representing the common heartbreak of soldiers and sweethearts.[3] Cooper’s selected tunes may prove helpful in creating an exhibit that contextualizes experience and gives Anne a voice. Similarly, in Women’s Studies, Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith explain the perspective of a wartime woman waiting at home in “Since you went away: the World War II letters of Barbara Wooddall Tyler.”[4] Although no two experiences or stories are the same, an example specifically from the woman’s viewpoint will be of assistance in recreating Anne and Cliff’s story. Quite different from these pieces, Marilyn E. Hegarty’s Journal of Women’s History article “Patriot or Prostitute? Sexual Discourses, Print Media, and American Women During World War II,” explores the shifts in normative, feminine behavior in public and the media’s encouragement of sexual support for the military.[5] Though this piece approaches the women’s experience differently than some of the others, it may point to helpful primary source examples that illustrate changes in notions of gender and sexuality.

Therefore, although the exhibit and project itself will mostly consist of correspondence, it will be supplemented by other primary sources such as publications, photographs, posters, and perhaps sound or film. As such, considerations of proper reproduction or citation will be relevant in exhibit creation. I believe it is particularly important in this case to cite these sources carefully, because the love letters, as my own personal collection, require some substantiation for archival and research purposes.

Ultimately, this project will result in a digital archive and exhibit for the love letters in the Anne Silver collection. With digitized copies of the letters themselves and supplemental records, users may navigate the collection however they choose. The exhibit, alternately, will provide rich context related to World War II, the Homefront, and changing concepts of gender and sexuality. With this end result, the likely audience would primarily consist of trained historians or history students, and similarly trained academics and professionals. However, other groups may find an interest in this project. For example, I will undoubtedly reach out to the Canton Historical Museum, located in Anne and Cliff’s hometown, to see if they have any related materials or if they have an interest in this collection. In addition, I am a member of a veteran’s support organization called Pin-Ups for Patriots. This group consists of mostly women veterans and loved ones of veterans or active military personnel, and their mission is to provide institutional resources and support through programming and events. With a secondary focus on World War II popular culture and pin-up, the women in this group would probably enjoy perusing this online project. With a fairly diverse audience, multidisciplinary approach, and multimedia format, I am looking forward to preserving and interpreting this collection through archiving and exhibition.

[1] Emily Yellin, Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II, (New York: Free Press, 2004).

[2] Jane Mersky Leder, Thanks for the Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II, (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2006).

[3] B. Lee Cooper, “From ‘Love Letters’ to ‘Miss You’: Popular Recordings, Epistolary Imagery, and Romance During War-Time, 1941-1945,” The Journal of American Culture (Winter 1996): 15-27.

[4] Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, “Since you went away: the World War II letters of Barbara Wooddall Tyler,” Women’s Studies 17, no. 3 (1990): 248-276.

[5] Marilyn E. Hegarty, “Patriot or Prostitute? Sexual Discourses, Print Media, and American Women During World War II,” Journal of Women’s History 10, no. 2 (1998): 112-136.

Documentary for my Ears

I was excited to be assigned podcasts this week. Sometimes time slips away and fitting in time to fully comprehend an article or blog is rushed by time constraints. It becomes remarkably easy to skim over entire sentences or portions of a text in an effort to ensure you can reach the end. Rather than hyper-focusing on each detail – sometimes, when in a time crunch, it becomes more important to understand the gist of the article in lieu of devoting your full attention.

I am currently in this time crunch. In an effort to balance a full time career and school – both of which bleed into my personal time, reading an article word for word has become a luxury I cannot afford. But at what cost? Because of my inability to take on a reasonable amount of work, am I doomed to only have access to snippets of information truncated by the pressures of my own schedule?

Enter the podcast – a documentary for my ears. Not only do I get to just relax and listen, but it gets to happen in an environment where I am not subjected to the constant nagging of what I should be doing. In my truck, during my commute, there are no pressures from the outside world that demand my attention. I do not answer my phone; I cannot write a paper; I cannot go to a meeting. In my truck I get to be free of it all, and there is no guilt or pressure to do multiple things at one time. It offers an environment where I can just listen and enjoy the history of a subject I am fascinated by. As crazy as it sounds coming from a 21st century Atlantan, but if I hit traffic – even better.

The podcast breaks up the monotony of learning in a singular format. The input of information is produced in a manner where questions are asked, fluctuating cadences demand my attention, and varying perspectives are offered. I have immediately appreciated the format because it fits so well into my life, and it gives me the time to learn more about subjects that I had previously wished I had time for.

I got sucked into the rabbit hole of 99% Invisible. After listening to the assigned episodes, I found myself completely entranced and listening the history of the Citicorps building, the Green Book, the Chicago Canal, the Cul de sac, and Victor Gruen. One of the claims the narrator made was of particular interest. In the episode about the public drinking fountain, the narrator assumes that no one has ever been excited about meeting up at the drinking fountain. Interestingly enough, not only have people in the past been excited about it, but the initial invention was much more importance than just convenience. It was born out of a social and medical need. In a very casual manner, the producers of this podcast challenge the idea that feelings today can be projected on to the past.

In the case of Serial, I have not been able to figure out exactly how the narrator paints a picture of Adnan’s friend as a liar and Adnan as an innocent. The set up was so subtle, I found myself trying to pin point how she was able to accomplish this without overt claims. In addition to the convenience of having this story in a digital format, it highlights the importance that digital media has now in creating alibis. What if Adnan had been able to check in at the library?

Though I realize that Twitter is also a valuable tool of the historian, it has not been able to fulfill an immediate need in my own day to day life so I feel less affectionate toward Twitter as a platform from my personal perspective. Regardless, the variety we have in making history available to the public is vital in reaching the public in a myriad of ways.

-Sarah Love