Landscape: The Abandoned and The Haunted

It was recently brought to my attention that “Ruin Porn” is a thing –and a problematic one at that. I am no stranger to the draw of abandoned places, I recently found an abandoned Renaissance Fair, and I never pass up the opportunity to look at photos of defunct amusement parks or detailed architecture made more beautiful by an envelope of lush greens. I understand why critics justifiably rail against the many photographers who lurk around Detroit, capitalizing on the city’s DSCN0246busted economy. It is voyeurism; porn is a strong word, but voyeurism, slumming, insensitive all those work just fine.

This week I read Paul Mullins’s Aug 19, 2012 blog post “The Politics and Archaeology of “Ruin Porn”.” Mullins details the many objections to what has been called “Ruin Porn” and suggests how these photographs can be used to ask compelling archaeological questions. He says “There is tremendous archaeological potential to develop reflective narratives about modernity that weave the decaying ruins of contemporary cities or industrial sites to a complex range of social, political, racist, and class factors that would illuminate how archaeologists, states, and communities value spaces, heritage, and things.” He goes on “We should obey our own fascination with and curiosity in these old spaces—the decayed amusement parks, ruined factories, asylums overtaken by nature—and accept that there is something far more consequential in that curiosity than simply compelling aesthetics. If “ruin porn” helps us see those spaces in new ways, then photography, narratives, and material analysis might collectively provide us an exceptionally powerful way to interpret such places and dissect the concrete social and material forces that create abandonment and ruination.” (Ugh, I love it)

Because I look at ghost stories and rumors of hauntings, as ways that people understand landscape and historicity, I completely understand where Mullin’s is coming from. Reading his post and talking with a fellow researcher, I am left wondering the connection between “abandoned” and “haunted”. Can there two understandings of place co-exist? Are they one in the same? If they diverge, where?


“Abandoned” places are not scary because of ghosts, they are scary because you don’t know who else is there with you.

My answer: They are two totally different concepts of status.

Abandoned places don’t have ghosts; if they did they would be haunted not abandoned. The descriptor “abandoned” means that a place is forsaken, discarded, not thought about anymore. “Abandoned” places become non-places (as odd as that sounds). In order to be a “place” or to exist something needs to be recognized, in order for a place to be a place it needs definition, it needs people to interpret it.

“But” you ask, “what if it is a ruin? Are ruins places? Can ruin’s have ghosts?” Of course ruins are places, they are ruins. They are “ruins”/remains of a former recognized place. I think ruins can have ghost stories or hauntings. I have not read anything about a haunted ruin yet, but I think there is potential simply because ruins are recognized as places. Abandoned places are abandoned places until something thinks about them, then they are ruins, or if there is a ghost story, they are haunted.

Saying “That abandoned house is haunted” is like saying “That yellow dog is cat.” It can’t be both, because they are not arbitrary titles and they mean more than just a description of outside appearance. You can say “That abandoned house looks like it could be haunted.” But you can’t say “The abandoned house is haunted” because once you claim that something is haunted, you are saying that it has 1) a recognizable past and 2) a resident (conceptually).

Abandoned places don’t have a past, because they are recognized as abandoned spaces. Being an abandoned place is a status, and status’ change. In archaeology you could say it is an abandoned landscape until you excavate and find a cellar. Perhaps the phrase “landscape bastard” would be a better, less convoluted, term than “abandoned.”

Why is this and important distinction to make?

As we begin to take seriously both ghost stories/rumors of hauntings and abandoned places we need to recognize them independently. While they both give evidence of time and illustrate a way of thinking about landscape and the past. They are two different statuses.



Making Small Children Cry at Historical Sites

Like many public historians, I read this season’s copy of The Public Historian with long awaited enthusiasm. What stuck with me was a very small part in Amy Tyson’s interview w/ Azie Mire Dungey, the actor in “Ask A Slave.” The article touched on what it is like for African American women (more specifically Dungey, but it was presented as widely applicable, and I tend to believe that) to perform a slave at historical sites. In the beginning, Dungey mentioned visiting Colonial Williamsburg for the first time as child, after reading The Addy, American Girl Book.(Addy was an escaped slave) Dungey said that as a child she recognized C.W. as so accurate that she was afraid that the colonial whites were going to pick-up her and sell her into slavery.

Whoa guys, Lets think of the children!

I was initially shocked by this, and saddened at the thought of a child being afraid. It is heart breaking. We like to think of our children as innocent and delightfully ignorant of the world. They know nothing, because they are new here, so new. Can we/ should we protect children from the past?

Can we create a place that intends on taking people back in time for educational, social, and emotional amusement, and expect the people who know the very least and visit the most often, (children) not to be terrified. Public historians talk about historical site’s difficulties with presenting slavery alot, but they cite slavery’s general unpleasantness and political implications, perceived by adults. Can we present a “realistic” portrayal of the past to people who do not even recognize the unpleasent realties of contemporary times?

Can we present the past to children, making sure they recognize things like slavery no longer pose them an immediate bodily threat, without closing off further discussion about the long term effects of slavery in contemporary culture? Should we?

This question boils down to: Is it okay to make children cry, if they are going to learn something?

As heart breaking as it is to hear or see a child cry out of fear, it is a rather effective way to teach them about humanity and sympathy. A child crying at a historical site for fear of facing the same unpleasantness (could be slavery, could be the stocks, could be physical reprimand from a boss, ect) has internalized and made real that past. Ideally, they will be unable to separate themselves from the narrative of the past, which is very valuable for understanding the past.

Introducing them to the past before they form ideas of the world as a set given could give them a clearer understanding of the past as possibility not a myth separated from our time by positive progress (something some adults do not even have).

“Yes, Timmy, little kids like you were taken away from their parents to go work for strangers who might want to hurt them. Aw, It is sad, Timmy, it is. And even after slavery was over, people were still mean to Black people, some people are still mean to them today, because they are prejudice and ignorant. Your are right it is awful and scary. Why do people do that? Well, maybe someone was mean to them, or they don’t like themselves or were insecure and lashed out at others.You are right that is not an appropriate way to act, but some people do.” (This is not perfect, but it is an example, that much I say for sure)

Keeping children ignorant of the realities of the past is a selfish preservation of the innocences they have and we wish we could have back. They will not understand everything, but if we “keep it real” so speak, we could see some benefits.

colonial baby

That was a rather depressing, but realist, post. Here is a cute baby who knows nothing about the world. So new.

The Library of Congress & I (& also ghosts): A Torrid Love Affair

This spring break I decided to temporarily put down Virginia folktales (provided by my past love—The WPA) and give some attention to the Library of Congress’s digital newspaper collections (I am going to make this very obvious, the federal government does great things for my education, WPA, the LOC, the grants and loans I got as a Undergrad, all good things, thanks Uncle Sam). My searches in the LOC have been so productive I feel like I finally got on Nickelodeon’s Super Toy Run, and I am running through the isles pulling down newspapers clippings instead of sweet toys and bikes. Its really great. There is so much to read! So much to consider! So much historical hilarity!


As many of you know I am researching historical themed hauntings in Virginia. I have read a lot of ghost stories collected by the WPA in the 1930’s that tend to not talk about historical places or people. The 1930’s stories are usually about someone staying in an abandoned or disused house, finding a ghost, asking it “whats up” (in so many words) and finding out the ghost’s mortal body needs to be property buried or their murder needs to be brought to justice, once the protagonist fulfills the ghost’s needs, our spectral friends tells him where the ghost’s human self hid a treasure. The other stories I have read are more recent ones in ghost-tourist-books, there are published in our millennial period and tend to look at historical places. Two things happen here 1) the historical ghost keeps doing what they always did like Fielding Lewis (Kenmore) who walks around worried about his finances or 2) the historical character knows is 2013/14 (whatever) and wants to talk to you.


Now thanks to my LOC findings I have a new category (?). The LOC has newspapers from the 1830s-1922. Here I have found that Virgins love ghost stories, some stories about VA, but mainly stories about other places. Originally I was very disappointed that the VA papers featured so many non-VA ghost stories, but now I realize this illustrates a love of ALL ghost stories, and gives me the idea that VA started celebrating their hauntings later than I thought.

On the other hand, two papers have been especially productive: The Clinch Valley News and The Richmond Dispatch. The Clinch Valley News was published out of Jeffersonville, VA which is now called Tazewell and is located in the south west tail of the state. The Richmond Dispatch is printed in, you guessed it, Richmond Virginia. It is now called Richmond Times-Dispatch.

My favorite from Clinch Valley News is a 1896 story called “Claudius Smith’s Boots” which is about the haunted or cursed boots of a “bloody Tory cowboy who, withhis following of cutthroats and robbers, terrorized the Schunnemuck and surrounding country for years.”[1] Each subsequent wearer of Smith’s boots meet their end by way of a snake bite right through his boots. This is the most historical ghost story I found, which I not saying that it is VERY historical at all. I like this story because it shows how material items are infused with historical and ghostly meaning.

My favorite article from The Richmond Dispatch made me so happy I nearly exploded! This one is called “Virginia Ghosts” (WHAT! Perfect right ?!). What makes this so perfect? This quote:

It has been alleged that Virginia people can tell more ghost stories than those of any other state…“Every neighborhood has its story of the supernatural, its haunted houses, its lonely road, where strange sights and sounds have frightened the nocturnal wayfarer.


The author goes on to explain how African Americans created the ghost story culture in Virginia. He says :

It is difficult to find a negro who does not believe in ghostly visitations. Perhaps therein lies the explanation of the fact that Virginia has more than her share of ghostly tales. The Negros have fed upon stories of local ghosts for generations.

He goes on to explain how black children tell white children ghost stories that they tell their parents and neighbors.Next, In what I am assuming is in true-Virginia fashion he then tells two ghost stories that have nothing to do with Virginia and end by saying “I want to specially tell Dispatch readers about some of haunted houses of the Old Dominion.” Which I have yet to find, but want to.[2] I love this article because it gives evidence to the ideas about Virginia and her relationship to ghost stories and haunting culture that I suspected.

My second favorite  article from The Richmond Dispatch I will save for another time but I’ll give you this these two quotes:

It always struck me that is would eminently appropriate for the Capitol building to have two or three respectable, dignified ghosts in it, who could appear on stated occasions, like the 4th of July and 22nd of February, and get off something appropriate to the occasion.”

“Ghost, as I said, are in great demand among parvenus and “powhite” folks who have recently made money, but are still lacking in genealogy and ancestors…as they buy a handsome mansion, that it should savor of antiquity (just as eggs should when they are to be thrown at offending persons), and so they forthwith proceed to buy up old portraits, and then they try to resurrect a ghost.…”powhite” folks have a hard time coaxing them, and are never successful unless they can purchase some old, historical hall, full of classic memories and cockroaches.

There is a lot here to work with, and I am very excited to cobble together something to present at a conference next year ( I did not present anything anywhere this year, and let me tell you I feel lazy as hell).

[1] “Claudius Smith’s Boots” Clinch Valley News, July 10 1896, Whole No2, 67? (These are messy footnote…I know)

[2] All these quotes are from “Virginia Ghosts,” The Richmond Dispatch, Dec 9 1900

The Tough Stuff is Still Tough Stuff : Slavery in Public History

Part 1

I recently read James Oliver Horton, and Lois E. Horton, Editors. Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory, which is a bit outdated but creates space for good discussions.[1] One of the main difficulties with portraying slavery at historical sites is the reality of physical and mental abuse inherent in slavery. This makes sense, because most people feel uncomfortable seeing someone, especially someone who is still racially marginalized, abused. It SHOULD make people uncomfortable, however when violent abuses are portrayed on film people think its great cinema!

The logic here is that portraying the violence inherent in slavery lets 21st people understand slavery. But in reality it only shows people the extreme extent of visible physical violence. This creates an understanding of slavery as something akin to an early-modern hell-scape that only existed in a time long-gone, but what people need to understand is how slavery’s oppression is forever.

Ian Baucom’s understanding of time in Specters of the Atlantic further helps further  my point. Baucom says “time does not pass but accumulates,” meaning there is no stopping and changing point in time—it keeps going and keeps building on and exposing the past in the present.[2] The images we see of slavery in films depend on the idea that black people are no longer oppressed by equating slavery with physical violence.

It is hard to find a middle ground between the extremes of violence and Song of the South-type paternalistic images when portraying slavery in the United States. It is even harder to create an image of slavery that does not end in escape or freedom. Most films about slavery have an emancipation theme where the main character sustained abuses and is eventually freed. But these narratives create a false understanding of slavery as temporary. If films want to portray slavery that truly enlightens viewers about the institution they need to understand it beyond the epic violence in Django Unchained, as something that lasted life times and generations and included mental and physical oppression. The slave narratives on film in the 21st century are no different from the nineteenth-century abolitionist slave narratives that showed the most demonized visions of slavery to northern readers in order to call attention to the evils of human enslavement (this is not to say that slavery was in any way acceptable, peaceful or not-violent, I am also not saying the abolitionist had anything but good intentions).

All educated Americans (who are not arguing for or secretly harboring feelings of white-empowerment) understand that slavery was an awful institution. What we need to see now are narratives that explain the mental and cultural conditions that made the treatment of enslaved people acceptable and how that reverberates into race issues after-emancipation and today.  I don’t think public history can do this though, because in order for historical sites to address something awful the awful needs to be over and contemporary Americans still face racial oppression and labor abuses. 

Part 2

A colleague asked me after reading a draft of Part 1, “How can public history do anything? What about holocaust sites?” Which made me think, yes how do historical sites deal with “tough-stuff” (to borrow a term from Horton2)? The most recognizable way historical sites deal with slavery or the Holocaust it to allow the landscape to speak for itself by insinuating that the ghosts of the past can invoke the proper feelings. (eeriness, reverence, ect). But this often recognizes the difficult past without addressing the actual issues. We are still left asking how do we deal with the tough stuff? How can we do anything?

[1] James Oliver Horton, and Lois E. Horton, Editors. Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

[2] Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2005), 333.

Sexy Founding Fathers: Why Does This Fabric Exist and Why Did I Buy It?

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Over the summer while I was working at George Washington Birthplace National Monument (GEWA) my co-worker and I stumbled upon this

Sexy Founders

fabric at the Joann’s in Fredericksburg, and proceeded to make pillows, sexy, historical pillows.

I, in all my wisdom, bought far too much fabric, which means my computer chair (see below) and my lower back support pillow (again, below) all feature shirtless versions of  the United States’ most honored Revolutionary heroes…and Lincoln. While looking around my front room I see both of these pillows and think “What are these!”I know why I have them, they are nuts, ridiculous and they make me smile. But what do they have to do with Public History?

Lets break it down:

1) Notice the All-American hallo around Lincoln and to the far right Washington’s head. Those remind me of the kinds of halos you see over Saints and Jesus. So this gives us an idea of the Founders as hallowed. But, they are also shirtless, sporting ye-olde six packs. Which reminds me of Sexy Jesus (you know those depiction’s of Jesus

My computer chair

My computer chair

where his hair looks tussled yet great and he has a six pack and no shirt on) There is a large amount of literature that looks at the sexualizing of Jesus and sexual devotion and the like. Is what we are seeing in this fabric a similar situation? Will we soon see little girls promising their virginity to George Washington? There is also a great deal of literature on the Founding Fathers or U.S. history being sanctified and created into a civic-religion.


Abraham Lumbar Support

2) What is the intended use for this fabric? The man who rung up our order memorably said he used this fabric (and the Christmas version) to make “the queerest quilt you’ve ever seen!” My friend and I made pillows. Could this be used in a museum? Could we use it to talk about the sex lives of the founding fathers? The sterile George Washington and notably potent Jefferson, ect ect. Sexuality in American history, and the sexuality of American history. That would be fun, but unlikely. 


Abe “hot body” Lincoln

3) Why do we enjoy “bad” history?  Why do I find so much joy in these silly pillows? For the most part my friends and I really like collecting and commenting on odd historically themed consumer goods. I know a few people who collect Confederate memorabilia, because it is often so off-base it becomes hilarious, because it is innapropriate yet continues to exist.

But, it is appropriate for us to consume hilarious interpretations of the past, even though we work to write and rewrite history? Yes. We need the world of history created by the public to talk about the public’s interaction with the past. I love this fabric because it tells me that somewhere, someone fantasizes about this man (to the right) sexually. I don’t mean that in a mocking way, I am sure each of the Founding Fathers were sexy in their own right, but it is funny. It is funny because we are taught as children to call these men “fathers” which insinuates a bit of incessant, which is inappropriate in its own right. In middle school Americans are made to color in drawings of these guys, learn their stories, where they grew-up, what they were like, and what impressive thing they did. Before too long, maybe, you develop a relationship with them, much in the same way one could develop a relationship with a movie star or an online boyfriend.

But the best part of the Sexy Founding Fathers is that they are only one part of the diverse ways these character are depicted. Observe the range


gw booksexy GW 2sexywashington


.You simply cannot deny the flexibility here.

So why does this fabric exist? Because it can. Historical characters are free for-alls. They are recognizable to most, if not all, Americans and allow people to experiment mixing meanings and creating new ones.These multiple depictions certainly do not illustrate a lack of creativity, but rather the appearance of Historical Fan-Fiction.

Folktales and Storytelling

I am reading Virginia folk tales in search of some ghost-gold. I have come across many interesting ones. Some interesting because of their great quality and others interesting because they are so horribly lame. This post is a beginning of what will hopefully develop into some intriguing posts about folklore and storytelling. No promises about this one though.

It should be no secret by now that I love WPA posters.

In the 1930’s (generally) the Folklore Project of Federal Writers’ Project through the US Work Project Administration set out to collection, document and write about the lives and cultures of the United States’ folk. The FWP spoke with the people who told old stories, played traditional music, and lived in peculiar yet familiar ways to the nation’s majority. Many of these stories (some recorded, some written) are great, informative reads.

The stories I have read from this particular project come from Virginia Folk Legends a volume edited by Thomas E. Barden.[1] Barden mined the Virginia Writer’s Project files (VWP of the FP of the FWP of WPA) to create this excellent book. He no doubt traversed an endless mountain of daily notes left behind from six years of VWP fieldwork. The book is wonderful to read and features insightful editorial essays. It leaves one amazed at the skillful storytelling of America’s folk.

Demanding more, as any researcher would, I scooted over to the Internet and found The Journal of American Folklore, and to my surprise its publication goes much farther back that the WPA. What Joy! What intrigue! What stories await me?

I found stories like this one:


Oncet they had a clock, and it had been runnin’ a long time. So the clock stopped runnin’, and they didn’t know what was the matter. So one was named Mike; and he said to Ike to take the clock apart and see what was the matter. He found a bug inside. He said it couldn’ run because the engineer was dead.[2]

Which is a corny story, with a intentionally comical ending. There are also ghost stories about finding treasure, and any number of woodland creatures doing all sorts of anthropomorphic things.

And then there are stories from the category I call “Poorly Told Stories,” which are quickly becoming my favorite. Here is a great example:


Once there was a little girl name’ May, and she went to her grand- mother’s to stay for a while. She had a pretty little pink dress, and it was gettin’ too small for her. Her grandmother told her she couldn’t wear it next summer, because it was too small. And she tol’ her to put a brick on her head, so she wouldn’ grow more. And when she went back to her mother, her mother asked her why was she so small. She tol’ her she had been wearing a brick on her head.[3]

These are the kinds of stories that make you say “Oh…well..yea okay…” And I love them!


First: I appreciate bad jokes and bad stories. More often than not we read and interact with good stories. Even if you don’t like the plot or the characters most published writing is clear and to some extent good. These stories are not even long enough to fizzle out, they start hot and are dropped into a bucket of water–story over. This one in particular sounds more like a report than a story, it is very matter-of-fact and it is that oddity that I love.

Imagine someone going around collecting stories and coming up to a local man who sat them down and told them that brick story. Think of the quizzical look on the collector’s face, wondering “Thats it?” It runs right over the idea that during the time when people told folktales more casually they were all good at it. Not everyone can tell a good story, we can all think of a time when we or someone we know murdered a perfectly good story or tried to tell a lame one. The record of these stories reminds us that there is no mythical past where every town had an adorable little man wearing jean overalls, sitting in rocking-chair on the front porch of at Shotgun shack, whittling god-knows-what and just boiling over with great stories to tell strangers. Story telling is hard, and knowing that in while  reading all the great stories makes us appreciate good stories (and insightful editors)

[1] Ed. Thomas E. Barden, Virginia Folk Legends (Charlottesville and London: University of Pf Virginia, 1991), 302.

[2] A.M Bacon and E.C. Parsons, “Folk-Lore from Elizabeth Country, Virginia” The Journal of American Folklore 35, no.137 (July-September, 1922),

[3] A.M Bacon and E.C. Parsons, “Folk-Lore from Elizabeth Country, Virginia” The Journal of American Folklore 35, no.137 (July-September, 1922), 300

Hatpin Stabbings

Today while reading through David Glassberg’s The Presence of the Past, I was distracted by his mention of a woman stabbing someone with a hatpin in a San Francisco crowd. ( I have never heard such a thing!)

This inspired me to google “hatpin stabbing,” which was remarkably fruitful. So I tweeted the Smithsonian (because we are so close…no)and then I proceeded to tweet and tweet and tweet the articles I found online (See A_Pirok on twitter). Today I am going to talk about hatpins, hatpin stabbings and a possible exhibit.

Hat Pins’ First Utility 

Keeping Hats on Their Heads

I had to look up what hat pins were for, because I do not use them. I originally thought they were simply decorations for hats. They are pins, like bobby-pins are pins, they are made to keep a hat secured to someone’s head using their hair. The pin is poked through to the inside of the hat where it goes under a part of the woman’s hair and is then poked out of the hat and capped. It was a very useful tool for women when they wanted to keep a hat on their head. ( I wish I knew about these the many times I have struggled to keep a graduate cap on my head)

Hat Pins’ Second Utility 

Freakin’ Stabbing People!

Here are some examples of the articles I found. (I added the bolding)

The Cornell Daily Sun, October 28th 1913


By The Associated Press. CHICAGO, Oct. 27.— John Niermetz, a highway robber, died of a hatpin wound here today. When Niermetz attacked Mrs. Josephine Karmuenlsk recently, the woman, who is six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, stabbed him behind the ear with her hatpin. The wound incapacated Niermetz for flight and blood poisoning resulted.”


This is from The police man looks like a fat Hitler

This is from The police man looks like a fat Hitler

San Francisco Call, July 11 1906


Vicious Female Passenger Resents Jostling by Making Murderous Attack.

PORTLAND, . July 10.— A young woman named Fernell was the victim of a most painful assault on a crowded ca Just leaving The Oaks today. “With her escort she boarded the overcrowded, car at the exit of The Oaks and they squeezed their way Inside until they could get a safe foothold. The car was so packed that the standing passengers jostled back and forth against each .other. ‘Miss. Fernell happened to jostle into another .woman passenger directly in”, front of her and the latter flew into a rage. Quickly drawing a long pin from her hat she ueed it daggerlike, lunging blindly backward with it with such force that it was driven completely j through Miss – Fernell’s thigh, and could not be removed. The screams , of the injured woman threw the passengers into a panic. Several tried to seize the; flentfish passenger, but~she Jumped -from the car. -


San Francisco Call August 22 1903


Angry Woman Thinks Small Boy’s Prank Was His Deed and Strikes Back.

KALAMAZOO. Mich., Aug. 21.— E. B. McArthur, a stockman from Saco, Mont., was stabbed in the stomach with a hat pin by an unknown woman on the street here to-day. He was passing along on the sidewalk in a large crowd when a small boy brushed a little feather duster In a woman’s face. The woman, thinking It was McArthur, grabbed her hat pm and jabbed it Into his stomach. McArthur cannot live. The Identity of tha woman is unknown


There are many more examples, just googled “hatpin stabbing”

An Exhibit

There needs to be an exhibit about this! What a hugely meaningful tiny object. Not only does the hat pin represent an era of women’s fashion, as a weapon the hat pin represents women’s struggles living as second class citizens.  This object can be used to talk about the dangers both real and imagined women faced (still face) in public/urban environments.

On one hand you have women using hat pins to ward of real predators, on the other you have them using them on people when they get frightened. This illustrates the emotional tension women felt and were told to beware of. The exhibit could talk about male gaze, the expectations of women’s purity and gentility and their need to protect themselves from the seemingly perverse male world, and the realty that women new to growing turn-of-the-last-century cities could be scooped of the street (and in many places across the globe still can be!). This would necessitate a display about “separate spheres,” “the angel of the house,” progressivism, women’s rights now and then! So much, all swirling around the hatpin.

It would also be interesting to see this object placed alongside a woman’s high heel shoe, a purse with a brick in it, a mannequin holding a handful of keys sticking out of the spaces between her fisted fingers, and key chain pepper spray, ect,ect and used to talk about the history of women’s self defense, abuse and the fear of the night women are taught to understand. It could be done in conduction with a Take-Back-The-Night rally!

I have many more questions like what class of women most used hat pins? Is the hat pin universal as both a fashion item and weapon?

This is from

This is from It thought this image looked like a pirateSimilar?



Wikipedia as a Course Textbook

I recently categorized all my past posts and discovered that I do not talk about museums  much during the school year. That is simply due to the fact that I don’t get out to museums or historical sites during the school year.  However, I am planning on going to the OAH this spring and will no doubt stop by the historical sites and museum in Atlanta. I am also going to THATcamp in Orlando, which will provide some thought provoking material on digital humanities, and hopefully put me in the position to see what historical sites/museums Orlando has to offer.

Today, however, I am talking about Wikipedia, Education, and Public History in the classroom… again.

Earlier this weekend I was looking general historical knowledge stuff up on Wikipedia and I thought to myself, “why don’t we just have the students read this?” I imagine the first response to this would be “Ahh yea, but what if the information is wrong?”

That is even better. Let me explain….

This type of class needs to be done in person, no on-line classes, no correspondence courses!

This is a photo of my childhood dog, and the only image I have that seemed academic.

This is a photo of my childhood dog, and the only image I have that seemed academic.I also enjoy photos of animals with human hats on, and like to share this one in particular.

Here we go:

This class would be a 101/lower-level/freshman, (name what you do) history class

1) Like a traditional class this one will have one day of lecture where students come to hear the professor tell them stories about the past that they read from books and articles. This is where students will get the most accurate information. They will then attend break-out sessions/recitations/discussion classes which take place twice a week. (2 discussion/1 lecture, instead of 2 lecture/ 1 discussion)

2) The students will not be assigned a textbook. They are expensive, constantly change, and often feature pages of crap no one ever uses. (WASTEFUL!) In place of the traditional history textbook, the students will assigned Wikipedia entries.


11/4,  Read

So on 11/4 students come to class having read the Spiritualism entry and are now armed with the narrative.

3) The students will be assigned primary documents and peer-reviewed articles to discuss in the class’s discussion sections. Most universities have access to peer-reviewed journals which would make these free too.

4) Putting together the primary docs and journal articles the class will discuss the topic, the articles and what wikipedia has to say, or does not say.  The students will then be responsible for submitting to the wikipedia page and the professor, corrections or thoughtful/necessary additions to the entry, complete with citations. (Not every day, but maybe 4 or 5 a semester)

That is pretty simple, not to0 radical at all.

My intentions with this class is to bring down the cost of educational materials, while stressing the necessity of face-to-face class discussions, implementation of on-line resources, and encouraging students to interact in public history spheres(wikipedia).

I believe this will force students to be active participants in their education by engaging them in critical thinking, in person and on-line. They will constantly be asked to evaluate the arguments in primary documents, secondary documents, and wikipedia (which is a secondary, but not academic.) It will teach students to be aware of what they read, to train them to think critically even while reading things on the on-line. Critical thinking is not just for class, its for life.

Secondly, the twice a week discussion courses will encourage and teach the students to discuss their critical understandings and thoughts, and create a closer relationship between the students and their teachers which will foster accountability, respect and higher levels of cognition and understanding. (Key here: Active engagement)




Facing the Past Head-on

(Feminism AND Public History? Hey-OH!)

As a woman who grew up during the 1990’s Girl Power pop-movement and is now in the process of earning a PhD, who lives unmarried with her boyfriend, and believes in universal human equality it is no surprise that I am a feminist. Being a feminist, I read feminist blogs and webpages, like Jezebel.


Leslie Knope is the only thing I see in today’s pop culture that even gets close to the Girl Power I experienced as a young girl and she is pretty great.

This happened:

“Today in “whaaaaaaaat,” feminist icon Ani DiFranco has cancelled her four-day “Righteous Retreat,” a songwriting workshop for women. It was cancelled because it was going to be held at the Nottoway Plantation — one of the largest former plantations in the South, which now functions as a museum in which the horrors of slavery are totally sanitized and glossed over.”[1]

Author Callie Geusman goes on to explain how DiFranco offered up a “remarkably unapologetic “apology” “ where DiFranco pointed out that the history of slavery is everywhere and she did not make the connection.[2]

Geusman points out that the historical site’s web page claims that the plantation’s owner, Randolph Nottoway, sometimes paid his slaves and the slaves were generally okay. The effort here is meant to delude the negative (and real) memory of slavery, which is awful. Second, Guesman explains that Paul Ramsay an anti-gay, -abortion, and -immigration (respectively..maybe) supporter owns the site and thus influences the interoperation.  (Oh, man a historical site is curated to make the best (ugh) of an awful, awful history AND is owned by a wealthy, politically conservative person? Welcome to my world! Sarcasm aside and I am happy she pointed this out these are the things we need to be aware of, write about and making scene about.)

Geusman argues that DiFranco should have been more careful and more aware of the site’s lurid past (and present) and thus not had attempted to host the Feminist song writing retreat there in the first place. I agree, DiFranco needs to keep herself more informed, but she should have kept the retreat there.

A group of informed feminists are the prefect people to see that site, They would have benefited the  place immensely. People should not avoid ignorant interpretations at historical sites they should go there, be upset and make their displeasure known! (Raise hell!) We all live in a post structural world, meaning is what we make it, so why can’t Ani DeFranco and the rest of the retreat members go and make the plantation (a site of unimaginable human horrors, made worse by contemporary interpretations that intend to ignore the horrors of slavery and thus the racial inequalities that predicted after emancipation ) into a place where people recognize its past, work to fix the interpretation, and take from it the inspiration they need to make their music, their art, ect ect?

We cannot and should avoid or ignore the past, nor how people are skewing it to lessen its severity. We need to face the past and respond.

(At the moment I cannot speak about the exhibit, having not seen it, but I am now interesting in going there and seeing the interoperation and writing about it. Anyone want to fund me? Ha!) 

Wikipedia in the Classroom

As a graduate assistant ( I am rounding out my 7th full year taking university classes, wooh!) I have heard nearly all my professors deride wikipedia. Usually on the first day of classes professors remind students to read their books and articles and ignore wikipedia, to use real primary sources and secondary sources from university publishers, never should a student cite the foul-most wikipedia.

But many professors (mine included) take the “sex-ed” approach to wikipedia. This mean recognizing the accessibility and attractiveness of wikipedia and working to make the inevitable safer. This semester, as i have mentioned in a past post, I assisted my prof. and his undergrad public history students put together a Civil War Sesquicentennial (150 yr anniversary) wikipedia entry. The students were responsible for researching, defining and cataloguing what the Sesquicentennial is, why it is celebrated and how.

The process was some what confusing for the students. They were unable to lean on an easy set of academic choirs. Rather than being assigned a topic or historical concept they had previous understandings of, they were given a large and on-going public-historical experience and told to research it, find out about it and see what it says. Essential we asked them to experiment.

In an academic culture that focuses on completing standards, this project was difficult for many students to understand. I do not believe their struggles were due to their lack of creativity, they have good creative minds. Their struggles comes from the system that prizes gradable uniformity over an experimental process. And as much as professors and other teachers (myself included, if I give students a reading i expect them to read it not look at wikipedia) decry wikipedia in the name of academic integrity, when they bring this foe into the classroom they are (or in my personal experience are) challenging the more destructive parts of today’s educational systems. Which is great!

I tried to find some Civil War photos from my own collection. Here is the burial spot of "Stonewall" Jackson's Arm.

I tried to find some Civil War photos from my own collection. Here is the burial spot of “Stonewall” Jackson’s Arm.

Bringing wikipedia into the classroom does three more things, that I like to note;

First, it gives the students a real assignment. Instead of creating papers for the teacher who reads them, grades them and places them in the recycle bin, writing a wikipedia entry makes students responsible for their work in the larger internet-world. I strongly believe that students need a reason to take their liberal educations more seriously,(because just being educated is not attractive to them) and working with well-visited internet sites helps to infuse their assignments with a sense of responsibility. (Wikipedia is no where near as obscure as www. Universitiy Class Projectwebsite that only my Grandma will see…if she gets to my dad’s house because she does not own a

Second, by making wikipedia a classroom project, wikipedia becomes a classroom tool. (see the “sex-ed” model)

Third, working with wikipedia gives students hands-on public history experience. Though, writing a wikipedia page is not an exhibit, a web-archive, or a tour, it makes students flex their writing muscles. The combined demands of wikipedia and academia forces the students to write clearly and accessibly, while acknowledging the need to support their work with sources. Which, again is great.

How did our page go? 

OH it was like digging a hole with large metal sporks. The tools worked, they were sturdy enough to dig, but they were sporks, so people got confused and there were some set backs. But, in the end we had a nice hole.

I am really fond of this spork right now, so imagine this one in my metaphor

(If my metaphor lost you) The page did go up. First we tried to post it as its own page called American Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Our impatience made it impossible for us to wait the months for Wikipedians to approve the page, so we also stuck it in the American Civil War page. (A page, as you can imagine, that is home to some highly political [read: racists] talk and is closely watched by passionate Civil War buffs)

We were unsure if our information would stay on the Civil War page, but we posted it anyway and ended class. The next morning I found that the Civil War page had removed our information…[bum bumbummmm]..and gave us an entire page, dedicated to Civil War commemoration!

See it here