Another semester soon begins, after an extremely productive summer…

Getty Villa Courtyard

Indeed, I realize it as been months since I last posted, but I’ve had an incredibly productive and educational summer.  Here are the highlights that I hope to expound upon more in the future:

– I had 3 summer courses, which finished up my coursework portion for my PhD program!!  I took 2 Advanced projects and an interdisciplinary education course.

– I traveled.  A LOT. Highlights include:

Los Angeles, CA – I went to the Getty Villa in Malibu – I have a review all written up in my head, and hopefully my more structured fall schedule will allow me to write more about it.

I met a Sphinx at the Luxor

– Las Vegas, Nevada – It was Vegas!  I also took time to look at several ancient/world history related things (Luxor, Caesar’s Palace, Forum Shops) in relation to Margaret Malamud’s article about the use of history in unusual settings.  Again, I have all kinds of thoughts and pictures from this and hope to share those this fall as well.

Toronto & Niagara Falls, Ontario – Part of an advanced projects in public history and cultural geography.  I developed a walking tour of Toronto, and I assure you I put the leg-work in to that project.  I will post it here soon, and I hope that anyone reading this enjoys walking approximately 25-30 miles over two days as much as I did.

We started a band while we were there

– I worked as interim education coordinator for the best historic site with the absolute best staff and most incredible boss and coworkers for most of the summer.  I learned lots and got some great projects out of it.  I also got to meet a baby goat, Snickers.

– Perhaps most exciting (yes, even more so than LA and Vegas AND the baby goat) was passing both my written and oral PhD Qualifyinf exams this week!  I am officially a resident now.

Snicks!

– Which leads me to the next exciting thing… I’ve been preparing to teach my first very own class this fall – World Civ 1.  I’ve put a lot in to it, and I think it’s going to be fun!  Next semester I will teach Explorations in Public History for my 2nd residency semester, and I already have a million ideas to mull through for that class.

Hope this post explains my absence to some extent!  I plan to post more regularly throughout the school year as I have done in the past.  I have a ton of material to talk about from the summer, and I am positive that the residency year will provide plenty of fodder for the blogging machine as well.   Also look for plenty of portfolio and CV updates full of my summer work!

Teaching begins tomorrow…. send us all the best of wishes (and a prayer for finding a parking space)!

Media and Public History

Yesterday I saw on facebook that a kitsch-y video about Nefertiti had been posted by my friend Rachel.   I immediately fell in love with its bizarreness and the ridiculous revamping of an old pop song and had to investigate further.

What I found was the YouTube page of the historyteachers. From what I can gather, this group of history teachers has taken several popular songs, from the Beatles to Lady Gaga, and changed the lyrics to relate to a certain historical figure or historic event.  Basically, these are pretty epic.  There are almost 50 videos, and I was up until about 2am watching them.   They are ridiculous and funny and kitschy and actually quite informative.

In my Ancient Egypt course this morning, Dr. McCormack showed the class the Nefertiti video, and then I was able to lead a discussion about Public History and the Ancient people, mostly revolving around the discussions in my last post.  The class enjoyed the video (because let’s face it… Nefertiti had style), and we discussed that while the video is kinda silly with the graphic ankhs floating around, there are some good bits of information in it.   Also, good job casting Akhenaten… he looks pretty much like I would expect him to in real life.  The video scratches the surface of the historic person and her importance, with mention of Nefertiti’s elevated status as a queen who was sometimes depicted, like her husband, with a crow.  The change in religion with the Aten is also mentioned.  While the video does not talk about all the important parts of the history, it is definitely a good jumping-off point for a lecture on the subject, and one that the audience may remember easier because of the media.

What are your thoughts on some of these videos?  Yes, they are kinda silly… but don’t they have some good information??  What are some of the benefits and consequences of clips such as these?

I will admit, after watching these, the William the Conqueror/Sexyback video stuck with me… I will never forget the year of the Norman Invasion again.   You should check these out, history buff or not.  They are, at the least, mildly entertaining. My personal favorites are:

The French Revolution/Bad Romance

Constantine/Come On Eileen

Copernicus/Because

I leave you with this gem:  Cleopatra, Pharaohlicious

Public History and Ancient History: Is There a Need?

Hopefully this blog is more interesting and thought-provoking than another business-related post…

As part of my program, this semester I am taking an Ancient Egyptian history course (again).  The twist on the class, as opposed to most classes I took in my master’s program, is more of an emphasis on public history rather than academia.  Both are important and have their place, obviously. At MTSU, I’m lucky enough to have a great professor who recognizes the importance of public history, as well as the need in the Ancient history field for more a public historian approach.

To make the course possible at a PhD level (since it involves a lecture portion to a group of undergraduates), I meet outside of regular class time with the professor, and I have extra readings.  The context of the history that I am getting is great, and we have great academic discussions.  Today (as well as in the past, but today in particular), we had a great discussion on exhibits of ancient cultures and artifacts.

What's up guys? I didn't really look like this, btw.

Have you ever been to an exhibit of Egyptian antiquities?  Greek or Roman or Mesopotamian or Chinese or anything?  What did you notice about those exhibits?  How are they presented?  How could they be improved?

These are some of the questions we discussed today.  In general, exhibits about Ancient Egypt seem impersonal and almost mystical.  Of course people love Ancient Egypt, for many reasons.  They love the gold and weirdness and the mysterious people who lived such a long time ago.  But is there any reason that the Egyptian people should be viewed as that far removed from ourselves?  Egyptians got sick and had marital problem and did laundry and even had fingernails and hair, just like us.  Wouldn’t it be beneficial to present that to people, so that they can experience Egypt or other ancient cultures themselves??

This reminded me of the Discovery Room at the Pink Palace (may it rest in peace, since it is a really sore subject for another blog at another time), and the exhibits that were displayed in the room at the time of the IMAX feature on Ancient Egypt.  There were hands on things to do in there that related to Egypt!  One could smell the smells of Egypt, such as frankincense or myrrh,  write in hieroglyphs (obligatory), and see a reproduction of a tomb wall, complete with paint.  People were able to interact with elements of Egyptian culture to an extent.

What can the big exhibits at the big museums with the big artifacts from ancient history do to make the presentation less cold and more vibrant and alive??   My professor and I came up with some pretty cool ideas (no bodies under the famous Berlin Nefertiti bust, sorry).   Some ideas could be expensive or complicated, though effective, while others really aren’t that hard to do.

In front of a reproduction in the aforementioned Discovery Room (RIP)

One interesting idea is to have a wall sections that is generally displayed as-is.  Many people think of the Egyptians as stone like, carved in stone and colorless and lifeless.  However, the walls were actually very bright (gaudy?) and painted and vibrant.  How difficult would it be to somehow project a light onto that wall that showed the colors and how it would have looked to the people?  I’m sure it could be done.  We’re pretty smart people, out here in the museum field after all, right?

Another interesting comparison was made during our discussions of intermediate periods in Egyptian history.  For all of you non-Egyptologists who may be interested, traditionally, intermediate periods (as opposed to kingdoms i.e. Old Kingdom, New Kingdom…) were seen as times of chaos and breakdown.  Sources from the ancient Egyptians, usually written after the fact, support this theory of horrible things happening: famines, death, foreigners, etc.   Primary sources from the intermediate periods themselves speak of things being in a state of breakdown, but not to the extent that later sources do.  There are several reasons for this, such as legitimization of the new king and a show of power of the new guy as compared to the previous rulers.

Migrant Mother, Dorthea Lange

We discussed that an interesting comparison might be made among the intermediate periods, sometimes called Dark Ages, and the medieval “Dark Ages” or even the Great Depression that followed the stock market crash in 1929 in the United States.  Maybe a comparison with the current “economic crisis” could be made that people could relate to.  Both my professor and I had an interesting take on the Great Depression, as we heard from our grandparents who lived through it.  Her family was in rural Texas during the depression; she heard several times from her family that it was “just like the grapes of wrath.”  How much did popular culture and hindsight play in the creating of the public memory?  Was it really so bad??  My grandfather remembers the Depressionas a child in the suburbs of Boston.  He told me that the one thing that sticks out in his memory is the question asked whenever friends were met on the street: “Are you working?”  This is a personal memory, of course, so it is not so questionable as a memory placed there by popular culture… but even in the time of the Great Depression, pictures, such as the one to the right, were staged and published!  What effect did this have on the people who were experiencing the Depression head on?  I realize this is a long tangent, but can it not be related to the Egyptians?  Were they experiencing many of the same things?

This is the mummy of Seti I - how real does he look? Don't you know someone who could look like this today?

My professor also told me a story about a time when she was excavating in Egypt.  She excavated an entire road in a village; once she was finished, she was the first person to walk that road in thousands of years.  How powerful is that??  Can’t that feeling be conveyed (to an extent) to people at an exhibit?

Of course, there is always the gross stuff that you think of that sticks with you… diseases and violence.  At one site she excavated, a mummy’s foot stuck out of the ground, and workers kept tripping over it.  Once they removed it from the ground, the archaeologists discovered that the knee was still attached, and it creaked and made a noise much like anyone’s might.   How can this be presented to people, without totally freaking them out/being accepted.  These were real people!

See? I was so amazed I took a picture of his toes.

One thing that personally always stuck with me, as I visited the McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, is the presentation of mummies.  Of course, this is becoming controversial (a la NAGPRA to an extent), so it gets a bit tricky as well… However, whenever my friend and I would go to see Gilbert (as we named him) at the museum, I always noticed that you could see his toenails sticking out of the end of his wrappings.  His toenails!!  See it over there??  Again, I made the connection that he was once a person, but do others??  Do we present the Egyptians or ancients in this way?

Battlefields in America often focus on the logistics and the outcomes of a certain battle in relation to the bigger picture… but there are always some aspects of human elements as well.  Cannonballs stuck in trees or in houses show the impact that the war had on people.  On a visit to Chickamauga as an undergraduate, I remember a display that was basically text on the wall that had been taken from a soldier’s diary which spoke of the atrocities and realities of war (such as eyeballs hanging out of sockets and field surgeries).  Again, this is gross, but it definitely stuck with me and made me realize, “oh, there were actually thousands of people who died here and even more who were affected.”

Impressive, certainly. But can you make a personal connection?

Surely there are innumerable more ways to link the ancients with the present (and surely less grotesque ways as well).  The more I think about it the more convinced I become that this is something that needs to be addressed!  Where is the human elements in many of the ancient-related exhibits today??  Can’t we relate better to something if we understand it in a context related to our own world-view?

Additionally, there is a TON of room in Egypt itself for public history.  There is still a very colonial point of view in the country, and of course there are tons of political and religious things that play into the presentation of antiquities.  It’s really complicated; however, there is still a need for some sort representation.  Bottom line: there is a place, and possibly even a need, within the Ancient History field for public historians.

Please feel free to offer comments on any exhibits related to ancient cultures that you have visited.  What could be improved?  Did you feel any connection to the actual people, or just an awe of their feats and elite class (or nothing at all)?  I’m looking at you, former classmates and professors at the University of Memphis!!!