Wednesday, October 24, 2012

GoogleEarth cultural history tour

Thanks to the tireless work of graduate student Marco Thompson on the technical side, we've finally gotten up a beta version of the prototype GoogleEarth-based tour I've narrated , comparing Woody Guthrie and Sherman Alexie's representations of the Columbia River:

nb for this to work you will need to download the latest version of GoogleEarth to your desktop.  See:

Once you open the tour window, at the far bottom left (you may need to manipulate the window to see this), please click on "Enter Tour" and then click on "Play Tour."

Our hope is that our developing journal  Cascadia Chronicle

will have many such GoogleEarth-based tours on a wide range of topics, throughout Cascadia.

We are still trying to get a feel for the scholarly and aesthetic potentials of this new technology; so please share your thoughts and suggestions.

(note: For my longer essay on the topic of Guthrie and Alexie see:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Campus Archaeology Exhibition

We’re delighted with the new exhibition developed by our Museum Studies interns Karina Harig and Erin Chenvert, “Archaeologists Dig Central: Excavating the CWU Campus.”  We had been talking for some time with Shane Scott, director of the Central Washington Anthropological Survey( CWAS) on campus about partnering on such a show. CWAS has provided great educational opportunities for so many of our students and we’ve been wanting to illustrate that very interesting story. 

We're pleased that Erin and Karina plunged into the project, to make sure it was all installed in time for Homecoming tomorrow morning.  Hope, Lynn and I all have had a great deal of fun working with the students on the project over the past couple of weeks. 

Erin and Karina decided to display a dozen sets of objects, unearthed over the past several years in a few locations on campus. These including a projectile point, old tax tokens, a .22 casing, a 1920s lipstick tube, an unusual wire gold nugget, and so forth. 

The limited space available presented some interesting display challenges, which I think the students ingeniously addressed. They moves one of our three-by-three vitrines out along the museum front windows, so its contents can be viewed easily by passersby as well as those in the gallery. Rather than cluttering up the case’s interior with detailed captions, they numbered each object set and then attached two extended object label panels, protruding from two sides of the case at an angle.

Then, they hung the associated panels for the exhibition on the walls of the adjacent alcove. There’s always a risk when there’s spatial separation of installation components, especially when a show is surrounded by a large exhibition, as is the case right now with the Hanford show.  But I think the students solved this by using a distinctive Courier font (to give a kind of old style typed archaeology report look to the panels; and with Hope’s help on Photoshop, they develop a recognizable logo for their show,  repeated on each label, showing an archaeologist’s trowel breaking through a line of dirt.  

The Introductory panel notes that the campus exists on “ceded land”, which has a very long history of indigenous habitation, including one of our favorite Alexander Ross quotes about the appearance of Kittitas Valley in the early 19th century There’s also a fun panel on “What makes archaeology exciting”, which the students hope will encourage other young people to explore the field. 

Along the way, Erin and Karin pursued a few historical puzzles. We were all intrigued by the 1920s lipstick tube: were young women students at Central in the 1920s actually allowed to wear lipstick on campus?  University archivist Steve Hussman has been digging around in old files for information on the dress code, but results are still inconclusive. Equally puzzling was a fragment of an ID bracelet listing a woman’s name, an old phone number, and the words Ellensburg and “Baptist.” With the help of the County Historical Museum, the students determined when the phone number had been assigned and to whom, which gives them a few leads to pursue.

Finally, there’s an entertaining interactive component to the show. The students’s were especially struck that at one location, the archaeology survey unearthed the following objects: the broken woman’s ID bracelet, the .22 casing, the interwar lipstick tube and a tin button. They’ve invited museum visitors to speculate, in a short story or drawing, what all these objects might have had to do with one another, and append these to the wall. We can’t wait to see what scenarios our visitors come up with! 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Memorialization in Washington D.C.

I'm trying to learn how to create a narrated tour in GoogleEarth. So I've written a script, giving a little "tour" of national memorials sites along the National Mall in Washington DC.  I hope I can record the script for a 'flyover' effect of this geographic sites.

Script Draft.

As has often been noted, the core east-west axis in downtown Washington DC., proceeding west from the Washington Monument is replete with memorial symbolism. The various memorials clustered in this zone are a veritable compendium of the different modalities of public memorialization at play in American society.

The anchors of the axis are the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the John F. Kennedy gravesite overlooking Arlington Cemetery.

The Washington Monument is a resplendent Egyptian-inspired obelisk, celebrating in triumphant nationalist mode the founding national patriarch.  Proceeding due west across the reflecting pool we come to the very different Lincoln Memorial, a deeply moving temple in which the sorrowful martyred figure of Lincoln broods over the nation for whose unity, in effect, he gave his life.  Further west in turn, we encounter the preeminent 20th century martyred president, John F. Kennedy, memorialized through the eternal flame, presiding over the vast necropolis of Arlington National Cemetery.

Arrayed around these core sites are a range of important memorial entities, each carrying a different emotional valency. The Jefferson Memorial, like the Lincoln Memorial, is centered on a statue of the dead president, surrounded by his written words, but the two structures are entirely different in tone.  If the Lincoln Memorial is in minor key, suffused with a perpetual  romantic sense of loss and longing, the Jefferson epitomizes the Enlightenment ethos of rationalist optimism. Lacking the elegiac shadows of the Lincoln, the Jefferson is open on multiple sides, encased within a cupola that recalls both Monticello and the great arc of the Heavens made knowable by Science.

The most complex memorial site on the Mall  lies a bit northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Lin, flies in the face of the conventional monumental logic of the city’s other memorial edifices. In contrast to the sky-directed alabaster structures,  the Vietnam Memorial sinks into the ground, created out of black granite. If the other monuments hearken back to ancient Greek city-states’ veneration of the Olympian gods of the sky, the Vietnam Memorial seems to summon up a much more ancient cult of the earth, centered on a primeval Earth mother . “The Wall” as it is known, functions as a complex mirror for its visitors, giving reflectiing back visions of themselves and of the lost; one of the most frequently taken photographs, tellingly, is of the soaring Washington Monument reflected in its granite panels, an ironic juxtaposition of the nation’s founding promise and its tragedies.

Between the Lincoln and the Jefferson, arrayed along the lovely Tidal Basin, is the beautiful memorial sculpture garden dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which functions as a memorial both to the New Deal and the nation’s triumph in the Second World War. Nearby is the considerably less successful memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., centered on a banal large sculpture of another national martyr. 

Just to the east of the Tidal Basin is another complex memorial space, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  It seems overdetermined that the grim east facade of the Museum, which is most evocative of the horrors of Auschwitz is not turned towards the nation’s symbolic center, the Washington Monument, but is rather less visible, oriented towards an internal city street.

Mention should be made of two mediocre memorial sites in the Mall’s environs. Between the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool stands the hyperbolic, insipid World War II memorial, a complex, many have noted that seems more fitting to Albert Speer’s Berlin than to the capital of the world’s preeminent democracy. Across the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Memorial is rather weak Korean War Memorial, featuring figures advancing across a lonely wind blown battlefield. 

Although these are works of variable quality, the overwhelming impression of this memorial zone remains enormously powerful, constituting a poignant national pilgrimage space centered on the epic mytheme of loss and collective regeneration.  At the same time, there are fascinating shadow histories hovering about the Mall, traces of deep historical struggles and contradictions that are still not fully resolved. One thinks of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, from which, in deeply Jim Crow Washington DC, African American were shamefully kept at a distance in segregated enclosures; an in turn of Marian Anderson’s performance on the steps of the same Memorial, and of the 1963 March on Washington in the same location, site of Dr. King’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. 

One thinks as well of the bitter battles over the design and construction of the Vietnam Memorial which so dramatized the unhealed wounds of the Vietrnam War.

Not all historical problems are ‘solved’ by this complex of memorial sites, but they are at least externalized and rendered subject to debate. Here, in short, we glimpse the genius of democracy, the essence of which lies, in E.E. Schattschneider’s telling phrase, not in the suppression of struggle, but in the “Socialization of conflict.”  Taken together, the national Mall’s memorial reflect back to us our own enduring struggles and conflict as  a people, in voices that are both multiple and unitary.