Murder or Self-defense? Recounting the death of Jean Lalime

All that is known for certain is that John Kinzie killed Jean Lalime in June of 1812. There’s much speculation surrounding why Kinzie killed Lalime: Lalime attacked him outside of Fort Dearborn, Lalime was a federal spy reporting on the corruption at the fort, Kinzie wanted to eliminate his competition in the fur-trading industry. There are accounts to support some of these claims, however the majority are incomplete or questionable at best. Even the location of Lalime’s final resting place is unknown.

At the Chicago History Museum I photographed two letters written by descendants of Kinzie. Both letters give slightly differing accounts of the day Lalime was killed. It’s important to give the viewer the context of both of these letters: who wrote them, when, why, and how they were related to Kinzie. The content of the letters losses meaning without their background. The first was written by one of Kinzie’s grandsons, Arthur M. Kinzie in 1884.

 

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The second letter was written by one of Kinzie’s granddaughters, Elanor Kinzie Gordon in 1908.

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Letters are not an exciting visual, however they do allow the user of the exhibit to examine the evidence first hand. Photographing the letters allows me to transcribe them on my own time instated of sitting in the research center and having to use the original. I’ll use Photoshop to crop and rotate most of the photographs, since WordPress would not accept the photographs edited using Microsoft Office.

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F-ing social media: Flixster, Facebook, and Film

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There is a social media site for nearly every interest and inclination. Scrolling through Wikipedia’s list I saw sites dedicated to books, photos, writing, traveling, cartoons, and countless other topics. One of my particular interests is film so I choose Flixster.

Flixster is a social media site dedicated to learning about movies, sharing reviews, watching trailers, and discussing film with others who have similar taste. Flixster was founded in 2007 and became the parent company of Rotten Tomatoes, a site devoted to film reviews and industry news. Warner Brother’s Studios acquired both sites in 2011. Along with rating and discussing movies a user can purchase movie tickets through the app. Recently, users have been able to build a digital movie collection through the site/app and watch films using an Ultra Violet platform. In 2014, Flixster launched the Flixster Video app, which is solely dedicated to streaming movies.

Originally, Flixster was a site dedicated to discussing and rating films. However, in the past few years the site/app has become highly commercialized. (Purchasing tickets, charging to watch digital films) Perhaps this is related to its acquisition by Warner Brothers?

Flixster is a stand-alone website/app, but they have created plugins and add-ons for Facebook, MySpace, Google +, and many other social media sites and digital platforms. In 2012 users could no longer create a stand alone account on the site, you have to use Facebook to login. All of your ratings and actions on Flixster can be automatically posted to your Facebook page allowing you to create a discussion with your friends who are not on the site.

All of the Flixster’s apps and plugins are free to download, however unless you have an Ultra Violet account or another streaming service to link with Flixster, you need to pay to stream movies. The rating system, discussion boards, and user generated quizzes are still free.

Flixster is a social media highbred of sorts, it combines user input with industry control. It allows users to discuss film, curate their own public movies lists with various categories (want to see, own on DVD, rated moves, want to own). But the site/app also provides a paid service to view the films its users are discussing. I think this is the next stage of Web 2.0, the commercialization of social media and the integration of multiple apps/sites. On its on Flixster would not be able to compete with Facebook, but by integrating itself within the dominant social media site they have secured their position as the most popular movie app.

 

Digital projects and online exhibitions: why bother?

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Precursor to Life

Digital projects and online exhibitions extend the educational reach of historians and cultural institutions. They are fantastic platforms to share and exhibit information to a vast public and they often enable the public to help shape its design and message. However great the benefits of online exhibitions and projects are, there are a plethora of challenges the curators and designers must overcome. Ensuring that you have the legal authority to post images, text, and audio/visual materials, deciding the best platform to use, how the page will look, what menus you will use, where will links go, acquiring funding, and managing competing ideas are only a few of the challenges facing the creators of digital projects.

For a historian writing a book, acquiring images to illustrate their points can be complicated and expensive. Depending on the situation, locating images for an online project can be much more difficult than finding them for a printed project or it can be much simpler. Many institutions do not have procedures or set fee schedules for using their materials online. Due to this, acquiring images can be a costly and time consuming pursuit. However, depending on the scope and audience of the digital project the creator may choose to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission. It is very easy to remove an image off of an online project. The curator/designer must decide how far they want to push fair use.

Maintenance is also an ongoing concern. Most likely controlling the humidity and temperature is not a concern for an online exhibition, however maintenance is still required. The software needs to be updated and you need to ensure links stay active.

Another issue concerning images is deciding which ones and how many to use. It is very easy to upload an overabundance of images to an online project. You did the research and put in the effort to find all of these great images, why not use them? We must be careful not to inundate digital projects with excess images, text, and information simply because it is so easy to upload it . Similar to physical exhibitions we need to curate what images and information we want to include.

Also similar to physical exhibitions the creation of a digital project may be a collaborative effort. There may also be competing ideas of what the best platform to use is, how much information should be displayed, and how it should look. I am currently working on the first online exhibition for the historical society I work for. It was originally intended to be an online exhibit about all of the centennial houses within the village. There would be a photo, basic information about the house (build date, architect, style, etc.) and a short paragraph about the homes historical significance (if any). However, some involved with the organization believe it should be a curated database rather than an exhibition. It would include all of the information the society has about the house and all of the photos. Eventually, they would like the project to expand to all 800+ houses in the village.

This example includes a few of the issues I mentioned earlier: curating what information you include, managing competing ideas, choosing the best platform, etc. Online exhibitions can be as time consuming, costly, and frustrating to create as physical exhibitions are.  However, the benefit is that countless more people will be able to benefit from an online project versus a physical exhibition. Hopefully those who explore your online project will then choose to visit your institution to explore even further.

Putting a hashtag on history

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A few years ago I began following my favorite cultural and public history institutions on Twitter. I wanted to stay up-to-date with what events they were holding, what exhibits they were planning, and learn about free/discount days. However, I did not want to be inundated with emails that I would save for latter, but never actually read. Following these institutions on Twitter allows me to view their most recent updates at my leisure. However, Twitter can be used to semi successfully advance institutions missions.

The most common posts by museums are updates on upcoming events or live Tweeting current events, ‘This Day in History’ posts, ‘Did You Know’ posts, and photos of patrons enjoying the institution. However, social media is not a one-way conversation. The public can respond to institutions posts and initiate the dialogue themselves. This allows patrons to publicly communicate any ideas, compliments, or grievances. The use of this dialogue facilitated by social media helps many institutions fulfill some aspect their missions.

Education is part of nearly every public history institution’s mission. Through ‘This Day in History’ and ‘Did You Know’ posts institutions are able to facilitate education to thousands of people, many of who are unable to visit the museum. These posts also highlight aspects of the museum’s collection and might entice people to visit the museum or further research the topic of the post.

The mission statement of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s is “Commemorate, Educate, Inspire.” Further explained: “The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum collects, preserves, studies, and exhibits artifacts, archival materials, and works of art related to the history, culture, and science of aviation and spaceflight and the study of the universe. Its research and outreach activities serve all audiences, within and beyond its walls. The Museum commemorates the past and is committed to educating and inspiring people to foster appreciation for the importance of flight to humanity.”

Through the museums daily posts that briefly explain a piece of their collection or aviation history the museum is able to digitally facilitate education. The post only contains a small fact, but ideally it inspires people to research the topic further. The museum also commemorates important anniversaries and dates by creating relevant posts that honor a person, group, or event.

However, Twitter does have its limitations when serving public history institutions. With a limit of 140 characters it is difficult for an institution to communicate a substantive message or have a truly education post. Many people who communicate with the institution via Twitter will also have their posts left unanswered due to the volume of posts the institution receives. Twitter is a valuable tool when used in conjunction with other digital resources. A few institutions posted links to their blogs or websites that were able to convey more information on a topic than a Twitter post would have allowed. Some posts linked to Flickr accounts where you could view photos of a new exhibition or past event.

The more public history and cultural institutions embrace social media the better connected with the public they will be with the public. When used properly and in conjunction with other communication methods Twitter will be able to aid them fulfilling their missions. For now though Twitter’s most valuable use is conveying information and updates about the institution.

The physiognotrace, the selfie-stick of 1802

New media has altered our lives in countless ways. Technology affects nearly every aspect of our lives, how we work, how we play, how we communicate. It has also impacted how we represent ourselves socially and politically. Wendy Bellion in her article “Heads of State: Profiles and Politics in Jeffersonian America” examines how a novelty mechanism located in a museum influenced peoples’ representations of themselves in 19th century America. She delves into the history and use of the physiognotrace, a machine that creates miniature profiles of peoples’ heads. You would sit down at the machine and use a stylus to trace the outline of your face. The stylus was connected to a piece of meal that would create indentions in the shape of your face on a small piece of paper. An artist would then cut the profiles out and add nuances the stylus could not pick up, such as hairstyles and bowties. Bellion analyzes this machine in the context of older forms of self-representation such as the self-portrait, shadow painting, and the physiotrace.

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Sketch of the physiognotrace

Bellion argues that many people believed these minimalist profiles were highly accurate representations of themselves. One of the reasons for this belief was that you created the profile yourself, a form of self-portrait. However, Bellion argues that these profiles were not as direct as people thought they were. Yes, a person would trace the outline of their own face, but it was truly the artists cutting out of the silhouettes that created the final product. Bellion compares this to the political representation of Jeffersonian America.

As the Federalists gained political power citizens worried their elected officials would not accurately or fairly represent them. People believed a politician who was geographically close to you, held similar beliefs, and even looked similar to you would directly represent you in the political process. Bellion successfully argues that people were mistaken about how directly represented they were by their physiognotrace profiles and their elected representatives. In reality, both forms of representation were not as direct as people presumed they were.

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Completed profiles

A modern day form of the physiognotrace is the selfie. We use it to represent ourselves and document specific dates and events, such as visiting a museum. But how accurate of a representation are slefies? They capture the moment they were taken, but how well do they embody the rest of the minute, hour, or day? We use countless technological methods of portraying ourselves. The amount of websites dedicated to this task is staggering. Facebook ,Snapchat, and LinkedIn are all platforms we use to represent ourselves, but each one is usually used to exhibit a different side of ourselves. How accurate or direct are these representations? How do the platforms themselves affect the representations?

Bellion conveys a lot of important information in the dense and archaically worded article, but she provokes even more vital questions about media, technology and self-representation.