Tag: Internet

Article: Time Travelers, Virality, Museums and Digital Rights

Article: Time Travelers, Virality, Museums and Digital Rights

In the first half of 2010 a photograph with an unusual claim about one of the people depicted in it began to circulate on the internet. The photo, as reproduced here, created a minor stir due to the fantastic notion that it showed a time traveler standing in a crowd in the year 1941. The man (visible in the right-center of the photo) was said be to a time traveler due to his apparently anachronistic sunglasses, hoodie, printed t-shirt and modern looking camera. The resulting explosion of posts, claims and counterclaims fueled an online debate and spawned numerous imitators, proponents and debunkers throughout the rest of 2010 (and a Wikipedia entry as well!)

The Time Traveling Hipster photograph, from the "Their Past Lives Here" online exhibition created by the Bralorne Museum.

While the story of the hipster time traveler photo is fascinating on its own merits, as it speaks to the speed and nature of virality on the internet as well as the way the denizens of the internet construct (and deconstruct) a modern day myth, a paper delivered at the 2011 Museums and the Web conference uses the incident to illustrate how museums and other institutions can attempt to maintain control of their holdings in the nearly lawless realm of cyberspace.

Aside from being a fascinating detective story tracing the evolution of the time traveler photo on the internet, the paper entitled “The Mystery of the “1940s Time Traveller”: The Changing Face of Online Brand Monitoring” deftly introduces some compelling theories and arguments about online behavior, the management of digital rights and control of proprietary images as well as making the case for a more open and conversational stance by government institutions. In addition, some sharp pop culture quotes pepper the paper, adding a fun and light tone to the arguments–exactly the tone the authors argue that museums should take when dealing with the public. The majority of the paper is devoted to discussing how museums and other institutions can keep control of their brand, that is to say, retain rights and benefit from the exposure an event such as the hipster time traveler can being. Notably, the authors state how the further in time and deeper into the web the photo traveled, the less proper attributions were connected to it. The paper brings up some intriguing concepts by other authors, notably the idea of “conversational capital” by Cesvet and serves as a primer on how to approach brand monitoring–ideas that are applicable to a wide range of online endeavors, not just museums.

A highly recommended read, not just for those interested in digital rights management or preserving the integrity of online and offline collections but also for those curious about virality and the new theories developing around the transmission of information on the internet. Thanks and credit to David Harkness, Sheila Carey and Julie Marion for their paper as well as the Bralorne Museum, holder of the original photograph.


Harkness, D., et al., The Mystery of the “1940s Time Traveller”: The Changing Face of Online Brand Monitoring. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2011: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2011. Consulted August 7, 2011. http://conference.archimuse.com/mw2011/papers/mystery_1940s_time_traveller

The online “Their Past Lives Here” exhibit by the Bralorne Museum.


Finally, for a breakdown and examination of the photo from a skeptic’s viewpoint:


History in the News: Titanic

History in the News: Titanic

The 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster on April 15th resulted in a flood of commemorations and special events. From the 3D version of James Cameron’s record breaking Titanic being released in theaters to the dedication of a new museum in Belfast to a sold out special cruise retracing the exact path of the doomed liner, the amount of material shows the public fascination with the disaster still holds strong.

One of the more intriguing offerings is an 18 minute program from the BBC show “In Their Own Words” which used a computer synthesizer to convert to spoken words the Morse code messages sent out by Titanic and other ships in the area on the night of the disaster. It’s an intriguing way to view the disaster as the messages, read by computer without inflection or emotion, play out the last hours of the ship as operators in 1912 would have heard it.

While its available, listen here: Titanic: In Their Own Words

History and Gaming: Her-storian

History and Gaming: Her-storian

Emily Balderdash introduces herself as a "her-storian" in the Facebook game "Adventure World"

The social gaming powerhouse Zynga recently released a new Facebook game called Adventure World.  The game puts the player in the position of a young archaeologist with the fictional Adventurer’s Society and tasks them to carry out a variety of missions. It shares the same underlying problem with other Zynga games, which is the incessant need (demand) to get friends to play the game–in fact the game grinds to a halt unless you know other people who are playing the game. It does however have the distinction of being associated with the Indiana Jones franchise–the main reason I decided to try the game out.

While playing I came across one moment which I found quite intriguing. At your base camp there is a character named Emily Balderdash. When you speak to her, she replies with information about herself. Emily describes herself as a historian, adding that she prefers the term her-storian as seen in the screenshot above. Although I have the impression the developers of the game meant it as a throwaway line, an obvious play on the terms his and her, the statement only added to my feeling that a fantastic opportunity to reach potentially millions of people is being lost. There is an entire dialogue about approaches to history that could have been conveyed to the players of the game. When I think back to my graduate teaching days, most students were unaware there was even such a thing as women’s history much less the debates that have surrounded it.

This lost opportunity extends to the fundamentals of Adventure World. Within the game itself, despite references to real-world locations and archeological sites, real information is sorely lacking. The artifacts recovered are generic and the game does little to improve the image of archeologists as other than people who pick up old things to put in museums. With the historical components of Adventure World and Empires and Allies, there is the chance to reach millions of people. At the same time, what responsibility does Zynga have other than to provide a fun game?

I believe both goals can be met, without resorting to the dread edu-tainment label. In the next few months I will be writing more pieces on the hidden history in gaming and ways to use it to teach and inform.

Around the Internet: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Around the Internet: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has recently unveiled a new web site which endeavors to reach the laudable dual goals of “scholarship and accessibility.” Rather than using the web site as a simple reference point for visitors or as a catalog of works held by the institution, the museum has opted to attempt to deliver a completely different online experience to the one that can be had in person. By incorporating the strengths of the internet to deliver vast amounts of information and visuals according to the wishes and interest of the user, the Met has created a user-definable venture that can hopefully serve to enlighten as well as enhance any physical trip to the museum.

As the presence of the internet in daily life continues to grow, so does the chance to use new technologies to augment traditional activities. History in particular is a discipline which can only benefit from the incorporation of new forms of media and new methods of disseminating knowledge. The use of the word accessibility by the Met is also a key one, as some of the greatest work in the historical field remains firmly in the domain of historians. The result is that brilliant insights and discoveries remain isolated from the public, which can perpetuate long standing misconceptions about what historians do and the importance of their work (in my experience, asking any freshman history survey course about this will provide sufficient insight into the problem.) Balancing accessibility with scholarship is a valid concern but simply because it is difficult does not mean it is impossible. As this web site was founded on the idea of enhancing historical studies through the use of the internet and technology, the Metropolitan Museum’s efforts are both welcome and worth watching.

The New York Times has a more thorough review of the Metropolitan Museum’s online effects. Read the article at :: New York Times and the Met Online

Check out the Met’s web site at :: metmuseum.org

History in Gaming: Empire and Allies

History in Gaming: Empire and Allies

The newest offering by Zynga, the company behind social gaming phenomenons like Farmville and Mafia Wars, is the strategy game Empires and Allies. Available for play through Facebook, in Empires and Allies players strive to build up an island empire and defeat the evil machinations of a shadowy enemy that has been systematically attacking neighboring islands. The game mixes elements of 4X style strategy games (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) with turn based combat and limited interaction and diplomacy with other players. An additional hallmark of Zynga games is the fact the game is “freemium”–that is to say it is free to play but certain perks and items can be purchased, with the purchased items often giving a marked advantage or circumventing the need to play for long periods to achieve the same goal.

What makes Empires and Allies interesting for the historically minded is the introduction of themed weeks usually echoing historical events as well as military units based off real world equivalents. So far Empires and Allies has had themed weeks based around Bastille Day, the Space Race and the Dragon Boat Festival, among others. During these themed periods, special items are available for purchase such as P-40 Warhawks or statues of the Eagle moon lander. Unfortunately, the items and events are disconnected from any real-world explanations and occasionally have some curious decisions in their artwork that do not match up with the actual items. Due to the popularity of Zynga games, we here at Wired History have realized this is a great chance to discuss the history behind the in-game hardware and items and reach a large audience that might be curious about the items in the game they play. Starting this week we will be featuring podcasts and posts discussing the history of the themed weeks as well as the history of the items in the game.