Tag: Museum

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:


Photo of the Day: The National Palace Museum

Photo of the Day: The National Palace Museum

The National Palace Museum in Taiwain

In the 1930s Chinese Nationalist authorities removed the the bulk of the collection of art and antiquities located within the Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City to prevent them from falling into Japanese hands as hostilities and tensions began to escalate between China and Japan after the Mukden Bridge Incident. In 1948 the decision was made to take the best of the collection to Taiwan as the Civil War between the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-Shek and the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong continued. Ultimately, over 600000 pieces of the finest examples of Chinese art and artifacts including books and paintings were sent to Taiwan and with the Nationalist retreat to the island in 1949, the collection would come to be housed in the National Palace Museum. As a result, the museum is widely considered to house the best examples of Chinese art in the world.

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

Photo of the Day: The Statue of Brothers

Photo of the Day: The Statue of Brothers

The Statue of Brothers at the War Museum of Korea

The Statue of Brothers at the War Museum of Korea depicts two brothers, one a South Korean officer and the other a North Korean soldier, who encounter each other on the battlefield. The two brothers are shown falling into each others arms as brotherly affection and forgiveness overcomes the political realities of war.

Although usually not categorized as a civil war, the Korean conflict drove more than just a political wedge through the heart of the country and the continuing sentiment of a people divided is starkly exemplified in this statue.

Photo taken July 22, 2010

History in the News: USS Olympia

History in the News: USS Olympia

The USS Olympia is an American protected cruiser built in 1895 and renowned for being Commodore George Dewey’s flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay, one of the decisive engagements of the Spanish-American War. Olympia was retired from service soon afterwards in 1899 but returned to active duty for a variety of missions from 1902 to 1922. Since 1957 the Olympia has been a museum ship in Philadelphia. The Olympia is the oldest steel-hulled warship afloat, older than her relative contemporary the Japanese pre-dreadnaught Mikasa–also a museum ship in Yokosuka.

USS Olympia

The recent economic downtown has dealt a harsh blow to many historical institutions and Olympia may now be facing a battle it cannot win. The Independence Seaport Museum has stated it can no longer afford the upkeep for the ship and may be forced to scrap the vessel or sink it as an artificial reef. As a result, several groups have come forward and a two year plan has been put into place to find a new home for the Olympia. Although the history of the Olympia is fascinating on its own, the current plight of the ship and the quest to preserve it is intriguing as it gives a glimpse into the difficulties many institutions may face given the modern economic climate.

While several groups are in the running to take over operations of the Olympia, money is still needed to maintain and preserve the ship. Donations of any kind are welcome and the link to donate can be found below.

USS Olympia’s current home at the Independence Seaport Museum :: http://www.phillyseaport.org/

The ongoing effort to find a new home for the Olympia as well as the link to the USS Olympia National Fund, a fund established for the long term preservation of the ship ::http://www.preservationnation.org/travel-and-sites/sites/northeast-region/the-uss-olympia.html

A photographic archive of the Olympia through the years :: http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/c6/c6.htm

Photo of the Day: The 9:18 History Museum

Photo of the Day: The 9:18 History Museum

A massive sculpture at the 9:18 Museum

The 9:18 Museum in Shenyang is devoted to the Mukden Bridge Incident. On September 9th 1931 Japanese troops detonated explosives near a Japanese controlled railroad line in a “false flag” operation in order to blame Chinese agitators for the act. With the explosion as a pretext, Japan launched an invasion of Manchuria resulting in the formation of the puppet state of Manchukuo. The museum itself sits upon the exact spot of the explosion.

Photo taken in Shenyang on 6/5/2011.