Sunday, May 27, 2007

Little Chief - tobacco ad

Why this example of cigar box art is entitled "Little Chief" is unusual inasmuch as it juxtaposes the exotic Nile with a Native American canoe and a voluptuous, yet white, Egyptian princess. Her skirt is in a Native American motif, as is the decorative "saw blade" design on the edges of the canoe - the canoe is in the iconographic image but the canoe itself is not constructed of Indian materials or in an Indian fashion. The vessel is not birch bark, but made of wooden slats. She, likewise, is smoking a cigar. The little girl's role on the right hand side is hard to decipher. In any event, there seems to be no political symbolism in this picture, but perhaps only 19th-century eroticism or male sexual fantasy. Certainly the woman is not "Little Chief" although she is paddling an "Indian" canoe while allowing her breasts to be exposed. Still, the name "Little Chief" is curious - maybe the title of a play or some 'legitimate" painting of the 19th century.

Comments are welcome.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Columbia brand chewing tobacco

No, not Columbia, South America, but the feminine symbol for America, Columbia. Here she dominates the world and offers chewing tobacco. The symbolism should be obvious, and although it wasn't thought of that way at the time, America, that is, Columbia, is offering mouth cancer or at least horridly bad breath and stained teeth to the world. Sort of like in the Garden of Eden, when the beautiful Eve offered the apple of knowledge which would so impact the world resulting in paradise lost. Show them a pretty woman in a provocative pose and they'll buy anything.

King Cetewayo of the Zulus - tobacco ad

In these two illustrations we see the convergence of two actual events and personalities in 19th century history. But, before proceeding, it is best to explain that to boost the sale of their products, cigarette companies placed cards in cigarette packs that had pictures of athletes, flags of nations, ships at sea, and famous people - children would pester their parents for the cards and so sales would increase.

In this case we see the Zulu King Cetewayo pictured on one such cigarette premium card. Cetewayo's army fought the imperialist British army at the battle of Insandlwana in May, 1879. The other image, entitled "courage" shows two British lieutenants, Melville and Coghill, bravely fighting to the Zulus to the end, defending the Queen's colors. At Insandlwana the British were all killed. Such is the price for imperial glory. The Zulus fought the British again at a small outpost, but were repulsed. That is the plot of the movie "Zulu" starring Michael Caine.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Crusader tobacco

One might imagine this as the way in which George W. Bush thinks of himself in Iraq, with sword and flag, leading the holy Christian knights to battle the heathen Muslim infidels. The motif also fits well its own time and place, that of the European, American, and to a lesser extent, the Japanese cultures of imperialism. This iconic figure then would symbolize the racist compunction to demean all that is different, therefore inferior, to their empire building. Perhaps the cigar smoking man buying this stogie believed down deep that it was a holy war, not god cursed imperialism.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Welcome Nugget Tobacco

The advertising message, found in the lower right hand corner reads:

"As the welcome nugget weighing 2217 ounces exceeds in purity and value any lump of gold ever found, so this brand surpasses in quality any tobacco made."

The prospector, harkening back to the days of the California gold rush, holds the huge nugget and says, almost nonchalantly: "Jack, look at this." The cigars, no doubt, were really golden deals.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Old Honesty Tobacco

"Old Honesty" is a piece of cigar box art dating from the late 1870s to the early 1880s. It glorifies the "village smithy" of days of yore, from whose honest work all kinds of good things have been produced, from locomotives, pottery, factories, artistic statues, giant cog wheels and even factories. Notice his beard, his manly chest, strong forearms, and the square in his belt and of course the anvil. It was, even for its time, a fond look to a past when a man's labor stood for his honesty and integrity. It was a fond look back because the times were changing so that workers were made to be less important in society, only worker-bees in the factories one can see in the back ground. If you smoked this brand of cigar you were most likely a working man or were delighted with the image the art portrayed and felt a kinship with the icon "Old Honesty" represented.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fine Tips

Tobacco has always been sold by leveraging the beauty of young women. Here is a "Virginia Slims"-esque ad from the 1880s. A young woman showing off her Fine Tips cigarette.

Monday, May 21, 2007

La Cultura tobacco

In the late 19th century, the period of imperialism and exploitation, etc., etc., European, or at least Caucasian nations were represented in classical feminine form, as were the benighted peoples they
ostensibly were out to Christianize. This is a very good example of that idea. The white woman in this picture represents America, while the brown woman represents a backward even savage civilization kowtowing to America and offering up her bounty, in this case, tobacco and other exotic fruits. The ox cart to the left is emblematic of the backwardness of the native country, while the the factories in the background indicate the promise of what will come under American rule. The country is most likely Cuba, or some other Caribbean island nation. It was the beginning of the "American Century." Imperialism - it's a good thing to spread "the Culture" (La Cultura).

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's all about the Vanderbilts?

When administrators of public history agencies who are not public historians, although they may enjoy history, begin to meddle in the work of public historians the results can be disastrous. Much of what passes for public history today is "heritage tourism," or making cultural resources (read: historic buildings, usually mansions) "pay" for the community. It is not public history but the exploitation of public history for the economic betterment of the given community.

Many people like antiques, they go to the towns where they are found and spend money and look into local historic house museums, generally the houses of the past's rich and "well born" or robber barons of the 19th century. Consider, for example, the Vanderbilt Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina. It is interesting and not big, but colossal. But, beyond telling the visitor that the Vanderbilts had immense wealth, what does it tell us about the past? Nothing.

It's not like "everyone" in the past had such huge fortunes. And when you think of the ways Vanderbilt oppressed the working classes it becomes not a glorious mansion but a monument to repression. It's funny when you hear a tour guide say something like "So-and-so built this house in 1879" when in fact "So-and-so" never laid a brick or handled a trowel. Words have meanings.

In cases where a public history agency finds itself with new leadership there is the potential that this kind of heritage tourism may become a new direction, guided, of course by a new vision (a.k.a. hallucination) in which meetings will be held and plans made to revamp the resources to make them pay. I have no beef with the notion that heritage tourism can be a good thing, just that public historians should not have to change their methods and conclusions and products to fit the prefabricated goal. "Heritage Tourism" likewise provides avenues for academic departments to gain grants and perpetuate jobs within departments.

Any comments?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 Podcast # 1 - February 27, 2007

Our first podcast from the archives of daily entries:

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Farbs are not Public Historians

These people think they are public historians. They are not. They are playing. They are not educating anyone, they are putting on a show, and not a very good one at that. Still, they get press coverage because of their "living history" notions and so obscure and marginalize the broader ramifications of the past. This is wrong and should be stopped.

The Public History Emancipation Proclamation

Public history must free itself from the fetters and chains of academic historians and academic institutional bias. Public historians have for too long been the lap dogs of history professors, seeking their approbation and approval in order to move on any given project, as though permission is required. We must rid ourselves of this pernicious influence and stand on our own feet. We don't need their help. They monopolize grant opportunities for their own careers' sakes, leaving public historians feeding off of the crumbs of their academic tables. If they want to lecture about slavery or the Napoleonic wars, or the age of the robber barons, etc,. OK, but also let public historians, who know what they are doing, do it.

Not only must public history be free from academia, but it must likewise be free from well intentioned but ahistorical reenactors and "farbs." This has been especially evident in the presentation of the past during black history month (February in the United States). Why do we have to be bombarded by grown men in their 60s dressing up as USCT (United States Colored Troops) and telling the TV audience how great their "ancestors" were? I doubt they have any lineage to USCT, but they insist, as do whites with CSA and USA, in role playing and convincing us that they are somehow historians. They are not historians, they are recreationists, so to say. This, as I said, holds true for the grey clothed rebel and blue clad yankee reenactors. THEY ARE NOT PUBLIC HISTORIANS, THEY ARE NOT EVEN HISTORIANS. They insist that they portray heroic heritages when they don't even begin to know how awful and boring and disease ridden were the lives of soldiers. Where's the glory in that? So, they shape the public's perception because they dress in an odd costume, loading and firing Enfield rifles for any who will watch and listen. The public goes away with only that as the information they know about the past. The past is much sloppier and much more complex than some reenactor shooting a rifle off to the squealing delight of children and the otherwise uneducated.

One such reenactor retorted to me during a meeting that "we" (African-Americans) need heroes. OK, but don't limit it to "heroes" who shoot guns, but others who drove the wagons, cooked, repaired railroads, cleaned the streets and even preached, and especially the ones who got their arms and legs shot off, or died of dysentery or measles. This emphasis on martial glory is wrong and must be stopped. It confines the public's view to a narrow spectrum of the past.

When I was a boy, a Cub Scout, we learned about the constellations in the night sky by taking an empty round oatmeal box and with pencil we drew the outline of a constellation – say the Big Dipper- then we took a pin and punched holes in the right places, and then we could look in the open end of the box and see the stars, etc. Well, history should be looked at in the "oatmeal box theory of history," that its, you study the past, which is analogous to punching a few holes in the box, and you look in and you see something, then you punch a few more holes, and you see more, and so on and so on, until eventually you obliterate the end of the box and you see "everything" within the preview of the round box. But, it isn't everything, it's just what history you can see through the confines of the box. So, you have to repeat the process, ad infinitum, until you see more, but you'll never see all of the past – but you can try, or at least know what you see isn't all there is to see. These reenactors only punch a few holes and call it comprehensive. They delight in dressing up and playing Civil War soldiers, justifying their activities as "educational." They have no right to claim to be educators or historians, only reenactors. It is as though if you have a rifled musket and can load and fire it while in a recreated uniform you are a historian. This is wrong and must be stopped.

More later on the administrative barriers to the practice public history.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Evolving into a Public Historian

I recently spoke to a public history class about my evolution (intelligent design?) as a public historian. Aside from the necessary autobiographical nature of the lecture I tried to let them know that public historians are not understood.

For example, when in a social setting and someone asks what you do and you say you are a public historian they look at you like the RCA dog looks at the gramophone, hearing his master's voice. Then they ask, "where do you teach?" and when you tell them you don't teach they begin to become irritated. They don't know what a public historian is. So, you have to say something about historical markers or the National Register program and then they begin to smile a bit and feel more comfortable.

I know some professors teach public history, and, indeed there are PhD programs in public history nowadays, but the professors aren't public historians, but a hybrid, one part academic, the other part public. Is there any hope for practicing public historians?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Public Health & Public History

One issue that public historians might deal with is that of public health, particularly in the cities. The idea that clean drinking water and the removal of filth from the streets has a history that should be recognized. The history itself could be utilized by public health departments as a means of knowing what measures were taken * granted, measures that in the 21st century seem ridiculously stupid * yet the progression to present day measures can help in the understanding that the past was really quite different and that our approach to public health may not be the last in a sequence of progressive steps leading to a “public health nirvana.” Did a change in approach to public health occur quickly after the realization that the germ theory explained disease (ca. 1880s) instead of the post hoc propter hoc theory of miasmas as the cause of sickness? Are there any of you out there who have comments to make on the topic of the history of public health, a “natural” topic for exploration by public historians? Have any of you done work on the topic?

Opening comment

Attention all public historians, it is time to get to know one another and understand the nature of the work we do. I am convinced that one criterion for a public historian is that he/she does not teach. There are many other public and private arenas in which we work, but the variety of that work is not understood well enough. Where does your work fall under the umbrella of "public history?" I work for a state historical agency in the southeastern United States and my job description is ill defined, although that gives me great freedom to research and write about topics previously abandoned by historians of bygone eras. In any event, won't you comment on your situation as a public historian? Thanks.