Last year, I did I "year in review" of things related to the blog: history, archives, libraries, etc. I still don't know of any other site or blog that's doing this, so I figured I'd put one together for 2015.
For me, 2015 was a year of discovering food history as I helped the National Agricultural Library put together the Historical Dietary Guidance Digital Collection. Suddenly, food history seemed like it was everywhere: at the American Historical Association annual conference, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's Food History Week, and the National Archives' "Spirited Republic" exhibit. Right around the end of 2015, famed food history scholar Sidney Mintz passed away, casting even more attention to the field.
I also enjoyed the continuing growth of podcasts for history and libraries. I discovered the amazing Lost in the Stacks podcast ('the only research library rock n' roll radio show'), which despite its long run in Atlanta seems to have just appeared online this year. (Charlie Bennett of Lost in the Stacks also started a new podcast, Libraries 2020 in 2015.) I'm also excited about John Fea's The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast, also new this year.
For everyone else, history was evident in pop culture and our cultural politics, from Broadway to a small town monument near you. Here's my top 10 history stories from 2015:
I first heard about Hamilton in January or February of 2015 via History News Network. It sounded like a rip-off of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and I thought I probably would never hear of it again. Very shortly afterwards, there was some very positive coverage of the musical in the New York Times and the whole Hamilton phenomenon just snowballed into a juggernaut from there. The hype is totally valid: Hamilton is GOOD. Like, REALLY good. On its own, the music is amazing. But Hamilton has earned acclaim from historians for its rich detail and attention to perspective and complexity. If you haven't heard the soundtrack yet, do it as soon as possible. There are many valid complaints that you can take about how this show characterizes the main character or early American politics, but don't be pedantic and pick this one apart. It rocks.
Bonus: Hamilton on the $10 Bill - Activists called on the U.S. Treasury Department to put a woman on paper currency. The Department responded (bafflingly) by saying a woman would share the $10 bill with Hamilton. This added to Hamilton's newfound mystique. (But was Hamilton really the "staunch abolitionist," or is this a biographical fantasy?)
2. Removing the Confederate Flag
Following the rampage of white supremacist Dylan Roof in South Carolina, civil rights activists rallied against the display of Roof's beloved Confederate Flag on state grounds. (A forgotten historical footnote is that Roof targeted Denmark Vesey's Charleston church on the eve of his plotted rebellion.) The flag in South Carolina state grounds has long been a target of activists, but the Roof tragedy seemed to a be a crucial turning point, as other states, cities, and schools reconsidered their display of the flag. Scholars of the flag, the Confederacy, and primary sources about the flag were suddenly everywhere as Americans debated these changes.
3. Reconsidering Monuments
Cleansing America of white supremacist symbols didn't stop at the Confederate Flag. Starting with monuments to terrorists (Silent Sam) and war criminals (Nathaniel Bedford Forrest), critiques of monuments and symbols spread to arguably more ambiguous symbols, like the name of Woodrow Wilson or a WPA mural depicting slaves at a cotton plantation.
4. James Billington Resigns
Following a GAO report faulting the Library of Congress's IT policies, and subsequent criticism of the Library's alleged backwardness, Librarian of Congress James Billington announced his retirement. This prompted much constructive thought and conversation about what the Library can be and how it can lead library infrastructure, copyright policy, and other crucial issues nationwide and even worldwide. It also prompted the question: should the Librarian of Congress be someone who is demographically representative of librarianship?
5. Hilary Clinton Email Scandal
So Secretary of State Clinton violated records management rules and used personal email for official State Department business. Did this tamper with the historical record, as historians like Mary Dudziak argued? Maybe, but by year's end, few people besides hardcore Clinton enemies seemed to be very concerned about it. For a stretch mid-2015, suddenly everyone seemed to be an expert in records management.
6. Selma and LBJ
Did the film Selma unfairly portray LBJ as hostile to the civil rights movement? I don't know, because I still haven't seen it. But lots of people had an opinion.
7. No Irish Need Apply
A teenager proved that signs did, once upon a time, read "No Irish Need Apply." Whether or not they were rampant, or indicative of an Irish-American persecution complex, is still up for debate. In any case, it demonstrates that historians probably shouldn't say certain things "never" happened, lest they get debunked.
8. History of Incarceration
The history of American prisons was a hot topic this year, especially with the June 2015 special issue of the Journal of American History dedicated to the topic.
ProQuest cut access to its Early English Books Online (EEBO) product on a historical society. Twitter took offense, decrying an alleged stranglehold on digital heritage through the hashtag #ProQuestGate. Some critics tried to organize the production of a free ("FREEBO") alternative. Making matters more embarrassing for ProQuest, the company wrote EEBO's name incorrectly in its initial press release apology. While these critiques might have been a bit overblown (apparently, many EEBO texts are already online for free elsewhere), the incident showed how public opinion can quickly turn against library vendors.
10. Sons of Liberty
I didn't see this TV show, but apparently it was laughably bad, with exagerrated action movie cliches and gross inaccuracies. In the year of Hamilton and Selma, this pop history entry was a dud or a punch line.
Happy New Year!