I’ve been a lot quieter lately on social media than usual. Thanks dissertation. I thought I would take a break from Chicago style footnotes and R programming to share a little bit of my work… and some of the pretty graphs I have made that likely won’t be included in my final draft after the cutting room.
In brief, my dissertation investigates the utility of talk-back boards, meaning a type of museum exhibit characterized by a “question on a wall” format with some mechanism for public responses such as post-it notes or a computer terminal. I collected thousands of talk-back board responses from two museums: Seminary Ridge Museum (SRM) in Gettysburg, PA, and Women’s Rights National Historical Park (WRNHP) in Seneca Falls, NY. SRM’s talk-back board was installed upon the museum’s opening in 2013 and poses visitors with the question “What is the unfinished work of freedom?” WRNHP’s was installed during a museum renovation in 1993 and was since removed just this past year and asked visitors “What will it be like when men and women are truly equal?”
Using these data sets, my ongoing work seeks to answer two primary questions. First, are visitors engaging with the exhibits at either site and is this detectable through talk-back boards? Second, can talk-back boards be used to detect the presence of historical empathy, or to what degree are SRM and WRNHP respondents engaging in historical empathy when answering these questions.
To answer these questions, I employ a variety of techniques… but in this post I’m only going to talk about two: text mining and topic extraction.
Like many others, I do not believe the word cloud hype. Word clouds are one of the simplest text mining techniques and simply convert a chart of frequencies into a plot of different sized words. The larger the word, the more often that word appeared in the data set. Other than size, no other information matters in most word clouds. Location and color of each word is generally irrelevant unless the researcher is doing something different. Word clouds cannot and should not be used as any sort of statistical tool because… well there’s not analysis being done here. Take a look:
What can we really learn from this graphic that couldn’t be learned from a chart or even a brief glance at the raw data? Not much really. All of the most often used words are clear: peace, people, God, freedom, love, equal, rights, equality, government, and Obama. A different person reading this graphic may pick out different words, such as the weirdness of the word arrow (from my coding scheme to represent illustrated talk-back responses) and the presence of Obama (a lot of people at SRM did not like the Obama image near the talk-back board).
Word clouds have a place in analysis because a lot of people simply do not like to read charts and clouds offer a different visualization, but that won’t stop me from thinking word clouds are basically a pretty gimmick. Unlike Jacob Harris, I don’t “die a little inside” every time I see a word cloud, but my eye twitches a bit. More useful are word trend charts that divide the data into even segments, which are basically a form of time series analysis. Compare the plot below to the word cloud above; there’s a lot more information.
Lemmatization & Topics
The first step toward useful text mining analysis is cleaning up the data. To do this, I applied lemmatization to the data. Lemmatization effectively condenses the dataset by grouping words with the same root into a single root word (known as the lemma). For example, the set (stop, stops, stopped, stopping) was condensed into the single word “stop.” As an example of lemmatization’s usefulness for analysis, take the SRM segment plot above and notice that “equal” and “equality” appear 5th and 8th most often. Combining the two into a single term would change the way we interpret the data as “equal” would become one of the top most common terms throughout the data.
Topic extraction is a lot like factor analysis (and actually is factor analysis depending on the software used). To better explain lemmatization and topic extraction, take for example the following response from WRNHP: “men will see we are not just for cooking and cleaning but we can work and make money.” A simple topic extraction on a single response with lemmatization results in “man, cook, clean, work, money.” Note that the actual topic of this statement is “we,” which in this case references women in the general sense, is not extracted and is not incorporated into the overall topic extraction analysis. However, a rigorous explanation of each response is not the purpose of topic extraction; the purpose is to both extract the “gist” of a response, do so quickly, generate as few topics as possible, and do so with consistency across the entire dataset.
Topic extraction functions by constructing a word x document frequency matrix then computing factor analysis. WordStat 7 is a great tool for this compared to the step-by-step coding of R. Below is the topic extraction from the SRM dataset:
RACE; ORIENTATION; SEXUAL; GENDER; RELIGION; MATTER; SEX; SEXUALITY; COLOR
MEN & WOMEN CREATED EQUAL
MAN; EQUAL; CREATE; WOMAN
CHRIST & FREEDOM
CHRIST; JESUS; SET; LORD; FREEDOM; FREE
LIMIT; TERM; FEDERAL; GOVERNMENT
BLESS; GOD; AMERICA
The topic with the highest returned eigenvalue is the most striking. A large number of respondents consistently related history, the past, and the future to freedom, and it is encouraging that the top extracted topic in a history museum is one about the past. The second topic is also notable in its wide breadth, meaning that respondents who spoke of equality did so in terms of race, sexuality, gender, and religion simultaneous.
Topic extraction can also be expressed graphically. Rather than share a table of WRNHP topic extraction results, below is a graph of those results in the form of a co-occurrence chart. In this chart, each word is plotted in relation to each other word based on each pairing’s relative co-occurrence by Jaccard coefficient. Color coded groupings indicate broadly defined topics (not calculated by factor analysis), and lines between words indicate a strong co-occurrence. The strongest connections can be seen at the center of the pink cluster with some of the most common words in the WRNHP data: woman, man, equal, world, love, respect, world, and peace. This pink cluster generally contains all answers that directly addressed issues directly connected to sex or gender and world peace.
As can be seen from these relatively simple text mining techniques, a great deal of insight can be gained from topic extraction. Before applying these techniques, I did not have the sense that a subset of SRM respondents (197 to be precise) often spoken in exclusively historical terms. Similarly, the co-occurrence chart above indicated the strong correlation between the terms within the “pink” grouping, all of which are generally connected to emotion, imagination, and/or empathy in some way.
Moving forward, I’ve already applied similar methods to historical empathy. If I get another chance to breath in between dissertation writing, teaching, and job applications, then maybe I’ll share some more.
In conclusion, enjoy this really annoying word cloud I made of Abraham Lincoln’s head. Look out Obama, Lincoln’s got his eye on you.
Note: I know that Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) was Middle Tennessee State College during the 1950s, but for simplicity and ease of understanding I employ a blanket use of “MTSU” throughout. Also, apologies for the poor photo quality. All photos were quick snaps I took during my archival research and were intended for personal use only.
Forrest Hall and MTSU, Part Two
A couple of weeks ago, MTSU President Sidney McPhee convened the first meeting of the Forrest Hall Task Force, a committee chaired by Dr. Derek Frisby. This committee is tasked with evaluating whether or not MTSU should rename its building named for Civil War General and KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forest. The meeting was open to the public, although the only individuals allowed to speak were those on the committee. For a superb outline and interpretation of that meeting, stop here and read this blog post by Elizabeth Catte.
As I have argued before, in order to understand Forrest Hall, we must understand those who named the MTSU ROTC building as such. The issue at hand is, in part, who Forrest was, but more important is what Forrest represented in the 1950s. Forrest Hall is a question of memory and myth, not one of military history.
The goal of this blog post is to outline some points about the memory of Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Confederacy as understood by white Southerners in the 1950s, specifically top MTSU administrators. This post also serves as a historical information dump, not rigorous historical analysis. I have been in archives digging into MTSU’s Forrest history for weeks now (probably about 20 hours total this month), and this information needs to be shared.
How did MTSU administrators understand and deploy Forrest in 1954?
1. Tennesseans in the 1950s understood that Forrest was a primary leader of the KKK.
Tennessee Blue Books from the mid-1950s openly referenced Forrest’s KKK past: “His postwar career was devoted to farming and railroading, but he apparently served for a time as head of the Ku Klux Klan.” That word “apparently” suggests to me that the Blue Book authors were a bit embarrassed of Forrest’s KKK associations, but were honest enough with Tennessee’s past to include it. Before World War II, his KKK associations were a point of celebration, and Forrest supporters only began to distance Forrest from his KKK leadership in the decades World War II, as evidenced by the decline in importance of Nathan Bedford Forrest Day as a legal holiday, to non-observance, to re-assignment as a day of observation.
Either way, as evidenced by 1950s Blue Books, the Tennessee government — of which MTSU was a part — officially recognized Forrest’s KKK leadership.
2. MTSU administrators spoke in coded racist language when referencing Forrest.
During the 1958 Forrest Hall dedication, Dean Keathley stated: “There was no searching for a name for the ROTC building — the name was always there, for the spirit of its namesake hovers over this campus.” Remember, Keathley was speaking to an all-white campus (except for service workers) actively resisting integration. MTSU Presidents Smith (1938-57) and Cope (1958-68) both rejected petitions from African-American students to enroll at MTSU throughout the 1950s. Note that in 1948, it was declared that one of the objectives of Tennessee state colleges, including MTSU, was to “offer general education for the area served. They are truly the ‘people’s colleges’.” Except for black people, I guess.
Returning to Keathley’s comments on Forrest’s “spirit,” African Americans in the 1950s South — and most likely, all Southerners in the 1950s — understood that “the spirit of Nathan Bedford Forrest” was coded language for oppressive racism, the KKK, and potentially carried the threat of racial violence. There’s usage of the term in 1960s Memphis to mean a place of heavy racial oppression, and it pops up in random bits of fiction every now and then to mean, basically, when white people commit violence upon African Americans. Search for it on Google Books; it’s there.
In addition, a 2011 blog post by Virginia Military Institute (VMI) alum Keydet76 refers to “the spirit of Nathan Bedford Forrest” as what “lives on in those—even today—who wish to inflate their importance by belittling those who they have contempt.” Keydet76 further wrote: “If Lee and Jackson were the Saints of the South, then Nathan Bedford Forrest was the Sinner…It was Forrest organization the Ku Klux Klan who imposed a reign of terror on the newly freed blacks and who actions set the stage for the imposition of the Jim Crow laws. It was Forrest and his ilk that turned the Confederate Battle Flag into a symbol of hate and bigotry rather than a symbol of those who gave their upmost for a cause.” The relationship between Confederate heritage and VMI is very complex — much more so than Forrest and MTSU — and I would suggest giving Keydet76 a read.
3. MTSU President QM Smith publicly spoke many times on his “Americanism” approach to university administration, an approach very similar to the one forwarded by Nathan Bedford Forrest II at Lanier University, a failed Atlanta college sold to the Ku Klux Klan.
Forrest II (Nathan Bedford Forrest’s grandson) openly served as Grand Dragon of the second KKK, and as such became as Lanier University’s Secretary and Business Manager (and first in command) upon the KKK’s 1921 purchase. He told The New York Times upon his appointment:“Our institution will teach pure, 100% Americanism…while Lanier will be operated under the direction of the KKK, it should not be understood that it is open only to sons and daughters of members of that organization. It will be open to the sons and daughters of all real Americans who desire that their children shall receive instructions in the true history of their country in an institution where Americanism and the teaching of patriotism and loyalty to home and country are the predominant features.”
To Forrest II, a top leader in the KKK, “real Americans” were all white and “loyalty to home and country” means loyalty to the ideals of the Confederacy, most notably white supremacy. In the QM Smith Papers at the Gore Center at MTSU, you can find many speech transcripts given by QM Smith, some in his own handwriting. Several of these are on Americanism and contain the same coded language forwarded by Forrest II two decades earlier. It is pretty clear from this that Smith and Forrest were, at the very least, from similar schools of thought, and it is entirely possible that Smith emulated Forrest in his approach to university management.
4. MTSU yearbooks from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s are full of Confederate imagery, and some of it is clearly designed to convey the message of segregation and/or white supremacy.
Addendum: Liz Catte wrote a very good blog post on the 1956 KKK cartoon. I suggest you read it if you’ve made it this far.
One of Forrest’s soldiers, clearly meant to represent Forrest himself, appeared in the yearbook often, most notably in 1956 when his cartoon likeness “narrated” the yearbook. In one of the images — the opening to the Student Organizations yearbook section — Forrest is pulling a KKK hood out of his satchel. There is absolutely no way to dismiss this image as anecdotal; this is white supremacy and violence, pure and simple, in black and white in MTSU’s primary student body publication.
There was only one image of the Forrest sports mascot in the 1964 yearbook, but it was placed on the same page as the photo of MTSU’s first African-American student, Olivia Woods. In fact, the image of the Forrest Raider is as close to Woods’ photo as the layout allowed. Dr. Frisby references both of these images in his article on Forrest Hall, but dismisses them both as exceptional, and specifically refers to the Woods-Raider page of the yearbook as “curious.”
5. Even the Nathan Bedford Forrest Round Table — a group of military history and Civil War buffs — disbanded their club in 1978 because they recognized the toxicity of the Forrest name.
The Round Table organized in 1958 as a Civil War historical club and met regularly on the MTSU campus, primarily at Forrest Hall. Membership included local businessmen, local teachers, a variety of MTSU faculty (including history and ROTC), and MTSU administrators. These men never were outright racist in their language, yet I honestly find them to be a little odd in their re-enactment. Their correspondences were all in faux-military, Lost Cause speak, such as addressing the first group letter to “About twenty men who can’t remove the ring of the Confederate Yell from their ears nor the pungent smell of Southern lilacs from their nostrils.” But they seem strangely genuine in their objectives of entertainment, historical research, and development of Stones River Military Park, even though their work was heavily couched in Lost Cause rhetoric.
By the mid-1970s, attendance waned. In the final years, organizers recognized the Confederacy and Nathan Bedford Forrest were now firmly associated with white supremacy. Rather than engage this development, members instead disbanded in 1978 and firmly placed blame upon everyone else:
Our group is slowly dissolving because: We are afraid of guilt by association. Afraid, that is, of that wild-eyed lunatic element which is so caught up in the extreme view of civil rights that they see a hood on every Southerner and double-damn those who study the Civil War.
6. There is no doubt that Forrest Hall is named for Nathan Bedford Forrest of Civil War fame (and infamy).
Some chatter emerged during the 2006 movement to rename the building that the building was actually named for Forrest’s great-grandson (who died in World War II). The building is named for the Civil War general, as the MTSU 1954-55 Annual Report directly stated “This building…is named for General Nathan Bedford Forrest,” not to mention dozens of other implications and references to the namesake’s Civil War legacy.
7. This doesn’t have anything to do with Forrest Hall specifically… I just wanted to include the photo of when MTSU President Sam Ingram proudly asserted his role as a President who removed Forrest imagery from the university. As I discussed in my post over at Sport in American Historya few months back, MTSU President Sam Ingram removed the Nathan Bedford Forrest seal from the student union building in 1989. Today, portraits of every MTSU President hang on the second floor of Walker Library. Check out Sam Ingram’s. What’s that in the background? That’s right… the new university seal. Ingram clearly embraced removing the Forrest seal (and helping create a new one) as part his MTSU legacy, and it is a testament to him that he chose this specific background for his portrait. How awesome is that?
Alongside Liz Catte’s and my own previous articles, what do all these disjointed points tell us? First, it tells us that MTSU was a place where the Confederacy was heavily celebrated, both in terms of “heritage” and for the more nefarious, KKK-associated reasons decried by the Forrest Round Table group. Second, it tells us that QM Smith’s fascination with Nathan Bedford Forrest was firmly grounded in Forrest’s KKK legacy — not exclusively in Forrest’s military accomplishments as Smith claimed publicly. And finally, it tells us that Smith most likely named Forrest Hall as such because of both Forrest’s racist legacy and his military accomplishments.
If anyone wants to call me out for being politically correct, thin-skinned, or revisionist, then I’ll ask they read that blog post by Keydet76 [Note: I have a lot of respect for VMI. Two of my uncles went there, and I nearly attended for undergraduate study], who had some great thoughts on the legacy of the Confederacy:
Many controversies have been waged across the South over the display of the Confederate Flag—be it the Battle Flag or National Colors. In simplest terms it was the white south that allowed the Confederate Flag to be appropriated by purveyors of ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry. It was the white south that stood silently and passively as these purveyors of the hate lynched and inflicted terror and violence on African-Americans attempting to exercise their god given and constitutional rights.
The Confederate Flag has lost its symbolic relationship with those who fought honorably and valiantly for what they believe was a just cause. The Confederate Flag belongs in a museum or in reenactments of the Civil War. Its display, regardless of intent, symbolizes to many Americans, hate and bigotry. While it may be part of many Southerners heritage it still does not change the fact that it is a powerful symbol of rebellion and hate.
Please, for the love of MTSU and its reputation, change the name of Forrest Hall and be rid of this hate and bigotry for good.
Note: This blog post originally appeared August 24, 2015, on the Sport in American History blog.
I remember him saying, “You don’t want to go to many football games. It will be a unique experience for you.” I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I would find out.–Sylvester Brooks, MTSU Student and civil rights activist in mid-1960s,from an interview given in 2000
As of today, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) has a Confederacy problem. Granted, a lot has changed since the 1960s. For one, MTSU no longer has a man in Confederate garb on football sidelines, nor does the MTSU band play “Dixie” as the unofficial fight song. But there is still an ominous structure with “Forrest Hall” emblazoned upon its side, named after a Confederate general and slave trader. Why does this symbol to the Confederacy exist at MTSU? Why does it persist? And why did (and does) a state university founded 46 years after the Civil War proudly associate itself with a founder of the KKK?
A few weeks ago, Matt Follett wrote a great piece for this very blog entitled “Confederate Iconography and Southern College Football.” In it, Matt connected Confederate imagery to sport through college football games in the South, primarily those at Ole Miss. In brief, Matt argued that administrative policies do not deter the display of Confederate flags at college sporting events or prevent “southerners from rallying and advocating for Confederate iconography.” In his words, “It appears changing the proverbial ‘hearts and minds’ of defiant southerners is a lost cause.” I like his use of the phrase “lost cause” here.
This post is, first, a follow-up on Matt’s by analyzing the troubling—and ongoing—connections to the Confederacy of my current university, MTSU. In the late-1960s and 1970s, MTSU successfully purged its brutally racist public image at sporting events, but remnants of MTSU’s racist “heritage” are still scattered throughout campus. By and large though, MTSU’s public image today is not significantly different from any other mid-sized public university with a mediocre football team…except for the fact that Nathan Bedford Forrest (one of the founders of the KKK) still has a symbolic presence on our campus.
Second, this post is an effort to bring this historical context to a current (and ongoing) MTSU debate. Like many universities, MTSU has an ROTC program; unlike most universities, our ROTC program is based in a building named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a notorious Confederate general with no connection to the university whatsoever. As of this writing, current MTSU President Sidney McPhee is supposedly holding a series of meetings to “revisit” the name of Forrest Hall, as announced via public statement on 24 June, although there seems to be no administrative movement as of right now. However, there is absolutely student movement. A protest is scheduled for this Thursday.
To be fully clear, I believe the name of Forrest Hall should be changed. This post is not a call for political correctness; it is a call for awareness, justice, and to end MTSU’s ahistorical association with a founder of the KKK.
WHO WAS FORREST
A quick background on Nathan Bedford Forrest, for those of you unfamiliar. Forrest was a lieutenant general in the CSA Army and, by all military accounts of the time, led many successful military campaigns primarily in middle Tennessee. More importantly though, he was a slave trader, war criminal, and terrorist. Before the Civil War, Forrest made a fortune trading enslaved peoples; during the war, Forrest’s men brutalized Union soldiers, most notably massacring African-American Union soldiers at Fort Pillow after they surrendered; and after the war, Forrest became a prominent leader of the first Ku Klux Klan.
Forrest defenders deny, many to this day, his role at Fort Pillow and the KKK and excuse his slave trading as a common practice in his day. But even in a best case scenario, Forrest was a violent, absolutist white supremacist, despite what the Sons of Confederate Veterans may have you believe about his changing views in his final years of life. Some argue that Forrest was a product of his times, which is of course true to a point, yet Forrest did things that very few Southern white men did at the time—made a fortune in the slave trade, massacred surrendered enemy soldiers, and led others in illegal, oppressive, and murderous action against African Americans. Forrest cannot be redeemed from this action just because he gave one half-decent speech in his dying days.
I do not intend to debate Forrest as he lived; I do intend to analyze how Forrest has been canonized at MTSU. To be absolutely clear, there is no direct connection between Forrest and MTSU. Even at the dedication of Forrest Hall, the only connection that could be made was that Forrest’s command once “rendezvoused on or near the present campus.” No matter your opinion, you must agree this is a tenuous connection.
ORIGINS OF MTSU’S FORREST CONNECTION
Forrest died in 1877; MTSU opened (as Middle Tennessee State Normal School) in 1911. In 1913, a faculty committee chose the school’s official colors—blue and white—and explained these were chosen because the pair was practical, economical, and “could be purchased across the counter in any general merchandise store.” Newspapers unofficially named sports teams the “Pedagogues,” but this name was never popular on campus.
In 1934, the local newspaper asked the student body for name suggestions. The winning submission was Blue Raiders, which still stands as the university’s mascot. A common misconception today is that the name “Raider” was derived from “Forrest’s Raiders,” but the winning entrant was actually a slightly modified version of Colgate University’s “Red Raiders.” As a relevant aside, it should be noted that “Rebels” finished just three votes behind in second place.
While “Blue Raiders” may not be directly associated with Forrest, it was certainly implied within athletics by the end of World War II. For example, when the university considered a name change in 1944, the head football coach proposed the name Forrest State College to match the “Raider” nickname.
But the name “Blue Raiders” wasn’t enough for MTSU President Quinn Smith. Upon entering his position in 1938, Smith believed that the “Raiders” needed a better symbol around which to rally school spirit. Sports mascots are symbolic usually, more representative of an idea than an individual (such as Ole Miss’s Colonel Reb), but MTSU officials chose to associate the university with very specific individuals from the past. At least one school official suggested Confederate general John Hunt Morgan, but according to another MTSU administrator, “President Smith felt a native of Middle Tennessee would be a better representative, and he ultimately decided on Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Civil War cavalryman from Chapel Hill, Tennessee.” According to alumni publications, Smith viewed Forrest with great personal admiration and believed that Forrest “represented or should represent the spirit of the team and the remainder of the college.”
At President Smith’s behest, MTSU’s publicity officers incorporated Forrest into their materials at least as early as 1945. By the mid-1950s, Forrest’s image dominated campus life, on decals, bookstore supplies, and campus newspaper Sidelines, not to mention the new ROTC building named Forrest Hall (also chosen by President Smith). Students formed a Nathan Bedford Forrest Club, and others sold “rebel flags to boost the school’s southern spirit.” Confederate battle flags were apparently everywhere on MTSU’s campus.
Most visible though was the Forrest-lookalike mascot on horseback. From 1945 to 1967, “That Blue Devil” rode along the sidelines of MTSU football games at Horace James Field while “Dixie” played in the stands. Dixie wasn’t the official fight song, but the band played it often and it was clearly the favorite of most MTSU fans.
I am certain the author of the Spring 1960 alumni newsletter chuckled to themselves when they wrote the Forrest mascot: “One cannot help thinking that ‘That Devil’ must turn over, at least once or twice, each time ‘blue’ is affixed across his symbol.”
While Confederate symbols were popular amongst the all-white student body at this time, it did not sit well with everyone. For example, the student who won the mascot contest with “Blue Raiders” in 1934 did not appreciate the new interpretation of the mascot, openly speaking on the Forrest symbolism: “One [memory] that I didn’t like was when one of the presidents and one of the public relations men decided they needed a reason for the name.” Most likely, the Forrest imagery was a tactic utilized by Smith (and others) to suppress integration efforts and the nascent Civil Rights movement on the then all-white campus.
INTEGRATION AND ATHLETIC MASCOT CHANGES
MTSU classrooms finally integrated in 1962, with athletic integration coming three years later when the first African-American athlete debuted on the track and field team. Three more years later, in 1968, J.W. Harper became the first African-American player on MTSU’s football team, but even at this late date the football locker room and dormitories remained segregated.
While black students were first taking classes and competing for MTSU sports teams, the university furthered its attachment to Nathan Bedford Forrest. In 1967, MTSU built a new student center, and on the outside of that building was placed a large seal of the university’s official mascot–Nathan Bedford Forrest on horseback. This was not received well by much of the student body, especially the small but growing African-American population, as evidenced by a spontaneous student tradition of casually pelting the seal with rocks when walking past.
During the next year, with rights movements seeing hard-fought success nationwide, the student body at MTSU spoke up. Sylvester Brooks, an African-American MTSU student, wrote an article appearing in the campus newspaper asserting that Forrest symbols were offensive—and oppressive—to MTSU’s African-American students. A large number of responses sympathetic to Brooks’ points poured into the newspaper, and a student-led campaign launched aspiring to remove the Forrest and Confederate symbols at MTSU.
Further revealing the tension was an altercation between an African-American MTSU basketball player and the Forrest mascot when the player punched or shoved the mascot after the mascot patted him on the back. Supposedly, the Forrest mascot was ordered to stay away from the court, and sometimes the arena altogether, for MTSU basketball games. The student government deadlocked on the issue initially, but eventually passed a resolution to urge the university to adopt a new “symbol and mascot similar to other schools.”
In response, MTSU President Smith’s successor, M.G. Scarlett, formed a committee to decide the next mascot for sporting events. This committee decided to select a new mascot that “would not recall the elements of the Civil War and be more palatable to the minorities on campus and in the community.” The committee chose to do away with the Confederate Blue Raider for a more neutral, somewhat cartoonish cavalry uniform. A few different dogs were also used as game day mascots for a while. The Forrest mascot was never seen again, but was not officially replaced until a 1976 MTSU football game with the debut of “a more modern figure”–a Tennessee walking horse named Wink’s Choice. A horse mascot was not long for football games however; Wink’s Choice had a hard time walking on the track surrounding the field, so the equine mascot was quietly discarded as well.
But of course, this was not the end of MTSU’s attachment to white supremacy. On the night of 11 Dec. 1970 and during this mascot transition, white MTSU students burned a cross on campus. About sixty black students immediately marched to President Scarlett’s home and demanded action. A week later, Scarlett addressed the campus and demanded an end to all racism at MTSU. Scarlett would go on to “persuade” university fraternities from wearing and displaying Confederate flags at football games and the marching band from playing “Dixie.” The Music Department penned a new MTSU song, although they were not pleased with “altering a traditional aspect of MTSU’s cultural heritage” (even though the song was hardly an MTSU tradition). Throughout the 1970s, President Scarlett slowly replaced Forrest imagery with more neutral symbols, such as when, in 1978, the university seal was officially changed from Forrest on horseback to MTSU call letters. MTSU ordered yet another sports mascot—some type of strange-looking swashbuckler that some even described as a superhero.
And thus, a burning cross and the subsequent outrage precipitated the death of the MTSU’s open attachment to Confederate symbolism. To be clear though, Scarlett wasn’t exactly a champion of civil rights; he was more a champion of good publicity. Scarlett would in coming years, for example, suppress media coverage of student protests and arrests, hoping to project an image of MTSU as calm, safe campus during a time when many college campuses experienced highly publicized protests.
By the mid-1980s, there were three symbols of Forrest left on campus: athletic department stationary, the university seal on the student center, and the Forrest Hall ROTC building. Stationary was phased out over time; the seal was unilaterally taken down by another MTSU President in 1989 and donated to Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park; but Forrest Hall persists. In 2006, a student movement emerged aspiring to change the name, and the student government agreed–only to reverse its decision a few days later.
The spontaneous creation of MTSU’s Nathan Bedford Forrest iconography reveals just how malleable symbols can be, including those of sporting mascots. The Blue Raiders mascot had nothing to do with Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1933; it has nothing to do with Forrest now. But for about 25 years in-between, one MTSU President molded MTSU into a haven for Confederate mythology. Since the late-1980s (at least), a small-but-vocal cadre makes themselves heard whenever MTSU’s Forrest “traditions” are threatened, most often using phrases such as heritage
But, as seen here, MTSU’s connections to Forrest are tenuous at best and bear no validity. If the connection to Forrest is valid, then why doesn’t MTSU mention Forrest a single time in official histories? Why did MTSU quickly sever ties with Confederate symbolism during the late-1960s? Why does the most recent published history of MTSU refer to the mid-century attachment to Forrest as a “passing fad”?
Almost entirely because of student protest and public outcry, MTSU Presidents consistently re-evaluate the appropriateness of Forrest connections around campus. More often than not since 1970, they conclude that Forrest is bad for business and that it projects an image of white supremacy (and they are correct in that conclusion). Further, student government has proven to be an utter failure at least twice now in successfully removing a Confederate tradition foisted upon them by a President Smith seventy years ago. It is now up to President McPhee to tacitly accept a false tradition foisted upon us by Smith or to be an agent of positive change like President Scarlett was in the 1970s.
As I professed at the beginning of this post, I admit that I cannot separate myself from this story. I am truly ashamed to work at a place where I can see “Forrest” out of my office window. I’m not the only one, as Phil Oliver (Philosophy professor) publicly stated: “I’m embarrassed every time I teach there.”
When MTSU built its ROTC building in 1954, President Smith named it Forrest Hall in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s reputation as an “intrepid Confederate cavalry leader who won fame with his brilliant raids.” Maybe that was Forrest’s reputation in 1954, but in 2015 Forrest’s reputation is one of hate, racism, and violence. We do not want or need that at MTSU. I urge students, staff, faculty, and anyone who cares about MTSU to finally rid the university of this last blatant symbol of the Confederacy on campus.
I think a lot of the stuff—it’s history. I mean these things are factual, but they belong in a history book, and they belong in a museum. They don’t belong in public—especially on buildings. They don’t belong in places like that. Put them in places where they ought to be at.–Sylvester Brooks
Note: I would like to thank the staff of the Albert Gore Research Center at MTSU for their generous assistance in researching this article.
Josh Howard is a PhD Candidate in the Public History Program at Middle Tennessee State University. His research interests include sports history, Appalachia, and public history. His ongoing dissertation research explores the use of informal data collection techniques in museum visitor studies. Most recently, he completed a web exhibit and archive based on the Wendell Smith Papers for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He is also the social media editor for this blog. Get in touch with Josh at Joshua.Howard@mtsu.edu or on Twitter via @jhowardhistory.
Last week, I spent 7 days in Pennsylvania. I attended and presented at a conference, spent a day doing dissertation research, and spent three days playing WiiU with my brother. Drinking beer and playing Mario Kart with my little brother was probably the most pure fun, but the rest was pretty great in its own right.
I spent a day visiting with staff at Seminary Ridge Museum in Gettysburg, PA. This builds directly into my dissertation research on talk-back boards and my upcoming presentation in Louisville at the American Association of State and Local History. But that’s another story for another time.
SABR: 18th Annual Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference
Although I have been to many sports history conferences, this was my first SABR experience. I liked it. Hosts Larry Lester and Leslie Heaphy were great. Everyone was exceedingly friendly, open, and willing to share experience and scholarship. Everyone engaged with presentations and asked great questions. And everyone loved sports history and understood its importance to broader society.
Everyone there also recognized the power in doing history. Most presenters spoke about the memory and legacy of specific individuals, teams, and events. Sherman Jenkins regaled us with stories of Ted Strong, David Krell reminded us of the importance of sports media figures such as Wendell Smith, and Rick Kenney shared little known stories of black Americans playing ball in mid-twentieth century Japan.
In between these talks, Larry Lester inserted his own sage-like wisdom about doing Negro Leagues history. The most poignent of these–and something I never realized–was that the people in that room were and are largely responsible for the entire legacy of the Negro Leagues. SABR-Jerry Malloy member research directly led to the mass Hall of Fame inductions in 2006 and can be directly traced to other public recognition of Negro League history.
It was unsettling to learn that the Pittsburgh Pirates recently took down and auctioned statues of former Homestead Grey and Pittsburgh Crawfords greats. I wish historians had stepped in sooner to prevent this from happening, but if any group can hold the Pirates accountable, this group of SABRites can.
Another highlight was the Pittsburgh Pirates game, although I got more enjoyment out of the all-you-can-eat concession stands.
My presentation itself went very well. The audience asked me more questions than I’ve ever received at a conference. Oh, and I won an award: the John Coates Next Generation Award. I am extremely happy and honored by that.
Here’s a brief summary of my talk: I walked through the creation of the Wendell Smith Papers. By the end, I urged the conference attendees to agitate and advocate for “better history” at sports museums, primarily the telling of more nuanced stories about the Negro Leagues. This also includes the ending of institutional arrogance and walling off outsiders. Finally, I criticized the National Baseball Hall of Fame a good bit by noting its lack of employee diversity, stance opposed to shared authority, and my overall poor experience working with them last year. A couple of former employees and interns in the audience agreed with me (small victories).
But hey, I had some nice things to say too. Everyone at the conference agreed that the photo archives, archives, and library all do great work.
SABR Jerry Malloy Conference. A+, would attend and present again.
Another game with a similar, yet distinct, story is Everquest II. Eric found zones in WoW to be “abandoned” when their population was about twenty. The most populated single zone in EQ2 as of this writing is the Phantom Sea. This past Saturday night, there were 34 characters there.
Honestly, I have played a lot of Everquest and Everquest II. I picked up EQ in 2001 at the behest of my friend and future college roommate. Fast forward to 2004 and there I was, buying a very expensive laptop I couldn’t afford explicitly to play the sequel — EQ2. I was there when the digital doors opened in November 2004. Most recently, I returned in January after a three year hiatus, and this return has me thinking a lot about the power of place, nostalgia, and preservation in digital worlds.
The world of EQ2 is Norrath, the same as EQ. One big difference though — EQ2 is set several hundred years after EQ in a time after Norrath’s moon exploded, effectively causing an apocalypse and drastically changing the world. As you would imagine, cities that were once massive and opulent are now shrunken and ruined; sweeping plains are now pockmarked with craters; and entire races of peoples were completely wiped out.
The current state of EQ2 is, in a way, similar to the in-game story. At one point, EQ2 boasted hundreds of thousands of players. Cities and chat channels bustled with activity. But today, the world is desolate. At any given point, at least 95% of Norrath is completely empty. Much of the world is in ruin — both in terms of story and player population — and many places that were once spectacular and powerful are now decrepit, forgotten, and abandoned by former residents.
In order to tell the story of abandoned Norrath, I traveled throughout the world on one Saturday evening and early night. I took screenshots of the biggest cities, noting their population, and I “photographed” other locales only if they were empty, meaning I was the only visitor at the time.
In EQ2, player gathering points shift, but one of the most populated areas in Norrath historically has been Qeynos (usually either the Harbor or North Qeynos). People gathered here by the hundred to trade, travel, or just to chat.
Just outside of the Qeynos gates is the bridge to Antonica, a sprawling verdant countryside. Ten years ago, this would be a player’s first encounter with rural Norrath. The area is huge, easily taking fifteen minutes to traverse. This bridge is where I left one of my original characters I have since abandoned.
Formerly across the continent, now across an ocean, lies Qeynos’s evil twin Freeport. This was once the place where the so-called “evil” races (like ogres and trolls) began their adventure. Just like Qeynos, this was once a gathering point and, just like Qeynos, Freeport sits largely empty.
I went to Kelethin, the Elven city in the trees and one of four starting cities. This city has fond memories for me personally, being where I started my primary characters in both EQ and EQ2. Way back in original EQ, people would gather in Kelethin to trade by the hundred. Last time I was there in EQ2, a search resulted in seven people either in Kelethin or the surrounding forest area.
The Enchanted Lands houses an original favorite of mine, the goblin stronghold of Runnyeye. EQ2 developers brought players back to Runnyeye with a revamp about five years ago, but that too lays dormant now. See that tiny hole in the hill? That’s Runnyeye, a very small door in a big world with an even bigger adventure and story on the other side.
Norrath is full of other forgotten “doors.” Players might turn a corner, and suddenly there appears a door in the mountains to an undead keep, or a haunted mansion, or even a beehive full of…angry bee-people.
Stormhold was one of the first dungeons many people encountered. Rather unassuming.
A bit later, people would encounter this grand stronghold in the far reaches of Zek. This is Deathfist Citadel, another dungeon long forgotten. Also, Deathfist Citadel appeared in one of the first promotional videos for EQ2way back in 2004.
Much later in the game, people would encounter this door in the far reaches of Everfrost. This door would lead you to Permafrost, a forgotten and rather hidden dungeon housing frost giants and the ghost of an ice dragon.
What does it mean?
“It’s not the end of the world at all, it’s only the end for us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan’t be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.”
This quote is from On the Beach by Nevil Shute. In it, Shute’s characters live with an intense sense of foreboding — the know they are going to die. A nuclear war annihilated the rest of life on Earth, and fallout clouds slowly drift toward the protagonists. Some cling to the slim hope of finding safety, some hope to escape, and some look for salvation; but most simply move forward and try to understand how to live in a world that hasn’t got long to live itself.
But Earth and Norrath have one big difference — Norrath will not “get along all right without us.” If we go, then Norrath will cease to exist as well. In a digital world, there is no hope for preservation, only nostalgia and memory. There’s no renovating an old house or peeling back layers of wallpaper to reveal the past; what’s lost is lost and only recoverable through other media. The player is constrained by rules set by the rule-masters, the creators, owners, and effective gods of the world.
The destruction and permanent changes to old locales have a negative effect on players. When I made Kiranos in November 2004, I began on the Isle of Refuge tutorial zone before taking a boat to my character’s first home — the Willow Wood within the city of Qeynos. Today though, Willow Wood does not exist. Further, the door to the zone is locked behind a guard.
While it may seem dramatic, seeing the doors to Willow Wood shuttered is an oddly painful moment. Every now and then, I just want to go to the place where I started this silly game. The urge is to unbarracade the doors and set about to recovering the past. But that’s just not possible.
What the hell? Where’s the Public History?
So what does all of this mean in terms of public history? Like I said in my last post, public historians need to consider the importance of digital worlds to “real life” individuals.
I also think public historians could work for these companies by helping document their past. Some game companies — like Blizzard and Daybreak — should start considering publicly the importance of preservation. These games are old enough now that legitimate company histories could be written. For example, Everquest is entering its sixteenth year and third different developer. As far as I know, nobody is collecting player stories, company history, or anything else related to the game (beyond wikis about quests and loot). Also, some of Everquest’s most popular efforts are, in a way, public history projects (in the form of progression servers). The player base is very much so in tune with the past, why not try to tap into that even more?
Why couldn’t Daybreak Entertainment publish, market, and sell with the help of public historians, for example:
reissues of Laura Karpman’s original EQ2 soundtrack;
an book of concept and in-game art selected by a curator;
reprints of different maps throughout the life of EQ and EQ2;
oral histories of various players, including certain celebrities who play(ed) if there’s an interest;
or perhaps even an in-game tour of the live game or of a curated “exploration-only” servers.
For video game players, MMO fans, and anyone else interested in digital space — slow down a little bit. Take in your surroundings more often. Travel back to forgotten lands and empty spaces. These empty digital lands still have a story to tell, even if they are behind a locked door.
 There are many technical reasons other than population to explain why nobody goes to most places in Norrath anymore. The game has changed. Players can trade with one another from anywhere in the world, so there are no centralized gathering locations. Global channels remove the need for congregating for grouping. Mercenaries remove the necessity of grouping with friends. And guild halls segregate friend groups away from one another.
 I was on my character Kiranos on the Unrest server. I played from about 8pm to about midnight CST.
“Death is difficult under any circumstance. The death of a friend you only knew via the internet is something that this generation is just learning how to deal with.” — Matthew Miller, in an article posted on mmorpg.com, 6/25/2013
At NCPH 2015, I participated in the working group about play organized by Mary Rizzo and Abby Perkiss. It got me thinking a lot about gaming, virtual worlds, and how digital space relates to fundamental aspects of public history. Specifically, I am interested in how real people create digital memorials in virtual space. There are similarities between “real-world” memorials and those in “virtual” worlds, and digital memorials generally serve a similar purpose to their “real” counterparts. But simply assuming they are one and the same ignores that digital spaces have distinct social norms, communities, and culture. These are important to recognize and understand.
While digital games may not affect our lives as much as “real life,” it is important to remember that millions of people play these games for lengthy periods of time. The most popular of these games, World of Warcraft (WoW), has around 10 million subscribers — and the game is entering its eleventh year of existence. Dozens of other games with persistent worlds also exist today with millions more individuals playing these games collectively. Digital, in-game events can have a great effect on the lived realities of the “real life” individuals. People identify closely with their digital identities (also known as an avatar or character). Some identify more closely than others, and there is a growing body of literature on the phenomenon of digital identity.
Before I go any further, I should outline a few parameters. The games I am talking about are massively multiplayer online role playing games, or MMOs. In these games, the player takes on the role of a player-created character (PCs) and enters a world with tens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of other PCs. The gaming world is a persistent place, populated with diverse environments, buildings, homes, and so on. The world is also populated by non-player characters, or NPCs, which are controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence and serve many purposes. Finally, while every game is controlled in part by the community of players, ultimate controls lies with the company who creates, owns, and manages the game.
I am particularly interested in the overlap between real and digital space. A cascade of questions emerge: what happens to a digital presence when the real person is no longer around? Specifically, what happens in MMO communities when people die? How do their in-game friends react? How does the company react? Thousands of books exist about memorials, mourning, monuments, and other “real life” ways of honoring the recently departed. But what of the digital life? What does memorializing looking like in a society of people who have never met, seen one another, or (in some cases) even heard each other’s voices?
A prominent example comes from a famous person in this world — Gary Gygax, a creator of popular pen and paper game Dungeons and Dragons. Gygax died in 2008. Today, players of the game Dungeons and Dragons Online(D&D Online)can still complete quests narrated to them by Gygax. In 2010, a rumor spread throughout the D&D Online community that Gygax’s voiceovers were to be removed from the game. Fans reacted with significant outrage. One online comment read “I cannot bear this change. You can remove the dice descriptions, you can nerf everything, you can change all the UI you want, but you cannot remove Gary Gygax’s voice.”
The Gygax examples raises more specific questions: what does it mean for the memory of Gygax that his voice is still readily accessible in an online world he, in a way, helped create? Why did players react so outraged when rumors began? Are his voiceovers considered a memorial? How does Gygax’s voice help players understand the digital and “real” lives? And what about memorializing people who are not known to the entire community? So many questions arise within these digital worlds, and only within the past few years are scholars considering the possibilities raised by digital worlds and the connection between living people and their digital characters.
As a quick note…this short post is not meant to be any attempt at an exhaustive list of digital memorials, but simply an effort to understand the meaning, purpose, and characteristics of such memorials through a series of examples.
In-game community-run funerals for real-life people are relatively common in MMOs. A recent example is when Final Fantasy XIV gathered in-game to quietly pay their respects to a fellow player whose health was failing.
Another example — and likely the most well known — comes from EVE Online and the death of well-known player Vile Rat (Sean Smith in “real life”). Smith was an employee of the US Foreign Service and one of four Americans who died in the 2012 Benghazi attack on the US Consulate. Since, EVE Online players have renamed dozens of locales and held memorials in Vile Rat/Sean Smith’s honor. Smith’s former in-game colleagues actually crossed into the “real world” to memorialize, holding a benefit for Smith’s family and ultimately raising $127,000 toward his children’s college fund.
Goodman/Frank Campbell & Ultima Online
One memorial is rather unique in its spontaneous organization and long-term resilience — the Goodman Memorial on the Atlantic shard of Ultima Online (UO).
Goodman — real name Frank Campbell — managed a rune library in game (don’t worry about what a rune library is). His rune library required a great deal of upkeep, including regular building maintenance, “rent” payment, and community relations, much like a “real world” library. Goodman/Campbell died on August 30, 2005. Upon his death, Goodman’s UO friends, in effect, embarked upon a digital historic preservation project. They took over maintenance of the rune library and converted the roof into a memorial rose garden. In the garden, players leave objects and sign books with their memories of Goodman/Campbell’s life. In addition, every year on August 30 (or thereabout), players meet on a nearby beach for an in-game memorial service to remember Goodman and others who have passed. The 2010 service is on Youtube.
Over the 18 years of UO’s existence, many other players have died. The community and company recognizes this: the largest UO community forum site — Stratics — has an entire subforum dedicated to player memorials.
Ribbitribbit & Everquest II
Another spontaneous example comes from Everquest II(EQ2) and the story of Ribbitribbit — a character played by a six year old boy. The boy’s mother posted on the EQ2 forums asking that the community help Ribbitribbit decorate his house, because that was the thing he enjoyed most in-game and he honestly did not have much longer to live.
Individuals from across multiple EQ2 servers came together — about 360 in total — to decorate this home. While some SOE employees joined in the cause, this effort was entirely player and community driven. For some more details on the efforts of this group (named the Lillipad Jungle and later the Fairy Godfroggers), there’s a great write up on Engadget. The family of Ribbitribbit also posted a series of videos documenting the boy’s reactions to his newly decorated home.
Since these events in 2012, people gathered annually on Ribbitribbit Day (March 9) to, as an organizer put it, “celebrate not only Ribbitribbitt, but all the friends we have lost along our adventures. And we want to celebrate the friendships we have made that are still going strong. Myrose, Ribbitribbitt’s mother, and I would like to invite you to this celebration.”
Company Memorials: The Example of Blizzard Entertainment
In many ways, digital memorials allow for new ways of remembrance, such as moments where gaming companies memorialize their employees and players of their game (or consumers of their product, if you want to get cynical). Probably the most famous examples comes from the story of Ezra Chatterton and World of Warcraft(WoW), a game developed by Blizzard Entertainment.
Ezra was a boy from California who had brain cancer. In 2007, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Ezra’s wish to visit the Blizzard offices, where Ezra worked with developers to create a new in-game material, including an NPC named Ahab Wheathoof and a new quest “Kyle’s Gone Missing!”
Ezra passed away in October 2008. There were two responses to Ezra’s passing: one from the community and another from Blizzard. In the days after the news became public, thousands of players traveled to the rarely visited area explicitly to complete “Kyle’s Gone Missing!” as a tribute. Blizzard followed with their own tribute the following year, permanently changing the name of an in-game NPC from Elder Proudhorn to Elder Ezra Wheathoof.
This continued a long-standing Blizzard memorialization tradition, as Blizzard has a unique connection to such tragedy and memorials. One of their own, Blizzard employee Michael Koiter, died during the game’s development. A location in game, The Shrine of the Fallen Warrior, is a monument to Koiter, and it has occasionally been a location of other spontaneous memorials. A few years before Ezra’s story, developers named an NPC (Caylee Dak) after a player (Dak Krause) who died of leukemia. There are far, far more than these memorials in the WoW universe.
More Company Memorials
Other game developers have also built monuments to fallen players, most notably ArenaNet in their game Guild Wars 2. About a year ago, an active community member died, and ArenaNet created a new grave in an in-game cemetery. Further, the online wiki she helped curate became a place of spontaneous remembrance. ArenaNet memorialized another player just this month when they added a second in-game memorial, this time creating a new NPC in honor of a female player who tragically died during childbirth.
Numerous companies also memorialized the aforementioned Gary Gygax in a multitude of ways beyond the preservation of his D&D Online voice. EQ2 introduced an item, the Stone of Gygax, that players can place within their homes; UO created and named a new room within a pre-existing dungeon after Gygax; and D&D Online also created a digital shrine within a pre-existing “tomb.” Many other games, including WoW, explicitly mentioned Gygax in their official notes and mourned his passing.
Dying Worlds & A Call for Preservation?
Virtually every MMO contains a memorial in some way. I’d like to mention three more: Star Wars Galaxies had the Freeman Memorial, a room dedicated to the memory of an SOE employee, and City of Heroes had the tutorial NPC Coyote, named after a person who suddenly passed and went by the forum name of Kiyotee; and Warhammer Online players organized in-game memorials after well-known player Sugbis died while actually playing the game.
The three examples in the preceding paragraph have one thing in common: none of these online worlds exist any longer. The Star Wars Galaxies digital world shut down forever on December 15, 2011; City of Heroes on November 30, 2012; and Warhammer Online on December 18, 2013. A memorial in physical space is generally assumed to exist in perpetuity, but digital memorials are ephemeral by the very nature of online video games. This ephemeral nature is best exemplified by the three examples in the preceding paragraph. All that’s left of each memorial is a wiki page, player memories, and a few videos.
Unlike the “real world,” it is impossible for individuals to control the digital space of MMOs. They can petition game companies to create memorials, beg for an extension the life of the game servers, or attempt to create semi-legal player-run servers…but ultimately gaming companies exclusively control the digital world. Even games with the most detailed levels of digital property ownership are still ultimately controlled by the game company, and when the company decides a game world is to be shut down… then it simply shuts down.
I see it as rather sad — possibly even tragic — that these worlds get shut down permanently. Digital memorials contribute to how individuals make sense of their digital and “real-world” lives. A company shuts down a game and it takes down its intellectual property, but it also takes with it memories, stories, and these memorials with it. These stories and memories mean a great deal to people. Without the digital space, then all that’s left is memory. As evidence of the power of these memories, there are still several very active online forums dedicated to the memory of MMO communities even though what brought them together — the MMO itself — has been dead for years.
So what can public historians do? I think we need to start thinking of ways to document, archive, and preserve these moments. There are many roadblocks to preserving, for example, the digital world of City of Heroes. For one, NCSOFT still owns the intellectual property rights. I understand that securing the rights to any game would be a huge hurdle for any archive to overcome…but I also imagine that educational fair-use arguments could open some doors. Another huge problem is technical. MMOs require both a client computer and servers, and most places with archival or preservation aspirations simple do not have the technical budget or expertise to maintain such a project. Some former developers have suggested releasing client-side “exploration-only” versions of dead games, but still — game companies hold all the power here.
That said, a number of archives do a very good job of preserving other video games, such as The Strong, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas. At least one scholar has called upon the Library of Congress. It would take a lot of effort, but an institution such as these could organize an MMO preservation project. For all I know, at least one of these institutions may already be on the path. I hope they are, because MMOs are more than just games to some; they have become places of commemoration, remembrance, and even mourning. These are places where people making meaning for their real lives as well as the digital, and I believe that scholars of memory, memorials, and public history should take note.
 For example, see Nike Yee, The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us — and How They Dont’ (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014); and Jim Blaskovich and Jeremy Bailenson, Infinite Reality: The Hidden Blueprint of Our Virtual Lives (New York: William Morrow, 2011).
I had a good conference. I reunited with tons of friends and colleagues, met many more, and met some folks I hope to work with in the future. Putting in 12+ hours days then driving home to Murfreesboro was pretty miserable, but I’d do it again.
Or at least I’d do it again for the WVU social. No kidding, it felt like NCPH was one big MTSU and WVU reunion, especially at the poster session. Either way, I’d definitely wear red pants again.
Working Group Reflections:
First, I’d like to thank Mary Rizzo and Abby Perkiss for organizing such a quality session. We all talked for over two hours and received some amazing audience comments, questions, and feedback. All working group participants shared some excellent — and quite diverse — insight into play. Here is the Storify (from Mary and Abby).
I personally gained some great insight into the definition and functionality of play.
Defining play.Scott Eberle had some great things to say about play is a process with many phases, such as anticipation, surprise, pleasure, understanding, and poise. It may or may not be cyclical, depending on the context, but the important thing is that play is not a simple on-off switch. Play also has (at least) four key characteristics: (1) voluntary, (2) social, (3) fun, and (4) rule making/breaking. There was a lot of discussion about play v. playfulness and wonder v. wonderment, but that seemed a bit too abstract at this point in the discussion.
Empathy and It’s Challenges: I’ve argued before (and do in my dissertation) that historical empathy is key to good museum practice, especially when interpreting difficult subjects. But Andrew Urban offered some interesting challenges on two fronts: (1) what is the point of pursuing empathy and play? And (2) does play have to be fun? I responded at the working group somewhat, but below are some more in depth thoughts. In response…
I would say that historical empathy almost always leads to deeper understanding, historical thinking, and immersion. Historical empathy brings better understanding to distant groups, driving interpretation away from simple, laziness (such as labeling all Nazis as simply “evil”)
Emotional engagement in museums leads to more memorable experiences (just think of the Holocaust Museum). Contingencies of the past come more into focus once you understand both cognitive and affective components of the historical actor’s mindset.
Historical empathy also helps visitors reach out to the powerless through imagination. Museums know (and talk) a lot about those in power; it takes creativity to get at the powerless.
Finally, play definitely need not be fun, but it needs to be engaging. There’s a ton of literature on serious games — some are crap (like those for training), but some are rad (like this one about elections and gerrymandering).
Letting Go. An audience member used this phrase to explain how they see public historians approaching play. It resonated with me.Public historians must ‘let go’ and be willing to play; we must engage our audiences to do the same. I like the idea of stealing this shared authority term (from Benjamin Filene, Bill Adair, and Laura Koloski) in order to simplify how public historians think about play. But, more than anything, the working group convinced me that play is really darn complicated. We had at least a dozen perspectives in that room, and our discussion easily could have gone another six hours. I’d like to hear of more examples in the next year.
Some (minor) Criticisms of NCPH 2015:
Not a single presentation on sports and public history… but the public historians interested in sports are out there. I spoke with at least five people other than myself who do that work.
There was a lot of discussion of being a “public history activists,” but little acknowledgement of other history-activists. There was also little explanation of how to make the move from yelling on Twitter to making real legislative, legal change. I am most familiar with those in Appalachian History (and Studies), and public historians could probably learn a lot from this field and others (like African American and LGBT historians).
Almost constant discussion of audience and community engagement but very little discussion of how to find out what your audience wants and thinks — and nothing about visitor studies except for complaints about the short NPS surveys.
Personal Goals for AASLH 2015 and NCPH 2016:
Successfully present at AASLH in Louisville. I helped organize a panel with Barbara Franco (Seminary Ridge Museum) that addresses the incorporation of visitor feedback and user-generated information into exhibition presentations as a part of the interpretation. The other panelists are Peter Miele (Seminary Ridge, Education Coordinator) and John Rudy (Park Ranger & Interpretive Trainer, NPS).I am excited because the panel was advised to “be sure that your panelists leave plenty of time for questions and answers in the session and are prepared for pushback about the usefulness of collecting this type of information from visitors.”
Propose a panel or working group for NCPH 2016 about sports and public history. I have some leads on potential co-conveners or co-panelists.
Possibly propose a panel for NCPH 2016 about visitor studies. So much discussion in 2015 about audience, so little about organized, systemic visitor studies.
Write more about video games. Next on the docket will be a historical review of Valiant Hearts: The Great War and a blog post about digital historic preservation and memorialization in MMOs.
I wrote for the Sport in American History blog about my residency project with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Here’s a link. I struggled to find a balance between criticism and praise, but I think I found one. I hope readers get something out of the article. I know I did personally; it was a bit cathartic to actually sit down, reflect, and write about my experience.
I also presented this topic on last Friday at the wonderful Conference on Baseball in Literature and Culture, held annually on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. I really enjoy this conference (minus the ridiculous lack of tech support from MTSU). Dallas Hanbury had a great talk about his own residency project, and Skip Nipper had an interesting talk about primary sources, research, and the potentiality for a Nashville-based Tennnesee Baseball Museum.
Liz Catte and I wrote a conference paper together. It’s about presentations of alternative masculinity in professional wrestling. We posted it to the Sport in American History blog a few days ago. Here’s a link. I would love to hear what you think about it.
We also presented this paper at a conference this past weekend–the International Association for Communication in Sport. It went well. Our panel included three papers in total, all of which were about professional wrestling in some context. One of our presenters wore a Triple H t-shirt. I immediately regretted not dressing like Adrian Street for the event.
What is a hall of fame? Why do they seem to be everywhere? And there is a National Horseshoe Pitchers Association Hall of Fame? Really? Nearly every American is aware of a hall of fame, primarily those dedicated to sports (baseball, football, basketball, soccer, professional wrestling) or music (rock and roll, country, jazz). Victor Danilov estimated in 2004 there were at least 580 dedicated to sport alone. Despite such a high number, there is little scholarly literature that addresses concerns specific to hall of fame museums, with the first full-length museum studies treatment appearing very recently in 2012. With such scant research available, what do public historians and museum scholars actually know about halls of fame?
This past year I spent about eight months working with one of the most famous halls of fame—the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (NBHOF)—with two of those months on site in Cooperstown, NY. During this time I designed and built a web exhibit and archive for them based on the Wendell Smith Papers, a collection donated by Wendell Smith’s window Wyonella in 1994 after Wendell Smith received the J. G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). Wendell Smith was one of the most prominent and active black sportswriters during his professional life, most notably as a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Courier and for working with Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson to ease Robinson’s transition into the white (at the time) major leagues. I’ll spare the details here; they’re all on the web exhibit after all.
Inducting People is not the same as Accessioning Artifacts
Now that my time with the Hall is through, I have been thinking a lot lately about the differences between a “hall of fame” and a museum. A hall of fame is a museum, without question, but it is a specific type of museum with unique characteristics. The first unique aspect is the concept of “induction.” The NBHOF was established in 1936 as a way to honor baseball’s great players (not necessarily as a way to memorialize the game generally). Since, the NBHOF inducts members annually at a ceremony that has swelled in importance every year. What was once more or less a press conference on the NBHOF steps as recently as the 1970s is now an event that can attract as many as 50,000 visitors to an all day press event. Also, the NBHOF does not actually select who they will induct. That duty is primarily left to the BBWAA who vote annually on a pre-selected list of former players who have been retired for five or more years. If the player receives more than 75% of the vote, then they are inducted. There are also committees which select players (Veteran’s Committee and the now defunct Negro Leagues Committee), but the BBWAA vote honorees receive by far the most attention.
Upon reading newspapers, academic journals, and books, it’s likely that most would not even be aware of the museum portion of the NBHOF. Going to JSTOR, there are dozens of articles discussing the NBHOF but over 90% of those are about the annual NBHOF election, not the actual institution itself. The nomenclature itself implies a divided institution as the abbreviated name which does not include an “M” on the end and the library gets no mention at all. Attention turns to Cooperstown every winter for induction voting and every summer for induction weekend, but the focus is upon the BBWAA voting process, the plaques, the plaque room, and the eternal consecration therein–not about the much larger rest of the museum.
This leads me to believe that many scholars do consider halls of fame to be a legitimate subset of museums. This could be for many reasons, but I speculate the primary is because many halls of fame do not function as a museum beyond displaying and preserving artifacts. Many (most?) do not interpret their displayed objects, do not offer tours, and enshrine and deify individuals rather than form historical narratives about them.
What else makes a Hall of Fame a bit different?
1. Cultural Consecration
One aspect that differentiates halls of fame from other museums is a systematic approach to the cultural consecration of individuals. Cultural consecration is a form of cultural valorization, but more generally it is an attempt by a group to publicly and symbolically distinguish between those worthy of veneration and those that are not. “Systematic” means an organized and official process, such as voting by either an internal board or an external professional organization.
The legitimacy of cultural consecration is based on four factors: the cultural authority of the consecrator group, the rigor of the consecrator’s selection procedure, the consecrator’s selectivity, and the broad recognition of objective differences between honorees and everyone else. The NBHOF is one of the earliest examples of a national cultural consecration project with long-term staying power, largely because the NBHOF excels at all four factors. Thinking about museums in this way opens up new avenues for understanding their role in the cultural and museum landscape.
These institutions are beholden to their consecrators–but only to a point. Quite often, the institution disagrees with the consecrators, such as the case of the BBWAA and their refusal to elect controversial former stars like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Pete Rose, and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
But the BBWAA’s stubbornness is not always a bad thing. In the case of the NBHOF and Pete Rose, museum curators were and still are gifted a popular exhibit. Since his official ban from baseball in 1989, a significant number of baseball fans treat Rose as a cult hero, choosing to ignore his gambling indiscretions in favor of honoring his hustle and grit. Rose’s cult status explains the continued popularity of the 1970s portion of the NBHOF “timeline exhibit”–the centerpiece artifact for the 1975-6 Cincinnati Reds is a Pete Rose jersey. This has created an impromptu Pete Rose shrine for some visitors, effectively serving the same—or possibly a greater—function as a place in the plaque gallery.
2. Beholden to outsiders beyond the Board
As mentioned, some halls of fame are beholden to an entirely separate group of individuals for their cultural authority, this in addition to the typical board of directors. In the case of baseball, the BBWAA and NBHOF are closely linked. The BBWAA votes annually on former players to determine who will be enshrined. This annual vote determines a great deal of the hall of fame’s contents and future activities with absolutely no official input from any NBHOF employees or board members. Debates rage annually over the BBWAA’s selections, and BBWAA voters are expected by the public to take this duty seriously to the point of sacredness. The BBWAA also claims to hold itself to a high standard in this task.
In 2013, Miami sportswriter and BBWAA voter Dan Le Betard asked the public to fill out his NBHOF ballot via a user poll on popular website Deadspin. A few months later, the BBWAA revoked Le Betard’s membership for a year and banned him for life from voting in NBHOF elections. According to the BBWAA, the uninformed public should not be allowed to vote even though there are a number of BBWAA voters who openly admit they no longer watch baseball games. Despite these problems, few mainstream voices question the authenticity of BBWAA voting (largely out of fear of being blackballed). Recently there have been more challenges, especially with the unprofessional way the BBWAA handled Le Betard’s ban.
3. Some Halls of Fame are created purely to make a quick buck
“Hall of fame” has come to be a synonym for cultural consecration in many ways, usually in the context of sports or music, but a hall of fame can also be a nostalgia trap, playing on an audience’s memories and emotion to create purely money-making ventures. For example, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a publicly traded corporation and the world’s premier professional wrestling company, inducts around four to ten individuals into the WWE Hall of Fame every spring on the weekend of their largest annual event, Wrestlemania. Old superstars from past years and previous organizations appear on television, treat fans to a few memory-reviving moments, and everyone leaves Wrestlemania weekend happy. The WWE makes money and honors their past; retired superstars get an official stage to reflect on their accomplishments; and fans are given the chance to see their old favorites one last time.
4. Some halls of fame are imaginary and do not physically exist
The thing is: the WWE Hall of Fame is largely imaginary and does not physically exist, a trait in common with many–and even most–halls of fame. To create a traditional museum, a physical space is needed, along with artifacts (or reproductions) and interpretation of some kind. Completely digital museums are becoming more commonplace, but the basic concept is generally the same, only the physical is replaced by the digital and virtual. Halls of fame without a physical location are somewhat different from their physically based peers because the physical sites usually look and feel like a museum.
Non-physical halls of fame are really little more than a special list that often bestows honor beyond consecration, such as monetary awards or competitive advantages.For example, Wizards of the Coast (a gaming company) manages a hall of fame for professional players of Magic: the Gathering, a fantasy-themed trading card game. Every year, a selection committee votes and usually inducts three to five individuals. Along with a commemorative ring, honorees receive guaranteed entry to professional qualifiers and events, appearance fees for said events, and guaranteed byes in certain tournaments.
5. It is very difficult for a physical hall of fame museum to reach sustainability
Despite the ease in establishing an honorific, non-physical hall of fame, creating a self-sustaining physical hall of fame museum is a major challenge (just as it is for a traditional history museum). Starting in 1950, US Soccer, the governing body of soccer in America, elected honorees to their hall of fame, although they did not have a physical location. In 1979, an unrelated group opened a physical hall of fame in Oneonta, New York–about thirty miles from the NBHOF site in Cooperstown–which was recognized by soccer governing bodies as the official hall of fame in 1983. Hoping to capitalize on the sport’s newfound popularity after the US-hosted 1994 World Cup, US Soccer opened a new multi-million dollar facility in 1999 and officially opened the National Soccer Hall of Fame for business. Ten years later the site closed to the public and completely shut down in February 2010. US Soccer boxed up their artifacts and distributed them to a variety of storage locations with most going to a corporate sponsor’s headquarters in North Carolina. Despite its closing, the National Soccer Hall of Fame continues to elect honorees.
I would argue that when most people refer to a “hall of fame” they are not referring to a physical space but instead to their perspective on cultural consecration. In the realm of sport, writers, athletes, and fans toss around the terms “hall of fame” and “hall of famer” largely without meaning, usually as a way of saying that an athlete is “really darn good.” Still, public historians and museum studies experts should pay more attention to these sites and this phenomenon. Sports public history is fertile ground, for public history scholarship, for making money, and for creating engaging–and popular–learning experiences.
 Victor Danilov, Sports Museums and Halls of Fame Worldwide (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2004), 3.
 Phillips’ primary contribution is the development of a four category typology for sports museums: academic, corporate, community, and vernacular. Within this essay, I discuss halls of fame that fit within each category except for vernacular and some halls of fame which do not fit into any category. Murray Phillips, editor, Representing the Sporting Past in Museums and Halls of Fame (New York: Routledge, 2012), 6.
 A comparative example of individual cultural consecration in the US are Presidential Libraries. Each is dedicated to the legacy of an individual, but the decision to honor (or not honor) former Presidents with a Library is not a systematic process. There is no vote, and there is a dedicated physical site for every President since Calvin Coolidge.
 Allen and Parsons, 808-9.
 The BBWAA are technically barred from electing Pete Rose and Joe Jackson, but that does not prevent them from advocating for his reinstatement, something the BBWAA has never done.
 “Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame,” accessed September 25, 2014, http://archive.wizards.com/Magic/magazine/halloffame.aspx?x=mtgevent/hof/rules.