Saturday, April 12, 2008

The New Media - and the Old

Larry and I are attending the annual meeting of the National Council on Public History in Louisville. New Media demonstrations abound - web sites, movies, digital programs. But for me one of the most intriguing sights was a media marvel crafted more than a half century ago: a series of moving displays of historical figures and artifacts housed at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana. Known as the Yenawine Dioramas, they were carved by Merle Yenawine, a retired railway man. They depict small town life in Southern Indiana, citca 1900. The subjects include "Main Street," "Wheat Threshing," "Shotgun Wedding," and "School House." The attention to detail and ingenious motion is apparent in this display, which I posted on Youtube.

This thought: the new media is indeed new and marvelous in many ways -- as witness the fine art of blogging and some of the wonders described on this site. But the urge to find new ways to portray the past has its own history. Merle Yenawine's work is a reminder that new media tools are only as good at presenting history as the imagination of the person using them.

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