ONARCHITECTURE- Historical hysteria: Society brass yank 'tasteless' blog

"We realized the value of a blog to discuss... local history in a non-academic, non-stuffy venue," wrote ACHS director Douglas Day on his blog, The Hysterical Society, which was removed from the Society's website just 12 days later.

Just 12 days after it was launched in early November, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society's fledgling blog, The Hysterical Society (albemarlehistory.blogspot.com), was yanked from the Society's main website.

"Sorry, folks... the board made me take the link off the ACHS website for this blog," wrote ACHS director Douglas Day, author of the blog. "One member said he thought it was 'tasteless.'"

Indeed, the blog, which takes its name from a common joke among Society staffers, took an uncharacteristically irreverent approach to discussing local history and preservation ("without the starch, wig powder, and silver polish," wrote Day), challenging the notion that historical societies are staffed by "batty little old ladies and gents in sneakers." It received immediate attention in the local blogosphere, including a mention on the Hook's news blog.

"We realized the value of a blog to discuss... local history in a non-academic, non-stuffy venue," wrote Day in the blog's first post.

What followed was a lively discussion about whether Sacagawea's characterization on the Lewis & Clark statue was degrading to women, which included comments from respected podcaster Sean Tubbs and city councilor Kendra Hamilton, who called the blog "a great idea." Day also asked for advice about how a plaque or notice on the statue might address modern concerns about how Sacagawea is represented.

Apparently, the board's executive committee was not amused. Incoming ACHS president Steven Meeks says the committee was not aware that Day had launched the blog; in fact, Meeks says, some members first learned of it on the Hook's blog. In addition, as Meeks points out, the President, not the Executive Director, is the official spokesperson for the Society. Members also took issue with the way the Society was being presented.  

After a lengthly discussion, says Meeks, the committee chose to have the blog link removed.

"One board member summed it all up by saying the format of the blog was 'tasteless,'" says Meeks.

Day admits he was at fault for not "clueing in" the board about the blog, but he says it was an earnest attempt to attract a wider, younger audience. (Disclosure: Hook editor Hawes Spencer tried and failed to change the name of the organization to "The History Center" during his two terms on the board; he managed only to get "Charlottesville" added to the name.]

"In general, I think the trend," Day says of the Historical Society, "is toward opening up, trying to get new members, but I need to do a better job of presenting it to the board." 

Preservation activist Bill Emory agrees. "Sad news," he wrote when the site was pulled. "Sorry that the Worthies have issued a gag-order for a tool that could have introduced the wonderful holdings of the ACHS to a wider audience." 

"Have you looked at the people posting comments on this site?" asks Meeks, pointing out the number of anonymous posts and the fact that Day adopts the identity of a dead man at one point. "The Society needs more publicity, and a blog may be the way to go," he says, "but frankly, I think this was the wrong approach."

Meeks also points out that the ACHS already has a blog, LoCoHistory (locohistory.org/blog/), run by board member and anthropologist Lynn Rainville. 

"This would have been the ideal place for an article on the Lewis and Clark statue," says Meeks, who adds that issues surrounding the design of the statue are being discussed by the City's historic resources board. "It would be more appropriate for them to initiate and monitor the type of discussion that was being bounced around in the now-removed blog," says Meeks. 

Indeed, Rainville's blog is a trove of local information, including a feisty discussion entitled "Creeping courthouse or sham sign?" about the wisdom (or lack of) of continuing to have a historical marker for Monticello several miles away at Court Square.

However, at press time, there are almost no comments on Dr. Rainville's blog, and posts are usually several days apart. On the other hand, Day's site generated lively discussion right from the beginning. 

 "I wanted to do a blog that was more for grown-ups, slightly irreverent, funny, and sarcastic," he says. 

Since the link to the Hysterical Society was pulled, Day has officially disassociated it from the ACHS and chosen to continue maintaining the blog "underground" as as a private citizen.

"I do think that down the road there will be more discussion about this," he says, adding that he hopes the incoming board will be more eager to capture the attention of a younger audience.

And while the blog may have rubbed Meeks and some fellow board members the wrong way, it appears they have recognized that the genie may be out of the bottle.

"A new committee has been established to address issues like this," says Meeks. "It's possible that another blog, in addition to Dr. Rainville's, may appear in the future."



Hysterical Society (at albemarlehistory.blogspot.com), does not represent the official views of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, its board, staff or members.

Meeks & Co have shown themselves to be precisely the sort of insecure blustering stuffed shirts that drive the average person away from history, rather than towards it.

I take the study of history quite seriously. However, I have read and enjoyed the Hysterical Society blog, along with Dr Rainville's LoCo History, Historic Woolen Mills, and Dave Norris's postcard entries. All fascinating, yet varying local looks at what has made us what we are today. But regarding the ACHS board, why on earth would an entity that is passionate about history try to silence the lively and engaging voice of someone else who shares that passion?

Dr Day's blog was quite interesting. Although it wasn't always 100% to my taste, it didn't HAVE to be in order to do its job admirably as a thought-provoking glimpse into local history! It was obviously reaching a far more diverse audience than the ACHS Board is comfortable with. Perhaps that's what's really at the heart of this. Frankly, the board's opposition to the existence of the blog doesn't shine a very positive light on the ACHS at all.

Phooey on the ACHS, their pomposity, and their outrageous censorship. They've lost me as a donor and I hope others will follow suit.

P.S. Nowhere on Dr Rainville's blog does it state that its purpose is to serve the ACHS.

Oooh, peeps. Don't take it out on the Historical Society. The good folks outnumber the grumps, the good intentions outweigh the bad. T'ain't time for an insurrection yet. Besides, them folks know where all the skeletons are hid.

Also, this is the kind of response that disinclines a lot of people from the blogosphere.

I mean, "phooey"? Does your mama know you talk like that?

Besides, if you withhold your dues and donations, well, then, the terrorists have won, haven't they?

Ho, ho, ho. Obviously Political Correctness is alive and well in Charlottesville. Shortly after we moved to Clarke County, VA (Q. How far is CC from Richmond and Northern Virginia? A: About 50 years.) I ran into the more or less the same thing in the venerable church from which The Rt. Rev. William Meade had emerged ca. 1834. I was accused of "stirring up the people" when I suggested that the good folks at the 'chapel' in Boyce deserved the same consideration as the rich folks in Millwood. The committee charged with celebration 300 years of our parish did not even take a second look at my design for a mug. I used the following from an 1832 parochial report to the Diocese of Virginia by the then Rev. (not yet Bishop) Meade."

"While the rector of the parish could wish that its religious state were better, he is thankful it is not worse."

Long live the Charlottesville/Albermarle Hysterical Society :))))

You, sir, must be a musician. ;)

To clarify, I am a member of the ACHS Board but my local history blog is a separate project that I began in February to increase interest in Albemarle County history. The premise of the blog (www.locohistory.org) is to post short entries, accompanied by at least one photo, to distribute information about historic people and events that are not always found in the history books. I encourage people to comment and make corrections or additions to the posts. But in today's busy world I expect that most people will use the site as a source of historic trivia which, hopefully, will increase their understanding of the county's diverse past. The website is also designed to share educational tours that satisfy SOLs for children(www.locohistory.org/kids.shtml). For example, the site includes a treasure hunt for historic clues on the downtown mall.

Local history provides insight into broader themes in American history. The ACHS is an important cornerstone in the community for collecting, preserving, and sharing this information. I very much hope that the current flap over the "hysterical blog" does not erode the community's support for the institution and its goals.

It is worth clarifying that Dr. Day's blog originally claimed to be the official blog of the ACHS. "...the ACHS already has a blog..." is not accurate, as Dr. Rainville's blog is not associated with the ACHS. The two blogs are quite different in that regard.

Joe Christmas- while I appreciate and agree with your comments, censorship is just plain wrong. Always. Some of the board members would do well to look into the history of that, hm?

The blog's purpose was stated quite clearly in its title. There was obviously no attempt at deception. No one but a reactionary idiot would ever assume that it served as the lone voice of the ACHS and its diverse membership.

Sheesh, history CAN be fun! I'm weary of the PC crowd presenting history solely in the context of hand-wringing tragedy. Boo hoo, *cue the violins*. What about the triumph of the spirit? History is all about folks bouncin' back, too.

Double phooey! (Yeah, my mama knows. She done me it.)

Is "anonymous" certain that the website ever claimed the blog to be the "official" anything? Even if that was the case, why wouldn't a simple disclaimer (like the one on albemarlehistory.blogspot.com now) have sufficed?
Didn't it occur to anybody that pulling the plug altogether was going to be widely hailed as an over-reaction? Sounds like the Historical Society has already lost a couple of fans, even members, not because of the blog, but over the ham-handed way it was dealt with. I say put the Hysteria back in the Historical Society. Somebody needs to lighten up. (Seems to me mail is running 10-1 in favor, but that may be most people who actually read blogs are just silly people who don't know how serious History is.)

Although most of the Society’s work is constructive and limited to home ground, it has never hesitated to make itself heard on the negative or critical side of wider issues. This type of vocal agitation and feather ruffling has tempted certain punsters to refer to our dignified group from time to time as the Hysterical Society (italics in original). In the last decade we have in our “Gadfly” capacity collectively opposed the addition to the Federal Capitol in Washington, campaigned against billboards on highways, and opposed the wording on a commemorative Jefferson postage stamp. (From Anne Freudenberg, The Albemarle County Historical Society, 1940-1965: A Short View of Its First Twenty-Five Years, ACHS, 1965.)

Wanted to clarify my vague phrasing above that Dr Day's blog was very clear in its intended purpose (an irreverent, fun, and interactive look at history) and not deceptive in any way (i.e. representing itself as the sole voice of the ACHS). Oh and it's "My Mama knows, She done TAUGHT me it." Sorry, I dropped a word.

Anyone know what really happened, anyway? Was it the Board caving in to a very vocal minority opposing the Hysterical blog? And would any of those opposing members care to tell us 1) why censorship is good for the Society, and 2) how that censorship justifies my continued financial support of the Society?

I've cared about and supported this organization, and I'd bloody well like an explanation.

It does seem that's there's some larger dysfunctionality going on; this blog thing is too trivial a matter to have gotten up so much ire. The board is large, and there are some very good people on it (listed on their website, along with by-laws and mission statement). Let's hope cooler heads prevail.

I am sending in my membership renewal along with a donation, and urge others to do the same. But I am also going to start keeping an eye on things, and putting in my two cents.

There's an idea, Former Member: everybody who's FOR the Hysterical Society blog go to the ACHS website (at albemarlehistory.org), join up and/or make a donation on their on-line donation page, and make it clear in the "comments" field that you want the Hysterical Society back. The all-volunteer board is bound to listen to dues-paying members.

At least go to the "contact" page at albemarlehistory.org/contact and make your opinions known. And encourage others to do the same.

What gives? The original blog is now gone, too, along with all the posts and responses.

Uh, oh.

Crikey. Must be Homeland Security. I'm outa here.

They Killed the Mockingbird.

I am sad to see they took away this blog. As a former resident of C'ville, I thought the keepers of the Historical Society would have been a little more progressive. Still it is hard to get many institutions such as this to try new and innovative approaches to gain a wider audience. I had lost touch with the ACHS until I heard about the "Hysterical Society" blog and its postings on the L&C statue. That statue always bugged me too and I was glad to see someone address it. I also had considered becoming a memeber. I think now I'll wait and see how this all plays out. I do think I will check out Dr. Rainville's blog though. Good luck C'ville, I'll be watching from Richmond. History is not for the few, but for the masses.

Among the long struggles of mankind is that of separating reasonable goverence from the urge to impose niggling social constraints. Those of us who share the distinction of having been the loudmouthed brat at the back of the room are eternal, but so are the harried teachers, trying to impose enough structure for ideas to be heard. We need to be gentle and forgiving with each other. Can you guys get over all this?