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.
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
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."