Oh, look, it’s Adriana talking about the past again! I promise I won’t glorify it beyond its worth (I’m trying to live up to Theodore Roosevelt’s standards), but I do want to discuss a recent effort by the Smithsonian, publicized a few weeks ago by NPR, to better connect people to a relic that has long seemed largely useless. Go ahead, take a look. Stereoviews!
These stereo images make history feel real. Just by looking at those few images available, General Sherman and his comrades feel far more like real people and much less like historical legends. They now feel a lot less like Paul Bunyan and more like, say, Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan (how’s that for non-partisan?) – Sherman has physical depth and fits into an actual world with three dimensions, rather than filling the pages of what could be just another storybook, even if it is one based on fact. The Civil War happened in the same world we share now; maybe I’m alone in this, but for all my love of the past it has always felt distant, different, and it’s easy to forget the people and places of previous centuries look just like ours. We rarely have the chance to see them entirely as they were, without artistic intervention and literary flourishes.
I realize that I’m probably spouting off big vague ideas again, and many people, especially those most in need of opinion shifts, might be unimpressed by this technology that is still not an Avatar or even a Smell-o-vision. But this stuff is real! This is a nearly tangible connection to the past that we cannot even receive from the photographs themselves, and one of the moments when I concede the value of computers and advanced imaging technology in relating people to the past. The big issue standing between a minor diversion and a useful tool for teaching history is this: will people use these images? Will they make any difference? I hope I’m not alone in drooling at my computer screen over this fantastic effort from the Smithsonian.