The past is a story.
As a historian hoping to make sense of lives long since ended using evidence that is necessarily privileged and incomplete, I am keenly aware of the etymology linking these two words: history is made up of stories. Although we can never fully know the past, we can and should still seek to understand it, to learn from it and observe connections between then and now. Our lives change from one generation to the next, but our humanity persists.
Hindsight celebrates those conjunctions by finding inspiration in our heritage. This collaborative project endeavors to tell our stories through art, broadly defined: Our past is a song, a poem, a painting, a meal. We are poets, musicians, philosophers, craftspeople, writers and artists of all stripes. We knit and forge and sew the past; we sketch it with graphite and visualize it through code. Our past is both fiction and creative non-fiction, inhabiting the tricky realm between truth and fact.
At the heart of Hindsight are the cultural institutions around the globe that preserve our shared history and make it more accessible. Participants in the project have been invited to choose and respond to an object, document or work of art from one of these archives. By serving as inspiration, each sliver of history becomes part of our present as well as our past, taking its place in a new story. We hope to highlight their enduring relevance and express particular gratitude to those organizations encouraging public engagement by licensing their holdings with Creative Commons.
The parameters for Hindsight are pretty simple:
- Participants must be invited.
- To keep this exercise fun and minimize stress, each participant agrees to contribute a single work of art (poem, story, drawing, song, etc.) inspired by one historical source. Multiple posts to the Hindsight blog, however, are welcome.
- Creative Commons-licensed historical sources of inspiration are encouraged.
- Lesser-known or under-appreciated historical sources of inspiration are preferred.
- Each participant’s work should be new and created especially for this project.
- Participants can choose whether or not to include an explanation linking their inspiration and creations.
- Participants own all rights to their creations and are free to reproduce them elsewhere once posted (e.g. a story or poem in a subsequent collection, a song on an album, prints of a painting or drawing in a physical or online shop).
This Digital New Zealand set of sample images hints at the variety of forms this project could take: a story inspired by the strangest wedding party ever; a knitted jumper with modernized pattern based on a photograph; the inlaid wood of a table transformed into a watercolor mandala; a song that sounds like John Buckland Wright’s 1946 woodcut “Windy Shore” feels; an imagining of Samuel Butler’s adventures during his undergraduate days; an updated re-creation of a vegetarian restaurant’s menu circa 1933; a poem about two cranes (machines, not birds) in love.
My name is Sienna Latham. By way of background, I am an eighth-generation Californian now working on a history Ph.D. at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. My research explores the intersection of gender, nature and alchemy in early modern England. I am also interested more generally in digital humanities, paleography and book history. My non-academic passions include folklore, poetry, music, photography and giving a six-year-old whippet named Marzipan the best possible life. I occasionally blog at clerestories.com.