Einstein Memorial: Public History and Social Media

Near the US capitol, in front of the National Academy of Sciences sits a gigantic bronze statue of Albert Einstein. The monument was created to celebrate Einstein and the sense of awe and wonder his work represents. However, while under construction, art critics and some scientists derided the idea of the memorial. They felt the scale of such a giant memorial did not fit the modesty of Einstein. This paper explores the extent to which perspectives of the monument’s public supporters and critics can be seen in how people interact with it as evidenced in reviews and images of the monument posted online. In this article I analyze how individuals appropriate the monument on social websites, including Fickr, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Yahoo Travel, as a means to explore how the broader public co-creates the meaning of this particular memorial. I argue this case-study can serve as an example for leveraging the social web as a means to understand cultural heritage sites.

Photo: Schmidt, C., 2008. Arguing with Einstein, Available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisbrenschmidt/2190660089/

Keywords : Public History, History of Science, Public Understanding of Science, Pop-Cosmopolitanism, Flickr, Yelp, Tripadvisor, cultural heritage sites, social web, monuments, memory, Albert Einstein, Robert Berks, Phillip Handler, United States

Forthcoming in, International Journal of Web Based Communities special issue on Cultural Heritage Research

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