Tripadvisor Rates Einstein: Traces of Public Memory and Science on the Web

Arguing with Einstein is one of my favorite photos of the Albert Einstein memorial. It encapsulates how some of the sculptor’s intentions, his argument about Einstein and science, manifest themselves in an invitation to argue with a statue. The seated statue invites us to sit on him, climb him, and argue with him, and it is my contention that sites like Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Flickr offer us the ability to explore and examine our relationship to these kinds of monuments and memorials in unprecedented ways.

Photo: Schmidt, C., 2008. Arguing with Einstein, Available at:

Its been long in the making but I am excited to report that my paper Tripadvisor rates Einstein: Using the social web to unpack the public meanings of a cultural heritage site is out in the newest issue of The International Journal of Web Based Communities. I did the primary research for this project back in my master’s program in a great course called Museums, Monuments and Memory. That was in the Fall of 2008. (I know, wow that was a while ago my how time flys in the world of academic publishing)

The paper is largely an attempt to parse out the different kinds about sites of public memory that we can tell when we draw on traditional archival collections, in this case using materials from the National Academy of Sciences archives, as opposed to the kinds of stories we can tell when we look at traces of experience and interaction with those sites of memory online. In this case, I find it particularly interesting to try and evaluate how some of the intentions in the design of the monument can be evaluated in the kinds of things that we create online as a result of experiences with the memorial. My hope is that this can serve as both further validation of the value of preserving public discourse on the web and potentially as an example for how other’s might use social sites like Yelp, Flickr, and Tripadvisor to explore and interrogate public memory.

Below is the abstract for the paper. I would love to hear any comments or critiques in the comments. Similarly, if you end up using the paper in any way I would also love to hear about it.


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. I analyse 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.

If you don’t have access to the official copy I have my own personal unofficial personal archival copy that you can take a look at.

Scientists in Action: Front Door Iconography At The National Academy Of Sciences

As I’ve mentioned before I have been looking at the Einstein memorial on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences as a interesting spot to think about science in public. In working on the project I have been trying to find points of comparison, other statues of scientists or presentations of scientists, ideally in a similar setting like the National Mall. The first point of comparison to consider is the iconography on the National Academy’s building.

Just as the placement, posing and popularity of the Einstein statue suggest interesting points to explore perceptions of science the etchings on the door and reliefs along the side of the building make suggestions about what science is. I’m not entirely sure what to do with them yet but, they are so engaging that I thought I would share them, and some first thoughts.

Each of the panels below tries to distill a scientist’s work and achievements into a few icons and actions. Each panel is stunning, but I’m not sure about how successful they are in representing the scientist and their accomplishments. I suppose there is not much you can do in less then a square foot of space to commemorate a scientist. Below I have tried to extract the gist of what each pane suggests scientists do. What is your take on these? Oh, and does anyone have a clue about what the four little icons surrounding each pane are about?

Galileo Galilei 1564-1642

  • Setting: Outside
  • Action: Pointing
  • Tools: Holding, but not using a telescope

Issac Newton 1643-1727

  • Setting: Unclear
  • Tools: Scroll
  • Action: Unclear, Is he looking at calculations and charting the orbit of the planets? Is he flying a kite?
  • Extra: Science involves awesome capes

James Watt 1736-1819

  • Setting: Sitting by some huge gears
  • Action: Cranking gears and taking notes while other guy looks on
  • Tools: Lever, or some sort of super wrench

Charles Lyell 1797-1875

  • Setting: Pedestal suggests some sort of museum setting
  • Action: Looking at striations in strata
  • Tools: Magnifying glass

Charles Darwin 1809-1882

  • Setting: Museum? Clearly there are mammoth bones, but what is the tower all about?
  • Action: Reading, possibly dosing off, and potentially skull gazing
  • Tools: Book and a skull

Louis Pasteur 1822 – 1895

  • Setting: Labish alterzone with draped statue on a pedestal
  • Action: Looking at a test tube, resting an arm on books,
  • Tools: Testube, might be a Bunsen burner
  • Extra: Only panel to include a table

Euclid and Aristotle are also on the door, but it is a bit tougher to get a good shot of them because they are way up top.

All of these images come courtisy of Flickr user sethgaines

35 Views Of Einstein From 2100 C St. NW

I’m working on a piece about the the Albert Einstein Memorial outside the National Academy of sciences. One of the facets I am exploring is the way in which the monument suggests photos to visitors. Many reviews of the monument on travel websites mention “photogenic” the monument is. Among other things it’s a place for formal pictures and a jungle gym for the kids to climb on. These are all CC licensed photos from Flickr. There are a bunch more, over 500 last time I searched, these are just some of my favorites, each of the thumbnails links back to the photographers pages on Flickr.

I think these photos have something to tell us about Einstein in popular culture and also some interesting comments on how monuments work. I have some ideas, but I am interested to hear other folks thoughts. What do you think about these photos? What can we learn from how people interact with, and photograph this monument?

Einstein Memorial by riacale.

Arguing with Einstein by

@ einstein memorial by t3mplar.

a watchful eye by ucumari.

Einstein Memorial by Il Primo Uomo.

Albert Einstein Memorial by jcolman.

Touching the National Mall

I really like how you can tell just how frequently the Park’s services maps on the National mall are used by how worn the areas around the Lincoln Memorial and Washington monument have become. As you look at the worn spots around these two monuments you can picture the hundreds of thousands of tourists that touched their destination on these maps.