Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why limit Anzac marketing outrage to Woolworths?

Many groups now exploit the commercialisation of Anzac memories, even the RSL.

Consumers have made sure that Woolworths will never forget their botched attempt to cash in on the Anzac centenary. During the lead up to Anzac Day, the supermarket giant launched a website that invited Australians to share memories of war veterans and upload a commemorative profile picture to social media. The site included a meme generator, which branded images of war dead with the Woolworths logo and tagline, "Fresh In Our Memories" - a staggeringly misguided pun evoking their corporate slogan "The Fresh Food People".

The landing page for Woolworths' short-lived campaign.

A Woolworths' branded commemorative profile picture.

Like the event it claimed to commemorate, the ill-conceived campaign resulted in a bloody confrontation and ensuing retreat. The backlash on Woolworths' Facebook page was immediate. According to one commenter, "Trying to cash in on the memory of the Anzacs is possibly the trashiest thing I've seen in a very long time." Another said the campaign reflected "Inconceivably poor judgment!", adding "Not everything in the world needs to be appropriated for commercial gain".

Twitter hashtags #brandzacday and #freshinourmemories began trending throughout Australia as consumers hijacked social media to ridicule the brand for exploiting war memory. Barely three hours after the campaign launched, Woolworths took the site down and issued an apology.

There was even a Hitler "Downfall" meme, adapted an iconic scene from the 2004 movie.

Despite Woolworths' assertion that the initiative was "not a marketing campaign", there is little doubt the site was designed to produce branded consumer-generated content, and encourage Australians to share this content on their social networks. It is likely that Woolworths aspired to tap into public sentiment before Anzac Day – with the aim of generating likes, brand engagement , and a strong emotional connection with consumers.

How did Australia's largest supermarket chain, supported by an army of digital marketing and social media experts, get it so wrong?

Woolworths certainly isn't the first Australian brand to exploit dead diggers for profit. Since the 1990s, marketers have recognised the growing cultural capital attached to the Anzac legend, and the benefits of aligning their brands with the aspirational national mythology.

This ambition is not new. Australian traders began to market Anzac-branded products and portray Anzac veterans in their advertising during the Great War. Astonishingly, the federal government introduced regulations protecting the word "Anzac" from use in any trade business calling or profession in 1916, enacting legislation in 1921.

However, modern marketers have approached the task with an enthusiasm and sophistication lacked by their early 20th-century counterparts. At the same time, state agencies, such as the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), and special interest groups, such as the Returned and Services League (RSL) and Legacy, have recognised the rising political capital associated with the Anzac tradition, the benefits of promoting it to as many people as possible, and the potential for its proliferation through commercial activity aimed at a mass market.

The Woolworths campaign was slammed by Minister for Veteran Affairs Michael Ronaldson who said, "I have been very rigorous in ensuring that we protect the dignity of the word Anzac and that it is not used for purely commercial purposes."  RSL president Ken Doolan described the campaign as "insensitive" and an "unfortunate error".  Yet these bodies have embraced commercial activity for years.

While the federal government and veterans' organisations traditionally frowned upon Anzac commodification before the 1990s, they now enthusiastically sanction certain types of commercial activity, while prohibiting others. The RSL in particular  has pioneered innovative new commercial partnerships and product endorsements.

There is no doubt that veterans' organisations have pursued initiatives with the very best of intentions; to raise money to support war veterans and their dependents, promote their organisations, and the Anzac tradition. But at what cost?

Commemoration and commerce have become increasingly intertwined, and the Anzac industry is often more concerned with appealing to a mass market of consumers in their leisure hours, than with historical understanding.

Australians who wish to remember the Great War can buy mass-produced Anzac biscuits, "raise a glass" of Victoria Bitter beer, and enjoy commemorative sporting spectacles such as the AFL Anzac Day Clash.

In 2015, Australians can also attend Camp Gallipoli, a music festival-style commemorative spectacular, with its own range of merchandise available exclusively from Target stores. Proceeds from merchandise will be directed to the Camp Gallipoli foundation, and distributed to the RSL and Legacy, however goods navigate a supply chain of manufacturers, marketers, distributors; all of whom will benefit financially from the initiative.

One can only imagine how Gallipoli veterans would respond to the products within the range, which include faux wool rugs, pillows and rosemary-scented candles, and trivialise and sanitise the horrors of war.

Bizarrely, the fact that commercial activity incorporates a fundraising element has become an accepted defence against claims of exploitation. Neither the Department of Veterans' Affairs, nor the RSL has demonstrated recognition of the benefits that commercial firms receive from association with the Anzac tradition, in the form of increased revenue and brand building.

Consumer culture does not necessarily trivialise war memory but the use of Anzac for brand-building purposes often results in simplified, sanitised and celebratory visions of our wartime past that reveal more about ourselves than the Anzacs. Why is our outrage limited to Woolworths' tacky marketing campaign? Perhaps their real blunder was not in appropriating Anzac to build their brand, but by doing it so badly.

This is an adapted version of an article which originally appeared in The Age on 15 April 2015.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dead men talking: can ‘zombie’ Anzacs enrich our understanding of war?

The cast of NewsCorp's Anzac Live

This year, Australians can do more than just remember the Gallipoli Campaign — they can re-live it. Two rival Australian media networks have resurrected long-dead Diggers to tweet “real time” updates of the campaign. No longer fighting for empire, the Anzacs have been enlisted to help media brands battle for social media dominance during the lead-up to Anzac Day.

News Corp’s AnzacLive encourages Australians to interact directly with 10 Diggers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Anzacs generally reply “in their own words”, with responses crafted from fragments of diaries and letters, a pursuit for authenticity that often results in a slightly unsettling, zombie-like tone. The Diggers themselves have been “branded” in a style evoking a reality TV show, with a cast of “characters” including an “unlikely ladies’ man”, a “tough joker” and a “dead-set Aussie legend”. News Corp has invested heavily in the project, which was planned and executed with the input of historians and involves a staff of 30 journalists over 12 months of planning.

Not to be outdone, ABC News has launched @ABCNews1915, which aggregates tweets from 60 Twitter accounts including Digger Thomas Drane (@TomDrane1915), nurse Alice Ross-King (@AliceRK_1915), prime minister Andrew Fisher (@AFisherPM_1915), and Turkish military commander Mustafa Ataturk (@MKAtaturk1915). The ambitious project is affiliated with the Australian War Memorial, National Library of Australia and Australian Museum of Democracy. In contrast to AnzacLive, the project is more concerned with creating a “real-time” narrative of the campaign based on first-hand accounts than encouraging interaction with historical “characters”. Tweets, which have been vetted by historians, are derived from an impressive range of sources including letters, diaries, Hansard reports and newspapers.

It’s not the first time that Australian media outlets have leveraged Anzac Day to boost their readership. From the 1990s, newspapers began to offer glossy historical lift-outs, commemorative coins and even free Anzac biscuits in an effort to increase circulation figures on Anzac Day. In the digital world, where content is king, attention is the only currency that matters. Anzac Day has been commodified, with letters, diaries and photographs transformed into online “content”, the commercial appeal of which will be measured by web analytics and assessed by digital-marketing teams.

Do these projects enrich our understanding of the Great War or do they trivialise and sanitise war memory for a popular audience?

The Facebook pages of AnzacLive Diggers have been used to generate traffic for related News Corp coverage. While some articles are informative, others, such as “Underbellydance: How a brush with the white slave trade sparked the first battle of the Anzacs” represent blatant clickbait. The staggeringly misleading article manages to rewrite the history of the “Battle of the Wazzir”, a shameful Anzac riot through Cairo involving looting, arson and violence, into “a bit of harmless larrikinism” at worst, and a heroic “rescue” at best — based on a single unverified source.

Indeed, News Corp has pulled out all stops to generate viral content, with colourised historic images, infographics, videos and a BuzzFeed-style quiz — “Find out who you’d have been in WW1”. The quiz assumes an enthusiastic willingness to enlist and matches readers with a Digger hero (conveniently sidestepping alternative roles such as conscientious objector or grieving mother). Granted, an alternative version, “Find out who you’d be after the Great War”, with results including “unemployed”, “disabled”, or “dead” is likely to have far less viral appeal.

In contrast, most tweets from @ABCNews1915 link directly back to the original historical source online, offering a gateway into Australian cultural institutions, and providing the first step on a journey of discovery rather than an end point.

Both projects claim to offer “uncensored” access to the thoughts and feelings of Aussie Diggers. However, primary sources, such as diaries and letters, require historical context and interpretation. For example, most personal diaries published for popular consumption during or directly after the Great War were exceedingly patriotic. Letters home from the front were often censored by the military, or by writers themselves in an effort to shield relatives at home from the horrors of war.

Whose voices are missing from the conversation? AnzacLive includes a female “character”, nurse Alice Ross-King, but prioritises those on the battlefield rather than the home front. Both projects risk overstating the role Australians played in the campaign, which involved troops from Britain, France, India and, of course, New Zealand (lest we forget).

In focusing on Gallipoli, the bungled military campaign-turned-bloody national baptism, tweets and Facebook status updates offer a partial glimpse of the Great War as a whole. “Real time” updates of Australia’s “glorious” entry to war risk evoking the furious imperial chest-beating of 1915, rather than the dark reality and tragic aftermath of a long war that divided Australia.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the ambitions of AnzacLive and @ABCNews1915 extend beyond simply increasing website traffic, interactivity and engagement. Social media can enable journalists and historians to connect with new audiences, promote a deeper critical engagement with the past, and enrich the understanding of Australian history.

Both projects have the potential to challenge Anzac mythology. For example, a recent @ABCNews1915 tweet from the diary of A.I.F private Sam Norris described how Australian and New Zealanders ransacked brothels and burnt furniture during the “Wazzir” riots.

By uncovering a range of conflicting views, social media has the potential to reveal the complexity of the wartime experience and encourage Australians to be more reflective. Furthermore, by encouraging readers to respond to posts, these platforms can create spaces where Australians can question, challenge and debate the Great War and the Anzac legend.

In fact, while both campaigns aspire to reveal ways in which the Diggers were “just like us”, they may inadvertently achieve the opposite, by exposing elements of the Anzac legend that are largely absent in the 21st century. Letters, diaries and newspaper reports from 1915 are likely to exult in the Anzacs’ fighting ability and reveal racial pride and a deep connection to the British Empire.

The diggers are talking but will anyone be listening? The failure of critically acclaimed Channel Nine miniseries Gallipoli to resonate with Australians, and an upcoming glut of arts events, television specials and documentaries have many within the “Anzac industry” concerned that Australians might have developed a bad case of “Anzac fatigue”.  Considering the significant investment into the medium, News Corp and ABC News will be hoping that social media can capture Australian imaginations.

(originally published on Crikey on 7 April 2015)

Monday, March 9, 2015

My Kitchener Rules: Why aren’t Australians watching the Gallipoli miniseries?

Hailed by critics as a ‘must-see TV event of 2015’ Channel Nine’s heavily promoted Gallipoli miniseries launched on Monday 9 February amid a fanfare of bus posters, TV ads and media buzz.

The first episode of the seven-part series, inspired by Les Carlon’s bestselling history Gallipoli, attracted 1.104 million viewers, but failed to topple Channel Seven’s reality TV ratings juggernaut ‘My Kitchen Rules’, which regularly attracts 1.5 million viewers.

With the centenary of the Anzac landing just weeks away,  the wartime drama has failed to resonate with Australians. Viewing figures for the second episode halved to 580,000  - and have continued to fall.

Channel Nine CEO Kim Gyngell described the failure to attract an audience as his ‘biggest disappointment for the year’. According to Gyngell, ‘Research panels across the country said Galipolli was going to be the biggest show on television and it hasn’t been’. The final episodes air tonight on Chanel Nine. But why aren’t Australians watching?

To sate my curiosity, I decided to examine blog comments on articles discussing the failure of the series. Would they reveal any insights into why Gallipoli had become a turn off?

The first article, ‘This TV show has been called a “must watch” for all Australians. So why aren’t we watching?’, was published by mamamia.com.au on 19 February and attracted thirty-nine comments. The popular site attracts a large audience of university-educated women aged between 25-49.

The second article, ‘Nine CEO admits Gallipoli audiences are a ‘disappointment’ as network prepares to ‘burn’ drama series’ was published by mumbrella.com.au, a website for marketing and media professionals, on 26 February and attracted forty-seven comments.

Respondents represent a self-selected sample, and are by no means representative of viewers. In fact, they reveal more about the perceptions surrounding the miniseries than reality, since few respondents claimed to have actually watched the series. Nevertheless, the comments revealed some surprising insights into why this much-hyped drama might have failed to connect with Australian viewers.

1. Anzac fatigue.

By far the most common response. Have we finally reached peak Gallipoli?
  • I was Gallipoli'd out by the end of school. (mamamia)
  • What Australia needs is yet another telling of the same story we’ve heard hundreds of times. Using the same title as the Peter Weir film doesn’t do it any favours, either. (mumbrella)
  • From primary school onwards we are saturated with the Gallipoli story. It's a shame, but it's no wonder we're fatigued. (mamamia)
  • I hate to say it but I really think that we are just moving on. WW1 and WW2 have been done over and over in movies and tv (mamamia)
  • The problem with "Gallipolli" is that we know about Gallipolli. It's a story which has been told. (mamamia)
  • ...my kids have studied it at school, seen the movie and now have no interest in seeing the same story dragged out over weeks at 9pm (mamamia)
  • The nine Gallipoli series sucks. We’ve heard this all before. 20 mins in and you know you’re never getting that time back again. I wonder if they thought we were obligated to watch.  (mumbrella)
  • ...the subject (still inaccurate and over stated by the way) has been done and done and done to death. (mumbrella)
  • Another glorious example of misappropriated government funds (screen Australia) throwing money at boring content nobody wants to see.
Perhaps it's time for broadcasters to embrace a more diverse range of Australian stories?
  • ...the money spent on producing it could have been spent on something with similar production values that told a new/relatively unknown story. (mamamia) 
  • With the utmost respect, I’ve been living in Australia for 4 years and I’m already shit sick of the Gallipoli story/legend. It’s talked about ad nauseum…Can’t we find other Australian stories to focus on. (mumbrella)
  • Right war, wrong subject. Gallipoli has been done to death. (mumbrella)
  • We are quite simply, Gallipolied out. How about more on the Western Front, or Vietnam or Borneo? Darwin, even. I fully accept that Gallipoli is integral to our nations pysche, I even travelled there for Anzac day myself and I found it so fascinating, but I feel like other important people, battles and accomplishments are being overlooked for what has become the poster child of all our conflicts. (mamamia)

2 Too sad, too violent.

John Howard once asserted that he wanted Australians to be ‘comfortable and relaxed about their history'. There is no doubt the Gallipoli miniseries stands in contrast to the reassuring, sentimental national mythology surrounding the Anzac tradition. According to historian Peter Stanley, who has been reviewing the series for the Honest History website,  ‘Gallipoli certainly deserves plaudits for portraying war honestly’. Here the reality of war is confronting rather than cathartic. Watching television is a discretionary leisure activity and Australians have chosen to turn off.
  • At the end of the day there is enough blood shed on our TV sets. Galipolli is a quality production, but just failed to resonate with audiences who are tired of war and darkness. It’s where MKR wins… can’t get much lighter than a bunch of people cooking and taking any chance to criticize each other. (mumbrella)
  • I feel like I've reached my tragedy quota. I can't bring myself to watch, I just don't have it in me. (mamamia)
  • ...too sad, too violent. We get enough of that these days, I enjoyed house of hancock, light drama and escapism, that's about all I can handle at the moment. (mamamia)
  • I cannot sit there, week after week, crying through a tv show. It looks fantastic, but I can't do it to myself, not after all the things I have already seen and read about WWI. It's too horrific. Maybe if we didn't have a 24 hour news cycle, broadcasting the worst of the world into our homes every day, we would be more willing to watch something like this. (mamamia)
  • Not surprised at all, watching the promos alone was enough to put me off. The story from the point of view of the individual soldiers and their families is dark and sad and violent and it's been done already. (mamamia)
  • I have an 18 year old son. I just couldn't watch it. Seeing those young boys going off to be slaughtered. Just the promos bought me to tears. I can't imagine what those boys and their parents went through. (mamamia)

3. Bad programming decisions.

Several commenters lamented the network's programming decisions; wrong timeslot, wrong channel, too many ads, and not broadcast close enough to Anzac Day.
  • Too far out from main Gallipoli anniversary (mumbrella)
  • 9pm on a Monday night is too late for me…not the best programming decision methinks!’ (mamamia)
  • So who thought it’d be a clever idea to launch it 2 months out Anzac Day? It failed because there’s no contextual/timings relevancy. (mumbrella)
  • Rubbish timeslot. I don't think people want to spend the last available hours of their weekend sobbing in a heap in the lounge room over a horrendous historical period before migrating to the bedroom and sobbing in a heap about having to go to work soon. (mamamia)
  • Too many advertisements. It shard to maintain concentration and emotional commitment when being continually bombarded by blaring ads. Kind ruins the whole vibe. (mamamia)
  • Way too many commercials. I get that it was probably expensive to make, but when to stuff extra in just because the expect it to be a hit, dont be surprised when people lose interest. (mamamia)
  • Could it be that FTA (free to air) television is no place for drama? Even the sleaze of the Hancock saga couldn’t kill MKR. (mumbrella)
  • Channel 9 doesn't have a good track record with period dramas either. These sort of programs are usually associated with the ABC, and do well in the ABC's usual period drama time slots. It may be a case of Channel 9 misjudging their market. They are the tabloid newspaper of TV channels (not that there is anything wrong with that), while the ABC and in general period dramas appeal to a more sophisticated audience. (mamamia)

4. Anzackery and commercial exploitation.

Others contested the national mythology and argued that Anzac was being exploited for commercial or political gain. These comments seem at odds with those who felt Gallipoli was 'too dark' and 'violent'. However, it unclear from responses if the individuals had actually watched the miniseries or if they constitute a more general response to Anzackery.
  • I am shit sick of the “glorious” re-telling of the Anzac bullshit… We’ve learnt nothing. Why just this week the NZ PM announced more Aussie troops for Iraq. WTF?’ (mumbrella)
  • Personally I'm sick of the jingoism & nationalism being shoved down my throat at the moment, I'm Team Australia'd out. I had family members serve in both World Wars & it has been fascinating researching my family tree & finding out about what happened to them, but to me the ads for this looked like more mythology being cultivated. (mumbrella)
  • ...we need to discuss the ramifications of Gallipoli as militarily,it was a failure that cost many lives.however if one casts doubts on it one can be branded unpatriotic as it seems to have become somewhat of a sacred cow. (mamamia)
  • I think that we need to all have an honest discussion about the Gallipoli campaign. Our soldiers fought valiantly. The landscape and conditions there are horribly harsh and unforgiving, but... we did invade another country, we killed 60 thousand of THEIR valiant young men who were just following orders too… Other than that it was a bloody, bungled battle and I don't believe it to be disrespectful to the diggers to discuss it honestly.’ (mamamia)
  • ... I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea that Gallipoli should be glorified as such a heroic moment in Australian history.  (mamamia)
  • It (Anzac) has been monetised enough.  (mamamia)

5. Marketing strategy backfired.

Is there such a thing as too much promotion?
  • ‘Channel Nine made a drastic error in its over-advertising of these program during the cricket….Throughout the cricket, which Australians love, we were constantly bombarded with ads for Gallipoli’ (mumbrella)
  • Yep, Nine now knows the exact point where over-promotion kills a show. (mumbrella)
  • I think also ladies and gents that Channel 9 needs to take a good look at their promos. If I see another description like ‘jaw dropping’ or ‘riveting’ or ‘landmark TV’ I will throw my drink at the TV. Enough. Let the show speak for itself and go easy a bit on the pre-show hype. (mumbrella)
  • I'll be watching it when I can pay to watch it ad free on Netflix at a time that suits me. I stopped bothering with australian commercial free to air ages ago. (mamamia)

6. Too long. I don't want to commit to watching seven episodes.

The prospect of watching the miniseries over seven weeks was too much of a commitment for some viewers.
  • I recorded it… then heard it was a 10 part series and thought – I don't have time for that – and deleted it…’ (mumbrella)
  • Should have been a one off telemovie or two part series (mumbrella)
  • Most feedback I heard was that it was too slow. Maybe it should have been a two night mini-series aired directly around ANZAC day… (mamamia)
  • I am too busy to dedicate every Sunday night for 7 weeks to a TV show. (mumbrella)

7. Too slow. Not compelling enough.

The critically acclaimed drama did not appeal to some viewers who deemed it too slow. Did the story fail to hook in viewers or did cultural cringe play a factor?
  • Australians will watch it if its good, not just because it's about Gallipoli. (mamamia)
  • I'm now convinced the problem is the slow movie-style edit. There’s just too many shots holding on faces -asking the viewer to wait. I’m in the lounge room at home – I have too many distractions to wait for the director’s emotional beats.’ (mumbrella)
  • The problem I and a lot of other had was that the first episode was slow, repetitive and didn't seem to share much. It just wasn't "compelling", nothing to do with the violence, etc. (mamamia)
  • I'm watching but it's an effort. I'm drawn to the theme but the story-telling is lacking. The flashback character development isn't working. I'm not surprised there was such a big drop from week one. (mamamia)

8. I'll stick to Peter Weir’s 1981 film version, thanks.

Many preferred Peter Wier's iconic 1981 movie to the prospect of a seven-hour retelling of the ten month campaign.
  • ...this story has already been told so much better in Peter Weir's seminal film. (mamamia)
  • Why didn’t just rent a copy of Peter Weir’s Gallipolli for $1.99 and show it on the eve of Anzac day? Simple, same story, same title, minimal outlay. (mumbrella)
  • Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (mentioned on here a bit) is nothing short of a masterpiece and gets the point / story across in one short sitting. (mumbrella)
  • ‘While Gallipoli is an historically important event, it's a story that's been told before and told well. For most people the movie pretty much covers it.’ (mamamia)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Anzac for sale: consumer culture, regulation and the shaping of a legend, 1915-1921

I've been published! My journal article, 'Anzac for Sale: Consumer Culture, Regulation and the Shaping of a Legend 1915–21’ appears in the current edition of Australian Historical Studies. The article is based upon the first chapter of my PhD thesis, which explores how the Anzac legend has been represented in consumer culture over one hundred years. I am very excited to offer insights into this fascinating and under-researched aspect of the Anzac tradition.

Perry’s Anzac Billiard Palace in Wallaroo, Queensland.
From the collection of the National Archives of Australia.

Abstract: After the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915, the word Anzac began to appear with increasing frequency to brand a range of Australian consumer products and many traders applied to change the name of their businesses to Anzac. On 25 May 1916, the federal government issued War Precautions Regulations prohibiting the unauthorised use of the word Anzac ‘in any trade, business, calling or profession’. This article explores applications to use the word Anzac for commercial purposes between 1915 and 1921 to argue that consumer culture became a battleground where individuals and groups competed to assert ownership over the word and the social currency it represented.

The original article is available online through Taylor & Francis Australasia. Australian Historical Studies is not an open access journal. If you do not have a subscription to this journal you can download an unformatted copy of the article text from Google Docs (69MB).

Citation: Jo Hawkins, ‘Anzac for Sale: Consumer Culture, Regulation and the Shaping of a Legend 1915–21’, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 46, no. 1, 2015, pp.7-26

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

History as spectacle: Turkey's Çanakkale Epic Promotion Center

‘We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. As a commodity the spectacular is developed to the detriment of the real. It becomes a substitute for experience.’ Larry Law, Images and Everyday Life, 2009.

Since the 1990s, the commemoration of the Great War in Australia has increasingly taken the form of spectacular experiences and events. The 1915 Anzac centenary has already inspired elaborate historical re-enactments, festival style Anzac ‘glamping’ with branded swags,  luxury overseas cruises with celebrity guests, and televised sporting spectacle from AFL to V8 Supercar motor racing.

My PhD thesis, which explores war commemoration and consumer culture, is focused on Australia and the Anzac legend. However, it is important to remember that memory industries operate in a global context. A tweet yesterday from one of Australia's preeminent military historians, Peter Stanley, who is currently touring Gallipoli, served as a timely reminder of the Turkish experience.

The Çanakkale Epic Promotion Center (Çanakkale Destanı Tanıtım Merkezi) was launched by Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in June 2012. The A$40M centre offers a series of exhibits over four floors, including several ‘simulation’ rooms where visitors can experience thrilling multimedia representations of the Great War.

The Gallipoli Campaign does not just hold historical and mythological resonance for Australians. Known in Turkey as The Battle of Çanakkale, the successful resistance of invading allied forces is celebrated as a milestone in the creation of a modern Turkish republic. Here too, history is harnessed as a servant of the present.

Historical simulations are created using theatrical staging, historic film footage, contemporary re-enactments, computer generated images (CGI), 3D graphics, immersive wrap-around cinema screens and surround sound. In 2013, New Zealand journalist,  Russell Maclennan-Jones, described the tourist attraction as a ‘multimedia extravaganza’, noting that ‘Facts, figures and statistics are sparing’.

Çanakkale Epic Promotion Center Naval campaign simulation
Çanakkale Epic Promotion Center Artillery simulation

I have not visited the site yet but am greatly looking forward to Peter's insights. If you're interested in the Great War and Anzac commemoration I urge you to follow @Stanleyhistory and subscribe to the Honest History blog which has fast become a hub for breaking news, ideas and debate concerning Australian history.

It strikes me that a comparative study exploring the development, interdependency and divergence of the Anzac/Canakkale tourism industries could provide fascinating insights into personal, national and commercial investments into the past.

Promotional video: çanakkale destanı tanıtım merkezi

Promotional video: çanakkale destanı tanıtım merkezi (simulation rooms start at 4:58)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Yesterday's the past, tomorrow's the future, but today is a GIF.

Over the last two years, New York art director,  Kevin Weir, has been selecting historic photographs from The Library of Congress flickr stream and using them to create animated GIFs, which he shares on his blog. The results are delightfully absurd and utterly compelling.

I was surprised to find that so many of the photographs chosen by Weir were taken during the Great War. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Artists have long drawn from traditions of absurdity and surrealism to understand and express the horrors of war. I used Google Image Search to track down the original images and have included a description and a link to the original source below.

This photograph of Paul von Hindenburg was taken sometime between 1914-15 and distributed by one of the world's earliest picture agencies, the Bain News Service. Hindenburg became a field marshal during the Great War and second president of the Weimar Republic (1925-34).  GIF animation: Peter Weir. Image source: Library of Congress.

Another image from the Bain News Service which dates around 1914-15. This comic photograph, which depicts a wine barrel mounted to a cart, is titled ‘French 42cm gun’. The real 42cm howitzer gun, known as ‘Big Bertha’, was developed by a German armament manufacturer, Krupp, on the eve of the Great War. GIF animation: Peter Weir. Image source: Library of Congress.

This photograph has taken during 1914-15 in in Suwalki, Russia (now Poland) and depicts a Russian Orthodox priest praying for wounded soldiers in a make-shift military hospital. GIF animation: Peter Weir. Image source: Library of Congress.

This photograph of General Victor Michel was taken between 1910-1915. In the years preceding the Great War, Michel became convinced that German forces were most likely to invade France through Belgium, anticipating the Schlieffen Plan. His peers did not agree and he was later demoted. GIF animation: Peter Weir. Source:  Library of Congress.


Should historians harness the hottest trend in digital storytelling?

Is Weir is making history? In an interview with Wired Magazine, Weir stated that ‘I just stare at the picture for a while and things start coming to me that I want to bring to life’. He does not provide historical context for his GIFs, nor a link to the original archival image. Rather he looks for ‘great compositions and compelling characters’. He appears to be more inspired by Monty Python and HP Lovecraft than any aspiration for historical truth.  Nevertheless, Weir’s surreal creations - funny, confronting, haunting and emotive - reveal great potential for historical storytelling. Is it time that public historians, especially those working online, considered the GIF a creative medium?

 GIFs are not a new technology but they have come along way from their 1990s heyday when their small file sizes befit the speed of dial-up internet connections.

The acronym GIF stands for ‘Graphic Interchange Format’ and is pronounced ‘jif’.

In an era of high speed internet, these simple animations have undergone an astonishing renaissance. GIFs have never been so easy to make and share, and the technology is widely supported across a range of devices and platforms.

Most importantly, the medium is highly expressive.

We live in a visual age. Virtually all mobile phones have cameras and we now communicate with images as much as text. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have responded to this shift by making images more central to their user interface. Other social platforms - such as Snapchat, Instagram and Vine - use images and video as the primary method of communication.

In this new world, the humble GIF should not be underestimated. Animated GIFs have the potential to be more emotive than a still image, but are less effort to watch than a video. For this reason, popular social news channels such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy use GIFs liberally as a digital storytelling medium in viral posts. More recently, visual artists have begun to experiment with GIFs as a new art form. Traditional news media, including The Washington Post and The New York Times have also started cautiously experimenting with the medium.

Should public historians consider the GIF? Or is it just a novelty format, best left to celebrities and cute cats? Do we run a risk of trivialising historic subject matter, rather than promoting a deeper, more complex, engagement with the past? These are all valid and important concerns.

And yet, Weir’s captivating work seems to hint at new possibilities. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

We apologise for this break in transmission.

I’ve been living in glorious Edinburgh for three months now. It’s a magical storybook city and I’ve been enjoying getting lost in its endless winding lanes and side streets.

The first two years of my PhD were spent madly researching, writing, teaching, attending conferences, writing journal articles, and working on several digital humanities side projects. I love my work and I feel very privileged to be undertaking a PhD but I've often stretched myself too thinly in an effort to make the most the experience.

In contrast, I’ve spent the last three months totally immersed in my research project. I’m in Edinburgh on an unofficial writing retreat which has come at the perfect time in my candidature.  It’s the best thing I've ever done. I realise it’s a terrific luxury and it’s one I’ve been trying to make the most of before my return to Perth in September.

The focus and solitude have been wonderful but lately I’ve really missed blogging about my work and connecting with fellow researchers. Especially while following the Australian Historical Association Annual Conference on twitter last week! I hope to be there next year.

As my submission date looms (twelve months to go!) I’m also hoping to post more frequently about my research. It’s starting to take shape which is exciting but it's still an enormous challenge to make sense of such a daunting array of content.

But I get up in the morning, make a cup of tea, sit at my desk, and keep on going. Desperately clinging to the old adage ‘All writing is rewriting’ at the moment. I’m a believer!

My PhD writing survival strategies? Writing in 25 minute bursts, buying flowers for my desk every couple of weeks, working towards small milestones, and taking long afternoon walks around Holyrood park.

Until next time...

Long afternoon walks. A fail-safe cure for writers block.
The view from Arthur's Seat. I can see my house from here!
Glorious Holyrood Park, looking towards Leith.