Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum


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"Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own."Mark Twain

Response to Review by Susan Hamburger

We are gratified to have the CPRR Museum singled out from among the billions of webpages as one of only twenty "Work and Labor History" websites worthy of review. However, Susan Hamburger's inaccurate Review of Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum is a stunning example of ingratitude, made up attribution, lack of respect for anonymous donors' wishes (and obsessing over her misinterpretation of the website's financing, the adjustable size of the type, and other technical trivia) while saying almost nothing about the railroad and mentioning the thousands of pictures as if only in passing. (By way of contrast, the foremost modern transcontinental railroad historian and author called our CPRR Museum "the best RR website on the planet.") Susan Hamburger's hostility to an example of the "public history" that she espouses is inexplicable. Embarrassingly, in just about the only mention of the subject of our website, the reviewer apparently confuses [now corrected at our request] the Central Pacific Railroad which was built mostly by Chinese workers with the Union Pacific Railroad which was built mostly by Irish workers and mistakenly takes us to task because we have much more information about Chinese than Irish workers. (Also many of the caucasian workers on the CPRR were not Irish.)

When reading the reviewer's desire for a chronological or alphabetical "organization" a nightmarish vision emerges of her reworking the Smithsonian or the American Museum of Natural history into a solitary deadly boring long dark alphabetical corridor with Aardvarks at the entrance, near astrophysics, and zebras at the far end of the exhibit hall, or with the big bang at the entrance followed chronologically by dinosaurs, medieval armor, Picasso's, and space flight near the exit. What utter nonsense! – if Dr. Hamburger thinks her library is arranged as she recommends, she must be standing in the fiction section. (The reviewer is Penn State University's Manuscript Cataloging Librarian.) If she really wants a linearly organized ordered presentation, rather than a website, no doubt her library already has a copy of David Bain's wonderful book.

With a Ph.D. in history and apparently holding herself out as an expert in web design, the reviewer boasts a home page which has received exactly 443 visitors since November, 1997. The reviewer's homepage links to a resume listing her six websites, but four are broken links, one a minor local commercial venture, and one a conference site – but despite having years of responsibility for the manuscript collections of great universities, for which she was presumably paid a salary – we can find not a shred of evidence of her having lifted a finger to place any of the historic documents in her care on-line, while our volunteers have placed thousands of images and pages of historical treasures for all the world to appreciate — with the exception of her on-line documentation of her Bruce Springsteen tapes which is not quite state-of-the-art.

The web is the perfect medium for content disintermediation – obsoleting the officious librarian who cares nothing for the subject while perpetually at war with the patrons to maintain the ideal of a perfectly ordered collection locked away beyond view in the closed stacks – lest the content be (gasp) untidily unshelved by the "unqualified." (Hint: Our intended audience is anyone who cares! – and fortunately, our CPRR Museum has delighted well over a million visitors who tell us so in large numbers.) The reviewer's notion that only the 4th grade classroom game is useful for students is also downright foolish – a better guess would be that our website is used by more than a thousand students each day.

It is beyond us how Hamburger can claim that there is no introduction when there is a section clearly labeled "Introduction." Hamburger also fails to appreciate that on the CPRR.org website which has thousands of pages, the Welcome and Home pages actually provide the introduction, leading up to an introductory article, followed by a series of selected supplemental introductory articles which can be consulted by the visitor.

The reviewer states that "technically, the quality of the images is superb" which she then summarizes (completely missing the point) as a complaint that our images do "not conform to digital archival standards." She whines at length, complaining that our website is "extremely disorganized" and has lots of links in apparent ignorance of the obvious fact that the web by its nature lacks linear organization – but despite this is great fun to peruse and is extremely useful because searching and cross referencing is so easy – and fails to appreciate that a major portion of our home page consists of nothing but organization in the form of extensive topic outlines, or that the FAQ's explain the organization and search methods. This review, hypocritically, on a website stating "selections are arranged in no particular order, and you may scroll down the page or utilize the ... links."

More to the point, she is the only one of more than a million visitors to express such "criticism." The actual visitors completely disagree with her views, and contrary to the reviewer's claim include wildly positive evaluations by expert railroad historians. It also doesn't occur to Dr. Hamburger that our "mission" is precisely stated in big letters at the top of each page: "Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum." She also misses that ample chronological organization is provided, but that undated pictures can't be displayed chronologically. Other examples of the extensive organizational aids provided on our website are an index showing the many exhibits, and organized guides to the photograph catalogs, ephemera and collectibles, engravings, railroad maps, and to our stereoview annex and archives, as well as a sitemap.

We are amazed that a manuscript librarian doesn't get the advantage of having the primary source material accessible to speak for itself and wants us to muck it up with an "authoritative narrative voice," presumably substituting misinterpretation and drivel for the real thing. Hamburger must take blame for the "several dead ends and broken links" and the "occasional typographical error" for her failure to report them to us (which would have resulted in immediate correction).

The Reviewer's complaints sound as if she has never visited a real museum – where you just wander around and experience the joy of discovering the wonderful exhibits. We think that web search technology and linking provide instant access – and a degree of superimposed organization – far superior to that of any physical museum or library and say no thank you to her desire to make a visit to our award winning museum as structured and boring as a 4th grade field trip.

Note: The CPRR Museum has repeatedly requested that the Public History Resource Center include links to this response with Susan Hamburger's review and its summary.

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