Controversy and conflict in museums is the subject for this week. We begin with the controversy and politics surrounding the creation of museums before the content is even developed.
In From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement, Andrea Burns discusses the creation of various African American history museums in cities across the US. She emphasizes the origin of these museums in the Black Power movement as a response to the lack of black history in all other museums of the 1960s. She also focuses on the way these museums came from and interacted with their communities (and how that changed over time). She focuses on the founding of four museums in detail, including the African American Museum of Philadelphia (AAMP, which has a very different story from the others). She then discusses problems faced by these and similar museums in the 80s and 90s, involving the effects of the new social history movement and mainstreaming of the underrepresented into all museums. She ends by discussing the creation of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the opposition to it.
The conflict on where to put the AAMP raised some significant issues. In the case of the other museums, planners chose to put them in black communities to provide easy access to the community for visitation, events, and outreach. In Philadelphia, they wanted to put the museum in a white community, with the basis of that area once being a black community. This presents several problems, most important of which is accessibility: 6th and Pine is a decent walk from the Market-Frankford line, which visitors would probably have to transfer to from the Broad Street line ($3.60 total with tokens, probably a 40 minute journey including the walking), and wouldn’t it be better if they could simply walk to the museum from their domicile anyway? Certainly makes it harder to reach out to the community it serves. Second, the argument that is was once a black community isn’t strong enough, because before that it was a white community, and even belonged alternately to the Dutch, Swedish, and Lenape. Finally, the conflict exacerbated a disturbing trend of delegitimizing opposition by simply calling them racists (or sexists, or bigots, whatever) and thereby discrediting any argument and shutting down any dialogue.
In History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past, Edward Linenthal discusses the controversy surrounding the proposed Enola Gay exhibit. He documents the events from the idea to the initial refusal to change the script to all of its revisions to the eventual cancellation of the exhibit. I think the biggest problem here was the lack of care in creating balance in a time when America was fighting the culture wars.
"First we wonder, then we read" . . . SO TRUE!
In “Fred Wilson, PTSD, and Me: Reflections on the History Wars,” Ken Yellis discusses his thoughts on how museums should engage controversy. He argues there is a way and a need to do it well. He compares reactions to Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum, the failed Enola Gay exhibit, and his exhibit on swallows to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and why. I liked his challenges to museums: are we telling or showing? Are we didactic or seductive? Do we transmit data, or offer insights? I also like his idea of using objects to make visitors wonder, and therefore read. It rings so true for me: I chose public history because objects and real things attract me and get my interest far more than books ever will.
This week’s readings discuss some of the ways the National Park Service fails to incorporate recent academic history into their parks. Just as there is a genre of public history how-to manuals, there also seems to be a genre of books analyzing and criticizing the way the NPS operates. I feel sorry for them, they have pressure on all sides just to stay in operation, and here we are, scrutinizing their every move.
Cathy Stanton, in her book The Lowell Experiment : Public History in a Postindustrial City, deals with the way the NPS interprets Lowell. She begins with a study of the organization of the park, as well as the contest in Lowell for whose interpretation should be presented. She then engages the presented interpretation by describing the tours offered by the park. She concludes with her analysis that the site fails to connect its history to the present day in the interest of celebrating its past, and claims it is because those working at the site do not belong to the local community (but wait: do academics limit their studies to the communities they belong to?).
I’ve noticed several themes that are starting to repeat in our readings, some which are mentioned here (including the tension between heritage and history, historians vs. the locals, historians vs. the NPS, and historians vs. administrators). When I see these themes, the historians are usually academics living in an ideal world, unwilling to recognize or reconcile with the tough realities of a real world where bills have to be paid to stay in operation, and new scholarship has to be made interesting and engaging if it is to reach the public. Perhaps our messages would be better received if we offered them as help rather than criticism, and were willing to compromise a little.
Some of her analysis doesn’t seem nuanced enough for me; although, to be fair, she may not have had enough writing space to fit more in. In any case, she writes that ignoring the conflict of freedom and slavery would “engender bitterness [and] deepen racial divisions,” and that addressing it would involve the public in “reflection upon a complex, contradictory story
relevant to the lives of twenty-first-century visitors to the park.” How can she know this? What if reflection on slavery actually engenders bitterness and deepens racial divisions? After all, both these things happened during Obama’s presidency. I would be wary of anyone who claims to know the cause.
The readings for this week are focused on museum education and included The Museum Educator’s Manual by Anna Johnson, “Museum-goers: Life-styles and Learning Characteristics” by Charles Gunther, the introduction to Teaching History with Museums: Strategies for K-12 Social Studies, and “Write and Design with the Family in Mind” by Judy Rand.
The Museum Educator’s Manual is a collection of essays by many different museum education professionals, but primarily by Anna Johnson. It is similar to some of the other manuals we have read for this class, which, as I began reading, made me wonder why this form of expert-written manual is so pervasive in the museum field. I concluded it was probably because the traditional format of academic classes is not very helpful for practical application in museum work, and professionals then must self-teach by reading these guides. Deciding this, I proceed onto page 2, and right there the book mentions its use and existence as a counter to the academic focus on theory over application.
The book talks at length about docents, especially how to properly train them so they can lead unique tours tailored to specific audiences, while still staying focused, on time, and engaging, without becoming bored themselves (which is especially important for volunteer docents).
In “Museum-goers,” Gunther begins with lots of theory about learners and learning styles. His focus, however, is on art museums, which may actually be harder to educate visitors in. The most useful part of this article is near the end, where he gives advice to museum professionals, including to consider the role even parking attendants play, using design and signage that helps decode the museum environment, and avoiding canned presentations in favor of visitor-tailored ones.
He also highlights the role of municipal governments, which we can’t always control. In 2008, the America on Wheels Museum in Allentown was founded with the understanding that Allentown’s waterfront building project would occur nearby, bringing visitors to the area. It’s 2016, and the project has yet to begin, as city resources were used downtown instead. Without the visitors, the museum has been struggling financially.
Teaching History in Museums discusses ways for museums to be effective in complementing primary and secondary education. It highlights many of the problems involved (such as standardized testing) but suggests these can be at least partially overcome. It also discusses why educators should choose museum visits, and how educators and museum professionals can collaborate to make museum visits very effective tools for teaching history—not just content, but the critical thinking and analysis skills too.
In “Write and Design,” Judy Rand deals with label writing and design for family-oriented exhibits. She describes family behavior in museums (hunter-gatherer packs seeking facts to bring to the group) and suggests strategies to engage these behaviors. She proposes a method of label writing designed to create labels that can be read aloud by parents to children, without sounding forced and without parents having to translate. As persuasive as she is on properly engaging families, I wonder about other visitors. Do we neglect them when we focus on families? What is the proper balance between content for family visitors and regular visitors?
This week's readings were focused on oral history. Most historians I know light up with joy and excitement when oral history is discussed, and for good reason. However, as my historical interests range too far in the past for oral history to apply, it isn't very helpful to me academically for studying my topics of choice. However, as a public historian, it is important for me to understand its opportunities and limitations.
In his article, When Community Comes Home to Roost: The Southern Milltown as Lost Cause, Leon Fink showed how sometimes, community-based public history/oral history projects can sometimes go far astray from the historian’s intentions and into territory we wholeheartedly condemn. He focused on a case where a couple and their historical organization (the Rumleys’ Cooleemee Historical Association) took the methods and focus of historians on doing history from the bottom up, and used them for heritage and nostalgia rather than history.
Part of his discussion is on the contrast between history and heritage. While heritage’s enthusiastic celebration of the good and neglect of the bad is extremely problematic, and comes at the cost of real history, sometimes I think maybe we should relax and remember good things did happen alongside the bad. Sometimes, it seems like we are only concerned about the bad and neglect the good, at the cost of real history.
In the first few chapters of A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History, Michael Frisch discussed several issues relating to oral history and public history. Though a review of Hard Times (by Studs Terkel), Frisch explored the many dangers and pitfalls of oral history and the way it interacts with public memory. While he admitted Terkel was not trying to write a history, but share memories, he showed how historians could easily fall into traps using oral history if not careful and prepared. He extended a useful warning at the end—when we develop shiny new methods of inquiry and research, it is important to use them critically and carefully. We can embrace them, but with proper analysis first.
In further chapters, Frisch discusses the nature and motivations of public history (and within that, oral history). He is concerned the typical reasons we give for why we do public history are not enough. I agree it is important to consider the why of things, but at the end of the day, most of us got into history in the first place because we are interested in it. I doubt anybody woke up one day and thought, I want to make people explore what it means to remember and how memory and history interact; I’ll go to college and become a historian! And I doubt anyone who isn’t a historian will be persuaded to become one by that line. While I see nothing wrong with deciding to include this as a why of public history work, I think we should still be honest with ourselves and others that we do history in part because it interests us, or at least admit that interest was our initial draw to history.
In the essay, When Subjects Don’t Come Out, Sherrie Tucker discussed her experience conducting oral interviews of band members belonging to all-women jazz ensembles of the big band era. She faced many unique problems trying to get her interviewees to talk about their sexuality, while they cunningly avoided all talk of their sexuality and instead focused on their musicality. She ended up in many ambiguous situations where it was impossible to discern the sexualities of her subjects, as some evidence pointed one way, some the other, and they stick hard and fast to being straight, so much so that it seems excessive. She analyzed the factors which would prompt them to do this in their context (need to appear temperate in order to keep their jobs) and discussed the distress their refusal to admit anything but straightness has caused her in her scholarly research.
While there are plenty of places to go with this reading, I noticed the huge disconnect between what the historian wanted and what her interviewees wanted. Tucker wanted to fit into recent trends in historiography, and presumably has a great interest in studying gender and sexuality. The women wanted to tell the history of their musicality and experiences as swing musicians, just as has been done for their male counterparts. It raises the question: do we owe them that? Should we document that history first, and then the history of their sexuality (given the first has been denied them)? Or can we fairly do both at the same time?
Our final reading was The Oral History Manual by Barbara Sommer and Mary Quinlan. I’ve long since run out of space but, this is similar to some other manual-style readings we’ve done (Serrell) and useful in similar ways.
This week I am discussion leader for class, so my discussion will be twice as long as usual. Our readings were all about preservation.
In The Power of Place, Hayden argued that historic preservation needs to be more diverse and inclusive. She also argued for a need for collaboration and interdisciplinary work.
She began by outlining a public argument between a sociologist and an architect over the state and nature of preservation. She broke down the ways in which their different disciplines result in complete failure of communication—not only do they have different priorities, they also attribute different meanings to the same words (ex. vernacular). This highlights the need for collaboration and understanding between the disciplines (especially in a field like preservation which is so interdisciplinary) and sets the stage for the rest of her book. I think these are valid points, and that we have become more interdisciplinary over time. However, I think we still struggle to compromise or accept other viewpoints when they challenge what we think is important (social history, for example).
Hayden continued by explaining what the power of place is—or what it could be. Although focused on urban places specifically, she argued that a powerful form of memory is preserved in the built environment, and we can use that memory to generate interest in history while promoting respect, diversity, and inclusion by reinforcing common membership in urban American society. She saw preserved places as a space to build shared civic identity, and criticized preservation for only preserving more elite spaces to the detriment of poorer communities (who then lose that shared identity). She suggests we preserve more varied building types (ex. union halls) and implement creative interpretations. I like the idea of building shared civic identity, and I agree the built environment is an excellent place to do it, but it definitely comes in conflict with other historical prerogatives. Viscerally telling the true tale of slavery, for example, would be very divisive and create two very different civic identities. What are we ultimately accountable to: history, or the consequences of the way we tell it? I hope there’s a way we can tell controversial history without the potential negative repercussions for society.
Next she addressed the how of interpretation of places. She advocates community-based public history projects where the academics share authority with the community. One way to do this is via oral history, such as that conducted in the Brass Valley project. She also suggests partnership with artists and environmentalists. She concludes that while community projects come with a difficult set of challenges, they ultimately don’t need to be expensive and they have a broad reach. I am concerned that in areas with new immigrants, this might not work at all. What connection do they have to 1900s buildings other than currently living there?
In Bending the Future, Page and Miller compiled essays from many specialists in preservation or fields relating to it. They provide an overview of responses in their introduction.
At the beginning, the authors highlighted some of the themes they saw in the essays, including a new focus on social justice, the role preservation played in creating current problems and ways to address that, concerns and ideas on how to open, expand, and/or democratize preservation, as well as how to modify or confront existing laws and regulations regarding preservation. I know most historians and preservationists have good intentions, but sometimes we are blind to the current realities of the ground. I worry that sometimes by leaving history and moving into social work we enter an arena we aren’t trained for and because of that our good intentions can easily produce bad results. Then again, I may be wrong, but I’m not sure if we ever stop to think about it.
Other concerns discussed refer back to Hayden’s concerns involving inclusion, grassroots projects, and a worry about the centrality of architecture as a reason for preserving buildings. There is a concern that the demographics of the profession do not reflect the demographics of the public. I’m not sure if it is possible to make the demographics reflective. We can’t force people to be interested in preservation careers—we could offer incentives, but as it is we already lack extra cash. Plus, doesn’t the process of academic training make them elites anyway?
They also discuss some interesting and unique proposals. One suggests a system of rotational preservation: a city completely preserves certain sections for an amount of time, then rotates those sections to allow demolition and construction. Creative, but no one would allow a system that permits destruction of places like Independence Hall. It does raise the issue of when we should let buildings die. Another radical idea suggests we take the power of demolition away from property owners and require them to obtain government permission first. I hope this is just an exercise in being provocative; otherwise, it seems very dangerous to the economy, and to preservation—a fear of buying property might result in a retreat from cities. Buildings which might have been reused or even just maintained, without owners, fall into disrepair.
Much like Hayden’s, Hurley’s work, Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities recounts his inner city public history projects, and agues for community-based, inclusive preservation work. While very similar to Hayden in his initial arguments, Hurley introduced the idea of pubic archaeology as another tool (alongside oral history etc). He also placed priorities on inner cities, but his wording brought up another issue: what about suburbs? Levittowns, for example, had a major impact on the development of the middle class and suburbia. Should they be preserved?
Hurley cited College Hill in Providence and Georgetown in Washington DC (p7) as places where preservation ordinances caused gentrification. I doubt they could be the sole cause for this change. As he mentions in the case of Georgetown, the old houses were going to be demolished instead of restored. Gentrification was going to happen anyway; at least we saved some buildings.
What I found most interesting about these readings is they were all published across a 20 year timespan, yet they all raise similar issues. Is preservation now a static field?
So this week we worked on drafts for our labels for the Independence Seaport Museum. It's by no means perfect, but here's mine so far:
Imagine standing in mud, soaked from head to toe, fingers numb from cold, hungry enough to eat rats, while artillery shells scream overhead. To top it off, boredom has set in. This was life for many soldiers. How did they cope? Humor.
Humor in WWI was often spread in soldier newspapers, such as the British The Wipers Times. There was extensive use of satire, irony, and gallows humor, all which served to lighten the mood, relieve stress, and build solidarity among soldiers through common experiences. On the Olympia, Keck drew several humorous cartoons. Olympians no doubt joked around regularly.
My typical writing process for papers obviously wasn't going to work here, so I was at a bit of a loss how to start. I first wrote a simple label, which I since completely trashed. However, writing that gave me a sense of the key ideas I wanted to articulate--and from there, I started on this draft. I thought back to Serrell and decided to engage the reader with their imagination, to draw them in. I drew on my own experiences of being miserable and knowledge of trench warfare to craft a scenario of misery, then reworded it several times to condense it and streamline it. After that, I took the key ideas I wanted to express and smashed them into the most concise yet readable and understandable sentence I could, then finished by bringing it back to the Olympia. This section I also edited several times.
Since I only have 100 words, I'm hoping readers can decipher the satire of a trench newspaper called The Wipers Times. I also wanted to engage modern soldier humor, such as that found on Duffel Blog (basically a modern Wipers Times for the US military) and in military memes found on Instagram and Facebook. However, I decided both of these were less crucial to my label and thus excluded them.
This week's reading was Creating Exhibitions: Collaboration in the Planning, Development, and Design of Innovative Experiences by Polly McKenna-Cress and Janet A Kamien. The work discusses how to create an exhibit, from start to finish. As the title suggests, it highlights collaboration as a tool and force multiplier which, when used correctly, results in epic exhibits. The book begins by discussing the need for, advantages, and pitfalls of collaboration, and the essentials to good collaboration (including self-evident things such as trust, mutual respect, commonly agreed on goals, &c). The authors divide the team undertaking this process into several advocacies (citing the difficulty and unsuitability of using job titles). These include the advocate for the institution (the client), the advocate for subject matter (ex. a curator), the advocate for the visitor (ex. a developer or planner), the advocate for design (ex. exhibit design team), and the advocate for the project and team (ex. project manager). The succeeding chapters go into each advocacy in detail, then the book ends with discourses on process. The book argues that for consensus to work, everyone on the team must know their roles as advocates and how all the roles fit together.
In terms of tone, the book (first part especially) reads like the typical business leadership book, even referring to visitors (quite rightly) as customers--an easy parallel to consumers. I have no problem with this. Part of being interdisciplinary can certainly mean adopting some of the methods of successful businesses, right? However, some of the language of the book seemed overly dramatic. The beginning suggested that museums have a unknown future, in a way suggesting they might be headed for extinction. Whatever happens I don't think it will come to that. As the book goes on, there are several references to museums' survival being at stake. I'm not sure what the point of this was but it first took me by surprise, and then became almost comical. The book, like Exhibit Labels, also brings in outside experts and examples. Many of them are from Philly (the Independence Seaport Museum and Franklin Institute make many appearances). Overall, most of the book rang true to me and to my experiences with teamwork and leadership outside the public history world (except obviously the museum-specific content).
There were no readings for this week, hence the title. So, I will talk about other projects for class instead.
First, we are writing some labels for the Independence Seaport Museum (ISM). The focus is on the ship USS Olympia. My label is on the way soldiers used humor to cope with hard situations. To that end, I've done some preliminary research on soldiers and humor (specifically referring to WWI, the era of the USS Olympia we are focusing on). I have found one thing: the best way to take the fun out of humor is to read a scholarly article on it. Hopefully my finished label will be better than that.
I was able to uncover the story of soldiers' newspapers, which often contained humorous stories or cartoons (especially in the British case). Also, ISM's collection contains some humorous cartoons (drawn by a seaman on the Olympia), which provide some insight and could be displayed alongside my label.
Besides this, we are also doing the pre-planning for a Philadelphia project on the Spanish Influenza for its 100th anniversary (which I mentioned in a previous post). For this, I will be contacting Haverford and Villanova, as well as the Philadelphia History Museum, in order to find collections and objects we can use for interpretation.
Which brings me to the reason we didn't have readings this week: Mireya Loza came to Temple to give a talk on her work on the Bracero program, and we went to it as a class. What I found most interesting about it was her perspective as a former academic historian who became a public historian. She had recently entered public history work, and commented on the vast differences, mostly noting necessary teamwork as well as the limited resources. I also like the way she took an unconventional approach to her book, starting with the oral histories then moving to the archive. I think, as a method, it is valuable as it could help avoid moving towards pre-chosen conclusions (by selection bias in the archive), especially as she noted the surprising things the braceros told her which redirected her research to new and more innovative directions (such as the ability to redefine heritage [from indigenous to mestizo] or the bracero view of the Mexican government being as responsible for exploitation as the American growers). As far as public history goes, I think the practice of conducting oral histories is in itself a form of historical outreach, and also a powerful tool when used to educate the succeeding generations.
a It’s Saturday night, and most people are out having fun. Graduate students, like this one, didn’t always have that luxury. Many times they spent nights at home or the library alone, reading. Often, their lives were dominated by reading or discussing books.
Given my above attempt at label writing, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the reading for this week was Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell. The work is a highly useful manual and how-to guide not only for writing the actual content of labels, but for a variety of topics in exhibit development and design ranging from creating a big idea to font choices to incorporating digital devices to evaluating exhibits through visitor feedback. Moreover, it is not made up only of Serrell’s ideas on all these things; rather, she incorporates the ideas of many others who have extensive experience (for example Judy Rand is mentioned repeatedly), and she includes many real-world examples as well as related studies. This makes it very valuable as a resource and guide for anyone working in or with museums.
One of the critical themes she discusses is the use of a ‘big idea’ to guide exhibits. This is handy tool in every stage of exhibit development. It is essentially a concise sentence with a subject, verb, and so what which is used to ensure everything in an exhibit is tied to one primary theme, giving it a unified message that is straightforward and relevant and enables a visitor to leave the exhibit with a clear idea of what it was about. It also encourages the visitor to engage with the exhibit in many more ways than if it was a jumbled mess of many unconnected ideas. Serrell decided the concept was important enough to start the book with, and refers back to it many times in the rest of the book, and I think she was right to. To me, the ‘big idea’ seems extremely helpful in designing and defending exhibit designs, so long as the exhibit team can agree on it and has the discipline to stick to it (not meaning it can’t change but that everything must tie back to it).
One of the other things I like about this book is its format. Throughout, there are concisely presented bullet lists which could be used like checklists for drafting and revising labels. In the text around these lists Serrell elaborates on them and provides the why (which is always important for me at least, not just for understanding but also for motivation). On top of that, she includes many examples of what right looks like from actual exhibits that were done well (and sometimes she shows them as they evolved or compares them to bad exhibits). All these things make it a great tool for label writers and exhibit designers to keep nearby and reference as they go about their work.
All this raises the question: if such a useful resource for label writing exists, backed up as it is by studies and other experts, why are there still so many poorly written labels around? I guess there’s no way to avoid it: simply, it’s really hard to write concise, easily-understood short stories that reference displayed objects, engage readers, while still discussing often complex ideas and interpretations tied to a larger theme. Even with Serrell to guide me, I had trouble only attempting half of that in the simple label I began this with, and it still could be improved.
Add to such a difficult task limited time, funds, and training, as well as the demands of boards of directors etc., and I begin to appreciate even the mediocre labels that are out there. I may have started with the plight of the grad student, but I will end with the plight of the label writer. At least (for the most part) they get paid.
The only reading for this week is The Great Influenza by journalist John Barry. He starts by describing the history of medicine up to the outbreak, especially focusing on the shift from the way medicine was practiced (if it should even be called that) in the early and mid 19th century to the scientific and professional practice of medicine which began (in America) towards the end of the 19th century. He discusses in depth the formation of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the ways which it changed the field of medicine, and how it prepared American medical professionals for the upcoming epidemic. He credits most of this work and transformation to William Henry Welch,
He then goes on to explain the science behind the virus and the way it works. He argues the Spanish flu first appeared in Kansas, and was then spread to Europe by American soldiers. He next deals with that by discussing factors that enabled its rapid spread because of the American mobilization for World War I. He continues to document the flu's spread and mutation in Europe, and of course to the civilian population of America. He argues the epidemic could have been better dealt with by public officials, and their duties to the war inhibited their ability to fight the lethal virus in the social and political realms.
This book is problematic for several reasons. Based on discussions I've had I'm sure my classmates will elaborate on many of them vehemently and in depth. I will take a different tack. I'm not sure what the broader historical community (beyond my classmates) thinks of this book, but I noticed it is quite well reviewed by average people. This is a bit of a conundrum for public historians. We see and focus on the book's many problems, but it somehow has popular acclaim with the audience we want to reach. Why? Is it because the book is written by a journalist to be accessible to the general public and sold as history (despite not being as rigorous in its sourcing and citations as a history book should be)? At the same time, plenty of books written by historians are written primarily for other historians and are not very accessible to the general public. Is it possible to bridge this gap? I think it is. How do we do it? Maybe we can convince some of our academic historian brethren to write more often for a broader audience. Or, we can simply rely on our roles in museums, programs, etc. to reach our audience and augment books. And for the public who prefer to see and experience rather than read, we have to continue to implement other ways to bring history to them.
This brings up the topic of Spanish flu research we are doing as a class for our project. For this, I have been focusing on finding primary sources such as photographs and objects (I noticed my classmates already dug up plenty of newspaper articles and other print sources and decided to try to augment that with pictures and objects). Focusing on Philadelphia, the Mutter Museum was a natural first choice to look at. However, their collections are not accessible online, so communication with them will be necessary to determine if they have objects relating specifically to the Spanish flu.
However, I have had success in finding photograph collections not local to Philadelphia. Since the military played such a large role in the Spanish flu, I decided to try my luck with the National Museum of Health and Medicine, which has a large collection of medical records, photographs and objects related to the US Army. There I found three collections of photographs and charts relating to the Spanish flu (the collections guide is accessible here). They also have an online exhibit on the 1995 reconstruction of the virus.
Unfortunately, so far I have had less success with photos of civilians, which is probably the direction we will head with our work. I found some in the Library of Congress, mostly taken in DC (including some demonstrations of using stretchers), among a few others here and there. There should be a google search for objects and photos—I can find plenty of digital pictures, but locating real hard copies is harder. Fortunately, we still have plenty of time to build our resources.