Helping Fight Bad History

One thing about being a teacher for twenty-eight years is that it helps you develop a very strong bullshit meter.  Not that you would need much of one for this bit of nonsense.  In 1921, women in the US had gotten the vote, so there are no need to be a suffragette.  It may look like the women are eating pizza, but in the early 1920s, pizza was not the easily-obtained food that it is today.  And I’ve never, ever heard of groups of women eating to annoy men.

This photo was taken from Shorpy, where it is plainly labeled that the women are eating pie, something you can see for yourself in an enlarged view of the original.

We are all adults here, so I’m hoping I’ll not be bursting any bubbles when I tell you that you simply cannot believe everything you see – or read – on the WWW.  There are entire websites dedicated to exposing the fake and the falsely captioned.  It seems to be a huge losing battle, as the desire to make a twitter photo or a facebook post go “viral” is so much more important to many users than is the truth.

One of the great values of the internet is the ability to share information.  I’ve talked here many times about merely posting about an object or a clothing company is a fantastic way to collect information about it.  People who know the answers will find you, eventually, through Google.

Many people are using the internet to discover the “lost” stories of defunct fashion companies and to piece together the trends of the past.  Rubbish like the pizza-eating suffragettes only muddies the historical waters.

Of course ClassicPics could have simply repeated the caption from Shorpy, and even credited that site as the origin of the photo.  But what would be the fun in that?

My second beef with this twitter posting is the lack of a source.  The photo itself is quite interesting, and might be just the thing that a researcher needs to illustrate a paper or a presentation.  The problem then becomes finding the original source, something that one of the debunking sites had already done in this case, but would have taken me all day to figure out.

I’ve had that great blog post at Wynken de Worde on my mind, the one I posted a link to in last week’s Vintage Miscellany about the same issues I’m addressing here.  This really struck home yesterday when I spotted two of my photos on Instagram, both of which had been cropped, neither of which was attributed to me or to the copyright holder.  It’s disheartening that people who  profess to love fashion history are posting photos out of their true context, separating objects from their history.

For the most part I don’t mind if people use my images as long as a credit is given (and a link is even better).  That way if someone stumbles across one of my images elsewhere on the internet, they can follow the breadcrumbs back here to read more about the object.  It is a win for everyone concerned.  But images without a way to learn more about them steals a learning opportunity from the viewer and it robs me of a visitor to this blog.

I have gotten to the place where I’ll point out when an image was taken from my site.  I don’t like doing it because I always feel like I’m being a bit passive-aggressive in my approach.  But it is either that or silently fume, which is something I just refuse to do.


Filed under Viewpoint

18 responses to “Helping Fight Bad History

  1. You did good, Lizzie
    It is not expecting too much to get credit for a photo.
    Although it is a great picture… it makes me curious, toll what was the occasion for all those gals to be eating pie on the steps…in their bathing suits.
    My Mom had one of those suits in red wool and my Dad had a black one with large circles cut out under the arm holes. circa 1936
    I think the women’s suits came in various colors….but the men wore only black. Not sure…I was only 4.


  2. Agnes Gawne

    you should always post a message that an image used by someone else was originally yours – -I have wasted hours trying to track down the original source on images … that is the biggest failure of Pinterest and other sites is the lack of credit/source for the images. I want to know who won the pie eating contest!


  3. Leaving the pie aside (which is difficult), bravo for raising this issue, Lizzie; disinformation is probably the internet’s biggest commodity. I was recently researching the eighteenth-century writer Sarah Fielding for a short article, and searched online for her image. One painted likeness was peppered about the webs, but I failed to find a source, or a location for the painting, so began to smell a rat. It seems that this was a portrait of an anonymous woman, scooped up at some point to represent Sarah, though it’s almost certainly not her (for various reasons, not least the way she is dressed). Frustratingly, there is no known portrait of that author, but those images pop up all over the place – and this is in reasonably scholarly corners of the web where one might hope that a higher level of scrutiny would apply. Sloppiness is, unfortunately, everywhere – particularly where there is a strong desire to see what one wants to see, which can overrule a more measured approach.

    I’m also amazed how casual people are in appropriating other people’s images, without the courtesy of asking, or giving credit/linkage. Perhaps the basics of intellectual property law should be taught in school?


    • That story about Fielding’s “likeness” is disturbing.

      I left teaching 10 years ago, but even at that time kids (at least at my school) were being taught about copyright on the web. I do hope it is still being taught, and I’d bet it is. But the lure of easy money can override any feelings that something might not be the right thing to do. In the case of these numerous “history” twitters, they are being run by two guys barely out of their teens, who are turning all those likes and retweets into big bucks.


  4. Hah! I think I have seen this image with the “pizza” comment multiple times. I love Tumblr, but I hate that images are so often uncredited, or miscredited, and I have been known to go back and find the source for an image, and then repost it with a scolding remark about not crediting images (especially egregious, in my opinion, when it’s somebody’s original artwork, ugh).

    Having said that (and related to Scrapiana’s comment above), I have to admit here to having posted the wrong image of a writer once on my Tumblr. It was actually a photo of an actress portraying that writer in a play, and as soon as I realized my mistake, I went back and corrected it. I fixed it quickly, but there’s a prime example of how a well-intentioned idiot can spread misinformation on the internets.

    There’s a great Tumblr I follow called ohnofixit, and while they don’t deal with sourcing per se, they do correct some of the misinformation spread on Tumblr, often in a very entertaining manner.


    • First, thanks for the ohnofixit tumblr. I love it!

      Of course you fixed your mistake. That’s what decent people who care about history do.

      The pis-eating flappers are all over twitter as well, and I suspect that many of the accounts are actually run by the same group of nasties. Either that or they are constantly stealing from each other. People point out their mistakes all the time, with never a correction nor even an acknowledgement of the error. They do not care.


  5. I misidentified the name of a painting once and was sharply reprimanded by a blogger. I promptly corrected it and felt a bit naff. And a bit resentful (which is unreasonable of me as he was right and I was wrong–I think it was the scolding way he did it!) So I do try to be extra careful although in this big communal pin board world we live in it’s getting harder and harder. I prefer to use my own photos where I can which helps avoid these issues.
    Thanks for posting!


  6. Of course I’m on your side, Lizzie! And might I add that it would be helpful to have sources for people’s references as well as their photos. Sometimes I long for footnotes…


    • There are times when I’ve had the idea flit through my head about at least listing sources in my posts as I did in the old articles on my old website. I compromise by mentioning most of them in my text.


  7. I love the Vintage Traveler…YOU are THE Vintage Traveler…I especially love the B S Meter! Why is stealing other professionals knowledge and work so accepted and rewarded now?! The term “borrowed or reclaimed is also used w as a polite way of stealing! What it really translates to is lack of talent and originality!!!!


  8. May I digress from the larger point and comment that I wish I had some of those ankle-tied water shoes, impractical as they would be. Small wet knots are impossible to undo. But it’s a great look.


  9. Grrrr. Annoying. Didn’t we learn from Schoolhouse Rock that U.S. women got the vote in 1920, lol? Also, the word suffragette was generally used as a slur, referring to militant/violent protestors, mostly in Great Britain. Suffragist was the more generic term for women seeking suffrage.

    The pizza thing was a dead giveaway, too. My dad, born in 1928, told me about how, as a teenager, he and his buddies in Washington Heights (at the top of Manhattan, NYC) went all the way down to Little Italy when they got wind of “this brand new food that was becoming a real craze with the kids.” Each of them ate a whole pie — the first pizza they’d ever seen.


  10. Pingback: Bad History Is Now #fakehistory | The Vintage Traveler

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