Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"What Kind of Museum are We?" Peabody Essex Museum Tries to Mix Diverse Cultural Items

A magnifying glass to look at small details of a painting can also
be a fun element for a child at a museum. 
Yesterday I attended the exhibit "Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks" at the Peabody Essex Museum with my young daughter. Let me begin by saying that we both had a great time. PEM always tries to play to diverse audiences. It was recognized a few years ago as one of the ten best art museums in the country for children. Beyond its special Art and Nature Center for kids, it lives up to its reputation for this age group by providing diverse ways to interact with exhibits. My seven year old was particularly thrilled with the idea of using a magnifying glass to see the details of the Dutch paintings and though I tweeted about my nervousness related to the use of magnifying glasses so close to paintings, I was impressed with the idea myself. I can continue to sing praises about the museum and this special exhibit, but that has been done all over the Internet. "Golden" has been praised by the New York Times. It certainly doesn't need my voice added to that. Instead, I want to focus on an anomaly in the exhibit that I think is indicative of the museum, archives, and library world(s) today.

Tucked in the corner of one of the last rooms of the exhibit we visited was a Dutch book from the 17th century. It called to me, but it seemed to attract few other people. And now, I wish that I had taken notes about it. I can not find any information on the Internet about its inclusion in the exhibit. I'm not even sure exactly what it was. My daughter was running toward paintings with flowers in them and I had to scurry on my way. But I keep thinking about this item. I wonder why it was there. The label copy in "Golden" was fabulous overall in that it provided much information about Dutch life, artists, and ideas. The interactive computer modules were also inspired. I learned so much about the time period, but the emphasis was clearly on placing paintings and furniture in context. Why was the book included here? What was it trying to tell me? How did it relate to the paintings? How did it help place them in context? What did it tell us about Dutch life during this period?

Short thought-provoking labels are inspiring. Sometimes less
detail is more.
My daughter and I take turns choosing what exhibits to see at a museum. After we visited "Golden" she chose "Eye Spy Playing with Perception." This exhibit is located in the same area of the museum as the kids center. It emphasized a teaching approach, asking questions about what we saw and encouraging a dialog with the exhibit. The exhibit showed art. Books were placed about to help us learn more about what we were seeing. Videos explained more. All these elements were woven to help us better understand what we viewed and to make the exhibit fun. To me, this exhibit encouraged more communication with the pieces it included than the Dutch exhibit. It was thought provoking in a way that the Dutch exhibit didn't always quite reach. It explained the interplay between arts and sciences. It explained the artists' influences. It used multiple media seamlessly. Nothing was stuck in a corner as a sort of afterthought because it was part of a "collection." Everything related to everything else. Short bursts of words invited us to think about these relationships, to maybe even discover something that the curator didn't point out to us directly. To be fair, the diversity of included objects encouraged that, but that is my point. The items we include in an exhibit should be diverse enough to create that kind of learning opportunity. The time of the idea of "high art" is over. There is no reason a fine art exhibit cannot be more all inclusive.
The camera captures this Campbell's soup can
made of spools of thread. The human eye does
not view these details unless we look into the
glass ball included by the artist.
As we left the museum, we were invited to take a survey. One question jumped out at me. It said something similar to, "What kind of museum do you think the Peabody Essex is?" This seemed key to how I viewed the work they were  doing and also key to the future of all museums. PEM is clearly an art museum. It is also a history museum with a special room devoted to New England Maritime Art and History. They also incorporate natural history in their kids' section....PEM is a pleasant mixture of diverse culture. Does their audience really care what kind of museum they are? Shouldn't museums of the future focus on inspiring and educating us through diverse cultural means? Why does a museum need to be one thing or another?

And I return to the strangeness of the book in the corner of the Dutch exhibit.... Museums, libraries and archives need to become more comfortable crossing into each other's spheres. Books, archives, art, and artifacts all relate and should do so seamlessly. Items made by people who are influenced by the world around them reflect society no matter what their format, but sometimes institutions falter when they try to make this point. We need to be clearer in our own minds about these relationships. Whether we are curators, archivists, or librarians we need to recognize that all of the actions and products of our lives and our environments can inform our knowledge about our past. Making these connections should be a central part of what a cultural heritage institution does.

Last year I wrote about the exhibit at the Museum of Our National Heritage called Jim Henson's Fantastical World. This exhibit creatively used archives and artifacts to illuminate its subject. I refer you back to my posting about it because more museums should be working this way in my opinion. Peabody Essex is on its way. I hope that they make it over the hump. I hope that is where their survey leads them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Stone Workers?

My husband and I had a fun time conjecturing about this photo and I am interested in hearing your opinions about it. Found in a shop in north central Massachusetts, this image shows men pausing from work to pose as a group. At first, I thought this image depicted blacksmiths in their shop. There are tools similar to those I've seen at local county fairs behind the gentleman on the upper right. At the fair they use them as tongs to hold the metal to be shaped in a fire. My husband noted that a blacksmith would likely wear clothes that are more protective than the cotton aprons most of these men wore. We then supposed that they are perhaps stone cutters. The blocks on the right of the picture may even be big chunks of stone. My husband noted that such men would need to sharpen their tools using the same items as blacksmiths, so I might be correct about the metal tools I first noted. 

Based on past forays into immigrant archives, I know that stone masons were in demand for a wide variety of work in the Massachusetts area. The images I've seen of such laborers show these men at work rather than posed as a group. I think it speaks to the comradery these men must have felt to be photographed in this way. The gentleman so prominently in charge of this group (at the center of the bottom row) likely took great pride in his team and the work that they did. Thinking about immigrant history, I wonder if he helped some of these men get into the country, making note of their special skills and perhaps serving as a sponsor?

This orphan photo leaves me with more questions than answers. Found amongst a pile of rather common portraits, this jumped out at me as unique. Does anyone out there have a collection of related material that may provide more information or that can substantiate or negate my suppositions about these workmen? 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Strengthening a Society's Identity

I was deeply moved by a recent episode of the Travel Channel's No Reservations. Chef Anthony Bourdain's show focuses on the food of a city or country and embraces it with the culture of the area. It is always an entertaining show, but sometimes it moves beyond entertainment into an important realm that highlights history and tradition in a way that gives viewers a new perspective on cultural identity.

Chef Bourdain's visit to Cambodia delved into the importance of preserving heritage to support communities and cultures. The last third of the episode included interviews with women who recalled their past and tried to reconcile it with their country's future. This segment that includes an interview with Sochua Mu is one of the most poignant pieces of the  show. It gives a brief history and moves into a frightening, but poetic and compassionate narrative describing Pol Pot's take over of the country in the 1970s and his attempt to establish his idea of a "Utopia.". Bourdain narrates, "First the past would have to be erased. 2,000 years of Cambodian culture and history came to an immediate end. It was declared year zero and everything that came before it was to be erased from existence. Literally overnight entire cities were emptied. Their inhabitants marched off to the countryside... Money was abolished, books were burned, families purposelessly broken apart...In the blink of an eye, an entire way of life over." The "No Reservations" team uses archival images to illustrate the story, emphasizing Bourdain's words and adding to their shocking realism.

A despot's attempt to control a populace by destroying cultural identity is not a unique ploy. It's been done over and over again in history. Archives such as those held by the National Archives of Cambodia preserve the legacy of destruction and help a group of people trying to heal. The International Council on Archives runs a working group to  share vital information about ways to protect archives of terror. The WITNESS blog has a special section for archiving human rights. Their very visible and obvious attempts to preserve stories that reveal injustices to humanity are bolstered by the work of people like Bourdain.

Bourdain's abilities to understand the role of tragedy in reshaping identity and to transfer his understanding in an entertaining way is invaluable. Bourdain reminds us that our heritage - our food, our buildings, our stories - are a continuing thread through generations. Interrupted by events beyond our control, our lives press on as we hold on to memories and traditions. We survive and fight to pass knowledge and values to descendants. Our archives stand as testimony to humanity's strength to continue. Those using archives to reveal truth about history and those who highlight a society's ability to withstand adversity or terror, serve to aid the resurgence of a populace's cultural identity.

Kudos to "No Reservations" for a job well-done.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Only Archivist in the Room

I was up and out with the sun this weekend
to attend the NEHA conference in Worcester
I very much enjoyed attending the spring session of the New England Historical Association Conference this weekend. I recently joined NEHA to widen my professional circle. As a proponent of cross-professional collaboration in the cultural heritage fields, this seems like an important group with whom to be networking. Composed primarily of academic historians, I figured this group would present me with alternate views about working with archival resources. I was right and also pleasantly surprised by my interactions.

The early conference sessions were presented by students pursuing PhDs in history fields. The first session I attended included a student presenter who had written a paper about a "Suffrage Coffee House" in Ayer, Massachusetts. She described the suffragettes in town who met there and the MIT educated female architects who renovated the coffee house building. My ears perked up because of past work I have done with the papers of Ida Annah Ryan, the first women to graduate from MIT with a Master's in Architecture and an active suffragette. (I've even written briefly about Ida Annah Ryan in this blog.) Some of her records are housed in Waltham and I was able to share this with the writer at the end of the session. She seemed genuinely interested in pursuing the paper trail to see if there is a strong connection to her architects. I felt like I was doing an archivist's work outside of the archives, steering a researcher to records that would help her scholarship. There is a lot to be said for archivists making themselves more visible outside of institutions in this way.

The second speaker in my morning session discussed clothing of middle class women in the late 19th century. (As an aside - It seems my month has been packed with clothing history, something to which I paid little attention before. My mind is now whirling with ideas about fashion's place in an historical context.) The student based her talk on a clothing collection that has been passed down through her family. She has photos of her great-great grandmother wearing some of the clothes at her home in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts. The story wove ideas about femininity, middle class identity, home life, shopping, advertising, and more. I was fascinated by the interplay of the clothing artifacts with the photos she showed. I was very curious about the provenance. How did she know from whom all these clothes came?  The photos were a strong clue, but was there more documentation? The student said that she did talk with her advisor about this problem. She is not sure if her ancestor owned the clothes that she was photographed in or if they were borrowed. She also does not have photos of the woman in all of the items that came down to her. She recognized that some of them may be from another person, perhaps her great-great grandmother's sister, who was also a relatively small woman. I also asked about the storage of the clothes. Were they passed down in a big (romantic) trunk or were they hanging in a closet. She laughed and said that they were in cardboard boxes. It was clear that my questions were outside the initial curiosity of my fellow conference attendees. Here I was focused on the objects and their care as much as I was attentive to the story.

It was kind of nice being the only archivist in the room. I realized that I could learn a lot from the historians and that I have a lot to offer them. At lunch I sat at a table with the plenary speakers. These included professors and a U.S. park ranger. (I was not the only non-scholar, but I was the only archivist.) We talked about students and how they learn. We talked about  a web site one of the professors has designed to link these students to online information about primary sources. The plenary session focused on immigration, so these historians are very interested in the types of resources I encounter every day that talk about the "average" person's experience.

I hope that my membership in NEHA will be expanding for me and for the group. There are over 800 members, so I'm sure there must be another archivist among them - at least I hope so. My focus on the protection of resources dovetails nicely with their work. I hope to raise awareness about how similar we are and how we can help each other. Working with historians (and genealogists, and oral historians, and film documentary professionals, etc, etc.) will strengthen our ability to preserve and promote our heritage. Thank you NEHA folks for a wonderful time!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Easter Merchandising

And now for a little spring fun...

In February I posted about a Majestic Theater Playbill I found. At the time I purchased that item, I also purchased this little gem from the Hollis Theater.  It is dated April 9, 1900. The one-hundred-eleven year old paper is brittle, but in otherwise good condition.  I have admired the gorgeous cover art sitting on my desk and it is time to put it away. A quick thumb through the booklet reveals some timely, just in time for Easter, information. Theater-goers were coaxed by Early spring ads to purchase hats and gloves for the upcoming holiday. They were also thrust into Easter merchandising with ads for confections and "fancy neckwear."

Boston's beloved Filene's ad caught my eye, marketing style and economy for "The correctly gowned woman." According to a Study Report I found online dated 2006, the first building on Washington Street at the Filene's complex in which I once shopped was erected in 1905, post-dating my playbill. This is an interesting history to explore further. Within the report, photos from the Boston Public Library's Filene's archives have images from the earlier building. The report states that, "By 1890, Filene had consolidated the Winter Street stores in a five story building at 445-447 Washington Street."   According to the report, Filene's included 445-463 Washington Street soon thereafter. I wonder about the 447-449 address in my ad, but I'll leave this little mystery to someone else.... Check out the Filene's display windows pictured in the report too. They are fascinating.

I purchased my Easter dress for this year at a vintage shop last week. The owner gave me a new found appreciation for clothing history. What a fun find these ads and the Filene's report were today! I hope that I will make the mark of a "correctly gowned woman" -- minus the gloves and hat.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flawed Stories and Diverse Perspectives Part II of II

This is fortuitous - A post on the archives listserv yesterday relates directly to my blog topic for today:

Don’t researchers have every right to create their own context [for the records they are viewing], and don’t they have the right for whatever context they create to be completely wrong? Aren't "flawed interpretations" the bread and butter of freedom? If researchers don't have a right to make “flawed interpretations,” do they really have any rights at all? Don’t researchers have a right to be wrong?

And when researchers are wrong (even, perhaps especially, when researchers are knowingly, deliberately, intentionally wrong), don’t archivists have an obligation to “butt out,” not correct them, not interfere, and let researchers make their own mistakes? At a fundamental level, isn’t the issue of whether a researcher draws "flawed" or "correct" conclusions from the archival record absolutely none of the archivist’s business, and wouldn’t it be profoundly unethical for an archivist to make it his business?...

Last week I talked about flawed stories based on missing documentation. As an example of a "flawed story" I discussed the differing memories that my mother and I have about a jewelry box she once owned. We have no photograph or contemporary record of the object, we only have different ideas about how it looked. This week, I will discuss diverse perspectives reflected in documents and how they lead to better interpretation. A flawed story results from lack of documentation or results from misinterpretation about the evidence before us.

A flawed story is not the result of logical and diverse thinking. Different people glean diverse information from the materials before them based on differing backgrounds. One can have a differing perspective about some materials, valuing a different aspect of something or taking away different lessons from it. A flawed story can result when we take our perspective and pervert it so that excludes other's points of view. A flawed story also results from a lack of knowledge about a topic that leads to misinterpretation. It can also develop because of inaccurate documentation. Other times, flawed stories develop from intentional efforts to deceive others.

"[An archivist aims to keep documentation that] preserves ideas for all facets of society and forms a documentary record that considers multiple strata of people and activities." [From Cultural Heritage Collaborators: A Manual for Community Documentation.] Archivists value diverse points of view and opinions. We seek materials that reflect multi-dimensional ideas so that others can come to informed conclusions based on a preponderance of historical documents. The more diverse perspectives we have about different events, the more accurate stories can be created based on the documents for which we care.  Multiple, truthful points of view presented in our archives lead researchers on a trail toward veracity.

Not all interpretations or perspectives based on accurate evidence are correct. We may even come to a conclusion based on senseless biases that taint our point of view despite the evidence before us. The Archives listserv post raises an interesting question. What role do archivists have in making sure that flawed stories don't result from the archives in our possession? I would add, what role do other record holders have in revealing "truth"? "Evidence" about history sits in archives repositories. It also sits in people's attics and basements. Our views about history sometimes change when new documents are uncovered that provide a diverse perspective. Who decides what is right and what is wrong? Sometimes it is painfully obvious, but is it an archivist's job to correct? I would argue that it is our job as archivists [or "citizen archivists"] to help provide more evidence and perhaps more diversity in the records that are available so that better conclusions might be drawn. It is the professional's role to help collect and provide access to materials that can offer diverse perspectives of the past so that humans can better understand themselves and better plan for the future.

I'll return to my simple example of my mother's jewelry box. Suppose we had a photograph of it, but my mother and I still disagreed on the color. Perhaps the lighting made the image unclear. Perhaps one of us is color-blind. One image cannot resolve our flawed story. However, if we had more images with different lighting or a contemporary diary entry that talked about the color of the box, this might resolve the issue. Or, perhaps we will need to find another account where someone besides my mother and me talk about the color of the box. This alternate perspective gives us a little more evidence about reality.

As I asked in my last post, "Does it matter if our stories are flawed?" It does because the truth and the multiple perspectives it takes to get us to that truth help us better understand who we are, how we relate to others and where we are going as a society. Collecting historical resources and encouraging their use by diverse populations is the only way we can uncover flaws so that society as a whole can correct them.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Flawed Stories and Diverse Perspectives Part I of II

One of the first memories I have of "history" is sitting with my mother in front of her jewelry box while she told me the stories behind each treasure. There were stories about my grandparents escape from Poland embodied in the my grandmother's amethyst. There was the story about my mother defying her dad to get her ears pierced. There was the story about the first token of love that my dad bought for his bride-to-be. Mom and I have reminisced about this time we shared together. We both treasure those memories and I have begun using my own jewelry box (though not as exciting as mom's) to communicate stories to my youngster. The stories I remember are probably flawed. In fact, when mom told the stories they were probably flawed. The stories are not written anywhere. They are memories. We often take these memories for granted until it is too late to make sure they are accurate. I was surprised when one of my memories about our time together did not match my mother's. I expect inaccuracies in the historical stories I hear. I do not expect inaccuracies in my own remembrances. This has effected me deeply enough to prompt me to write about it.

According to my memory, mom kept her jewelry in a blue Tupperware box. there was a large space below a removable tray that had compartments where she could store things separately. I remember it distinctly. Mom says that she never kept her jewelry in such a container. I can even picture the worn clear plastic top that we could zip around the edges to close the box. I even think that she gave this box to me for me to keep my own jewelry in at some point. We never took a photo of it. We never wrote anything about it during the years it was a central part of our mother-daughter bonding experiences. It's gone. It seems a valuable piece of a long ago story, flawed by my lack of documentation. Perhaps I can meld it into an amusing tale about the playful, yet somewhat serious, argument my mother and I had about this item. ("I distinctly remember it! How can I be losing my mind at age 40!")

As a mom, I am eager to record the most important memories of my family. As an archivist, I know this is a weighty task. Which memories do we value most? What tidbits make up the most important aspects of our lives together? What day-to-day events best reflect who we are, how we relate to one another and how we should be remembered? We all have flawed stories. Everything we know about history we know because someone recorded something. On a grand scale, what tales from the past have not been recorded? What keystones of historical truth never made it to an archival repository and thus never made it to historical record?

I have recently begun an earnest search for my own family genealogy. We have lots of missing information. Some of it I expect I may never find. I wonder the likelihood that records from my grandparents' destroyed Polish city remain. But I have identified the repository most likely to have the information that I need and I will put my family's historical fate into the hands of the archives there as I write overseas searching for an elusive marriage record. They just might hold the evidence that at least pulls some of my flawed stories together. The Archives stands for hope and truth.

Does it matter if our stories are flawed? I think it does. Archives protect the resources that elucidate actuality and thus help us better understand the circumstances surrounding humanity's actions. In so doing, archives help us better understand each other. From this place they allow us to more easily sympathize with others and better communicate with one another based on commonly shared knowledge. Though my argument with my mother over her jewelry box is not the end of the world, I am sure that I am right. She is sure that she is right. We have no proof. We have a small wedge of misunderstanding. Saving the "evidence" of our history is important on a broader scale for the same reason.

What happens when the "evidence" is contradictory? What if I have a picture of mom's jewelry box, but when we look at it, we interpret it differently? (I can picture the discussion: "Well that certainly looks like Tupperware to me!" "Not to me, it looks like velvet and it's red not blue!") Stay tuned next week as I consider diverse perspectives...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Teach the Young: Create Connections Binding Cultural Heritage

I was toying with whether or not I wanted to post this today. Then, @evolvingcritic posted on Twitter that today is National Arts Advocacy Day. It seems appropriate.


Once a month, I visit my daughter's classroom to take part in a series our school calls "It's A GAS."

"The Great Artist Series is an innovative and unique way in which your children learn about the Great Artists of our time. Volunteers will visit a classroom each month and discuss the life and times of an artist and then sponsor an art project which related to the artist’s style or medium."

When I was an art history student, I worked on stipend to write lesson plans similar to those provided to volunteers here. The idea behind this program excited me as a young woman, showing me an avenue for sharing my passion for arts and cultures with a younger generation. Today, as a cultural heritage professional and a mom, the program shows me the true power that art has over children, empowering them to be creative, encouraging them to consider the context of artist's creations, and helping them understand connections between themselves and a larger history.

Yesterday, I had the honor of introducing children to one of my favorite artists, Claude Monet. I headed to school in my little white car. I grabbed a large "Create and Barrel" bag filled with books, postcards, and art supplies from the passenger seat and popped open my purple umbrella to protect it all (and my hair that tends towards the frizzy) from the raindrops. It was a perfect misty Monet kind of morning.

I began by reading a children's book about Monet's work to the students. They enthusiastically raised their hands to interject stories about times they encountered his work in a museum or to tell me if they thought something was particularly beautiful. Then, the children eagerly sorted through postcards to find inspiration for an art project we did together after story time. They talked about color and light and painting outside.  The "oohs" and "ahs" over Monet's art work were enlightening. This quiet class that I am lucky enough to lead once every other a month for an hour is always attentive. They are always interested, but the reaction to this particular artist's work was beyond the norm. There was a true passion for what they were seeing that reverberated through the room. 

During our time together, I try to make connections between art and the larger world. A couple of months ago I discussed Louis Comfort Tiffany with the children. I brought in pictures of Tiffany with his children. I explained that these famous artists are just like us. They have families. They were once children with big dreams just like them. Each time I visit, I talk about how we preserve memories of the artists' by displaying their work, but also by keeping their letters, photographs, and even by maintaining their homes. I explained to the children that Monet's house in Giverny is still there and is open to visitors who wish to see the "real" waterlilies and bridge.

These connections are valuable to a child's understanding of history, culture, and the child's own place in the world. The connections cross disciplines and show the value of cross-professional collaboration to strengthen the overall value of cultural work by demonstrating the blanketing nature of the information that we have to share. Art is not just about the canvas. Art history is not just about the artist. It is a discipline among many forming a foundation for our understanding of humanity and what binds us.

One of Monet's powers was in his ability to see and show beauty in the world around us. The children immediately recognized and appreciated that vision. I think that the uplifting imagery spoke to their innocent view of the world. The children wanted to share the happiness they felt when viewing the images. They understood on a gut level the bond they felt to Monet. They connected his work to what they know and appreciate while demonstrating a curiosity for the artist's life and times. I watched them process the information I gave them when I explained  that the art they so immediately liked and identified as good work was not appreciated by the majority of the art world when the Impressionists first started showing their paintings.The children absorbed human ideas that were formed a long ago time, considered how ideas change, and sought to connect these ideas to themselves. I tried to drive home that they should trust in their own creativity and try new things.

For me, It's a Gas is more then learning about the "Great Artists of our times." It's a Gas is empowering kids to use art, history and stories to better understand their own place in the world. That is what cultural heritage work is all about - connecting the past to the future.

Happy National Arts Advocacy Day! 

Friday, April 1, 2011

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - World War One Soldier

Soldiers jump out at me when browsing through orphan photo collections in antique shops. Coveted by many collectors, the soldiers stand as representatives of events that we automatically recognize as historically significant. Their faces seem haunted by the context of their story. The photos that I usually find like this in a shop have nothing indicating the subject of, or the story behind, the picture. This one did and that is what attracted me to it:

"Rec'd at Brest, France. May 23, 1919. Waiting to sail for home U.S.A. Says (?) I'm sending this to give you a faint idea of what I looked like as a soldier."

The first thing I noticed was the slight silvering of the image. It has likely been kept next to an acidic piece of paper (perhaps an envelope?) in an inadequate environment for many years. Proper boxing and climate controls will slow down that deterioration.

I next noticed how young the soldier looks. I realized that I was placing this man in the context of my own life, when many people are starting to look "young" to me. In reality, the people who survived this war were about 70 years older than I. History is a funny thing in that one tends to transport oneself to the time one is contemplating. Portraits drive home the point that the person who looks back at us through the picture could have been someone we knew, if we were just born during another time. The people from history are not all that different from us.

World War I ended in November 1918. This image has the date May 1919. I therefore know that this soldier survived. He talks about what he "looked like as a soldier." He is through with his service. Some of the "haunted" feeling I got from a first glimpse at the gentleman's face is gone. I now feel relief.

I wonder why he sent this home to the U.S. and to whom. The postcard is not dated or stamped. Can I assume he sent it in an envelope? Was the writing on the back of the image written by him or copied from a letter by the recipient. The use of the word that I think is "Says" seems to indicate that maybe this was copied. Are the people to whom he is writing waiting for him overseas? Was he unable to write to them and send a photo during the war for some reason? He had his whole life ahead of him. What was he planning? As he wrote these words, was he too thinking about his service ending and wondering what came next - he looking forward and me looking back?
The last U.S. veteran of World War One died about a month ago.   Archives are working hard to preserve the legacy of the Great War. It becomes harder to preserve memories once the people who lived through the stories are gone.
Europeana, a collaborative project that gives access to Europe's cultural heritage, recently put out a call asking for help with World War One records:
Crowdsourcing history: European museums need your help to digitise World War One records is one example of ways professionals and non-professionals can work together to save our heritage. This project and similar ones in repositories around the world are part of the important work that cultural heritage professionals do to ensure that history is not forgotten.