|Over a century ago, Harpers Weekly
commented that advertisements were a true mirror of life, a sort of
fossil history from which the future chronicler, if all other historical
monuments were to be lost, might fully and graphically rewrite the history
of our time. Few if any historians today would claim that they could
compose a complete history of an era from its advertisements, but in recent
years scholars have creatively probed advertisements for clues about the
society and the business environment that produced them. The presence of
many excellent online collections of advertisements provides learners as
well as established scholars the opportunity to examine these sources in
new ways. The experience can be tantalizing and frustrating, since advertisements
dont readily proclaim their intent or display the social and cultural
context of their creation. Yet studying advertisements as historical sources
can also be fascinating and revealing.
Most of usavid consumers though we may bepride ourselves on being able to see through advertisements. We can interpret this phrase in several ways. Most simply, we see through ads when we are oblivious to themwhen we look right past them, as we do with most ads we encounter daily. Much of what advertising professionals do is aimed at cutting through the clutter, overcoming our propensity to ignore most ads. In another sense of seeing through, we dismiss ads because we judge them to be misleading or dishonest. As historians, however, we need to focus on ads and see or hear them. As Yogi Berra put it, You can observe a lot by watching.