Historically Hardcore – Amazingly Awesome

A week ago, I think the only people who had seen my portfolio were my parents, my teachers and fellow students from the Creative Circus, and anyone whom I had begged to give me a job when I graduated in 2009. Then, all of sudden, it seems like everyone on the internet is talking about a campaign I did with copywriter friend, Matt Kappler.

At first it was really cool, seeing the ads pop up on a blog here and there, seeing people tweet about them, comment on them. I started to follow tags for Smithsonian and Historically Hardcore on tumblr and twitter, watching people talk about the ads, how they hoped they were real, proud that an institution like that might actually doing something unconventional with their advertising.  I tried to correct as many people as possible, especially when the ads started being talked about on more mainstream blogs. And then last night, someone posted the ads on Reddit. And everything went kinda crazy from there.

I was chatting with my brother, a regular on Reddit, when I saw a tweet linking them to a thread there. I told my brother, “Hey look! I’m on Reddit! How cool!” Next thing we know, that post, plus another one with the ads in it, were holding the number 1 and 3 spot on Reddit’s coveted front page.

This morning I started getting phone calls from different news venues in Washington, DC.  It was after the first call that I decided it was probably time to get in touch with someone from Smithsonian, just to cover my ass.  Well, they were less than pleased about the attention the posters were getting and requested that I take them down immediately.  Honestly, I don’t blame them. If someone put something out there with my name on it, I wouldn’t be too happy about it either, no matter how awesome it was.

I immediately complied, getting rid of any trace of the museum’s logo, name, and building on the posters and my portfolio site they were posted to. (The posters were also posted on DeviantArt, where through that site, it was possible to buy them as prints. However, I immediately took them down after my conversation with the Smithsonian.) I’m not really one that goes around trying to piss people off. Especially government-run facilities.

It has been pretty amazing seeing peoples’ comments on these ads. Our goal was to reach high school and college students, to try and engage them in a subject that many of them find extremely boring. To encourage them to learn more about people who they might have disregarded as stiff and dull. I think I can say without a doubt, if this had been a real campaign, it would have been immensely successful.

I have seen so many people commenting, saying things like “I want to go to the Smithsonian now!” and “History is awesome! I want these on my wall!”  (Seriously, I have.)  It’s nice to know that a clean concept and execution can really get people excited. I think it shows that campaigns don’t have to be heavily technological and gimmicky to attract attention. Sure, social media was the enormous drive behind the spread of this project, but these were meant to be simple posters. Not some crazy website or funny commercials.

I’ve barely seen any negative comments on the posters, except for ones concerning the light portrayal of Genghis Khan and his treatment of women.  You can see my response to one tumblr’s comments here. I don’t think I could say it any better than that.

So thank you to everyone who tweeted, tumbled, liked, loved, and shared these ads. It has been a crazy ride, following everything, and I hope I can continue to create such memorable ads for the rest of my career.

Oh yea, and for those of you asking about getting prints of the posters made: I decided it would probably be too risky to sell them considering all of the images used are probably copyrighted. I know I never took any photos of 50 Cent. So feel free to download the high-res pdfs from here and print them out as big as you want! And send me pictures! If they’re in a classroom, a dorm room, or even a random wall on the side of a building, I want to see them!


  • Anonymous says:

    These are awesome! Great job! I would love to see some of these with women in history tho =)

  • JT says:

    you are awesome.

  • Jenny says:

    Thanks ya'll! If we were ever to expand on this campaign I would def. want to include some woman from history. Someone find me a museum who is willing to run these!

  • Kat says:

    This campaign really brought a smile to my lips and those of my roommate (a history major). The work is fantastic and honestly I'm amazed that you haven't already been approached about the ads. Good luck and I hope to see more of your work in the future!

  • Thanks so much for representing Miami and giving us such a good name! Historically Hardcore is AMAZING! I'm literally picking up my jaw from the floor and wiping off the drool.


  • Anonymous says:

    Have you considered cafe press-ing them? As a teacher, I'd buy the whole set!

  • Jackie says:

    Kudos from a current ad student – you know you've made it when you're on the front page of Reddit!

  • Anonymous says:

    How dumb of them. If this was a student project, you should have been covered legally I would think. You can't control how they are spread onto the internet. Student project use real companies and entities for assignments all the time. They should be flattered at the attention. It's not like anyone besides those looking at design blogs would see them anyway, you weren't publishing them and putting them up in public. I might have pushed back a bit…but hey, it is the Smithsonian, they probably strong armed you.

  • Jenny says:

    Somebody posted this comment but I accidentally rejected it. I like it!:

    Lady Gaga cross-dresses, puts out pop music, and is burning up the charts at age 24.

    Joan of Arc cross-dressed, led French armies against England, and was burning up the stake at age 19.


  • Anonymous says:

    Maybe one about George Washington's teeth/Lil Wayne's grill?

  • It's so sad that the Smithsonian didn't actually pick these up. They are awesome and you are awesome. Good luck with your career!

  • Brennan says:

    It's a shame the Smith. didn't like them; your posters have probably done more advertising for them than they ever have.

    Either way, it's a great idea. Keep rolling them out with a generic tagline like "Support your local museum" or something?

  • Sherice says:

    These are awesome. If the smithsonian doesn't like them, maybe there's another museum that would? Their loss 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    I think they are brilliantly funny! Shame the Smithsonian didn't have a sense of humor about it but hopefully it will lead to some good solid job for you!
    You made my morning with these.

  • Frau S says:

    A lot of museum professionals are really buzzing about this (in a good way) within the field. I think they're awesome and will have a big impact on how museums will present their images to the public and be relevant to the communities they serve.

  • Ivan says:

    I have always liked history but these posters are so awesome i am totally going to print them out poster size and hang them on my wall. I hope you find a job you deserve it.

  • JP says:

    The level of "holy shit awesomeness" these are are beyond comprehension.

  • Anonymous says:

    History isn't boring, it's the presentation that is cut and dry. Historians seem to like it that way, heaven forbid this stuff get into the mainstream

  • Kwizgiver says:

    So glad I found your blog and could read about these posters. I had seen the posters all over. It would be a creative idea for my students to come up with more pairings.

  • Mith says:

    Love you posters! The Smithsonian's loss I guess.

  • wschoate3 says:

    Jolly good work! They'd be fools not to use these!

  • gloria says:

    the smithsonian missed the boat here; your project pieces are terrific and the series holds unlimited potential. if they needed to adjust a little, i'm sure you would have engaged in a thoughtful dialog [as you did on tumblr]. tremendous loss for all, but you clearly have a bright future ahead–and kudos to your copywriter as well! great work.

  • Niki says:

    Congrats on this beautiful collection! Very strong design…fun and memorable. And that you're choosing to share this work with teachers and students for free shows you have tremendous character, along with a great talent in design. 🙂

  • Brent says:

    Great posters — I love them. If you do end up taking them further though, I'd recommend correcting the Teddy Roosevelt one — the real story's even cooler. He didn't get shot _during_ his speech, he got shot _before_ it. And then went on to deliver a remarkable extemporaneous 90 minute speech (http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/research/speech%20kill%20moose.htm). And the bullet never got removed (although he did spend a week in the hospital…). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt#Assassination_attempt

  • David says:

    The posters are excellent, if I was the PIC (Person In Charge) at the Smithsonian I would seriously consider finding a way to use them, even if Genghis or the parrot didn't didn't like it. Teddy would have just said "Bully".

  • Andrew says:

    I sent an email to the Smithsonian to tell them what amazing posters these were and that they reconsider using the artwork because it really did inspire me to be hardcore and visit the Smithsonian!

  • Anonymous says:

    I love love LOVE these posters, its so refreshing to see someone trying to conquer a different perspective of history without putting it down.
    I really do congratulate you!

  • Anonymous says:

    I use to work at the Smithsonian, they are usually about 10 years behind the creative curve on just about everything. Your posters are cutting edge, Great job!

  • woodsrunner says:

    All I can say is WOW!
    The Smithsonian is a bunch of fools for not picking up on this. I hope some other historical group picks up on this.
    Thanks for putting them in the public domain. Next payday I think the local T-shirt shop will have a project to do for me.


  • moonindy says:

    Love your work! I would also like to see the same thing about women in history.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am an archivist in a state archives, and all of our staff here wishes we could hire you to do posters for us!!

  • From Tracie says:

    I found them on Stumble Upon….and I love them! you did a great job. Too bad the Smithsonian didn't pick them up and hire you to make more!

  • Anonymous says:

    The posters are awesome. And I wouldnt even worry about the Kahn comment either, his women were treated right. :p


  • This ad you've made is so awesome that i've been using it for wallpaper in my desktop, and everyone in my office asks about that kick ass campaign and "oh, our governers should do more stuff like that".
    I'm from Sorocaba, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and you can bet your ad had been seen by a LOT of people from here, and not because of me!

    You are awesome and PLEASE do more stuf like that. Just with the legal thing in order the next time 😉

  • Jay says:

    I emailed the Smithsonian and asked them why they didn't want to use these posters. I sent an email expressing my honest feelings about the situation. I sent a fairly long email, but I said things like:

    "Few people seem to be as happy after an hour of TV, as they are after an hour of passionate engagement with a subject. It doesn't have to be history, of course, but history is one such valuable and enriching subject. So, it disturbs me to hear of such lovely posters — which reach out to a media-saturated demographic — being dismissed. I don't understand why it happened, and I'm truly hoping for an enlightening response."

    I also gave examples of why I feel this way, and asked 2 questions:
    "My first question is: why didn't you use them?
    My second is: why did you want them to be taken down?"

    That's pretty much the gist/spirit of my email. I got this in reply, and I think it's pretty curt and unhappy:

    Dear J–,

    This goes back to March but I do recall the ads.

    The posters were brought to our attention when they were online. People did not know it was a student project. It’s great when young people get excited about Smithsonian or about history. However, once these images were circulated on the internet, everyone assumed it was an official Smithsonian advertising campaign. In addition, the images were originally being offered for sale. We register our trademark and name and this was not appropriate. Shortly after that, the artists discontinued sale of any poster (Smithsonian and others) that did not have the rights secured.

    I am not sure the Smithsonian would ever choose Genghis Kahn for its ad campaign and we did receive several complaints from the public who found the ads offensive and inappropriate and not lovely at all.

    Unfortunately, we cannot endorse every student project or take their work as the basis of an advertising campaign. I agree that some of the ads were very clever and appealing to young audiences.

    Linda St.Thomas


    I really dislike how people keep saying the bit about Genghis Khan is so offensive, the Smithsonian's response included, because it seems really uptight to me. He died in 1227, for goodness sakes, and the poster is portrayed as a humorous advertisement. It's not as if it's a piece glorifying him in an academic context… After all, the Roosevelt one isn't telling kids to keep talking and postpone medical treatment if shot, either.

    People are way, way too politically correct these days, and I can't think of many cases where it's inspiring. IMO, "political correctness" seems to suck the color out of life — so that nobody gets offended by colors they don't like, and everybody gets to have grey.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hey there 🙂
    I saw these photos linked on a YouTube video a while back (VSauce) regularly watch and re-watching them when your images popped up again. I've always thought they were so cool and wanted some myself, and now that i live in a place of my own i would love them as posters or something 😛
    But as i read above, you can't produce them yourself because of all the copyright bs, but you can let us print them out for free and go from there?
    ANYWHO, point is, if i wanted to 'donate' some money to you at some point because i think these prints are so awesome, but NOT, i repeat NOT pay you directly for them, would that be cool? ;D
    Awesome blog, pics, etc. Keep up the good work 🙂

Jenny Dougherty | Creative Director