Perhaps I’ve spent too much time studying how Americans have used public spaces to commemorate and remember their past, but I don’t get overly emotional around statues and other such sites. My first thought is almost always about the people – including the profile of the individual/group – who chose to shape a particular landscape with some kind of commemorative marker and the values that they hoped to impart to the public. In addition to the intentions of those who established the site there is the history of how the space is interpreted and consumed by subsequent generations. In all honesty, I rarely think about the object being commemorated. In short, for me public spaces of historic remembrance are almost always about the living. In most cases the objects themselves have little to do with shaping public behavior, especially if they sit atop pedestals. You can have a barbecue, play chess, or engage in polite conversation without ever considering the namesake of the location. Continue reading “Why Are We Forgetting To Order the Pedestals?”
I‘ve never been a fan of tearing down our Civil War monuments because I tend to think that such a move only works to make us feel better. Although the removal of monuments reflects the very same political, economic, and social conditions that led to their being initially placed in prominent spots it almost always fails to address a controversial past that has helped to divide a community. One alternative is to add some kind of marker to the historic site that educates the visitor as to why a statue was placed in a particular spot and that offers a more complete interpretation of the event/individual being commemorated. This is what the citizens of Frederick, Maryland have done with a prominent statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney that was dedicated in 1931. Now visitors can read a small plaque that outlines the infamous ruling in the Dred Scott v. Sanford as well as its long-term consequences. Not only does it educate, but it gives voice to both Dred and Harriet Scott as well as a community whose past has all too often been ignored.
I attended a couple of meetings early on of the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial committee. During one meeting “Bud” Robertson explained why the committee would not fund reenactments. He expressed concern that they might prove embarrassing as did the first major reenactment at Manassas in 1961 at the beginning of the Civil War Centennial. Robertson and others wanted to ensure that this time around the state would not engage in celebration, but would promote events that commemorate and educate. This was reinforced by William J. Howell, who serves as Speaker of the House of Delegates and as chairman of the commission.
It was reported a few days ago that the Manassas City Council is planning a 9-day celebration that will include a reenactment in 2011. The event is being organized by the Virginia Civil War Events Inc., which is asking for $100,000 from the city. Not only have they received the funds, the council is also requesting upwards of $250,000 from Richmond. Continue reading “$250,000 for a Reenactment?”
The following commentary by Shelby Foote comes at the tail end of Ken Burns’s The Civil War
“We think that we are a wholly superior people – if we’d been anything like as superior as we think we are, we would not have fought that war. But since we did fight it, we have to make it the greatest war of all times. And our generals were the greatest generals of all time. It’s very American to do that.”
As many of you know Gabor Boritt recently retired from his position as director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. Boritt is the author of numerous edited collections, an excellent study of Lincoln’s economic outlook as well as a recent study of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The position is now open and I know a number of scholars who are interested. It goes without saying that it is going to be a highly competitive search and I wish them all the best of luck.
A few years ago Gabor Boritt’s son, Jake, produced a documentary about his father’s own history titled, “Budapest to Gettysburg”. It includes commentary by Jack Kemp, Peter Jennings, Ken Burns, and Sandra Day O’Connor. I haven’t seen the movie in its entirety and what is included below is just a preview.