Category Archives: Public History

The Rise of the West During the Sesquicentennial

SCWH Public History AwardI’ve been upfront in my conviction that it is too early to write off the overall impact of the sesquicentennial. We ought to resist drawing uninformed comparisons with the centennial and conclusions based on attendance alone will not get us very far. There are a broad range of factors that need to be taken into consideration. Continue reading

 

Can the Lost Cause and Civil Rights Narratives Co-Exist in the South?

Update: This story from yesterday’s New York Times on Mississippi’s planned Civil Rights museum slated to open in 2017 fits right into this post.

Unidentified Photo From Civil Rights Era

Unidentified Photo From Civil Rights Era

While interpreting the Jefferson Davis and Confederate Soldiers’ Monuments on the Alabama State House grounds a little over a week ago I couldn’t help but wonder whether this Lost Cause narrative and a growing commitment to remember the civil rights movement can co-exist. It’s hard to miss the latter in a place like Montgomery and other Southern cities. Jefferson Davis now looks down on the Rosa Parks Museum and a number of markers that remind folks of the slave trade and civil rights era. On the one hand these monuments, museums, and markers represent an evolving story about how communities choose to remember their collective pasts. At the same time it is hard not to feel the rub between the competing values that these sites represent. Continue reading

 

The Battle on the Civil War Battlefields

Shortly after the publication of Common-place’s special issue on the Civil War sesquicentennial I was contacted by Timothy Good, who is currently the superintendent at the Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site. He wanted to respond to John Hennessy’s essay on the challenges of interpreting the Civil War on National Park Service battlefields. I suggested he write a response as a guest post for this blog, which is featured below for your consideration. Continue reading

 

The Invisibility of White Southerners on the Civil Rights Tour

Photo by William Eggleston (1971)

Photo by William Eggleston (1971)

A Civil Rights tour of the South can be a transformative experience for students. I know it has been for a number of mine, who took part in last week’s trip. There is no better place to teach this material than at the very sites themselves. They allow for the kind of identification, empathy and understanding that is impossible to teach in the classroom. The experience is only heightened when in the presence of those people who took part in the struggle. On our trip those participants were almost all African American. They included folks on the front lines and those behind the scenes. They afforded an intimate look into the lives of African Americans and the black communities in which they lived at the time. Continue reading

 

Counting at Andersonville

Andersonville National Historic Site

Andersonville National Historic Site

It’s easy to be seduced by the latest use of technology in our museums and other historic sites to get across the Civil War experience and the human cost. They are powerful tools and can be incredibly effective, but once in a while, we are reminded that the simplest approach works best. Such is the case at Andersonville National Historic Site, where they are keeping track on a daily basis the number of new prisoners admitted as well as the latest deaths and burials. It’s incredibly powerful.

I am not sure where this is situated in the visitor center, but I hope it is one of the first things that people see when they enter. It is often difficult for people to wrap their heads around large numbers, but this little display makes it easy to identify recent losses in the context of the life of the prison. If I was visiting I would immediately inquire into the names of the men who died on this day 150 years ago. How did they arrive at the prison? Where were they from? Those men would serve as my guides through the site.

I’ve never been to Andersonville, but I hope to visit one day. I applaud the NPS staff. This is a challenging commemoration, but from what I can tell they’ve got the right people on board.