Category Archives: Public History

Award For Excellence in Public History

Recently I agreed to chair the committee for the 2014 Award for Excellence in Public History sponsored by The Society of Civil War Historians.

The Society of Civil War Historians solicits nominations for the $5000 Award for Excellence in Public History. Funded by the Blue and Gray Education Society, the award will recognize an outstanding public history project completed and made available to the public in 2012 or 2013 that enhances public awareness and understanding of the Civil War era, including the events leading to the war and its direct consequences.

We are looking for:

  • public exhibitions
  • media productions (including internet-based projects)
  • public programs, events, and tourism initiatives
  • preservation projects that include the interpretation of objects, documents, structures, or landscapes

Additional information can be found at the SCWH website. Please pass this along to anyone who might be interested. Thank you.

Boston’s Civil War Top 10

black-soldiers-of-the-54th-massachusetts-regiment-memorial-in-boston-massachusettsI am working on finalizing a list of my top 10 favorite Civil War-related sites here in Boston for an upcoming issue of The Civil War Monitor. I’ve given a couple of talks in the area about how Bostonians commemorated and remembered the Civil War. It’s an interesting challenge given the extent to which the American Revolution dominates popular memory and heritage tourism. Boston’s commemorative landscape rivals any southern city and reflects the direct impact that the war and its outcome had on the region. Most of the sites listed below can easily be included in a family’s vacation itinerary.

  1. Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (the Boston Common)
  2. African Meeting House
  3. Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Lynn, MA
  4. Memorial Hall at Harvard University
  5. Mount Auburn Cemetery
  6. Tremont Temple
  7. Faneuil Hall
  8. Public Gardens (statues of Edward Everett Hale, Wendell Phillips, Thomas Cass, William Ellery Channing, and Charles Sumner and Emancipation/Lincoln statue)
  9. Fort Warren
  10. Governor Andrew House

The list is a work in progress so feel free to offer suggestions.

“Ask A Slave”

It’s a new web comedy series, but it’s not very funny.

Azie Dungey played a slave at Mount Vernon and is now sharing the colorful and not very thoughtful questions asked by visitors. I certainly appreciate the explanation and intent behind the project.

So, I wanted a way to present all of the most interesting, and somewhat infuriating encounters that I had, the feelings that they brought up, and the questions that they left unanswered. I do not think that Ask A Slave is a perfect way to do so, but I think that it is a fun, and a hopefully somewhat enriching start.

The problem is that Dungey’s own apparent frustrations are expressed through her slave character. There is no exploration as to why some of these questions are problematic. She merely pokes fun at the visitors’ questions. I suspect that there are any number of factors beyond mere intelligence that shapes the kinds of questions posed to reenactors at historic sites. I wonder what the staff at Mount Vernon thinks of this.

It’s still early in the production of the series, but as it stands Ask A Slave isn’t very entertaining and it doesn’t help us to understand the experiences of living history actors, especially those dealing with the tough questions of race.

How Revolutionary Was Our Second American Revolution?

smithsonian During my last visit to the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. I got to see their Changing America exhibit on the Emancipation Proclamation and March on Washington.  It was predictable from beginning to end. The exhibit was divided between the two key events in an overall narrative that highlighted America’s inevitable embrace of freedom and civil rights. It’s as watered down an exhibit as you can get and no doubt appealed to our sense of ourselves as exceptional and heroic.  Visitors leave the 1863 side with little understanding of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, but with the echo of that overused phrase: “The Promise of Freedom.” It’s a phrase that fits comfortably within an overall narrative that points to the possibilities of freedom in the form of civil rights and an acknowledgment of the sacrifices made by blacks for the preservation of the Union. Continue reading

The Face of Public History (Part 2)

Chickamauga Visitor Center

This past week I was reminded of just how upsetting it can be for African American to have to confront the Confederate flag when visiting a Civil War site. I don’t care how many H.K. Edgertons and Karen Coopers you embrace, in the end, many blacks feel alienated and/or unwelcome when visiting these sites. There should be no doubt about why this is the case given the history of the Confederate flag. Continue reading