Harriet Senie, in Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11, builds on work I've read previously for public history, including Kirk Savage's Monument Wars, Marita Sturken's Tourists of History, and Edward Linenthal's The Unfinished Bombing. Senie examines The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Oklahoma City memorial, the Columbine High School memorial, and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Each of the events that precipitated these memorials, Senie contends, "challenged long-held cultural myths of an already frayed sense of national identity, and each corresponding memorial solution conflated the concept of a public memorial with that of a private cemetery." (4) According to Senie, each of the memorials separate the victims from the event that caused their death, and, additionally, she asserts, "the attempt to individualize the deceased has merged the function of cemeteries...with remembering and grieving in public." (10) While some of the material she covers in her work, including the various design competitions and the construction of the memorials and museums, is examined at length in the previously mentioned scholarly works, her approach was novel and some of the material--specifically the chapter relating to Columbine--was new to me. In her second chapter, "Immediate Memorials: Mourning in Protest," she examines the evolution of American cemeteries and the emergence of roadside memorials, celebrity displays, and immediate memorials. That chapter provides a framework for the remainder of her work, as she details the immediate memorials and the built memorials that followed. In her discussion of Columbine, Senie examines the immediate memorial that took the form of a shrine the size of a football field across the street from the high school. The objects left by mourners reflected the religious sentiments of the Columbine community. Immediately following the shooting, people had to grapple with the ways in which to remember or not remember the shooters, and the permanent memorial does not mention them. Families of the victims collaborated to raise money to replace the library and rebuild any space where a student was killed. A 28-member memorial committee was formed with the purpose of creating a permanent memorial for the Columbine community. The memorial was dedicated eight and a half years after the shooting, and is located at the edge of Clement Park, close enough so that visitors can see the nearby high school. The memorial consists of an Inner Ring of Remembrance and an Outer Ring of Healing. Senie also examines the secular and religious narratives that emerged following the shooting, and the two films created that directly and indirectly reference Columbine. The chapter that best reflects immediate memorials was her final chapter on 9/11, perhaps due to the severity and extent of the tragedy. Ultimately Senie effectively demonstrates the ways in which grieving has become a collective process embodied in immediate memorials and the resulting permanent memorials.
In Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett examines museums, festivals, world's fairs, historical recreations, and tourist attractions. She seeks to answer the question of what it means to show, and contends that both people and objects have begun to perform their subjectivities. "Drawing on the history of the avant-garde and the implications of its practices, Destination Culture attempts to theorize the artifact and the logic of exhibition in the context of lively debates about the death of museums, ascendancy of tourism, production of heritage, limits of multiculturalism, social efficacy of the arts, and circulation of value in the life world." (1) Her first essay, "Objects of Ethnography" complements the work of Steven Conn in Museums and American Intellectual Life. In this essay, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett argues that ethnographic objects are objects of ethnography and people are the medium of ethnographic representation when they perform themselves. She examines the notions of presenting objects in situ, in which an object is a part that stands in relation to an absent whole, and in context, in which techniques of arrangement and explanation are used to convey ideas. In what is perhaps the most interesting portion of the essay, she details the ways in which humans have been put on display in museums, cemeteries, homes, theaters, public dissections and executions, and galleries. Two other chapters I found particularly interesting were those on Ellis Island and Plimoth Plantation. Her experience at Ellis Island mirrors that of Daniel Walkowitz, who reflected on his visit in "Ellis Island Redux," found in the edited collection Contested Histories in Public Space. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett found the commercialization of the site highly problematic. The gift shop converts immigrants--the subjects of history--into marketable objects, and American Express cardholders can honor their ancestors by paying $100 to have their names inscribed on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett contends that Ellis Island is a place where memory is produced, rather than reclaimed, and that it thematizes immigration. At Plimoth Plantation, time has stopped, and every year is 1627. The world of the first settlers has been re-created in painstaking detail, and costumed interpreters--who act as though they have not lived past the year 1627--interact with visitors. Visitors to the site are invited to walk around and experience Plimoth Plantation without the aid of tours or brochures, and can interact with the costumed interpreters as much or as little as they choose. In such an environment, the history of ordinary people is examined, and anyone is welcome to enter that constructed world. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett argues that the site, which she contends is experimental theater, "reveals a shift from ceremony to virtuality, from commemoration to exploration." (10) This is certainly an interesting way to approach performing history for a wide audience.
These two works examine the ways in which the public interacts with tragedy and history, how individual grief is transformed into a collective process through the creation of immediate memorials, and the ways in which heritage and culture are performed for mass audiences.
Edward Linenthal, in Preserving Memory: The Struggles to Create America's Holocaust Museum, examines the challenges faced by those who took part in establishing the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and the ways in which Holocaust memory was defined and determined at that site by ideas, objects, and people. Linenthal begins by detailing the creation of a commission to establish a Holocaust museum in the United States in the late 70s by President Carter's executive order. This commission had to deal with many challenges in its early years: because it was inherently political, the commission had to walk a fine line and ensure that their work would not endanger Carter's relationship with American Jews or America's relationship with other nation-states. Additionally, the commission originally defined the Holocaust as the "systematic, bureaucratic extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators," and many non-Jewish victims took great offense at this definition that seemingly downplayed their own experiences during the Holocaust. Linenthal then describes the process of selecting a site, choosing a design, and building the museum. The Commission had to decide whether to house the museum in DC or in New York City, and after selecting DC, had to select an appropriate location. The decision to place the museum on the Mall met with criticism and support. The commission decided that the museum should be made up of three separate parts: a museum (Hall of Witness), a monument (Hall of Remembrance), and an education center (Hall of Learning). Following that, Linenthal describes the various exhibit plans that were presented to the commission, and the change in leadership that occurred once Elie Wiesel stepped down as chairman. Following his resignation, a design team was hired in 1988, and their plan was adopted unanimously by the commission. They wanted the exhibit to begin on the fourth floor and descend down to the second, and would make use of Freed's towers. Rather than featuring a redemptive ending, the conclusion of the exhibit would remind visitors of the lessons of the Holocaust. In 1988 the commission called for donations of documents, letters, diaries, works of art, clothes, photos, and other objects created by victims in the camps, ghettoes, and in hiding. They received over 10,000 items, which they termed "object survivors." Additionally, staff members traveled to Europe and collected other material items to display in the museum. By 1992, the museum had collected 32,000 objects. In order to ensure that the millions of individual deaths that made up the Holocaust would not be lost in a narrative of mass death, exhibit designers personalized the Holocaust. Before visitors enter the exhibit, they are given an identification card of a Holocaust victim, and throughout the exhibit visitors are confronted with faces of Holocaust victims. The exhibit designers also placed small artifacts throughout the exhibit to further personalize the narrative. Linenthal details the struggles over the representation of the perpetrators, the use of hair in the exhibit, and the representation of Armenians and Gypsies in the museum. He points out that the museum does have some surprising omissions, such as the lack of attention to perpetrators who emigrated to the US, and the actions or non-actions of Protestants and Catholics in European nations during the Nazi years.
This is a compelling, incredibly well-written piece of scholarship. While I enjoyed the entirety of this book immensely, there were several parts that particularly grabbed my attention. The first was Linenthal's discussion of James Ingo Freed's design of the building. Freed wanted the building to be "expressive of the event," and designed it in such a way as to communicate disruption, alienation, constriction, observation, and selection. He used steel, brick, and glass to evoke the hard, industrial forms of the Holocaust, and designed the building specifically to disorient visitors in such a way that they feel they are "leaving DC." Additionally, the section on staff members traveling to Europe to collect artifacts and materials for the exhibit was fascinating. The casting of the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto, for example, revealed grassroots activism on the part of the man who refused to let the wall be torn down in the years following the end of the war. Furthermore, the agreements reached between death and work camp site staffs and the staff of the Holocaust Museum demonstrated a high level of institutional cooperation--the staff at the death camps agreed that the items borrowed by the Holocaust Museum would never be returned--and the delicacy of the situation--the staff of the Holocaust Museum did not want to buy any object survivors for fear of creating an "obscene market." Another section of the book that captured my attention was the work of those who archived, cataloged, preserved, and cleaned all the objects for the museum, their experiences doing so, and the debates over how to display such items. Finally, Linenthal's discussion of the faces of Holocaust victims--and the accompanying pictures he chose to include--was both haunting and transfixing.
Alison Landsberg, in Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture, examines a new form of public cultural memory--what Landsberg terms prosthetic memory--which is made possible due to the emergence of mass culture. Prosthetic memories emerge at places like movie theaters or museums where people are introduced to a historical narrative. During the moment of contact, a person becomes part of a larger history, and that person takes on a personal, deeply felt memory of a past he or she did not live through. Landsberg explores the formation of prosthetic memories in three cases: immigrants to the United States in the 1920s and 30s, African Americans after slavery, and the Holocaust. In each of these cases kinship ties were broken, and people needed to form alternative ways to transmit and disseminate memory. Landsberg begins her study of the Holocaust by asking whether it is possible for the Holocaust to become a bodily memory for those who did not actually experience it, and, if it is, how do mass cultural events, institutions, and practices participate in the process of creating such memories? Landsberg argues that mass media has created transferential spaces in which people can enter into experiential relationships to events through which they have no lived experience. These transferential spaces privilege processed, sensual knowledge over cognitive knowledge. The cognitive knowledge of the Holocaust is inadequate, so in this way the accession and acquirement of processed, sensual knowledge is complementary to limited cognitive knowledge. Landsberg details her experiences as a visitor to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. She notes that the architecture of the building as well as the exhibit design force visitors to confront images and objects that they would be able to avoid in other museums. The museum experience itself is physically and emotionally exhausting--she notes that there are only five places throughout the entire exhibit where visitors are able to sit down--which compels visitors to persevere despite their discomfort. Landsberg finds that the power of the Holocaust Museum comes from the variety of narratives it tells and assembles, including newspaper articles, survivors' testimonies, and historical analyses. She notes that visitors to the museum experience the object survivors, like the mass of shoes or the suitcases, through their absence. The Holocaust Museum, Landsberg posits, is one place where prosthetic memories are incorporated into the body.
This week's readings focused on public space, memorials, and nationhood. Owen Dwyer and Derek Alderman's Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory has an interesting premise: the authors examine the politics of producing civil rights memorials and the ways in which the Civil Rights Movement is presented in public space. They are looking at what histories of the Civil Rights Movement are remembered, what histories are forgotten, and why. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this book are the authors' delineations of the two narratives of the Civil Rights Movement told in public spaces. The first is the 'won cause,' which is told in contrast to the Lost Cause. In this narrative, the Civil Rights Movement is a story of sweeping cultural and political triumph, and the Movement is condensed into a well-defined era in pursuit of a single goal: integration across the South. Leaders of the Movement are portrayed as heroes who orchestrated a regional movement and worked to overcome violence and political negligence. This is the narrative most frequently presented at civil rights memorials. This narrative typically excludes the contributions of women, Movement workers, and youth, and the preoccupation with leaders does not effectively or accurately portray the grassroots activism that shaped the Movement. The second narrative is 'one goal, many movements.' This narrative moves away from highlighting great leaders and pivotal moments, and instead focuses on grassroots activists. The 'one goal, many movement' narrative emphasizes that the Civil Rights Movement was an everyday activity that involved ordinary people, and examines social networks within black communities, the role of workers and labor unions in resisting racism, and the differences of race and gender among African Americans. Rather than focusing on commemorating legislative or judicial campaigns, this narrative highlights the work of local organizations. Another section of their work that was interesting was Dwyer and Alderman's examination of civil rights museums. The authors briefly analyze the King National Historic Site in Atlanta, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma. I would have preferred to have a more in-depth analysis of each of these sites. This was a work that should have been much longer and deeper in its analysis, or even broken up into subsequent books and/or articles. Despite its flaws, it did bring to mind many other works we've read, including Kirk Savage's Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves as well as Monument Wars, Andrea Burns's From Storefront to Monument, Karen Cox's Dixie's Daughters (one of the final sections discusses the reworking of Confederate commemoration that has taken place in the past few decades), and, of course, Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past.
Daniel Walkowitz and Lisa Knauer's edited collection Contested Histories in Public Space: Memory, Race, and Nation examines sites of public history in thirteen different countries. The essays within the collection highlight the various ways in which public history sites define the nation in relation to its past and its present, and how these sites interrogate or complicate notions of empire, citizenship, race, and the nation-state. Ruth Phillips and Mark Phillip's "Contesting Time, Place, and Nation in the First Peoples' Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization" examines how that museum integrates and foregrounds Native history. I would need more information to adequately answer whether or not this is a decolonizing site of history as Amy Lonetree defines it in Decolonizing Museums, but after reading this essay I would tend to say the museum doesn't "speak the hard truths" of colonialism. There was a task force that worked with Native representatives following two major controversies within museums, which led to the creation of guidelines that outlined new models of collaboration and respectful partnership between Native and non-Native people. One section of the First Peoples' Hall, "Arrival of the Strangers," does focus on the changes that have been forced on Aboriginal people in the course of five centuries of contact with white settlers. However, from this brief essay, it does not seem as if the Canadian Museum of Civilization does enough to address the history of white colonization of Native people and Native spaces. Durba Ghosh's "Exhibiting Asia in Britain: Commerce, Consumption, and Globalization," examines the ways in which British institutions have portrayed their formerly imperialistic ties with Asia. Ghosh looks specifically at the "Trading Places" exhibit at the British Library, which focused on Asia before the 1840s and emphasized the East India Company and trade, rather than conquest or military coercion. Britain's connection with Asia was told using contemporary themes of globalization, such as capital, consumption, and commerce. Ghosh notes that visitors were encouraged to "consume the exhibit," mirroring the ways in which eighteenth and nineteenth century Britons consumed goods and products made in Asia. Ghosh argues that the exhibit does not elucidate its idea of trading places well--rather, it widens the gulf between consumers and producers--and contributes to 'imperialist nostalgia' where colonizers recreate representations of societies they colonized. Daniel Walkowitz's "Ellis Island Redux: The Imperial Turn and the Race of Ethnicity" is a report of the author's second visit to Ellis Island following the events of September eleventh. It was surprising to discover how poorly Ellis Island interrogates the history of immigration in America. Immigrants--those that were healthy and willing to assimilate--are described as parts of a workforce. The experiences of Asian immigrants and African Americans are ignored, and the history of capitalism is not examined to any great extent. The history of the employees who worked at Ellis Island as part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service is ignored (a stark contrast to our reading of Pustz's Voices from the Back Stairs), and there is no significant discussion of race or empire. Ultimately, the edited collection was successful in demonstrating how much work public history sites across the globe have to do to successfully complicate the dominant narratives of the nation-state, race, and empire.
Jennifer Pustz, in Voices from the Back Stairs: Interpreting Servants' Lives at Historic House Museums presents a fascinating look at the ways in which historic house museums can integrate class into their interpretations of the past through analyzing the work of domestic servants. She is responding to Crew and Sims's "Locating Authenticity: Fragments of a Dialogue," and to Handler and Gable's New History in an Old Museum. Centrally concerned with standards of authenticity, Pustz argues that those standards should apply not only to the objects and buildings but also to the stories and people interpreted at historic museums and sites. Focusing her research on the period between 1870 and 1920, Pustz's goal is "to help historic museum staff reach the objective of telling the whole history of their sites through interpretation of domestic servants in a rich and complex fashion that favors the 'real' over the 'ideal.'" (12)
Pustz begins her work by providing a brief history of the historic house movement in America and examines the ways in which enslaved people at historic house museums are portrayed by detailing Eichstedt and Small's typology of strategies to interpret slavery and African Americans. Eichstedt and Small found that there are four common ways of interpreting the lives and work of enslaved people at plantation museums: symbolic annihilation and erasure, which is interpretation that focuses exclusively on the material and social life of the plantation owners; trivialization and deflection, in which slavery and enslaved people are mentioned in ways that trivialize their experiences; segregation and marginalization, where their lives are interpreted separately from the traditional, white-focused information; and finally relative incorporation, where sites provide information about slavery throughout their tours that is not degrading, discusses specific enslaved people, and acknowledges the importance of learning about slavery. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the ways in which historic house museums currently interpret the lives of domestic servants, Pustz sent out a nationwide mail survey to house museums that interpret periods after 1865 and also visited several historic sites. Primarily concerned with the makeup of the site's current personnel, its servants, its interpretation of servants, and their reasons for not interpreting servants, Pustz thoroughly details her findings in the second chapter of her work, "Interpretation of Domestic Service at post-Civil War House Museums." She then moves on to discuss the history of domestic service in the United States during the post-Civil War period. In a way her third chapter, "The Ideal, the Real, and the Servant Problem," reminded me of Trouillot's Silencing the Past, because in providing a historical analysis of the lives of domestic servants Pustz shows her readers the best ways to go about using extant primary sources to uncover their history. Pustz offers suggestions for building an interpretive tour based on the "servant problem," which was the difficulty many upper and middle class women faced when trying to find and retain hired help during the Gilded Age through the post World War I eras. She recommends that guides provide visual hooks to engage their audiences, such as images, artifacts, or architectural elements. While most artifacts found at historic house museums represent the lifestyle of the house's owners, it is possible to interpret one to two objects in each space through multiple perspectives. While some sites have modified former servant spaces or removed their furnishings, some historic sites choose to interpret those rooms without furniture and instead focus on what the architecture can reveal about the function of the room. The idea of "reading" houses the way one would read primary sources is fascinating, and is a practice I am less familiar with, although I do believe the Tenement Museum does a great job of beginning their tours in this way. The ultimate goal in interpreting domestic service at these sites should be a balanced discussion of both the employer and the employee, according to Pustz. She then provides case studies of the historic house museums she has visited and details the practices she found to be insightful and useful. Pustz finds Maymont House in Richmond to be a particularly good example of a balanced and nuanced interpretation of the life and work of domestic servants.
Pustz's work is paired with Tiya Miles's The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story, in which Miles "tells a story of the historic place of Diamond Hill, the people who dwelled there, and their memory in modern times, tracing the plantation from its prehistory, to its heyday and downfall in the 1820s and 1830s, to its restoration and commemoration as the Chief Vann House State Historic Site from the 1950s onward." (3) Rather than regurgitating the idealized version of the past that the Chief Vann House presents, Miles digs deeper and uncovers the history of the site and the ways in which Diamond Hill was uniquely situated as a place where "American Indians, enslaved people of African descent, and Euro-American missionaries, craftsmen, and laborers lived incredible, intersecting lives." (3) Miles successfully uses the history of the house, the space, and its inhabitants as a window onto the history of European colonization of Native Americans and Native American land, the history of Native enslavement of other Natives and Africans, enslaved people's resistance, and the work of Moravian missionaries.
The first three chapters introduces the key players in this history, such as John Vann and his Cherokee wife, Peggy, the Moravians, and the community of enslaved Africans and African Americans that the Vann family owned. Miles is particularly skillful at detailing the ways in which Vann's white violence was different from Cherokee violence, as well as elucidating the problems the Cherokee Nation was facing in the latter portion of the eighteenth century due to increased white interaction and colonization efforts. She also adeptly illustrates how James Vann straddled two identities: he could not pass as a white planter of the southern elite but stood apart from most of the Cherokee Nation. Miles details the various spaces in which enslaved people lived, work, and built communities on the Diamond Hill plantation, as well as describing the diversity within the enslaved community and the ways in which the social lives of the enslaved people and Cherokees continually overlapped. Miles juxtaposes Vann's abuse of his wife with accepted forms of violence within the Cherokee community, and the ways in which Cherokee forms of violence were changing due to white colonization. Miles also details the Christian conversion of Peggy, and how Peggy's conversion affected the Cherokees, whites, and enslaved people at Diamond Hill. She also discusses the ways in which the federal government of the United States began significantly curbing the political and social agency of Native Americans, and the impact of that limited agency on the residents of Diamond Hill.
Kirk Savage's Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth Century America is a study of how the history of slavery and freedom was communicated publicly through monuments. He writes that his book "explores how that history of slavery and its violent end was told in public space--specifically in the sculptural monuments that increasingly came to dominate public space in nineteenth century America." (3) Savage finds that themes of race, war, and monument were pivotal to the nation as it emerged from its long tradition of slavery, and all three reshaped Americans' sense of nationhood. Public monuments were meant to embody resolution and unity, not conflict, and were the most conservative of commemorative forms because monuments are created to last forever. The main objective behind creating a public monument is to shape collective memory.
Prior to the Civil War, abolitionists used the imagery of slavery to promote their cause, specifically Wedgwood's "Am I Not a Man and a Brother," which became one of the most familiar images in antebellum America. Proslavery advocates could not visualize the institution because typical signs of oppression, like manacles and chains, had to be suppressed due to abolitionist associations. Rather, proslavery ideologues used images to represent the "terrors" of emancipation and created crude caricatures of African Americans. Following the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War two years later, Lincoln became the archetypal figure for emancipation. In virtually all projects to build monuments to Lincoln in the 1860s and 1870s, the theme of emancipation figured in the art in one form or another. Making Lincoln the primary agent of emancipation trivialized the role of slaves and African Americans in bringing about their emancipation and removed their agency. Most commonly, Lincoln was paired with a kneeling slave. The most significant example of this is the Freedmen's Memorial to Abraham Lincoln, which began immediately after his death and was completed in 1876. The Western Sanitary Commission commissioned Thomas Ball to do the work, and the unveiling in April of 1876 was the first time that African Americans had ever erected a monument to a great American, and the first time that African Americans had ever appeared in a national monument. Unfortunately, the monument represented the racism of the old world and the power relations of slavery. It featured a slave awkwardly kneeling under Lincoln, who looks as if he is either blessing the slave or asking him to rise. Despite its racism, the Ball statue became an icon of popular culture, and as late as the 1960s the monument remained featured in magazine articles about African American landmarks. A more successful representation of Lincoln was August Saint-Gaudens's monument, which was a realistic portrayal of Lincoln standing before a chair of state, like he has just gotten up to give a speech, making the viewer Lincoln's audience. The statute of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond was the embodiment of the culmination of the failure of Reconstruction and the redeeming of the South by white southerners and adherents to the Lost Cause. The South actively sought to erase slavery from its past and instead erected monuments that celebrated a slave society without acknowledging the immorality of the institution. Lee was seen as a military hero who was appealing to northerners and southerners alike. The monument dedication ceremony in 1890 brought whites of all classes together and the northern press responded favorably to the monument. In the last third of the nineteenth century, the common soldier became the most prolific figure in public sculpture. The modern soldier monument movement was meant to heal the nation but simultaneously rendered the figure of the black soldier unrepresentable, as black bodies were inextricably linked to the memory of slavery. Savage ends his work with an analysis of Saint-Gaudens's relief featured in the Shaw Memorial on the Boston Common, which was a monument to Colonel Robert Shaw and the common soldiers who fought under him.
Similar to David Blight's Race and Reunion, Savage emphasizes that in the years following the Civil War reconciliation between North and South was achieved at the expense of African Americans. Savage skillfully analyzes selected nineteenth century monuments in a digestible and fascinating way while emphasizing several important themes, including race, memorialization, slavery, emancipation, and gender. At times the reader was overwhelmed by the amount of detail provided about various competitions and monuments that never materialized, but ultimately his work is important in understanding the erasure of black bodies from public monuments in nineteenth century America.
Adding to Savage's chapter on the Robert E. Lee memorial in Richmond, Karen Cox, in Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture, studies the creation of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the role the organization played in shaping the culture of the New South. Cox argues that "women were longtime leaders in the movement to memorialize the Confederacy, commonly referred to as the 'Lost Cause,' and were active participants in debates over what would constitute a 'new' South." (1) Additionally, the Daughters "raised the stakes of the Lost Cause by making it a movement about vindication...UDC members aspired to transform military defeat into a political and cultural victory, where states' rights and white supremacy remained intact." (1)
Women's involvement in the Lost Cause began with the memorial activities of Ladies' Memorial Associations (LMAs) that were formed immediately following the end of the Civil War. LMAs worked to disinter bodies of Confederate soldiers from mass graves on battlefields to individual graves in Confederate cemeteries, and by erecting monuments to Confederate dead. Under the guise of preserving the integrity and honor of their husbands and sons, elite southern white women were able to carve out a space for themselves in the public sphere while maintaining their status as "ladies." In 1894, the UDC was founded with five primary responsibilities: memorial, historical, benevolent, education, and social. Coinciding with the rise of UDC was an increase in the number of Confederate monuments in urban areas of the South. The UDC was involved in the creation of three large-scale monuments: the Jefferson Davis monument in Richmond, the monument to Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, and the monument to Confederate soldiers at the Shiloh battlefield. Monument unveiling ceremonies were important cultural and social ceremonies that included the entire white community. Children played a central role in these ceremonies--they pulled the cords that revealed the monuments, sung patriotic songs, and thirteen young girls were chosen to represent each state of the former Confederacy. Daughters saw children's involvement in memorial unveiling ceremonies as a way to connect the past generation of Confederates with the generations that would carry on their legacy. Daughters were also celebrated at monument unveilings for being dutiful to the Confederate generation and maintaining the traditions of their gender. The benevolent activities of the Daughters fits into the larger pattern of southern progressivism and took two main forms: providing for aging and indigent veterans and widows by constructing soldiers' homes and homes for needy Confederate women, and providing educational assistance to young men and women in the form of college scholarships. Another major activity of the UDC was to combat "wicked falsehoods." Daughters believed that history was "biased" against the South, and worked to create and promote an "authentic" version of the history of the Civil War that would vindicate Confederate men, record the sacrifices of Confederate women, and exonerate the South. They wanted history to reflect the idea that the Civil War was fought to defend states rights, not slavery, and that Confederate soldiers were patriots and true defenders of the Constitution, not traitors. The UDC supported the movement to establish departments of archives and history in southern states, and UDC members acquired archival materials such as oral histories and items of material culture associated with the Confederacy and antebellum South. They were integral in establishing the Confederate Museum in Richmond and set up exhibits of their collected items in government-owned buildings. Daughters worked to record the role of southern white women during the war, and celebrated Confederate women for their work as nurses, making uniforms and flags, maintaining plantations, and working in munitions factories. Daughters also worked to educate children to uphold Confederate ideals and believed that white children could be "living monuments" to the Confederacy. The UDC removed "biased" textbooks from schools, placed Confederate flags and portraits of Confederate heroes in classrooms, worked with teachers to create lesson plans, and sponsored essay contests to encourage students to learn about the Confederacy. By the time World War I broke out, the UDC had made great strides in the South. Cox ends her work by arguing that national reconciliation had been achieved effectively on the South's terms, specifically the Daughters': the North accepted the Lost Cause narrative as fact, and reconciliation painted white southerners as patriots, not traitors.
Cox's book is accessible and enjoyable to both scholars and non-academics, but her work is not without a few minor problems. She is repetitive and reiterates the same idea or concept many times over within chapters, which can be distracting to the reader. Her chapter on monument building would have been stronger had she included an analysis of the actual monuments themselves--which is the focus of Savage's book--rather than focusing on the work it took to create them. The organization within that chapter could have been better as well. She mentions that the UDC was involved in the creation of the Lee monument and the monuments at ANC and Shiloh. She could have gone through each monument one by one, rather than flipping between Shiloh and Arlington. Additionally, I wanted more "meat"--I wanted to see more evidence for her arguments, specifically in the final chapter when she argues that the North accepted reconciliation on the South's terms. Perhaps a scholar has already published work on this topic, but there should be a study of how the UDC's activities in the 1860s through early twentieth century has affected Americans in the late twentieth century up through the present. Cox briefly covers this in her epilogue, but more work can be done to fully connect the dots.
In Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums, Amy Lonetree comparatively analyzes the representation of Native Americans at national and tribal museums at Mille Lacs Indian Museum, National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), and the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways. Lonetree is interested in examining the role museums play within contemporary Indigenous communities and the ways in which museums engage in the process of decolonizing. A successful decolonizing museum practice, according to Lonetree, involves aiding Indigenous communities in addressing historical unresolved grief. Museums should work with communities to address this grief and "speak the hard truths" of colonialism in an effort to promote healing. Other ways in which museums can serve as sites of decolonization include honoring Indigenous knowledge and worldviews, challenging stereotypical representations of Native Americans, and act as sites of knowledge creation as well as remembering.
After examining the history of Indigenous representation at museums, Lonetree begins her comparative study at the Mill Lacs Indian Museum. This museum is a hybrid tribal museum, as the space is owned by the Minnesota Historical Society, and staff members collaborate with members of the Mille Lacs Band. As in the final chapter of Conn's Museums and American Intellectual Life, employees and tribe members sought to move away from an object-based approach to exhibits to one focused on concepts. Although Lonetree does not think the Mill Lacs Indian Museum is a site of decolonization, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe exhibit does privilege the Mill Lacs Ojibwe interpretive voice, use Ojibwe language and first-person testimony, addresses sovereignty and other contemporary issues relevant to the Mill Lacs community, and promotes the idea that Indigenous people persisted and were able to keep their communities intact throughout the twentieth century. Lonetree then moves on to discussing NMAI, which she also feels does not go far enough in the decolonization process. While NMAI has state of the art film presentations, first person voice text panels, emphasizes Indigenous survival in the twenty-first century, and is more thematic rather than object based, Lonetree argues that the exhibits at NMAI fail to present a clear understanding of colonialism and its ongoing effects. The museum does not address the subject of genocide, for example, and it does not hold visitors accountable for the colonization of Native peoples. The presentation of objects is too abstract for visitors to understand the meaning and context behind their display--Lonetree's anecdote about the gun display is a poignant and troubling display of this. The Ziibiwing Center, on the other hand, is one institution that successfully utilizes decolonizing museum practices. The Center was formed in the early nineties to address issues related to NAGPRA, and effectively engages with the theoretical concepts of historical trauma and unresolved grief. The Center was created and is maintained as a community center--a place where Indigenous peoples can come for healing, learning, and empowerment. The permanent exhibit at the Center is framed within the context of the tribe's oral tradition and presents an Indigenous sense of history rather than a postmodern one. A significant amount of space within the exhibit is devoted to dealing with colonization and its effects on Indigenous people directly, and tells the hard truths of land theft, disease, poverty, violence, and forced conversion. The exhibit also emphasizes Indigenous survival and offers a place within the exhibit for quiet reflection and the possibility of healing. The Center has excellent programming that focuses on protecting, promoting, and revitalizing Ziibiwing culture, including an emphasis on teaching the Anishinabe language.
Decolonizing Museums is an important work within the field of museum studies and public history. It is a highly accessible text, and Lonetree's work and visitor experiences at each of the three institutions helps to flesh out her arguments more completely and her anecdotes are not distracting. She identifies successful decolonizing practices and how the various communities came to and enacted such practices, while also calling out institutions when they fall short of decolonization. Her thesis is coherent, clearly stated, and her comparative case study approach is used effectively.
Robert Hayashi, in Haunted by Waters: A Journey through Race and Place in the American West, examines the role racial minorities have played in shaping and defining the western landscape, particularly what is now present-day Idaho. In Hayashi's work, the land itself takes on an active role and exerts its own form of agency. He intersperses the academically-inclined text with his personal pseudo-travel narrative, much to my dismay. While he lays out the bare bones of his argument in the introduction, it is not until the final pages that he more eloquently and forcefully states his thesis. He argues that we need "a more complicated model for understanding environmental and social development that allows one to chart how the western landscape has evolved, including in relation to race and ethnicity" and that "our definitions about what is natural and how progress should occur have created a dominant story that has been anything but natural or complete." (148, 152)
Each of the four chapters of Hayashi's compact work study one aspect of Idaho history. The first chapter examines Thomas Jefferson's plan for the American west, and Indigenous encounters with Lewis and Clark and the Discovery Corps. Jefferson wanted to map, define, and expand the boundaries of the United States and believed the health of the young nation was dependent on the expansion of yeoman farmers into the west. While exploring, Lewis and Clark and the Discovery Corps confronted Nez Perce Indians. At first, relations between the two groups were friendly, but within a few years, white settlers began encroaching on Indigenous lands. The next chapter examines Chinese and Japanese settlement of Idaho. The federal government continued its policies of western expansion and domination by enacting such policies as the Homestead Act, Desert Land Act, and Reclamation Act. In 1870, Chinese immigrants accounted for one-third of Idaho's non-Indian population, but with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, those numbers began to dwindle. Chinese immigrants were replaced by Japanese immigrants, who had begun moving into Idaho in the early 1880s and found work in the railroad and sugar beet industries. The third chapter studies the experiences of Japanese-Americans at internment camps during World War II, with a particular emphasis on the Minidoka Relocation Center. Despite their internment, Japanese internees at Minidoka transformed the area surrounding the camp into productive farmland, and cleaned, irrigated, plowed, and fertilized the arid Idaho desert. Internees also provided crucial labor at farms located outside the camp as well as sugar beet companies. While at the camp, employees of the War Relocation Authority closely monitored internees activities, and, at the war's end, forced internees off the land with threats of eviction. The fourth chapter reviews Mormon-Indian relations in Idaho. Mormons treatment of Indians was benign, and Mormons reshaped and worked the landscape as part of their theology. Mormons settled in Idaho to expand Zion across space. Their land use practices were directly mandated by the Church, and Church leaders distributed small plots of land to Church members. Hayashi ends the chapter by examining the work of the Japanese American Citizens League and reflecting on the phrase "haunted by waters."
Hayashi does shed light on a part of American history with which I am little acquainted, and his scholarship raises important questions about the role of racial minorities and Others in western expansion and the ways in which humans use and reshape natural environments to suit their various political, social, and religious purposes. However, his work does not tell the complete story of Idaho history--it would need to be much longer to do so. Additionally, his forays into personal travel narrative were distracting and uninteresting. In the academically-leaning portions of the text, he jumps around chronologically in a confusing manner, making it difficult for the reader to have a clear sense of which particular forces were at work at any given time. While a mostly enjoyable read, Haunted by Waters could have been better had it been more academic (or more personal--Hayashi should have chosen one), and a longer, chronologically-oriented work.
Catherine Lewis, in The Changing Face of Public History: The Chicago Historical Society and the Transformation of an American Museum, uses the Chicago Historical Society (CHS) as a case study through which to examine the rise of multiculturalism, erosion of expert authority, culture wars, and the consequences of blending popular and academic understandings of the past in museums in the twentieth century. CHS's experiences in the late twentieth century sheds light on two imperative issues: the responsibilities museums have to their constituencies, and how and in what forms museums will survive. Lewis also studies the ways in which interpretive authority has gradually devolved from being the sole domain of the curator to including an institution's audiences in the process of selecting, arranging, and analyzing material objects in exhibits and collections.
Lewis takes the reader through the administrative history of the CHS in what is perhaps the driest chapter of the book, and then moves on to analyzing CHS's famous exhibit We the People: Creating a New Nation, 1765-1820. This exhibit was significant because it included the perspectives and the roles played by less represented populations, including indentured servants, women, children, artisans, farmers, Native Americans, and enslaved and free blacks, in the founding of the nation. The exhibit curators intentionally combined political and social history and wanted to explore the ways in which the diverse population of the early nation shaped the political process and how political decisions affected social relationships. The third chapter of the book was especially interesting because Lewis takes the reader through the process of creating We the People step by step, and details the fight for funding, the struggle to create a historically accurate and yet accessible exhibit for a non-academic audience, and identifies the reasons for the exhibit's enduring popularity. Lewis ably contrasts the success of We the Nation with a much less well-received set of exhibits, Neighborhoods: Keepers of Culture. Prior to the unveiling of Neighborhoods, the CHS underwent significant changes, including a new management structure, building renovation, and a revamping of their education division. Included in these changes was a revised mission statement. The CHS reoriented itself to interpret and present a diverse history of the city and expanded its audiences to students, families with small children, scholars, senior citizens, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. For the Neighborhoods project, the staff of CHS collaborated with its constituencies and invited community activists and scholars specializing in urban or neighborhood history to join an advisory committee, and selected areas of the city that were geographically, ethnically, historically, and economically diverse. The Neighborhoods project was not successful. The process of creation was exclusive--individuals who did not participate were frequently suspicious of a white institution coming in to do their history; language barriers were a problem; and serious issues like gangs, drugs, crime, violence, and teen pregnancy remained unaddressed. The Neighborhoods project revealed that a full sharing of authority is an unrealistic goal. Lewis ends her study of the CHS by recapping the long-term effects of CHS's changes, and the methods employed by that institution that were successful and unsuccessful.
In Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926, Steven Conn posits that "museums were centrally important places in the intellectual landscape at the turn of the century, and they are rich sources for us to understand that moment." (15) Conn begins his study in 1876, which he notes is a marker for the age of museum building, and ends in 1926, with Philadelphia's failed sesquicentennial celebration. His work charts the growth and eventual downfall of object-based epistemology, the notion which guided museum builders in the late nineteenth century that assumes objects are sources of knowledge and meaning, and are able to tell stories to an untrained observer without accompanying text or context.
Conn charts the creation of natural history and anthropology museums. Both types of institutions were designed based on an object-based epistemology: objects and specimens were displayed in endless glass cases and were ordered in such a way that was demonstrative of a positivist, progressive view of human history. Darwinism and academic science eventually displaced natural history museums as the primary sites of natural history pedagogy, and, with Franz Boas's influence, anthropology became an academic discipline. Conn details Wilson's work in establishing the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, which also relied on an object-based epistemology and pushed for international trade and commerce. Henry Ford's Greenfield Village and Museum and the Mercer Museum are comparatively analyzed, as both institutions were founded to house and display objects that paid homage to America's past while linking the nation's history to its present. Both Ford and Mercer believed that American history was the history of ordinary people, and that history could be told through objects. Conn then uses the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, to a greater extent, the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Design, as case studies in his examination of the creation of fine art institutions. The comparative framework that worked so well to compare and contrast the Mercer Museum with Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum was not as successful in this later usage. The Pennsylvania Museum was initially concerned with showcasing industrial art, but by the 1920s it had re-orientated itself--partly due to the museum's acceptance of the Wilstach Collection of over 300 European paintings, Widener's influence, and the creation of new physical space--and had become a museum dedicated to displaying "high art." Conn ends his study by examining the failure of the Sesquicentennial and Americans' changing relationship with the past. By the 1920s, objects no longer held the same kind of explanatory power that they once had, and museums had to adapt and become places of entertainment and amusement rather than the primary sites of knowledge production and consumption.
Both of these texts demonstrate a certain kind of evolution occurring at an institutional level in museums. Lewis reveals how the CHS has adapted the methods of the new social history into its institutional practices, and how those in leadership positions have worked to decentralize their interpretive authority and to address and collaborate with a diverse audience. Conn demonstrates how the epistemological framework that museums operated from in the late nineteenth century was gradually replaced with a push toward the academy--or, in the case of art museums, toward "fine art" that was less accessible to the general public--and a reorientation of Americans' relationship with the past.