Revising the “Fort Dearborn Massacre” [Roundtable]

For the 9th Annual Loyola History Graduate Student Conference, the LUC Public History Committee will host a roundtable on “Revisionist Public History.” This is a post that introduces a case study on the topic. The Committee welcomes participation both online and at the conference. If you have an example of “Revisionist” Public History, please feel free to mention it as a comment on the blog, or contact the blog editors to request the opportunity to author a guest post. For more information on the Conference and the Roundtable–to be held November 3 at Loyola’s downtown Water Tower Campus–click here

The Battle of Fort Dearborn Park (WBEZ/John Schmidt)

The bicentennial of the War of 1812 has received depressingly little notice even here in the Great Lakes region, home to several important sites of that conflict. An exception to this general apathy relates to a space on Chicago’s Near South Side where, on August 15, 1812, a band of Pottawatomie overwhelmed about 100 evacuees from the US Army’s nearby Fort Dearborn. The confrontation was a rout: 28 American soldiers were killed and 28 were captured. Civilian losses–a complicating matter in the ongoing memory of the event–amounted to 14 killed and 15 captured, including 3 women and 12 children.

The Anglo-American perspective of the event prevailed as the dominant interpretation of the violence, most notably in the seemingly undisputed appellation “The Fort Dearborn Massacre.” However, as many American Indians have sardonically noted over the years about white-Indian conflicts, ‘When the whites win, it’s a “battle,” when the Indians win, it’s a “massacre.”‘ Continue reading “Revising the “Fort Dearborn Massacre” [Roundtable]”

Call for Participants: Roundtable on Revisionist Public History

George Washington and slaves at Mount Vernon

The Public History Committee of the Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Association presents:

A Roundtable on Revisionist Public History

Saturday, November 3, 2012

In Conjunction with Afternoon Sessions of the 9th Annual Loyola University Graduate Student History Conference, 2:45pm-4:30pm

LUC Water Tower Campus

You are invited to participate in a roundtable designed to foster discussion of recent efforts to revise interpretations at historic sites.  This roundtable features Dr. Amy Tyson of DePaul University, graduate student conference participants, and public history professionals from the Chicago area.

 

How to participate: 

Follow this blog to view a detailed introduction to the roundtable, consider pre-circulated case statements, and offer your comments and contributions.

Attend the roundtable prepared to discuss your experiences with revisionist public history, either as a patron or a staff member of institutions that have undertaken efforts to align their interpretations with historical revisions.

Attend the roundtable, and be willing to informally engage participants and fellow audience members about the topic.

Simply attend the roundtable and listen.

What is “revisionist public history?”  Continue reading “Call for Participants: Roundtable on Revisionist Public History”

Balancing Preservation and Interpretation at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

A  tension persists between two main enterprises comprising cultural resource management: preservation and interpretation. The objectives and effects of each undertaking are not easily negotiated in many contexts, making the task all the more difficult for cultural resource managers. Many question the utility and purpose of preservation if its ultimate objective is not to interpret the resource to the public. With public interpretation comes increased traffic, however, which can impact the resource negatively. Such degradation can, in turn, reduce the prospects for effective interpretation or necessitate a complete revision of the interpretive program. The best way to preserve a resource is to keep people away from it; the best interpretation draws people from far afield. Continue reading “Balancing Preservation and Interpretation at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument”

Re-envisioning Historic Fort Snelling: Confessions of a Fort Employee

I wake up most mornings thrilled to go to work. I relish the rare opportunity to engage in positive dialogue with the public about critical themes in Minnesota and United States history. On a daily basis I participate in open conversations about class, slavery, and American Indian history. I feel continually supported by a remarkably amicable staff and refreshingly thoughtful and efficient supervisors. Considering the many museums and historic sites still reveling in nostalgia and Great Man history, I truly value the opportunity to practice public history at Historic Fort Snelling. Not to mention my sheer enjoyment of hearth cooking or playing nineteenth century games with children.

All the fantastic aspects of employment at Historic Fort Snelling tend to overshadow the occasional discomforts: the offhanded racist comment of a guest; the low traffic in Dred Scott Space or Indian Agency compared to the overwhelming popularity of the infantry and artillery drills; enthusiastic youth marching and shooting imaginary guns. Perhaps these are just the unfortunate realities of interacting with the public.

A recent experience, however, put my discomforts into sharp relief. While stationed in the Indian Agency I observed a visitor who appeared to me to be American Indian. As he exited the space he turned to his companion and stated matter-of-factly, “there is a lot of evil in this room.” Continue reading “Re-envisioning Historic Fort Snelling: Confessions of a Fort Employee”

“Slave for a Day”: Perspectives on Interpreting Slavery (Part I: William Ippen)

There has been no paucity of reactions to Hampton National Historic Site’s “Slave for a Day” event, which took place this past Sunday under the new name “Walk a Mile, a Minute in the Footsteps of the Enslaved on the Hampton Plantation.” While the event and its underlying theme enjoyed a significant degree of support, outrage at the event, as well as its title and promotional literature, prompted the National Park Service to change its title and omit exclamation points from the announcement. Criticism of the event–all of it coming before it was actually held–has taken two forms: a distasteful title and the interpretive method’s inability to truly convey the lived experience of the enslaved. The former criticism, which NPS staff promptly addressed, is both superficial and moot at this point. The latter critique, however, calls into question the interpretive program’s very validity and is severely misplaced. Continue reading ““Slave for a Day”: Perspectives on Interpreting Slavery (Part I: William Ippen)”