Four Views on the Shutdown and the National Park Service

From Civil War Memory.

Cross-posted at dvhunter.com

An unexpected media and political discourse has emerged as the Federal government nears a second week of being ‘shutdown.’ Access to sites under the watch of the National Park Service (NPS) became a political football. The conversation started almost simultaneous to the actual shutdown, when a squad of octo- and nonagenarian Mississippians stormed the barricades of the World War II Memorial in the middle of the National Mall. An irresistible media story, for certain. Politicians–as they do–seized on the spectacle. The next day a GOP Congressman berated an NPS ranger charged with manning the barricades, in truly a pathetic display even for Washington politics.

NPS closures became highly visible, with signs, barriers, and traffic cones juxtaposed against heritage sites and natural treasures. GOP congressmen offered the President a “compromise” that would have reopened the NPS sites while budget talks continued. President Obama turned down the proposal, and his rivals immediately attempted to seize the moral high ground. Some pundits ran with the idea that preventing access to “open-air monuments” was unconscionable, if not outright illegal.

Let’s turn to a bona fide, PhD’d historian for further discussion on the matter:

Continue reading “Four Views on the Shutdown and the National Park Service”

Review: The Wright Brothers National Memorial

WB Portrait
Two brothers, one mustache, one soaring moment in history.

Over Thanksgiving break, I visited North Carolina’s Outer Banks, home of sprawling vacation homes, wild horses, and the site of the humankind’s first flight on December 17, 1903. On that day, Orville and Wilbur Wright (respectively) piloted a self-powered aircraft, achieving four separate flights of increasing distance and duration. A monument to the brothers was erected in 1932 on the top of Kill Devil Hill, overlooking the field where they conducted their flight experiments. The National Park Service took over the site’s administration in 1933 and built a visitors center in 1960.

I accompanied my father, an ex-Air Force Pilot and aviation history enthusiast, to the Wright Brothers National Memorial on November 21, 2012 and was impressed by how NPS uses several different types of material culture to interpret the first flight and commemorate the men who achieved it.

Continue reading “Review: The Wright Brothers National Memorial”

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”

Who Are You?

The philosophical ramifications of the title question are profound.  For memorial or commemoration committees, the question is deeply pragmatic.  Is a person the sum of their achievements?  Should they be recognized for their personalities or behavioral characteristics?  How do you physically manifest those ephemeral concepts?

I don’t envy the task of a memorial designer or artist.  Summarizing a person’s essence must be daunting.  Great memorials do evoke the emotion surrounding the person or event being memorialized.  Last fall, I read about the proposed Frank Gehry design for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. I am neutral about Gehry. Some of his designs are overwrought; some fulfill their aesthetic parameters. I found the Eisenhower design exceptionally overwrought and completely lacking any sense of Eisenhower. While I am not an Eisenhower fanatic (I do respect him and his achievements), I think a person should be appropriately memorialized.  The memorial should invoke the person’s essence, not the artist’s personal aesthetic. Continue reading “Who Are You?”

Commemoration & the Public Historian

The June 2012 issue of Public History News begins with an interview of James A. Banner, historian and author of the new book Being a Historian.  Banner believes that the work of historians includes a moral obligation to society.  He states:

“we … have a moral obligation to struggle to understand the past as the past actually was. … [W]e also have an obligation to present at least some of our knowledge to our fellow citizens in ways that they can understand it, apply it… .”

Banner’s comments are especially resonant for public historians.  I have been contemplating the different ways that public historians can fulfill that obligation, while still respecting the needs of the public.  Continue reading “Commemoration & the Public Historian”