“Everybody’s History: Indiana’s Lincoln Inquiry and the Quest to Reclaim a President’s Past”

In his book Everybody’s History, Keith Erekson presents the Lincoln Inquiry, a central project of the Southwestern Indiana, almost as a case study for why the view of public history practice today needs to be expanded, specifically regarding social networks and their functions.[1] We have already seen some of the different functions that social networks offer in public historical practice just in the short time we have been meeting as a class. Our partnership this semester with the Patapsco Heritage Greenway has shown us that collaboration with others outside of your own group or organization is often a part of the process. The social network for the project extends from Explore Baltimore to the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, our class, and the various sites we will be working on. Within our own network of the class, we can collaborate with one another on our own individual sites if we find something that may be of relevance to one of our classmates. Collaboration can happen on any of these levels in public history.

The Lincoln Inquiry engaged in a great deal of collaboration, both within and without the Southwestern. Early on, Lincoln biographers sent letters to Iglehart asking what research the Southwestern had in order to supplement their manuscripts.[2] This form of collaboration with the more academic side of Lincoln history continued as the Southwestern published articles that were later referenced by biographers.[3] Within the organization, they relied on a collective approach to both the research and writing elements of documenting Indiana’s pioneer history.[4] While a paper may have only had one author, the input and information gathered from and by the various members was an important element in the process. Beyond that, without the collaborative efforts to gain oral history from Lincoln’s rapidly disappearing contemporaries, the irreplaceable firsthand accounts of Lincoln’s 14 years in Indiana would have been lost.[5] Collaboration within the Southwestern was all aimed at one goal: to place Lincoln in the context of the pioneer frontier he had spent 14 years living in.

The collaborative nature of the Southwestern extended beyond what is traditionally thought of as the historical sphere and ventured into the world of politics. This is perhaps most clearly shown in Chapter 5 in relation to the campaign for a memorial at Nancy Hank Lincoln’s gravesite. Bess Ehrman, President of the Southwestern at the time, quickly realized that while 10 members had been given a place amongst the other organizers, very little of the decision-making process would occur in their hands.[6]  Iglehart’s belief in a conspiracy aside, this project showcases the difficulties that can be had when the social network of public history involves groups with very differing agendas. The Indiana state government wished to clean up their image after the scandal involving the KKK’s involvement in their government. The Lincoln Inquiry wished to partly have the site reopened after Richard Liber had closed it to most functions. Erekson talks about how the state government created a schematic narrative and how their power can shape the historical practice we do today. The state wanted to improve their reputation and used Nancy Hank Lincoln’s memorial as a tribute to the mother of the Great Emancipator rather than the Southwestern’s desire to place her in the frontier alongside her son.[7]

 

[1] Keith A. Erekson, Everybody’s History: Indiana’s Lincoln Inquiry and the Quest to Reclaim a President’s Past (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 6.

[2] Ibid., 38–42.

[3] Erekson, Everybody’s History: Indiana’s Lincoln Inquiry and the Quest to Reclaim a President’s Past.

[4] Ibid., 92.

[5] Ibid., 64–66.

[6] Ibid., 122.

[7] Ibid., 132.

Slightly edited from Source: “Everybody’s History: Indiana’s Lincoln Inquiry and the Quest to Reclaim a President’s Past” by Bridget Hurley

Does it need to be Everybody’s History?

Keith Erickson’s book, Everybody’s History, examines the work of the Southwestern Indiana Historical Society and their significant contribution to the study of southern Indiana pioneer life and Abraham Lincoln’s early life in southern Indiana through the context of that pioneer life. Though comprised of very few academic historians, the SIHS was able to create a more comprehensive historical view of southern Indiana life during the time that Lincoln lived there by including certain pieces of evidence that had previously been ignored, discounted, or overlooked. With this more comprehensive approach, the members of the SIHS were able to cast light on a period of Lincoln’s life that had long been ignored by the multitude of Lincoln biographers and demonstrate the importance of his time in Indiana on his political life in particular. Their work also attempted to changed the national perception of the people of southern Indiana as heathens and portray the importance of those people to the overall story of the United States and its “pioneering spirit.”

I think this book illustrates quite well some of the same problems that public historians have had to face in the recent past. Their struggle for legitimacy in the realm of academic history, how to present your message to the public, how do you handle the multiple entities that will have an opinion about your product and the effect that has on your work and the public’s perception of that work are all issues that are dealt with even today. One of the great ideas that this book illustrates is just how engaged the public at large can get when it is directly involved in the process of preserving history, whether that be through writing, researching, or just engaging with the end product, as well as what it can mean to that community.

I think this book raises several questions that we as public historians have to address. First and foremost, just how “public” do we allow a project to get? At some point in any project the public has to be included or you run the risk of creating a product that is incomplete, uninteresting, deemed incorrect, or even offensive. Even though the subject matter being studied by the SIHS was of a very broad nature, and without its large membership it would definitely have been a much more difficult task, but with 500 members over the lifespan of the SIHS and averaging 200 active members at any one time, it seems as though the project was extremely difficult to manage (Erickson, 19, 23). Not to mention the many instances of infighting that occurred between the various levels of leadership for the direction and message of the program. Erickson even notes the size of the project as one of the reasons why their group failed in the long run (158). Yes the Lincoln Inquiry came up with some very good results over time, but in my opinion when it came to developing a tangible product for public consumption their message was all over the place much like their membership. I also think that at some point the members of the SIHS became so obsessed with the idea of trying to correct the national misconceptions of the people of that area that, especially after the events surrounding the proposed memorial to Nancy Lincoln, that they lost focus of what the SIHS was originally trying to accomplish (133).

The second question I have stems from Erickson’s claim that the SHIS “failed to produce a lasting synthesis” in part because it failed to maintain a certain level of enthusiasm for their product (159). While I am not in disagreement with his assessment the question becomes how do you prevent any one project from becoming uninteresting to the public and maintain that high level of public enthusiasm, especially in such a small community such as southern Indiana. As public historians we are not attempting to produce a written final product, but are trying to “immerse an audience within a synchronized experience of the past (152)” as Erickson puts it, more often than not through some type of visual exhibit. At a time when advertisers have managed to reduce people’s attention spans to 15 seconds or less, how do you maintain any level of public interest over any length of time? At a time when money to create and maintain exhibits is becoming increasingly more scarce, how do you keep your product interesting enough for the public to maintain any sort of long lasting interest in it? In smaller areas like that of southern Indiana, how do you keep a much smaller local population “enthusiastic” about your work when they’ve probably been there two or three times and the exhibit has been the same each time? Not every one in our class will immediately find a job with the Smithsonian where the budgets are much higher and changing exhibits is the norm.

Source: Does it need to be Everybody’s History? by Alan Gibson

Historic Preservation and Heritage History

In looking for the roots of preservation, my first question is “preserving what?” Are we talking about artifacts and buildings or belief systems, ideas and, conscious or unconscious prejudices? For me, restored buildings, villages, and museums are less interesting than either the motives of the people who created them or the expectations on their impact on visitors.

For example, James Isenberg’s work in Kentucky was designed to attract white middle and upper-middle class tourists—a growing group taking advantage of train and automobile travel to create a new kind of tourist industry that wasn’t limited to the elites. These visitors were then exposed to exhibits and pageants linking a story of progress to the efforts of Americans of European descent (like themselves) to tame the wilderness.

While the Kentucky Memorial Association was looking for financial benefits, other preservation sites such as Mt. Vernon had loftier goals. For the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, Mount Vernon was a shrine where they believed visitors would be so influenced by their surroundings that the visit would be a life-changing event instilling the patriotism and high-mindedness of Washington and other heroes of the American Revolution.

The work at Mount Vernon is also an example of how the female dominance of the field of commemoration/preservation was linked to the idea of “Republican Motherhood” with its obligation to exercise moral authority and instill appropriate values in the young. This position of dominance was lost outside the South as the field of historic preservation was professionalized to replace emphasis on values with scientific method and historical accuracy, and to replace female leadership with academically-trained men. (Note: Mount Vernon is one of the few female-led organizations that survived.)

The situation in the South was very different. With approximately 13 percent of white Southern men killed in the war, white women of all classes were involved in grieving for/memorializing the dead by decorating grave sites and sponsoring the installation of memorial statuary. At the same time, they had to deal with the survivors, some wounded, many shell-shocked, and almost all stunned and confused about how to live in a world where they had lost so much: property, money and their status in the community.   It’s not hard to see why antebellum values came to be seen as the pinnacle of civilization, and why so many Southern whites continued to claim the rightness of the Confederate cause.

By the 1890s, Southern women were leading the effort to defend the Confederate ideology by actively disseminating a new history that portrayed Southern whites as victims whose righteous cause had been overpowered by Northern industrial might. Again, what were they preserving? Slavery as a benevolent institution populated by happy slaves? A doctrine of white supremacy based on the need to maintain order in a rapidly changing society?

I was surprised to find that this Lost Cause ideology changed and expanded to include other “threats” to the restoration of an antebellum Southern culture. The emergence of the New South with its industrial base of mills, factories and mines terrified many Southern whites who were still trying to cling to their antebellum elite status. The Lost Cause was also updated to include the appropriateness of obedience/deference from an angry working class with too many immigrants and even some labor unionists.

Still, the most surprising thing to me was how successful these Southern “activists” were in achieving their goals. This alternative history was accepted throughout the North and facilitated the sectional healing process. More importantly, the needs/rights of the freed slaves and the new black citizenry were basically ignored. Well into the 1920s, white supremacy and segregation were accepted as normal in many parts of the country, and the Klu Klux Klan retained its power in the South and expanded into the Midwest.

Sadly, the “losers” are still writing the history, and the Lost Cause ideology is still alive. The Civil War is still called The War of Northern Aggression in many Southern and border states. The Klu Klux Klan is still marching—only this time they don’t think they need hoods. While preservationists cannot be blamed for the current situation, I think it is fair to think that existence of supposedly historic heritage sites that promote ideas that have no factual basis contribute to the continued social problems.

Post written by Sheila Lambowitz

Gender Bias in Preservation

The readings this week were mostly about the foundations of public history in gendered spaces. Last class, Dr. Meringolo said she thought public historians spent too long establishing themselves as true historians so they forgot to bring the public along. Would public history have made more progress if it was not such a gendered field? Women dominated this field until the Progressive Era; feminine preservation focused more on values and morality central in their community. But the masculine view of preservation became more material, focusing on architecture and craftsmanship. To legitimize their role in preservation, men had to professionalize the field, pushing women out of leading roles. “Charles B. Hosmer, Jr. pictured these Virginians as socialites and amateurs who failed to muster adequate energies and expertise in their preservation work. Karal Ann Marling, on the other hand, saw the declining status, ancestral worship, and feminine domesticity of these Virginians as the fuel which ignited the engine of preservation” (Lindgren, “Virginia Needs Living Heroes” 10). Women were instrumental in starting the field, and preservation may not exist without their efforts. The gender issues of the time created a divide in the field, men and women could not cross gender lines to unite the field.

The female dominated preservation made the community a priority, but it was in no way an inclusive community. The elite women controlled the story that was told, mostly focusing on American Exceptionalism and patriotism, saving those locations of our founding fathers. These women used their place as the guardians of morality to enter the public sphere of preservation and critique the male world, the developing individualism, and capitalism. They had little interest in creating an accurate historical narrative, but advocated for traditionalism. Needing to professionalize the field to legitimatize their presence in it, the men pursue the opposite perspective, totally focusing on accurate history and the material significance and forgetting to include the narrative that is interesting to the public. As preservation becomes professional it loses a key part of the field, and it takes almost fifty years to establish the common ground “between his architectural focus and her community identity, or between his professionalism and her personalism” (Lindgren, “A New Departure in Historic, Patriotic Work” 60). Women needed to have a justified reason to enter the public sphere for preservation, when they no longer had a reason to be leader in the field, they were pushed out. If men had been able to include women in their effort to professionalize preservation then they may have been able to bring the public along through the process, instead to starting over in gaining trust in the community. Gender lines have had a huge impact in the process of developing public history.

The women of Virginia were the most prevalent in preservation work, establishing the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) and the Confederate Museum. Their efforts were centered on maintaining Virginia traditionalism. The historic buildings became “a means to uplift society, [to] …. teach virtue, refinement, and patriotism” (Lindgren, “Virginia Needs Living Heroes” 11). These women clearly went into preservation with a bias to combat the political climate of the day. Women wanted to condemn the New South as it embraced the ideals of the North after the war, and show they still maintained the moral high ground. But the idea that the South and especially Virginia had a correct way of life marginalized so many other people. Southern elite women wanted to return to a sense of normalcy, to still maintain their positions of power. While they couldn’t keep power politically, they could keep it socially. This platform of preservation gave them a way to justify maintaining a status quo in the future with Jim Crow and segregation. These women used their power over preservation to preserve the story that benefitted their position, but most shocking was how women changed the memory of the Civil War. The Confederate Memorial Literary Association (CMLA) created the Confederate Museum to control the story of the Confederacy. I think the CMLA’s ability to change the public view of the Civil War parallels our discussion of the Enola Gay, those with the loudest voice control memory. The veterans controlled the information that was allowed to be presented about the bomb, while the Confederate women controlled the memory of the causes of the Civil War. The museum sought to justify the southern causes for war. “Northern writers of history textbooks, regarding the museum women as ‘ever-energetic fighter[s] for truth,’ began turning to them as experts on Confederate history”(Hillyer, 59). The southern women changed the way the Civil War is taught in schools, allowing them to justify segregation through the 1960s. The Confederate women were allowed to change the memory of the Civil War because the North stayed silent on the issue of slavery. By being silent in the Libby Prison Museum, they accepted the Confederate version of events. “Relics and Reconstruction” makes the claim that the Museum helped to bring about reconciliation between the two sides of the war. But has this change in public memory created more problems for the future? Was it necessary to change the memory of the Civil War in order for the two sides to reconcile? In changing public memory have we committed a greater error in stalling the progress of equality? The change in public memory may have done more harm than good. The change in memory to promote traditionalism and the gender shift in preservation may have slowed the progress of equality and preservation.

How does gender operate in the readings and how does it affect preservation?

Source: Gender Bias in Preservation by Kayla Piechowiak

Exploration of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

The website for the International Sites of Conscience encourages public historians to use memorials and museums to spark discussions and actions in order solve today’s issues. In order to move from memory to action, members develop and implement special projects on thematic issues. By offering a variety of programs, they bring together Sites of Conscience from different parts of the world, highlighting human rights issues. For instance, they raise an awareness of police violence against minorities, particularly in the black communities. By partnering with eleven museums and civic rights institutes across the nation, the members of the Coalition dedicate time to use the past to address social inequality. The collaborative work between the coalition and the participating museums encourages communities to facilitate dialogue on education, race, and incarceration of minorities among many other topics. Members agree that “erasing the past can prevent new generations from learning critical lessons while forever compromising opportunities to build a peaceful future.” Thus, it is crucial to create safe spaces so that we can preserve memories, stories of survivors, and even societies that overcame troubling conflicts in the past.

The website and its resources suggest that problems in public history are often specific to a particular community or nation. Coalition members agree that public history must not only preserve memories of historical events, but also understand the context in which these events occurred. Moreover, we must apply the lessons that we learned from the past to today’s struggles for human rights and social justice. For instance, the site suggests walking in the shoes of past generations of immigrants so that we might better understand immigration struggles today. One of the suggestions that struck me most was that Sites of Conscience urges us to use the lessons of history to ignite a sense of conscience in people surrounding us and even around the world. The approach will help take actions that will promote justice and lasting peace today. Amy Lonetree in her book, Decolonizing Museums presents a similar approach in practices of public history and argues that it is about building trust, developing relationship, communicating, and more importantly, being humble.

Also, it seems to me that although public history can present history through memory and memorialization, it often does not respond to local needs. In the case of Syrian refugees fleeing from the ongoing crisis in Syria, the site offers one pathway that is to ensure that the history of the “Syrian people during their conflict is not soon forgotten.” As a result, the participating museums use Syrian oral histories and bring excerpts, illustrations, and stories of human fear, heartache, and loss to illuminate the voice that left out of mainstream discourse. In today’s museums, curators are not interested presenting current conflicts while working on exhibits.

In conclusion, the site and its resources help to rethink about goals of museums across the nation. In particular, the members’ integrated efforts help to empower people across all generations, personal experiences, and their opinions, but the most interesting fact is that the challenges we face today can leverage the power of the past. The most fascinating piece of this site is that Arab American National Museum presented a new way to understand who is an American and what it means to serve. The project of the museum was to explore individual and collective views on issues of citizenship. As the visitors continued through the museum, they encountered with artifacts from Arab American culture, which was set against a timeline of the United States’ political history. The exhibits helped facilitate dialogues and make connections between the stories presented in the exhibits and exclusion of Arab immigrants today. This is a perfect example of a safe space that was brought up by my historians during this course.

Sources:

Lonetree, Amy. Decolonizing Museums: Presenting Native America in National and Tribal Museums. North Caroline: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

http://www.sitesofconscience.org

 

 

Edited from Source: Exploration of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience by Sudaba Lezgiyeva

The Wages of History by Amy M. Tyson

The Wages of History by Amy M.Tyson is a fascinating book that looks at the world of Minnesota’s Historic Fort Snelling to get a deeper understanding of the responsibilities, benefits and sacrifices of the public history interpreters. The first question that comes to mind before even opening to the first page is, “What does Tyson mean by wages?” Typically wages are thought to be monetary compensation paid to an employee, but in Tyson’s book, she expands the concept of wages to included emotional compensation [ed. note:  and emotional costs]. Public history interpreters, for the most part, have difficult work situations. Most of the interpreters at the center of Tyson’s study are seasonal employees who have to reapply every season to the same position. Most are hired part-time, and, as a result, they are ineligible for medical benefits.

While the interprets didn’t receive sufficient monetary compensation, most interpreters felt that they received emotional benefits. They believe their job is important and beneficial to society, and this sense of pride –most argued–  made up for the lack of monetary motivation and encouraged them to really commit to their roles. The individual pride seemed also to spread throughout the group so that all it took was a handful of inspired interpreters for the group as a whole to function better.

This intense investment did come with some downsides. The sense of self-pride in their work was often challenged by social stigmas regarding first person interpretation. The job of a public history interpreter was viewed by most outside the field as being less than a “real job.” Another side effect was exhaustion due to the unique requirements of acting as another “self” for long periods of time. This could also cause a sense of detachment or confusion. One interpreter was quoted to say that interpreters could “be completely exhausted, hardly able to stand up, and if something like that [kind of connection] happens, it will give [them] the energy to go on and keep doing it.” It seems that to the public history interpreters interviewed, all of the downsides that come with the profession are outweighed by the sense of connection with the customers and the sense of belonging they share with other interpreters.

Living history can be a very valuable tool for both performers and audiences if it is given the respect it deserves. To me, it seems, more often than not, that the interaction doesn’t achieve its full potential due to the audience’s unwillingness to submit to their role or the interpreter’s intensity frightening the audience. When there is mutual willingness to participate in the experience, public history interpretation or reenactments can help both visitors and interpreters deepen their understanding of the topic at hand. When it comes down to it, it is important to truly re-evaluate and dismantle the stigmas surrounding public history interpretation. We must address the grievances of interpreters due to unfair compensation and unreliable employment opportunities. We must empower the interpreter to give their best possible performance within reasonable limits.

While I am not personally a fan of public history interpreters, I think that they perform valuable services and are especially usefully when working with younger people such as grade school students. At the end of this book, I am left with a few questions. What can we do to help diversify the Public History Interpretation field? What sites that do not utilities interpreters might benefit from it? Lastly, what other fields might benefit from the concept or experience similar emotional wages?

Edited from Source: The Wages of History by Amy M. Tyson by Alexandra Runnings

Amy M. Tysons “The Wages of History”

The needs of the “emotional proletariat” –who, through the toil of emotional labor, help to craft feelings– is well discussed in Amy Tyson’s The Wages of History. In this account, Tyson documents the emotional toil of museum interpreters by analyzing museum interpreters as service workers and cultural producers at Historic Fort Snelling in Minnesota. These workers labor tirelessly to connect with visitors through the medium of living history. All too often, these crusaders face issues of insecurity and devaluation which ultimately effects the influence they have on their workplace, on their professional standing, and on their organization. In examining the intricate relationship among these issues, Tyson sought to better understand the sites’ unique work culture by employing an extended case study method and engaging in participant observation fieldwork with the intent to improve existing social theory. Throughout her discussion, living history is defined as the display of someone’s labor for the delight of the tourists.

Tyson integrated current thinking from the field of museum ethnography with her own oral history interviews with 32 interpreters and supervisors. Her interviews establish a framework for analyzing the use of living history as a method of interpretation at Fort Snelling. Tyson also described the general experiences of other groups of people at Fort Snelling, including tourists. Through living history, tourists could immerse themselves in this everyday work life of people from the past. These performances also provided an opportunity for public historians and academics alike the chance to work in the field, conducting research and panning programs. Most importantly, the work involved in constructing living history exhibits, relied on a class of public history paraprofessionals, the costumed interpreters who occupy the center of her  research.

Tyson begins her discussion by taking a closer look at the workers of Fort Snelling, a 19th century military post that was decommissioned following WWII and declared a historic landmark in 1960. During the early days of site interpretation, workers portrayed costumed figures from the fort’s frontier past, including soldiers, laundresses, officers, domestics, and keel boat captains. Overtime, and especially during periods of declining vitiation, Fort Snelling staff made adjustments to site interpretation in order to expand the audience, and  interpreters, served as the linchpin in these efforts to deliver history in a way that was culturally relevant. Rather than simply employing public history best practices, however, Tyson argues that living history at Fort Snelling was tied to a philosophy of “customer service. The “emotional proletariat” worked to ensure customers had an enjoyable experience by  interjecting feelings and attitudes into their presentations. Supervisors instructed museum interpreters to take true ownership of the institution and to work to enrich the visitor’s experience. This was seen as paramount even as they suffered from different material and emotional hazards.

In part one, Tyson uses archival material related to the Fort’s early days to focus on interpretive programing. In this section, she draws attention to the relationship between the production of public history and the performance of customer service. This discussion includes a look at a national trend in improving historic landmarks and includes topics familiar to us from other readings such as the impact of urban renewal projects on historic sites and the necessity of government funding to help meet the Fort’s dual goal of education and entertainment. These efforts to improve national landmarks were the results of several key federal legislative initiatives as well as by the efforts from several advocacy groups like the Fort Snelling Restoration committee which was tasked with researching and producing a report regarding the costs of the Fort’s physical restoration and maintenance, the major uses of the Fort after restoration, and ideas for interpretive programming.

It was interesting to learn how Historic Fort Snelling used interpretive program planning documents to teach workers how to convincingly portray someone from the past and how to deliver customer service. In the interplay between teh two, workers known as re-enactors (those concerned with historical performances as recreational and inwardly focused) were at odds with workers designated as interpreters (a term which denoted those whose thought of living history services as primary intended to engage the public). While Tyson indicated that both types were integral to the production of living history, she also indicated that in the 1980s administrators at Fort Snelling sought to move away from re-enactors (who wanted to play soldier only). During the 1980s and 1990s, Fort Snelling administrators also made several other changes. These changes included:  increased hiring of school teachers, actors and grad students; raising the hourly wage for interpreters; hiring fewer high school students; extending its interpretive focus beyond military pageantry; and drafting a dozen new training manuals. Many of these changes were due in no small part to the efforts of advocacy groups such as the Minnesota Historical Society collective known as the Caucus which formed in 1993.

In addressing workplace issues and grievances, groups like the Caucus used monthly newsletters to communicate. They hoped to address slow morale, cuts to employee hours, and job security. They solicited the input of the workers through surveys, and they  made demands to the MHS. In response, the Historical Society administration created a welcome letter for returning employees. The “wages of history” come into focus as defined by the powerful drive to establish a positive work identity from their work as interpreters, a self-selecting group of people who sought out jobs on public history’s front line because they saw it as a unique way to connect with others through their shared passion of history.

In her interviews, workers repeatedly relayed the prevailing social stigma associated with their work. Workers went to great lengths to defend the honor of their job despite their painful awareness of the stigma associated with it, a  stigma rooted in the conditions of their employment (low wage, seasonal work, in which they were deeply invested). The interpreters experienced both emotional and physical exhaustion as well as the pain of experiencing a disjointed sense of self. All of this seemed worth it to them, however, when stacked against the wages earned in public adulation and appreciation.

One interesting area of analysis is “authenticity.” Tyson found that frontline interpreters enjoyed the autonomy to develop unique interpretive styles. Using historical evidence as raw material, workers worked hard to develop interpretive authenticity. They sang popular songs and spent time off the clock to develop period-specific skills. However, the authority of management, more often than not, sought to turn these efforts into competitive power plays resulting in infighting which had negative effects on the workplace culture and prevented frontline interpreters from reaching great potential. This invariably lead to a discussion about who held control and the power to enforce the rules at Fort Snelling as a workplace. Tyson sees the power dynamic as a three way struggle  for control of the service economy, dispersed among visitors, co-workers, and supervisors. At times, any one of the three groups might have the power to control or effect the behavior of the other parties. Supervisors encouraged a competitive environment and divided the workforce. They tended to micromanage the interpreters, giving them knowledge based exams to test fact retention rather than respecting their ability to convey information effectively. Through her interviews, Tyson learned that intrusive micromanagement was both a sign of insecurity and a desire to exercise authority within the limited structure. Although frontline workers at the Fort sometimes felt restricted by the organizational culture, it was counterbalanced by their strong desires to connect meaningfully with others, and their skill at making connections gave them a sense satisfaction despite serious limitations with their work environment.

In the end, interpreters’ struggles beg several questions. Can front line workers can maintain a sense of satisfaction for their work in an increasingly demanding customer service environment and with ever shrinking resources available to them? How can maintain their professional autonomy while also catering to the demands of museum goers who come with preconceived notions which may be at odds with the unique interpretive methods employed by these interpreters? Are frontline interpreter positions becoming more professionalized when it comes to the changing demographics of those with more knowledge (i.e. grad students, teachers) or is the interpreter position, in and of itself, a job that will forever be considered less then professional, notwithstanding the types of workers that it attracts?

Edited from Source: Amy M. Tysons “The Wages of History”by Domonique Flowers

Decolonizing Museums

In Decolonizing Museums, Amy Lonetree discusses how Native Americans have been represented in museums, and she highlights how there is growing participation and insight provided by Native peoples in the design of more modern exhibits about the indigenous people of America. Lontetree emphasizes that this shift in approach is essential, not just for creating better exhibits, but for the Native people as well.

For Native Americans, visiting museums that focus on their culture has been traditionally a painful experience, as exhibits have focused primarily on the suffering that was inflicted upon the Natives by white settlers. With current and future exhibits, it will be paramount for that they turn the focus from entirely being about the suffering of the Native people to the survival of the Native people, that despite the constant insult upon their people that started when the first Europeans landed on North America, there are still strong and vibrant Native American communities in America. “Some may argue,” Lonetree says,” that discussing this history keeps Indigenous people mired in the horror of victimization,” but “the full story of the Native American holocaust proves a testament not to Native victimhood but to Native skill, adaptability, courage, tenacity and countless other qualities that made our survival a reality against all odds.”[1] Native Americans want colonialism to have a presence in the exhibits, because without explaining the driving force that led to the genocide of the Natives there is no context to understand the problems that have plagued them. With an absence of the colonial narrative, it would lead many still to the “blaming the victim strategy” that “increases violence against” Native peoples. This also leads people to accuse Native Americans for being responsible for their current and past conditions.[2]

Museums did not just spontaneously decide to allow Native Americans to participate in the designing of exhibits overnight, however. Native American activism was critical in the process. Progress for this cause began in the 1960s, during which time there was a strong self-determination movement amongst Natives in North America. The goals at the forefront of this endeavor were to influence a change in the way that the mainstream media, movies, literature and museums presented Native Americans. The stereotypical representation of Native Americans was a large problem for them. Also, Natives aimed to have Indian remains and objects returned to the tribes themselves. In Canada, Native tribes boycotted an exhibition about Native American art, feeling that their lack of participation in the creation of the exhibit was ridiculous, since who is better suited to provide input into the narrative of an exhibit than those directly involved with the topic?[3]

Lonetree stresses that there needs to be a shift away from the traditional object-based exhibit when creating exhibitions about Native culture. Contemporary issues, rather, need to be at the forefront, so that museum exhibits are more concept-driven. For example, the issue of colonialism and its continual effects in the modern world is a topic that Lonetree regrets to admit is still absent from too many exhibitions. Museum curators prefer to present topics that are less controversial.[4] The Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Minnesota is a prime example of a museum that has broken the traditional curator-driven exhibit design in favor of one that gives agency to members of the Native tribe. During the preparation for exhibits, the Mille Lacs museum places tribal members onto their advisory board and allows them to have a strong influence on the content of the exhibit, which includes oral histories from interviews conducted directly with tribe members. This method created an exhibit where the Mille Lacs tribe speaks in an “authoritative first-person voice.”[5]

It is crucial for Native Americans to have a direct and prominent role in the creation of museum exhibits concerning their culture and history. I say this because we live in a world where Native Americans are still suppressed and marginalized by the government, and viewed as a nuisance by many others. We are currently witnessing a disgraceful display by authorities at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where members of the Sioux Indian tribe are being harassed and assaulted by authorities for simply protesting to keep their land protected and pristine for their own use, for trying to preserve a safe environment and clean water for themselves. Colonialism is still present in the United States, and the original inhabitants of this land continue to have their rights trampled.

[1] Amy Lonetree, Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 6-7.

[2] Lonetree, 7.

[3] Lonetree, 17-18.

[4] Lonetre, 47-48.

[5] Lonetree, 48-49.

Works Cited:

Lonetree, Amy. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Lightly Edited from Source: Decolonizing Museums by Dustin Linz

Decolonizing Museums

In her book, Decolonizing Museums, Amy Lonetree examines three Native American museums and in order to analyze the roles they played in shifting museum practices that focus on decolonization and indigenizing museums. For Lonetree, three museums in particular, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Cultural and Lifeways, help to illustrate an important ideological shift in contemporary museum practices. In her comparative study of both national and tribal museums, she offers the reader a chance to understand new and changing museum practices, both the successes and challenges that these museums faced, as well a new relationship between Native Americans and museums.

There are many important takeaways from this book one of which stresses the importance of museums transferring curatorial authority to Indigenous peoples, which enables them to tell their own stories. The author does stress that there is immense pressure to present Indigenous communities and culture in a way that is nuanced, and effectively present “Indigenous philosophy, history, and identity.” [1] This can be achieved if there is trust built between Indigenous communities and museum professionals, a relationship that takes a long time to build.

Lonetree provided a multitude of examples that illustrate the important role that museums play as a “bridge between the communities and the public.” [2] Museum professionals need to be able build trust and be able to effectively communicate with members of the Native communities they are collaborating with in order to translate ideas in a way that audiences are able to understand. Additionally, accurate representation of Indigenous people can be achieved in museums only if their culture and community are presented as living and ongoing. Lonetree aims to emphasize that successful museums are the ones that give Indigenous communities a prominent voice throughout, dispel stereotypes, and address difficult and well as survivalist stories that occur throughout the history of Indigenous peoples.

Lonetree’s book is similar to Burns’ work in that it provides museum case studies that uncover early museum practices, which often did not give any shared authority to members of the community. Burns and Lonetree reveal that it is commonplace for people to be misrepresented in museums, and these authors highlight how difficult it was for African Americans and Native Americans to have shared authority and a prominent role in highly curated museums, from which they were previously excluded. Both of these books explore how both African and Native American people recognized that they were being misrepresented in museums and that state historical societies and museum professionals struggled with giving up their authority to community members.

Lonetree and Burns want to emphasize that more accurate representations and inclusion of first person narratives of both African and Native Americans were a reality once members of the community were able to collaborate with museum professionals in order to share their stories.

Often, both African Americans and Native Americans are portrayed as victims in museums, and almost as if they don’t have a present and continuing stories and histories. I think the goal for both Burns and Lonetree was to express how by collaborating and letting African and Native American people have curatorial input, museum exhibits will be authentic and places of understandings, healing and continual growth for all who visit these museums.

As public historians, there is always a delicate balance when it comes to stepping back and giving people agency within and museum, which we have discussed many times throughout this semester. How can public historians and other museum professionals achieve a true sense of shared authority between themselves and the community they are working with? How can both parties feel apart of the project in a way that feels natural and authentic, as opposed to forced and generic?

Comparing Lonetree’s work to Kelman’s, both authors stress the level of distrust that occurred between Native people and government personnel, historians, or anyone working for the museum or state historical society. Both Lonetree and Kelman argue the importance of getting to know the Native people and building trust by visiting their reservation, and talking with them in order to understand what they want to see in the museum, and be more than willing to involve them in the process of constructing exhibits and the museum at large.

And beyond this, both authors recognize that Native American history can not only include stories of survival and benign histories, but instead the realities and sometimes tragic past and present of Native people need to be addressed within the context of the colonization process. Telling these hard truths about colonization and its ongoing effects on Indigenous communities are difficult to hear, yet it is important topic to address and for everyone to be aware of the concept. In order to fully understand and appreciate stories of survival audiences need to be aware of what Native people had to endure and overcome, such as the “government policies and campaigns designed to destroy us.” [3] Both would agree that it will be a long time before historic sites and museums such as the Sand Creek Memorial and the National Museum of the American Indian become sites of reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the U.S. government. This is especially the case when sites fail to address subjects such as genocide and colonization, and therefore only further misrepresents the history of Indigenous people.

Lonetree’s work and experience with tribal and national museums help us to further understand the continual evolution of the relationship between Indigenous communities and museums. In our discussion, we should discuss what we think are some of the best museum practices that Lonetree examines in her book.

 

 

 

Lonetree, Amy. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Print.

[1] Amy Lonetree. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Print,107.

[2] Amy Lonetree. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Print,103.

[3] Amy Lonetree. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Print, 110.

Lightly Edited from Source: Decolonizing Museums by Samantha Parker

Tales from the Haunted South

Tales from the Haunted South by Tiya Miles discusses the phenomenon of paranormal historical vacationing through the perspective of a historian.

In this book, Miles does a good job of covering multiple sites and addressing the major concerns when talking about some concerns she has as a historian.

Miles uses several sites as examples for her inquiry into the study of paranormal vacationing, including the Sorrel-Weed house in Savannah, Georgia, the Myrtles Plantation home in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and Madame Lalaurie’s home in New Orleans. All of these sites share stories about dead –often completely fictional and mostly African American– to lure tourists into taking the expensive tours.

The Sorrel-Weed house in Savannah is a house said to be haunted by the ghost of a former abused slave girl of Haitian descent named Molly. Her story includes sexual exploitation by her master. Typically, tour guides describe this relatinship as marital infidelity, rather than abuse. According to the story, once the “affair” is discovered by the master’s wife, she commits suicide. After the suicide, the master of the house murdered Molly in the carriage house. The tour claims that Molly and Matilda both haunt the house, but Miles was unable to prove that Matilda had committed suicide or that Molly ever existed!

Next, Miles explores a tomb and a house belonging to an abusive slaveholder who apparently still protects her old house. The tales has become heavily intertwined with local lore about the woman’s cruelty not only toward her slave but also toward her children, making it difficult to tease out a single version of story. There have actually been several books exploring the legitimacy of any of the claims against Madam Lalaurie, but the events in the story seems to be based in some truth.

The final site was the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana. This site uses the story of Chloe, a slave turned concubine, who is abused and eventually loses an ear as punishment for eavesdropping. This eventually leads to a desperate attempt to regain favor by young Chloe, who hatches a plan that leads to the death of the family in the house and the eventually the murder of young Chloe.

All of these stories revolve around the abuse, sexual exploitation, and murder of enslaved people and most often these victims are women. Miles research shows that most of these tours have some basis in fact or reflect some grain of truth about the conditions of slavery.

These slavery inspired ghost tours are an example of “dark tourism.” Dark Tourism is marketed as a carefree adventure into the underbelly of society, to peek into the dark side of human nature or the human experience. The ghost story creates a barrier, preventing people from feeling shame or reflecting in any serious way about the horrors of the past.

While some of the visitors are legitimately looking for a chance to commune with the supernatural, disrespect for the victimm in these tales cannot be over looked.

Often, stories of slavery are considered taboo in many historical sites because they are considered too painful or “controversial,” but mask that past with a haunting and some flickering lights and it’s suddenly acceptable.

I can understand the appeal of exploring this darker side of humanity. I will confess to having my own moments of weakness and watching television shows like Criminal Minds. However, when these stories minimize or distance us from real suffering, the situation changes.

As public historians, we have an added responsibility to the public that most traditional historians don’t normally feel they have. Public historians are facilitators of getting the history more firmly into the hands of the communities involved. While house museums and historically preserved buildings usually have complex and sometimes unfortunate histories, this book makes me question their value. Dark Tourism seems to reflect a perverse form of historical voyeurism into the most under discussed and horrific aspects of our country’s past.

I believe that if we can address these issues as ghost stories , that we can all unanimously agree that we must bring these stories into the light. The lack of factual and just representation of slavery is is a well document issue especially in the South. Almost as controversial is how we solve this misreprestation of one the gruesome institution in this countries past, to which of large portion of our country’s population can traces its roots. While I don’t have the answers to how to solve this problem given the complicated emotions tied up in this section of history , I can say that I don’t believe Ghost tours are the way to go about it.

Miles, Tiya. Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slacery from the Civil War Era.The University of North Carolina Press., 2015. Print.

Edited from Tales from the Haunted South by Alexandra Runnings