An excellent new exhibition and series of resources on the US and the Vietnam War, from the National Archives.
A major new exhibition on the Vietnam War at the New York Historical Society:
“For the people who live it, history is personal. And if you live it intensely, you feel you own it, or it owns you. A lot of Americans still feel that way about the Vietnam War years. No matter how removed you were from actual combat, if the war consumed your attention, shaped your emotions, and dictated your actions, you were in the middle of it.
That’s where the word-and-object jammed exhibition called “The Vietnam War: 1945-1975” at the New-York Historical Society puts you. From the minute you walk in, you’re surrounded.”
This is an important article about the challenges of collecting “history as it happens”– very germane to our visit to the History Center in a few weeks to discuss collections and collecting.
“Though curators have long secured select artifacts whose significance was immediately apparent, museum experts say the scope of what the African American museum and others now call “rapid response collecting” has grown significantly in recent years.
The museum’s collection includes dozens of items gathered during the protests — a rake used in the cleanup, a placard that demanded “Justice for Freddie Gray” — some obtained on the spot, others days later after curators had combed social media, television and newspapers to find people who were there and ask what they might donate.
“We are in times that require us to acknowledge that history is happening before our eyes,” Mr. Bryant said.”
An article in the New York Times a few weeks ago detailed the re-creation of a 1920s “eugenics office” from New York’s Cold Spring Laboratory
“An old stucco house stands atop a grassy hill overlooking the Long Island Sound. Less than a mile down the road, the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory bustles with more than 600 researchers and technicians, regularly producing breakthroughs in genetics, cancer and neuroscience.
But that old house, now a private residence on the outskirts of town, once held a facility whose very name evokes dark memories: the Eugenics Record Office.
In its heyday, the office was the premier scientific enterprise at Cold Spring Harbor. There, bigoted scientists applied rudimentary genetics to singling out supposedly superior races and degrading minorities. By the mid-1920s, the office had become the center of the eugenics movement in America.
Today, all that remains of it are files and photographs — reams of discredited research that once shaped anti-immigration laws, spurred forced-sterilization campaigns and barred refugees from entering Ellis Island. Now, historians and artists at New York University are bringing the eugenics office back into the public eye.”
An important review of an even more important exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Edward Rothstein has been highly critical of history museums in general and this one in specific– he even links to his own review from 10 years ago of the opening of the museum, referring to the first exhibitions there as an “intellectual catastrophe.” He has calmed down a bit for this review, but still has some critical things to say.
“In many respects, the exhibition, like the museum itself, is so focused on a broad account of injustice that it slights nuance, detail and qualification. But it also leaves hope that in time, the museum will make peace with the past so that past can be more fully explored.”
The 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is coming up in November– on November 22nd, of course: a date that any of us who are of “a certain age” can never NOT associate with that event. This article from the New York Times provides a bit of a preview of the coming deluge of “products of memory” about Kennedy and Dallas and the assassination and the (maybe) conspiracy, and on and on. Movies, books, TV documentaries, new exhibits, a revamped “Sixth Floor Museum” in Dallas.
“It’s amazing that Kennedy should have this extraordinary hold on the public’s imagination 50 years after,” said Robert Dallek, a historian, whose book “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House” is being released in October. “He’s the one president along with Reagan who gave people hope. It’s hope, it’s optimism, it’s the feeling that he could have made this a different world.”
I’m not sure that I agree that JFK’s “hold on the public imagination” is all that “amazing,” or that all of this attention in 2013 is evidence of that “hold.” The attention comes, in large part, I believe, to the acceleration and intensity of public memory, the “memorial mania” that historian Erika Doss has recently written about. The centennial of the Civil War received far less attention in the 1960s than the sesquicentennial is having in the present. The 50th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic took place in 1962, and made barely a ripple compared to its centennial just last year. For a whole book-full of reasons, memory is big business these days– and far more contentious than ever before.
This also has to do with Baby Boomers (of which I am one)– not only the immensity of their cohort, but the immensity of their self-regard. If something momentous happened to US, it MUST be important, and MUST be remembered intensely. For millions of boomers, the Kennedy assassination was the first and perhaps most blinding “flashbulb memory,” an event that took up permanent residence (and resonance) in our psyches. We all remember “where we were” about noon on November 22, 1963.