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.
An article in today’s Times about a new interest in the photography of the Vietnam War, through a new book and exhibitions. We could note here, too, that the photograph here– soldiers in a jungle clearing near Hue, in April 1968– is one of the key images in The 1968 Exhibit, which just closed in Philadelphia and is on its way to the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis (opens October 5, 2013).
“Now, amid a flurry of anniversary commemorations of that tumultuous era and a surge of interest in war photography, The A.P. has, for the first time, culled its estimated 25,000 Vietnam photographs and reprinted some 250 in a book, “Vietnam: The Real War,” with an introduction by Pete Hamill, to be published by Abrams on Oct. 1.”
A powerful essay about a new show of Civil War photography, leading off with a fascinating story about this famous photograph, “The Scourged Back.”
“The Scourged Back” may have been propaganda, but as a photograph, which drew as much from science as from art, it presented irrefutable evidence of the horror of slavery. Because those scars had been photographed, they were real, in a way that no drawing could be.
Be sure to watch the slide show–though some of it is pretty hard to take. (You have to wait through a 30-sec. ad first, however.)
From today’s Washington Post: the new George W. Bush Presidential Library.
These libraries — which began to grow into major museums with the JFK Library in Boston– have become some of the country’s most popular history museums. They always raise interesting questions about “authorial voice,” since the museum part of these complexes are run by private foundations (whereas the libraries are run by the National Archives), and thus are subject t0 a kind of celebratory bias.
“He told the designer that he wanted to present the facts . . . and let people draw their own conclusions.”