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.”
‘Ask a Slave’ is a comedy web series by Azie Dungey, a former ‘living history actor’ at Mount Vernon just outside of Washington, D.C. The series is based on real questions she was asked by tourists while working at the site. ‘Ask a Slave’ is getting a lot of media attention – it makes fun of public ignorance about history and makes some subtle references to sociopolitical conversations about race and equality that are very relevant to today. In one episode her character, Lizzie Mae, makes an underhand connection between the legality of slave marriage to how gay marriage is viewed legally in several states today. In another episode she has an interview with an abolitionist that does not portray abolitionists favorably. It’s definitely worth watching an episode or two. Or six.
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.
A very timely article about the preservation of human remains in museums.
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.”
A REALLY interesting and relevant story about a history exhibit in Denver that is making people angry:
“This is an open wound—this is not healed,” Halaas said. “Let’s sit down together, and while we’re doing that, close this thing and reopen it after full consultation—that’s what the tribes want.”
“After all,” he concluded, “it isn’t their [museum officials’] history—but it’s affected every tribal family.”