The world of public history is downright Darwinian, folks. Here’s an item on efforts to revive the Charlotte Museum of History’s fortunes, and a piece on small museums’ endeavors to keep their heads above water in the current economic climate. (Hat tip to John Fea for the latter.)
Category Archives: Museums and Historic Sites
Thirteen new sites just made the list, including Camp Nelson in Kentucky, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house in Connecticut, Honey Springs Battlefield in Oklahoma, and an eighteenth-century frame house in Virginia.
CBS News talked to NPS Director Jon Jarvis about how sequestration will affect services and operations at the national parks:
“Running a national park is like running a small city,” Jarvis said. “We do everything from utilities to law enforcement to search and rescue to firefighting to proving public information when the visitor shows up. And when you take 5 percent out of that, you have a direct impact on all of those services.”
Looks like we’re in for closed facilities, reduced hours, cancelled programs, and less maintenance (which means uncollected trash, uncleared paths, uncut grass). And it’s not just the parks themselves that will take a hit.
As many agencies have argued, blindly cutting the parks budget, Jarvis said, has a domino effect on local economies across the country. A newly released 2011 NPS report on benefits to local communities from national park visitation shows that park visitors spent $12.95 billion in local gateway regions, meaning within roughly 60 miles of the park. Nationally, that contribution created 251,600 jobs, $9.34 billion in labor income and $16.50 in value added.
While my cousin and I were in Nashville last week to see the Emancipation Proclamation, we visited a collection I’d managed to miss on all my previous trips to Music City: the Tennessee State Museum’s Military Branch.
Located inside the War Memorial Building near the Capitol, the Military Museum focuses on America’s wars from 1898 through 1945 and Tennesseans’ participation in them. It’s a small facility, but it’s chock full of impressive artifacts. Historical weapons and uniforms make up the bulk of the collection, but you’ll also find models, medals, propaganda posters, the silver service from a battleship, and a jacket worn by Dwight Eisenhower. Some of the items on display are trophies carried home by Tennessee veterans, such as Philippine and Japanese swords and German sidearms.
Although the exhibits give you a pretty general overview of America’s wars, special attention is paid to Tennessee connections. A special highlight is a case devoted to Alvin York containing a uniform jacket, the Congressional Medal of Honor he received for his exceptional exploits of October 8, 1918, and some additional items. (The museum is currently running a temporary exhibit on Sgt. York and the effort to map and excavate the site of his most famous engagement, so this is a great time to visit if you’re interested in WWI’s most famous soldier.)
The exhibits are a little dated, but the items on display more than make up for the lack of bells and whistles. Give yourself about an hour and a half to tour the museum; hardcore weapon and military buffs will probably need additional time to take it all in.
- If you’re within driving distance of Nashville, don’t forget about the special exhibition of the original Emancipation Proclamation at the Tennessee State Museum, Feb. 12-18. Viewing hours are limited and lines may be long, so click here to learn how to make advance reservations. Some time slots are already full.
- Hey, speaking of Lincoln, did you know that in addition to leading a Marxist war effort, he was also an “unscrupulous fascist“? A sneaky devil, that Lincoln.
- Here’s an interesting history of the sites associated with Lincoln’s early life.
- Thoughts from East Tennessee on the importance of family heirlooms.
- There’s another proposed state law to prevent people from fiddling with or renaming monuments. This one is right here in Tennessee.
- Some info on the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Chattanooga Campaign.
- Mt. Vernon has acquired an original painting by Benjamin Latrobe.
The Tennessee State Museum’s traveling exhibit on the War of 1812 is now at the East Tennessee Historical Society, and will be in Knoxville through May 19. Looks pretty cool!
Preservation Journey asked readers to name the historic buildings they’d like to see in person before they head off to that big self-guided walking tour in the sky. Maria Pease decided to take them up on it, so she’s compiling a list of all the places in the United States that she wants to visit.
In that spirit, I thought I’d write down a bucket list of U.S. historic sites and history museums of my own, and I was surprised at how long it turned out to be. Before I did this little exercise, I thought I’d been making pretty good progress with my history travels, but it turns out I’ve still got quite a bit to cover. Here they are, in no particular order.
- All the Rev War sites in and around Boston
- Lexington and Concord
- Plimoth Plantation (I’ve never been to New England, so there are quite a few entries from that neck of the woods.)
- New Bedford. The history of whaling has fascinated me for a long time, longer than I’ve been interested in “history” in general.
- General Nathanael Greene Homestead
- Trenton and Princeton
- Valley Forge
- Petersen House (Went to Ford’s Theater with my family when I was a kid, but for some reason we didn’t go across the street.)
- Alamance Battleground (This was a near-miss for me. I planned to visit during a weekend trip to North Carolina, but I spent more time than I’d expected at Guilford Courthouse and had to head back.)
- Mary Todd Lincoln House (I lived ten miles from Lexington for a year and never made it to this one.)
- Moore’s Creek Bridge
- Museum of the Confederacy
- Fort Sumter (I’ve seen it from Sullivan’s Island, but haven’t actually been to it.)
- Blue Licks
- Perryville (I’ve never been really obsessive about hitting Civil War battlefields; I just try to make it to the ones that really interest me and the obligatory destinations like Gettysburg and Antietam. But I’ve heard Perryville is really nice, so I’d like to make it up there at some point.)
- Monmouth Courthouse
- Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (I’ve never really been into these engagements, but it seems a shame to have all those battlegrounds in one place and not visit.)
- Fort Necessity
- Blair Mountain (Better see it while it’s still there.)
- Atlanta History Center (A friend of mine went a few years ago and said it was great.)
- Horseshoe Bend
- The Mariners’ Museum, just for the Monitor stuff
- Savannah, GA
Finally, a few places I’ve visited already, but which need do-overs for various reasons.
- National Museum of American History, since it’s been totally renovated since the last time I was there.
- Independence National Historical Park. I didn’t have time to see the whole thing.
- Mt. Vernon. Went when I was a kid, but I don’t remember anything except the tomb.
- New York City. Been a couple of times, but it was before I’d developed an interest in history, so I didn’t want to see anything except the American Museum of Natural History, the Empire State Building, and a couple of Broadway shows.
Check out Katy Lasdow’s write-up of her visit to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. After forking over twenty-five bucks, sitting through a mock town meeting, pretending to dump tea chests from the deck of a replicated ship, and watching two holographic women talk about the coming war, she got to see a grand total of one original artifact.
“When does a museum stop being a museum,” Lasdow rightly asks, “and become something else?”
My former boss used to say, “A museum is a communication device.” I agree. A museum should do more than collect and display artifacts; it should use the tools at its disposal to contextualize those artifacts. The days when an exhibit consisted of a conglomeration of artifacts, labels, and pictures are over. But the use of artifacts and other objects to communicate and instruct is still the distinguishing feature of museums. That’s what separates the museum exhibit from other means of communication and instruction.
There’s no magic ratio of artifacts to gizmos that works for each and every exhibit, but when there’s only one artifact in the whole building, one wonders why they decided to call it a museum in the first place, whatever the quality of the information being conveyed or the nobility of the planners’ intentions.
They’re both coming to the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville. One of them tells the stories associated with some Civil War tombstones; the other is a traveling exhibit from the Tennessee State Museum.
Most people who know the whereabouts of their own behinds are aware that some acts are to be avoided under almost any circumstances, and that such acts include desecrating graves, damaging public property, and collecting artifacts in a national park.
Coy Matthew Hamilton managed to do all three at the same time when he took it upon himself to dig up the probable remains of a Confederate soldier at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
Hamilton admitted to investigators that he found the remains while canoeing with a friend in February 2011.
Described in case documents as an “avid, self-taught amateur archaeologist who routinely spends his free time hunting for artifacts,” Hamilton set out in the canoe after recent heavy rains, as he “knew from experience that this could reveal archaeological artifacts.”
On the afternoon of Feb. 27, Hamilton and a companion spotted a bone sticking out of an embankment. “Hamilton excavated two femur bones and pieces of a pelvis,” according to a report.
His companion urged him to stop, “but Hamilton’s enthusiasm was too strong.
Calling this guy “an avid, self-taught amateur archaeologist” is like calling somebody who swipes a few hundred bucks from a cash register “an avid, self-taught amateur numismatist.”