Via one of the local TV stations, I just found out that a nine-year-old boy from my hometown died in a tragic accident over the weekend. His mom has donated her son’s organs, turning this tremendous loss into an opportunity to offer life to somebody else. If you’d like to do a good deed for a grieving family, you can help out with medical and funeral expenses by donating to their GoFundMe page.
The National Park Service is undertaking an effort to identify appropriate sites for commemorating and interpreting the history of Reconstruction. Two participants in the study note that, as of now, the NPS “has not a single site dedicated to that vital and controversial period.”
There’s no denying that Reconstruction is a critically important period that doesn’t get much public attention. The issues Americans grappled with during Reconstruction are both fundamental and timely. As the article notes, they include “debates over the meaning of equal protection of the law, over the right to vote, and over the limits of presidential and congressional authority, both in peacetime and in war.”
Over the years, especially during the sesquicentennial, I’ve heard a lot of people bemoan the fact that the Civil War gets a lot more attention than the messy, unglamorous period that followed it. The drama of the war years has a lot more inherent sex appeal than Reconstruction. And Appomattox provides a kind of narrative closure that you don’t get with the unfinished business of the 1870s.
But I submit that it’s not just the prejudices of popular memory that have given us so many Civil War parks without a single Reconstruction one. The thing about agencies that are charged with preserving and interpreting historic sites is that they’re inevitably going to devote most of their resources to those aspects of history linked to specific points on a map. This is not a shortcoming of such agencies; it’s just a by-product of what they’re set up to do.
Wars, after all, tend to turn ordinary pieces of ground into battlefields, and battlefields are the kinds of historic sites that are naturally suited to preservation, interpretation, and commemoration. There were plenty of Reconstruction-era developments that were as significant to American history as the Battle of Shiloh, but it’s harder to find sites associated with those developments that you can point to and be able to say, “This is where it happened.”
I can’t think of too many locations where you could tell the Reconstruction story in a holistic fashion, along the lines of the comprehensive approach to the Civil War you get at the new Gettysburg visitor center. One such site would be Andrew Johnson’s home in Greeneville, TN, which is already under NPS stewardship. The site of the Colfax Massacre might be another ideal location, but I don’t know how much is left there to preserve and interpret.
Ultimately, I think the fact that there’s been no Reconstruction national park until now has as much to do with these practical issues as it does with Americans’ predilection for forgetting the messy and discouraging chapters of their history. The NPS isn’t an all-purpose historical interpretation agency. Its historical activities are linked to places, and some events are just naturally more suited to this sort of location-specific interpretation than others.
I was at the grocery store the other day and ran across Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies: The Real West, the companion volume to the ten-part TV series. O’Reilly’s name is in the title, but the cover lists David Fisher as writer, so I’m assuming Fisher did the heavy lifting. Anyway, it’s selling like crazy.
Nobody in their right mind should expect a glossy, heavily illustrated TV companion book to be a model of scholarly rigor. But it looks like O’Reilly/Fisher really phoned this one in, even by the lackadaisical standards of pop history.
Check this out (sorry about the pic quality; snapped this on my phone in the store):
Yep, that’s Wikipedia on a list of “especially trustworthy” websites. Wikipedia, for crying out loud.
Now you can all rest easier, knowing that your kids’ middle school research papers meet the same benchmarks as bestselling history books.
Raptors running around and mass pandemonium and ankylosaurs bashing things with their tail clubs and a mosasaur chomping and carnivores grabbing people left and right and explosions and machine guns and pterosaurs snatching tourists right off the ground and whole herds of sauropods and stegosaurs and I think that was the T. rex munching on a goat and HOLY COW I FEEL LIKE I’M TWELVE AGAIN AND IT’S JUST FANTASTIC AND I CAN’T WAIT!
Okay, here are two quick things I’d like everybody reading this blog to do.
First, as you may recall, we’re doing a special fundraising drive on behalf of Marble Springs State Historic Site this year in commemoration of the bicentennial of Gov. John Sevier’s death. We’ve just set up a new, super-easy way to contribute to this campaign at GoFundMe, so if you haven’t made a donation yet, please take a minute to do so.
Of course, you can still contribute via PayPal at the Marble Springs website or by sending a check in the mail. If you can’t afford $200, feel free to contribute whatever you can. We’ll gladly accept donations of any size. When it comes to small historic sites, every contribution makes a big difference.
It’s a tough economic climate for smaller historic sites and museums, and some of the funding sources we regularly depend on are shrinking, so I strongly encourage everybody who loves Tennessee history, the American Revolution, and preservation to pitch in.
Second, there’s a historic home here in Knoxville in danger of being lost to development. You can show your opposition to demolishing this historic property by adding your signature to the petition at Change.org.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, here’s Steven Wilson of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum with one of the most special artifacts in the LMU collection.
A Charlestown man is facing vandalism charges after he allegedly pried a sword from the historic Shaw Memorial across the street from the State House on Friday, according to the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office.
Delvin Dixon, 40, was released on his own recognizance in Boston Municipal Court that afternoon and ordered to stay away from Boston Common, authorities said.
The memorial—which displays the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry who fought in the Civil War and its commander, Col. Robert Gould Shaw—was first unveiled by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1897.
I get miffed whenever something like this happens, but the fact that it was the Shaw Memorial really ticks me off.