It’ll be at the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts in Madison starting Feb. 25, and it’s about the war’s impact on NJ civilians. Too bad I’m not within driving distance; I’d really like to see it.
Tag Archives: museums
From Andy Hall comes word that the Mariners’ Museum has been forced to temporarily close the USS Monitor conservation lab. The Monitor wreck and the artifacts are government-owned, but the Mariners’ Museum has undertaken the task of conserving these items for the American people. The museum depends on assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for this project, and NOAA is waiting on congressional budget approval to see how much funding they can provide.
If you want to help out, sign this petition to let the folks in Washington know that this is a project worthy of support.
If you were wondering which artifacts made The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects but didn’t want to shell out the shekels for the book, you’re in luck. Here’s the whole list, plus an interview with author Richard Kurin.
Speaking of the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American History is getting a costume from that Spider-Man musical. Seems like an odd addition for the NMAH. I saw that show when I was in New York this past summer, and it was pretty meh.
There’s a movement underway to add a new National Museum of the American Latino to the Smithsonian system. The NMAL would be one of several Smithsonian museums focused on the experiences of particular ethnic groups, alongside the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (slated to open in 2015). There’s also been some recent activity in an effort to put a women’s history museum on the National Mall, so we could be seeing quite a few new D.C. museums focused on the history of various minority groups in the coming years.
I’ve always been of the opinion that you can’t have too many museums. Going to museums is one of my favorite things to do, so every new facility means something else I’ll get to enjoy visiting.
At the same time, though, part of me worries that these new museums might lead to some unintentional “re-segregation” of public history. The National Museum of American History is a popular destination, and “American history” is a subject broad enough to appeal to a lot of people. Trying to encompass everybody’s history under one roof has its disadvantages; you don’t get as many chances to cover minority-related subjects. But when a general museum does mount an exhibit on the history of a minority group, it exposes visitors of a variety of backgrounds to the material, even visitors who wouldn’t normally visit a museum focused solely on minority history. How many people who weren’t necessarily interested in twentieth-century black history got to experience the NMAH’s highly successful “Field to Factory” exhibit on the Great Migration? Indeed, one wonders how many thousands of people have been exposed to specialized aspects of history at the NMAH just because they came to see the Star-Spangled Banner and then decided to explore the other exhibits.
I should point out that I’m not saying your average white visitor to the Smithsonian is a closet racist who will consciously avoid a black or Latino history museum. I’m just saying that it might not occur to them that such a museum would be of interest. The problem I’m concerned about here is visitor apathy, not hostility. White Americans shouldn’t think of black or Latino history as “somebody else’s” history, but as critical components of American history as a whole.
And I definitely don’t want to give the impression that I think the construction of any of these museums would be a bad thing. I just hope white visitors to D.C. don’t assume the new museums are irrelevant to them and miss out on all they have to offer.
On the other hand, maybe the addition of new museums focused on minority history will have the opposite effect. Maybe a lot of white visitors to the Smithsonian will pay their first visit to a black history museum when the NMAAHC opens, since the new building will be right there on the Mall, in a location frequented by tourists who are passionate about their country’s past.
It seems like we’re seeing a lot of these stories lately. Somebody broke into the Jean and Price Daniel Home and Archives in Liberty, TX and made off with part of the collection. If you’ve got any information, call the Liberty Police Department at 939-336-5666
The National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD just opened an exhibit on PTSD among Civil War soldiers.
The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA isn’t letting any wall space go to waste. All their public restrooms now feature cartoon panels about the history of using the toilet at sea, mounted so that you can read the text right there while doing your business. I kid you not.
There’s an interesting article at AxisPhilly on the challenges facing the historic attractions in and around Independence Mall. Big museums in the City of Brotherly Love are dealing with shrinking funds and visitation numbers that are below their goals, even as yet another public history institution—the planned Museum of the American Revolution—is preparing to set up shop in the same neighborhood.
Even with some buildings closed due to budget cuts, Independence National Historical Park is doing a brisk business, with 2 million visitors to the Liberty Bell last year and capacity crowds of 686,788 at Independence Hall. (If the number for Independence Hall seems low, bear in mind that NPS restricts the number of people allowed into the building and tours fill up early.) The National Constitution Center, by contrast, brought in fewer than 400,000, even though it’s right across from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell building. You’d assume that most museums would be delighted with annual visitation of 400,000, but the folks at the NCC were apparently counting on more. The nearby Jewish History Museum saw 100,000 visitors and the African American Museum just 65,000.
What accounts for the fact that INHP is doing a more brisk business than the other museums? Some of the answers are obvious. As the article’s author notes, the cost of admission probably has a lot to do with it. Getting in to see the Liberty Bell or the room where the Continental Congress met won’t cost you a dime, but you’ll have to fork over some cash to visit the National Constitution Center and other museums.
Name recognition has got to be another factor, perhaps the most significant one. You couldn’t ask for a historic building with more superstar appeal than Independence Hall. The Jewish History Museum and the African American Museum presumably cater to a more specialized crowd. But the National Constitution Center isn’t as narrowly focused in its subject matter, and it seems to market itself extremely well.
Why aren’t more of the people who visit INHP making the short stroll over to the NCC? I think the AxisPhilly author is onto something important when she notes that the NCC “doesn’t have a core collection of objects that people will pay to come and see.”
Ultimately, what I think most heritage tourists want more than anything else is authenticity. They want to stand in the original spot, see the real thing, have a face-to-face encounter with the past. Take a tour of some historic house, and you’re bound to hear somebody in the group ask how much of the structure and furnishings are original. Likewise, when I was a museum intern, the first question people asked when they stood at the counter trying to decide whether or not to hand over their money was, “What is there to see?” They weren’t referring to the exhibits, but the collection; they’d come to a Lincoln museum to see Lincoln artifacts. It’s like the apocryphal story about Willie Sutton. When a reporter asked him why he robbed banks, he supposedly answered, “because that’s where the money is.” People who are interested in history go to history museums because that’s where the historic stuff is.
This is an age of high-dollar mega-museums with ever more elaborate exhibits, but public historians always need to keep in mind that the objects themselves are what separate museums from other media of education and entertainment. We definitely don’t need to return to the days when an exhibit consisted of nothing but text panels and cases filled with labeled items, but we also don’t need to lose sight of the fact that while exhibits will eventually become dated, the objects aren’t going to lose their appeal.
I think I was even more psyched about visiting Lexington and Concord than doing the Freedom Trail. It’s a must-see for anybody interested in the Revolution, and Paul Revere’s Ride was one of the first books I read after I switched my major to history in college.
Minute Man National Historical Park holds much of the important real estate involved in the Revolution’s first fight, although Lexington Common is town property and therefore outside the park’s bounds.
The common is probably the most well-groomed battlefield I’ve ever visited, and for one of the most important pieces of turf in the world, it’s also relatively unadorned. Just a few monuments, including the “Revolutionary Monument” set up in 1799…
a rock inscribed with Capt. John Parker’s instructions to his men…
…and the iconic statue of a militiaman.
The Lexington Historical Society operates three historic buildings in the town as museums. We took a tour of Buckman Tavern, which is right beside the green. In the wee hours of the morning on April 19, 1775 the town’s minutemen awaited the arrival of the British here. It’s one of the best historic building tours I’ve ever enjoyed; the tavern is beautifully restored, and our guide was outstanding.
Heading west from Lexington brings you to Minute Man Visitor Center near the eastern entrance to MMNHP. Here you’ll find a small exhibit on some of the battle’s participants and an innovative multimedia presentation that gives you a great overview of the Revolutionary War’s beginnings. It’s similar to some of the shows at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, and very engaging.
This is one of those parks you can see in a few hours or a lifetime, depending on how much time and interest you have. I should note that MMNHP also boasts a couple of really important literary sites, including a home owned by both Louisa May Alcott’s family and Nathaniel Hawthorne as well as another home inhabited by Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The NPS was renovating one of these buildings and the other closed before we arrived, but we hadn’t really planned on touring them, so no big deal. (I wanted to maximize my time at the Rev War sites anyway, and I’ve always thought the Transcendentalists were a bunch of insufferably self-righteous navel-gazers.)
There’s a five-mile trail tracing part of the route of the running battle between the militia and the British regulars with stops at a few key points, like the Revere capture site.
The park has another visitor center near Concord’s North Bridge. Among the artifacts displayed here is “the Hancock,” one of the cannons stashed away in Concord that the British hoped to recover on their ill-fated mission.
A short walk downhill from the visitor center is the most famous bridge in American military history this side of Antietam—or a replicated version, anyway. (The town of Concord dismantled the original North Bridge in 1793.)
There are three monuments worth noting near the bridge. Emerson’s famous Concord Hymn was written for the dedication of the first one, an obelisk erected in 1836.
Daniel Chester French’s impressive statue of a militiaman was cast from seven Civil War cannons.
Finally—and the most impressive one to me—is the grave marker for two of the British soldiers killed at the bridge fight.
I’ve been back home long enough to recuperate from two weeks of sightseeing, so it’s time for that most venerable of all end-of-vacation traditions: forcing a captive audience to look at your photos.
We’ll start with some highlights from the Boston Freedom Trail. As I said a few days ago, it’s a remarkable experience for any enthusiast of early American history. I don’t think there’s any other place where you can see so many important American Revolution sites in such close proximity to each other, except maybe Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. (I’ll be posting some stuff about INHP eventually, too; it was a long trip.)
My friend Ryan and I set out on the Freedom Trail about 2:00 in the afternoon. Because there’s so much to see between the starting point on Boston Common and the end point at Bunker Hill, and because it was already so late in the day, I had told Ryan that we’d never be able to do the whole thing that afternoon, and that we should plan on picking up where we left off the next day. Thing is, Ryan played basketball and tennis in high school and has never lost his competitive streak. Apparently in an effort to set some sort of record, he announced that we were going to stand on Bunker Hill that very day, come hell or high water.
One of the first things you see on the trail relates to the Civil War rather than the Revolutionary one. It’s one of my favorite works of commemorative sculpture, the monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts on Boston Common, right across from the State House.
Boston seems to be embracing the history of abolitionism pretty enthusiastically. I’m not familiar enough with abolitionism to know how widespread serious anti-slavery sentiment in the city actually was, but I suppose it’s a handy way to embrace the legacy of the Civil War when most of the actual fighting took place hundreds of miles away.
And speaking of the history of abolitionism, just a stone’s throw from the Shaw Monument is Park Street Church, where William Lloyd Garrison gave his first major anti-slavery speech in 1829.
Step over to the other side of the church, and you’re also stepping back in time—two hundred years before the outbreak of the Civil War, in fact. Granary Burying Ground dates all the way back to 1660. Its age is apparent from the winged skulls carved on some of the tombstones, a very old motif that’s characteristic of early American grave markers. Again, bear in mind that I’m used to touring regions where “old” means 1790-ish.
There are more important figures from early American history buried here than you can shake a stick at: Benjamin Franklin’s parents…
…and the victims of the Boston Massacre. All in the same graveyard!
The Old South Meeting House is probably best known as the launching pad for the Boston Tea Party, but that was just one of many highlights in this building’s long history of playing host to protest and dissent. An exhibit inside the sanctuary details this history, from the imperial controversy to abolitionism, female suffrage, and the Sacco and Vanzetti trial.
British troops used the church as a riding stable during the occupation of Boston, but it doesn’t look any worse for wear.
To me, a big highlight of the trail is the Old State House, seat of government in Massachusetts from 1713 to 1798 and now home to a museum that explores politics and public life in the Bay State from the colonial era through the nineteenth century.
You can’t beat the Old State House exhibit for fantastic artifacts, including a coat and other items belonging to John Hancock…
some Stamp Act material…
…and the cane Preston Brooks used to wallop Charles Sumner on the Senate floor.
You’ll also find Indian treaty belts, rare documents, and artifacts from Bunker Hill on display here. Great stuff. If you’re rushed for time on the Freedom Trail and you’ve only got time to tour one building interior, my personal opinion is that you should do this one.
Right outside the State House is a circle of bricks marking the site of the Boston Massacre. This seems to be the popular spot for tourists to take their “Look-Ma-we’re-doing-the-Freedom-Trail” photos, with their arms spread wide and big grins on their faces. I’m not sure how I feel about this; 1770 was a long time ago, but geez, five guys did die here.
Next stop is Faneuil Hall, a most appropriate place for a statue of Sam Adams. The marketplace in and around this site is a great place to pick up souvenirs.
Paul Revere’s house would be a neat thing to see anyway, but it’s of significant architectural interest even without the celebrity name recognition. Built around 1680 on the site of Increase Mather’s parsonage, it was already old by the time Revere bought it. It’s pretty small, so the self-guided tour doesn’t take very long.
Not far from the house is another structure inextricably linked to Revere: Old North Church.
There are quite a few historic churches on the trail, and in fact I haven’t even included them all here, but I think Old North has the most beautiful interior of all of them. (Sorry about the lousy picture focus; I was trying not to use a flash.)
Among those buried in the crypt is Maj. John Pitcairn, who received a mortal wound at Bunker Hill.
There’s an equestrian statue of Revere in a kind of courtyard outside the church. I highly recommend making an effort to visit this spot at night, with the courtyard dark and the steeple illuminated behind it.
The cemetery on Copp’s Hill doesn’t have as many notable residents as Old Granary, but it’s still worth a visit. Increase and Cotton Mather are both buried here.
Most of the sites on the trail are in pretty close proximity to each other, but getting to Bunker Hill (or Breed’s Hill, if you insist on geographical precision) requires a good bit of walking. I hadn’t been to many urbanized battlefields before this one, and it was hard to orient myself with all the buildings around. The monument is a lot more impressive in person than I’d expected; you can see it from quite a distance.
Here’s one final recommendation. If you’re going to do the Freedom Trail, you should grab something to eat at the Green Dragon Tavern in the North End, not far from Revere’s house. Despite what their advertising implies, it’s not the same place where Joseph Warren, Paul Revere, and their buddies used to hang out, but the steak tips are still pretty darn good.
Long story short, you can do the Freedom Trail in half a day, but you’d better be ready to do some serious huffing and puffing. The Constitution was closed that day, too, so that helped us shave off some time. There are a number of guidebooks and audio tours available; we used the Freedom Trail Foundation’s official guide, which was excellent. A lot of the sites along the way are either free or accept donations, but you can get a combination ticket for Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, and Paul Revere’s house at the small visitor center on Boston Common.
Lincoln Memorial University’s Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum is one of 2,000 institutions across the country participating in the Blue Star Museums program. Admission for active duty military personnel (including National Guard and Reserve, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and NOAA Commissioned Corps) and up to five family members is free until September 2, 2013. Just bring your Geneva Convention common access card or Uniformed Services ID Card (1173 or 1173-1) when you visit.
For more information about the museum, call (423) 869-6235 or visit www.lmunet.edu/museum.