Slavery and Public History
The Tough Stuff of American MemoryBook - 2006
A volume of essays examines recent cultural arguments about the way slavery is represented in books, films, historical sites, and museums to address controversies pertaining to such topics as the Library of Congress's "Back of the Big House" exhibit and the DNA discoveries confirming Jefferson's relationship with slave Sally Hemmings.
In recent years, the culture wars have included arguments about the way that slavery is taught and remembered in books, films, television programs, historical sites, and museums. In the first attempt to examine this phenomenon, Slavery and Public History looks at recent controversies surrounding the interpretation of slavery’s history in the public arena, with contributions by such noted historians as Ira Berlin, David W. Blight, and Gary B. Nash.
From the cancellation of the Library of Congress’s “Back of the Big House” slavery exhibit at the request of the institution’s African American employees, who found the visual images of slavery too distressing, to the public reaction to DNA findings confirming Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his slave Sally Hemings, Slavery and Public History takes on contemporary reactions to the fundamental contradiction of American history—the existence of slavery in a country dedicated to freedom—and offers a bracing analysis of how people remember their past and how the lessons they draw from it influence American politics and culture today.
As one of the contributors to this collection notes, a greater percentage of Americans trust the history they encounter from public sites such as museums and national parks than their college or high school history classes, thus suggesting a great responsibility for the public historian in treating controversial matters such as slavery, an institution that has had profound and lasting impact on American society but about which the public remains relatively ignorant. The editors (professors of history at George Washington U. and George Mason U.) present 11 chapters that are, for the most part, case studies of public history controversies involving slavery, including the furor over the exhibition of The Big House display at the Library of Congress, the process of incorporating treatment of slavery into the new Liberty Bell site in Philadelphia, heritage tourism and the Civil War in Richmond, and the National Park Service's initiative to deal with Civil War battle sites in a more historically truthful manner. In general, the authors are historians who have been intimately involved in the controversies they are writing about. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Essays examine recent cultural arguments about the way slavery is represented in books, films, historical sites, and museums and address controversies pertaining to such topics as the Library of Congress's "Back of the Big House" exhibit and the DNA discoveries confirming Jefferson's relationship with slave Sally Hemmings.