Some super coverage from Teen Vogue recently of historic sites and their problems, and how we historians, managers, staff, and volunteers at historic sites need to f-ing do better —
Benji Hart’s “What to Expect When Visiting a Plantation Where Your Ancestors Were Enslaved” (February 5, 2019) is incredibly powerful. I’ve written and re-written comments I can put here about it, but it’s really just… just read it.
I have found some words — Read it especially if you steward a historic places. And this should resonate beyond plantation homes–we in South Dakota have many places of pain, hard and unfair labor, broken families, violence, death… We should be aware of the need for treating those realities as realities, getting the tone of our space and interpretation right, providing space/time for mourning, too. When we feel the need to push our historic sites too far into tourist sites, making them ‘fun’ for fun’s sake, making them a business, or a game — Realize what that can do to them…
I’m ashamed the author has to give advice like “Be prepared to witness people ignoring and even reveling in your pain.”
I appreciate their encouragement for others not to feel the need to be polite, to feel what they feel without apology, to “reclaim” space during time at the site…
Quotes from the article: “as a new wave of young Black people attempts to learn more about its heritage, some of the only places available for us to look are sites of deep violence and trauma…. When we arrived, we didn’t find solemn ground… Be prepared to enter a site that makes no space for mourning, and papers over atrocities with benign language.”
“Though it was one of the hardest trips I’ve ever taken, I’m grateful to have new connections to my ancestors; to be able to say the names of my own people that survived enslavement.”
And then Somáh Haaland’s, “How Museums and Historical Spaces Disrespect Native American History” (February 19, 2019) is another excellent comment on the crap ways that native history gets told at historic places, put into stark relief against her mother Deb Haaland’s recent election to the U.S. Congress.
“I was suddenly brought to tears, both by the thought of pre-colonization and by the concept that this is how Indian people are still showcased: as primal, exotic attractions. These people, my people, continue to be talked about like far-off legends who lived in the past and no longer exist.”
“So many children grow up learning this Eurocentric, masculine, biased version of history, and they have to wonder where they fit in if they are not shown that their identity is valid.”
Props to Teen Vogue for publishing these great articles… they’re gonna hang with me a long time.
History is important.
Do history with accuracy, relevance, inclusion, thoughtfulness, and respect.