Friday, February 13, 2009

Slavery and Public History

Here is a terrific post by Ann M. Little who blogs as Historiann: "Never Mind Slavery, Have You Dipped a Candle Yet?"

Little begins with a study that reveals that many plantation house museums in North Carolina "hardly mention slavery at all" even though slavery was their reason for existence. From there she riffs on other historic sites with similar amnesia (Indian missions without Indians for example). In some cases it turns out that the culprit is simply a lack of funding to update interpretations that were created generations earlier.

Which of our northwest sites suffer from similar historic amnesia?


Kratz said...

I haven't been there since I was a kid, but the Whitman Mission outside of Walla Walla is pretty terrible. The focus is all on how the Whitmans were savagely murdered by the Indians whom they were trying to help. No mention of the Whitman's complicity in their own deaths, shown in their treatment of the Indians. According to the history at the Mission, the Whitmans were good and the Indians were ungrateful savages. I don't know if it's still like that, but I would be shocked if it has changed.

scouter573 said...

My dad always used to ask a similar question. When visiting historical mansions in the South, for example, the guide would talk about the wealthy landowner who built the mansion. My dad would ask if it would be more correct to say the slaves built the mansion. It is a sad commentary that the people who truly built the West (and the South) are the first ones forgotten. We can do better today and remember them.

Larry Cebula said...

Scouter, I like your dad.

Kratz, I was at Whitman two summers back and it is not as bad as you remember. And not that good either. The focus remains very much on the Whitmans and their suffering and relatively little on the natives.