Monday, June 4, 2007

Eric Foner and Clio Bluestocking

The students in my methodology course this summer are reading Eric Foner's Who Owns History? Tomorrow evening we discuss the first couple of chapters, so I'm re-reading the book today.

In the preface, Foner describes how recent changes in the discipline "began to produce a long-overdue diversification of public history." As examples he mentions Boston, where the Freedom Trail "has now been supplemented by a Women's History Trail, a Black Heritage Trail, and a guide to the city's gay and lesbian history"; Greensboro, N.C., home of the sit-ins in 1960; and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

As I read this, Clio Bluestocking's recent posting on "The Town Trauma" came immediately to mind. She tells how, in the 1880s, people in a town she has researched decided to erect a statue to the English military leader who, over two centuries earlier, had made the area safe for white settlement by getting rid of the natives, a feat he accomplished by a terrible massacre. His soldiers "surrounded the [native] village, set it on fire and killed anyone who tried to escape. The descriptions, written by the militia captains, are flat out chilling not just for the destruction that they describe, including the killing of children and elderly people, but also for the soldiers' expressions of deep conviction that they were doing the work of god."

Recently, Native Americans in the area expressed some dissatisfaction with the statue. The result was a confrontation that shows that, while Foner is correct about the "long-overdue diversification of public history," we still have a ways to go. I think I'll read Clio's posting to my class tomorrow.