Slavery and Civil War Battlefields

As we have studied, the basis for the Civil War was rooted in the practice of slavery and the desire of some states to see the practice continue and other states seeing slavery as a threat. One of our recent readings in class discussed how the National Park Service including a focus on slavery appalled many Southern White Americans.[1] Many white southerners believe that Confederate Battlefields should be devoted to the living memory of those that lost their lives in the Civil War and furthering the “Lost Cause” myth. In the reading, one common fear of white southerners is that political correctness is out of control and that they do not desire to learn about slavery while they are visiting a Civil War Battlefield and Memorial.[2] I thought I would learn more about this controversy and found the following video posted on cwmemory.com.[3]  In the following video, park rangers discuss the cause of the Civil War and the challenges they face in introducing the causes of the Civil War on Civil War Battlefields.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrFtW3AouOc&feature=player_embedded

Many of the park rangers feel that interpreting the reasons for the Civil War and conveying them to park visitors is an important tool in understanding the memory of why these soldiers fought each other and died. Some have even given ideas in which the two sides of this controversy can resolve their issues. In trying to come up with a resolution to this issue, we discussed two resolutions in class. One resolution was that having museums devoted to separate studies would alleviate the issue. Those that wanted to focus on slavery would be able to visit a slavery museum. While those that wanted to focus on the battles would visit one of the many historic Civil War battlefields. A separate resolution was that museums should have exhibits devoted to all types of history. Those that visited any given museum would see a wide range of exhibits ranging from the Civil War to slavery. With this in mind,  I recently came across an article about a proposed Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg sponsored by L. Douglas Wilder, the first African-American Governor in United States History.[4] This proposed museum is having numerous financial and legal issues and may not be finished.

http://www2.wsls.com/news/2012/jun/21/fredericksburg-questions-slavery-museums-reorganiz-ar-2000798/

After reading the article, the situation in Fredericksburg is looking rather bleak. Does this knowledge add impetus in having a combined museum for the South? Alternatively, should there still be separate museums for Slavery and the Civil War?


[1] Dwight T. Pitcaithley, “A Cosmic Threat: The National Park Service Addresses the Causes of the American Civil War”, In Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory, ed. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton,168-186. [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006], 174-175.

[2] Pitcaithley, 175.

[3] “NPS Talks Slavery and Battlefield Interpretation”, Civil War Memory, April 13, 2011, http://cwmemory.com/2011/04/13/nps-talks-slavery-and-battlefield-interpretation/ [Accessed on June 21, 2012]

[4] Steve Szkotak, “U.S. Slavery Museum revises Dept Plan”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 21, 2012, http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2012/jun/21/fredericksburg-questions-slavery-museums-reorganiz-ar-2000798// [Accessed on June 21, 2012]

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2 comments
  1. Museums are museums and people who visit need to understand that all exhibit are open to personal interpretation and everyone should respect this. That being said, I believe that museums should present all sides of the story so again, people can interpret their story their own way. BTW Do you happen to know if there are any television shows about museums in America? I always thought it would be a good idea to start a television show where someone travels from place to place introducing some of the exhibit-kind of the way they do on the travel channel with food.

  2. charlesanselmo said:

    I am unaware of any programs that explore museum exhibits around the U.S. That would be an interesting idea for a show though. Similar to the History Channel show “How the States got their Shapes” it could explore any interesting museums in each state.

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