Slavery and Public History

The book Slavery and Public History, describes the events and individuals involved in slavery, and how these events transpire and helps how we, as historians, interpret today. The history begins with how African slaves were used as a cheap labor force to help grow cash crops such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton.  Kidnapped Africans were mistreated poorly for the benefit of the white man’s wallet. In order to decipher these racist patterns, editors James and Lois Horton categorize the slaves into different human generations to discuss how their fates as indentured servants and freedmen came to be: Charter, Plantation, Revolution, Migration, and Freedom. These stages of African American status in society detailed their rise from indentured servitude upon arriving in the colonies, to the rebellions and abolitionist causes after the American Revolution, and eventual free status after the defeat of the Confederates in the Civil War. Poetry about the tragedies of slavery is one way for people today to understand how slavery caused such miserable suffering to African Americans and their future descendants, such as the poem Middle Passage written by the poet Robert Hayden.  His poem describes how African Americans were ripped from their native homeland, put in chains, sailed across a perilous sea by European traders, and then forced to work on plantations for the rest of their lives.  The conditions from their cruel abduction to the hard labor of plantation work was under horrible conditions.  If someone got sick on the journey to America and died, their bodies were simply thrown overboard.  It is something in history that will never be forgotten as it was both the reason for Atlantic colonial stability with free labor and unimaginable human cruelty to African Americans.

Even before the end of the Revolutionary War, the issue of slaves being free men was being considered the American Congress.  American Quakers even attempted to put to a vote to ban their members who were current owners of indentured servants during the American Revolution, and many of the British, along with the Quakers, began putting together a society that would become the first in abolitionism and that was the beginning of the abolitionist movement that would take years and thousands of committed people and a civil war to realize success.  Slavery provided both political and philosophical topics to the discussion of race relations, even after the American Civil War. However, it was rarely discussed in schools throughout the United States, certainly not taught in school textbooks. In the south, it was a taboo subject.  Novels such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought to light the true nature of the institution of slavery and exposed its true ugly nature, detailing how awful the slaves in the south were mistreated. Along with public education, private organizations have also put together information now being used by schools today that could help in educating young people and amend bridges between blacks and whites amongst many years of hostilities.

I have read many intriguing facts in Slavery and Public Life, but the life of John Brown was the most influential about learning of the slave trade in America. John Brown was known for being a pro-slaver, having sailed slave voyages, and was put on trial by his Quaker brother for illegally giving arms to slave traders in American ports. The Rhode Island Historical Society eventually claimed ownership of the Brown House in the 1940s, in order to detail one of America’s patriot families, despite their checkered past in abolitionism and slave trading.

Letting Go? second half

In part two of Letting Go?, I learned important details about the African Americans of the U.S.A, and how they struggled with the challenges faced against racism. One example is the destruction of a prominent community known as Black Bottom, which was redeveloped during the 1950’s and 1960’s by white supremacists, whom did it all for ‘expansion’ of colleges, though I am sure there would have been another way to increase campus size of those universities. It is possible it was more likely college growth was just another excuse to enforce the separation of Caucasians and African Americans. I thought it was horrible that people, no matter their race, were treated with such disrespect, just for segregation to keep pushing both races farther apart. The Black Bottomers sought to insure that the story of their lives being destroyed before they were able to make a new life away from the tragedy. One way that I understood the Black Bottomers promoted awareness of what happened to their community was through theatrical production, most notably Black Bottom Sketches and Taking a Stand. These thought-provoking performances gave a brief description of what happened to the neighborhood of Black Bottom, and the former residents of Black Bottom acquired a sense of honor and pride for detailing their stories to future generations.

Besides African American life, the stories of Americans are recorded as well, such as the example of the company of StoryCorps. Storycorps is a company dedicated to the preservation of cultural history amongst varied Americans in the United States. Storycorps is depicted as a means for common Americans to tell their stories to the public; people who are not in the media such as radio show hosts or television reporters, just regular people who have their lives outside of the news. The main purpose of Storycorps would be to connect all people and events through historical content. This type of first person historical documentation is especially significant in capturing ordinary American life.

Another aspect of part two was Fred Wilson’s study in “Mining the Museum.” During his discussion with two history professionals, Wilson did an exemplary job of describing his work on studies of history and ethnography. For example, in Wilson’s own words, his main objective in archival study is to take notice of every detail, such as discussing with individual people and examining every artifact in museums. Basically, Wilson gathers as much knowledge he can by communication and study at museums, both within the U.S.A. and internationally, and puts it all into “research.” Wilson is questioned on what is left to do, and draws on the comparison of the checks and balances system of our government to say that there is an ongoing research, and there is always more to be explored.


Letting Go? first post

My opinion on the book Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World is that it provided me with a strong comprehension of how history is viewed in both the minds of the public, as well as understanding the evidence provided by the experts in the field of history. One such example of public opinion on history that I learned would be Web 2.0, during my study, has modified the internet from its original state, allowing users of the internet access to new websites to combine their own ideas with that of professionals in various academic fields.  For the benefit of historians, websites have become both tools for historians’ purpose and, conversely, competition for museums and historical groups.  In an available wide variety of sources, websites detail information that can be studied on various web pages, linking the information to multiple sources including historic sites and figures, but I also realize that it leaves no reason for museums to be visited if the information has already been placed on all these websites. Letting Go describes the internet more user-controlled since Web 2.0, since people can now purchase merchandise online, alter content in the form of photographs or articles, and even socialize through websites like Facebook and Twitter through the internet, something that museums can only offer an exhibition via their websites, but offer no real change from users. Besides the Internet, I have learned there are many other ways that professors, curators, and historians of all kind have found other means to introduce guests to a hands-on approach to history, such as the PhilaPlace project that has taken place in Pennsylvania, or even the Human Libraries that are setting up shop around the world. The PhilaPlace project was set up by Pennsylvania as a means to introduce oral historians to the public, and carefully explain the history of the state from the point of view of average individuals.  The Human Libraries serve as a substitute for regular libraries, the difference being you talk to people, learning history from someone who experienced the past, not just having read about it in a book or other source.

Museums, on the other hand, provide a visual display and people have the ability to walk-around exhibits which educate the public, and offer a general insight into the past of the artifacts or documents on display, which I personally prefer. Other than the artifacts, people like me can learn valuable information from the tour guides or staff who work at the museums about the different exhibits, and why the items on display are of such cultural and historic value, but despite its many offerings, museums and other forms of institution all have a major flaw – they are not controlled by the public, and instead are controlled by a select group that allows access to the exhibits through monetary fees, or other forms of payment. Museums are sometimes seen as establishments that visitors may not have an influence upon, and therefore, it does not affect them in general. Since they have not participated in the acquisition of the exhibits, and the artifacts on display, there is no connection to their lives. Even so, museums are described today as models of providing the public with information about certain subjects in the fields of art, history, and science. The use of participatory techniques, such as obtaining visitors’ opinions and ideas can help to draw visitors back in to museums.

Despite the differences, I see there are similarities in models of experts and visitors who both study the historical or scientific value of the artifacts and documents that are part of historical culture and without the other, they are both one half of a puzzle, and in my opinion, neither could coexist without the other.