This week’s selection of readings, courtesy of Professor Cebula, proved to be a rather complimentary and interesting bunch. The bulk of the reading was drawn from the intro and first couple chapters of Mike Wallace’s Mickey Mouse History. However, the other readings were just as insightful. Taken as a whole, the readings examined how history is presented to the public and how distortion of said history can be problematic and persistent. In an attempt to make it useful, history is often used to justify a particular culture or perspective. Connections from the present are made to the past and a comfortable interplay is created. What I mean by this is that many people, unmaliciously most likely, get comfortable with a particular recitation of history, Professor Cebula’s Baron Von Munchausen Manager is a good example, and do not want to have their feathers ruffled. To be fair, not all feathers need to be ruffled, but when history is clearly misrepresented or entire aspects left out so as not to offend, then, by all means, ruffle away.
Mike Wallace’s first essay is an examination of American museums and the type of history they promote. His aim is to show that these museums were created by members of the upper-class and thereby depict an interpretation of history that lends support to said class and its goings-on. It should be kept in mind that these people are only enemies of history if they make themselves such. As Wallace said: “I do not contend that those who established museums were Machiavellian plotters; the museum builders simply embedded in their efforts versions of history that were commonplace of their class’s culture” (Wallace 4). So it is that people like Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller Jr. created places like Greenfield Village and Colonial Wiliamsburg respectively. Credit should be given where its due, and places like these could reasonably be considered the birthplace of the American Museum. This, in turn, leads one to wonder where and if these places of historical preservation would have arisen had it not been for these men of societal prominence that possessed rather considerable sums of disposable income. I would tend to think the answer is: there would be no museums. So we have these men to thank. However, as Wallace notes, “Ford’s village was a static utopia” and Wiliamsburg was “Planned, orderly, tidy, with no dirt, no smell, no visible signs of exploitation” (Wallace 12, 15). This is where good public historians step in and offer a few respectful corrections.
Establishing a museum or restoring a property is a valuable contribution to society and a commendable undertaking. With that being said, a denial or suppression of the facts of history in the face of good evidence is questionable and not conductive to a well-rounded understanding of history. However, this is what can be seen in the exchange between Professor Cebula and the Baron Von Munchausen Manager. Professor Cebula points out a few common historical myths such as women marrying at such a young age and the lack of literacy. That second item reminds me of a similar historical myth, that is, indentured servants that came to colonial America were criminals and rejects of society. Not true. In fact, indentured servants were quite skilled and most tended to be literate. But anyway, Professor Cebula, most importantly, notes that “The biggest problem with the interpretation at the Baron Munchausen House was the absence of slavery.” To this, the Baron Von Munchausen Manager says:
I feel that bringing up a hateful subject would
be cruel to the student, who would start hating
the messenger ..details of cruelty is a subject
most people with sensitivity do not want to hear about
amongst other things. Interesting, very interesting. You can’t change the past, even if it’s offensive. Maybe the Baron Von Munchausen Manager didn’t get the memo.
Speaking of changing the past, the near eradication of James Glover’s name form the city of Spokane seems just that in some ways. The Inlander article was very interesting, but at what point do we, as a city, remove someone as influential to the founding of the city as James Glover from public sight? Is a name on a street or a field an acceptance or condoning of disagreeable actions? I don’t think so. I think it’s too much ruffling in this case.