Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation’s Historical Sites? | Intellectual Takeout

Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation's Historical Sites?

“I don’t think my wife and I saw a single school group during our entire visit to Philadelphia.”

Source: Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation’s Historical Sites? | Intellectual Takeout

“Colonial Williamsburg attracts only half the numbers of people it attracted 30 years ago. Colonial Williamsburg lost an average of $148,000 a day in 2016, and the Foundation is now over $317 million in debt. Williamsburg has outsourced many of its functions and laid off staff.”

As someone who literally grew up visiting historic sites, and living-history sites in particular – my parents were both lovers of history, and hardly a year went by, during my school days, that I did not visit Colonial Williamsburg, not to mention many other locations such as Jamestown, Plimoth Plantation, Historic Deerfield Village, and Mystic Seaport, among others – and who has served as a historic interpreter at several sites (Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Historic London Town, Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, and weekly interpretation of the historic Martin Cabin at Hashawha Environmental Center, when I was teaching at the Carroll County Outdoor School), this is personal to me.

The drop-off in visits to Civil War sites is perhaps somewhat understandable, if disappointing, given the often-violent controversy over Civil War symbols and iconography that has shattered the shared understandings and mutual forbearance that governed our collective response to that tragic conflict, until fairly recently. But Civil War sites are not alone in suffering from a distressing decline in visitors.

“Part of the problem, says McWhirter, is ‘changing tastes.’ But Mike Brown, a Civil War battle re-enactor, has another explanation: ‘The younger generations are not taught to respect history, and they lose interest in it.’ Williamsburg’s Ries makes the same observation: ‘[L]ess American history is being taught in schools.”

It’s not just Williamsburg, nor is it limited to sites related to the War Between the States:

“Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, Custer Battlefield National Monument in Montana, West Mesa Petroglyphs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Penn School in Frogmore, South Carolina, Cannery Row in Monterey, Calilfornia. These places, prominent fixtures in the imaginations of generations of adults and schoolchildren, are receding into oblivion, thanks to an education system that doesn’t seem to value our heritage.”

This is not only sad, it’s dangerous.

A people severed from their history are a people adrift; they have not the knowledge and understanding necessary either to make sense of how we got to where we are today, nor to shape an intelligent and productive course into the future. Like a tree severed from its roots, a nation and a society severed from its past is far more likely to wither and die than it is to grow, blossom, and bear fruit.

And living history – a form of experiential learning, in which attendees are able to step, if only temporarily and partially, into history itself and see it, to some degree, from the “inside” – is perhaps the best way to inculcate within people (young people especially, but people of all ages) a sympathetic appreciation (and if one is fortunate, a passion) for not only the events of the past, but the people of the past, the challenges they faced, and their accomplishments in meeting them.

Field trips to such sites used to be an important and ubiquitous part of the education of school-age young people. But no more, apparently. When I read in this article that “I don’t think my wife and I saw a single school group during our entire visit to Philadelphia,” I am quite literally heartsick.

I understand the value of STEM, and I do not wish to appear to be beating on it; but as I have said elsewhere, our obsessive concern with scientific, technical, engineering, and math-related education – at the expense of the humanities, including history – is leading to a world full of people who may (or may not) be skilled in the technological and scientific disciplines, but are ignoramuses, through no fault of their own, in the fields that lead to both good citizenship and full human flourishing: art, literature, music, history, philosophy, and related disciplines.

As a friend of mine posted today, by a remarkable serendipity:

1999: Study STEM. Humanities will be useless in the 21st century.

2009: Study STEM. Humanities are useless in the 21st century.

2019: Why is our democracy falling apart? It’s like no one understands how it’s supposed to work anymore!

Couldn’t have said it better, myself.

 

Happy Independence Day (U.S.)!

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Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans! May God grant us the wisdom to cherish and preserve what our Founders gave us.

The Collect for Independence Day.

O ETERNAL God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Our Country

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— from The Book of Common Prayer 1928.

Today is the “Fourth of July,” America’s Independence Day, when we celebrate the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, which was enacted (actually on the 2nd of July) by the Continental Congress in 1776. While as a Royalist and Anglophile, I have some regrets about this, as an American I am grateful for it, and deeply respect our Founders and those who have fought for our freedom in the years, decades, and centuries since.

And in light of some of the things that have been going on in Britain in recent years – mass immigration of alien peoples with alien creeds, a BREXIT that so far has gone nowhere, and an increasing stripping of the “rights of Englishmen” for which we Colonials were originally contending from the people of Britain itself – I find myself increasingly glad that we are not part of that. We have our own problems to deal with, without a doubt (and mass alien immigration is one of them, as is the existence of many who would strip us of our rights if the Constitution allowed, and/or who seek to find ways to circumvent the Constitution), but at least we are free from the specific problems that England, and the rest of Britain, are facing.

So it is a joy to celebrate our independence on this day, and today was a very good celebration of Independence Day for me, personally. I spent it in Gettysburg, in good company – with dear friends of mine – doing a good thing: living history. We were interpreting the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry “Rough Riders,” of the Spanish-American War: the war which not only helped to bring the U.S. back together after the horribly divisive War Between the States (the “Civil War,” so-called), but also established us as a world power. It was a real pleasure to be educating people about this little-known and almost forgotten, yet extremely consequential, conflict, and we had the opportunity to talk to quite a few very interesting people in the process!

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It was intensely hot and muggy: rather reminiscent, in fact, of the conditions in Cuba, 120 years ago, when the Rough Riders, led by then-Lt. Col. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, participated in the assault on San Juan Heights outside Santiago, and then the attack on Santiago itself, to liberate the island from the Spanish. One can argue whether we should have been doing that, as one can argue many events in history; but there is no question that that war transformed the United States, effectively overnight, from an agricultural backwater to a world power. Interpreting one of the most famous episodes in that conflict was good way to spend the Fourth of July, heat, humidity, and bugs notwithstanding! Although I confess that it feels good to be clean, and in air conditioning, now. And bed will feel good, as well!