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.

 

QOTD: What is truly progressive?

Martin Thornton

“It is sometimes more progressive to look back a thousand years than to look forward three weeks.”

— Martin Thornton, English Spirituality

Who is Martin Thornton? Here is a brief introduction (click here for the more substantive one from which this is excerpted) that might be helpful:

“A farmer, Anglican priest and spiritual director who lived primarily in the UK yet also taught in the US (and almost became a professor at Nashotah House), Thornton’s voice in his 13 books remains remarkably sober, pastoral, and witty—yet rigorously theological and erudite.

His purpose was simple: he wanted to equip priests and lay catechists with the appropriate tools to teach prayer—liturgically, biblically, doctrinally, devotionally—that cultivates Anglican parish health within the Catholic Church toward our eventual union with the Holy Trinity at the Second Coming of Christ. His value to us today is that he wrote in prophetic anticipation of the then-nascent reconfiguration of Christian life to post-Christendom. That is, he wrote not to ‘keep the boat afloat’ but rather to ‘pick up after the party.’

“Anglicans have got themselves into quite a predicament, to put it mildly. For Thornton, the recovery of Anglican strength and genius lies not in recreating past glory but rather ressourcement: creative re-application through prayer of what formed us in the first place. It should then come as no surprise that his theological outlook is anchored in the Book of Common Prayer seen as Regula, that is, as a corporate system or Rule of ‘ascetic’ in the tradition of the Rule of Saint Benedict.”

 

QOTD: Severed from our roots

“A plant severed from its roots is more likely to attract parasites than to bear fruit. There is no substitute for direct connections with the past.”

— David Kucharsky

Indeed.

Or as I tend to phrase it, a tree severed from its roots is more likely to wither and die than to bring forth fruit. Two ways of expressing the same idea…

Banning Civil War Re-Enactments Will Only Increase Ignorance, Prejudice | The Federalist

Civil War Reenactors – Confederate

It’s a mistake to ignore the complexities of history in the name of social justice. Obscuring the past will not make our country better or more just.

Source: Banning Civil War Re-Enactments Will Only Increase Ignorance, Prejudice

“The rush to obscure the past will not make our country better and more just. It is a tremendous mistake to refuse to examine the complexities of history in the name of social justice. It is culturally suicidal to reduce life into the binary categories of ‘correct’ and ‘unmentionable.’ Furthermore, it is a mistake to fail to recognize the benefits that historical reenacting can and does bring to America.”

It is truly disgusting, depressing, heart-breaking, and yes, anger-inducing to see the depths to which we have plunged as a society in only a couple of years, to the point that the idea of banning reenactments – living history – is even thinkable.

The ignorance, arrogance, and authoritarian attitudes demonstrated by (some of) those who call themselves “liberal” or “progressive” are a disgrace to the terms. Such people, and such a worldview, have more in common with Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, or today’s ISIS than they do with classical liberalism or progressivism.

And it is appallingly ironic that some of those who claim that it’s possible, even admirable, to be “non-binary” where “gender” is concerned, have no trouble insisting on, as Ms Mussman accurately phrases it, reducing life into the binary categories of “correct” and “unmentionable.” If we continue down this path, we are doomed as a society. Doomed.

In such an environment, this essay by Anna Mussman is a ray of light and hope. Her list of the benefits of reenacting / living history to society are perfectly on-point. Kudos to her for writing this excellent essay! I just wish I didn’t have the sinking feeling that she’s preaching to the choir…