In the introduction and first few chapters of Mickey Mouse History by Mike Wallace we are introduced to the idea of museums, historical sites, and pretty much anything having to do with the preservation of history. We learn about who was able to preserve, mostly the rich, and what they preserved. People like Henry Ford wanted to preserve anything American, including the way of life. Other museums preserve almost anything you can think of. In these first few chapters we learned that because of what was chosen to be preserved we may not have a full understanding of history. We have places like Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, but we don’t typically have the home of an ordinary man. We also see that museums are not always completely focused on education, but also on entertainment and interest. This can be seen by Mr. Cebula’s visit to the Baron Von Munchausen Historic Home and his resulting blog posts on the matter.
The two blog posts in this week’s readings go hand in hand with each other. As I read the first one, “Open Letter to the Curators of the Baron Von Munchausen Historic Home” (http://northwesthistory.blogspot.com/2010/06/open-letter-to-curators-of-te-baron-von.html), I felt exactly the same as Mr. Cebula. He had a right to write back to the museum with his opinions and ideas on how to better the experience of any future visitors. I will discuss some of the more interesting points that I found.
We shouldn’t “whitewash” our history and use the word servants instead of slaves when we know that the people being mentioned were absolutely slaves. Also, it is important that we tell the truth about why we have certain sayings. One example of this used in the reading says that the reason we have the term “to save face” came from the use of fireplace screens to keep colonial women’s’ wax makeup from melting off. Mr. Cebula counters this story by pointing out that colonial women hardly ever wore makeup and when they did it was not made of wax. Other examples of “incorrect” history at this museum had to do with the marrying age of women and school education of children. The museum guide pointed out that women tended to marry in their teens, usually around 12 or 13. They also said that only the rich were literate and that public education was rare and not introduced for women until the 19th century. In reality, information gathered from other areas in the region showed that women usually married around 22 and men around 27. In addition, it showed that literacy rates in the North were around 45% for women and 75% for men and in the South it dipped to 40% for women and 50-60% for men. Still, this was quite higher than what the guide implied.
In the response letter sent back to Mr. Cebula, shown in the post titled “You as a Professor should stop bringing into the 21st century all this negativism” (http://northwesthistory.blogspot.com/2010/09/baron-von-munchausen-strikes-back.html), the museum curator outlines exactly why they do things the way they do at that particular museum. The area the museum is located in has a high percentage of black people, so when it gives tours to schoolchildren many of those children are also black. When they would tell the stories of the saves and what jobs they would do around the house many of the black children were teased, or called slaves, by the other children, embarrassing the black children. This was not okay, so the guides started referring to the slaves as servants so as to not let those actions continue. As for the reasons why the origins of saying may not be exactly true is that the guides are trying to go for the entertainment and enjoyment of the young visitors they receive who want to hear sayings and “ghost stories” of the past. Lastly, education and marital age, I feel, can be grouped together here. In the museum the guides are not spitting out facts from the rest of the country, or even regions around their city, they are, instead, educating solely on their city. And in their city public education hardly existed and many people married very young simply because they died very young, especially women when it came to matters such as child birth.
I think that the point of these two posts were to help us understand that as historians it is our job to tell the truth and to educate the public about the past, but it is also our job to cater to the area, just as the Baron Von Munchausen Historic Home has done.
The story from the “Inlander” outlining the history of Spokane Washington’s founder, James Glover (http://www.inlander.com/spokane/facing-history/Content?oid=2336047), is also an interesting one on what has and hasn’t been preserved for the public to see. I come from Spokane and I had never heard the “true” history of this man told in the article. Apparently, Mr. Glover should be condemned for abandoning his wife of 24 years because she had a mental illness. I do believe that it was not right of Glover to send her away and hardly give her anything in return, but, it seems, that their relationship went along with the times. The couple was unable to have children, which was an important thing to do at the time, the late 19th and early 20th century. It also seems that a miscarriage or stillbirth could have been the cause of Mrs. Glover’s breakdown in the first place. Today we look at this and we think that Mr. Glover was a monster, and a cruel man. However, it seems that no one batted an eye while he was preforming these actions in the first place which leads me to believe that this was not an unusual thing to do at the time. So, just as we cannot condemn men for practicing slavery when that was a trademark of the times, we cannot fully condemn Mr. Glover of his actions either.
All of these readings tie together because they show us that history isn’t always all up front. There are reasons behind why only certain parts are preserved and taught and why other parts are excluded. Sometimes it is as simple as something else being more interesting, sometimes it is to keep certain people from feeling bad about their past and the operators of the museum reading their area and what make the most sense for it, and other times it is just a matter of excluding details because they seemed so normal at the time that they weren’t important to keep records of. And that’s what part of being a historian is about. We need to know when to include certain details and when to exclude others and have justifiable reasons behind it.