Myth, Memory, and the Making of the American Landscape.
Consider these images: A country road. A marble sculpture. A reflecting pool. A rustic cabin. They are peaceful scenes, but deceptively so. Appearing as illustrations in Myth, Memory, and the Making of the American Landscape, these images call attention to the problem which the authors of this essay collection ably illuminate. The tranquil, snapshot quality of landscapes is but a veneer. In fact, landscapes embody histories of conflict over how the past is to be remembered, transformed, or forgotten. These underlying tensions can be especially powerful in landscapes of national significance, where desires to present idealized images of the past often obscure more complex histories.
This volume, edited by Paul A. Shackel of the University of Maryland, offers twelve landscape case studies written by archaeologists and public historians. Taken together, these studies leave no doubt that landscapes teem with social history, as groups with competing interests vie for control over the shaping and reshaping of built environment. These essays also show that in public history settings, the presentation of social history remains in a state of evolution, sometimes embraced but more often neglected or purposefully obscured.
The essays are organized into three thematic sections. The first, "An Exclusionary Past," focuses on the often-contentious process of increasing the visibility of marginalized histories. Clearly, struggles continue to be waged for recognition of the histories of women, African Americans, Japaneses-Americans, Native Americans, and local communities within landscapes of national significance. The mythic landscapes of Virginia figure prominently in this section. Audrey J. Horning pinpoints the 1930s as a pivotal era in which the work projects of the New Deal aided in the construction of a Jamestown without a hint of failure and a Shenandoah National Park that idealized the rural past even as its creators displaced physical evidence of that past from the landscape. Federal influence on public memory also has been felt at Manassas National Battlefield Park, where Erika K. Martin Seibert highlights the selective remaking of a landscape which honors the battles of the Civil War but downplays the history of local community, especially the presence of African Americans. Additional essays trace the struggles to resurrect the Woman Monument (depicting women's rights pioneers) from the basement of the U.S. Capitol; to memorialize the experience of Japanese-American internment at Manzanar; and to negotiate the control of public memory at Wounded Knee.
The second thematic section, "Commemoration and the Making of a Patriotic Past," focuses on ways that meanings of commemorative landscapes change over time. Here, Martha Temkin's study of interpretive conflicts at the Antietam National Battlefield Park and Laurie Burgess's analysis of levels of meaning within Arlington National Cemetery both call attention to the problem of "landscape freezing"--that is, attempts to treat landscapes as time capsules of selected moments in time. As Temkin asserts, in an argument that resonates with the essays throughout this volume, "Cultural landscapes are not static things, but dynamic accumulations of human activity interacting with the natural environment and shaped by the myriad of meanings given to a place through time" (132). Such dynamics of meaning and memory also characterize monuments, as Shackel's case study of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial in Boston shows by tracing the shift in public attention from Shaw, the white colonel, to his African American troops.
To conclude, the section "Nostalgia and the Legitimation of American Heritage," calls attention to issues of authenticity in landscapes, from the carriage roads of Acadia National Park, to the supposed birthplaces of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to the urban environment in and around the Camden Yards sports complex in Baltimore. Erin Donovan's essay about Camden Yards is both a case study of the erasure of labor history and a first-person detective story of her quest to understand how such historical amnesia could occur. While history as momentous as the Railroad Strike of 1877 is forgotten in Baltimore, a fabricated history is on display in Kentucky, where an improbable memorial temple surrounds a Lincoln "birthplace" of dubious origins. While a number of the essays in this volume criticize National Park Service management of cultural landscapes, here NPS chief historian Dwight T. Pitcaithley represents another dimension of federal history work with his dogged pursuit of the truth of the legendary "Lincoln logs" from Kentucky to Coney Island and back again.
This collection does not claim to break theoretical ground for scholarship in history and memory, but the case studies, the editor's introduction, and a foreward by Edward T. Linenthal are rooted securely in established interdisciplinary approaches to history, memory, and the built environment. Readers of this volume will surely cast a more critical eye upon the landscapes of history. Historians will see that opportunities for investigating social history are found not only in libraries and archives but also in and on the land, which can be made to yield as much history as it sometimes conceals.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Repainting the Little Red Schoolhouse: A History of Eastern German Education, 1945-1995.|
|Next Article:||What is History Now?|