Monday, July 23, 2007

Weekend in Richmond

This past weekend was my living history group's annual trek to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA. As always, this weekend turns into an opportunity to do a little site-seeing as well. In that spirit, I struck out on my own Friday and visited Pamplin Park for the first time. I went there both out of personal and professional interest. I've always wanted to go there, and have talked to Executive Director A. Wilson Greene in the past about working there. Also, my supervisor has discussed taking a field trip there with our Civil War site managers to see what kinds of ideas we can get as we lead up to the Civil War sesquicentennial. Pamplin Park was not exactly what I expected (not saying that's good or bad). I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, spent the majority of my day there, and am very grateful for the time that their staff spent talking with me. I had some truly genuine and useful interactions with some of their interpreters and other staff. It was one of the better visitor experiences I've had recently.

We had a good day at the MOC on Saturday, visiting with approximately 300 folks. In my experience, most of the visitors at the MOC are extremely interested, inquisitive, and generally well-educated and intelligent. I've had many engaging conversations at that museum over the past three years. On Saturday evening before heading to supper our merry little band stopped by Drewry's Bluff (an annual pilgrimage). As always, its just a spectacular site and I never cease to be amazed when I go there.

Sunday morning we decided to head over to Tredegar Iron Works to the National Park Service's battlefield visitors center. That's also one of our favorite sites. What was new since we were last there is the American Civil War Center. Though the exhibits in this new museum are impressive, it was very disappointing to me on a couple of levels. The name is misleading, as is their claim to tell a complete and balanced story. The exhibits from beginning to end are mainly about slavery, African American involvement in the war, and the legacy of the war on blacks in America. I don't have a problem with that at all, but I feel that they should just say that up front. In their opening video they claim to be telling the complete and balanced story of the war, but that is far from true. Very little of the Confederate story is told, though they do have one Confederate flag and a couple of Confederate coats (tokens at best). Not much more of the Union story is told past how the war effected the nation's African Americans. In no way is this museum presenting a complete story, nor a balanced one. Intellectually and visually this is a great museum; it simply falls short of its claims. It should more appropriately be called the Museum of the Civil War and its Legacy as it Effected America's African American Population (or some such thing). One of the coolest exhibits in this museum was a small display on the Civil War in American Pop Culture which featured Lee and Grant bobblehead dolls and the Dukes of Hazzard car, General Lee. My final analysis is that though this museum is very stimulating, it is horribly mislabeled and not at all what visitors will expect when they visit. Their claims to completeness and balance of story are terribly false.

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