Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rating history sites, as a general matter.

Having spent my spare time in the last few weeks finally hitting a number of the history museums and other historic sites in this neck of New England, it occurs to me that there is a real need for a forum to discuss the relationship of these sites to what it is that we, as historians, are at least trying to do. It has often occurred to me that the kind of information that one encounters at such sites as, say, the Gilbert Stuart museum outside of Wickford, might actually cause problems that we must fix when we get into the classroom, even as such as sites (especially when they have a working snuff mill from the 1730s!) are invaluable resources as teaching aids. And, frankly, I happen to almost always find them helpful in informing my own research. One can encounter things (like snuff manufacturing in Rhode Island) that just wouldn't cross one's mind sitting in the bowels of a library writing the latest chapter. But the counterintuitive lack of attention to history at such places (the introductory video at the Stuart house is laughable) is troubling when one considers that much of what we face in the classroom is a process of helping our students unlearn what they think they know about the past.