Monday, June 23, 2008

Leaving "America's Historic Triangle"

I quote that phrase not to mock it, but because it's what all the signs on the freeway say.

We also hit a bonus location nearby:

I've found that I can usually judge the quality of a museum or historic site by two things: 1) whether they put their historical facts into a modern context; and 2) how much editorializing their descriptions contain. So far, the worst was probably Destrehan Plantation in Louisiana, where our guide barely mentioned their exhibit on the 1811 slave rebellion, even though it was the largest such uprising in American history.* The best has been the Archaearium at Historic Jamestowne, which features a CSI lab with two complete human skeletons and details on how they were reconstructed.

Finding the proper balance between context and comment can be tricky. I don't want you to gloss over the details of slavery, but I also don't need you to tell me that it was evil. (Kinda figured that out on my own, thanks.) I especially don't need you to tell me how "charming" a piece of folk art is, or how "terrible" a particular battle was. Just explain what the artifact is, what data you collected from it, and how those data led to whatever your conclusion is.

I guess I'm saying that I just want the science. Save the nostalgia for your grandchildren. They won't care, either, but at least my money won't be subsidizing it then.


* (Dis)Honorable Mention: The old coot at Log Cabin Village in Texas, who told us with a straight face that early American settlers had renamed maize to "corn" because the latter was mentioned in the Bible, and they wanted to "get in good with the Lord." I really wish I was joking about this.

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