Tag: Jill Ogline

Monticello & The Importance of Dissonance at Historical Exhibits by Sean Gibson

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”1 These are the famous words of Thomas Jefferson, one of our esteemed founding fathers. Despite these words proclaiming all men free, Jefferson was a lifelong slave-owner. An exhibit at his plantation Monticello, aptly named Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, detailed the lives of six slave families that lived there.2 It is important to make it apparent at exhibits related to the revolutionary era, exhibits like Monticello and Independence Mall, that the majority of the founding fathers owned slaves despite their own rebellious fight for freedom.(img source: http://americanhistory.si.edu/sites/default/files/exhibitions/jeff-slavery_b.jpg)

If visitors to these parks don’t have their beliefs about the American past challenged, they will leave with an unbalanced view of the men that shaped our country. Many Americans treat the founding fathers as infallible gods who passed down the stone tablets of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Look no farther than the Apotheosis of Washington in the US capitol building, with its absurd rendition of Washington looking down on us from the heavens, as an example of how Americans view the founding fathers. These beliefs about the founding fathers are dangerous, because they feed into the myths of American exceptionalism and moral decay. Excerpts like this one from a National Review article by Dennis Prager about American moral decay,show us what happens when these myths are not combated effectively enough. Historical facts showing a more nuanced story about our founders are somehow an attack on the “beacon of freedom to mankind.”(img source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/USA-US_Capitol3.JPG)

To the extent that American history is taught, beginning in high school and often earlier, American history is presented as the history of an immoral nation characterized by slavery, racism, colonialism, imperialism, economic exploitation, and militarism — not of a country that, more than any other, has been the beacon of freedom to mankind, and the country that has spent more treasure and spilled more blood to liberate other peoples than any other nation.3

Any responsible exhibit about the revolutionary period should also discuss the moral failings of our ancestors, if for no other reason then to show us how far we have come and that they were also mere mortals. As Jill Ogline argues in her piece, Creating Dissonance for the Visitor: The Heart of the Liberty Bell Controversy

It is quite another for a site synonymous with democracy and liberty to acknowledge explicitly the fundamental contradiction at the root of the American Revolution. Yet the admirable and dishonorable in American history are inter-twined—the past is an integrated reality. If slavery is engaged only at Civil War parks and plantation sites, not only is the broad reach of the peculiar institution underestimated, but a highly complex past is artificially divided into neat and mutually exclusive boxes. A historical perspective that denies the interconnection of issues and experiences provides poor preparation for life in a complex and contradictory present.4

Exhibits like Monticello and Independence Mall, and the complex stories they tell us about our own past are crucial to educating Americans, and preparing them for a ‘complex and contradictory present.’ These are the type of exhibits that the Federal Government should strive to create.


1. US Declaration of Independence

2.”Slavery at Jeffersons Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.” National Museum of American History. October 18, 2012. Accessed February 08, 2018. http://americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/slavery-at-monticello

3.Prager, Dennis. “Americas Accelerating Decay.” National Review. April 07, 2015. Accessed February 08, 2018. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/416543/americas-accelerating-decay-dennis-prager

4.Jill Ogline, “‘Creating Dissonance for the Visitor’: The Heart of the Liberty Bell Controversy.” The Public Historian 26.3 (Summer 2004), 55.

Mount Rushmore by Alyssa Deguzman

Just as the Liberty Bell is important to American history, Mount Rushmore does not fall too far back behind. From the year 1927 to 1941, it would take 14 years to create such a memorial so colossal and so vast.¹ On these large mountains were carved faces of four U.S. presidents who helped develop this country into what it is today. These people represented America’s history, and were the men of their eras during presidency. Meaning, that they contributed so much to this history that it is almost impossible not to know what they stand for. Mount Rushmore displays the four founding father of the country: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These faces are recognizable to the public and tell the story of the birth, growth, development, and preservation of this country.³

Both the Liberty Bell and Mount Rushmore share the fact that they both represent freedom. In Gary Nash’s Liberty Bell, he states that, “Perhaps only the face of George Washington could rival the Liberty Bell as a design motif, and in both cases freedom-America’s gift to the world-was the point to be made.” During the time of these presidents, they became icons to the country due to their desire to create a land full of equality, democracy, and freedom.Mount Rushmore continues to grow as a, “symbol of freedom and hope for people from all cultures and backgrounds.”³ The Liberty Bell and Mount Rushmore are the same because even though they are just a mountain and a bell, they express the hardships America has gone through in order to make it a great country.

Mount Rushmore holds a sense of uniqueness because unlike the Liberty Bell, it was forged purely from nature on the mountains in the Black Hills. Its creation symbolizes the dedication of the four hundred people who worked on the memorial had for their country, and how they used their pride to create something so great. Building the memorial was dangerous as well, as ninety percent of the mountain was carved using dynamite.¹ This shows, that despite the dangers of building this memorial, it was still sought through in order to show America, and the world, that these four men uphold our values. It serves to unite us as a country and remind us that since we are all American, we have the same “founding fathers.” Meaning, we all have a basic idea of American ideals and what these men would have wanted for us, and the country.

¹Charles D’Emery, “Carving History” last modified September 2, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/moru/learn/historyculture/carving-history.htm

²Gary B. Nash, The Liberty Bell (Yale University Press, 2010), 34.

³Gutzon Borglum. “History and Culture” last modified April 19, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/moru/learn/historyculture/index.htm

An Island of Hope and Tears: Erasing History on Ellis Island by Maxine Whitney

According to author Jill Ogline, the reason the Liberty Bell has become one of America’s most important and well recognized icons is because it is “a tangible “piece of history” electrified by a surrounding web of legend” (Ogline, 52). A much larger icon that could be described in a similar fashion is Ellis Island, the checkpoint for immigration into the land of the American dream from 1892- 1954. As visitors walk the halls of this isolated landmark, they are taken back to a time where people from all around the world believed that America, particularly New York, was a place where the streets were lined with gold and and the job opportunities were endless. This site continues to be a mecca that Americans are willing to travel to see because “the desire for an emotional connection with the past is a prime motivator in drawing visitors to historic sites”.

Even though the history of the Liberty Bell is still argued, and its importance and worth stem mostly from myth, both the bell and that famous crack connect American’s to their past and the very beginning days of their nation. In an article written by Gary B. Nash, he explains that even before it had cracked the bell had become a symbol, being appropriated by some into a symbol of anti-slavery as well as American freedom and Liberty. However, as discussed in Ogline’s piece, the feeling of liberty and freedom that the bell exudes today is covering up a dark past.

The Liberty Bell visiting center lies on top of the ruins of America’s first president’s home, specifically the section where his 8 slaves resided when they were not tending the field across the way. Even though the Park’s service assures critics that it was not a conscious decision to place the Bell on a slave sight, that does not excuse the blatant lack of discussion of slavery within the Liberty bell exhibit. The Park’s service would rather move that discussion, to a place where it hardly makes any sense, than move the Liberty Bell, essentially and physically covering up that part of history.

Ellis Island does not deny the sadder stories of it’s past. The website for Ellis Island, which is also run by the National Parks Service, calls the landmarks “Island of Hope, Island of Tears”.  There are several exhibits explaining exactly what happened if you were not cleared to enter the U.S and even stories of families who were separated. However, similar to the case of the Liberty Bell, the actual area where these tragedies occurred is left out of the exhibit. A New York times article pointed out that the main part of the museum where the story is told is only one of the 33 buildings on Ellis Island. The rooms and buildings where the sick and disabled were left behind for “treatment” and “rehabilitation” are not only off limits, but they have been neglected to the point of significant decay, essentially erasing that part of the story.

Even though both of these icons have their flaws, that is part of what makes them such important American icons. American’s will always need something physical to connect them to their past, and both of these do hold historical significance. Also, their problematic nature inspires really important narratives that allow American’s to critique and educate themselves and others.

Nash, Gary B. “The Bell Becomes an Icon.” Chapter 2. The Liberty Bell. N.p.: Integrated Publishing Solutions, 2010. 31-75. Print.

The National Parks Service. “Ellis Island.” National Parks Service. The National Parks Service: U.S Department of Interior, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nps.gov/elis/index.htm>.

The New York Times. “Ghosts of Ellis Island.” The New York Times: Opinion Pages. The New York Times Company, 8 Sept. 2001. Web. 4 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/08/opinion/ghosts-of-ellis-island.html>.

Ogline, Jill. “‘Creating Dissonance for the Visitor’: The Heart of the Liberty Bell Controversy.” The Public Historian 26.3 (2004): 49-57. JSTOR. Web. 4 Feb. 2016. <https://blackboard.temple.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/LA_MN_HIST_2818_1901956_50F/Jill%20Ogline%20Titus%20Creating%20Dissonance%20for%20the%20Visitor%20The%20Heart%20of%20the%20Liberty%20Bell%20Controversy.pdf>.

Images from:

1st Ellis Island Picture is from the Untapped Cities website: http://untappedcities.com/2014/12/11/10-fun-facts-about-ellis-island-you-might-not-know/

2nd Image is of one of the hospital buildings taken by Stephen Wilkes, presented on the NPR website: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6600709