Managing History Blog 2, On Public Memory

The two readings this week both related to ideas and recent controversies surrounding public memory. Of the two, David Glassberg’s essay “Public History and the Study of Memory” was particularly interesting for what it lead me to. When he cited George Lipsitz’s work regarding the negotiation that takes place among people between their viewership of history as represented in popular culture and their own cultural/subcultural biases, it gave me something to read in the future because it relates to concepts I have been writing about and exploring i.e. who controls public memory and how popular culture influences public perception of historical events.
In Aden’s work, Upon the Ruins of Liberty: Slavery, the President’s House at Independence National Historical Park, and Public Memory explores the controversy and struggle surrounding the construction of the memorial The President’s House. Despite living only a few blocks away, I had not actually heard of it before this class. I was more aware of the world’s biggest Wawa that also sits not too far from the site. Aden’s work is ambitious for what it aims to say about public memory but I found it somewhat off; his discussion of other national memorials was fairly intriguing but when it came to the context for the site in relation to other landmarks the only ones that seemed significant in the area were Independence Hall and the site in North Philadelphia where Washington had stayed during the outbreak of Yellow Fever in 1793. I tried to think about the site in relation to Elfreth’s Alley, the narratives around both and their respective popularity and despite their relative proximity both seemed completely separate. I suppose it partly comes down to narrative control. In attempting to hide the history of the President’s House, only for it to be “rediscovered” around the turn of the millenia it(and those involved with the memorial project) allowed the public to have more of a role in shaping what the memorial would ultimately be. Elfreth’s Alley needed to be “saved” many times as one clipping from the collection in SCRC, but the fact that it had been continuously lived in ensured that with laws surrounding historical landmarks it could be an unchanging memorial. Because of this there wasn’t a built in history around Washington’s slaves that had been worked into a digestible, longstanding public narrative(at least at this site) like there had been for Elfreth’s Alley’s status as a quaint, aesthetic novelty.

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