AmericanStudies

One Interesting American Thing per Day

Ben Railton

Ben Railton
Location
Needham, Massachusetts, US
Birthday
August 15
Title
Associate Professor
Company
Fitchburg State University
Bio
One interesting American thing per day, from a professor of American literature, culture, history, and Studies. Check out http://www.americanstudier.org for more!

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MAY 14, 2012 8:05PM

May 14, 2012: NEASA Colloquium Highlights, Part One

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[On Saturday, May 12th, I had the honor to run the second annual New England ASA Spring Colloquium. We met in Salem, first at The House of the Seven Gables and then out and about in the historic district, and talked about historic sites, public history and memory, place and identity, and much more. In this week’s series I’ll be briefly highlighting each of our six featured speakers and a bit on his or her interesting and inspiring talk and ideas. Your feedback and ideas are welcome too!]

Our first speaker, Nat Sheidley, shared some of the challenges and opportunities presented by his work with the Bostonian Society and the Old State House Museum.

The Old State House Museum is at an interesting turning point: with its 300th anniversary coming up next year, the Museum is working hard to become a more 21st century, interactive and engaging, complex and vital part of Boston, New England, and America’s presentation of its history, most especially of the Revolutionary War and era. One of the best steps the Society has taken so far was hiring Nat to be the director of public history and of the project, as he proved at the Colloquium, sharing his thoughtful, multi-part approach to creating a “radically inclusive” and very exciting museum and living history space.

As Nat noted in his talk, the Old State House has a built-in population of visitors, since it’s part of Boston’s Freedom Trail, one of the most popular historic “sites” in America. While the proposed changes will certainly make the museum a more complex and meaningful site for all those visitors, however, they also are geared toward connecting the museum more fully with all of the communities and experiences that constitute 21st century Boston and New England. After all, as Nat argued eloquently, public historic sites that don’t speak to those who live around them in the present can become simply antiquarian—and he believes instead, as do I, that the past has a great deal to say to the present and future.

Nat’s talk was a great way to start our day off! Next talk tomorrow,

Ben  

PS. What do you think?

5/14 Memory Day nominee: Ed Ricketts, the marine biologist and philosopher who helped change America’s relationship to its oceanic and natural worlds and who served as the inspiration for the character “Doc” in his friend John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

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