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Revolutionary Houses, Revolutionary Narratives: Historic House Museums on the Eve of America’s 250th Anniversary
May 4 @ 8:00 am - May 6 @ 5:00 pm
Sara Evenson, SUNY Albany
Anne Lindsay, California State University, Sacramento
Laura Macaluso, Independent Scholar
Hilary Miller, Golden Ball Tavern Museum and Pennsylvania State University
Amy Speckart, Rare Book School at the University of Virginia
In the US, the Revolutionary-Era historic house museum plays a long-standing and central role in the presentation and interpretation of early American history for the public. Successive generations of historians and heritage practitioners, from the amateur to the professional, have built a substantial and enduring narrative around the theme of the heroism of the American Revolution, uplifting individual canonical figures, commemorating selected historic sites, including the homes of Founding Fathers, and celebrating patriotism —while writing out the role of many others who contributed to the shape and development of the new nation. Today, the American struggle with this problematic overarching narrative continues to play out in the public sphere: from schools and curriculum, to monuments in the public square, to politics at the local and national levels. Historic house museum staff in collaboration with teachers, scholars, and community activists for the past thirty years have implemented momentous changes to the presentation and interpretation of their sites, and their work continues to evolve in response to new challenges.
This working group will convene virtually in the fall/winter of 2021 and in-person at NCPH in Montreal. The working group’s facilitators encourage scholars and historic house practitioners from inside and outside the US to address marginalization, the overwhelming masculinity of the narratives of this era, and the dependence on gendered language in the interpretation of the period. How are historic sites addressing the challenges of centering marginalized stories in curation, interpretation, and education? Where and how are we making room for more complex, nuanced Revolutionary-era narrations? How are we balancing new interpretation with perceived ideas of the meaning of “revolutionary” and the positive reception and/or pushback against change? We welcome participants who can broaden the geographic scope, including especially those working with houses in the Caribbean, Canada, and the early US borderlands.
Participants may become contributors to a publication dedicated to the same topic in development in anticipation of the 250th anniversary of the nation’s founding in 2026. The publication will consider the anniversary’s implications for historic house museums and historic sites; offer a brief survey of pertinent case studies highlighting the revision of narratives at Revolutionary-era historic house sites; and analyze techniques for researching and interpreting history at historic houses that address inclusivity and equity.