The essays in the August 2017 issue of The Public Historian all deal with the diverse historical narratives that reside in any historical site or event. From Jesuit missions to statues and monuments, from ships to wars, many competing stories can emerge—over time or simultaneously.
In “A Tale of Two Missions,” Debora Ryan and Emily Stokes-Rees take us to two former Jesuit mission sites that share a common history as missions and living history sites but that have adopted very different approaches to challenging traditional frontier narratives, one by adding layers to its living history interpretation, challenging traditional narratives to tell messy stories from both native and non-native perspectives, the other by focusing on indigenous knowledge and contemporary communities, relying on oral histories and contemporary art, perhaps at the peril of disappointing visitor expectations. Madeline Bourque Kearin, in “The Many Lives of Chief Kisco,” examines how a mass-produced statue of a generic Native American became a symbol of white nativism in the New York community of Mount Kisco through a narrative of native disappearance, how that narrative was challenged by contemporary native communities, and finally, and how a statue of Columbus, which ironically faces Chief Kisco, has come to represent white identity today in this increasingly diverse community.
The final two essays in the issue focus on the interpretation of wars and ships. Philip R. Byrd, in “The Continuous Existence of Historic Ship Museums,” uses the example of the SS John W. Brown to argue that ships—and perhaps by extension other historic sites—on the National Register should not be bound by the limits of their “Period of Significance” as defined by their Register nomination in their interpretation, but should—indeed must—tell multiple stories. These historic site are not frozen in time and have many stories to tell, over many periods of significance, and they must tell them in order to connect with contemporary audiences. Anna Muller and Daniel Logemann, in “War, Dialogue, and Overcoming the Past,” describe the shifting narratives told by the newly opened Second World War Museum in Gdańsk, Poland. In this case, a museum that sought to present the complexity and moral ambiguities of perhaps the most contentious period in Polish history has become the center of controversy itself as a new nationalist government in Poland seeks to tell a different, less troubling story of Polish heroism.
The reviews highlight the variety of topics and methods of public history, looking at subjects as diverse as comics, divorce, incarceration, mourning, ranching, and more. Editorial offices for The Public Historian are located at UC Santa Barbara and at MARCH at Rutgers–Camden.