Historical Sites, Public History, Southern History

Facing the Past Head-on

(Feminism AND Public History? Hey-OH!)

As a woman who grew up during the 1990’s Girl Power pop-movement and is now in the process of earning a PhD, who lives unmarried with her boyfriend, and believes in universal human equality it is no surprise that I am a feminist. Being a feminist, I read feminist blogs and webpages, like Jezebel.

Leslie Knope is the only thing I see in today’s pop culture that even gets close to the Girl Power I experienced as a young girl and she is pretty great.

This happened:

“Today in “whaaaaaaaat,” feminist icon Ani DiFranco has cancelled her four-day “Righteous Retreat,” a songwriting workshop for women. It was cancelled because it was going to be held at the Nottoway Plantation — one of the largest former plantations in the South, which now functions as a museum in which the horrors of slavery are totally sanitized and glossed over.”[1]

Author Callie Geusman goes on to explain how DiFranco offered up a “remarkably unapologetic “apology” “ where DiFranco pointed out that the history of slavery is everywhere and she did not make the connection.[2]

Geusman points out that the historical site’s web page claims that the plantation’s owner, Randolph Nottoway, sometimes paid his slaves and the slaves were generally okay. The effort here is meant to delude the negative (and real) memory of slavery, which is awful. Second, Guesman explains that Paul Ramsay an anti-gay, -abortion, and -immigration (respectively..maybe) supporter owns the site and thus influences the interoperation.  (Oh, man a historical site is curated to make the best (ugh) of an awful, awful history AND is owned by a wealthy, politically conservative person? Welcome to my world! Sarcasm aside and I am happy she pointed this out these are the things we need to be aware of, write about and making scene about.)

Geusman argues that DiFranco should have been more careful and more aware of the site’s lurid past (and present) and thus not had attempted to host the Feminist song writing retreat there in the first place. I agree, DiFranco needs to keep herself more informed, but she should have kept the retreat there.

A group of informed feminists are the prefect people to see that site, They would have benefited the  place immensely. People should not avoid ignorant interpretations at historical sites they should go there, be upset and make their displeasure known! (Raise hell!) We all live in a post structural world, meaning is what we make it, so why can’t Ani DeFranco and the rest of the retreat members go and make the plantation (a site of unimaginable human horrors, made worse by contemporary interpretations that intend to ignore the horrors of slavery and thus the racial inequalities that predicted after emancipation ) into a place where people recognize its past, work to fix the interpretation, and take from it the inspiration they need to make their music, their art, ect ect?

We cannot and should avoid or ignore the past, nor how people are skewing it to lessen its severity. We need to face the past and respond.

(At the moment I cannot speak about the exhibit, having not seen it, but I am now interesting in going there and seeing the interoperation and writing about it. Anyone want to fund me? Ha!) 


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