Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Working the Emancipation Proclamation

Ok, ok. So after my three-posts-in-one week in early January, I didn't post for a whole month. I have no excuses for my absence, just reasons why.

I would like to make a comment regarding working major events. Especially since the sesquicentennial is over the course of several years, there have been (and will be) many "signature events" throughout the country. Historic sites, parks, battlefields, and museums have used living history events, lectures, exhibits, and more to commemorate the American Civil War. The fiftieth anniversaries of many events that happened during the Civil Rights Movement have been occurring AND that whole bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812 has also been happening on the American landscape, too. Lots of anniversaries means lots of events, right!? You betcha.

Last week I worked a temporary position at the Tennessee State Museum for its opening of the "Discovering the Civil War" exhibit. I was specifically hired to help with crowd control while the Emancipation Proclamation was on display. The museum expected between 22,000 and 25,000 visitors over the course of the week. Over 30,000 came through.

Around 8,000 students came through from schools across
Tennessee to see the Emancipation Proclamation.
While working there, I encountered thousands of people. All week I thought of things I wanted to write about on this blog, from visitors' connections to the significance of the document being in Nashville (where, in fact, it legally made no difference). But after working that many days in a row, talking to that many people, and ending the week in a fog of a head cold, I decided the most I can say about it: the event is a blur. The week was long and it seemed to go by fast and I remember a few highlights, but honestly, the memory is a blur.

I think that is partly why I still have not posted my thoughts about the sesquicentennial events at Stones River National Battlefield. They are still bouncing around my head, but that freezing week went by crazy fast and before we knew it, it was over. We can provide visitation numbers as a measurement of success. We can share anecdotes about visitors' reactions. But we will not fully know the reaches of these events for a long time. I think assessment is a valuable tool as these commemorations are still on-going, but maybe the length of time is starting to become a blur, too? The 50th, or 150th, or 200th anniversaries will pass and what will we remember about them? More importantly, what will the public remember about them?

P.S. And yes, I got to see the Emancipation Proclamation AND the 13th Amendment. I suppose I can write about my personal reflections upon seeing the documents. That part is certainly not a blur.

P.P.S. I want to give credit where credit is due: the public programming staff at the Tennessee State Museum did a fantastic job. The staff commented a few times that maybe they over-planned since there were no major hitches during the week. They planned and implemented their plans exceedingly well, making for a positive experience for the vast majority of the visiting public. I know they must be exhausted, but deserve a huge pat on the back.

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