Monday, April 7, 2014

My Own Myth Busting

Have I been immersed in history these past few weeks? Yes. Has that history been difficult and sometimes muddled? Yes. Have I been interpreting (and attempting to interpret) that history? Yes. Wouldn't this blog be a great place to write about, say, that history and interpretation? Sure. I'll get around to it. As it turns out, I don't need to use this blog as an outlet so much when I work amongst some stellar interpreters (slash historians). I have the fortune of verbalizing all the thoughts with several folk (each with different backgrounds and contributions). 

One of my specific tasks I have been trying to complete before my departure has been composing a site bulletin (a brochure) on the famed "Raiders," of Andersonville. Why? Well, mostly because I opened my big mouth and said "we should publish a site bulletin on the raiders since obviously people ask about them and this could be a way to address the abounding myths of these guys." My supervisor agreed and issued me the challenge. "Easy peasy," I thought to myself. I like writing. I'm funny, evidently.

As it turns out, this prominent story of the place has been operating on myth for so long, even the few brave enough to write on the subject cite the myths, perpetuating the standing stories. So I got down and dirty and began digging into the primary source material, comparing what diaries said with early accounts against prisoner memoirs and then even later prisoner memoirs.

It amuses me that people think all park rangers hug trees
and save bears. This, in fact, is closer to a park ranger's natural habitat.
This story over the decades evolved from some criminal activity to gangs and gang violence to straight-up battles within the prison. It doesn't quite get here in the mythology, but it is close:

So I dove in and uncovered some evidence revealing that maybe there were more factors to the story than six bad guys who got executed. I'd go into detail, but I am still researching and writing and researching and uncovering. Does that ever stop? (Actually, no). I'll write more on the history of these guys later, I am sure. In the meantime, I navigate how to best deal with the interpretation of this story. Do I start with the myths and deconstruct them? Do I start with what we do know ("the facts were these")?  Do I gently approach this myth or blast it out of the water? It is one thing to engage during informal contacts and I can sense my audience and adjust based on the conversation. Indeed, as with many Andersonville misunderstandings, I have approached each visitor conversation differently depending on the individuals. However, when writing the account, a semi-permanent, broad-reaching device, what is the best approach? I have my ideas, but then I hear colleagues' suggestions and think "whoa, that's good, too!"

How have you known historians or interpreters to rock a myth's existence? What is the best approach here? I am still working this out. Stay tuned.