Happy 99th to the National Park Service!; NPS & Reconstruction; public history of slavery & Civil War; Katrina museum; how a volcano changed the world

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The National Park Service turns 99 today, and to celebrate, they are providing free admissions at every one of their sites. Happy Birthday to an institution that positively impacted my own professional career, is “America’s Best Idea,” and is perhaps our most important source of public history education.

Fittingly for today, the New York Times has a great piece on the National Park Service’s goal to use its sites (and perhaps create a new one) to overcome some of the myths about Reconstruction that still dominate popular perceptions of the era.

And while we are on the subject of how public history can help overcome ignorance, The Atlantic has posted a really good (and short) video about the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, currently the only historic home site with the central mission of memorializing and educating the public about slavery. I love what the founder says about how whites want blacks to “just get over it,” in regards to slavery, and yet many often have no clue what “it” was. I would also add, that the people who seem to be the most vocal about blacks needing to “get over” slavery, are usually the very same ones that have so much difficulty “getting over” the glorification of the Confederacy.

More on public history: During the sesquicentennial events of the Civil War, we heard some historians complain that the public events and responses from the public had been “anemic.” Well, this economic impact study for Virginia suggests differently.

Still more public history: Ten years after Katrina, much of New Orleans has recovered, but the lower 9th ward has not. However, the story of the heroic efforts to rebuild the neighborhood (that before the storm contained one of the highest rates of black homeownership) is now getting told in a new museum. The facility is helping to preserve a culture and forcing people to grapple with race and class inequality.

And speaking of natural disasters, the New York Times has this really interesting story on an 1815 volcanic eruption that darkened the world, essentially blotted out the summer (there was a June blizzard in New York!), and indirectly led to the great fiction that brought us vampires and Frankenstein. Seriously, check this one out.

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