Personal meaning through analytical frameworks

In “From Women’s History to Gender History,” Ashley Luskey and Robert Dunkerly detail their attempts to introduce gender into programming at Richmond National Battlefield Park. This doesn’t mean gender as a social category and layering in representations of women’s experiences, but gender as feminine and masculine “’ways of perceiving’ that have shaped the way individuals have engaged with, represented, and ultimately made sense of those experiences.” (149-150)

They did so in walking tours of the Richmond Bread Riot and in a real-time program that followed the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery at the Battle of Cold Harbor. I particularly like the way this framework is woven into the Cold Harbor program, as the visitor is asked to think not just of the tactics, but also the expectations of nineteenth century masculinity that faced these men and made them (mostly) hold fast in the face of withering fire. I suspect this might find purchase among audiences that self-select as the type who might take this tour.

I am particularly interested in the frequent references to “facilitated dialog” as a technique used on these tours. How does that actually work in engaging visitors in historical discussions of no particular contention? Is it more of a seminar type discussion with the ranger as the facilitator? Or is it something from the NPS’s Interpretive Facilitator’s Toolkit that follows an Arc of Dialog and utilizes techniques like the Wagon Wheel or the Fishbowl? At what point does the guide/facilitator explicitly or implicitly introduce the framework? Did visitors know they were getting a gender analysis? If so, how did the guides make this attractive?

Anyhow, their interpretive framework is deeply rooted in academic language, and they make great claims on the outcomes—

By jointly analyzing and openly discussing with visitors an array of newspaper reports, diaries, court cases, letters, and academic scholarship through the lenses of language, material culture, dramaturgic symbolism, memory, and the layered meanings of public spaces, rangers successfully unraveled how complex conceptions of gender shaped this event and how it has been represented in the historical record. During these tours, visitors came to understand that, through simultaneous rejections of and adherence to traditional nineteenth-century gender norms regarding femininity, respectability, dignity, and dependence, the Richmond Bread Rioters critiqued traditional gender prescriptions and policies while seeking access to the privileges and protections such prescriptions afforded them. Onsite discussions about this complex event ultimately enabled rangers to pull back the curtain of both history and public history in new ways that not only empowered visitors to pursue their own future historical inquiries but also successfully blended gender and gender analysis into place-based tours that highlighted the political, social, economic, and cultural implications of a way that was not only civil but civic in nature. (160)

Here is where I wish the authors and the editors had insisted on providing data to back up their claims. Did visitors really walk away understanding that “through simultaneous rejections of and adherence to traditional nineteenth-century gender norms regarding femininity, respectability, dignity, and dependence, the Richmond Bread Rioters critiqued traditional gender prescriptions and policies while seeking access to the privileges and protections such prescriptions afforded them”? Maybe they did, but how do we know? Were visitors really equipped to “pursue their own future historical inquiries”? By whose measure did the program successfully blend “gender and gender analysis into place-based tours that highlighted the political, social, economic, and cultural implications of a way that was not only civil but civic in nature”? Did visitors walk away with anything else? If so, what was it?

If they have successfully done these things, then this is truly an interpretation breakthrough. But I’d like to know that they actually did so, and if so, how they did it.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s