My Beautiful Wickedness

A must-read piece.
July 12, 2007, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Disclaimer: I had Jacki as a teacher at UI and she’s lightning over dry grass.

Go read Why I Can’t Visit the National Museum of the American Indian

I’ll be teaching American Indian History this fall, taking 15 students on that “trip to Mars” that she describes. I think this is going on the reading list.


3 Comments so far
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This was very interesting.

A couple of years ago I took my History of Africa class to a presentation about the construction in Brussells of museum presentations about the Belgian Congo. There was a very similar unwillingness there to face the realities of what the Belgians had done in Africa. Very much this sense of “no unhappy history.”

That quote about going somewhere else to learn about the Trail of Tears and about Wounded Knee just floored me.

Every semester I wind up having a conversation with a student on that theme of “why didn’t they tell us this.” I have students right here in NORTH CAROLINA – just about a half an hour’s drive from what used to be the Woolworth’s in Greensboro – who are surprised to discover that there used to be racially segregated bathrooms in this state (and when I show them side-by-side photos of the facilities, it usual drives home the idea that seperate is inherently unequal.) I think that is a very important question to pose – why are they STILL not hearing about this stuff? Why are freshmen survey courses still the source of so much surprise?

I know the answers why – but that doesn’t mean I understand them.

Comment by Gerald

Gerald, I have encountered twenty-somethings who aren’t aware that job ads used to be divided by sex (let alone race). I tell them that when I was first out of high school that’s what I encountered, and they refuse to believe it. Nothing that doesn’t exist now ever existed. There’s also the “I studied that in high school, but why are you asking me to remember it?” problem. Kids whose transcripts say that they have done AP work in world history will tell you that everything you present to them is new to them. Again, if it isn’t now, it can’t be held onto.

I don’t understand where this mindset comes from. I know that I never considered it hard to imagine things being some other way; it could be an unpleasant thought experiment, but not a difficult one. And I don’t remember other kids having trouble with it. I firmly believe that there is something in today’s short-atatention-span entertainments that makes extended imaginative work less likely. If I could figure out what it is I would tell everyone.

Comment by nm

Ugh. I forgot my original point. Talk about your short attention spans. Anyway, I visited the NMAI a few years ago and was very impressed with the collection but kept feeling a lack of context. My husband said I was being too historical-minded. I don’t know how a single museum would do justice to the different world-views, economic systems, and histories of all the different groups, but surely some attempt could have been made.

Comment by nm

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