Lori D. Ginzberg, “Mainstreams and Cutting Edges.” Journal of the Early Republic 36, no. 2 (2016): 319–25. doi:10.1353/jer.2016.0020.
In Philadelphia, where I live, archeologists digging across the street from Independence Hall found long-buried rooms where George Washington kept his slaves, whom he had brought to the new nation’s capital from Virginia. What emerged after a contentious public discussion was the so-called President’s House exhibit at the entrance to the Liberty Bell, the first national park site devoted to slavery: an open-air, free display of dramatic video portrayals of Washington’s nine slaves. Aside from the historical discussion of slavery in the midst of declarations of freedom and independence, the site itself offers an important metaphor. Now, tourists simply cannot walk into the structure that houses the Liberty Bell without passing it. They might ignore the videos, skip the lesson, choose not to become involved in the enslaved Americans’ stories, but they have to work to do so. Ignoring the President’s House requires both a convoluted path to the Liberty Bell and an effort of will. How do historians, and our audiences, sometimes manifest the same kind of willful ignorance and selective memory that leads some tourists to circumvent the President’s House in order to leave the heroic narrative undisturbed?