Martyrs, Memorials, Pageants, and Parades: Race and the Politics of Remembering (and Forgetting) in Nineteenth-Century America

AHA Session 292
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Simmons Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
David Glassberg, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Sarah J. Purcell, Grinnell College

Session Abstract

How history is remembered shapes personal, community, and national identities. Societies and communities reconstruct, manipulate, and even forget their past to uphold patriotic and traditional values, to challenge or defend political and racial hierarchies, and to reinforce spiritual heritages. This panel session takes an interdisciplinary approach to understand how nineteenth century Americans commemorated and memorialized (and sometimes failed to remember) their wars, their troubled histories with Indians and other non-whites, and their place in the national narratives, all with an aim to claim racial, political, and spiritual currency. In conjunction with this year's AHA Convention theme, “History, Society, and the Sacred,” this panel seeks to deconstruct and understand historical, racial, and cultural meanings and identities in nineteenth century American memory practices. Jeffrey Kosiorek's paper discusses the conceptualization and realization of the Washington Monument as the embodiment of the national identity in the antebellum period. The Washington Monument Society sought to promote egalitarianism through the monument, yet it evinced a racialized and gendered ambivalence. Divisions over national identity and race, Kosiorek will argue, speak to the perceived power of commemoration in the antebellum period. Karin Huebner's paper examines nineteenth century Moravian commemorations of a massacre of Christian Indians in Gnadenhutten, Ohio in 1782. The timing of the forcible removal of the last Native American tribe from Ohio in July, 1843 and the inauguration of a memorial society by the Gnadenhutten Moravian church a mere four months later to commemorate their Indian brethren links their memory culture with the history of Indian removal. The local religious community of Gnadenhutten maintained its spiritual association with their Indian brethren by remembering their highest spiritual moment as a Christian body: the martyrdom of their Native brethren. But the spilt blood of Moravian Indians during the War for Independence carried political meanings as well, and held the potential to sanctify and incorporate the marginalized Moravian people into the national fold. Amy Greenberg's paper will explore the unexamined practice by Americans of forgetting the U.S.-Mexican War and will outline the key reasons why Americans failed to commemorate their war with Mexico. At the heart of the disavowal of the war were questions of race and empire that became increasingly problematic in the aftermath of the Civil War. Engaging Professor David Glassberg, a respected cultural historian and memory scholar, as chair of the panel, and, Sarah J. Purcell, an established history of memory scholar, to provide concluding comments, this panel hopes to produce a dialogue with the audience about potential directions for historians of memory and commemoration within the field of history.

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