Within the past few weeks, there has a steady stream of Virginia history-related news. In Newport News, the Mariners Museum has been forced to close its lab housing the USS Monitor gun turret http://www.marinersmuseum.org/ and other large artifacts recovered in the early 2000s. http://www.change.org/petitions/united-states-congress-provide-funding-to-conserve-the-uss-monitor-collection is the link to the Mariners online petition form requesting federal funds to conserve the collection.
The chance to see the lab at the Mariners is gone for now, hopefully not for good with petition and email support, plus word of mouth. There are also two other opportunities to learn more: Dr. Anna Holloway of the Mariners Museum will speak this Monday, Feb. 3, at 7 PM, at the Williamsburg Regional Library (under the auspices of the Williamsburg Civil War Round Table). On March 13, Colonial Williamsburg will broadcast “The Iron Clads,” an account of the epic two-day naval battle in Hampton Roads in 1862, and the men who served on the Monitor and Merrimack. http://history.org/history/teaching/eft/broadcast.cfm is a list of local broadcasters for the 10 AM and 1 PM programs.
This collection, Dr. Holloway’s talk, and the Electronic Field Trip highlight and honor one of the most significant battles of the Civil War. Take time to check them out, and help support some of America’s great historic artifacts.
In the museum world, provenance is essential. Objects without a history are lost over time, orphaned by chance and lack of documentation. Sometimes, the information embedded in the piece itself is enough to secure its protection as a cultural relic, despite the loss of human information.
Archeologists, curators, and other professionals bemoan such disconnects: Simply put, objects outlive their owners or become separated from them. All too often, they float incognito in antique shops, resale stores, and yard sales, seldom rediscovered except by those who sense their significance and pursue it.
The ability to tie an object to its history is a connecting link between the past and present. Whether it’s in a museum collection, the media, or someone’s home, what we as humans really want is a story.
Who made it? How? What was its purpose? No matter what an object may be, it undeniably carries different meanings to different people: One person’s passion for vintage stoneware jugs equals another person’s love of first edition books or stamps. The story below concerns sentimental objects within families and the occasional miracles surrounding them, and this writer saw it unfold.
History has many entry points. For years, museums and living history sites focused on bringing visitors into direct contact with people, places, and things. The Milliner’s Shop at Colonial Williamsburg for years has offered a unique threshold experience for visitors, orienting them to 18th century fashion as art and business.
Milliner's Shop, Colonial Williamsburg
Yet, virtual experiences have taken hold of 21st century public history, and they also offer armchair visitors and classrooms intriguing views of historical sites. Colonial Williamsburg and other history based organizations increasingly are bringing virtual visitors to their sites.
Keep an eye out for more media sources like The Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s bird’s-eye view of Richmond, Virginia’s many historic sites at treetop level, with accompanying photos and descriptions of Richmond’s Civil War past. (One note on this interactive map: You’ll need to install Google Earth to use it.)
Other content-rich websites await you. The Virginia Tourism Commission has Virtual Virginia, with 360-degree video views of listed museums and history/heritage sites. Virtual Jamestown presents primary source documents, images, and engaging inter-actives on the Jamestown colony in its digital research and teaching site. The Virginia Historical Society has extensive online information about its current exhibits, complete with curators’ blogs.
All these resources enrich today’s public history, complementing on-site visits and providing fresh perspectives as we look at our past. There is undeniable magic in the face-to-face encounters of living history, and web resources extend their reach.