This week I wanted to take a moment to appreciate the importance of historic landmarks and sites. The majority of us are facing social withdrawal from the COVID-19 pandemic that plagues the states and elsewhere around the world. We all yearn to return to normalcy and revisit the places that we enjoy for various reasons. During these bleak times it can be easy to slip into a state of despair however, I feel that it is important to take time to reflect upon the places that give us joy. Namely, the places that are repositories of knowledge and tangible history.
Whether we recognize it or not, history is constantly surrounding us. It is both a physical and intangible constant that will endure the test of time. Sadly, not all history will get the chance to live on beyond a few years or even one generation. The problem with memory is that it must be treated with care and collectively remembered in order to be passed on to the next generation. When we appreciate the inherent value of what has come before us, we can treat the fragile framework that holds memory together with more care and enthusiasm.
Personally, one of the many things that attracted me to museums, historic landmarks and sites has always been that these spaces offered a place of learning that served as the missing piece of what was taught within the history classrooms of grade school. I remember the first time I went on a school trip to visit Old Salem, North Carolina; a historic Moravian community that was settled in 1753. It felt like stepping out of a time machine, nothing felt modern, the period reenactors both taught visitors about colonial life and interacted with them as if they were a part of Old Salem. It was quite the experience but back then I was not considering what exactly goes into delivering experiences like that for visitors from all over. What did remain for me was a physical impression of what colonial life was legitimately like, not just in Old Salem but for many places in the states. A whole new level of understanding and appreciation for the beauty of a collective human experience comes full circle when one takes the time to understand what effort and dedication it takes to maintain places of historical significance. Funny enough, it is the buildings and edifices which appear everlasting that are most susceptible to deterioration and destruction. Preservation extends beyond objects and cultural material but in this particular case it is historic buildings which deserve to be appreciated. People often will lament the loss of their favorite neighborhood restaurant but most of us could not imagine an instance in which the White House was replaced with a strip mall or some other unnecessary structure which does not engender any sense of value or history.
History is recorded in things we created and used, buildings lived and learned, in order to create a continuum of memories that within itself is a human gift. When our historic landmarks are destroyed and or forgotten, what we lose is a cultural resource which cannot be replaced. Attaching value to memory goes beyond barriers such as race, class, economics, philosophical or cultural beliefs. These are all thoughts that run through my mind when I think about how precious and important our historic landmarks are. There is much work that goes on behind the scenes to maintain places of significance to communities, be they local, national or global. The process of raising money annually to pay staff, provide building maintenance and to create programming is no easy task. Marketing, promotion, and social awareness to not only a local but global community are often taken for granted. Think about a time, perhaps while travelling outside of your home state, when you took a visit to a historic landmark that you had no idea existed. The entire time you were unaware of this place, it took much work and effort for it to be preserved in order for you to learn, embrace, and experience what was unique and inherently invaluable to this location. Once something is gone it cannot be replaced, replicas and carbon copies do not hold that certain magic of something original and irreplaceable. As we hope for things to return to normalcy and get better, let us consider the realm of public history and the role it plays in our lives that we may take for granted. I hope that we all can appreciate what makes certain historic sites important to not only our present but for the future as well.