Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Looking the Past Square in the Face

Posted By on Tue, May 6, 2014 at 5:30 AM

The folks at the Echoes of Nashville Walking Tour have a blog and they've been talking about trying to give the people who take their tours a full sense of what Nashville used to be like. So, I found this admission on the blog refreshing and honest:

That clamor of the Nashville market included auctioneers calling out bids. For people. That happened in Nashville. I don’t shy away from difficult history, but this one hit me hard. Maybe because I have been giving tours for well over a year and never once mentioned this aspect of the market on a tour. Maybe because I felt I’ve done some disrespect to the past by not mentioning this fairly common part of the marketplace. And maybe because even as a trained professional in the field of history, the humanity (or inhumanity) of the past can still rock me to my core.

It is hard to study history and to come to like the people you find there and to figure out how to reconcile your fondness for them with the terrible things they did. I think it's also hard to figure out how to talk about some of the worst moments in people's lives. It can feel voyeuristic to point to a place and say "Here's where children were ripped away from their mothers and disappeared" or "Here's the last place husbands saw their wives."

I think it's natural to avert your gaze from the site of tragedies, to even not realize that you're averting your gaze.

We've gotten a lot better about telling these stories. The State Museum's Wessynton Plantation exhibit is amazing. The care the zoo is taking with the human remains on the property is far and above what used to happen when bones were discovered. But we still have important stories that need to be told. And I'm glad to see the people charged with telling them being so thoughtful about their good works and their shortcomings.

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