Social Justice at Battlefield Sites
Posted by Max van Balgooy
Guest post by Ashley Phlipot, SHA Class of 2017
On Day 1 of SHA, we were introduced to Erin Carlson Mast, Executive Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC. During her keynote, she spoke on how her museum was intergrating social justice topics within their exhibitions and programming. She touched on the Students Opposing Slavery campaign, which is “an award-winning youth education program for students dedicated to continuing Lincoln’s fight for freedom by raising awareness about modern slavery within a high-risk population – teenagers.” By interpreting this type of slavery, this organization has expanded their mission of “continuing the fight for freedom” by making it relevant.
The topic of social justice continued to come up pretty much every day of sessions and in every conversation we had outside of the classroom. Hearing fellow classmates talking about how their sites and museums were also taking on this subject was inspiring, yet overwhelming. I kept asking myself how could I possibly integrate modern social injustice at my site, a War of 1812 fort and museum? I just feel grateful if visitors acknowledge that this war actually happened, as it is easily forgotten between the American Revolution and the American Civil War.
For days, I kept dwelling on it. Then it hit me: Military. I honestly don’t know what it took me that long to come to this conclusion, but now that it is in the forefront of my mind, I’m ready to tackle it.
I have the honor to personalize this often-overlooked war by telling the stories of soldiers (American, British, and Natives) who bravely fought for their respected nations’ beliefs, and to give acknowledgment those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the conflict.
And men and woman continue to do that every single day.
While the weapons, uniforms, and tactics of war are much different today, there are many parallels to soldier life that span the time periods: leaving home/family, training, fighting on the front lines, adapting to civilian life after conflict, life-altering injuries, casualties, even camp food.
Just the few ideas that have come to mind that I intend to take back to my organization are as simple:
- offering a veteran’s discount on admission daily (we currently only offer veterans free admission on Memorial Day and Veterans Day)
- partnering with Wounded Warrior Project to host a fundraiser on our battlefield
- being a “drop-site” for items that will be sent to soldiers overseas
Some ideas are much larger:
- an exhibit that compares and contrasts a soldier’s experience in the War of 1812 to more modern-day conflicts
- holding our own large fundraiser to raise funds for soldiers returning home
While my job at my site is to preserve the memory of those who fought in the War of 1812, I feel it is important for us to remember that their stories are not much different from the stories of soldiers in our present time. By comparing resources (or the lack thereof) that were available to soldiers who served in the battles that took place at my site, I have the opportunity and the platform to share how that compares or differs from what resources soldiers and veterans have today. More importantly, by doing this, we can help by raising awareness of what veterans need in our own community.
Ashley Philpot is the Office Manager at Fort Meigs Historic Site in Ohio.
About Max van BalgooyPresident of Engaging Places LLC, a design and strategy firm that connects people to historic places.
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