Journeys through Storyscapes of the American Past
University of North Carolina Press 2016
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in ArtNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in EducationNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network October 30, 2017 Michael Amico
Richard Rabinowitz is one of the leading public historians in the United States. He has helped conceptualize, design, organize, and build over 500 history programs across the U.S. at such sites as the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Between 2004 and 2011, Richard curated six blockbuster history exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society, including Slavery in New York and Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn. He also drew up the interpretive and curatorial plan for the Slavery and Freedom exhibition at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Most of this work has come out of his founding and directing the American History Workshop.
The journey he has taken—from receiving his PhD in the History of American Civilization at Harvard to becoming a public historian and working on these exhibits—is the subject of his recent book: Curating America: Journeys through Storyscapes of the American Past (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). Over the course of the hour, I talk with Richard about the changing ways people have come to engage with the past and how this has impacted, and been shaped by, his many museum projects and exhibitions. Richard focuses on the materiality of lived experience. From it he culls knowledge of big ideas (such as freedom, revolution, and oppression) and uses places, objects, and the bodily sensorium to create “storyscapes” in which audiences can recognize themselves. Crucial to this process is the knowledge that audiences and museum-goers bring with them. Richard speaks to how he has, together with these stakeholders, generated a new historical awareness that is more reflective of our ever-changing present.
Michael Amico holds a PhD in American Studies from Yale University. His dissertation, The Forgotten Union of the Two Henrys: The True Story of the Peculiar and Rarest Intimacy of the American Civil War, is about the romance between Henry Clay Trumbull and Henry Ward Camp of the Tenth Connecticut Regiment. He is the author, with Michael Bronski and Ann Pellegrini, of “You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People (Beacon, 2013), a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Nonfiction. He can be reached at [email protected].