Discussion Richmond’s new Civil War museum aims to shatter conventional views of the conflict

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Belle Montgomery

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The American Civil War Museum, which opens May 4, tells the story of the Civil War from an array of perspectives. (Julia Rendleman/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — Sheets of rain pounded the towering glass walls of this city’s new American Civil War Museum as workers raced to finish preparations for its May 4 opening. It seemed fitting for the Capitol of the Confederacy — gray skies above, gray stone below, and across the lobby the ruined brick archways of the former Tredegar Ironworks.


But behind that ruin — artfully preserved as the centerpiece of the $25 million facility — the exhibits aim to shatter expectations of what a Civil War museum looks like.


Yes, there are all the artifacts you’d expect: Robert E. Lee’s hat. J.E.B. Stuart’s boots. A Confederate battle flag.


And there are “Hey, Mabel!” oddities: a fossilized biscuit from the siege of Vicksburg, a pocket journal split by a fatal bullet.


What’s different, though, is the story that they tell. Museum chief Christy Coleman, curator Cathy Wright and their staffs and contractors have set out with the grandest of ambitions to reframe the way visitors view this crucial part of American history and the way that past continues to reverberate.


The project’s groundbreaking took place a few days after the 2017 violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Today, as it nears its unveiling, Charlottesville remains atop the national dialogue about race. And Virginia’s top elected official, Gov. Ralph Northam (D), is embroiled in a scandal about a blackface incident from his youth.


The roots of those racial tensions, Coleman said, are exactly what the museum is trying to address. Not by highlighting division but by...

REST OF ARTICLE:https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/richmonds-new-civil-war-museum-aims-to-shatter-conventional-views-of-the-conflict/2019/04/26/f0b7e7ce-6785-11e9-a1b6-b29b90efa879_story.html
 

Patrick H

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I will probably have an opportunity to see the new museum one day soon. I saw the previous iteration last June, and liked it very much. In particular, I liked the way the war was presented along a timeline. There are lots of ways to interpret collections. I will keep an open mind to what might be in store with the new museum.
 
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Rusk County Avengers

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I just hate they're building around wartime ruins, (why didn't they spend that money on rebuilding them?) and trying to have modern agenda in interpretation. Heck I go to museums for seeing historical items and the specific history behind those objects, not to have "views" shattered! I got books for that and so do most museum goers lol.

I just think its a shame modern politics and agendas are infecting museums, museums are for exhibiting artifacts, not trying to start a political argument, or trying to change peoples historical views, or pushing agendas, and ruining historical ruins by building a modern structure around them.

I'm sure the old MOC had problems that needed solving for a new era, but I personally don't see this as a good one. All it does is create more controversy, heck it gets me riled up. I reckon it creates more problems than solve 'em.
 

Jamieva

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So instead of 'views shattered' they should keep the lies going that have been taught for decades? I don't understand the rationale of that at all. There is zero indication in the linked article that the museum has modern politics tied to it.

Yes the old MOC had problems. Nobody was going to it. Their attendance was dropping dramatically year over year. Having the word Confederacy in the name was never going to allow the museum staff to reshape the museum in a modern way that tells teh full story of the war. If you search posts on here at the time, there are SCV members who are very upset the museum is gone.
 
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Vicksburger

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I just hate they're building around wartime ruins, (why didn't they spend that money on rebuilding them?) and trying to have modern agenda in interpretation. Heck I go to museums for seeing historical items and the specific history behind those objects, not to have "views" shattered! I got books for that and so do most museum goers lol.

I just think its a shame modern politics and agendas are infecting museums, museums are for exhibiting artifacts, not trying to start a political argument, or trying to change peoples historical views, or pushing agendas, and ruining historical ruins by building a modern structure around them.

I'm sure the old MOC had problems that needed solving for a new era, but I personally don't see this as a good one. All it does is create more controversy, heck it gets me riled up. I reckon it creates more problems than solve 'em.
It is adopting a view that is "Anti-Confederate" so to speak, which ought to give us pause as to how safe those museum artifacts are. Are they going to be properly cared for or not? It would be nice if we could get them out of there and into the new museum being built in Tennessee by the SCV.
 

Vicksburger

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So instead of 'views shattered' they should keep the lies going that have been taught for decades? I don't understand the rationale of that at all. There is zero indication in the linked article that the museum has modern politics tied to it.

Yes the old MOC had problems. Nobody was going to it. Their attendance was dropping dramatically year over year. Having the word Confederacy in the name was never going to allow the museum staff to reshape the museum in a modern way that tells teh full story of the war. If you search posts on here at the time, there are SCV members who are very upset the museum is gone.
What "lies" are you referring to? The only lie I know of is the one currently being peddled that all Confederates were fighting 100% to perpetuate slavery.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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There is zero indication in the linked article that the museum has modern politics tied to it.
"We want to get away from mythmaking and back to history." and also "The new galleries show women as well as people of Native American, Asian, and Hispanic decent...."

Sounds a lot like the modern political agendas pushed by every side nowadays on the news and a focus on things other than the war or twisting stuff like other modern shenanigans to me.

I'm not going to debate you on lies being pushed, every time I attend a SCV meeting I'm reminded of such foolish myths, but replacing them with new myths ain't the answer. It should aspire to be a museum, not a PC funhouse. I'm pleased to see a lot of Lost Cause mythology going away in a museum, but twisted truths and one sided views are not a solution. Tell the truth from both side's point of view and let the attendee decide. To many museums all over the place have made this mistake, and I've yet to hear of it succeeding financially.

As for people not going, well its in Virginia...
Urban Virginia I might add.

If they wanted to increase attendance re-branding like they did is the wrong answer, all it does it divide more, its impossible to move the CS Whitehouse, but keeping it there with other historic sites, and moving the rest of the museum further South where it'd be more popular would've been the correct solution. Probably cheaper than $25 million if they played they're cards right.

Both sides deserve museums dedicated to each respective side, now the MOC will be replaced by a probably Lost Cause mess in Tennessee (I hope the SCV does right, we got good smart people, but we also have people that ain't so intelligent on the War, and I predict a lot of mislabeled exhibits, although I hold out hope), and this never would've happened if people had been smart instead of partisan and arrogant.
 
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Rusk County Avengers

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It is adopting a view that is "Anti-Confederate" so to speak, which ought to give us pause as to how safe those museum artifacts are. Are they going to be properly cared for or not? It would be nice if we could get them out of there and into the new museum being built in Tennessee by the SCV.
Oh I'm sure the artifacts will be cared for properly, (at least till a bank forecloses when this fails), even the most anti-Confederate professional conservator would never destroy or harm an artifact.

As for the SCV's upcoming museum, read my previous post. I love the SCV, I'm proud to be a member, but we have to many people with lacking historical knowledge in powerful places with building this museum.

Heck I get aggravated when I attend a meeting a listen to stories of Confederate soldiers in rags, barefoot, and starving during instances like the Red River Campaign when in truth they were probably not in rags and actually pretty well uniformed, had shoes, and were getting some kind of ration, and the people believing such historical hogwash from Lost Cause ragged Rebel mythology will be running the museum in Tennessee.

I hope for the best, but experience tells me to expect the worst.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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In your opinion--or anyone else's-- it divides...How??

Why does; "The new galleries show women as well as people of Native American, Asian, and Hispanic decent...." seem to scare so many?

Truth divides?
First off that statement shows they have bigger priorities than the war itself, as for division look at how divided the CW community has become over this change. Instead of all students of the war coming together, I'd say its divided it, and the CW community is the bread and butter for a CW museum.

Just because one side is rejoicing doesn't mean the rest is. Heck this **** is what kicked off the creation of a SCV museum, I'd say that all this is divisive.
 
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Rebforever

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I will probably have an opportunity to see the new museum one day soon. I saw the previous iteration last June, and liked it very much. In particular, I liked the way the war was presented along a timeline. There are lots of ways to interpret collections. I will keep an open mind to what might be in store with the new museum.
I would bet it will be gone down the pike one day with the name changed to something else. As far as I am concerned moving everything to Appomattox was a huge mistake.
 

jackt62

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I have been to Richmond several times and visited all the older CW sites and museums in that area. So my question would be, is it worth another trip to Richmond to visit this new museum?
 

John Hartwell

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It seems it is "divisive" because it is telling more than the familiar Southern white male story of the war. Providing alternate perspectives draws attention away from the same-old, same-old we've come to expect -- so we should grumble and growl and weep in our whiskers, and refuse to give it (heaven forbid!) open-minded consideration.
 
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Jamieva

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It is adopting a view that is "Anti-Confederate" so to speak, which ought to give us pause as to how safe those museum artifacts are. Are they going to be properly cared for or not? It would be nice if we could get them out of there and into the new museum being built in Tennessee by the SCV.
Show me evidence that it is anti Confederate. Discussing how the war impacted all Americans is not anti-confederate. Do you have evidence they are going to destroy artificats? You just don't like the fact that they removed Confederate from the title when they merged.
 

WJC

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It is adopting a view that is "Anti-Confederate" so to speak, which ought to give us pause as to how safe those museum artifacts are. Are they going to be properly cared for or not?
I see no indication that historical items are in danger in either this or previous articles on the Museum's new approach. Nor do I see anything "Anti-Confederate", unless one confuses the historical CSA with that portrayed in Lost Cause myth.
 
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WJC

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I go to museums for seeing historical items and the specific history behind those objects, not to have "views" shattered!
Having our accepted views "shattered" is precisely the role of museums and institutes of education. As Jefferson suggested, we should "Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear”.
 
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