J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

How Deerfield Updated a Monument

Last week I considered ways that universities might update symbols that have roots in historic discrimination without simply removing them—which could lead to lack of visible change and complacent amnesia.

Another approach to producing a continual, not one-time, renewal of old historical symbols was taken at the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield a decade ago. The town’s 1882 monument to the 1704 skirmish between English settlers and Native American and French soldiers contained marble panels with language that people had come to recognize as one-sided and offensive.

Back in 2004, the Boston Globe reported on how the monument had been updated:
With this year marking the 300th anniversary of the raid, the local historical society—which oversees many of the markers—has taken to placing removable covers on memorials with language it considers offensive, such as references to “savages” and “Negro servants.”

The coverings are cloth, shaded to mimic the swirls of the marble tablets and scripted with revised text. So where one marble tablet originally read, “Mary, adopted by an Indian, was named Walahowey. She married a savage, and became one.” The covering’s text reads, “She married a Kanien’kehaka and adopted the culture, customs and language of her new community in Kahnawake.”
Because visitors can easily lift the cloth and read both versions, not only is the history of the original event preserved, but so is the history of how Deerfield chroniclers of the late 1800s described that event. We can thus see how historical interpretation has changed, witnessing the effort to improve the understanding of the event and the inclusiveness of its commemoration. Indeed, by lifting those cloths to read and replacing them, we in a small way participate in that process.

TOMORROW: Campus statuary.

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