I have to admit that, having written this blog for seven years (unbelievable–seems like a month!), an enterprise I undertook because I wanted to indulge my own curiosity but also learn to write less for an academic audience and more for the general public, and serving as chair of a department that has a very popular concentration in Public History, I never really understood what public history was until I became involved with this movement to resist the relocation of the Phillips Library away from Salem. Now I know that history is a commodity, for lack of a better word, that has limitless value, and also the power to unite all sorts of people: young, old, natives, newcomers, liberals, conservatives (well, this is Massachusetts) and those who fit into none of these categories. It’s hard to define this commodity which is also a force, because people have very different ideas about what history is: for some it is all about family, for some it is all about civic pride, for some it is about sacrifice, for others it is about heroism, for some it is about books, for others images, or things: for all, heritage. I’m used to presenting history, both here and in my professional life, but this has been a month of listening to people talking about their history. And with each assertion about their history, their power grew, eventually turning a one-way announcement (admission, really) into a two-way dialogue. Tomorrow night, we will see the very public acknowledgement of that dialogue at two events in two locales: a forum at the Peabody Essex Museum in which the leadership will lay out their plans for the (ware-)housing of the Phillips historical and literary collections along with all of the material objects not on view in a consolidated stewardship/storage facility in Rowley occuring at the same time as the Salem City Council will debate a resolution calling for the PEM to work towards “keeping Salem’s treasured history in Salem”.
Flyer for the 1/11 forum, position letter of newly-revived “Friends of Salem’s Phillips Library”(which is so new that it is homeless but I think it is going to wind up here) & Salem City Council resolution (converted pdfs–sorry about the lack of clarity).
What a night! I am both excited and nervous, but ultimately grateful to be part of this community conversation about something that so many people recognize as important: and this very community as well. I will report back on the day after, and then I promise to move onto some other subjects, patient readers (although I suspect that this conversation will go on for some time).
One of my very favorite photographs from the Phillips collections that I’ve found while DREDGING every and all online sources this month: from the anniversary of the Children’s Friends & Family Services, Inc. (Phillips MSS 447), 1839-2003, which began life as the Salem Seamen’s Orphan Society and has 54 boxes of records on deposit in the Phillips.