Recommendations for History-Related Summer Travel

If you’re like our faculty, you’ll spend at least some of your summer traveling the United States. If you’d like to indulge your love of history during those journeys, some historians have been doubling as travel writers in recent weeks.

At The Anxious Bench, our own Chris Gehrz and his co-bloggers shared nine favorite historic sites, five to the east of the Mississippi and four to the west. In addition to Minnesota’s own Grand Portage National Monument, Prof. Gehrz recalled his family’s visits to two important sites in Virginia on their Fall 2016 sabbatical:

If you find Colonial Williamsburg overcrowded or overpriced, then brave much smaller crowds for many fewer dollars by touring the two sites on either end of the beautiful Colonial Parkway: Jamestown and Yorktown. One admission fee covers both, and everyone under 16 enters for free. When our family visited them last fall, we reversed the chronology and started with the Yorktown battlefield. (And yes, we sang along to the Hamilton soundtrack as we pulled into the visitor center parking lot.) Even if you bike or drive the full route, the Yorktown site is remarkably small, reminding those of us accustomed to battlefields like Gettysburg or Verdun of the relatively short ranges of 18th century weaponry. And our kids got a kick out of emulating America’s “ten-dollar Founding Father” and storming a not-exactly-impenetrable British redoubt. (“We will fight up close, seize the moment and stay in it / It’s either that or meet the business end of a bayonet!”) But the real highlight was Historic Jamestowne, where the kids roamed the ruins, posed with a statue of Pocahontas (apocryphally a distant ancestor on my dad’s side), sifted through bits and pieces from the archeological dig, and learned about slavery and cannibalism at the Archaearium. All that plus the glass blower just up the road.

The Gehrz children at Jamestown
Prof. Gehrz’s kids at Jamestown last October

Then Time magazine asked ten nationally-known experts to share their favorite historic sites. Several were well-established Civil War sites, but historian Eric Foner recommended a newer landmark dedicated to the aftermath of that conflict:

In the waning days of his presidency, Barack Obama designated Beaufort [South Carolina] a National Landmark devoted to the history of Reconstruction, the pivotal era that followed the Civil War. It was in Reconstruction that the laws and Constitution were rewritten to try to create a society based on equal rights regardless of race, and when interracial democracy for the first time flourished in this country. The emancipated slaves took important steps toward enjoying genuine freedom, but eventually progress was thwarted and reversed by terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. In the Beaufort area, buildings and monuments still stand that exemplify the history of Reconstruction — the Penn Center, where northern women set up a school to educate the freed people; the home of Robert Smalls, the area’s longtime black political leader; plantations where African-Americans acquired land; and other sites. In Beaufort, visitors can learn about what might be called the first civil rights era, a period of our history most Americans know little about but whose struggles over equality and freedom resonate today.

If you do visit a historic site over the summer and would like to share your experience with other students, alumni, and friends of the Bethel History Department, let us know. We’d love to revive our occasional AC 2nd Travelogue series!

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