One of the things a blog such as this has to pin down is what exactly is a public space. Monuments and memorials are usually designed to exist in some sort of public space (though that’s not always the case) so we need to be clear just what it is that defines the term and the concept. It’s important that we do this.
What do we mean by “public culture”? Most culture is public in some way, in that it involves a set of shared values and communicative symbols that most of us will recognize. But what does that mean? And how does it relate to the way we commemorate history in the United States?
Is the National Park Service spreading itself too thin? The park service’s budget has been flat or declining for years, and this year’s sequester has bit even deeper into the budget. At the same time, the agency keeps adding new units to the system. These units all incur significant start-up costs and ongoing staffing and maintenance expenses. How can the system keep operating with any degree of effectiveness if it keeps growing without the funds to pay for that growth?
There are plenty of taxpayer-funded agencies in America that are involved in some way in cultural production and historic preservation. So here’s a question: Why is it that the United States does not have a formal, centralized ministry of culture, as the French do, to oversee and coordinate all of this stuff?
In Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias was a great Egyptian deserving a great monument so that all could worship his memory; yet thousands of years later the man is long gone and long forgotten, and his monument lies in ruins. Nothing lasts forever, though stone will long outlast flesh and blood. Monuments will invariably long outlast the ability or desire of generations to remember or care about the subjects of these monuments.
Week 3 of the federal shutdown dawns, and the national parks are still closed—well, most of them, anyway. Some, however, are suddenly very much not closed. No, there hasn’t been a federal-level deal to reverse the shutdown. Rather, some states have stepped in by agreeing to fund a handful of parks for a limited period.
As I said in an earlier post, when I’m doing historical interpretation and people ask me “Why do you do this?” I reply by telling the truth: I’m a history buff, and I understand the world around me primarily through the prism of history. So when I became a citizen, I realized that the only way I could make sense of this country (not to mention my own decision to become an American) was through that same prism.