So this was the second museum that I got to go to for this class, and unfortunately I have to agree with what Alex said in his post. I just found the Museum of Valor to be a more holistic approach to displaying information about the Great War from all angles (and not in a way that made it seem like what happened was cool or that it was the way things were done.) I found that while World’s Aflame was somewhat informative and tried to give a unique perspective on Fredericksburg’s experience in the war, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that there was something amiss with the exhibit. It just didn’t well with me when I left to go home.
There just seemed to be a lot generalized representation of soldiers and the effort from Fredericksburg. Like I felt like I only got to see a few personal stories if any, especially since this area sent soldiers. Also, Fredericksburg has SO MUCH war history. I expected more, I thought it would be a little more personal and thought provoking than it was. I just found it un-engaging.
Like with the propaganda from the War, it was extremely white washed (not much of a shocker.) I felt like when I was at the Museum of Valor there were valid explanations and really frank statements about those issues. For example, there was a clear “this was bad, we treated minorities really terribly during this war” message there, but at this exhibit there was really no opportunity given to think on those tensions and how they affected things at large. I just didn’t like it, the lady working there gave me a dirty look when I tried to take a picture of one of the posters and I was just over it in general.
In conclusion, I’m glad I went since it allowed me to drawn comparisons between the two exhibits. But honestly, I wasn’t a fan of this one – sorry Professor Scanlon 🙁
Going to this particular museum, I was expecting something similar to some war museums I had seen in the past, such as the Marine Corps museum in Quantico. However, there was something more intimate about this experience that gave me a different perspective on the information that was being presented at the museum. For instance, I found the uniforms and equipment that it displayed to be extremely intriguing, Sometimes at large museums, you can’t really get a good look at the displays or look up close at the stuff behind the class, but I felt like I had the opportunity to get closer (both physically and emotionally) to the clothing and equipment this time around. With both the soldiers’ uniforms and working attire like the nurses’ uniforms, you could actually see small signs of wear here and there (obviously not a ton, since they were well preserved and taken care of), and you can tell that someone wore it once upon a time. It made me stop and think on the pieces a little bit longer than I usually would. I found myself at one point focusing in on what appeared to be the faintest stain on a nurses uniform. I stood there and wondered “could that have been someone’s blood?” There was just something more real to it than seeing something behind a crowd of people. I felt like it was if they weren’t old, as if I could imagine someone wearing or using the artifacts today.
It made it feel much more real and “human” to me, which I really enjoyed.
I also found the display on African Americans in the war to be really thought provoking. Although the exhibition stated that service from African Americans was very high, they were still treated like second-class citizens during the war and were not given the same amount of care as the other soldiers. I think that due to current racial climates, it’s easy to be desensitized to racial issues in places like our military or in general society. But to see reports and displays on how terrible the conditions were for American soldiers (who happened to be black) and that they served in one of the most horrific wars that our country has ever seen was very jarring to me. And that even after that, it took our country 40+ years and another 50 after that to even talk about the deep injustice that those soldiers faced – while fighting to project the liberty of those who continually oppressed them.
I think overall I enjoyed the fact that the museum included both information and displays about conditions and life during the Great War, but also how society changed afterwards. After seeing the exhibits on the working women and the African Americans serving, I found it really interesting how much of an impact the Great War would have on how women and African Americans would develop in society, but also how long things took to change and improve for those groups. After all, it took until the 60s for women and minorities to be have constitutional protection from discrimination.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed the experience, and it definitely got me thinking afterwards, which I think is the whole point to these exhibits. The staff was also really helpful and inviting, which I think added to the experience. Overall, a great visit!
Alright, of the two exhibitions, I thought that this one was significantly less compelling – to be completely honest. What I was hoping it would be was an exhibition discussing and showcasing how the First (and Second) World War impacted Fredericksburg, really diving deep into the issues it caused and its continued effect – instead, as is the norm with the Fredericksburg Area Museum (for those familiar), it really provided little insight as to the significance of anything they were showing (which, to be sure, were interesting pieces.) That said, I personally made some interesting observations and connections as a resident of FXBG for over 10 years now.
One of the first things in the exhibit was a flag from the local Baptist church which had embroidered on it 60 (I think? my phone died so I wasn’t able to take a picture) stars, each of which represented a parishioner who went to war. From what I understand, the flag was hung up to remind people that they were there – as if they were easily forgotten. What I thought was interesting about it though, on a personal note, was that above the flag was a list of all the people who the stars represented – one of whom was Alexander Fitzhugh, one of the original people who lived in the house I grew up in! I also recognized last names from classmates that I went to high school with, so it was interesting to see that some of the families who were in Fredericksburg then, are still here now.
On a different/totally unrelated note, upstairs in the museum they had an interesting exhibition of WWII propaganda posters and I was really interested in the similarity between that imagery in the U.S. and the soviet realist movement. I dunno – maybe I’m off-base there.
Does anyone else here ever come to the grim realization whenever they’re in a war museum looking at real uniforms and equipment that the display they’re looking at is something that was actually worn or used by a person – often a person who died wearing or using those items? Well, I came around to that really rather stark reality while visiting the Museum of Valor exhibit today – the first war exhibition I’ve been to since High School, probably for this reason. It’s really strange, to me, to be looking at a dead soldier’s uniform in an exhibit; a strangeness which was compounded by the accompanying stories about each item’s former owner. Several of these were interesting, but for brevity’s sake I’ll just talk about a couple little blurbs.
The first one which struck me was something sort of positive – Martha Perkins’ post-war escapade seemed a little fishy to me. For a nurse to just go off with another woman after the war, touring Europe seems like something totally unheard of for the time. It made me think that perhaps she (and her ‘friend’) were maybe lesbians who met in the close quarters of the first world war. Maybe it’s the bias speaking here, but that was my immediate thought after reading the plaque. (All of the nurses uniforms also gave me a better idea of what to imagine characters from Not So Quiet… as looking like.)
There was also a really interesting piece up about African American soldiers in WWI which was very much in line with my understanding of their experience at the time from other classes. It talked about how they were reassigned to aid French units and in doing so were subject to less prejudice and were able to get more adequate supplies. (There was also a funny paragraph talking about how American soldiers who joined French units not being used to wine rations and drinking them all at once, leading to the wine rations being decreased.) From my understanding, these experiences fighting alongside the white, French soldiers as equals was one of the catalyzing forces behind a lot of the civil rights movements which followed in the mid 1900’s.
In any case, I thought it was all very interesting.