Thursday, October 12, 2006

Revisionist history at UNC

Today is University Day at UNC--a birthday celebration. The afternoon event was the official launching of a new "virtual museum" of UNC history. Created by Annette Cox with the support of the Center for the Study of the American South and the University Library, it is meant to begin to address glaring omissions in the story the university has told about its own history--including, notably, its active participation in the institution of slavery and, after the war, the political movement for white supremacy. Chancellor Moeser initiated this project after the conversations a couple of years ago about Cornelia Phillips Spencer and her place in university history.

"This is not revisionist history," proclaimed the chancellor by way of introduction. He meant (he went on to say) that it wasn't glossing things over or leaving things out. I wondered if any of the historians next up on the panel would challenge this assertion. In fact, Harry Watson was quick to do so. "Normally, historians make progress by a process of revision and revisionism," he said. "I hope this is an example of good revisionism in process." Historians know that all history is revisionist history.

The web site is pretty great. Take a look around.

Langston Hughes with Chapel Hill bookstore owner Tony Buttitta, 1932.

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