History vs. Development

I was watching a show last night taped off the History Channel about developments encroaching on Civil War battlefields.

There is only so much land, so should history take a back seat to new strip malls, BK’s and Micky D’s? We don’t have enough housing developments I’m sure.

I myself think that yes history should matter. We need to keep our history alive and it’s much easier to do when you can see it with your own eyes.

Your thoughts?

Sure history should matter, but how much.

[FTR, I’ve been to several Civil War battlesites as well as Valley Forge (where Washington camped over the winter during the Rev.) and am currently a student of History. It is from this perspective that I speak.]

I’m not sure how much is really gained from these battlefields. After all, that is pretty much all they are - fields. I would think the better use of preservation energies would be to direct them toward more substantial artifacts - documents, buildings, various tools, weapons, etc. These items (at least in my estimation) are more likely to tell us about the history of the times they represent than are the sites of some battles.

This isn’t to say that I am in favor of plowing them over and turning them all into strip-malls. We have more than enough Wal-Marts in this country all ready! However, I’m not sure how high they should be on our preservation wish list. I’d rather have the battlefields around then see them destroyed for matters of convenience, but on the other hand would rather see the land put to productive use.

The US doesn’t lack for land. The only reason development would “need” to take place on the battlefields at Gettysburg would be out of companies’ desire to make money from the tourists. There are plenty of other places to put up a McDonalds.

Once a historic site has been destroyed, there’s no going back. I’m of the opinion that it’s incredibly important to preserve our history for furture generations. Whenever I hear of history being destroyed for “progress” it sickens me.

I can remember as a young child, my mother, who’s never been known for her activism, went to a protest to try to prevent a golf course from being built on a Native American burial ground. When I asked her about why she cared about those “hills” being torn down she explained to me their history, and that they were graves. I remember feeling awe at the concept of the age of the place and saddness that they were about to be destroyed for a grown-ups playground. The golf course was built, and I remember that my mother shook her head and sighed deeply upon hearing it.

Using the Gettysburg battlefields as an example, I’ve noted a great difference in merely reading about a site, and actually visiting it. As much as I had read about the epic battle, actually seeing the contours of the land gave me a better perspective on tactical manouvers and the conditions than I had before.

The battlefields of Gettysbug soaked up the life’s-blood of thousands of young men, but more importantly, the ground is not just hallowed by their deaths, but by the very significance of the war, and its supreme importance in our history. As I stood on the quiet, lovely slope, and looked down at the serene pasture which was the scene of such horror and chaos, I felt more connected to the event, and understood a bit more the reality and enormity of it. I couldn’t have gotten this through a stone monument or a book.

Recently, we lost a historic building in our city. It was a whimsical looking thing, old and lovely, a building which been the scene of some important events in our state and city history. But it was old, inefficient for modern use, and no one wanted to invest the kind of money it would take to bring it back to its former glory. I went through it before it was bulldozed, and the owner was kind enough to show me all of its little treasures, like the bullet hole which still remained in the woodwork from when the town’s populace threatened to lynch a local politician a hundred years ago. Just little things, really. Things that aren’t really all that important, but little fingerprints of history that are now irretreivably gone. They’re going to put an office building on the empty lot now, or so I’m told.

Little by little, our historic sites slip away. I imagine what it would be like to tell my Chamberlain’s charge took place right over there, where the Denny’s parking lot is. The ironic thing is that some of the things we chose to preserve are worthless to history, such as “Lincoln’s” Cabin, but we let something wonderful pass away with a shrug.

Nor should we only save major historical sites. Sometimes, the most wonderful parts of history are humble and average, yet deeply significant.

I’m all for economic development. Bring it on.

We live on landfills. Look at all the history in a landfill.

Thats whats so cool about walking on a nature path. Pretending no mans walked there before. Let alone, died there.

We’ll save the Great Pyramids etc but any where else is fair game for the future.

Unless they really do coral us all up and whip us into submission.

I’m sure most of us would agree that preserving history has value. The difficult part is trying to determine if something has enough historical value that it warrants being saved. Penn station was only 53 years old when it was torn down and many people still regret the loss of such a uniqe structure. Certainly not every burial site, battle ground, or building is worth the effort to save. You just need to find a balance between meeting our current needs and preserving our past.