New Hist in an Old Museum-CL

Richard Handler, Author, Eric Gable, With Duke University Press $69.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8223-1978-8
In the late 1960s, social historians emerged with a fervent desire to write history that included populations other than elite, white males. The collision of this objective with the ""entrenched"" hegemonic values and the equally difficult clash between commercialism and education at Colonial Williamsburg, is the focus of this accessible and, frequently, engaging book. According to Handler, professor of anthropology at the University of Virginia, and Gable, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Mary Washington College, the broad ambition to merge critical inquiry with corporate values such as visitor comfort and market share was bound to fail: in contextualizing, interpreting, updating or making palatable the known facts of history, how much of it is left behind? What makes this book more than an able, academic study is the authors' ear for the irreverent phrase (they include the term ""Republican Disneyland,"" which insiders applied to the site, more than once) and also their use of employee voices to give behind-the-scenes accounts. Especially welcome is an account by a master cooper, who represents a blue-collar segment which, like the slaves, historians too often have overlooked. When Handler and Gable were conducting on-site fieldwork in the early 1990s, one corporate executive predicted that any study they might write would be ""fiction."" This well-written book is not fiction, as the extensive footnotes attest. Rather, it provides valuable insights into how history is presented and why the best intentions go awry. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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