Our History Depicted in Public Places

Our goal: support informed and civil conversations, promote understanding and tolerance of diverse views

Public discussions about race and social justice in a democracy as open, free and dynamic as the United States, has prompted important discussions about of how our collective, shared and varied history is expressed in public spaces. In a country of diverse religious, racial, cultural and countless other identities, how do we make room for understanding?

The goal is not to argue for a single point of view, or the "right" point of view, but instead create an understanding and tolerance of a variety of views. Our own life experiences and backgrounds can lead any of us to come to different conclusions about the same thing. We are creating this space because we believe local history is a powerful tool in informing, motivating, and engaging an informed and civil conversation.

Three focus areas are in the early stages of development

Thoughts on how & why history can be seen to change

Vassar Professor Lucy Maynard Salmon

"Many histories represent preconceived ideas rather than conclusions deducted from a study of facts..."

"[Each] new day may enable us to readjust our vision, to see the past in a truer perspective, to clear away the mists that have obscured the truth."

Under the title Why History is Rewritten? Vassar College Professor Lucy Maynard Salmon wrote about why subsequent generations need to "rewrite" history. She did this in a 1912 article and in a posthumously published book in 1926 with that title.

In addition to the constant pursuit of a greater truth, Salmon advocates the rewritting of history for other reasons: new information and discoveries and new ways of studying history (could she have imaged the internet?).

Salmon History Rewritten

"Among all the many challenges that confront the historian...none is more serious than that of the necessity of constantly rewriting history."

Dutchess County Historian William P. Tatum, III. Ph.D.

"One can change history, in fact it happens all the time."

"History and the past are two distinctly different creatures. The past was real, it happened, actual people lived in it, generally horrible things happened to them, but the records of their experience are fragmentary and incomplete. As the English Historian Peter Laslett remarked, the past is the world we have lost."

"History is the process through which we examine these fragments of evidence to understand the past through our modern experience. The product of that process is a history. History the product is forever changing because historians are always generating new methodologies for examining and interpreting those incomplete survivals from past eras."

Tatum Walkway

"While some might dismiss this distinction as a point of inconsequential semantics, the difference between the past as something real and history as a process that creates a potential, but imagined, vision of that past reality is crucial. It is, in fact, discipline-defining."

"So if you want to advocate for something, that is what I would suggest. Focus on that core distinction between the past and history, so that people understand that it is acceptable, even expected, to revisit our ideas of what the past was and how it relates to us today. All of the historians, public and academic, are duty-bound to engage in this process of constant re-evaluation and to face the unpleasant facts of the past that have been buried or erased for so long. That is how we, as a society, perform history."

DCHS Founder, Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, earned a reputation for the relentless pursuit of truth

One of DCHS's annual awards is the Helen Wilkinson Reynolds award, given to those successful "in the necessary and accurate search for historical truth." One of the reasons Miss Reynolds earned such a reputation was her 1925 published research on the mis-naming of Poughkeepsie's Clinton house. A misnomer that remains to this day.


"The Danger of a Single Story"

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie

A 2009 TED Talk with over 23 million views: "Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice -- and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding."