A Trip to The American Civil War Museum

by Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns is a junior from Newtown, Pennsylvania double-majoring in French and Leadership Studies and minoring in English. This summer of 2019 marks Nathan’s first time working with the Race & Racism Project. On campus, Nathan is also a writing consultant and a member of the dining services student advisory committee.

I find it fitting to begin this blog post at the end of my experience at The American Civil War Museum mostly because of a t-shirt I saw hanging in the gift shop. Blazoned in bold white capitals against black fabric, the shirt read, “I AM MY ANCESTORS’ WILDEST DREAMS”. The phrase stayed with me as I left the gift shop and stepped into the warm summer rain. I stared back at the museum from the outside and marveled at the blend of past and present architecture, noticing the brick ruins of the historic Tredegar Iron Works enveloped by the steel and glass modern design of the current museum. In this moment, I couldn’t help but reflect on our team discussion with public historian Free Egunfemi on the topic of ancestral self-determination. I ask myself now as I write this post: how and where did I see this idea of self-determination at work in the museum’s exhibit? In other words, where did I see resistance against the traditional historical narrative of the Civil War, and how might this resistance inform the ways we remember our past in the present?

 

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Activist Archiving as Empathy Work

by Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns is a junior from Newtown, Pennsylvania double-majoring in French and Leadership Studies and minoring in English. This summer of 2019 marks Nathan’s first time working with the Race & Racism Project. On campus, Nathan is also a writing consultant and a member of the dining services student advisory committee.

For me, the hardest part of my initial research process has been finding the courage to acknowledge my identity in my work. Over the past few weeks of team discussions and metadata creation, I have realized that it is nearly impossible to do archival research and not notice how my identity as a white-passing male and member of the LGBTQ+ community influences my emotional response to any source I encounter. Before my experience with the Race & Racism at UR Project, I was taught to conceal my identity during the research process in an attempt to remain unbiased and neutral toward knowledge. On a positive note, this detachment allowed me to focus on “objective” truth and facts when recounting history. However, in a team meeting a few weeks ago led by Sojourna Cunningham, we discussed the negative consequences that arise from this insistence on historical neutrality. We determined that one of these negative consequences was the erasure of empathy and emotional connection to history. Another was the erasure of marginalized perspectives deemed unnecessary, even threatening, to the upkeep of “neutral” historical narratives that prioritize monocultural whiteness. I reflected after this team discussion that for most of my academic career, I have been trained to hide my own perspective. I have willingly obliged in hiding my identity in order to remain supposedly unbiased toward my dealing with knowledge, yet in doing so, I perpetuate a lie, a lie that I could ever be truly unemotional in my reactions to and presentations of knowledge. While working with the Race and Racism Project, I intend to not simply deal with knowledge, but to feel it. To feel upset, heartbroken, angry, and joyful. It is important to feel connected to the stories and people I read about because this project and this research, as I am beginning to understand, is empathy work in that it requires emotional connection, to feel from the perspective of my own identity.

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Passive No Longer: Grappling With the University of Richmond’s History of Activism and Complacency

by Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns is a junior from Newtown, Pennsylvania double-majoring in French and Leadership Studies and minoring in English. This summer of 2019 marks Nathan’s first time working with the Race & Racism Project. On campus, Nathan is also a writing consultant and a member of the dining services student advisory committee.

When I was applying to college, my knowledge of the University of Richmond was limited to the selfishly narrow perspective of how the university would impact my immediate future. However, as an unintended consequence of this streamlined attention to what would be best for myself, I partially overlooked the university and the city of Richmond’s defining historical characteristics. For example, I was aware during my application process that Richmond was once the capital of the confederacy, and far more Southern than anywhere I had lived for an extended period of time. However, this fact, along with any nervousness I had surrounding it, often went unvoiced during my application process. Additionally, when drafting my application to the University of Richmond, I knew close to nothing about the university’s history, let alone its complete history. I knew only the aforementioned characteristics that I believed could potentially undermine my overall well-being during my four years on campus. Little did I realize that by pivoting away from how I viewed the university as only impacting my future, I would eventually become increasingly concerned with how the university’s past impacted—and still impacts—all of its students, faculty and staff.

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