2011 Annual Meeting

September 14-17
Richmond, Virginia

Commemoration: The Promise of Remembrance and New Beginnings

The promise of remembrance is the work of commemoration, the responsibility to mark and search for the meanings of our ancestors’ achievements and afflictions. Their monuments and moments are the promise they left to us to build the next generation of new beginnings. The 2011 American Association for State and Local History Annual Meeting will be held in Richmond, Virginia, one of the most history-rich cities in our nation; a city that holds outstanding opportunities to experience commemorative sites, spaces, and collections that are key pieces of our nation’s memory—the proud, the conflicted, and the complex realities that call us to “do” history. Here is the opportunity, at the time of the 150th anniversary of our nation’s Civil War and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to engage in fresh and candid conversations from the banks of the beautiful James River.

In 2011, AASLH members will find themselves in the folds of America’s beginnings where the threads of our federal government were generated and the mottoes of our national heritage were initially scripted. Monuments and museums attest to the multitude of achievements and sacrifices made by our famous forbearers, while historic sites, markers, and trails tell the stories of the thousands of anonymous people who labored in making their contributions to building the city, state, region, and nation.

Remembrance is a dynamic challenge that poses potential conflicts when we must decide whose lens to use to see the past. Richmond offers visitors a vast array of commemorative sites and museums. For example, the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar explores the U.S. Civil War from multiple perspectives, and the Virginia Holocaust Museum includes an international mission to teach tolerance through education. Influential, heroic Americans are remembered at Thomas Jefferson’s boyhood home at Tuckahoe Plantation, at St. John’s Episcopal Church where Patrick Henry declared “Give me liberty or give me death,” and at the Maggie L. Walker Site, which reminds visitors of the triumphs of African Americans even when confronted by inequality and segregation. Historic Monument Avenue prompts dynamic discussions about whose stories are preserved in stone and metal for present, and future, generations to contemplate. Such sites are meant for us to learn from, to study, to question, to admire, and to perpetuate. How does commemoration change over time? What do historic events, sites, and people mean to us today? What will they mean to our children and to their children?  And what do these changes tell us about wider changes in society? AASLH members in Richmond will discover resources of new beginnings for their own work folded within the River City’s rich history.

AASLH-2011 in Richmond holds the promise of new beginnings. Commemoration provides us with sites for education, sites for commerce, and sites for reflection. We, as a profession, are on a continuing quest to make collections and sites of commemoration meaningful and relevant; to increase their relevance to an ever-broadening and diverse audience; to meet the challenges of changing forms of communication and changing economy; and to take advantage of the constantly emerging technologies that have the potential to enable us to increase access to history experiences. The promise of remembrance and new beginnings is inherent in the work of commemoration, a core promise that energizes our investigations and innovations in the work of history.