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Who Speaks The Voice Of History
The facts of history in the eyes of Americans have been viewed in many lights. The Smithsonian exhibit entitled, “American Encounters'; is no exception. This multimedia exhibit focuses on American Indians, Hispanics and Anglo-Americans in New Mexico. Although the exhibit contains many noteworthy facts about the culture and lifestyle of the Indians, in my opinion, many other aspects of Native American history were left in the shadows. The Smithsonian did not clearly illuminate the struggle and oppression which the Indians endured during the European settlement. This obscured information raises the issue of which historical facts are selected as notable. E.H. Carr, an historian, explains this argument with a very prominent quote from the first chapter of his book What is History. The quote states, “The facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor and in what order or context'; (Carr 9).
As stated above, Carr believes that “facts only speak when the historian calls on them. . .'; (Carr 9). In the “American Encounters'; exhibit, the facts concerning Indian tribulation and European domination could not be heard. By all means I believe that their situation was more than just an encounter. From the statement on the plaque, one could interpret that the Europeans were given the land, or that the Europeans established forts, trading posts, and colonies to live as one with the Indeginous peoples; however, that was not the case.
Consequently, Carr’s statement holds true. The authors of the exhibit choose how to present this portion of history. They decide in what context to display the facts. Obviously the authors feel that a blurb on the wall is enough to express years of struggle and strife. If visitors to the Smithsonian had no previous knowledge about the conflict between Native Americans and the Spaniards, does this excerpt explain the real situation?
From this plaque I am taught nothing of the hardships that the Natives endured. I do not learn that thousands of Indigenous lives were taken at the hands of the Spaniards simply to acquire land that wasn’t theirs. I do not learn that families and tribes were broken up in order to teach the Europeans how to survive. To my dismay no artifacts, pictures or any other type of visual display told this side of the story. It is the responsibility of the authors of this exhibit to accurately convey the facts and clearly elaborate on them.
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However, the Smithsonian has dedicated a large section of the exhibit to the lifestyles of current American Indians. As previously stated, Carr is certain that, “. . . it is [the historian] who decides to which facts to give the floor. . .'; (Carr 9). In the section allotted to the Kha p’on, Indians of Santa Clara, there is a plaque mounted on the wall which is, to my surprise, accompanied by an assortment of visuals. Among many items, the display includes numerous examples of pottery, a Pueblo Indian-shaped mirror, and a traditionally set dinner table. Beside this manifest is an extremely eye-catching photograph of a typical Pueblo Indian family. All of these wonderful artifacts are presented in order to show how the American Indians of today continue to prosper despite their distressing history.
Once again the “American Encounters'; exhibit confirms Carr’s statement. The authors of this exhibit choose which aspects of history to amplify. I don’t completely understand why the modern lifestyle of an American Indian is uplifted, yet acknowledgement of their burdened past is vague. Visuals and artifacts provide an understanding of the exhibit that a plaque alone cannot equally produce. It is imperative that the presentation of historical facts are appealing, explicit and powerful.