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History Comes to Life at Two Museums Recommended by Prof. Ken Bode

July 21, 2006

July 21, 2006, Greencastle, Ind. - "Educators often lament that young people in America don't learn history, aren't really interested in our country's past," states Ken Bode, Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism at DePauw University. "I am not an expert on museums, but I know from two recent visits that someone has figured out a better way to bring American history indoors and under roof," Bode continues. In his weekly op-ed published in today's Indianapolis Star the professor has two recommendations for readers that will "provide a rich experience for kids and adults alike."

Bode opens the piece by recalling the museums he visited as a boy, and "boring and repetitious walks past displays of Indian headdresses, tomahawks, and the weapons of mass destruction of the day -- Gattling guns and smallpox blankets." In fact, Bode says the museums made him "sleepy." But times, and museums, have changed, the veteran journalist observes. Lincoln Museum.gif

Dr. Bode says a trip to Springfield, Illinois' Lincoln Museum and Presidential Library is like being transported to an earlier America, "featuring startling realistic recreations of the people with whom he shared his times. The most vivid part of this experience is traveling from one setting to the next, from Lincoln's boyhood log cabin through his presidency to his assassination and funeral. The museum visitor experiences life as Lincoln lived it ... So realistic are the historical figures that when you stand next to McClellan and Grant, you can see the wary hostility as the generals eye one another. The Lincoln museum is billed as an unconventional classroom that teaches 19th-century lessons with 21st-century technology, and it really works."

The professor also recommends a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. "So little of the lessons of the struggle for civil rights have made it to the classrooms of America, and a day inside this museum is a curative for that," he asserts. "Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on the balcony of the Lorraine motel in the south end of downtown Memphis, and that building, with the balcony and parking lot intact just as they were in 1968, is the museum's location. The exhibits and galleries begin with the Civil War and move forward through the migration North, the Jim Crow laws, Brown v. Board of Education, all leading to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, where the museum really comes to life. In the gallery of the freedom rides, there is a burned-out Greyhound bus; we stand behind the students at the sit-ins; we board a bus like Rosa Parks rode, sit behind her and hear the bus driver's threats. But most vivid is the walk past the room where King slept, the room service tray still on the table. Across the street, visitors go to the second floor of the rooming house where King's assassin, James Earl Ray, looked down on the motel balcony and dropped King with a single shot. There is a horrible sense of presence as you stand where Ray propped himself against the bathroom wall, laid his rifle on the windowsill and sighted his shot." (photo at left shows Dr. King speaking at Gobin United Methodist Church on the DePauw campus, September 5, 1960) 

The former CNN and NBC newsman concludes, "These museums are different. They convey a sense of history by immersing the visitor in the events as they occurred. The hours pass quickly and they don't leave you sleepy."

Access the complete column at College News.org.

Last Friday, Ken Bode questioned the federal government's list of terrorist targets. Read more here.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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