The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) will present its 2018 annual meeting in Kansas City, MO, from September 26-29, 2018.
The Theme: Truth or Consequences
Museums and history sites have been ranked among America’s most trusted institutions in an age where trust continues to erode and truth sometimes becomes murky. Our history organizations maintain the trust if we continue to tell the truth. But what is truth when our work is based on interpretation of the historical evidence and interpretations change? How do people know what to believe?
We in the history field know that truth is based on an underlying complexity and on multiple perspectives and sources. It is our responsibility to help our audiences to see that complexity and to understand how we reach our conclusions based on solid historical research. It is also our responsibility to provide a forum where people can come together to explore the complexity of the past. We demonstrate our relevance to society when we dig into historical evidence, question its validity and provide much-needed historical context in relation to contemporary issues that impact the world around us.
Are there consequences to avoiding the complexity of the past? What do they look like? How is society impacted when we fail to show multiple perspectives and the gray areas of history? What are specific challenges to showing complexity? Are there costs? It is often risky to tell stories people don’t want to hear. Could we do a better job at explaining how we do research and teaching how to be critical thinkers? What does that look like?
Our host city, Kansas City, offers a rich complexity that permeates its past. From native Missouri, Oto, Kansa and Osage lands, the region became a crossroads of French traders and settlers traveling west on the Oregon, California and Santa Fe trails. The Kansas-Missouri border became the first battlefield of the Civil War, and in many respects the border war continues today. The swirling parade of historical figures includes Latter-day Saints, explorers Lewis and Clark, President Harry Truman, the Kansas City Monarchs Negro Leagues baseball team and stars Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson, and Amelia Earhart from nearby Atchison, Kansas. Its central location led to it becoming the second busiest railroad center in the country, and soon its booming stockyards led to famous Kansas City steak. Kansas City became the center of jazz music. It had no equal, mainly due to the willingness during prohibition of the political boss Tom Pendergast to allow alcohol to flow.
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