In a dimly lit gallery of the National Museum of American History is one of the Smithsonian’s signature artifacts, the Star Spangled Banner. To protect 30 feet by 34 feet, 200 years American flag, visitors cannot take photographs and the chamber is pressurized and equipped with 24-hour temperature and humidity sensors. This much-loved relic flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore to celebrate the end of the 25:00 British siege on September 13, 1814. Its appearance that morning, as British ships fled the harbor, would inspire Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and slave owner. – to scribble the lyrics that will later become the national anthem. The gigantic banner is an awe-inspiring sight to the museum’s millions of annual visitors, but it’s just an exhibit in a museum filled with other artifacts that convey the rich and complex tale of American history.
And this comprehensive history of the country – and how it might inform what citizens want for the future – is at the center of a new national tradition in the making. Civic season, a three-week period that runs from Flag Day, June 14 to July 4, and includes June 15 and Pride Month, is a new initiative from a broad coalition of museums and organizations non-profit. The project aims to ask Americans, and young people in particular, to push the usual boundaries of red-white-and-blue festivities to include a new mission of reflection and civic engagement.
Through online resources as well as nationwide in-person exhibitions and events, Civic Season offers “a chance to look back at this full story of how we got here, all the people, the people. movements and moments that shaped the country we now inhabit, ”says Caroline Klibanoff of the museum, executive director of the civics-meets-history coalition Made by us. “It reminds us that in the future, we are part of this continuum. What we do today really matters in shaping the next chapter.
Lead by Made by us in the same way Civic education disconnected, the project focuses on 18-30 year olds – a demographic that museums often struggle to connect with – and helps them become active in the democratic process. This age group also coincides with when young people first exercise civic power by voting.
“We started to feel in the young people that they really had a lot of conflicting feelings around July 4 as just a wholesale celebration of the country,” Klibanoff said. “We heard a desire to do more with this vacation to reflect on history and explore opportunities for civic engagement.” Thus, from this need, Civic Season was born.
Civic season is supposed to be activity-based; its organizers hope it will be the first of many annual celebrations in which Americans take the time to learn about our democracy’s past, and then take action to work towards the future they want, in the same way that Giving Tuesday marks a time when people are all involved in the shared activity of charitable giving. To guide the celebrants, the Civic season website offers a list of 450 educational resources and events, an impressive pooling of museum resources in a manner accessible to the public. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got five minutes or an hour, whether you’re interested in racial justice or climate change, or you prefer, you know, broadcast a podcast or attend a live event, there’s something to do for you, ”Klibanoff says.
Contributed by organizations across the country, online and in-person offerings range from “Seize the freedom” podcast, which chronicles the end of slavery in the United States through archived lyrics from African Americans who lived that story; broadcast live conferences and one walking tour on LGBTQ history; oral histories students who attended separate schools; a exposure of Museum of the Chinese in America which allows viewers to virtually walk around the gallery; and opportunities to help transcribe suffragette documents.
The variety of Civic Season programming also speaks to the complexities and contradictions of history. There are patriotic celebrations of the country and service as a half day tour on the ‘Forgotten Women of Arlington National Cemetery’ or attending a naturalization ceremony in Monticello, while making room for a clear recognition that the nation’s history also includes parodies like the Freedom Summer murders of the June 21, 1964 and colonization. (The Civic Season website highlights, for example, a virtual exhibition of Albuquerque Museum on Native Resistance in New Mexico.) Along with historical events and resources, there are offers for non-partisan political participation, such as a “Constituent Guide to Contacting Your Representative” and a online citizenship quiz of the New York Historical Society.
“As we celebrate July 4th, you can still have a hot dog,” Klibanoff said. “It only becomes a stronger celebration and a more meaningful celebration of the country if you are aware and recognize all of the many moments that have shaped our history… We tend to celebrate July 4th as a victory. In many ways it was, but it was really the middle of a story.
To reach Gen Z and Millennials, Civic Season went digital, creating graphics that attendees can share on Instagram, organization of conversations on the lively audio social network Clubhouse and enlisting young activists like Jamie Margolin and Sara Mora publicize the new tradition. And the many digital offerings on the Civic Season website make its humanities treasure more accessible to people who may not live near a museum, provided they have internet and a computer. personal computer. access.
The 21-day period offers a chance to examine head-on the connection between lessons in museums and our daily experiences. “We all know the past exists, but this Civic Season helps us think more about it instead of just taking the past for granted – wondering how and why it illuminates our present,” says Modupe Labode, a curator at the National Museum of American History who focuses on the history of African-American social justice. “Keeping the historical dimension in mind is a bit like keeping gravity in mind,” she explains, it is at play all around us.
And while the weight of history can be intimidating, Labode says examining the past can also be inspiring. She cites the resistance of enslaved people and the struggle of suffragists to win the vote of women even when they had no political voice as examples of how individuals can influence change even when faced with obstacles deeply. rooted. History also offers examples of individual civic engagement and celebration, points out Labode, activists like Georgia Gilmore, who helped feed and fund the Montgomery bus boycotters, or the African-American people who held community picnics – before the Civil War – to celebrate the end of slavery in the West Indies.
“I was sort of in awe of people in the past [and] their imaginations to say, “I want something different. I want something better. I want to build on that and do something better. It’s worth recognizing this and then working in that vein, ”says Labode. Civic Season is about taking stock of our national history – stars and stripes, sins and successes – and then using it as a launching pad to move forward.