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
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