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Archive for Wednesday, February 27, 2002

State Historical Society comes under fire for prohibition at its properties

February 27, 2002

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— This might have been "Bleeding Kansas" in the 19th century, but visitors to properties managed by the Kansas State Historical Society won't see any blood.

The historical society recently banned re-enactments of war or violence at properties it manages, and some state historians aren't pleased.

"It is impossible to tell the story of Kansas without mentioning violence," said Scott Price, a historian and former president of Friends of the First Territorial Capital at Fort Riley.

Ramon Powers, the state society's executive director, said the decision was based on "our general view of the kind of audience that we are trying to reach out to. Particularly in light of events of Sept. 11, it is not appropriate to engage in those kind of activities, or have them at our facilities."

The Historical Society's policy says there are some situations where demonstrations of historical military tactics or weapons usage might be an appropriate form of interpretation, but it does not define those situations.

Beginning in 1855, bloody battles and political unrest ravaged the Kansas frontier. The struggle eventually led Kansas to be admitted into the Union as a free state.

That history, Price said cannot be effectively taught without re-enactments.

"We live in a visual age," he said. "Now, more than ever in our nation's history, a picture is worth a thousand words."

Good re-enactments go beyond the visual, Price said.

During some of the re-enactments that are popular in Kansas, visitors walk through simulated Civil War camps.

"They see the fires, smell the bacon and hear the soldiers answer roll call," Price said.

Powers countered that there are other ways to teach history.

"It really is not history itself," he said of re-enactments. "The real gore of battle is not represented. You could almost argue that we make violence appealing if we engage in it in this controlled way."

Re-enactments, Price said, focus on the stories of those who fought for a way of life.

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