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“All You Need To Know about Ludlow…”: Class and the Construction of Memory

“All You Need To Know about Ludlow…”: Class and the Construction of Memory

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Published by Mark
ABSTRACT
That historical interpretation is politically interested has become a truism. Certain histories flourish while others are marginalized. Labor struggle is one such marginalized history, yet it retains a vital presence for many people. In working at the Ludlow Massacre Site, we must engage these subaltern histories and the people who guard them. To understand how the memories of the Ludlow Massacre are kept alive, we surveyed visitors at Ludlow and at a nearby local history museum. These surveys illuminate some of the ways in which submerged histories are maintained even as they are silenced in the broader public sphere.
ABSTRACT
That historical interpretation is politically interested has become a truism. Certain histories flourish while others are marginalized. Labor struggle is one such marginalized history, yet it retains a vital presence for many people. In working at the Ludlow Massacre Site, we must engage these subaltern histories and the people who guard them. To understand how the memories of the Ludlow Massacre are kept alive, we surveyed visitors at Ludlow and at a nearby local history museum. These surveys illuminate some of the ways in which submerged histories are maintained even as they are silenced in the broader public sphere.

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Published by: Mark on Jun 19, 2008
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03/17/2011

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“ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LUDLOW…”:CLASS AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF MEMORYABSTRACT
That historical interpretation is politically interested has become a truism. Certainhistories flourish while others are marginalized. Labor struggle is one such marginalizedhistory, yet it retains a vital presence for many people. In working at the LudlowMassacre Site, we must engage these subaltern histories and the people who guard them.To understand how the memories of the Ludlow Massacre are kept alive, we surveyedvisitors at Ludlow and at a nearby local history museum. These surveys illuminate someof the ways in which submerged histories are maintained even as they are silenced in the broader public sphere.
Mark WalkerAnthropological Studies CenterSonoma State UniversityRohnert Park, CA 94928(707) 664-2027mark.walker@sonoma.eduSociety for American Archaeology Conference 2002, Denver, Colorado
 
History professionals, in which I include archaeologists, do not have a lock oncreating representations of the past. There are histories outside the guild that can, andhave, surprised us with their passion, and often their political power. As archaeologistswe know history matters, but it also matters to people outside the guild, people who mayhave different interests from ours, interests often rooted in some familiar issues such asethnicity, race, gender, and class. Our findings and interpretations are sometimes used or rejected in unexpected ways and for unexpected reasons.All too often professionals behave as if historical awareness on the part of the public is simply awareness of and agreement with what professionals think; a matter of formal education and getting our message across to the public more effectively. In this paper I would like to start by pointing out while the term "the public" has some use indesignating those outside the profession or guild, it has limited use beyond that. "The public" is, as they say, "diverse." This is not news. It's why there are have such things asmarket segmentation and focus groups.So our audience is not homogeneous. There are segments of this audience thatare interested in the same things professional archaeologists are interested in and arecontent to accept our findings. But, as we are increasingly finding, there are other segments that, while they may be vitally interested in the past, may find our researchquestions irrelevant or even offensive (LaRoche and Blakey 1997).This paper is not a plea for us to start referring to "the publics" instead of "the public", nor is it a plea for the use of more sophisticated marketing techniques in sellingarchaeology, although, much as I hate to admit it, both probably follow from theseobservations. It is an investigation of the relationship between class and historicalconsciousness, and the role archaeology plays in creating historical consciousness.As a discipline archaeology is not noted for its practical applications and wouldseem to be the archetypal academic indulgence. But for all its dry as dust scholaticism,archaeology remains a very public endeavor, attracting considerable media attention, aswell as state support and funding. Why is this? What is the relevance of archaeology inthis case?
Archaeology in the Public Sphere
Archaeology is part of a constellation of institutions that serve to create nationalhistorical memory: schools, historical sites, television programs, and museums. Theseinstitutions act together, although not necessarily in concert, to create a “historical publicsphere,” an arena and a set of rules within which public historical argument, and thus, toa great extent, political and social argument, takes place.But debates within this arena are often structured by inequalities. These can be ascrass as flows of money or interlocking directorates between corporate and historical boards, and as subtle as the attitudes of the middle-class professionals who largely refereethe debates. The creation of historical memory is a political act. We are creatingideology—legitimating, mystifying, or naturalizing present-day interests by rooting themin visions of the past.I am not denying the existence of a real past or arguing that the past is infinitely plastic. Ludlow did happen. The colony was burned and those people were killed. Andother people did it. But any historical event or process will generate multiple narratives.People impose narrative structure where before there was none. Their confusing,
 
contradictory, and disparate memories and experiences are filtered, ordered, anddisciplined to create coherent, meaningful narratives. And some narratives dominate andflourish, while others are stifled, driven out of the public realm and into extinction, or atleast in to their proponents’ homes.The broad contours of the narratives that tend to dominate have been sketched bya number of authors. They tend to be nationalistic and patriotic, emphasizing citizenduties over citizen rights. They emphasize social unity, the continuity of the social order,and gloss over periods of transformation and rupture. The dominant histories are dramas presenting a primordial national unity that denies social and political contradictions in the present by denying them in the past. This is our heritage, our history, and our past.But what of the histories that are silenced? If they don’t disappear altogether they become the property of cranks and special interest groups, at best interesting sidelights tothe central “real” story, no longer quite history, but memory or tradition. But thesealternative visions, while exiled to the margins of mainstream memory, can still maintaina living presence, private and local, but nonetheless vital. And as political-economicconditions and alliances shift, these submerged histories may reemerge or provide theseeds for changes in the dominant histories.The Ludlow project is an attempt to craft an alternative history, using archaeologyto bring labor history into the historical public sphere. Labor struggle is prominentamong those events and sites that are erased from dominant histories. As of yet few, if any, of the seminal events of labor history and labor struggle have received officialcommemoration. When labor history sites are memorialized, it is generally by labor andlabor unions.Given the sorts of interests that tend to drive public history, the silencing of labor struggle is unsurprising. In the dominant mythology, the US is a classless society. Weare all middle class. Events that bear a resemblance to class warfare, or that even point tothe presence of class, are not easily incorporated within this mythology. A second factor is that labor struggle lacks a resolution or, to put it another way, historical distance (Foote1997:300). Labor struggle obviously cannot be effectively quarantined in the past and“antiquarianized.” Labor struggles continue today; the problems that gave rise to themhave not been resolved, and unions remain an uneasy and ambiguous presence on thefringes of middle-class consciousness.
Southern Colorado Histories
The silencing of labor struggle can also have more obviously economicunderpinnings. In southern Colorado, where Ludlow took place, the remembered pastneeds to be considered in the context of de-industrialization, the decline of coal-mining,and local attempts to recreate the economic base of the area through heritage tourism.The dominant history of the area is that of the Old West. Trinidad, the largest town near Ludlow, is on the Santa Fe Trail. Its history is replete with cowboys, pioneers, Indianattacks, and figures such as Kit Carson, Black Jack Ketchum, and Bat Masterson. Theattraction of this history is powerful. It provides a link not only to national histories of westward expansion and growth, but to a mythology that, through Hollywood, has a trulyglobal appeal. The histories of coal mining, company towns, and labor struggle pale incomparison (McGuire and Reckner 1998; Papanikolas 1995:73-90).As coal mining, and coal miners, recede into history, it becomes likely that there

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