This summer, I spent my weekends volunteering at the Lancaster Historical Society near my hometown in northern New Hampshire. I went to elementary school in Lancaster and suffered through lessons on local history, but it wasn’t until I arrived at college that I discovered an interesting piece of Lancaster’s heritage. I learned that the commander of the “Fighting Fifth” NH, Colonel Edward E. Cross, was born and buried in Lancaster, an astonishing and exciting discovery that brought the Civil War back to my hometown.
After discovering this, I anxiously waited to go home to see what belongings of Cross Lancaster had in its possession, only to be incredibly disappointed by what I found. The grave of Colonel Cross is currently locked away from the public, rarely open for viewers to enter the cemetery. I was understanding of this as it was a private cemetery, but nothing could prepare me for what I found at the historical society. The historical society, operating out of a house in town, was closed the first summer I came home forcing me to wait a year to see the artifacts relating to Cross. Last summer was the first time I saw the artifacts of Colonel Cross, all together in a pantry-sized case.
The society has Cross’s pistol, rifle, leathers, papers, and more all in the case unprotected from the light and the temperature, which can easily drop below zero during the winter. Cross’s saddle, which he is was often described sitting elegantly in, lies on a block of wood, dried out and free to touch by the public.
Saddened by what I saw when I first arrived home I offered to volunteer my time, hoping to gain an opportunity to improve to present condition of the artifacts. After a few weekends of volunteering I asked about fixing the Cross exhibit but was told that funds were non-existent as the society did not receive money from the town and had a difficult time raising enough funds, thus sealing the fate of the artifacts.
I learned that while passion plays a large role in public history, there is another aspect to the field that makes it a reality. Without the economy to back up public history, many artifacts suffer the consequences of poor preservation. Does money control public history? This problem affects many historical societies and museums nationwide that are unable to fund their preservation efforts, leading to the destruction and loss of the objects they can’t maintain. Many artifacts are poorly preserved and can easily be lost to the public, erasing them from history. Many historical societies receive funding from the local community, and many of the smaller towns in America struggle to give their societies a decent cut of their budget. This means that the material culture of these small towns is more likely to deteriorate than those of a larger city that can provide more funding.
Money determines how history is remembered. National history is easier preserved, often receiving funding from larger agencies and programs. Local histories often lack funding for preservation, limiting their ability to survive and be remembered by future generations. Money and passion are required to work together in public history in order to make historical preservation a reality. The present situation in America has proved that the preservation of histories involving large figures or large events in history is better funded. Local histories are often lost due to poor preservation. The level of funding determines the quality of preservation, and small museums and historical societies are feeling the consequences of small budgets.