Colonial Williamsburg Restoration

I chose to read and reflect on the two articles dealing with the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and its historical development .   I  chose this topic because I want to know more about where I live and walk every day—and I was not disappointed.  Knowing that Rockefeller essentially saved “the town from destruction”, and the amazing minds and talents that went into transforming what is now CW and DOG St. into what President Roosevelt labeled “the most historic avenue in all America” , adds meaningful context, while increasing my appreciation for where I have lived the last 3.5 years.

Most enlightening to me was glimpsing how much work and commitment it took to recreate the past. Clearly, Colonial Williamsburg would not be what it is today without visionary people like Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin; not to mention how persuasive he must have been to convince one of the wealthiest people in the America  to ‘save’ the town.  Learning about Goodwin and the sheer devotion he had for CW made me feel almost guilty.  As someone who lives down the street from what was an all consuming life project, I’m amazed at how blind I was to how much work was done (and continues to be done) to a place I spend a lot of time in. Basically, these articles had the effect of increasing my level of gratitude to those like Goodwin (and Rockefeller) who hold history in such high regard. Generations will benefit from their foresight, even if people like me don’t necessarily appreciate it fully.

Of course, trying to figure out how to represent history accurately is not an easy thing to do.  And the efforts to restore Williamsburg to its “original” state bring out some common problems.  As the second article points out,  it took a ton of effort to authenticate the houses and streets of CW because doing so requires interpretations of history that could be interpreted differently.  At the same time, certain aspects  of our history, such as slavery, are almost impossible to represent in a way that is not offensive to modern society.  However, what that means is that CW is no way an accurate portrayal of history because it largely leaves out slaves—the largest percentage of CW’s population during that time frame.  This, in turn, begs the question: are we better off with a distorted version of history that ostensibly allows those that visit to only focus on what makes us feel good about our national identity?


About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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