[FPSPACE] Space historian Dr. Roger D. Launius speaks at UMass-Amherst
ljk4 at msn.com
Thu Mar 15 08:43:54 EST 2007
Space historian speaks in lecture series
By: Jaegun Lee, Collegian Staff
Issue date: 3/15/07 Section: News
The University of Massachusetts History department hosted this year's Five
College History Lecture yesterday at Memorial Hall.
Dr. Roger D. Launius, chairman of the Division of Space History at the
Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
spoke to a crowd of students and faculty members from UMass and the other
In his speech, entitled "American Memory and the Challenges of Presenting
the Past to a Diverse Public," Launius addressed a number of issues
contemporary historians face in presenting history to the American public.
He explained that human memories are mostly constructed by personal
experience of an individual and those whom they associate with.
"Most Americans," he said, "don't necessarily have a great deal of
connections to great historical events.
"Mostly what they have is connections to personal things at the local level,
at the family level, the inner relationships which intersect with national
themes," he explained.
He pushed on the issue by stating that such people cannot differentiate
between wars, such as the Civil War, the American Revolution and the
"At some level, like politics," he argued, "history is local, too."
He elaborated on how the construction of memories and the creation of
national identities act as barriers for contemporary historians to deliver
alternative views to the official history.
Launius said that with such restrictions applied, museums are not likely to
present exhibitions which would promote diversity and historically important
"The passing of the cultural debates early in the first part of the 21st
century has made it exceptionally difficult to present the past in all
complexity in a national museum, such as the one that I am in, to the broad
diverse public that it serves," he said.
Launius listed 10 exhibitions not likely to be seen in America. Among them
were musicians dying in plane crashes, speculation on the moon landing
conspiracy and the existence of extraterrestrial life.
Such issues, according to Launius, challenge authoritative and prominent
beliefs and values among the American public and are likely to be shut down
Launius served as chief historian of NASA between 1990 and 2002, has been a
guest commentator on major television networks and is frequently consulted
by the media for his insights on space issues.
He has also served as a consultant to the Columbia Accident Investigation
Board in 2003 and presented the Harmon Memorial Lecture in Military History
at the United States Air Force Academy in 2006.
He has written or edited over 20 books on aerospace and on a variety of
historical topics, including American politics during the Mexican-American
War, and the relationship of baseball to American culture.
The annual Five College History Lecture series is funded by the Five
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