Bringing American Public History to New Zealand

Just moments ago, from the northern Great Plains of North America, I submitted a short paper proposal to the other side of the planet, this to the New Zealand Historical Association (NZHA) in Dunedin, New Zealand. It is for the NZHA 2013 Biennial Conference (click the blue link to the left for direct details) on November 20-22, 2013. My paper concerns the contested public memory of Whitestone Hill, and concludes with some World Historical considerations. It builds off landscape memory and history, and research from 2009 to the present. The intent is to join two additional landscape historians, Dr. Thomas D. Isern and Dr. Suzzanne Kelley, to make a complete panel. Tom and Suzzanne are considering the public memory of local New Zealand history specific to the Lindis. I am bringing some public memory from the northern Great Plains to the mix. I thought I would share my paper title and abstract here.

Photo of Whitestone Hill from April 2012.

Photo of Whitestone Hill from April 2012.

Title: Aaron L. Barth, “A Contested Site of Memory from the American Civil War: Whitestone Hill 150 Years Later”

Abstract: In early September of 1863, as the American Civil War raged in the eastern half of the continental United States, General Alfred Sully led a military column on a punitive campaign against the Dakota (aka, Sioux) on the northern Great Plains. The military goal was to punish the Dakota majority, en masse, for the atrocities committed by a small Dakota minority the previous year in the Minnesota River Valley. Sully’s 1863 campaign culminated in an action at Whitestone Hill, this in present-day North Dakota. In his official words, Sully said he engaged Dakota “warriors… squaws, [and] children” in a “melée” and “murderous slaughter” of a “promiscuous nature.” His command killed 150 to 300 Dakota, and if he had another hour or two of light, he said, “I could have annihilated the enemy,” giving “one of the most severe punishments that the Indians have ever received.” For 150 years, the public memory of Whitestone Hill has been contested, called a “battlefield” by a United States Congressman, and called a “mistake” by Sully and Episcopalian Reverend Aaron McGaffey Beede. This paper tracks the public tension in the remembrance of Whitestone Hill, and concludes with samples of how sites of memory from this period are contested in World History.


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