Some people are lucky enough to grow up thinking they know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their life. Throughout high school I thought I was one of those people, however, I could not have been more wrong. When I first came to George Mason I believed I would get a degree in Political Science and eventually go to law school to become a human rights attorney. It only took a month of government classes for me to promptly switch my major. After interning at a local museum in my hometown of Scandia, Minnesota I discovered a new passion and talent; museumwork. Since then I have been running full force towards a degree in Public History. In May I will be graduating, and in a last-minute effort to check off everything on my “Mason Bucket List” I decided to apply for a USRP grant through OSCAR last April. I knew from the minute I had heard about OSCAR that I wanted to participate somehow, however, as a history major I felt as though my field of study could not possibly produce research valuable enough to be funded. And then I came across my current research topic.
Currently there is a large scholarly conversation within the public history field surrounding the topic of the Civil War’s “Lost Cause” narrative and its effect on today’s society, almost 150 years after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Rather than remembering the Civil War as a war between brothers, many southerners, especially women, portrayed the Confederate cause as a heroic one despite their overall defeat. This “Lost Cause” narrative was developed immediately after the Civil War, however, its acceptance regained popularity during the 1960’s. Women began to utilize the field of history as a way to enter the workforce and academia, especially through the domestication of historical preservation and the creation of historical house museums, specifically Confederate houses. My research aims to analyze how the efforts of these women in the latter half of the 20th century affected the progression and continuation of the South's "Lost Cause" narrative after the Civil War.
However, unlike much of the current publications on this topic, my research argues that while many women who began to preserve these Confederate houses and convert them into museums did so with the knowledge of what many of these people stood for, many of these women were descendants of the men who they were honoring, thus saving these houses as a way to preserve a family legacy, not a confederate one. These museums were founded by descendants of those who the memorial is in honor of, so the museums look at these Confederate officials through a family lens and not a critical one, thus making it seem synonymous with the “Lost Cause” narrative. Through oral histories, personal documents, and archival research, my research examines two Civil War era museums in Northern Virginia and the women who helped found them; The Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington, Virginia and Eleanor Lee Templeman, and The Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, Virginia and Julia Jackson Christian Preston.
Over the past semester I have not only learned a lot about my topic, but also a lot about myself. I have begun to realize how passionate I am about historical research, especially research in regard to historical preservation. While I still may not know exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life I do know this, I want to devote my life to telling the untold stories of people like Eleanor Lee Templeman and Julia Jackson Christian Preston. Before she passed away in 1991, Templeman wrote a manuscript entitled “Meanwhile, I was Busy”in which she documented all of the things she accomplished during her life. I think this perfectly encapsulates what this semester has felt like to me; busy, but so worth every second.