Twin City Talkers

This month in the twin city, we’re talking about Winston-Salem history, how it has shaped us and how we can approach it.

In the Single Brothers House in Old Salem, we were joined by Frank Vagnone, president and CEO of the Museum and Gardens. He’s the co-author of "Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums," a book both venerated and vilified for its irreverent approach to understanding the past. You can find his work at his blog Twisted Preservation.

He’s also the speaker at our next Twin City Talks Community event. He’ll be speaking about Winston-Salem History, how it can be uncomfortable and why it matters. That’s September 26, at Footnote, behind Foothills Brewing on Fourth Street. Things kick off at 5:30.

“History becomes important at times of great trouble and distress,” he says.

We’ll also joined by Kimya Dennis, an associate professor of sociology and coordinator of the criminal studies program at Salem College.

Vagnone says his book came out of a feeling of frustration about how history was being presented.

“Here I was in New York City, running 23 historic sites, and I still didn’t feel like we were able to tell the whole story, and I still didn’t feel like our visitors understood that our history is not just this romanticized mythology we have,” he says. Out of that frustration came the book, co-authored Deborah E. Ryan, a professor of architecture at UNC Charlotte.

He says appreciation of historical sites can be improved by placing less emphasis on buildings and collections and more on visitor experience. At Old Salem, he’s tried to do that by such moves as including more information about the slaves who helped build the town.

“Every single historic building has been reinterpreted,” he says. “Certain new narratives are starting to be introduced significantly.”

Disagreements over historical interpretations can lead to heated arguments. That’s the case now as disputes over Confederate monuments have led to confrontations in places like Charlottesville, Va. and Chapel Hill.

Dennis is a native of Richmond, noted for its famous Monument Avenue, with statues commemorating Virginia’s Civil War veterans.

She says people deserve to know more about the statues, including what motivated people to put them up. She says, for many of them, it had more to do with drawing the line between whites and blacks in the Jim Crow era than it did about paying tribute to those who served.

“It’s not about being unappreciative of history, it’s wanting an accurate depiction of history,” she says.

Frank Vagnone will speak and take your questions at our next Twin City Talks community discussion - Winston-Salem’s History can be Uncomfortable. Here's why it matters. That’s Wednesday, September 26 at Footnote, starting at 5:30. As always, it’s free and open to the public.

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