Museums assume a variety of assignments, among them surveying the past in an effort to retrieve and preserve. With an eye to the rear, they strive also to speak to the present while raising questions about the future.
In the end, it is a matter of reminding, informing and educating — significant undertakings all.
The Mansfield Museum, now entering its 10th season of operation, is mindful of these assignments. Both our permanent displays and our special annual exhibits are aimed at illuminating the past and sharing that past with the public. Ours is a small venue with modest traffic; even so, we attempt to connect with the central narrative, to document the truism that we are all participants in the broader human drama.
Few dramas score higher than World War I, what contemporaries called the Great War. This year marks the centennial of the outbreak of that conflict, arguably the seminal event of the last century.
The Bolshevik Revolution, National Socialism, Adolf Hitler — the list goes on — so much that followed is traceable to the Great War. Filmmakers, historians and others recognize the historical impact of WWI, and they are inviting us to pause and reflect on that incredible tragedy. Museums are well positioned to participate in the centennial commemoration.
The Mansfield Museum is about to unveil its contribution to a reconsideration of the Great War and its aftermath. In keeping with the notion of the particular and its relationship to the general, we are paying tribute to area residents who served in the military. A well-defined local population with a shared past permits us to focus on the personal, highlighting specific individuals and their discreet stories.
A selection of veterans whose combined experiences stretch form the Great War through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and more recent engagements will be given detailed attention.
Such a presentation will emphasize the near-by, the home-grown. But just as surely their military careers introduce us to the trenches and mustard gas, to Okinawa and other Pacific islands, to Pusan and Inchon and to once-exotic places like Saigon.
The hope is that visitors will come away with an appreciation that even those who live lives distant and remote are a part of the central narrative. Provincial isolation may be a misnomer.
In this way, the Mansfield Museum seeks to remind, inform and educate.
Darold Wax writes about the history of the Mansfield area.