One Quotable Nation


When Sarah Palin announced her One Nation bus tour, I looked forward to hearing which historic sites she would choose to visit. Though I am not (full disclosure) a Palin supporter, I am a visiting-historic-sites supporter. I knew I would follow her tour stops from my desk chair and write a blog post about her trip, though I had no idea where she would be going, let alone where I would be going with this post.

Palin and her family visited, among other places, several parks and museums from Northern Virginia through New England. Some were places I had visited, too. I went to Gettysburg Battlefield as a child, the National Archives in 2005, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in 2007, and the Lincoln Memorial numerous times over the years. When I recently looked at old photos in order to mentally revisit these sites, I realized, unexpectedly, that a chunk of my pictures were photographs of quotations.

Lots of people collect objects. I have more stuff than space to put it in, and these days I don’t actively collect keychains or decks of cards like I used to. Instead, I collect words – memorable quotes filling up 236 pages of my quotebook.

While taking in the same historic sites that Palin visited, I snapped these photos:

Benjamin Franklin quote at Independence Hall

George Washington quote at the National Archives

My friend Kara, reading Abraham Lincoln's words on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial

Are museums places for quotes, as well as objects, to be displayed? I think so. The word and the thing complement and contextualize each other. Both have a place in informal learning environments, where visitors choose what to see – and what to read.

Sarah Palin’s excursion to the Paul Revere House garnered notoriety when she misquoted, or at least misrepresented, the words of Paul Revere. Of course, popular legend misquotes him, too. I have never visited the Paul Revere House, but I found the real quote and story on the museum’s website here.

How much do words matter at these historic sites? Well, look at the sites Palin chose: Gettysburg, where President Lincoln spoke the words that were thereafter known as the Gettysburg Address. Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The National Archives and Records Administration, where the most important words in American history are stored, viewed, and researched.

In a civilization based on the idea that (to evoke another famous quote, from Edward Bulwer-Lytton) the pen is mightier than the sword, it is no wonder that the monuments to our history include not just the cannons of our battles but also the canon of our speeches and writings. And maybe this is why it matters to people that leaders visiting historic sites get the quotes right, if not in exact words, then at least in meaning.

In any event, it’s been interesting to follow the Palin family vacation/One Nation tour, and to look at the impact the sites had on me and on Palin, two American women with differing political views. If nothing else, I hope her trip inspires people to visit museums!

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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2 Responses to One Quotable Nation

  1. Catherine Kruchten says:

    interesting, given that there’s somewhat-currently a controversy over the inclusion of a quote in the forthcoming 9/11 museum in new york. if you search the nytimes archives, it’s got the article somewhere — i believe that the controversy, like so many others, centers around the “religiosity” of the text.

  2. disciullo says:

    Catherine, I found this article arguing that the quote from Virgil was taken out of context and inappropriate for the 9/11 museum: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/opinion/07alexander.html Is that what you’re referring to?

    That is another aspect shared by objects and quotes: choosing which ones to include is not without potential controversy!

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