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Monday, July 15, 2013

July 15, 2013: AmericanStudies Daytrips: Battleship Cove

[If you’re like me, you’re always looking for new places to take your crazed 7 and 6 year old sons/wrestlers in training, while introducing them to some American history and culture at the same time. Even if you’re not like me, daytrips are fun. Because I live in New England, I’ll be highlighting NE daytrips this week, leading up to a special weekend guest post; I’d also recommend prior blog focal points Salem and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. But feel free to share great daytrips from around the country, or the world, in comments!]
On the complex historic site that definitely floated my boys’ boats.
As part of last year’s series on San Diego and AmericanStudies, I blogged about the U.S.S. Midway, the aircraft carrier that has been turned into a floating naval and aviation museum. I tried in that post to balance two very distinct but equally present goals I had identified in the museum—creating empathy for what individual sailors and servicemen and women go through; and glorifying our national military endeavors. It might seem as if those two effects would go hand in hand—certainly the “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers suggest as much—but I disagree; I believe that empathy for military service can be far more nuanced about, if not openly critical of, wars and what they entail and mean than more broadly jingoistic attitudes can ever be.
The many naval vessels that comprise Fall River (MA)’s Battleship Cove, however, put my theory to the test. The unique museum includes a battleship (U.S.S. Massachusetts) that saw extensive World War II action, a destroyer, a submarine, and even a Cold War-era East German corvette, all of which visitors can walk onto and explore. While the battleship does have some interesting permanent exhibitions on various semi-related themes (women in the military, the use of radar, and so on), it does not include nearly as much detail as the Midway museum on the lives and experiences of the sailors who served on it; and the other Battleship Cove ships offer even less contextual information. In the absence of those kinds of histories, it’s very difficult not to simply be awed by the ships’ size, their armaments, their military might—that’s most definitely what my 7 and 6 year old responded to when we visited the Cove earlier this year.
And yet. First of all, 7 and 6 year old boys would fixate on big guns no matter what else was around—and it didn’t hurt that we visited on Memorial Day, when one of the battleship’s 5-inchers fired more than a dozen rounds in tribute. Second, and more importantly, there was just something deeply inspiring about seeing my boys excited to be on board these historic vessels, asking questions, experiencing their spaces and settings first hand. I guess we could call this the visitor-response school of museum studies, one in which each visitor can make of the site what he or she will; in that case the relative dearth of information or exhibition on board the ships allowed me and my boys to develop our own experience of and connection to them. For that reason, and for its simple uniqueness, Battleship Cove is definitely a worthwhile AmericanStudies daytrip.
Next daytrip tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Thoughts on this site? Other daytrips you’d highlight?

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