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Thursday, March 7, 2019

March 7, 2019: Remembering the Alamo: Phil Collins?!

[On March 6th, 1836 the Alamo, a San Antonio fort and part of the newly independent Texan Republic, fell to Mexican forces. That battle became a rallying cry for the remainder of the war between Texas and Mexico, and so this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of the ways the Alamo has been remembered. Leading up to a special weekend post on Tejano culture and legacies!]
On a couple takeaways from a very strange 21st century story.
I’ve long waited for an opportunity to blog about Phil Collins, and finally with this series the chance has presented itself. Actually, that’s a bald-faced lie, and backwards to boot—I had never given Phil Collins the slightest bit of blog-thought (although “Land of Confusion” might be worth a post down the road, now that I’m doing such thinking) until my colleague and friend Irene Martyniuk sent me this late June 2014 BBC story about Collins donating his ginormous collection of memorabilia related to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo to a San Antonio museum. I initially wrote about Collins’s collection as part of a weeklong series on collectors, but couldn’t resist the chance to share the story, and the contexts it helps us think about, one more time.
For one thing, note Collins’—or at least the story’s—conflation of cultural and historical versions of the battle. Collins says that he has “had a love affair with this place [the Alamo] since I was about five years old,” the age when he saw “the 1950s TV series Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” (King was a 1955 live-action film edited together from episodes of the TV show, but I think we can allow a 5 year-old some latitude in memory). It’s probably likely that most of us are first drawn to history through cultural rather than historical texts, but there’s still some significant slippage in Collins’ statement—neither the TV show nor the film, nor for example the John Wayne film of five years later, would have connected Collins to “this place” itself, but rather, as my week’s series has highlighted again and again, to versions of it just as constructed as the one he gradually assembled in his Swiss basement. And certainly none of those versions were likely to have included the Mexican histories and stories that comprised a significant part of the battle as well and that I discussed in Tuesday’s post.
For another thing, and one relevant to many different aspects of American memory and history, there’s the distinction but also the overlap between private and public collecting. The two would seem quite different, both in purpose (Collins assembled his collection to make himself happy, while a museum does so to share its artifacts with and inform the public) and relatedly in audience (Collins’ collection was limited to whomever he invited to his Swiss basement, while a museum’s is ideally open to whoever can travel to, afford, and otherwise access it). But on the other hand, most every prominent American collection came into existence because of the efforts, the choices, and even the personal interests and quirks of individuals, and I think it’s fair to say that there are few if any museums about which we couldn’t say the same. Phil Collins doesn’t seem to be in the same discussion as Isabella Stewart Gardner or George Catlin (P.T. Barnum, maybe—I kid, Phil fans, I kid!), but maybe a century from now we’ll see his donation and collection in the same light.
Last Alamo memory tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?

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