by Johanna Porr Yaun
One approach to planning events and educational programming for the 250th period is to take the themes developed by America 250 with the Association of State and Local History and local events or themes and create a chart (as seen below). How can educational and heritage tourism projects fit into these intersections? If your community has a lot of events to commemorate, can different organizations fit in a box a piece? If your community has fewer, can you manage to use the 5 National themes at least once during the decade long commemorative period? Whether you're creating 50 projects or 5 between 2024-2033, using this method can ensure that the work you do is both relevant to your community and contributes to the larger zeitgeist of public history field.
AMERICA 250 THEMES
Through a wide range of actions, people in what is now the United States have continually challenged our country to live up to its highest ideals. Before, during, and after the Revolution, people have fought for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and worked tirelessly to secure the blessings of liberty. This theme can help audiences consider how America’s founding documents have been used to advocate for change and how members of each of our communities have pressed for liberty and equality throughout American history.
Power of Place
Place offers a powerful lens through which we can view the past, moving beyond modern political boundaries to consider the full history of the space we now call the United States. Place can enable us to reexamine ideas about our natural and built environments and to reorient when and where we find our country’s history. This theme can help audiences consider what was happening in each of our communities during the Revolutionary Era, and how each of our “places” have changed over time.
We the People
Since the nation’s founding, definitions of “the people,” the boundaries of national belonging, and the nature of citizenship have changed. For much of our history, the United States has excluded people from full participation and representation in the life of the nation. Yet over time, the United States has also incorporated people of diverse backgrounds into our society. This theme can help audiences consider how people of different backgrounds experienced and influenced the American Revolution in different ways, and how definitions of “the people” have changed in our communities over time.
The leaders of the founding era did not have all the answers. Though their innovations of representative democracy and rights-based constitutionalism were transformative, they knew the nation was a revolutionary experiment. They expected future generations to improve on the republic they created. The 250th anniversary offers us an opportunity to reconsider the origins of government, democratic institutions, and our national civic life. This theme can help audiences consider how “revolutionary” the American Revolution was, and how our national, state, and other organizing charters have changed over time.
To renew public engagement with history, our field must invite our publics to participate in the process of doing history. This anniversary will challenge our field to explain how we interpret evidence and craft narratives about the past, engaging in open conversations about what history is, the many ways it is done, and why it matters. This theme can help audiences consider what history is, how it differs from “the past,” and how inclusion of multiple perspectives and sources can change our understanding of history.
ORANGE COUNTY (NY) THEMES
1774/2024, Colonial Communities: Life in the colonies before the war, including discussion of educational, political, and religious institutions, as well as traditions of militia service, forms of pollical activism, and trade networks in the Atlantic World.
1775/2025, Choosing Sides: Local motivations to go to war, an exploration of the personalities who were first to spring into action, Loyalism vs. Patriotism, the reordering of local political and militia institutions as shots are fired, and networks of the spread of information.
1776/2026, Independence for All?: A focus on those who were disenfranchised by the war, including enslaved individuals, women, orphaned children, families of the borderlands, and those who lost their homes and livelihoods to the ravages of war.
1777/2027, Defense of the Hudson: Focus on the river corridor for military strategy for both the British and Americans, and the geopolitics affecting the region as a result. The forts at West Point, Montgomery, and Stony Point, and the Great Chain.
1778/2028, Supplying the Army: Understanding the importance of the region; supplying the army: depots, quartermasters, logistics, garrisons, provisions, and field medicine.
1779/2029, Tribal Involvement: Native alliances and the impact of indigenous peoples’ involvement on decision making during the war, as well as military engagements of Native American soldiers. The Battle of Minisink, the Sullivan campaign.
1780/2030, Treason, Spies, and Double Agents: A focus on covert operations, underground alliances, recon, mapmaking, battle plans, and strategies. Benedict Arnold at West Point, spy rings, Loyalist removals and seizures.
1781/2031, Winning the War: An opportunity to look at leadership, diplomacy, and the personal sacrifices of those who were decisionmakers in the ranks of the military and provisional government; Washington-Rochambeau trail, Washington’s generals and Aides-de-camp, civil leaders.
1782/2032, Soldiers and Camp Life: An exploration of the soldiers’ experiences, comradery, and their struggle to keep the army together with few resources, and discussions about how they became more professional as the war went on, debates over whether the country should maintain a standing army; Badge of Military Merit, for example.
1783/2033, Ensuring Peace: Foreign peace negotiations, the Newburgh Conspiracy, the reclaiming of New York City, land grants and pensions, civil leaders, the path to a constitution, ripples into the Age of Revolution in France and in Haiti, how those affected sought to remember the war, veterans’ cemeteries, monuments, and the formation of ancestral organizations.