Without Everyone’s Voice, History is an Incomplete Story

Made By Us
Jul 1, 2020 · 4 min read

By Anthea Hartig (National Museum of American History) and Jorge Zamanillo (HistoryMiami Museum)
Made By Us Founding Partners

To power a better tomorrow, it’s never been more important to harness lessons from the past. History has been unevenly written and unevenly shared, but even if we never arrive at a singular “truth” or telling of our story, it is our aim to do better, to make the tent bigger, to understand a more multifaceted perspective. Made By Us is a beacon, a collective effort and guiding force that provides historical context and perspective to inspire action. We use our Medium presence as a forum for exposing more of our process, our perspectives, and the people doing the day-to-day work behind our projects.

Stars in the Northern Hemisphere form a constellation called the Big Dipper. Or is it the Great Bear? Or the Plough? Does it matter what we call it? The location of the stars will remain the same, but the way we view them is always changing.

Events in history, like stars in the sky, can be recounted and connected in infinite ways.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen protests treated like insurrections. Peaceful demonstrations can be described entirely differently, depending on the speaker. Democracy, like history, is a living, evolving story we write each day — not a set of fixed facts. So who gets to do the writing?

This is why we created Made By Us. Recognizing that it’s on all of us to step up, we have joined forces with 70 other history and civic engagement organizations nationwide to create this coalition. As museum directors, we know that so many institutions and their leaders have caused pain. We have excluded people from decision-making and left important voices out of exhibitions and publications.

We commit to doing better.

Made By Us is an unprecedented effort by stewards of our national memory to present history in relevant, provocative, and surprising ways for all who want to participate. Our goal is to offer a way for younger generations to write the story from their perspective, informed by the past.

History serves us best when it is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. Today, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to participate in history in new ways.

As a nation, we have arrived at an opportunity for reckoning. The past few months have brought into sharp focus the paradoxical racial history of the United States. Enslaved people built the White House in the 1790s. About a hundred years later, their descendants gained the right to vote on who would occupy it. Today, Black activists are putting democracy in action at the White House, joined by a diverse crowd exercising their First Amendment rights. Marching together, they are grieving the senseless killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and many other victims of racial violence and terror.

At the same time, as the COVID-19 death toll crests over 120,000 in the United States, we have seen the virus’ disproportionate impact on people of color, indigenous people, and people who are poor. The grief we feel is raw, but it isn’t new. Through the lens of history, it is merely the latest chapter in systemic racism.

Moments like this remind us that history is not something we passively inherit. History happens every single day. It’s up to every one of us to own it, learn from it, and use it to shape our future.

To that end, we recently launched our first initiative, My Wish For U.S. It is an invitation for everyone to share their vision for the future of the United States of America as we approach our country’s 250th birthday. We hope to inspire each other to take action, illuminate surprising similarities across our nation, and inform tools and experiences the Made By Us team creates.

We could not be more thrilled to pave the path for a new kind of alliance that is committed to doing things differently:

First, we are pluralistic. No single perspective could possibly capture the complexity of America’s story. History is so much more than a series of events. It’s the stories of our families and our neighborhoods. It radiates from photo albums, public murals, peaceful sit-ins, and powerful marches. It is the echo of each of our experiences and actions. By pooling our resources and tapping into our varied strengths — across regions, disciplines, and methods — we are capable of connecting the dots of history in so many new ways.

Secondly, we are taking an innovative audience-first approach. We have designed exhibits and programming to enlighten the people who come through the doors, but we want to put even more power in your hands to drive where we put our focus. By listening to what matters to you, and combining our expertise and resources, we can better serve and empower.

We are listening. We are learning. We stand with you. Together, we can build a brighter future, made by us. We invite you to take the first step: Share your vision at MyWishForUs.com.

Anthea M. Hartig, Ph.D.
Elizabeth MacMillan Director, National Museum of American History

Jorge Zamanillo
Executive Director, HistoryMiami

(History) Made By Us

Powering our future with history.

(History) Made By Us

To power a better tomorrow, it’s never been more important to harness lessons from the past. That’s where Made By Us comes in. We use our Medium presence as a forum for exposing more of our process, our perspectives, and the people doing the day-to-day work behind our projects.

Made By Us

Written by

Powering our future with history.

(History) Made By Us

To power a better tomorrow, it’s never been more important to harness lessons from the past. That’s where Made By Us comes in. We use our Medium presence as a forum for exposing more of our process, our perspectives, and the people doing the day-to-day work behind our projects.