Thelen: [Feedback] Now why does it doing that, is it because the mics are too close to each other? That seemed to be… Franz


Thelen: It is great, it is constructed. Charles



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Thelen: It is great, it is constructed.

Charles: That you can read, they are quite big. Again, just in our process, we designed it. They had an idea of an hourglass. Here is all the stuff going in, here is Madison, here is all the stuff coming out. I could not figure out a way that the public would understand it, I could not understand it. I could not graphically think of how it could work. We were in a meeting one day and I said” what if we did quote clouds is what I called these. What is a quote cloud?” So you do a sketch on the wall and say, “well this is the idea, here is our wall.” Pick three, pick five, pick seven, I like uneven numbers. Come up with them and so we laid it out. Then we mocked up them full-size and took them down there for everybody to look at and sign off on.

In the same room, they do not have all the books in bookshelves. But then they made a little video about making the Constitution, they made it a little quick and dirty, but it will get improved. We just drew - I think Bob had the idea of drawing a bookshelf, so the video was in a bookshelf again. Saying the books are the genesis of what you are going to see. In the video it says in this room more than it should, but I think they are going to change it to say in this place so it is a little more ambiguous whether it is this room or another room. He is reading. He holes himself up there for seven months or so and is just reading and reading and reading.



Thelen: Is that so?

Charles: I think that is right, a lot of time. Jefferson is sending like two hundred books back from Paris for him.

Thelen: Sorry, that is fascinating.

Charles: The script, they are saying, “concerned for the survival of the country, James Madison returned to Montpelier in the winter of eighty-six in search of an answer to a question, how best can we govern ourselves.” Then they are saying he reads and reads and reads. “Was here sequestered, aided by books sent by Jefferson that James sought out wisdom of the words of great men reading more than four hundred books in seven different languages.”

Thelen: And presumably very much guided by tariff disputes between Maryland and Delaware and all the other kind of things around him.

Charles: Yes, that is going on. That is a little test, I am not sure what I was answering at that moment. You were talking about the dining table?

Thelen: We were also talking about the themes of the Constitution. When you have a guided tour, this has had huge discussions, how long should a guided tour be, can we really get people through all these rooms and upstairs. I am concerned, one of the rooms they are going to restore is the room he dies in. They know when the bed was bought, they know what bed it is. It had like thirty yards of red satin drapes it is one of these beds with all these drapes above it.

Staples: Well you can tell their taste by the dining room wallpaper.

Charles: It is bright red flocked wallpaper on another room. This is all based on evidence that they are finding. I am very concerned that this last room which has a wonderful quote from Jennings, who is his slave, manservant, who is there when he dies, who talks about his death. It has another soundtrack that they can use, the guides, that they want from Nellie, not Nellie, Dolly. A quote from Madison kind of words to my country and his kind of last ideas his wants people to know and it is very touching.

Right now it is a pretty bare, Spartan room, what happens when it is red satin? We will see if people, what the mood is. I think this issue of decorating houses, versus the meaning that you are trying to get across.



Thelen: In this case they one of, if not the definitive, will be the visitors this summer who go. Will they have a choice of one side of the room in red satin and the other side is…

Charles: That is not done yet.

Staples: The interesting thing about Monticello or Montpelier is the words. Both of the men were wordsmiths. When you have to do an exhibit about words, it is difficult. How do you conjure?

Thelen: Well that is a really good question because you are dealing with abstractions.

Staples: I think that the solution that Monticello came up with is the liberty gallery, we call it. It is a very very complicated multiscreen slideshow that goes on too long, but it is beautiful.

Charles: People love it or hate it.

Staples: It is really talking about the idea of liberty and any manner or method of doing it.

Thelen: In the case of Monticello, it is…

Charles: This is an elaborate multiscreen. We were part of the whole process of deciding to do that. This is getting back to this theme, this gallery is dealing with this theme.

Staples: The one thing that we were not parties to, is the decision of the architect to build the complex the way they did.

Charles: That was done by the time.

Thelen: We are back to the architect now. The difficulty of working.

Charles: We like them, we work well with them.

Staples: The mandate for them was to not build an edifice. Let the house be the edifice. What happened of course is that we ended up little rooms.

Charles: Here is the complex.

Thelen: Looks nice.

Staples: It is nice. It is a gathering place around the pool, the cafeteria, the eatery is there, the restrooms are there, the ticket office is there, the gift shop is there and the museum is there. The museum is two stories, two levels, one big room on the top floor and two rooms.

Charles: This is the gallery building.

Thelen: Let us go back to the issue you raised which is an abstraction, liberty. Let us say that we are going to somehow think about that with Jefferson. Some scholars point out that a lot of what Jefferson put in the Declaration was basically lifted from a variety of other declarations going around at the time, Pauline Myer’s book for instance. When you are taking an idea, but it comes out of, pretty clearly, comes out of other sources, there is another layer. The Madison idea was to show the word and then put quotes it might have come from or that are consistent with it. I suppose the same thing could be done with Jefferson.

Charles: I think it could if you were doing an exposition on the Declaration.

Staples: I do not remember anybody saying that Jefferson plagiarized.

Thelen: I did not say plagiarized.

Staples: I know you did not.

Thelen: I do not mean plagiarized, but the burden is that there were a bunch of declarations of independence.

Staples: There was a lot of history had gone before him.

Thelen: He was mindful of the declarations from the different colonies, mindful of the French and English and so on.

Charles: This is not - Montpelier is specifically about or I would say the goal was the whatever. Madison is writing his ideas here and that he is sourcing them. He is reading all these sources, that was the theme.

Thelen: I actually see that clearly.

Charles: This is actually a much bigger theme, of which parsing Declaration is not or could be a very very small part of it. It is a much bigger theme. First trying to get across the idea that we were all Englishmen, we were not all Americans. Why are we even fighting this revolution? The Declaration is a part of it, but it is a bigger story.

I think that it, I think here also part of it has to do with what medium you chose. If you chose a medium that is moving fast like this, you might get one sentence in about Jefferson read these. It would be one or two screens in a small area. If it is something somebody really has to study, then maybe it has to be done in a different way, if that is what somebody wants to get across.



Thelen: What I am hearing you say that one of the challenges is “okay there is a Constitution, here it is, words in the moonlight,” whatever you want to say. Here is this place where it got written. Actually, of course, Monticello is not where it got done, but let us just forget that and say a human being wrote it who happen to live here.

Charles: The Declaration.

Thelen: The Declaration. How to present, how to connect the words written to the place and the person who wrote them? Probably this is not an abstraction, this is case by case.

Charles:I think that is a bigger issue with Montpelier. I do not think the general public - the connection of Madison to the Constitution is not as strong in the public memory, knowledge as Jefferson and the Declaration. That would be my assumption. They are trying very hard. They have a slogan, thank you Mr. Madison, you gave us the Constitution, thank you Mr. Madison. They are really pushing that theme.

Thelen: Nobody is writing curse you Mr. Madison.

Charles: No. the real goal of the Montpellier room was to make that connection. Madison is writing it, he is writing in this building so this building is important to save and revere. You are on hallowed ground. That was not so much a goal with this. This was more trying to put Jefferson and what he did in the world context.

Thelen: Let me try a different way of putting this and then I am not going to deal any more with my hang-ups. At Gettysburg it is quite possible that there is a direct connection between Lincoln and slavery at Gettysburg, not at the battlefield, but at the cemetery. Right? Where Lincoln writes the Gettysburg Address.

Charles: Where he delivers it.

Thelen: Where he delivers it or down the street where he writes it. There is a definite connection between where he was staying and where he delivered it. I certainly think an interpretative theme would have to do with how Lincoln made slavery into a cause of the war, into this is now a war over slavery to give a new birth of freedom to Jefferson’s words.

At Antietam where there is no connection, no similar kind of connection with slavery except that the North not losing that battle gave Lincoln the excuse to write the declaration, to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. So the Park Service interprets in a major way, the end of slavery to the Antietam battlefield. There is nothing there that has a connection to it. Maybe that is like Jefferson and the Declaration in a way. The question of how do we link? I am really back to the issue what I thought you were throwing out, how do you deal with an abstraction at a site. Gettysburg I see it, it is a pretty, you can ground it. I see Montpellier.



Charles: Even Gettysburg, I would have to reread the Gettysburg Address, but I do not think he addressed, mentioned slavery per say in the Gettysburg Address.

Thelen: That is a good point. He talks about a new birth of freedom. We interpret it as…government. He says we are coming up with a new interpretation of these words Jefferson wrote. These men fought to make and historians do a lot about that. New birth of freedom, they think it is about slavery. It is a good point, we do not know whether Lincoln had that in mind.

Charles: I think at that point he certainly does. It is after the Emancipation has been issued and so on and so forth. Antietam is before.

Thelen: I am just, I think probably this is not best done in the abstract. The question of, you say this actually or in this book, Glady’s book.

Charles: I better reread that.

Thelen: It talks about the problem that you are raising, Bob, about ideas. How do you illustrate an idea and objects.

Charles: I think at Antietam or I guess at any of these battle sites and I know the Park Service is really pushing the slavery story and is getting a lot of push back from the interpreters from at least what I am hearing on the street.

Thelen: It was, I think that it is less true now.

Charles: On the push back?

Thelen: Yes. But it did.

Charles: The historian up at Gettysburg told me that they have been very astounded by the visitor comments about their exhibits there. The visitor comments they are continually getting even from people in New Jersey is that the war was not about slavery, it was about states’ rights. So what is, I guess the question is could a guide taking you on an Antietam battlefield, I do not know how you, do you tour it on your own or do you have a guide?

Thelen: I have done both.

Charles: If you had a guide, they certainly can probe with questions to the audience, what do you think the battles were about? At least get discussions going. I think that you would have some audiences that would be very difficult with and others that it would not be so difficult with. I am quite interested in the Civil War, even at a place like Gettysburg where so-called no blacks fought. There certainly are blacks at Gettysburg that are not well documented. All of the teamsters are probably black, the cook are probably black. There are manservants we know that are on both sides. You have got blacks around this place. You have got the townsfolk who are black who have fled and there are some interesting readings about their comments. If you were trying to develop characters I think that you could develop some characters of which certainly at least one and maybe two could be black, both the North and the South, but probably in secondary roles, or a townsperson and somebody else and get it across. At least that slavery is a very conscious issue and that blacks are aware at Gettysburg that if they get caught they could be taken back into slavery.

Thelen: Very fearful of it.

Charles: Which is sort of a serious issue. And at Antietam too I assume that even there there are probably blacks on the North side that have that fear or they are crossing lines. Are they also crossing lines?

Thelen: I am not sure at Antietam.

Charles: At Fredricksburg certainly they are crossing lines.

Thelen: I am assuming it, but we have good stuff on Gettysburg.

Charles: That is a toughie.

Staples: The Park Service has, I think, in the past been spending its time talking about Pickett’s Charge, the generals, Lee here and Sherman there. What Barbara was trying to do in the Civil War project that we were briefly involved in was to try to talk more about the people. The stories that were untold.

Charles: Another character that is interesting, I think he may even be at Gettysburg, is a guy named John Cuddy. His papers are at Dickinson. There is a beautiful letter on classic Civil War stationary. Liberty and Union flags, that he talks about, he writes back to his family. “We are here we are doing good, we are going to fight for the Union. God willing if we live, we will fight for the Union” and he is very very positive. Later on there is a letter he writes, like a day or two after the Emancipation is officially issued in the first week of January, which in effect he is saying that Lincoln did a bad thing and we are not fighting for those niggers. It is a very interesting story and a lot of the soldiers, and he is from Pennsylvania, they really feel they are fighting for union and not for slavery. Once the Emancipation is issued, in the white Northern ranks there are some really concerns.

Staples: He probably was not a Quaker.

Charles: If he was a Quaker he should not have been fighting.

Staples: If he was a Quaker he probably would not have called them niggers.

Charles: Well, I am sorry I said that. I am not even sure if that is the right word. I can find the letter.

Thelen: I think that is cool.

Charles: That is an interesting problem for sites is to how do you get the unknown, but the something without physical presence into the room.

Thelen: And as you were saying turn the story, the themes, we are back to narratives and stories, how do you turn it to the story Pickett’s charge and the defeat of Lee’s army to a story of blacks being afraid of being kidnapped, the everyman. I have to say this, you are known, or I have read somewhere, that you have a reputation as being interested in the social side of these things. When you just said Bob the big men or they used to talk about the big men and now you said, actually I think you said Barbara was interested in the little folks. Did you ever think of yourselves that way? Would you recognize that statement as a characterization of your work?

Charles: What I would recognize would be…

Staples: I think we do not have any prejudices.

Charles: What I was going to go at it, I think that we have a reputation or I think we would be known for delving in, in, in. why are we talking about this? What is possible here? And in that sense not almost allowing a client to get away with being superficial about it. We had twenty slaves here. Well who were they? Tell me you have Sal, Mary, Jane. We have had the benefit of wallowing in a lot of this stuff that I know that stuff exists, so a place like Monticello they know it exists extremely well. For some sites we might work at, they might not know that they ought to be able to find that type of information. If they would just really look for it. I would be interested to know where you heard that or read that.

Thelen: I am trying to remember, I think the phrase was social history. We will all have a chance to look things up after this interview. Maybe I made it up.

Charles: We certainly…

Staples: I love it.

Thelen: Somebody did say it, damn it.

Charles: We certainly have been involved in not only history, but all I would say the exhibits back to Chicago Historical Society.

Thelen: It might have actually been somebody referring to the Chicago exhibits, which were transformative in the field of history. Would not you say? And they were transformative in part because they were social history.

Charles: Certainly Chicago history galleries about the history of Chicago, although they now all have been redone.

Staples: Well, metalsmiths and ceramics. I mean we talk about the people.

Charles: They were all specifically about the people. Sharon was a brilliant. We have had the pleasure of working with some very brilliant people.

Thelen: It does not mean that you get the ideas out of the moonlight.

Staples: We try that too.

Charles: What do we get?

Thelen: I remember you citing Break Montagony and something of who built the pyramids, a poem of you are interested in the workers and metalsmiths.

Charles: Yes and Kimberly saying who dug the big hole.

Thelen: There you go.

Charles: Trying to confront people a bit.

Thelen: The question is if we will say this is a fair characterization, in some way you ask questions that lead to those approaches, you work with people who have those approaches. I think Eric Foner was involved in the Chicago a little bit, at that point he was fairly distinctive.

Charles: But certainly Al Young was very…

Thelen: Al Young a better example.

Charles: Totally into people. I would say even though we knew who all the craftsmen were, Al was the one who probably really pushed that forward.

Thelen: That was going to be my question, where do you think you got this orientation? Was there anything in Eames that would lead there? Was there anything in college? Was it the accident of working with Al Young? Are you Marxists?

Charles: My favorite classes in college were what were then called cultural history.

Thelen: What did that involve?

Charles: It was not just looking from politics. It was looking at the literature, at the art, at the whole breath of what is happening in these periods, so it is sort of inherently about, not so much the worker, but the people. You are not only listening to the literature, but you might know something about the writer who wrote them. It was sort of a broader view of history than a political, geographical history, let us put it that way, that I liked that a lot more than just the political history, per say. I do not know, we are just curious is about the best I can say. I love reading this stuff.

I would have to find it for you, but one of the slave broadsides I used in this talk last Friday is from St. Louis, is from 1847 it says at the top, “Five negro slaves.” So the first question is why do you have to say negro, are not all slaves negro? Well in St. Louis there are Indian slaves. Whereas Eastern runaway slave ads do not always say negro, it is five runaways, it is inherent what they are. This is a family, they describe the five people. The father, what he looks like, the mother, the three kids about how old they are, what they might be wearing. It goes on to say, they are likely headed to Chicago at night with a white man in a wagon. Talk about your classic Northern Star story. It goes on and it has you can deliver to one of two people. You can imagine one is the owner , the other one, it says they have been with this other one for five years, they probably have been leased to this other family in the city. The very last line is that the father of these five is likely carrying an ivory handled cane, which is really sweet. You can just, this is like a little story. This is what I call a one page short story. You can just imagine, you can do a lot with that broadside in an exhibit. You could draw the people, you could have them in their wagon. Who is the white man? You could probably do research and know who the owners and leasers were. One little piece like that could be an incredible illuminating story to the public.



Thelen: In your mind. I am just trying to draw out. Now I am holding up the article on ephemera, maybe do you have an instinct that looks one or both of you that tends, you just illustrated what I am going to ask you, where you look for this kind of thing, let us call it lived experience, where you look for something that evokes a story where you picture the guy with his ivory handled cane or you picture what he looks like. You are interested in who he is travelling with and where he might be heading, in other words what is coming out of here is a human being living an experience in the situation with other people which I would basically call social history.

Charles: I will read every single thing a curator gives us to put in an exhibit. If you say to me, this is the Declaration of Independence, we are going to put it up here and I start reading it and say no this is actually a broadside against the Declaration of Independence. It happens to say Declaration of Independence at the top, but when you get down to the small type it says the Declaration was the most demonic document ever written. That is just a habit, if it is going to be there, I am going to read it and say is it really doing what we are saying it is going to do.

Thelen: But I have also heard you say you go through manuscript collections and you look at broadsides and here you look at that.

Charles: Yes, it is personal pleasure.


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