James Magazine Mar Apr 2020 - Page 51

Public history institutions like the Georgia
Historical Society (GHS) are uniquely positioned to help
our fellow citizens find answers to the pressing questions of national identity and thereby reinvigorate
America’s role as a world leader. Through our educational programs, publications, teacher training, and
other activities we offer the proper venue for people of
good will to discuss and explore difficult issues within
the context of history, and to find new meaning and
even inspiration in the past—and perhaps even hope
for the future.
To that end, in July 2021 GHS will launch Countdown
to Liberty, five years of programming leading up to the
250th anniversary that will examine and generate public
conversations about major themes in American history:
immigration, capitalism, race, gender, voting rights, the
environment, and religion, just to name a few.
These topics are not new. They have always been at
the center of the debate over national identity.
Understanding them will give us a clearer sense of how
we got to this point in our development. GHS does not
expect to provide the answers; indeed, these will be
determined in the political arena. Our role will be to help
frame the debate and ensure that it is an informed one,
based on scholarly research and factual evidence rather
myths and deliberate fabrications. As always, our aim will
be to understand the past, to take it on its own terms,
and draw from it the necessary perspective and insight
on how the world we live in today was created.
We need to remind ourselves that this ancient
debate over who we are and where we are going, while
messy and difficult, is not only healthy, but necessary to
a properly functioning democracy. Only in totalitarian
states, where dissent and the search for truth are stifled
by the government, are the people prevented from arguing over national identity and direction. Since the
founding of the country we have struggled over who is a
citizen, what rights will be exercised and by whom, how
will political and racial minorities be protected from the
majority, what is the best way to organize our economy,
what role should government play in our daily lives. It is
through debate over such issues that we continually
revise and strengthen who we are and periodically set a
new course for the future.
One of America’s greatest virtues is that our commitment to liberty has allowed us to grow as a nation.
The Founders knew that forming “a more perfect
Union” and defining what it means to be free would be
an evolutionary process and that as long as the
Republic lasted there would be debate. The fight to
define the meaning of the Revolution first waged by the
adherents Jefferson and Hamilton in the last decades of
the 18th century continues to this day. It is a measure
of our strength as a people, of our patriotism, that we
have the capacity and the freedom for self-reflection,
self-criticism, and self-improvement.
What makes America exceptional is not that we are
perfect, but that when we misstep, we own up to it and
keep striving toward excellence. Unlike totalitarian
regimes that stifle dissent and use sanitized history to
reinforce their legitimacy, America draws its strength
from open and honest debate about its past, present,
and future.
So as we begin the countdown to our big birthday,
the Georgia Historical Society will be there to help lead
the conversation about who we are as nation, where we
have been, and where we are going. In so doing, we hope
to help our country move confidently into the future with
a renewed understanding of, and commitment to, the
lofty and timeless values and ideals that unite us as
Americans, values and ideals that are elastic enough to
meet new challenges and that are greater than any of the
things that divide us.
W. Todd Groce is President and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.
A James Magazine
“Most Inuential” Attorney
W W W. S M I T H L I S S . C O M


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