Public History students bring “GTMO” to Civil Rights Museum
Article by Mike Harris
What comes to mind when you hear “Guantánamo”? A prison? A military base? What about a place of refuge? Or your home?
Public History master’s students at UNCG have uncovered a rich set of stories about the naval base that they are featuring in a new exhibition, The Guantánamo Public Memory Project. It opens at 6 p.m. Dec. 12 at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro.
Exhibit visitors will encounter rich personal stories, learn how the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay has impacted individual lives, and explore how American foreign policy has shaped the base. Visitors also can add their own voices to the GTMO debate by submitting their opinions via text messaging.
Inspired by their work with this national project, the UNCG graduate students have created a set of public programs to extend its reach. The “GTMO & GSO” programs include a cultural event series, children’s story hours and exhibition supplements that highlight local resonances with the GTMO story.
The “Voices from Guantánamo” cultural event series features military personnel, scholars and people who lived at GTMO sharing first-hand accounts of life at the base. The first program, on Dec. 12, marks the exhibit’s opening at the museum. The panel explores base life during the Cold War, a period that, while tension-filled internationally, many base residents remember as idyllic. In addition to exploring the exhibit during the opening, visitors also can sample (free of charge) authentic Cuban cuisine provided by Miami’s Cafe of Winston-Salem.
The second program, on Jan. 9, 2014, explores the hardships faced by Cuban and Haitian refugees during the 1990s.
On Jan. 31, the final program will consider the contemporary controversies surrounding detention at GTMO. All of the programs are free and begin at 7 p.m.
The exhibit’s arrival is the culmination of work that began a year and a half ago. Eleven universities from across the country collaborated to research and design the traveling exhibition. Guided by Dr. Benjamin Filene, director of public history and associate professor, the UNCG students delved into GTMO’s history, interviewed former GTMO residents and collaborated with an exhibit designer to create the exhibit panel on life at the base during the Cold War era.
“Starting this project, we never imagined the complexities we would uncover surrounding everyday relations between Cubans and Americans,” says student Hayley Whitehead.
“GTMO & GSO” is made possible in part by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the UNCG Department of History.