A Closer Look at the San Pasqual Battlefield by Briana S. Brigham
This paper will focus on various aspects of the San Pasqual Battlefield, located in Escondido, California. The notion of public memory, which emerges from the intersection of official and vernacular cultural expressions, will be explored through the history the San Pasqual Battlefield portrays (Bodnar 13). At a California State Park, such as the San Pasqual Battlefield, it is fair to say that visitors expect an unbiased assessment of the battle between the Californios and the Americans. â€œMuseums are conventionally viewed as institutions dedicated to the conservation of valued objects and the education of the publicâ€ (Crane 44). As is the case with many American museums, spectators are being educated in a manner that focuses on American success against the â€œother,â€ in this case, people of Hispanic decent. The exhibit incorporates political messages, as evidenced by portraits of leaders and the public (Fried 394). This particular museum exhibits particular aspects of the battle in order to leave visitors with a collective memory that frames Americans to be the disadvantaged underdogs who are ultimately victorious. The San Pasqual Battlefield makes it very apparent that museums are sponsored both by the government and privately and lend a hand in educating millions of children and adults (Crane 46). The museum makes a conscious effort to explore the disadvantages of the Americans in this particular battle by amplifying their success while conquering western territories, thus evoking patron emotions such as sympathy, pride, and patriotism.
Specifically, I would like to focus on some of the larger questions this museum brings to light when thinking about collective memory. For instance, as it is today, is the San Pasqual Battlefield museum Â working to portray a particular collective memory? Or perhaps, does the reenactment function as a way to interpret the San Pasqual Battle differently? Lastly, is there a way for this location to emphasize a different collective memory about the San Pasqual Battle, one that does not highlight either party as victorious? These are particularly important questions because this Battle is described as being one of the bloodiest and most controversial, not to mention the fact that both parties felt they won. The Americans fought for territory and lost approximately twenty-one men, as reported by General Stephen Kearny, while the Californios were proud to have successfully defended their land and only lost three men, as reported by Major Andre Pico. Exploring aspects of the museum will bring to light some of the general practices of museums Â in regard to creating a collective memoryâ€”in particular, the way the San Pasqual Battlefield works to shape a past worthy of public commemoration in the present (Bodnar 13).
The Current State of San Pasqual Battlefield:
As Bodnar points out, â€œPublic memory is a body of beliefs and ideas about the past that help a public or society understand Â its past, present, and by implication, its future (15). The San Pasqual Battlefield Museum uses narrative in order to portray a victorious perception of the Americans as a whole. The museum is broken in to three different sections. The first section is dimmed and consists of multiple panels that engulf its audience. The panels create a maze-like structure that subsequently offers the opportunity for patrons to start the museum wherever they decide. The second section is in a small theater and consists of a movie about various wars between Americans and Mexicans, ultimately highlighting the victorious ways of American military units. The final section of the museum consists of a display that re-caps and details the war more precisely, while highlighting the accomplishments of various American military members.
The fact that visitors are not allowed to experience the museum freely is one of the many tactics employed in order to create a particular collective memory about the battle. Second, each section of the museum shines a positive light on Americans. The first section focuses quite a bit on the difference between the Californio community and that of the Americans, often subliminally at times bringing up the notion of Manifest Destiny. While this may be something that guests do not catch on to at first, it becomes very apparent in light of the museumâ€™s lopsided focus on Americans and their military accomplishments in comparison to the Californios. The Americanâ€™s journey to battle and their pervious accomplishments in 1846 are amplified with a timeline that takes up an entire wall of the museum. In contrast, the Californios are mentioned as a side note, an occurrance in the last few months of the timeline. The only timeline or true mention of Californio history [GC1] their rural habitat and a mention of their simplistic daily routines, such as candle making and farm work. Specifically, in the first section of the Â museum, it is noted, â€œThe people of San Pasqual raised livestock and cultivated crops, as well as gathering acorns and hunting game.â€
Spectators may also grasp the notion of American superiority when the museum speaks of the superiority of the United States militaryâ€”in comparison to the Californios who were never considered a military unit, but rather cowboys who used makeshift weapons at battle. The first section of the museum makes an obvious emphasis on the American military unit by exhibiting one of the actual uniforms used during that time, called a dragoon. In regard to the strong American military unit, the museum mentions the numerous volunteers who joined General Kearny to be a dragoon. They also quote a lieutenant saying, â€œI suppose that when they become disciplinedâ€”if they ever do become disciplinedâ€”they will make tolerably good soldiers. The raw material is good enough, but then it is, in truth, very raw.â€ In contrast, there is no display of what the Californios may have worn when they engaged in war. Overall, the first section subliminally highlights the dichotomy of Californios being uncivilized, while the Americans are thought to be civilized. This notion also helps the museum set the grounds of Manifest Destiny on behalf of the Americans, while disguising the negative connotation of Manifest Destiny by mentioning their search for God and desire to help the people in the West.
The second section further emphasizes the idea of American patriotism and pride by focusing on the victories the United States military has experienced at the hands of the Hispanics. The video focuses on various battles between the two cultures, highlighting the various military influences that helped lead Americans to victory. In a sense, the video also evokes a sense of sympathy for the difficult journey the Americans had to take in order to conquer Western territory. The pain, torture, and loss the Hispanics felt at the hands of Americans is often times lost and pushed to the back burner by the movie. Instead, the video directs viewersâ€™ perspective toward the death, injury, and loss of livestock the Americans experienced in the struggle against the Hispanics. The difficulty of infiltrating the American flag is also focused on in the video, most likely to evoke a sense of patriotism. I believe that in the case of this video, cultural leaders compiled various events into a short film in order calm the potential anxiety of museum goers so as to eliminate Â citizensâ€™ indifference and concern (Bodnar 15). It could easily be said that the videoâ€™s rhetorical work is to give Americans a sense of security, pride, and patriotism in regards to military power. This aspect ultimately evokes the notion that the San Pasqual Battle was minor, and although it is said to have no clear winner, Americans were ultimately victorious over the Hispanic culture by conquering new western territories.
The third part of the museum, which is in a display format, is set up in a manner that slightly directs spectatorsâ€™ attention from the actual battle. The wall that spectators see after the video commemorates important American military figures, all except for one, Andres Pico. This process further embodies the idea of patriotism and American pride, by directing attention to the loyalty and dedication particular American men had for their country, which led to the conquering of western territory. When focusing on the table-like structure that engulfs the center of the room, the first thing the eye is attracted to is the illuminated map and the two displays of weapons.
The display acts as a way to re-cap the main parts of the battle, while adding a few details, such as the two separate charges that took place in the battle, one initiated by the Americans and the other initiated by the Californios. In these accounts, the museum actually gives credit to the advantage the Californios had in numbers and familiarity with the land, but only while emphasizing the fact that they fled after each time they encountered the Americans. The first charge, which was led by the Americans, was summed up: â€œAfter a brief skirmish, the Californios pulled back and rode half a mile or more down the valley, a ragged line of Americans in pursuit.â€ Here, instead of emphasizing the Americansâ€™ mistake of attacking the Californios, the museum emphasis the fact that the Americans did not give up despite being outnumbered. This could once again be an instance that could help develop visitor patriotism and pride in American military forces on the grounds of their efforts. The account of the second charge is closed by the statement, â€œThe Californios captured one of the howitzers, then withdrew from the battlefield, leaving the battered Americans to recover their wounded.â€ This closing statement once again reiterates the notion of sympathy spectators should perhaps feel for Americans, because they were ambushed by the Californios and then left to deal with the wounded. The silence of this account leaves out the idea that the Californios could have been dealing with similar wounds themselves. In this same account, the panel takes note of the rifles being out of commission because â€œtheir ammunition was damp, defective, or insufficient, and no one had time to reload.â€ This statement about weaponry also evokes a sense of sympathy for the Americansâ€™ disadvantage without drawing attention to the disadvantage the Californios faced throughout the entire battle resulting from the Â useof Â makeshift farm weapons.
Although the panels make it clear that rifles were not used in the battle between the Californios and the Americans, the weapon display contains two rifles and a few swords. The Californio display is made up of a few spears and a few long swords and knives. By creating two separate displays and including the rifles, the museum is making the Americans look like the more civilized party. The rifles are an unnecessary display in a sense; if they were not displayed in this section, it would almost make the Californios and Americans look equal. I think the choice the museum made to separate the weapons created a separation of power, thus emphasizing the superior technology and intelligence the Americans had.
The idea of patriotism and pride is carried out until the very end of the museumâ€™s display. The last words visitors leave with are, â€œRegardless of any victory in the Battle of San Pasqual, the Californios could not alter the ultimate course of events. Both here and in Mexico, Â Americans won the war.â€ By leaving people with this notion of the battle, the museum is negating the victory the Californios claim to be theirs. The museum tries to instill a public memory that embodies appreciation, pride, and patriotism for America, seeing that despite this minor battle the Americans are thought to be victorious. This Â type of public memory was most likely maintained by the museum and indirectly implied by the government supporters who funded it. Or as Bodnar says, â€œPublic memory remains a product of elite manipulation, symbolic interaction, and contested discourse (44). This type of closing at a museum does not give visitors the opportunity to make their own assessment of the battle; instead, they are left with the notion that Americans won the war even though they did not win this particular battle with the Californios. This museum is a good example of what happens when the â€œeliteâ€ tamper with the type of information included and excluded in exhibits, which ultimately leave guests with biased views of past events. This museum, ultimately, helps create particular memories by skimming over facts and often redirecting audience attention in order to portray American pride, patriotism, and accomplishment.
The San Pasqual Battlefield Museum puts together a reenactment of the battle every year. The reenactment usually takes place the Sunday closest to December 6, 1846, the original day the battle took place. It is always located just below the actual museum site and is an all day affair, open to the public. The San Pasqual Reenactment offers free candle making, leather engraving, basket weaving, and spinning of yarn. Reenactments are supposed to be an educational activity in which participants attempt to recreate a historical event or period.
The San Pasqual Battle was reenacted twice on December 5, 2010. Though the reenactment was good spirited, it did not correspond directly to the information provided in the museum. There were a few logistics that made the battle difficult to follow and at times contradictory. For instance, the cannon was fired multiple times throughout the reenactment, at the beginning and end. However, the museum notes the fact that General Kearny fired the cannon once the battle was over. This aspect of the reenactment could have easily been a glitch or an attention getter, thus not contradicting the big picture of the battle as a whole.
In contrast, the number differential in the reenactment was a bit problematic. The museum and various pieces of literature about the battle emphasize the fact that the Californios outnumbered the American soldiers. However, in the reenactment the Americans outnumbered the Californios by a noticeable amount. This aspect of the reenactment, in my opinion, gave the Americans the immediate advantage visually. This aspect of the reenactment was also striking because it only displayed the first charge in which the Americans attacked the Californios. This aspect of the reenactment immediately gives audience members a sense of dominance and control on the part of the Americans. For many this could have easily evoked a feeling of pride and patriotism, which seems to correlate with the museumâ€™s overall message.
Another contradictory aspect of the battle was the Americans use of rifles and swords. The museum makes it a point to draw out a sense of sympathy for the Americans because they were unable to use their rifles, but in the reenactment, they primarily used them. This aspect also further infiltrated the idea of dominance and control on the part of the Americans. On the other hand, the reenactment stayed true to the weapons the Californios used by having them use spears. The reenactment avoided any sense of fatality, probably because most of the Americans would have been wiped out, thus making the Californios dominant. Instead, after the American attack, both parties fight temporarily and then go back to their own sides of the battlefield, thus avoiding the second charge, initiated by the Californios.
These aspects of the reenactment were mostly likely contradictory rather then informative for visitors who paid careful attention to the facts the museum displayed. The lack of fatality and the lack of consistent number representation are both aspects of the battle that make it unique, but were not included. The lack of these elements reminds me of the issue of distortion that Susan Crane speaks about in â€œMemory, Distortion, and History in the Museum.â€ She argues, â€œThe â€˜distortionâ€™ related to memory and history in the museum is not so much of facts or interruptions, but rather a distortion from the lack of congruity [â€¦] and the institutional representation of the past [â€¦]â€ (44).
A different version of the San Pasqual Battle:
The San Pasqual Battlefield Museum could possibly make multiple changes in order to create a less biased notion of the war. One way they could help audiences become one with the past and think critically is to work within one particular layout, perhaps Â Â seen in an entire museum made of historical video clips, panels, or displays .By doing this, audience members would have a chance to start and end their experience of the museum wherever they please. Allowing audience members to maneuver the museum at their leisure would likely prohibit the build up of American pride and patriotism as it is portrayed in the museum today. The change in format would also force the museum to rethink the language and portrayal of the battle as a whole.
In regard to language, I believe the use of English and Spanish in the panels is helpful. However, the strand of the civilized versus the uncivilized in the museum needs to be reconsidered and reevaluated. Proper change would consist of equally acknowledging American and Californio accomplishments. The overall narrative needs to be reevaluated in order to state the facts in an unbiased manner. The current language evokes a sense of pride, gratitude, and sometimes sympathy for Americans, and if these are valid emotions spectators should have about the battle, telling the battle in a generic manner will not change this effect. As the museum stands now, the narrative seems unfair and pays special attention to the struggles the Americans experienced in contrast to the Californios. Change in format and narrative would allow the museum to avoid the creation of the collective memory that implies Americans are victorious, as the museum currently does with its last panel. As the narrative stands now, it gives a certain value to particular parts of history, thus creating a false sense of importance and negligence for particular parts of history.
It is also necessary to exclude information that does not directly relate to the battle such as religion, past American wars, and generals who were not a part of the San Pasqual Battle. The elimination of these aspects would portray a more neutral assessment of the battle. It would also help portray the Californios and Americans on an equal plain. As the museum stands there are more panels and sections of the museum as a whole that focus on American history and backgrounds whereas the Californios history and background are only mentioned at the beginning and left unmentioned as the narrative continues its emphasis on American history and accomplishments. In particular, religion could easily be left out of the conversation because it does not directly relate to the cause or progression of the battle. Past American-Mexican wars do not have to be emphasized as much as they are because the focus is not based on those wars and is one-sided, leaving out Californio and Hispanic accomplishments in regards to war. Excluding or minimizing these aspects would allow spectators to experience a museum that equally portrays both parties, at least in respect to relevant information.
possible and avoiding contradictions, the museum could easily improve the entire experience for audience members. One of the main things the reenactment needs to work on is recruiting enough Californio actors that portray the number advantage they had at battle. It is also important to avoid using props that do not apply to the actual happenings of the battle, in particular rifles. Lastly, the reenactment needs to exhibit both charges that occurred in the San Pasqual Battle, in order to display the determination and courage of both parties appropriately. Changing certain aspects of the reenactment, particularly the ones mentioned above, will help maintain consistency rather than distortion in the minds of spectators; it may even give viewers a better understanding about the battle rather than leaving them in a state of confusion.
In conclusion, it is natural for museum goers to seek a sense of oneness with the past. People trust museums to emphasize important aspects of the past in order to give them a holistic view regarding a particular part of history. Various types of narratives often work to create particular types of relationships for people and the past. Unfortunately, the San Pasqual Battlefield Museum works to create this relationship between past and present in a manner that has a one-sided collective memory that favors the Americans. This is most likely due to the implied expectations of the government and the museum creatorâ€™s own bias, which favors American culture. I am sure if this museum was created and funded by people from the Hispanic culture, a different narrative would take place. The San Pasqual Museum and the reenactment call for audience members to do research and critically think about this particular battle in order to get a holistic view of what actually occurred during the battle. As in the case with this museum, giving exhibits the responsibility to tell a factual and unbiased account of a particular event is in many ways impossible to expect. It is almost inevitable that the â€œeliteâ€ guide public memory unless audiences start questioning and researching the histories being given to them. Without active museum goers who are unsettled by biased interpretations of history, collective memories such as the ones given at the San Pasqual Museum will continue to be the norm.
By Briana S. Brigham
Blakesley, David and Collin Brooke. Enculturation. 3.2 (2001): n. pag. Web.Â 3 May 2009.
Faigley, Lester. Rhetorical Bodies: Toward a Material Rhetoric. Madison:University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. 171-201. Print.
Farber, Jerry. â€œTeaching and Presence.â€ Pedagogy. 8.2 (2008): 215-23. Print.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York:Continuum, 1996.Â Print.
Lockard, Joe and Mark Pegrum. Brave New Classrooms: Democratic Education and the Internet. New York: Peter Lang, 2006. Print.
Prensky, Marc. â€œDigital Natives, Digital Immigrants.â€ On the Horizon. 9.5Â (2001): 1-6.
Selfe, Cynthia and Billie Wahlstrom. â€œComputer-Supported Writing
Classes: Lessons for Teachers.â€ Computers in English and the Language Arts. National Council of Teachers of English, 1989. 257-68.Â Print.
Selfe, Cynthia. Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers. New Jersey: Hampton Press, 2007. Print.
Selfe, Cynthia. â€œTechnology and Literacy: A Story About the Perils of NotÂ Paying Attention.â€ College Composition and Communication. 50.3Â (1999): 411-36. Print.
Tietje, Louis and Steven Cresap. â€œHegemonic Visualism.â€ Radical Pedagogy.Â 7.1 (2005): n. pag. Web. 3 May 2009.
Wendi, Janice and Thomas Nelson. â€œBridging the Composition Divide:Â Blog Pedagogy and the Potential for Agonistic Classrooms.â€ Currents in Electronic Literacy. 9 (2005): n. pag. Web. 3 May 2009.
Wesch, Michael. â€œA Vision of Students Today.â€ YouTube. Web. 19 MayÂ 2009.
Zappen, James, Laura Gurak, and Stephen Doheny-Farina. â€œRhetoric, Community, and Cyberspace.â€ Rhetoric Review. 15 (1997): 400-19. Print.