Mission Accomplished? The Rise and Fall of “The Education Center at The Wall”

Endorsed by the Society for Military History

Thursday, April 2, 2020, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Military; Museums; Public History and Memory


In 2001 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund received congressional approval to build a subterranean museum adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Education Center, originally imagined as a site for Vietnam War history, had its mandate shifted to include recognition of military service in Iraq, Afghanistan, and all future wars. Recently, the fund's chair John Dibble announced the project’s demise, explaining that, “the world is a very different place.” We propose to ask what changed and why. We will take Dibble’s suggestion that cultural changes undid the project as an invitation to examine recent transformations in war memory, patriotism, and military service.

Session Participants

Chair: Brent D. Glass, Brent D. Glass LLC
BRENT D. GLASS is Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American
History, the world’s largest museum devoted to telling the story of America. A national leader in
the preservation, interpretation, and promotion of history, Glass is a public historian who today
provides management and consulting services to museums, historical organizations, and
cultural institutions throughout the United States and in other countries. His most recent book,
50 Great American Places (Simon and Schuster, 2016) explores the power of essential historic
sites and how they illuminate core themes in American history. Since 2012, Glass has served as a senior advisor to more than 60 cultural and educational institutions including the Presidio Trust in San Francisco, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in Illinois, the DeVos Institute for Arts Management at the Kennedy Center and University of Maryland, the Diplomacy Center in Washington, DC and Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Panelist: John E. Bodnar, Indiana University
JOHN BODNAR is Chancellor's Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor Emeritus in History, Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include Workers' World: Kinship, Community and Protest in an Industrial Society; The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America; Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century; Blue Collar Hollywood: Liberalism, Democracy and Working People in American Film; and The Good War in American Memory. In 2006 he co-authored The Changing Face of the Statue of Liberty: A Historical Resource Study for the National Park Service. He is currently completing a book titled, Patriotic Optics and America's War on Terror which explores the public's perception of this global conflict. He has served as chairman of the history department at Indiana University and as director of the university's Institute for Advanced Study. He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Panelist: Kristin A. Hass, University of Michigan
KRISTIN ANN HASS is an Associate Professor in the Department of American Culture and Director of the Humanities Collaboratory at the University of Michigan. She has written two books, Sacrificing Soldiers on the National Mall, a study of militarism, race, war memorials and U.S. nationalism and Carried to the Wall: American Memory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, an exploration of public memorial practices, material culture studies and the legacies of the Vietnam War. Her next book, Taking the Price of Freedom Seriously, takes up the twentieth century public investment in and narratives about US militarism and nationalism in memorial Washington, DC. She lectures, teaches, and writes about nationalism, memory, publics, memorialization, militarization, visual culture and material culture studies. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies and has worked in a number of historical museums, including the National Museum of American History, the Michigan Historical Museum and The Henry Ford Museum. She was also the co-founder and Associate Director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, a national consortium of educators and activists dedicated to campus-community collaborations. She served for five years as Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of American Culture and was recently awarded the University of Michigan’s John D'Arms Faculty Award for Distinguished Graduate Mentoring.

Panelist: David Kieran, Washington & Jefferson College
DAVID KIERAN is Assistant Professor of History and director of the American Studies Concentration at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA. He studies war & society in U.S. culture, with a particular interest in the legacies of the Vietnam War and the United States’ twenty-first century wars. He is the author, most recently, of Signature Wounds: The Untold Story of the Military’s Mental Health Crisis (New York University Press, 2019). His first book, Forever Vietnam: How a Divisive War Changed American Public Memory, was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2014. He is also the editor of The War of My Generation: Youth Culture and the War on Terror (Rutgers University Press, 2015), and he is the co-editor, with Edwin A. Martini, of At War: The Military and American Culture in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (Rutgers University Press, 2018) and, with Rebecca A. Adelman, of a special issue of The Journal of War and Culture Studies on the topic “New Cultures of Remote Warfare.” He is currently working on two projects: a co-edited volume (with Rebecca Adelman), New Cultures of Remote Warfare: Visions, Intimacies, and Reconfigurations, which is under contract with the University of Minnesota Press, and a book manuscript tentatively entitled Let All the Wounds of War Be Healed: The Amnesty Debate and the Aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Panelist: Meredith H. Lair, George Mason University
MEREDITH LAIR is an Associate Professor in the Department of History & Art History at George Mason University and the Director of Mason’s Interdisciplinary Studies Program. She has also served as the Minerva Research Fellow at the United States Naval Academy, where she taught courses and conducted research on the intersections of war and American culture. Her first book, Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War(University of North Carolina Press) examines the noncombat experiences of American soldiers in Vietnam. She has also consulted on two museums about the Vietnam War: the New Jersey Vietnam Era Museum & Education Center, the first permanent museum about the Vietnam War in the United States; and the Education Center at The Wall in Washington, DC. Her work on the latter facility led to a critical examination of the Education Center’s fundraising narratives in The Public Historian. Lair’s current research projects extend her previous work by examining Vietnam veterans’ social activism and Vietnam War soldier photography. At George Mason University, Dr. Lair teaches courses on historical methods, the Vietnam War, and war and American society, in particular the ways in which memories of war facilitate ideas about the nation. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Penn State University.

Panelist: Mark Lawrence, University of Texas at Austin
MARK ATWOOD LAWRENCE is Associate Professor of History, Distinguished Fellow at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and Director of Graduate Studies at the Clements Center for National Security at The University of Texas at Austin. He has published two books, Assuming the Burden: Europe and the American Commitment to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2005) and The Vietnam War: A Concise International History (Oxford University Press, 2008). He has also published an edited collection of primary sources entitled The Vietnam War: An International History in Documents (Oxford University Press, 2014) and four co-edited books: Nation-States and the Global Environment: New Studies in International Environmental History (Oxford University Press, 2013), Beyond the Cold War: Lyndon Johnson and the New Global Challenges of the 1960s (Oxford University Press, 2014), Beyond the Eagle’s Shadow: New Histories of Latin America’s Cold War (University of New Mexico Press, 2014), and The United States and the World: A History in Documents from the War with Spain to the War on Terror (Princeton University Press, 2014).