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Brandeis professor instrumental in battlefield protection bill

Published: September 21, 2012
Section: News


U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) announced last week the passage of the Battlefield Protection Bill in the House, a large victory for historians committed to the preservation of national historical sites, including Brandeis’ own Professor David Hackett Fischer (HIST).

Fischer delivered crucial testimony before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands last January, during which he illustrated the vital importance for allocations of funds to protect battlefields in the coming years. The bill gives matching grants to Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War battlegrounds, including many in the Greater Boston area.

The bill is a bipartisan effort to give matching grants to noted sites of all three wars, many of which are facing or have already faced destruction. It is an expansion on a previous program enacted in 1999, the American Battlefield Protection Program, which supports private efforts to support Civil War battlefields.

“The bill would reauthorize the ABPP and create an identical program to preserve battlefields from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812,” Holt said in a press release.

The ABPP has seen great success in the last decade. “Since 1999, the program has helped to save more than 16,500 acres of historical sites in 14 states,” Holt said.

The numbers are staggering for earlier battle sites that are in danger. Statistics released by Holt’s office indicate that out of 825 significant places pertinent to both wars, more than half are in poor condition or may be destroyed in the next ten years, and more than 100 have already been lost.

Many sites in the immediate Boston area are on this list. “The rate of loss is accelerating,” Fischer said. “Sites now presently endangered include some of the most important events in the history of the American Revolution. Among them are sites of fighting on the day of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the fighting around New York at Pell’s Point and other places in 1776, the Delaware crossing on Christmas night in 1776 … and many more. These were not minor or marginal events. They were the major campaigns.”

Some of these sites are within mere miles of Brandeis, including the Battle Road in Lexington, which is fifteen minutes south, and several landmarks along the Freedom Trail in Boston.

 

The call for preservation of historical sites extends far beyond the conservation of national landmarks, maintaining the idea that greater historical knowledge can increase awareness about current events.

“Surveys show that people who don’t know much about history also know little of current events,” Fischer said. “They are less apt to vote, or to have a sense of civic engagement … the question is how to reach these people, and to encourage an interest in history. One way is to engage in thinking about history on the ground.”

In the coming months, a companion bill will be introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer in the Senate. If it passes, millions of dollars will be allocated to the safekeeping of sites that are important to the nation’s founding and possibly paid for by federally funded public campaigns, such as the minting of commemorative coins.

“With every year that goes by, this legislation grows more urgent,” Fischer said. “Some of these sites are now at risk, but might be preserved and protected at least in part if we can act decisively.”