Book Reviews -- Preserving the Old Dominion: Historic Preservation and Virginia Traditionalism by James M. Lindgren

Article excerpt

Preserving the Old Dominion: Historic Preservation and Virginia Traditionalism. By JAMES M. LINDGREN. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1993. xiii, 316 pp. $29.95.

VIRGINIANS are renowned for their veneration of the past. As the joke goes, it takes fifteen Virginians just to change a light bulb: one to install the new bulb and the other fourteen to sit around reminiscing about how good the old one was. James M. Lindgren examines this penchant for tradition through a history of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities from its founding in 1889 through the early 1930s.

Preserving the Old Dominion offers a fascinating portrait of the Virginia elite at the turn of the century: their fears of social breakdown amid mass movements by working-class whites and African Americans; their networks of kinship and commerce that extended to state politics; and their self-image as guardians of the heritage of both the colonial Tidewater plantation and the Confederacy. Every place that the APVA designated as important to Virginia history told a story, invariably one highlighting the importance of enlightened elite rule versus mass democracy.

Lindgren's portrait nicely analyzes the gendered aspects of the early historic preservation movement in Virginia. While the women of the APVA performed the day-to-day work of raising money to acquire, preserve, and mark the sites, often homes and burial grounds connected with their own families, the men of the APVA gave speeches defining the sites' significance to the military, political, or economic development of the commonwealth. After the site was acquired, the women often interpreted it to visitors in ways that subtly redefined its meaning to include the domestic activities (real or imagined) that occurred there. Lindgren's analysis of the APVA suggests the need for further research into the sexual division of labor that accompanies history work in America: how women through cemeteries, historic house museums, and monuments seem primarily involved with preserving history as space, while men through books and public oratory seem primarily involved with preserving history as a narrative of progress over time.

Throughout its existence, the APVA's gospel of historic preservation had competition. Some competition came directly from other parties interested in the same Virginia antiquities; by 1936, when the federal government created Colonial National Historical Park out of Jamestown and Yorktown and northern philanthropist John D. …