Added: April 18, 2019
On April 15, 2019, I saw a Tweet from ABC News that shared a video link to the live coverage of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral that occurred as renovations were worked on. In addition to the many people in France and around the world, I was affected by the news in a number of ways. From a personal perspective, I have always wanted to someday travel to Paris to visit the most known buildings including the Notre Dame Cathedral. As a child, I watched Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame which was my first exposure to Notre Dame, the novel, and media interpretation of French history.
When I was in middle school, I started to take French classes. In eighth grade, I had the opportunity to join my classmates for a trip to Quebec and Quebec City. My classmates and I went to meet our French Canadian pen pals we were writing to during our classes. We stayed at the Chateau de Frontenac and in addition to meeting our pen pals in person we explored the city and province learning about its history. After this experience, I continued to learn French in high school and took a France and French Culture class in college. I hoped that one day I would be able to have a similar experience when I go to Paris. During the live coverage, the memories from school and the Quebec trip flashed through my mind. At the time, I had the scary thought of what would happen if the fire was not put out in time. I am happy that the fire was put out, and I hope that Notre Dame will continue to awe and inspire many Parisians, French persons, and people around the world.
As a public historian and a museum professional, I understand the significance of what was lost in the fire and the challenges that arise during and after a fire. The cathedral is a 13th century building that was restored a number of times over the centuries, and once we lose a part of history no matter the effort we put in to recreate it we would not be able to get it back. We should not take for granted the history that is left behind, and our work as historians preserving historic places and collections is significant in keeping history around for future generations to understand our past. When I watched the live coverage, I posted on Twitter expressing my sadness for what was lost:
This is heartbreaking! I hope everyone is safe from the fire. I can imagine how much time, money, and dedication it will take to restore this cathedral after this sad event. #publichistory #MuseumEdChat #History #NotreDame
I kept myself up to date on the news of Notre Dame and the efforts that are made to protect its history. I read articles and posts from a number of outlets such as the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and National Public Radio. One of the posts from the Art Newspaper, for example, revealed that there were a number of items from Notre Dame’s collections were retrieved from the cathedral. In the article, Anny Shaw wrote that some of the most valued objects including Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been placed on Jesus’s head during his crucifixion, and the 13th-century tunic of Saint Louis were stored at the Hotel de Ville overnight then transferred to the Louvre for safe keeping. These articles and the reactions from people on the internet about this tragedy reveal what connects us all together.
The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral reminds all of us that we have a connection to old places and we should come together to help preserve them. In an article from National Trust for Historic Preservation called “Why the Cathedral of Notre Dame Matters”, Thompson Mayes recounted his own reaction to the fire and reminded readers that the Notre Dame serves as a French national identity as well as a witness to numerous events in history for centuries. Mayes also pointed out that
We feel this loss because we recognize these places do something few other things can. They remind us that we are all part of humanity and the world. They expand our notion of ourselves beyond our treasured individual memories and national identity to give us an expansive sense of shared humanity around the globe. Notre Dame reminds us that we are collectively part of a continuum across the generations, past, present, and future, and across the world.
I have seen a number of examples of museums share their empathy for the French people. For instance, I saw a statement from the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut post on their Facebook page written in both English and French to reach out to the French people to express their empathy especially since they are going through their own path of disaster recovery and the importance of historic places. I have listed relevant links about Notre Dame in the resources section I have been reading to keep myself informed. I hope that someday we will look back at this moment and see it as a part of its long history it has survived. In the meantime, I will watch for news coverage and articles on the restoration and preservation efforts of Notre Dame.
What was your reaction to the fire at Notre Dame?
Chateau de Frontenac: https://www.fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec/?cmpid=msn_lcf_search-frontenac_quebec-brand-us-revsh&utm_source=msn&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=lcf&utm_campaign=search-frontenac_quebec-brand-us-e-revsh