Published: January 12, 2016
Founder of the Pamplin Historical Park, Dr Robert B. Pamplin Jr is a modern-day Renaissance man. He has earned eight degrees — including two doctorates — in business, economics, accounting, education and theology. He and his wife, Marilyn, have scrupulously built a collection of choice objects illuminating the artistic heritage of China, the American Indian, Europe and America, as well as the dramatic history of this nation’s founding. The Civil War is a particular passion of his. For more information, www.pamplincollection.org.
You have been a businessman, farmer, minister, educator, historical preservationist and author (21 books!). How did all these come about and how do they tie into one another?
I have always been driven to undertake new adventures and have a rooted interest in each area. My interests and passions encompass financial reward (business), entrepreneurial spirit (business and farming), encouraging the significance of history as an essential prefiguring image of the future (educator, historical preservationist), each driven by conscience and faith for the betterment of mankind (minister and author).
How extensive is your collection?
Numbering more than 100,000 items, the collection manifests our love of history and artistic work that hold both intrinsic and associative values. We have been bringing together valuable, iconic and interesting antiquities and artwork dating from ancient times to today and unique stories they tell of cultures, people and memorable events in America, Europe and China.
What inspired you to pursue historical preservation?
To be a repository of history that will remain for future generations to learn that the past is inescapable in laying out the inevitable. History is humanity, it tells us about the past, what we’ve learned from it, in the present, and can be a telescope into our future.
What kind of historical items — or stories — speak to you and why?
When looking at historical objects or antiques, I am most interested in items that will interconnect through several artifacts from which we can learn and direct our behavior.
Does your collection have themes?
I believe history has no bounds. History is global and expansive, where defined themes relate more to a collector.
Tell us about Pamplin Historical Park and why you founded this park.
In the early 1990s, a tract of land in Dinwiddie County, Va., came up for sale. It included a 3/4-mile stretch of well-preserved Civil War earthworks built by the Confederate troops of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and it was on this site on April 2, 1865, that Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac broke through Lee’s defensive line, leading to his surrender at Appomattox a week later. I saw the opportunity to buy our ancestral land as not only an opportunity to preserve history but to educate and inform generations to come.
The land was bought and an interpretive center was built and soon after, adjacent land was bought containing Tudor Hall, the plantation home of my ancestors. Opened in 1994, Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier (www.pamplinpark.org) now comprise a 422-acre historical campus that features museums, antebellum homes, a historic Civil War battlefield, a slave life exhibit, demonstrations and educational programs. As it stands, Pamplin Historical Park is the only place where visitors can experience a museum, plantation home, earthworks and an art collection.
The Civil War was the most significant war fought on American soil, both in what direction the country would take and the number of casualties. Additionally, the last major battle leading to the breakthrough was at our ancestral farm. It is the only place where all the facets of the war are present for viewing — Tudor Hall, Interpretive Center, museum, battlefield and several other original homes and structures.
What are your three favorite pieces of your collection?
I do not believe a true historical preservationist has a favorite piece, but rather the passion is to be stimulated by artifacts to a bygone yesterday that helps us understand mistakes and adjust our behavior. Therefore, you revere what a piece can teach rather than the item itself. For example, an artifact used at the Battle of the Little Big Horn takes you to the echoes of that conflict and the decisions made that led to the battle, the defeat and the aftermath. Seeking glory and a lack of humility led to the battle, arrogance led to the defeat and outrage led to the pursuit of the Sioux. Any artifact from the battle could stimulate these thoughts and that most wars have the same ingredients.
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