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Gettysburg College

Civil War Era Studies

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In Another Sesquicentennial, John M. Rudy Sep 2011

In Another Sesquicentennial, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

On Tuesday, Jake wrote asking who controls the memory of 9/11. The ownership of memory is such an interesting thing. This tenth anniversary was an interesting event, fraught with conflicted memory and different voices. It was intriguing to watch all of the slight conflicts which emerged last week leading up to the ceremonies on Sunday morning. [excerpt]


Holy Writ: Thinking Beyond Enabling Legislation To Modern Relevance, John M. Rudy Sep 2011

Holy Writ: Thinking Beyond Enabling Legislation To Modern Relevance, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Why trust a bunch of dead guys? I know it sounds trite, but it's very important when we begin approaching how we talk about Civil War sites (or any historic site). Oftentimes, the folks who voted the site into existence and decided its primary reason for being are dead and gone. The world has changed radically since they were here. The pieces of legislation they created (at the federal level they're typically called "enabling legislation," at lower levels they have varied other names) were distinct products of their times. The themes and significances they outline are likewise products ...


"And Preachin' From My Chair": The Historian And The Interpreter, Jacob Dinkelaker Sep 2011

"And Preachin' From My Chair": The Historian And The Interpreter, Jacob Dinkelaker

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

I've been thinking lately of titles. The new blog Emerging Civil War's inaugural post touched off a powder-keg of thought for me. Looking down the list of contributors yields name after name listed as "historian at...." But most of those folks appear to have the official job title of "park ranger," "interpreter," or "visitor use assistant," and not "historian." This got the wheels in my head turning. [excerpt]


"Gold Coast Slave Ship Bound For Cotton Fields...": Altamont And The American Civil War, John M. Rudy Aug 2011

"Gold Coast Slave Ship Bound For Cotton Fields...": Altamont And The American Civil War, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

A couple weeks ago, I put up a post about a flag flying at Manassas during the Sesquicentennial commemoration. It elicited a nice response from a friend of mine, Robby, who hails from the great state of North Carolina. Robby loves to play devil's advocate, so I'm always happy to wade further into a friendly conversation:

...When a historian is unable to understand the southern affinity for the men who fought the war, almost to a person you see the slavery straw man emerge. This action is akin to politicians playing the race card, an easy way out ...


A House Where People Lived: The Schriver House Of Gettysburg, Jacob Dinkelaker Aug 2011

A House Where People Lived: The Schriver House Of Gettysburg, Jacob Dinkelaker

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Recently a couple of my close friends and I were hanging out in downtown Gettysburg, looking for trouble, err I mean, fun. We were trying to find something in town that we hadn't been to – something new to add to our Gettysburg experiences. When one of them suggested that we give the Shriver House a whirl, I admit, I was a little uneasy at first. [excerpt]


Realistic Goals For Civil War Interpretation: What Are They Supposed To Walk Away With?, John M. Rudy Aug 2011

Realistic Goals For Civil War Interpretation: What Are They Supposed To Walk Away With?, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Before you can begin any task, to some extent, you need to have some target in mind. Even if that target is hazy and indistinct, you need to aim that arrow somewhere before you let the bowstring fly.

So, what is the target that Civil War interpretation aims for? I go on programs and walks with interpreters when I'm out visiting Civil War sites. I love tours.[excerpt]


How Can We Make Digital History Sites Personal?, Jacob Dinkelaker Aug 2011

How Can We Make Digital History Sites Personal?, Jacob Dinkelaker

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

It's a question I've been asking myself a lot recently. Digital public history sites are springing up all over the web. There are snazzy ones with great content like The Antebellum Project, which showcases Bowdoin College's role in the coming of the Civil War. There are information and resource dumps like Ancestry.com that allow its users to see tons of different historical sources. There sites that use GIS like WhatWasThere and allow users to collectively document the world around them. Then there are websites that are digital exhibits built to accompany an actual physical exhibit - one ...


Manassas: Why They Fought Here, John M. Rudy Aug 2011

Manassas: Why They Fought Here, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Another quick observational post on the Sesquicentennial event at Manassas last month. This time, it all revolves around the Confederate living history camp adjacent to the Henry House, and more directly to the exhibit there which the reenactors entitled, "Flags of Manassas." Curiously, the flags of Manassas were only rebel banners, with nary an American flag in sight. But that's another discussion completely. [excerpt]


Interpreting Controversy: The Atomic Bomb And The Nps, Jacob Dinkelaker Aug 2011

Interpreting Controversy: The Atomic Bomb And The Nps, Jacob Dinkelaker

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

I’m going to step a little outside of our purview today to comment about the recent developments and media reactions to the proposed Manhattan Project National Historical Park. You can read the National Parks Conservation Association’s press release, and the NPS resource studies at their respective hyperlinks. John and I discuss our wider views of public history here pretty often, so I think the issue at hand is still pretty relevant. [excerpt]


Manassas: Consumer Time Machine, John M. Rudy Aug 2011

Manassas: Consumer Time Machine, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

One of the interesting bits of interpretation I found at Manassas' Sesquicentennial event was a rarity in my book. Oftentimes, living history volunteers place the contents of a haversack or a bedroll out on a gum blanket and simply name off the items for visitors. Beyond this laundry list, the conversations rarely reach into the realm of drawing personal connections with the visitor's daily life or personal experiences. The intellectual connection is well lain out, but an emotional connection is often fleeting. [excerpt]


Manassas: On The Road Again, John M. Rudy Jul 2011

Manassas: On The Road Again, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

A few months ago I took a quick jaunt to Carlisle to see the Pennsylvania Civil War Sesquicentennial roadshow. I was heartily impressed with the quality of interpretation and exhibit design. For a rolling exhibit which needs to fold in upon itself, it was very rich and powerful. Jared Frederick, proprietor of History Matters had a nice roundup of what that exhibit comprises.


Freeman Tilden And The Civil War, Jacob Dinkelaker Jul 2011

Freeman Tilden And The Civil War, Jacob Dinkelaker

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

I spend a great deal of my time on the blog preaching (some might call it my soapbox) about the mantra, “Beyond the Battlefield,” and how Civil War battlefield interpretation should go beyond just the tactics used during the battle and military matters. Some have called me crazy, some have told me I am flat out wrong about what visitor’s want, and some have told me that if I talk about these things, I will fail. The problem with all those statements though, is that they imply that I am alone in this ideology. [excerpt]


Manassas: Heat Of The Moment, John M. Rudy Jul 2011

Manassas: Heat Of The Moment, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Before I go any further, I need to make something clear: they tried. Oh, they tried so hard. The deck was stacked against them and they gave it the old Harvard try. Heat, a weekday and more... They tried so valiantly. But they came up short. [excerpt]


Locks And Cash: Whose Black History? (Part 2), John M. Rudy Jul 2011

Locks And Cash: Whose Black History? (Part 2), John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

A few weeks ago, the Hanover Evening Sun ran an article on the Lincoln Cemetery in Gettysburg and the locks which hang on its gates. This is by no means a new item of interest. The locks have girded the gates of the cemetery for three years. Still, the article (no longer on the Evening Sun's website but archived here in a PDF) raises a few interesting questions about the delicate balance between preservation and interpretation. [excerpt]


Beyond The Battlefield: A Simple Matchbook And A Rabbit Hole, John M. Rudy Jul 2011

Beyond The Battlefield: A Simple Matchbook And A Rabbit Hole, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

A couple months ago, at the annual spring Gettysburg antique show, I found a small display of Civilian Conservation Corps items. Pennants and coins, matchbook covers and pins all displayed on a piece of foam-core. One caught my eye. For $10, I became the proud owner of a matchbook cover, never used, from a CCC Camp in Gettysburg. Company 1355 was stationed at Camp NP - 2 - Pa., now known as the Boy Scout / youth camping area at McMillan woods. I was thrilled. [excerpt]


Glorious Fourth: Gettysburg's Joyful Holiday, 1861, John M. Rudy Jun 2011

Glorious Fourth: Gettysburg's Joyful Holiday, 1861, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Samuel J. Vandersloot, a 25 year old Gettysburg attorney, enlisted as a private the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment on April 20th, 1861. Less than a month after he and his comrades published their paper, on the 26th of July Vandersloot was mustered from service at Harrisburg. Five days before, the Army of Northeastern Virginia had its nose bloodied at Manassas. Picnickers, keen on sightseeing and eager to witness the one great battle of the war became entangled on the roads among the retreating Federal forces. Civilian and soldier alike became prey to the advancing rebel forces, some captured and sent ...


Locks And Cash: Whose Black History? (Part 1), John M. Rudy Jun 2011

Locks And Cash: Whose Black History? (Part 1), John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

The African-American Civil War Memorial has been a favorite site of mine in DC (and not simply because it's just down the block from the District's best restaurant, Ben's Chili Bowl). It is a monument in the right setting. Instead of being on the mall with the rest of the other monuments, to be easily overlooked like the DC World War I memorial or similar sidelights to the big three of Lincoln, Washington and Vietnam, the African American Civil War Memorial is in a community that can be moved by it. [excerpt]


"...Sexual Relations With That Woman...": Why The Lee Quote Is Still Valid, John M. Rudy Jun 2011

"...Sexual Relations With That Woman...": Why The Lee Quote Is Still Valid, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

A quick reflection this week. This started as a comment on Brooks Simpson's comments on Colin Woodward's blog post at his new blog civilwarhistorian highlighting a quote he found in a Massachusetts newspaper. Whew... now that that's out of the way.

The validity of the quote has been called into question, and seemingly thereby its usefulness to the historian. But I object to consigning this tidbit to the dustbin of history. [excerpt]


Slavery And Justice: What Brown University Has Taught Me About Public History, Jacob Dinkelaker Jun 2011

Slavery And Justice: What Brown University Has Taught Me About Public History, Jacob Dinkelaker

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

In the post today, I want to add to that debate by discussing Brown University’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. John recently turned me on to this, and while I still haven’t read the whole report (available in pdf), I’m really impressed by what I’ve read so far. For those of you who are not familiar with the report, I highly recommend it - it is very insightful. The Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice report documents Brown University’s public struggle with its historic foundations which, are tied inextricably to the economics of slavery and ...


Interpreting Beyond The Battles: Could We Start With The Klan?, John M. Rudy Jun 2011

Interpreting Beyond The Battles: Could We Start With The Klan?, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

In 1925, the Pennsylvania Klan held its annual convention in Gettysburg in September. The Times called the Klan's parade through town a, "gorgeous display," and a, "monster procession." The Times headline trumpeted that, "vary-colored robes, capes and gowns present spectacle as Knights, Klanswomen and Junior Members march under warm September sun before large crowds along sidewalks." [excerpt]


"For The People...": Do The 'Not We' Own Gettysburg?, John M. Rudy Jun 2011

"For The People...": Do The 'Not We' Own Gettysburg?, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Unlike a few critics from the Civil War blogging community of this past Monday's History Channel presentation of Gettysburg, I watched the whole thing from beginning to end. I've since watched it again. I took mental notes; I paid keen attention.

Monday night I also watched on Twitter. I expected the experience to be very different than a couple weeks ago, when I watched with America as freedom fighters were beat to a bloody pulp for suggesting that we all might be better off if we tried to get along. Not badly different, just different. I was not ...


"...Never Forget What They Did Here": Memorial Day 2011, John M. Rudy May 2011

"...Never Forget What They Did Here": Memorial Day 2011, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

One of my pleasures on this holiday is to buy and place a flag on the monument to the 14th U.S. Regulars in the valley of death. Along the banks of Plum Run, the Regulars held back an onslaught from a pell-mell group of charging Confederates in what would be the final phase of the fight in the Wheatfield and Devil's Den area on July 2nd, 1863. As they retreated back across the swampy lowlands, Confederates hot on their heels, their own gunners on the slopes of the hill had no choice but to fire into the mangled ...


Empathizing With The Slave; Empathizing With The Slave-Owner, John M. Rudy May 2011

Empathizing With The Slave; Empathizing With The Slave-Owner, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Living inside of the world of the past is often the most difficult thing an interpreter can help her audience to do. But, in spite of its difficulty, it is the most necessary. The adage that before you insult a man, you must walk a mile in his shoes is correct. [excerpt]


Civil War Conclusions: What Pbs' Freedom Riders Can Teach Us, John M. Rudy May 2011

Civil War Conclusions: What Pbs' Freedom Riders Can Teach Us, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

We often have a deep problem in the Historical community. We that have gone through training and courses in "real" history, who have been trained in the academy don't know how to react when we get into the "public" history world. We step out on battlefields (or killingfields) and decide we can't trust our audiences to understand our evidence. So, we hit them over the head with a two-by-four of rhetoric. We have this deep impulse to tell people what to think about what they see on our landscapes.


How To Sap The Romance: America's National Killingfield Parks, John M. Rudy May 2011

How To Sap The Romance: America's National Killingfield Parks, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

"Maybe they should call them Killingfields instead of Battlefields..." [excerpt]


One Sunday In America: Echoes Of John Brown, John M. Rudy May 2011

One Sunday In America: Echoes Of John Brown, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

I had just walked into the house Sunday night and turned on the television, intent on going to bed early for a change. It was a little after 10pm. CNN was announcing that a speech dealing with a grave national security by the President was imminent in just a few minutes. Wolf Blitzer expounded how the Sunday address was unprecedented and telegraphed that it was big news. But no one knew the topic. [excerpt]


How To Interpret History To The Sci-Fi Fan: My Favorite Civil War Novel, John M. Rudy Apr 2011

How To Interpret History To The Sci-Fi Fan: My Favorite Civil War Novel, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

I often struggled to find an answer to the comment often leveled by visitors that, "they were so backward back then," or that, "we know so much more now." Getting across the fact to visitors that much of science, especially the basics of Newtonian physics and electromagnetic, has been understood at their elemental level for generations is sometimes a tough order of business. I found myself at times trying to explain Alessandro Volta's invention of the Voltaic battery in 1800 or the use of the Turtle during the American Revolution. Still, compared to the explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki ...


Coda: Henry Wise's Peculiar Property, John M. Rudy Apr 2011

Coda: Henry Wise's Peculiar Property, John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

Slaves belonging to Henry A. Wise, Princess Anne County, Virginia.


Governor Wise's War: Burn Notice (Part 3), John M. Rudy Apr 2011

Governor Wise's War: Burn Notice (Part 3), John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

The early teens of April seem to have been specifically engineered by Ex-governor Wise and some of the members of the Secession convention jonesing for separation of from the Union. A notice ran in the Alexandria Gazette on April 1st, declaring that on the 16th of that month a, "grand Secession demonstration," would be held in Richmond. Among those signing the notice was Henry Wise. The Gazette reported that, first news of it came from Norfolk," just a stones throw from Wise's home in Princess Anne County. "Perhaps they think the Convention too slow," the Gazette presumed, "and wish ...


Governor Wise's War: Loose Lips (Part 2), John M. Rudy Apr 2011

Governor Wise's War: Loose Lips (Part 2), John M. Rudy

Interpreting the Civil War: Connecting the Civil War to the American Public

When last we left Ex-Governor Henry Wise, he was exceedingly impatient at the Virginia secession convention's failure to act immediately and swiftly after the firing on Fort Sumter. The power broker who had stared down John Brown now called upon personal loyalties to get the job done where politics had failed. An account by John Imboden has the Governor querying the future Brigadier General, asking whether he remembered the charge Wise made upon presenting two brass cannon to a Staunton militia unit. Imboden recalled the Governor had told him, "he was bound to obey the call of Wise for ...