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Gettysburg College

Civil War Era Studies

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Fire On The Mountain: A Forest Fire Ignored?, John M. Rudy May 2013

Fire On The Mountain: A Forest Fire Ignored?, John M. Rudy

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

There was a massive forest fire on the South Mountain at the edge of Adams County. It ripped through thousands of acres of woodland along the crest of the ridge. The undergrowth went up like a match. The spring up to this point had been unusually dry. And a fire started. [excerpt]


Rewind: Good Morning To The Night, John M. Rudy May 2013

Rewind: Good Morning To The Night, John M. Rudy

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

Today is a special day, a momentous day. It's a day I've thought about for a long time. A day for beginnings and a day for looking back. So I'm looking back for today's blog, to one of my favorite posts. It's simple and meaningful to me. It's about a place that has changed my life so much. And today the ripples from that place are changing it again. And it's wonderful. [excerpt]


Hearing His Voice: What Does "War" Have To Say?, John M. Rudy May 2013

Hearing His Voice: What Does "War" Have To Say?, John M. Rudy

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

Lee is formulating his plan to move northward, to invade Federal territory once again and lean on the United States' popular will to fight. And War will see the fruits of that decision. He'll see it all. And we're still working to tell his tale, bit by bit. [excerpt]


From A Place Of Fear: Death, Slavery & Stonewall, John M. Rudy May 2013

From A Place Of Fear: Death, Slavery & Stonewall, John M. Rudy

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

Earlier this spring, I sat in Gettysburg at the "Future of the Civil War" conference and listened to an intern talk about how he had been scared to interpret. He was afraid of his visitors, afraid to tell them about a place. [excerpt]


Building The War One Brick At A Time, John M. Rudy Apr 2013

Building The War One Brick At A Time, John M. Rudy

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

I've been waiting for this moment since 1996. Back then, when I was 11, My favorite toy came out with figures from my favorite era. The LEGO Western line was an amazing crossover of my love for history and my love for tiny ABS building blocks. [excerpt]


Big Interp: Processing Massive Meaning, John M. Rudy Apr 2013

Big Interp: Processing Massive Meaning, John M. Rudy

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

There's been this term bandied about in the historical circles I've been running in of late: Big Data. As far as I've gathered, it's the byproduct of our information age, when more and more data gets fed into more and more machines and is accessible at the fingertips of more and more inquiring minds. [excerpt]


Dark Town's Wealth: A 150-Year-Old Rock-And-Roll Concert Review, John M. Rudy Apr 2013

Dark Town's Wealth: A 150-Year-Old Rock-And-Roll Concert Review, John M. Rudy

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

I have a lot of odd things scattered around my house, weird ephemera and bric-a-brac that I've picked up here and there as I've studied history.

Some of them are treasures, like CDVs of long-dead College professors and original pieces of decking from the USS North Carolina. Some are less treasures and more, well, junk. Most folks toss old newspapers within a few days of reading. In the Civil War Era, I'm sure many a page of newsprint went to start an honest mother's hearth in the morning or a pile of moist kindling in some ...


War Against Slavery Without A Black Soldier In Sight?, John M. Rudy Jan 2013

War Against Slavery Without A Black Soldier In Sight?, John M. Rudy

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

I've been lying to people. OK, not exactly lying, just not telling the whole truth. One of my favorite lines to use when I worked in Washington at the Lincoln Cottage was that the, "most important part of the Emancipation Proclamation came near the end, where it says that black men, the former slaves, can serve in the army and navy, that they can fight for their very own freedom." [excerpt]


Sunrise With Lincoln And Meanings With Chuck, John M. Rudy Jan 2013

Sunrise With Lincoln And Meanings With Chuck, John M. Rudy

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

I walked 150 years on Monday. I walked across a great chasm of history. Physically, I walked from the Arlington Cemetery Metro Station across Memorial Bridge, then continued down the National Mall to 4th Street, where I witnessed one of the most peculiar regularly scheduled celebrations that Americans observe: the Inauguration of the President. But along the way, I met the past alive on the landscape. I watched the sky turn from murky black into hopeful, bright pink and orange sitting alongside the savior of the nation. Lincoln and I watched as the early light of sunrise silhouetted the brightly-lit ...


25425 & 20500: Zip Codes For A Revolution, John M. Rudy Jan 2013

25425 & 20500: Zip Codes For A Revolution, John M. Rudy

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

I put on my coat and headed out the door today around lunchtime. My excuse was to grab a sandwich to munch on at my desk, but I was really hunting something very different. The Post Office is right along High Street down the block from work and Tuesday was the first day they've been open this year. [excerpt]


Two More Proclamations For A Special New Years Eve, John M. Rudy Dec 2012

Two More Proclamations For A Special New Years Eve, John M. Rudy

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

'In accordance, as I believe, with the will of our Heavenly Father, and by direction of your great and good friend, whose name you are all familiar with, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, on the 1st day of January, 1863, you will be declared "for ever free."' [excerpt]


Resolute On The Eve Of Emancipation, John M. Rudy Dec 2012

Resolute On The Eve Of Emancipation, John M. Rudy

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

In the eyes of William Lloyd Garrison, Abraham Lincoln stood waffling on the issue of slavery in the early days of December 1862. To be quite fair, in Garrison's eyes nearly anyone aside from William Lloyd Garrison stood waffling on the issue of slavery most of the time. [excerpt]


Kings And Princes: Christmas In Gettysburg, 1862, John M. Rudy Dec 2012

Kings And Princes: Christmas In Gettysburg, 1862, John M. Rudy

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

In a house along the first block of the north side of Chambersburg Street, a small metallic ticking noise signaled change. The calendar read December 24th, 1862. The rhythmic tapping was a voice, reaching out in code along thin strips of metal dangling from poles running to the east out of town. Soon, "Hanover, York, Harrisburg, and Baltimore," were sending their glad tidings to Gettysburg's citizens. Then soon, Gettysburg found herself on that Christmas Eve connected, "with all the world and the rest of mankind," the Adams Sentinel reported. In the home of John Scott along Chambersburg Street, the ...


Adventus: The Great Coming Of 1862, John M. Rudy Dec 2012

Adventus: The Great Coming Of 1862, John M. Rudy

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

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Harpers Ferry helping to interpret that amazing place for the National Historical Park's annual Christmas 1864 event. One of the greatest joys of my desk job in interpretive training is getting back out into a parkscape to test out new ideas and practices. This time it gave me the chance to experiment out in the field, wearing the olde-timey clothes of the 1860s and discussing how hammers, anvils and black labor won the war through the U.S. Quartermasters Depot at Harpers Ferry. The event is amazingly fun and ...


In Response To Kevin: Truncated And Sliced, John M. Rudy Dec 2012

In Response To Kevin: Truncated And Sliced, John M. Rudy

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

There is not one program given on any Civil War battle landscape that cannot, somewhere in it's natural flow and using resource-specific elements and tangibles, discuss the cause and context of the war in a meaningful and thematically-integrated way. Period. Full Stop.

Furthermore and because of this, there is no reason or excuse not to cover the cause and context of the war in a meaningful, thematically-integrated and site-specific way in every personal services program in some manner or fashion. Period. Full Stop. [excerpt]


Spielberg's Dead Wrong About The Dead; Or, The Places In The Movie Where I Cried, John M. Rudy Nov 2012

Spielberg's Dead Wrong About The Dead; Or, The Places In The Movie Where I Cried, John M. Rudy

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

I stood in front of the rostrum in the National Cemetery with my parents. They hadn't seen the movie yet. My best-friend was next to them. He hadn't seen it yet. Another compatriot joined us who had seen it, but we were definitely outnumbered in our little knot of folks within the massive crowd. As Spielberg continued speaking, I leaned in to the group. "You really need to see the movie," I said, knowing that no matter whose ears it hit the odds were it'd hit a meaningful target. [excerpt]


Living Fortress Of The Heart: Resonance Of Emancipation, John M. Rudy Nov 2012

Living Fortress Of The Heart: Resonance Of Emancipation, John M. Rudy

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

Jacob dragged me somewhere again. I really should learn to say, "no," because no matter where I get dragged by Jake, it always ends up wrecking my brain for months and making me obsess about some amazingly minute interpretive experience. But I'm a glutton for interpretive punishment. [excerpt]


"With High Hope For The Future": Holy Temples Of Democracy, John M. Rudy Nov 2012

"With High Hope For The Future": Holy Temples Of Democracy, John M. Rudy

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

I did it again. I went to Pennsylvania Historical Association's annual conference (this year in Harrisburg). I always seem to be the black sheep at these gathering, focused on raw emotional meanings and the usable past far more than the broader historiographical implications of either the proverbial or actual price of tea in China. This year I went to present a paper on the knock-down, dragout brawl that Daniel Sickles and William H. Tipton have throughout 1893 over the preservation of the Gettysburg Battlefield to a room full of professional historians. [excerpt]


"I Grow So Weary Of The Sound Of Screams": The Real Ghosts Of Gettysburg, John M. Rudy Oct 2012

"I Grow So Weary Of The Sound Of Screams": The Real Ghosts Of Gettysburg, John M. Rudy

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

Down on Baltimore Street, in the front yard of the sprawling complex that calls itself the "Farnsworth House," a tombstone used to sit. It was greyish-white, tall and arched at the top. In front of the marker, the dirt sat freshly turned, a single rose marking the grave. On the stone's face was the motif of a cherub. And under the wings were inscribed, "In Memory of Benajah Edwards who Departed this Life July 2 1863." [excerpt]


The Whole War In One Photo, John M. Rudy Oct 2012

The Whole War In One Photo, John M. Rudy

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

Broken chains and muskets: the very essence of the slaveholder's rebellion. The war was caused by a blind, stalwart defense of slavery. The war hinged upon the future of slavery in America. The war shattered slavery in the United States forever. [excerpt]


Why The "Harvest Of Death" Doesn't Matter (And Why It Does), John M. Rudy Oct 2012

Why The "Harvest Of Death" Doesn't Matter (And Why It Does), John M. Rudy

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

I went on a tour a few Sundays ago. It was very tough to explain exactly what I had done (in sensible terms) with my coworkers when I came into the office the next Monday morning. Not just very tough, but embarrassingly tough.

THEM: "What did you do this weekend, John?"

ME: "Well, Sunday I went on a tour of places on the Gettysburg battlefield where one specific photo wasn't taken-"

THEM: *blank stare* [excerpt]


Fear In Illinois: A Father's Grief, John M. Rudy Oct 2012

Fear In Illinois: A Father's Grief, John M. Rudy

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

Like a prose poem, the passage leaped off of the page of the Lutheran and Missionary as I scanned the newspaper's columns. Sitting in the reading room of the Abdel Ross Wentz Library at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, my heart raced. It's not often that you find new words penned by someone you've been studying for years. [excerpt]


Divided Maryland: Antietam 150th Interpretive Talk, John M. Rudy Oct 2012

Divided Maryland: Antietam 150th Interpretive Talk, John M. Rudy

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

A few weeks ago, I spent an amazing weekend interpreting the Dunker Church. Not many of you were able to visit that amazing place on that amazing weekend.

For those of you out there who didn't get to see my talks that weekend, or for those of you who would like to live them again, check out this MP3 recording of the presentation, with added music and sound. [excerpt]


Veritas: The Power Of The Real, John M. Rudy Sep 2012

Veritas: The Power Of The Real, John M. Rudy

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

There's something about touching the actual thing, something about contacting the real that makes a distant world come immediately to life. There's an excitement about that moment when you see and touch something a piece of another world. A Thomas the Tank Engine character reminded me of this fact recently. Watch the young boy's face as he picks Stanley back up in a cornfield after his favorite toy travels to space and back. [excerpt]


Victim Of Emancipation: Adams County Flustered, John M. Rudy Sep 2012

Victim Of Emancipation: Adams County Flustered, John M. Rudy

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

Republican stalwart newspaper The Adams Sentinel ran nothing in its folds hinting at the editor's elation over the Emancipation Proclamation in the days following the document's release. In a terse column, headed, "Proclamation of the President," ran the document, unadorned with either accolades or contempt. Elsewhere in the paper's folds, the news hovered back and forth over the fields around Sharpsburg and word of the lackadaisical pursuit of Lee's army into Virginia. The deep meaning of one of Lincoln's most momentous moments seemed to be lost on the Republicans of south-central Pennsylvania, as they eschewed ...


Four Days In Heaven Spending Four Days In Hell, John M. Rudy Sep 2012

Four Days In Heaven Spending Four Days In Hell, John M. Rudy

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

I spent four days this past weekend wallowing in the depths of hell. Around me swirled the maelstrom of battle, a spinning vortex of blood, death, destruction and loss. Outside the windows, every patch of ground is a reminder of the sacrifice and heartache.

If you squinted your eyes, or better yet closed them completely, you could see it all. [excerpt]


Sharpsburg, Maryland: 150 Years Later, John M. Rudy Sep 2012

Sharpsburg, Maryland: 150 Years Later, John M. Rudy

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

If you are somewhere in the mid-Atlantic region over this next weekend, are obsessed with studying and understanding the Civil War and aren't going to be trying your damnedest to be in Sharpsburg, Maryland this weekend, you might want to check your pulse. [excerpt]


You Don't Get A Tour; Come Back Next June, John M. Rudy Sep 2012

You Don't Get A Tour; Come Back Next June, John M. Rudy

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

A friend of mine and former supervisor said something to me the other day. I deeply respect him; he taught me the very basics of interpretation. But his words shocked me. I still don't know exactly how to process them.

He said something like, "I saw you leading a tour on Friday with three visitors. It takes something to go out there when you know you're only going to get so few people. I respect you for it; I couldn't do it." [excerpt]


Facts, Damned Lies And Statistics: A 55 Year Stumbling Block, John M. Rudy Aug 2012

Facts, Damned Lies And Statistics: A 55 Year Stumbling Block, John M. Rudy

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

I have to admit something: when it comes to interpretation, I'm making this all up as I go along. I don't have some magical cache of best practices stored up, waiting to deposit them week after week in posts here on the blog. Most of what I know about interpretation I've stumbled upon, either in the thoughts of others shamelessly stolen and added to my toolbox or as rough experiments based on my so-called common sense. [excerpt]


The King Of Rock, Roll N' Interpretation, John M. Rudy Aug 2012

The King Of Rock, Roll N' Interpretation, John M. Rudy

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

Last week was "Elvis Week" in Memphis. I don't know that because I follow Elvis. In fact, I really can't stand Elvis Presley's music. About as far as I can go down that road is listening to "Suspicious Minds," every so often. Nothing else really speaks to me. [excerpt]