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Only Hindsight: Where Are The Historian Futurists?, John M. Rudy Oct 2013

Only Hindsight: Where Are The Historian Futurists?, John M. Rudy

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

A friend who is planning a pie-in-the-sky conference (about which I'm super excited) texted me today with a quick question. "Who would be a good 'Historian of the Future?'" he asked, adding the bonus that I could dream big. "Money no object," the next text read.

I was at a loss for a few minutes. Who is the historian of the future? Who is trying to visualize that skill-set, categorize that life, read the trends of the past and plot the course of history yet to come? [excerpt]


Birthday Party, Cheesecake, Jelly Bean, Boom: The Easy Sesquicentennial Ends, John M. Rudy Jul 2013

Birthday Party, Cheesecake, Jelly Bean, Boom: The Easy Sesquicentennial Ends, John M. Rudy

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

There's been a good deal of digital ink spilled recently over whether the sesquicentennial is over. A provocative question can erupt into a torrent of thought.

But those thoughts have been brewing in my mind for a while now, since the whirlwind here in Gettysburg died down to a dull roar from the fever pitch of a few weeks ago. The tourist tide has subsided. The streets are easier to drive.

But most importantly, the press inquiries have died away. Nearly every day of the anniversary week, I had an e-mail or a voice-mail asking me to help a ...


Inside The Resource: Interpreting Is Pointing At Things, John M. Rudy Jun 2013

Inside The Resource: Interpreting Is Pointing At Things, John M. Rudy

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

We preserve the places of the past for a very specific reason: they are places. They are physical manifestations of the past, either landscapes where that past was played out or the remnants of the people who made that past happen.

That was clear to me last week as I watched David Fox, one of Harpers Ferry's premier interpreters, twiddle a shaving mirror in the sunlight and shine a twinkling beam on the gravestone of Rev. Alexander Morrell in the cemetery at the end of Fillmore Street. [excerpt]


Loading Chekhov’S Gun In 9-Times: The Fundamental Disconnect In Historical Interpretation, John M. Rudy Mar 2013

Loading Chekhov’S Gun In 9-Times: The Fundamental Disconnect In Historical Interpretation, John M. Rudy

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

Thursday night brings into Gettysburg an avalanche of historians (both public and academic) to discuss the Future of Civil War History for a whole weekend. That means I'll be taking some annual leave from work and participating in a working-group investigating "Training Seasonal Historians in the Age of Holding the High Ground." It's still unclear who will be able to attend our panel thanks to sequestration and a moratorium on NPS travel. Still, those of us who can make it will soldier on. [excerpt]


Consumptive Use History, John M. Rudy Feb 2013

Consumptive Use History, John M. Rudy

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

It's been five years since I was living in DC and working at the Lincoln Cottage. I don't often talk about my short stint in DC at American University (let's just say that the University and I didn't quite mesh philosophically) and working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation at President Lincoln's Cottage right as the site was opening. My time at the cottage was a blip on the radar; barely any digital footprints still exist from then. [excerpt]


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]


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]


You Can Hide `Neath Your Covers: Confronting The Boss, John M. Rudy May 2012

You Can Hide `Neath Your Covers: Confronting The Boss, John M. Rudy

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

Public servants are paid to serve the American people. Do it well." Donald Rumsfeld, 2001

It's not often that I quote or even think about Donald Rumsfeld. I'm pretty sure he doesn't think about me at all. Still, that quote above is a keen (if obvious) observation that so often we in the world of public service Civil War interpretation forget. I work for the Federal Government in my 'real' job. This blog is where I brain dump everything else rattling around in my mind. Inspiration strikes at all hours, and last week the bolt came out ...


4th And Goal: What Is The Interpretive Touchdown?, John M. Rudy May 2012

4th And Goal: What Is The Interpretive Touchdown?, John M. Rudy

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

What is the aim of historic interpretation? That seems like it would be a simple question to answer, but it's simply not. Historic interpretation seems to be a many headed Hydra, with each interpreter seeing their own purpose and their own goals within the craft. [excerpt]


The Past Is A Foreign Country: But They Still Eat Ketchup There, John M. Rudy Dec 2011

The Past Is A Foreign Country: But They Still Eat Ketchup There, John M. Rudy

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

Earlier this week, the folks over at the Gettysburg National Military Park Facebook page posted a link to their Gettysburg School Bus blog highlighting a post on integrating the Civil War into a language arts curriculum. I love the concept. I think in the current educational environment, which seems to be spurning history and social studies in primary classrooms, anywhere we can integrate the stories of the past into the state's standards, sneaking the history back in, is awesome.


Just Interpret To Me: Reflecting On Nai 2011, John M. Rudy Nov 2011

Just Interpret To Me: Reflecting On Nai 2011, John M. Rudy

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

Last week saw Jake and I in St. Paul, Minnesota for the annual National Association for Interpretation workshop, a week long gathering of professional interpreters from around the nation. I'll guarantee that the next couple of weeks will be filled with recaps from both of us on what struck us the most during the conference. Our reactions ranged from "meh..." to "Dude!" [excerpt]


The Race Of The Interpreter: "I'M Not Going To Spend My Life Being A Color...", John M. Rudy Oct 2011

The Race Of The Interpreter: "I'M Not Going To Spend My Life Being A Color...", John M. Rudy

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

I am often put into an interesting place when recounting the tales of history. My passion is the history of race and abolition, the Civil War and the development of Civil Rights in the wake of the memory of our great fratricidal conflict. I'm white. Yet I am never afraid to broach the subject of race. Stephen Colbert's character on The Colbert Report often mentions that he doesn't, "see color." I would never be that bold. But I will say that I try to ignore color when I am interpreting to an audience. Put an audience of ...


A Dictatorship Of Meaning: Villainizing Multiple Perspectives, John M. Rudy Oct 2011

A Dictatorship Of Meaning: Villainizing Multiple Perspectives, John M. Rudy

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

I read Louis De Caro's "John Brown the Abolitionist -- A Biographer's Blog" regularly because I deeply respect the work which DeCaro has done in researching Brown, particularly putting him into the context of his religious life. I assigned "Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown to the students in my class this semester on Brown, as it is an intriguing look at the abolitionist. But I read DeCaro's blog because I don't agree with him on many of his criticisms of how Brown is interpreted in a modern context. I try ...


Standing Up By Sitting Down: Join The Student Sit-Ins At The Smithsonian, Jacob Dinkelaker Oct 2011

Standing Up By Sitting Down: Join The Student Sit-Ins At The Smithsonian, Jacob Dinkelaker

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

Continuing my review and discussion that I started last week of the NMAH's historical theater programs, this week, I want to talk about the other program I attended on my most recent visit down to the mall: the Join the Student Sit-Ins program. Long story short, Join the Student Sit-Ins is another great interpretive offering from the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The program thrives on visitor involvement and reflection. It's engaging, historically deep, emotional, and probing for answers, ultimately asking more questions than finding answers. [excerpt]


"That All Men Are Created Equal...": Universal Relevance And The Civil War, John M. Rudy Sep 2011

"That All Men Are Created Equal...": Universal Relevance And The Civil War, John M. Rudy

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

One of my favorite movies is Back to the Future III. I know that is a terrible choice in some folks' eyes. The response I usually get is an, "ugh!" and a snarl of the lip. Still, I think there is so much going on in that film, from the struggle between fatalism and free will to the themes of love and sacrifice, heartache and heartbreak.

The reason Back to the Future III comes up in my mind today, though, is because of a dialogue within the public history world that appears to be heating up, thanks in part to ...


Speaking A Different Language, John M. Rudy Sep 2011

Speaking A Different Language, John M. Rudy

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

[Video available below] OK, so what are we looking at? First and foremost, we are looking at someone who has thought deeply about the meaning of Lincoln's words at Gettysburg. "President Lincoln changed history / he honored the dead but did so much more / he changed the meaning of the Civil War." MC Lala gets the deep meanings of the two minutes Lincoln spent on a platform in Gettysburg. MC Lala grasps the deep importance of Lincoln's re-dedication of America at Gettysburg using the Declaration of Independence's ever inspiring promise that, "all men are created equal." [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]


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 ...


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]


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 ...


Slavery And Justice Today, Jacob Dinkelaker Jun 2001

Slavery And Justice Today, Jacob Dinkelaker

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

'doubleshotcanister' makes a great point about being ever mindful of our present connections to past historical atrocities, crimes against humanity, and the other not-so-shining moments of our country's history. I agree with him. Not only do we have to come clean about our nation's past history - equally laying out the bad and good to find a useable past, but also to be cognizant of our decisions and actions today. [excerpt]