CIVIL WAR MEMORY
The Online Home of Kevin M. Levin
Kevin: I can’t believe this totally doesn’t pump you up. The glitz, the show, the drama! Awsome! …Sigh. Was this created around 1945? – TL
I simply come at this issue from a different angle. I enjoyed the Electric Map. There was something appealing about it, just like there was something appealing about the maps in the American Heritage History of the Civil War and in the July 1963 issue of the National Geographic. Now, I’m perfectly willing to admit that much of the appeal comes from remembering it as a eight-year-old boy (hey, almost nine!) who saw the first family trip to Gettysburg as three consecutive Christmas mornings.
Now, are you asking me to evaluate it from the perspective of a seasoned scholar? Of course there are better ways to do this. I think the new VC offers those people who want that level of understanding ample opportunity to get it in the presentations of the three days of the battle, plus the neat little touch maps where you can figure out the location of specific units.
But there is still something of the kid in me when I visit Gettysburg. Oh, when I visit other battlefields I’m also visiting old memories, but Gettysburg is Gettysburg. I assume that in forty years the new VC will be viewed as something of a relic in how it presented the battle and the war to people in 2008.
Remember, I’m a fan of the new VC, and I think I have the credentials to aspire to the outer fringes of the hardcore battle narrative folks, so I have no patience with those who will dismiss my opinion as that of some politically-correct academic. But the Electric Map (which I first saw before the NPS took it over) was really cool at the time, just like the 1964-65 World’s Fair was cool at the time.
I totally understand where you are coming from and I mean no disrespect. Remember, I have no childhood memories of any battlefield. The first time I saw the electric map was about 10 years ago. It made no impression on me whatsoever. As someone who is very interested in public history it serves no purpose, but as a reminder of childhood memories I understand.
And now it is preserved forever at Youtube and, for your convenience, at Civil War Memory. 🙂
Kevin, don’t worry. I know there was no disrespect about this at all, and, oddly enough, I enjoyed watching the map (for free!).
The larger question, I think, is “whose Gettysburg is it”? To me, it’s still very much contested ground, with people claiming ownership and seeking to privilege perspectives. That’s why I find Harry’s comments quite reasonable in recognizing that there’s more than one way to view all this, even as I believe you and I probably would find ourselves in agreement on the VC.
However, folks should not call the gift shop that sells books a bookstore. The complaints about that just baffle me.
You are absolutely right Brooks. The controversy surrounding the VC is about claims of ownership and privilege. There is no doubt that certain groups are attached to that battlefield and I have no doubt that they mean well when they criticize the layout of the building as well as the exhibit. I was told by a very reliable source at Gettysburg that Civil War buffs represent only 7% of their visitors. There is something significant about that figure though I don’t know quite what to make of it in terms of this discussion.
As for the gift shop they actually have a wide selection of books appropriate for all kinds of visitors. I bought Tim Smith’s new book on the preservation of battlefields in the 1890s as well as Linenthal’s _Sacred Ground_. The complaints are bizarre IMHO.
Kevin and Brooks:
One of my grad students and a seasonal ranger at GNMP, Jen Murray, is writing her dissertation on the history of the park under the NPS. While its completion is still in the future, she has an excellent article coming out soon in Civil War History. Based on that and our conversations, I’ve concluded that there is nothing new about the recent VC controversy. “Ownership,” and especially interpretive struggles between the NPS and other groups claiming a share of decision making, has been a constant theme since the vets started coming back.
You are certainly correct, the gift shop that sells books in the new VC is _not_ a bookstore. But the old VC had a gift shop that qualified as a bookstore, and a pretty darn good one if you ask me. I think those of us who are complaining wonder if it was too much to expect that the new VC would preserve at least that portion of the old facility. We miss the wonderful gift shop that _was_ a bookstore.
I for one will probably do my Gettysburg bookshopping at the Farnsworth House from now on, even if it means tolerating all the silly Ghost Tour trappings. And in fact that was what I was forced to do a few weeks ago. I was looking for Gettysburg Magazine and some of the PCN videos of Ranger tours of the battlefield. The gift shop does not carry G’burg Mag (I’ve asked for it both times I’ve visited) and if they had the videos they were buried amongst the tourist junk and I couldn’t find them. I found them easily at Farnsworth House.
Ken, — Thanks for the heads up re: the upcoming CWH article by your student. I agree that there is nothing new about this latest round between the NPS and various interest groups. I suspect your student is familiar with Jim Weeks’s book _Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine_ (Princeton Univ. Press, 2003). He does an excellent job on tourism and on more recent debates over how to interpret the battlefield.
Sean, — Thanks again for the comment, but we are going to disagree re: the selection of books at the gift shop. I actually think they have a pretty good selection that covers both the battle as well as slavery, memory, women, fiction, biography, etc. Seems to me that there is no fact of the matter to argue about here. I personally didn’t miss Gettysburg Magazine, but obviously you did. Perhaps there were problems acquiring it.
The fact of the matter is that the new store doesn’t have the same selection as the old one – the old VC also carried plenty of slavery, memory, fiction, etc., as well. But I’ve recently spoken to one book dealer who says that the contract offered by the new gift shop is so objectionable that he wouldn’t agree to it, and therefore they won’t be carrying his books. If that is true for a wide number of dealers, then that’s just one more way in which the new palace is depriving folks of the experience they could get through the old VC.
O.K. Sean…you win.
I wasn’t trying to “win” – I was trying to pass on some information. At least one Civil War book dealer has been alienated by the terms of the contract offered by the VC, and I suspect that means others may have been as well.
BTW, are you really saying that it isn’t important whether the Gettysburg VC stocks Gettysburg Magazine or not?
Without knowing any of the specifics I can’t comment on the experiences of this one book dealer. If you feel comfortable drawing further conclusions than so be it.
I’ve actually never picked up a copy of the Gettysburg Magazine so I can’t say whether the VC ought to carry it. I will take your word for it that it’s worth reading.
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