What Will Spark the Imagination of the Sesquicentennial Generation?

If your interest in the Civil War has its roots in the early 1960s than chances are that it was American Heritage’s Picture History of the Civil War that sparked your imagination.  It’s not just the frequency with which it comes up in conversation, but the way in which it is remembered.  I’ve heard a number of historians reflect on the book’s influence on them at an early age.  Whether it was the photographs, illustrations or the battle maps, the book clearly made an impact.   [My own interest in WWII was sparked by reading the Time-Life Series when I was in grade school.]  It serves as a reminder that a healthy and lasting passion for history begins with a youth’s imagination.

It’s worth asking whether there is anything equivalent to the American Heritage book that will stir the imagination of a new generation of Civil War enthusiasts.  Kids today have more resources at their disposal than any previous generation – much of it in digital format.  While I am a huge fan of the digital turn I do wonder whether these products will have the same impact.  Than again, these may simply be the words of an old fogey, who can still remember a time before the digital age.  I look forward to the day when we will learn, for example, that the technology contained in the Civil War Trusts Battlefield Apps has made its mark.

10 thoughts on “What Will Spark the Imagination of the Sesquicentennial Generation?

  1. Lyle Smith

    I had that Civil War book with that illustration as a kid, I think. At least a book with those battle illustrations. Good stuff. My major interest generating book/s was the Time Life Series on the Civil War, however. The WWII and American West series are good reads as well.

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  2. Will Hickox

    I was hooked after watching “Glory” on tv and was so moved I cried (I was seven, I hasten to add). All the dinosaur books promptly went back on the shelf, to be replaced by the 3-volume “Rebels and Yankees” coffee-table set authored by William C. Davis. Then relatives got me Burke Davis’s “The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts” and Henry Steele Commager’s “The Blue and the Gray,” and there was no turning back for me.

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  3. Ray O'Hara

    Yeah those maps worked for me too.
    Sid Meiers even credits them for inspiring his games on Gettysburg and Antietam.
    and even now 50 years later they still hold up for me.

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    1. Brad

      When I was a kid (late 50s to early 60s) I had a subscription to American Heritage when it was in hardcover. They had wonderful articles about all kinds of Americana. It definitely helped foster an interest in history that was already there thanks to my father. I think it also helped that there weren’t that many choices to choose from. At least that’s my perception. Today there is so much that it can almost paralyze you, in a way.

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  4. cg

    Not just the early ’60s. That book, and particularly those birds-eye view maps, got me hooked in the mid-1980s. Next step was Bruce Catton…

    …and look where that’s gotten me.

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  5. Chris

    I too would sit and marvel at those drawings following the numbers – loved it. My copy of the book’s binding is broke and I have kept it around with duct tape to share with my kids. One other landmark achievement that has seriously impacted a generation’s (albeit 20 years ago) interest in the war would be Ken Burns PBS Series. Since the 1990s, I am at a loss of what would equal these two. Maybe Burns’ movies is the last to have a major impact as we get further and further away from the Sesquicentennial generation. It also seems that more people are flying to vacation destinations or driving straight through whereas in my day, a two-week family vacation in Florida meant one week consisted of the drive there and back. We would stop at battlefields and historic sites both ways – does that still happen?

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  6. Keith Muchowski

    Kevin, I think the blogosphere will be the Sesquicentennial Generation’s equivalent to the American Heritage History of the American Civil War. (It was the second edition, revised with new art work and photographs in the mid-1990s, that rekindled my Civil War interest after a long hiatus.) Today’s kids are linked in to a degree we “old fogeys” can’t imagine. I imagine there are high schoolers, and even middle schoolers, reading the New York Times Disunion and the blogs of park rangers, professors, and independent scholars who are all bringing their unique perspective to this exciting period in our field. Hopefully for their sake this material will still exist in some form when the bicentenial rolls around a few short decades from now.

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  7. Dudley Bokoski

    I think one reason kids don’t take to books as much these days is usually don’t own any and probably neither do their parents. Growing up we always had a chance to buy cheap books through the school (this is so long ago I can’t remember the company). I still remember ordering a paperback on aircraft carriers that I kept for a long time. There’s something about having a book you picked out that helps you understand how great a pleasure a book is.

    A friend of mine is a school teacher and most years she gets up enough money herself and from friends through donations to take each kid in her class to a book store where they can all buy a reasonably priced book on whatever interests them (within reason). This is usually the first book they ever own and, according to her, the kids enjoy it alot more than you’d imagine.

    I wish we there was a way to get more good books on the civil war into kids hands through school libraries. The internet is great, but nothing beats a book.

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  8. Chris

    Just to follow up with this discussion…Talking with a student this week I asked what has sparked his interest in history. He relied emphatically that video games such as Call of Duty and other games that have characters fight foes from all eras was his introduction – his reaction to the images, landscape, uniforms are really similar to comments expresses to the type of map you attached.

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