The Gettysburg Semester at Gettysburg College

What follows is a guest post by Allison (Herrmann) Jordan, who is currently an administrative assistant at the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.  Allison shares her experience as a participant in the college’s “Gettysburg Semester,” which is a semester-long immersion in Civil War studies.

I remember sitting in my freshman dorm room in Worcester, Massachusetts.  As a recently declared history major with a newfound passion for the Civil War, I passed spare moments thumbing through a tattered copy of James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. I was still two years away from taking my college’s Civil War & Reconstruction course (it was only offered every three years).  A simple Google search for “Civil War” + internship” + “Gettysburg,” however, led me to the website for something called The Gettysburg Semester. Instantly intrigued, I discovered a study-away program hosted by Gettysburg College.  It invites undergraduates from around the country to spend a fall semester studying the American Civil War at the Civil War buff’s Valhalla – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

As I explored the website, I read the most recent entries on the “Battlefield Blog.” I visited the blog weekly, staying up to date on the adventures of those lucky students devoting an entire term to the war.  Gettysburg Semester students take two core seminars through Gettysburg College’s one-of-a-kind Civil War Era Studies Department (yes, an entire academic department!).  The two seminars—CWES 421: Interpretation of the American Civil War and CWES 425: Field Experiences in Civil War Era Studies—are taught by renowned Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo. Fridays are devoted to excursions to nearby battlefields, and Gettysburg Semester students have the opportunity to complete an internship at one of the dozens of historic sites in the area. Finally, students live in the Appleford Inn, a circa 1867 Victorian mansion-turned bed and breakfast-turned college-owned Civil War Era Studies theme house.

I requested an application and worked with my college’s Study Abroad office to make my participation in this program a reality – earning admittance to the 2006 Gettysburg Semester.

As I arrived at the Appleford on a balmy August move-in day, I met the five other students who joined me that fall. Though the six of us hailed from colleges in New York, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Virginia, we all shared a common passion for the Civil War. We spent our semester interacting with and befriending the regular college students who shared our interests, taking tips on everything from the best place in town to get a cheeseburger to the quietest places to read on campus. We usually piled into someone’s vehicle every evening to “go battlefielding,” taking full advantage of the incredible Civil War landscape just beyond our doorstep.

The course work was demanding, yet incredibly rewarding.  It certainly prepared me for my graduate work in history at American University.  Term papers allowed me the chance to conduct hours of primary source research at the National Archives and Library of Congress, conveniently located seventy miles south of Gettysburg.  In CWES 421, we analyzed the latest Civil War scholarship, while in CWES 425, we explored in-depth the military campaigns of the Civil War. Each Friday, after a 6:30 a.m. group breakfast at the famous Lincoln Diner, we boarded the Gettysburg College mini-bus and travelled to one of the dozens of battlefields in the vicinity. We explored these sites – Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, Antietam, Gettysburg (of course), the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the forts of Washington, D.C., the siege lines of Petersburg, Ford’s Theater, and Appomattox – with expert guides, historians, and park rangers.

One of the most valuable experiences of my Gettysburg Semester proved to be the opportunity to complete an internship with the National Park Service. I served as an Interpretation Intern at Gettysburg National Military Park, staffing the visitor center desk and conducting research in the park library. I even researched, developed, and presented a formal interpretive program in the Gettysburg National Cemetery.  Thanks to this inspiring experience, I spent nearly six years working for the National Park Service at Civil War sites such as Petersburg National Battlefield and Arlington House.

A Civil War program unlike any other, The Gettysburg Semester at Gettysburg College provides undergraduates with the once-in-a-lifetime chance to live and to study in one of the most historical communities in America, alongside a similarly-focused group of peers. Many students pondering study-abroad programs do so out of a desire to experience a foreign country. By enlisting in the ranks of The Gettysburg Semester, you can likewise thrive in and come to know a foreign land – the past.

1 comment… add one
  • Heather Clancy Nov 13, 2012 @ 19:40

    Though I am a full-time student here at Gettysburg College, I think I can still say that the Gettysburg Semester is one of the greatest programs that our school has to offer. I have so much respect for the college administration’s constant and sincere efforts to preserve this campus’s ties to its unique and fascinating past.

    It would be so easy for the school to lose its historic identity without proper upkeep by those who still have a true passion for Civil War history and Gettysburg College’s place in it, and so for the school to open itself up to outside students to come in and explore the Civil War with us is absolutely fantastic. And the semester students are always welcomed with open arms by both students and faculty–it’s “the more, the merrier” in the CWES department. =)

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