Students Preserve a Piece of Milwaukee’s Civil War Heritage

I’ve met some incredible history teachers over the years through this blog.  A few of them have taught me as much as I hope this blog has helped their own classroom practices – none more so than Chris Lese, who teaches history at Marquette University High School.    Chris is a passionate and talented teacher.  Like me, he has the luxury of teaching a course on the Civil War.  In fact, earlier this year I Skyped with his class.  Later this morning we are going to connect online once again.

This year Chris’s class is hoping to do a little Civil War preservation in their local community.  The class will create a tin plated QR Code memorial to be placed next to a forgotten bronze plaque in the woods of a Milwaukee public park. The memorial is dedicated to to Col. Jerome A. Watrous, who served in the Iron Brigade.

The first phase of the project is to focus on the memory of Civil War both during the early 20th century (this bronze plaque was dedicated in 1939) and today.  Here are a few of the questions the students sent along.

  • What are some reasons people in the early 20th century dedicated monuments, plaques and memorials to Civil War soldiers?
  • What sort of issues were veterans facing during the early 20th century?
  • Did Civil War soldiers experience wide spread support across society? Who put up these memorials?
  • Why do you think it is important for younger generations to know about/remember Civil War history?
  • In this techno-crazy society that looks to get more and more digital, will memorials have to be digital
    to persuade future people to care? Will stone and bronze monuments still have a major place remembering history?
  • What role does technology have in historical memory?

The next phase includes researching the life of Watrous and the monument itself and attempt to determine why it was apparently forgotten. The class is also consulting with local Iron Brigade historian Lance Herdegen and the Kenosha Civil War Museum.  Herdegen just published a new book on the Iron brigade titled, THE IRON BRIGADE IN CIVIL WAR AND MEMORY: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter.

This is a great way to get kids not only interested in history, but in historical memory, and historical preservation.  It warms my heart. :-)

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

2 comments… add one

  • Chuck Taft Nov 23, 2012

    Chris is definitely a talented teacher – we met at a CWPT Conference in April at the Kenosha Civil War Museum, a gem of a historical spot just off of Lake Michigan. A few of my former students have enjoyed Chris’ instruction at MUHS. I will hopefully follow his lead and get some historic preservation into my curriculum on the war!

  • Woodrowfan Nov 23, 2012

    What a fantastic lesson!

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