So That’s What They Are Talking About

In a few weeks I will be heading to Gettysburg College for the annual Civil War Institute. Some of the most memorable experiences are spent on the battlefield walking with guides that have thought deeply about how to interpret historic landscapes. There is a short list of historians and guides who have mastered the ability to leave visitors with a meaningful and even transformative experience.

We sometimes forget, however, that most visitors to places like Gettysburg do not walk the field with such a guide. In fact, I suspect that most visitors walk the battlefield with little to no preparation.  I admit that I enjoy snooping in on these conversations when walking Gettysburg and other sites. It is with this in mind that I am sharing this video of “Ryan and Cynthia’s recent visit to Gettysburg.

One of the things this video highlights is the extent to which social media has come to shape the visitors’ experience. My question, however, is whether this reflects something along the lines of the typical visitor experience.

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Pretty good. They say they will look up stuff later, they seem happy. No one is complaining. They found out that some soldiers spoke Hungarian. Not bad at all.

Just to be clear, I am not evaluating it as good or bad or as anything else. I find it useful to remember that my experience on battlefields is not at all representative.

From what I’ve observed, being at Gettysburg a lot, this is a typical experience–people going out on their own with their maps from the Visitor’s Center and reading the waysides, perhaps listening in a little bit as tour guides near them speak to their group, but essentially experiencing the battlefield on their own and at their own pace. These four young folks appear to have had a great time, and it looks like they learned a few things along the way. Some of the things they learned are a bit imperfect, such as Pickett’s Charge, but on the whole it looks to me like it was a very positive experience. It was certainly, for me, an enjoyable video to watch. My hope is that it sparked an interest for further reading. Good job all around.

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