Letter to Historians Regarding Wilderness Walmart Controversy

Today I received a mailing from the Civil War Preservation Trust asking me to sign an enclosed statement addressed to Lee Scott, President and CEO of Walmart.  It looks like I have  been included in a group of historians asked to voice their concern about the proposed Walmart supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield.  I don't know why I am being included, but perhaps it has to do with my previous posts on the subject [and here].  Anyway, I approve of the statement and plan to sign and mail it tomorrow.  Here is a short excerpt:

As a historian, I feel strongly that the Wilderness Battlefield is a unique historic and cultural treasure deserving of careful stewardship.  Currently only approximately 25 percent of the battlefield is protected by the National Park Service.  If built, this Walmart would seriously undermine ongoing efforts to see more of this historic land preserved and deny future generations the opportunity to wander the landscape that has, until now, remained largely unchanged since 1864.

The Wilderness is an indelible part of our history, its very ground hallowed by the American blood spilled there, and it cannot be moved.  Surely Walmart can identify a site that would meet its needs without changing the very character of the battlefield.

There are many places in central Virginia to build a commercial development, there is only one Wilderness Battlefield.  Please respect our great nation's history and move your store farther away from this historic site and National Park. 

Now who could disagree with that?

Hey Richard Norton Smith, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself

0104_historians_bh Richard N. Smith admitted today, in an interview on C-SPAN that he has not voted in the last two presidential elections.  Smith was interviewed by Brian Lamb along with Douglas Brinkley to put the ’08 Campaign in historical perspective.  So, why does Smith not vote?  He prefaced his comments by saying, “I think it is important not to lie to people.”  Smith believes that it would compromise his position as historical adviser for PBS’s Newshour campaign coverage, which he has done for the last eight years. Smith said something to the effect that he felt conflicted between having to answer questions about his personal political views and his role as historical adviser for PBS.  Apparently his political-historical commentary is somehow rendered more legitimate because Smith does not vote.  Can someone please tell me how such a position trumps your civic duty to vote at a time when we are lucky to get 52% of eligible voters to the polls?  C’mon..the guy writes presidential biographies for crying out loud.

Steinwehr Avenue Businesses Are In Trouble..

not, however, because of the move of the Gettysburg Visitor Center.  By now all of you are aware that the new VC has opened at a location further removed from the schlock shops along Steinwehr Avenue and has implemented a plan to charge admission [pdf file] for the new movie and Cyclorama.  Local business owners have complained about both of these decisions as an explanation for decreasing foot traffic and sales.  Let me suggest that their real problem is a lack of imagination:

In the meantime, the business owners are brainstorming other ideas to attract visitors – including locals – to Steinwehr Avenue.  Crist said it's not often that a local stops by Flex and Flanigan's.  "If I get 10 local people in my store a year, that's amazing," he said.

One suggestion is a Christmas tree competition. Participating
businesses would each decorate their own tree, and visitors would vote
with money on the winner. Donations could go to a charitable cause.  "That's one way we might be able to get some people in," Crist said.

Let me suggest that the blame for poor sales ought not to be pinned on the NPS's decision to move the VC nor for its decision to charge admission.  If there is any blame to be assigned it must go to the members of the Steinwehr Avenue Business Alliance who failed to plan for a move that was years in the making.  Good luck guys.  You are going to need it if the best you can do is a Christmas Tree competition.

Civil War Memory Stats or Why Blogging Matters

I am collecting some basic statistics about Civil War Memory for my upcoming talk on Civil War blogging and thought I would share them with my readers.  Compared to political blogs and other high-profile sites the number of visits and page views is trivial, but within the history blogosphere I assume it ranks somewhere in the middle.  Right now this site attracts around 450 unique hits a day.  As a military history blog (broadly defined) it ranks very near the top.  This blog's Technorati ranking is 62, 589 with an Authority of 96, which measures the number of links from other blogs over the last six months.  The smaller the number, the better. 

One of the points that I hope to make is that the battle for Civil War memory or how we approach the history will be won or lost in cyberspace – including blogs, listservs, message boards, etc. – and not in books, conferences and other traditional forms of public outreach.  This is a tough sell since my goal is not in any way to instill feelings of guilt in my audience.  My purpose is not necessarily to convince one person in the audience to pick up blogging, but to share my experiences engaged on the front lines and how that experience reflects a changing public discourse about what it means to talk meaningfully about a crucial moment in this nation's past. The numbers speak for themselves.  Of course, the numbers don't tell us anything about what readers have learned – if anything – or whether they will return at some point in the future.   For me the numbers reflect the potential or promise of blogging.  It's a powerful tool that can expand a historian's ability to reach out to fellow academics as well as, more importantly, to all corners of the general public.

Blogging has given me the opportunity to join public debates about some of the most controversial subjects within the Civil War community such as black Confederates.  Hopefully, my posts have helped to clarify the complexity of the subject as well as the broader questions of memory that have come to shape our national and regional narratives.  More importantly, I've heard from countless readers that the focus of this site on issues surrounding memory and public history – subjects that are typically discussed only in academic circles – have not only enriched their understanding of the Civil War, but of history in general.  

With the Civil War Sesquicentennial right around the corner I think it is crucial that state commissions and other professional organizations think critically and imaginatively about how to use the Internet to educate the general public.  The number of Americans who will attend a conference, museum exhibit or read a book between 2011 and 2015 will pale in comparison with the reach of various websites – much of them filled with myth and propaganda.  Let's reach out.