I’ve said it before, but I don’t mind repeating that no one has taught me more about the challenges of interpreting the Civil War at America’s battlefields than John Hennessy. John’s contribution to Common-place explores some of the more recent sticking points that have arisen as a result of shifts in battlefield interpretation away from the original intention behind the creation of or national battlefield parks. National Park Service historians have fully embraced an expansive interpretation of the events that transpired on their landscapes that go beyond the experience of the soldiers without any reference to causes and consequences. Continue reading ““My Great-Great Grandfather Didn’t Own Slaves” (So What)”
On November 13, 1911 Union and Confederate veterans met on the Crater battlefield to dedicate a monument to all Massachusetts units that took part in the Petersburg Campaign. Alfred S. Roe delivered the dedication address and, not surprisingly, used the occasion to reinforce a public face of reconciliation with a narrative that reminded the audience of their shared history. We are talking major “gush”. I am using this event to open my essay on Massachusetts soldiers who fought at the Crater. Continue reading ““Blue-Gray Gush” From the Bay State”
This morning I was perusing through the September 1963 issue of Ebony Magazine and came across this remarkable photograph of Medgar Evers and his family on the Vicksburg battlefield. Apparently, they spent a great deal of time on the battlefield. This particular issue centered on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which included a story about Evers on why he chose to live in Mississippi.
Outside Vicksburg, in the national military park, which entombs hundreds of Civil War dead–from Mississippi, Illinois, both sides of the struggle–Evers strolls with sightseers over the bones of the dead, is drawn to “our spot” where he and his wife courted, politely answers the questions of a white man, whose ten gallon hat and deep drawl identify him as one of the “enemy.” (pp. 146-47)
One of the book projects that I’ve been anticipating for some time now is Anne Sara Rubin’s study of Sherman’s March in historical memory. The book will be accompanied by an innovative digital history project called Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory, which she is developing with Kelley Bell. The interactive maps allow users to trace Sherman’s march along a historical map as well as a fictional map that includes places mentioned in books and movies such as Gone With the Wind. The video above (and I suspect others) explores the popularity of Henry Clay Work’s song, “Marching Through Georgia” in the North and around the world. It’s really well done. I can’t think of a better example of the use of technology to enhance the traditional monograph format.
(video uploaded to YouTube on June 11, 2013)
The group of teachers that I have been working with over the past seven days has experienced the best in Civil War site interpretation from Nashville to Washington, D.C. At the same time, however this trip has reminded me of just how important it is that our public historians reflect the gender and racial profiles of their audiences.
This group of teachers is overwhelmingly white and female. Throughout Tennessee and Virginia our guides were almost all white and male. Let me stress that site interpretation was sophisticated and clearly based on the latest scholarship. Eric Jacobson did a fabulous job of interpreting the Carter family and the battle of Franklin that touched on gender and slavery and NPS Ranger, Christopher Young at Chickamauga, led one of the best battlefield tours that I’ve ever experienced. Continue reading “The Face of Public History”