Category Archives: Public History

Lincoln Museum Scheduled to Close in June

I am sorry to hear that the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana has decided to close its doors this coming June.

The local museum faced the same struggles many non-profit historical museums face as tight finances force schools to reduce field trips.
Plus, the museums face competition from other education venues that offer interactive displays.  In 1996, about 12,000 children visited the museum, [Priscilla] Brown [vice president and chief brand officer for Lincoln Financial Group] said. In 2006, the number had dropped to 7,500.  Overall yearly attendance at the museum is about 40,000, Brown said. Museums in larger cities often boast six-figure attendance figures.

Given the content of the article it is difficult to believe that the decision was not made for financial reasons.  Read the article here.


American Civil War Center at Tredegar Names Its First Black President

From the Richmond-Times Dispatch:

Christy S. Coleman, a native of Williamsburg, will take over as president around April 7.  Previously, Coleman has served as president and CEO of The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the country’s largest African-American museum. It is in Detroit.  “The thing about Tredegar that was most interesting to me is that they are not only interested in the history, they are interested in exploring the legacy of the history,” Coleman said from Detroit.

Coleman began her career in history while still an undergraduate student, working as a living history interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg. After studying briefly at the College of William and Mary, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in museum studies from Hampton University.  “I am what is referred to as a public historian,” she said. “It is my job to take what the academicians do and make it relevant to the general public.”

Coleman said the center seems to be doing a good job of fulfilling its mission to balance the perspectives of the Union, the Confederacy and the African-Americans.  “The fact of the matter is, there is already a Museum of the Confederacy, and I don’t feel like I’m going to have to compete with them,” she said.

American Civil War Center at Tredegar


American Civil War Center at Tredegar Announces New Director of Education

I am pleased to see that the American Civil War Center has been able to find a new director of education.  The staff is passionate about its mission and committed to bringing the museum to a national audience.  Howell has a diverse background that bridges both an interest in scholarly and public history, which is just what the museum needs.  Hopefully an announcement for the position of Executive Director is not too far in the future.  Here is the official announcement:

RICHMOND, Va. – The Board of Directors of The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar is pleased to announce the addition of Mark Howell as director of education.

Howell has worked in the museum field since graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts in Colonial American Studies. He earned his Master of Arts in American Studies in 1994 from the same institution.  He worked for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for more than 20 years, serving in capacities as varied as bookbinder, staff trainer, dancer, artilleryman, and director of program planning.

Mark was most recently the president of Howell Consulting where he served the museum industry since 2002. His clients ranged from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s newest acquisition, Villa Finale in San Antonio, to Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville. Locally, he has served as a consultant for Maymont, Historic Polegreen Church Foundation, and Heritage and History of Hanover County, Inc.

Howell will be responsible for developing and implementing the Center’s school and public programming as well as educational outreach initiatives, including digital and web-based projects. “We are glad to have Mark join our staff and are eager to work with Mark to spread the Center’s mission and to launch the new Digital History Website,” said Adam Scher, the Center’s interim director and vice president of operations.  The website is designed for teachers and curriculum specialists and has been designed in partnership with the University of Virginia Center for Digital History.

Through the education department, the Center served more than 6,300 students during its inaugural year 2006-2007 including a summer institute for teachers sponsored by New York’s Gilder Lehrman Institute.  Howell is also an active participant in the museum and history fields, having served on the council of the Virginia Association of Museums and as chair of the National Awards Committee for the American Association for State and Local History. He and his wife, Katherine, reside in Williamsburg.


An Overlooked Civil War Memory Study

Somehow I overlooked Thomas Brown’s The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration for my proposed course on Civil War memory.  The book is part of Bedford/St. Martin’s "The Bedford Series in History and Culture" which covers a broad range of subjects in American history.  The nice thing about these books is their length which makes them ideal for classroom use.  The chapters are short and include an excellent selection of primary sources.  Thomas Brown’s book will be perfect for my course as it includes chapters on Civil War soldiers, Lincoln, Lee, the 54th Massachusetts, and women.  The primary sources include inscriptions, paintings, statues, monument designs as well as public addresses and two perspectives on the public display of the Confederate flag.  The book will also be very helpful in preparation for day-long trips through Charlottesville and Richmond, which will include stops along Monument Avenue and Hollywood Cemetery.  This is going to be an awesome class.


New Course: Civil War Memory

It’s that time of the year again when I have to decide what courses to teach next fall.  We are moving to a trimester schedule which will present a number of challenges relating to the amount of material which can be covered.  I thought about teaching the Lincoln course once again, but decided against it given the number of students who will have already read William Gienapp’s biography in the survey course.  I also played around with a course centered on the history of children, which would use Steven Mintz’s Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood.  In the end I decided on a survey course on the Civil War in the first trimester and a course on memory in the second.  Students will be encouraged to register for both classes and should prove to be quite an experience given the amount and range of material which can be covered between the two courses.  Keep in mind that this is a rough description and outline.  Feel free to offer suggestions and remember that this is an elective for high school students.

Course Description for Civil War Memory

“The Civil War is our felt history—history lived in the national imagination” wrote Robert Penn Warren in 1961.  Indeed the Civil War occupies a prominent place in our national memory and has served to both unite and divide Americans.   This course will explore the various ways in which Americans have chosen to remember their civil war through literature, monuments and memorials, histories, film, art, as well as other forms of popular culture.  We will examine how memory of the war changed over time as well as the political implications for Civil War memory.  Specific subjects to be addressed include the role of reunion and reconciliation in shaping memory of the war, the place of slavery in our national narratives of the war, public disputes over the display of the Confederate flag, changing perceptions of such notable figures as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as other controversies surrounding the way in which the war has been remembered in public spaces.  We will pay particular attention to the way in which the war has been remembered and commemorated here in Charlottesville in such places as the Confederate cemetery at the University of Virginia, Lee and Jackson Park, and Courthouse Square.  Additional field trips may include the Museum of the Confederacy, American Civil War Center at Tredegar, and Hollywood Cemetery – all in Richmond, Virginia.  Students are encouraged to take the Civil War course, which will be offered in the first trimester.


Robert Penn Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, reprint, 1998).

David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

Gary W. Gallagher, Causes Won, Lost & Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

Thomas J. Brown, The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration: A Brief History With Documents (Boston: Bedford-St. Martin’s, 2004).

[Additional readings will be made available by the instructor.]

Outline [very rough]:

Week 1: Early commemorations and Reconstruction
Week 2: Competing Memories of the War
Week 3: The Soldiers’ Memory
Week 4: Americans Remember Lee, Jackson, Lincoln and Grant
Week 5: Black Americans Remember in the Jim Crow Era
Week 6: Reconciliation and Reunion at Gettysburg
Week 7: The Civil Rights Movement and Civil War Centennial
Week 8: The Civil War in Film
Week 9: The Civil War in Art and Reenacting
Week 10: Displaying the Confederate flag and other public controversies