Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites

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Public historians working at museums and historic sites focused on the Civil War era are tasked with interpreting a period of history that remains deeply controversial. Many visitors have strong connections to historic sites such as battlefields and artifacts as well as harbor strong convictions about the cause of the war, its consequences and the importance of slavery.

Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites surveys how museums and historic sites approached these challenges and others during the Civil War sesquicentennial (2011-2015). In doing so, this book offers museums and history professionals strategies to help shape conversations with local communities, develop exhibits and train interpreters.

With the ongoing controversy surrounding the display of the Confederate battle flag and monuments, there has never been a more opportune moment to look critically at how the Civil War has been interpreted and why it continues to matter to so many Americans.


Kevin Levin has edited a collection that will inform and inspire public historians who are committed to interpreting the Civil War in all its complexity. The authors draw on their experiences as educators, administrators, interpreters, and historians, as they analyze successful—and failed—strategies for interpreting the war. This volume will be welcomed by public historians and museum professionals who want to connect the Civil War-era with urgent issues in contemporary life.Modupe Labode, Associate Professor, History and Museum Studies and Public Scholar of African American History and Museums, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

Practitioners of history at Civil War sites and museums will delight in this book. Kevin Levin and his team of essayists provide most useful examples that will assist interpreters (and students) make sense of the War and its legacies.Dwight T. Pitcaithley, Former Chief Historian, National Park Service

Kevin Levin has assembled an impressive cast of practicing public historians whose extensive experience in the field has translated into a series of engaging articles that will appeal to practitioners as well as to students of the Civil War. Each essay asks tough questions about how we communicate with our audiences, and how we might better understand their perspectives in developing new lines of communication with under -represented groups who feel marginalized at military parks and museums. Rather than lament the supposed decline in historical interest in America as is the party-line of cynics today, the authors in this volume offer powerful examples of dynamic exchanges with the public, digging deep into the conversations taking place at Civil War sites, revealing the challenges of interpretation, and pressing us to be more creative and collaborative with our audiences and our colleagues without losing sight of the practical realities in helping the American people think historically about the past.Peter S. Carmichael, Fluhrer Professor of History and director, Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College