Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites
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
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Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder
The Battle of the Crater is known as one of the Civil War’s bloodiest struggles—a Union loss with combined casualties of 5,000, many of whom were members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) under Union Brigadier General Edward Ferrero. The battle was a violent clash of forces as Confederate soldiers fought for the first time against African American soldiers. After the Union lost the battle, these black soldiers were captured and subject both to extensive abuse and the threat of being returned to slavery in the South. Yet, despite their heroism and sacrifice, these men are often overlooked in public memory of the war.
Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War is Murder, Kevin M. Levin analyzes the shared recollections of a battle that epitomizes the way Americans have chosen to remember, or in many cases forget, the presence of the USCT. The book focuses specifically on how the racial component of the war’s history was portrayed at various points during the 140 years following its conclusion, illuminating the social changes and challenges experienced by the nation as a whole. Remembering The Battle of the Crater gives the members of the USCT a newfound voice in history. University Press of Kentucky, 2012.
“In this stunning and well-researched book, Kevin Levin catches the new waves of the study of memory, black soldiers, and the darker underside of the Civil War as well as anyone has. That horrible day at the Crater in Petersburg, its brutal racial facts and legacies, all tangled in the weeds of Confederate Lost Cause lore, have never been exposed like this. Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.”— David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
“Levin has done a superb job of charting a course through the complex and sometimes perplexing details of this story. His research is exhaustive, and his critical eye encompasses such diverse elements as John Elder’s famous painting of the battle, the many reunions and reenactments held on the battlefield, the creation of the Petersburg National Battlefield, and the ways in which park personnel have tried to interpret the engagement to succeeding generations since 1932.”-–Earl J. Hess, author of The Mine Attack at Petersburg
“So-called ‘memory studies’ have come to the forefront in recent years, thanks to the work of distinguished scholars like David Blight, Lesley Gordon, and Carol Reardon. Add to their number now Kevin M. Levin, whose new book Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, provides an outstanding look at how people North and South, participants and their cultures, dealt with the awful recollection of those hours of carnage and brutality in the Crater.”–William C. Davis, author of Crucible of Command
Reviewed in: Civil War History / H-Net / Civil War Book Review / History News Network / Journal of Southern History / The Civil War Monitor / North Carolina Historical Review / Virginia Magazine of History & Biography / Journal of American History / The Journal of the Civil War Era