I am very excited to share what promises to be one of the most educational and entertaining conferences to come down the pike in quite some time. From March 14-16, 2013 the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College will host a three-day conference titled, “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th.” Peter Carmichael somehow managed to wrangle up roughly 100 historians of all stripes for a wide variety of formal presentations, panels, working groups and field experiences. The goal is to “facilitate discussions between panelists and the audience about how the historical community can make the Civil War past more engaging, more accessible, and more usable to public audiences as we look beyond the 150th commemorations and to the future of Civil War history.”
Please take some time to browse through the conference website. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved, including a number of very interesting working groups that will commence in preparation for the conference. I strongly encourage those of you who teach history, work in some capacity in public history or are just deeply interested in the Civil War era to register soon since spaces are limited.
I am super excited for this event. It’s a chance to spend time in one of my favorite places and best of all I get to participate. I am a panelist for a session on how to engage museum audiences and students around issues of Civil War memory and I will be chairing another session on interpreting USCTs at Civil War sites.
It’s a good question and one that I’ve touched on here at Civil War Memory. Our battlefield monuments fit into a broader celebratory landscape that is pervasive throughout our memory of the Civil War. Gettysburg is a place where we can feel good about ourselves as Americans and our history. It is almost impossible for me to imagine a monument such as the one at Verdun at Gettysburg and I believe it to be a barrier to fully understanding what our civil war was about.
Unfortunately, the following image, which I took during a visit to the Gettysburg Visitor Center, more accurately reflects our attitude toward how Americans chose to make war on one another.
For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago….
On Friday I am heading down to Gettysburg to take part in the Civil War Institute’s annual conference at Gettysburg College. Unfortunately, my move to Boston prevented me from taking part in last year’s institute so I am very excited about being able to attend this time around. The theme this year is “The Civil War in 1862″ and it will explore, among other things, Civil War tactics in 1862, The war in the West, debating self-emancipation, and the 1862 campaigns of U.S. Grant. Here is the schedule for the panels and tours all of which look to be very interesting. I will be taking part in a panel with Brooks Simpson and Keith Harris on Civil War blogging on Sunday so that should be a lot of fun as well as a roundtable discussion on the final evening. C-SPAN will be there, but whether they will film anything that I am involved with is still unclear.
Andy Hall has a thoughtful post that explores his favorite scene from Ron Mawell’s “Gettysburg.” I don’t have a favorite scene from any of Maxwell’s Civil War movies. For me they are more or less bearable. It just so happens that this morning another scene from the movie landed in one of my rss feeds. It’s one of those scenes that leads me to hope that Maxwell never raises sufficient funds to complete the final installment of the trilogy.
In this scene Lewis Armistead and George Pickett debate the merits of Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. Now I have no idea whether Armistead or Pickett ever discussed Darwin’s theory, but it is possible given that the first edition of his On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. No doubt Americans in the scientific community were aware of it and while I doubt that the two had read Darwin’s book it is likely that they were at least aware of the controversy its publication caused.
The question that interests me, however, is why this scene is in the movie at all. It’s not enough to say that it satisfies the need for a night time scene set in camp. Perhaps it fits into the popular narrative that the Confederacy was fighting to maintain a pre-modern society that had already taken hold in the North. The publication of Darwin’s Origin is commonly referenced as one of those moments that signaled the birth of a modern age and as a threat to traditional religious thought, which would no doubt resonate with many who choose to see Confederate leaders as “Christian warriors.”
In the end, I don’t know why it was included. That said, I have little doubt that a significant percentage of “Gettysburg” fans believe that Robert E. Lee constitutes an argument against Natural Selection.