Preserving Civil War Memory at Gettysburg College

Calling all digital historians and archivists: If after reading this you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments section.  I will make sure they get passed on to the right people.  Thanks.

Imagine signing on as the Systems and Emerging Technologies Librarian and being told that the library recently purchased two blogs.  For Zach Coble of Gettysburg College the question now is what to do with Civil War Memory and Keith Harris’s Cosmic America.

This is an exciting project for Gettysburg College.  Although the Library of Congress is also archiving this site it’s nice to know that it will made available at Gettysburg as well.  I’ve suggested before that I think we have to begin to shift our understanding of historical memory in the digital/web2.o world.  Blogs and other social media tools have democratized the sharing of history  further than anyone could have imagined just a few short years ago and it also has made it possible for a much wider demographic to share their own understanding of the Civil War and its legacy.  As a result the categories that frame our understanding of the evolution of Civil War memory will need to be revised if not discarded entirely to make sense of the sesquicentennial years.  It is my hope that this site will function as a unique window into the world of Civil War memory at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

It looks like they found just the right person to take the lead on this project:.

It’s exciting to explore new forms of scholarship, but we’re not exactly sure what to do with the blogs. Although the blogs are currently active they will not always be, so we must determine how we want to preserve them. Since none of us are experts in digital preservation, we are trying to understand at a conceptual level how best to approach this project.

This initiative has required us to think of larger issues concerning the library’s role in digital curation. Should libraries even try to preserve blogs and other digital content? Are we equipped, in terms of technology and staffing, to take on this kind of work? Can’t we rely on the big names in the field like the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive to take care of this?

As an employee of a cultural institution, I’m biased to believe that libraries (as well as archives, museums, and others) have a responsibility to preserve cultural content as it fits within the mission, goals, and collection development policy of the organization. I also believe that institutions need to take responsibility and work to inform themselves so they can properly care for the digital materials in their own collections.

The agreement that I signed includes other resources (digital and hard copy) as well, but any discussion of that will have to wait until we sort out some of the details.  I will be sure to provide additional updates as this project evolves.

At the Heart of the Black Confederate Matter

Update: I just wanted to take a second to encourage all of you to read Pete Carmichael’s presentation in its entirety. The last thing I want is for you to read this post as some kind of hatchet job. His thoughts regarding battlefield interpretation deserve a careful read and perhaps in the next few days I will have the opportunity to explore it further.

I almost want to apologize for this post because apart from the recent Civil War Times editorial by Gary Gallagher I haven’t thought much at all about this subject.  Unfortunately, I missed a really good public history panel at the OAH that included Peter Carmichael and Ashley Whitehead, both of who discussed what they see as the future of battlefield interpretation.  [Thanks to John Rudy for posting a transcript of their talks.] I encourage you to read both of their talks because I am only going to poke at an ancillary point made by Pete at the beginning of his presentation.

So we’ve got to move ahead. One thing that strikes me is that we have a hard time doing as historians, public historians or academic historians, that we need to recognize that the interpretive battle has been won. Certainly there are pockets of the lost cause out there, and we certainly need to contend and address those issues, but we often bring undue attention to those pockets of resistance. And the blogging is largely responsible for that, in exciting and talking about the issue of the Confederate slave. Man, that’s not an issue among professional historians, that’s not an issue with most of the public, but it is an issue with really, I think, a small minority.

On the one hand I agree with much of this.  Teachers and public historians are no longer up against a widely-held framework that attempts to justify the Confederacy.  At best, they are echoes of the lost cause.  I also agree that the veracity of the black Confederate narrative found on hundreds of websites is not in any way a concern of academic historians and at best on the radar screens of a “small minority” of the general public.

Click to continue

Gearing Up For CWI’s 2012 Gettysburg Conference

I recently accepted an invitation to take part in the Civil War Institute’s annual conference at Gettysburg College, which will take place from June 22-26, 2012.  Unfortunately, my move to Boston prevented me from taking part in this past 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.  I’ve seen a preliminary schedule and the sessions look to be very interesting and the presenters are all well-respected scholars.  I will be taking part in a panel with Brooks Simpson and Keith Harris on Civil War blogging so that should be a lot of fun.

Click to continue

Is Robert K. Krick a Southern Historian?

Over the past three days I’ve come across two references that place Robert K. Krick, squarely in the camp of Southern historians.  The reference is meant not simply to denote field of interest but a “pro-South” or “pro-Confederate” bias.  As many of you know Krick worked for 31 years as the chief historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.  These claims are made with apparently no attempt at verification; it’s as if his body of scholarship speaks for itself in terms of his place of birth.  Of course, Krick is not native to the South; rather he was born and raised in California.  Before proceeding let’s be clear that Krick’s work on the Army of Northern Virginia is essential reading for any Civil War enthusiast.  In short, few people know more about Lee’s army than Krick.

Click to continue

“Thank God the North Won”


There is an interesting moment in this talk by Peter Carmichael where he fields a question by a woman, who is apparently concerned that he is being overly critical of the South and the Confederacy.  Unfortunately, it’s difficult to hear the question.  I know a little something about being accused of holding the Confederacy and all things Southern in contempt.  It’s a strange accusation that I will never truly understand.

Click to continue