TOC: Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites

In about a week I will submit a completed manuscript to Rowman & Littlefield for my edited collection, Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites, which will appear in their Interpreting History series. I am relieved to finally be bringing this project to a close, but it is one that was made very easy owing to the commitment and hard work of my authors.

Here is the table of contents to wet your appetite:

  • Preface: “From Centennial to Sesquicentennial” by Kevin M. Levin
  • Chapter 1: “Among the Ruins: Creating and Interpreting the American Civil War in Richmond” by Christy S. Coleman [Explores the history of the Museum of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar, their recent merger, and the challenges of interpreting the Civil War in Richmond.]
  • Chapter 2: “Billy Yank, not Johnny Reb: Focusing Civil War Exhibits on the Union in Virginia” by Mark Benbow [Explores the challenges of interpreting Unionism and Union occupation in Virginia at a small museum in Arlington.]
  • Chapter 3: “A Civil War Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin?” by Daniel Joyce, Douglas Dammann, and Jennifer Edginton [Explores how a relatively new museum went about interpreting the war in a region not associated with the conflict.]
  • Chapter 4: “From Tokenism to True Partnership: The National Park Service’s Shifting Interpretation at the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial” by John M. Rudy [Assesses NPS programming during the sesquicentennial and where interpretation needs to go in the coming years.]
  • Chapter 5: “New Wine in Old Bottles: Using Historical Markers to Reshape Public Memory of the Civil War” by W. Todd Groce [Assesses the Georgia Historical Society’s markers program as a form of public history engagement.]
  • Chapter 6: “Commemoration, Conflict, and Constraints: The Saga of the Confederate Flag at the South Carolina State House” by Eric Emerson [Explores the history of the Confederate flag in SC as well as the challenges associated with proper interpretation in a museum setting.]
  • Chapter 7: “Getting to the Heart: The Intersections of Confederate Iconography, Race Relations, and Public History in America” by Nicole Moore and Dina Bailey [Offers advice to public historians interested in engaging their communities around issues related to the current debate about Confederate iconography.]
  • Chapter 8: “Civil War Public History for the Next Generation” by James Percoco [Offers advice to staffs at museums and historic sites on setting up internship opportunities for high school students.]

As you might imagine I am very excited about these essays. They offer a nice balance between assessment of recent interpretive efforts and advice on future challenges and opportunities. The manuscript will go out for review once it is submitted. I will keep you apprised on its progress as well as its final publication date.

2 comments… add one
  • Craig L. Mar 8, 2017 @ 0:07

    I’m intrigued by the headings and descriptions for Chapters 3 and 5. I originally attempted to visit Wisconsin’s Civil War Museum in 2009 when it was still officially at Carroll College (now University) in Waukesha, but was unable to do so as all of the contents had been packed away in preparation for the move to a new location in Kenosha in time for its reopening as part of the Sesquicentennial. The old museum was apparently a collection of memorabilia assembled by a faculty member, the author of a book about the history of the Iron Brigade. A college in Illinois, North Central, attended by both of my parents, all four of my grandparents and several of my aunts and uncles, still competes for league championships in collegiate sports with Carroll, as it did when my dad played college football during and shortly after WWII and for both of my grandfathers when they attended shortly before and shortly after WWI.

    I visited the new museum in Kenosha in the summer of 2014 not long after it opened, but was unable to explore it as fully as I would have liked as I went there with my wife, my now deceased 93 year old mother-in-law, her caregivers and the African, non-English speaking parents of one of the caregivers, a former nun from Burkina Faso who is quite fluent in French, Spanish, English and several African tribal languages . The caregiver’s husband, a Desert Storm veteran, accompanied me on the tour of the Civil War Museum, while the rest of our party toured the adjoining Natural History Museum. The caregiver’s husband is a longtime resident of South Milwaukee and informed me that the pier on which the museums are situated had previously been one of General Motors’ largest automobile assembly plants on the Great Lakes for as long as he could remember. Immediately upon entering the museum we were confronted by a gentleman volunteering his services as a guide to the museum which I promptly declined as it quickly became apparent to me that the spiel he had prepared was a Lost Cause narrative. I informed him that my great great grandfather had been with the 27th and spoke German, not English. At which point he determined that his efforts were clearly a Lost Cause where we were concerned.

    I’ve recently connected on Facebook with a maternal cousin from South Bend, Indiana, who now lives in Kenosha. Our common ancestors through my paternal grandfather moved from Ohio to Indiana during the Civil War. Their cousins, the Studebakers, had just landed a contract manufacturing wagons for the Union Army.

    I suspect Chapter 5 deals with the signage for the Battle of Atlanta. I found that signage, posted online, invaluable as a means to connect my recollections of a visit to Atlanta in 2001 with what I learned online between 2005 and 2009 about my great great grandmother’s younger brother and his visit to Atlanta in July of 1864. He was 19 years old at the time and got shot in the left shoulder at Bald Hill. What remains of Bald Hill now was renamed Leggett’s Hill not long after the war.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 8, 2017 @ 5:31

      Thanks for the comment. Part of the problem is that many museums/historic sites are forced to utilize volunteers who vary in terms of their knowledge and training. Monticello is one example. Overall, they have made incredible strides in expanding their site interpretation on the lives of the enslaved, but you may not hear much of anything on the home tour depending on your guide. Can’t tell you how many times I heard about “grandpa Jefferson.

      Todd Groce does indeed reflect on the signage around Atlanta as well as the challenges involved in re-interpretation and in convincing the local community to support the project. You will certainly find it interesting.

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