What was the Freedmen’s Bureau? Who operated it, and what purposes did it serve? What types of records about the Freedmen’s Bureau still exist, and to what uses might we put those records? What role did the Freedmen’s Bureau play in the lives of individual African Americans and Native Americans? Read our interview with James Downs for a preview of his upcoming talk at the 2016 Civil War Institute Conference. Downs is Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut College. His most recent book, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012), tells the largely unknown story of the many former slaves who died at the moment of freedom. Downs has also published on representations of slavery in museums and historic landmarks in the United States, England, and the Bahamas.
With the premiere of PBS’s much-anticipated new Civil War drama, MERCY STREET, in January 2016, CWI staff and students have been involved in a wide range of conversations surrounding the show’s launch, exploring everything from the material culture of the hospital scenes to the history of contraband policy. Based on true stories, MERCY STREET takes viewers behind the front lines of the Civil War and into the lives of a diverse cast of characters — doctors, nurses, contraband laborers and Southern loyalists — who intersect in the chaotic world of the Mansion House Hospital in Union-occupied Alexandria, Virginia. Jill Ogline Titus and Ian Isherwood appeared live on WITF’s “Smart Talk” to discuss the show, and along with Jim Udden from Film Studies, joined producer and co-creator Lisa Wolfinger, a Gettysburg College parent, in a panel discussion following a WITF-sponsored sneak preview screening at the Majestic Theater. CWI Fellows will be blogging about the series this winter on our blog, The Gettysburg Compiler, and Isherwood will be a regular contributor to WITF’s podcast conversations responding to episodes of the show.
Gettysburg College was recently ranked fourth in the nation and the top liberal arts college in Pennsylvania for mid-length study abroad experiences. Three out of five Gettysburg students spend at least one semester abroad. In addition to their coursework, many students conduct field research, study new languages, or pursue internship opportunities in their host countries. Megan McNish ‘16 gained international work experience in public history last spring as part of her study abroad experience through the Advanced Studies in England (ASE) program. Megan blended her coursework in the world-heritage city of Bath with an internship at the American Museum in Britain, which provided her unique insight into the way that citizens of other countries understand and interpret American history. Approaching American history through different lenses encouraged her to reflect on the way that historical narratives are constructed and ask new questions about the past. Upon Megan’s return from England in the summer of 2015, she was hired as a seasonal ranger at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, where she found that her international experience in public history had shaped the way she approached her work.A CWI Fellow and two-time veteran of the Brian C. Pohanka Internship Program, Megan is a History major with dual minors in Civil War Era Studies and Public History. Upon graduation, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in Public History and a career with the National Park Service, where she will be able to continue to explore the way that perspective and narrative shape our understandings of the past. Read more about Megan’s experience at the American Museum in Britain.
“My dear Father, I am too miserable for words. . . We went into action on Sunday with 20 officers & 10 came out. I am quite all right, tho why I wasn’t touched I don’t know.” Jack Peirs wrote these words to his father 100 years ago this month, after narrowly surviving the Battle of Loos. Peirs was a civilian who volunteered for service and was commissioned as an officer in the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment. He served from 1914 to 1919. The letters Peirs wrote during the war were passed down through generations of his family, traveling from the U.K. to France and later to the United States, until they reached Marco Dracopoli ’14, Peirs’s great grandson. Dracopoli shared the letters with World War I expert Ian Isherwood ’00, Assistant Director of CWI, later using them to write a research paper for class. Since then, Dracopoli and his family have loaned the letters to the College, enabling Isherwood to collaborate with Special Collections staff to build a multi-year digital humanities project that aims to bring these letters to historians and World War I enthusiasts around the world. Read more about the Peirs Project here.
On October 4, the internationally-renowned a cappella group Anonymous 4 performed in Gettysburg. Co-sponsored by Sunderman Conservatory of Music, the Civil War Institute, and Music, Gettysburg!, the concert showcased the group’s newest project, “1865,” a musical commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. Fiddler Bruce Molsky accompanied the group. The program included a wide array of period music, including pieces written for the stage, the parlor, and the back roads of rural America, all given a unique Anonymous 4 twist. The concert was held in the chapel of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Read Meg Sutter '16's account of the concert here.
In the Fall of 2015, senior Becca Duffy drew upon her interests in public history and visual art to curate a moving exhibit on childhood poverty in Schmucker Art Gallery. “Pray for the People Who Feed You: Voices of Pauper Children in the Industrial Age,” opened on September 9 and will run through October 24. A double major in History and Art History (with minors in Public History & East Asian Studies) and two-time former Pohanka intern, Becca’s interest in this topic grew out of an International Bridge Course experience mentored by CWI’s Jill Ogline Titus. Over the course of three semesters, Becca used her study abroad experience at the University of Lancaster (England) to undertake a comparative analysis of museum representations of poverty and welfare, focusing primarily on the Workhouse (Southwell) and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (New York City). In “Pray for the People Who Feed You,” Becca turned her attention to analyzing visual and print representations of children in poverty and reading between the lines of those who spoke “for” these children to attempt to recover echoes of their own voices. Read more about the exhibit here.
Gettysburg College launched an interdisciplinary minor in public history in Fall 2015. The new minor is administered by CWI’s Peter Carmichael and Jill Ogline Titus, housed in Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS), and directed by a faculty advisory council. What is public history? Public history revolves around the politics and practice of preservation and interpretation, in public settings and in conversation with public audiences. Students with a focus on Public History can pursue graduate study in history, public history, museum studies, art history, anthropology, library science, film studies, public policy, education, ethnic studies, public humanities, geography, sociology, or American Studies. They can also seek employment in fields ranging from museums, libraries and historic preservation to education, consulting, and government. For more information on course requirements, learning goals, and program faculty, please visit the program website.
Despite the fact that media outlets have already proclaimed the end of the sesquicentennial with retrospectives on the anniversary, at CWI, the commemoration continues. There is no one date that definitively marks the end of the war, and ending anniversary commemorations in 2015 obscures the close linkages between the conflict and its aftermath. For that reason, CWI’s chronological march through the war will continue in 2016 with "Reconstruction and the Legacy of the War." This conference – one of the first of its kind for a popular audience – will include a number of exciting new formats: small-group overview sessions, battlefield tours exploring postwar use of the Gettysburg battlefield, and breakout sessions devoted to Reconstruction through biography. Check out the full schedule for the 2016 summer conference.
Associate Director Jill Ogline Titus served as the featured speaker for the 2015 First-Year Walk. Now in its 13th year, the First-Year Walk brings together Gettysburg College faculty, staff, and incoming First Year students in recreating the historic walk to the National Cemetery to hear President Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address. This orientation week tradition commemorates Gettysburg students’ participation in the historic events of 1863 and introduces new students to the history and landscape of their new home. Titus’s remarks focused on the power of place, the responsibilities of citizenship, and the process of drawing meaning from historical events. Read more about the 2015 First-Year Walk.
Each year, around 20 Gettysburg students spend their summer connecting to the past through the Civil War Institute’s Brian C. Pohanka Internship Program. Placing students at various National Park locations along the East Coast, this internship experience offers them an opportunity to lead tours and educational programs, work with historical documents and artifacts, and work with a wide range of visitors.
As an Environmental Studies and History double major working at the Women’s Rights National Park in Seneca Falls, New York, Amanda Thibault ’17 has been able to apply her passion for both subjects to her work as a Pohanka Intern. In addition to immersing herself in the history of the suffrage movement and leading tours at the park, Thibault is wrapping up a proposal to restore the original landscaping surrounding the Elizabeth Cady Stanton home. Read more about Amanda’s experience here.
Two Gettysburg College historians, CWI Director Peter Carmichael and Allen Guelzo, head of Civil War Era Studies, are featured in a new primetime documentary, Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color, which premiered on April 8, 2015 on the History Channel. This four-part documentary series brings the Civil War to life as never seen before. With unprecedented access to government and private archives and using state-of-the-art technology, over 500 rare and compelling black and white photographs have been painstakingly colorized to illustrate the story of the Civil War in remarkable detail. In addition to Carmichael and Guelzo, the program features historians James Oakes and George Rable, actors Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stein, former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, and retired U.S. Army Generals David Petraeus and Colin Powell, in addition to descendants of Frederick Douglass, Ulysses S. Grant and Jefferson Davis. The series focuses on pivotal events that led the nation into conflict, the impact of state-of-the-art weaponry and technology, the tragic and unimaginable cost of combat, and the struggle to rebuild both individual lives and the country as a whole after the Confederacy’s surrender.
Three CWI Fellows presented papers at the 2015 Central Pennsylvania Consortium symposium, Legacies of the Great War: Remembering World War I after 100 Years, held March 27-28 at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. In addition to the undergraduate research session, the event featured leading authorities on the conflict and its commemoration, including Susan Grayzel (University of Mississippi), Chad Williams (Brandeis University), and Jenny Waldman, Director of the First World War Centenary Programme. The three Gettysburg students presented a panel on literary memories of the war, moderated by CWI Assistant Director Ian Isherwood. Heather Clancy ’15’s paper, “An Infinitely Bitter Leave-Taking,” explored an atypical escape narrative written by a German POW. Sarah Johnson ’15 examined a memoir written by Fritz Draper Hurd in her paper, “Growing Up in the Trenches.” Kevin Lavery ’16 rounded out the panel with “Of Romance and Rhetoric: The Palestine Campaign in the Memory of Major Vivian Gilbert,” author of a romanticized narrative that nonetheless remains a valuable piece of war rhetoric.
CWI Fellow Sarah Johnson ’15 and Assistant Director Ian Isherwood traveled to England in March 2015 to present a jointly-authored paper at a conference on the Great War (World War I) at the University of Oxford. The symposium was sponsored by the Globalising and Localising the Great War Project, a partnership between Pembroke College and the Oxford Centre for Global History aimed at encouraging ground-breaking new research and fresh insights which challenge often clichéd standard perspectives on an event that shaped— and continues to shape— the modern world. Johnson and Isherwood’s paper, “‘Yankee to the ranks from the towns and the tanks’: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and the First World War,” grew out of Johnson’s 2015 Mellon Summer Scholar project on Gettysburg and the Great War, mentored by Isherwood, and represents the sort of student-faculty research collaboration that distinguishes a Gettysburg education. In addition to participating in the conference and networking with colleagues from across the world, Johnson and Isherwood spent a day researching in the library of the Imperial War Museum (London). Read more of Sarah’s work on Gettysburg and the First World War here.