World War I scholar, professor, assistant director of Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute (CWI), these are just a few of the distinctions held by the 2014 First-Year Walk speaker. But perhaps most meaningfully, Gettysburg College alumnus can be added to that list.
Ian Isherwood ’00 had an advantage that many First-Year Walk speakers don’t have: he’s sat in the same place as the first-year students. While not literally (the First-Year Walk tradition only began in 2003 after Isherwood graduated), he knows what those first days on campus feel like.
On the evening of August 28, Isherwood spoke to 724 first-year students and members of the campus and greater Gettysburg communities at the 12th annual First-Year Walk. The Walk is a Gettysburg College Orientation tradition that recreates the 1863 procession of students and faculty through town to hear President Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address at the newly opened Gettysburg National Cemetery.
“As you touch the grass and gaze at the monument littered landscape that will be your home for the next four years, I want you to ponder one question: What cause will you nobly advance,” Isherwood asked. “I do not ask to shame you into deep thinking or to remind you of the seriousness of your impending adulthood. Eighteen years ago I shared your feelings of hope and anxiety when I came here as a student – your faces remind me of those feelings and I have great empathy with you.”
He continued by encouraging the class to use their Gettysburg education to better themselves and their collective future.
Isherwood’s own path since he arrived on campus in August 1996 has not always been straight, but it has repeatedly led him back to Gettysburg…and the College that he loves.
His love of Gettysburg started at an early age, when, at 11-years-old, he came to visit the battlefield with his grandfather. That love of the Civil War and the battlefield as a historic space blossomed further by the time he was looking to attend a liberal arts college.
“I just recently came across my Gettysburg acceptance letter,” Isherwood said. “Finding that brought back strong memories of being 18 and feeling like you finally belong somewhere, like you have a future.”
A quintessential liberal arts student, Isherwood, a history major, was involved in the Student Senate, wrote for the Gettysburgian, and was a class officer and DJ on campus. He also studied abroad for a year at King’s College London (for which he received an Eisenhower Institute Hilton Scholarship) and was a research assistant for history Prof. Michael Birkner, who Isherwood cites as a mentor (along with history Prof. Bill Bowman, English Prof. and Vice Provost Jack Ryan, and German studies Prof. Laurel Cohen-Pfister).
But, perhaps one of the defining moments of Isherwood’s student career occurred while working with Birkner – this time on Isherwood’s senior capstone, which focused on President Dwight Eisenhower’s Defense Reorganization Act of 1958.
Birkner sent Isherwood and two other students to Abilene, Kansas to conduct research at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.
“It was great. We got to spend a lot of time in the archives. That was the experience that confirmed to me that I wanted to be a historian,” Isherwood remembered.
After his graduation, Isherwood (pictured to the left with Civil War Era Studies director Allen Guelzo at the Walk) wanted to gain some work experience before he pursued graduate studies, and he did – first with WQED in Pittsburgh, and then with Pennsylvania Representative John Pippy and U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy.
After getting his Master’s in liberal studies at Dartmouth College, Isherwood returned to Gettysburg to teach for the first time from 2007-08.
That time in the English department allowed him to learn how to be a good teacher – and made him realize that he wanted to teach.
“[During that time] it was made clear to me that we were building people, not just educating them,” Isherwood said. “We do mentorship so well at Gettysburg. I wanted to be a part of that.”
After his stint in the English department, Isherwood started his Ph.D. at the University of Glasgow. After 2 years in Scotland, he returned back to Gettysburg to finish his dissertation on British memoirists in the 1920’s and 30’s, and how World War I defined their experiences – a project that was born during his year abroad in London and his time at Dartmouth.
Now, Isherwood bridges the gap between his childhood interest in the Civil War and his adult scholarship on World War I through his appointment at the College’s Civil War Institute (where he supervises the CWI Fellows) and teaching of British history (including a class that compares the Civil War to the Great War).
He finds great satisfaction in mentoring students that were a lot like him: they came to Gettysburg because of the town’s place in history, and want to broaden their historical knowledge and perspective.
“I’m able to offer students something a little different,” he said. “Because of my interdisciplinary background in war literature, memory, and war culture, I have the opportunity to broaden students’ lens and help them see that the Civil War, for example, is not just what happened from 1861-65, it’s also about the climate before and after the conflict.”
At the end of his First-Year Walk speech, Isherwood reiterated his earlier question, “What cause will you nobly advance? Please consider this question for its difficulty, for the challenge it poses to your life choices, and for its intimidating unselfishness. For like Lincoln, we also have unfinished work – we also have great tasks remaining before us – and to confront these tasks we need the wisdom and leadership of a noble generation.”
It’s clear that the noble cause that Isherwood will advance is building (and educating) Gettysburg College students for years to come.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803
Posted: Fri, 29 Aug 2014
Next on your reading list
Share this story: