In early March, students in CWI Director Peter Carmichael’s Gettysburg in History and Memory class traveled to the Gettysburg National Military Park research library to learn to handle and analyze material culture from the park’s artifact collection. Most of the artifacts that had been pulled for the students dated from roughly 1865 to 1900, a period during which Gettysburg firmly established itself in the American psyche. Some of the objects were souvenirs purchased by early battlefield tourists, others were keepsakes worn and owned by veterans themselves.
When the students arrived, Curator Greg Goodell from the National Park Service was there to meet them and introduce them to the collection. After a brief overview in which he explained to students how to analyze the content and context of artifacts, he invited them each to choose one to explore on their own. “You’ve got layers of clues,” he said as they handled their selected artifacts. “Think of this as an archaeological excavation.”
Luke Frigon ’18 was one of the twenty students who participated in this hands-on assignment. He chose to examine a slouch hat owned by a member of the Grand Army of the Republic.
“The braiding and the patch on the hat are hand-stitched,” he explained, “which means that someone took the time and cared enough about this hat to carefully sew them in. It means that a century ago, this hat mattered to them. That’s material culture to me. That’s a real connection to the past, and I think it’s important that someone tells this story.”