Some of the world’s top Civil War experts converged on Gettysburg College this weekend for the conference, “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th.” They talked about everything from the Oscar-nominated film, “Lincoln” to creating video game content and even ghost tours, along with issues of making Civil War exhibits, tours and educational materials more inclusive. One of the main goals here: weaving more stories of women and African-Americans into the fabric of America’s Civil War remembrance.
Conference panelists agreed that while the new movie “Lincoln” may not be perfect when it comes to its telling of Civil War history (for instance, two lawmakers in Conn. were portrayed as voting against the 13th Amendment when they actually voted “for” it), they agreed its story of showing the issue of slavery as central to the entire war was a step in the right direction.
Noted author and Yale University Professor David Blight led a panel on “Interpreting Issues of Civil War Memory for the Classroom and Museum Audiences.” Blight was just one of many big names in the field who traveled to Pennsylvania for the conference: Mark Smith, Cathy Stanton, Ed Linenthal, Stephen Berry, Tiya Miles, and Kirk Savage were some others who have written best-selling books and have won awards for their research into the Civil War.
Richard Sharpley, of the Institute for Dark Tourism Research in Lancashire, England, talked about the fascination with ghost tours and other exhibits about death and war. He and others on the panel noted that while academic types may turn up their noses at the thought, ghost tours are now big business which help pump millions of dollars into communities. As one panelist noted, more than a few of Gettysburg’s ice cream shops and tourist stops came to town after more people started staying over night to take a ghost tour.
While the attendees came from different locations and disciplines, most agreed that the ways Civil War history are being interpreted at Gettysburg and across Pennsylvania and the nation are improving – and more has to be done to challenge audiences and include a broader story of the war that will no doubt continue to fascinate the world 150 years from now.
Hats off to Jill and her team at Gettysburg College for a fascinating weekend.