The Future of Civil War History: Reflections (Part Two)

Another noteworthy aspect of The Future of Civil War History was the emphasis on death and destruction wrought by the violent acts of human beings killing and maiming each other in battle. This was no accident. Peter Carmichael, who organized the conference alongside people from an unnamed government agency affected by recent federal government actions, has emphasized for some time that we need to move beyond a “New Birth of Freedom” theme to explore other organizing principles of site interpretation, most notably his own, which he styles “A Nation at War.” That trope was everpresent at the conference, haunting it in much the same way that other ghosts reportedly haunt Gettysburg to this day.

How Can Civil War Sites Offer a Usable Past during a Time of War? was the title of the first evening session, and I’d argue it was when the conference got under way in earnest. As engaging as Cathy Stanton’s presentation was, I found Peter’s comments even more revealing, because to me they set forth his notion of what he defined as “A Nation at War.” Peter’s been emphasizing this approach for some time: he asserts that the interpretive theme that emphasizes “A New Birth of Freedom,” including the theme of slavery, its destruction, and emancipation, has prevailed and that struggle is over.

Peter and I have had this discussion before in very compressed format: Continue reading