Assessing the Sesequicentennial’s Impact

Kevin Levin has offered a fairly strong dissent to Gary Gallagher’s claim that the impact of the Civil War Sesquicentennial has been “anemic” in comparison to what happened between 1961 and 1965. According to Kevin, Gary’s focus on state commissions obscures what has gone on at the local level (neither Kevin nor Gary mention the National Park Service). Apparently, it’s the number of events that impresses Kevin.

I’m not so sure. What exactly are we measuring? The number of events? The money budgeted for those events? Whether the events lived up to expectations? How many people were drawn to the events? Were any minds changed? Has Civil War scholarship changed because of the sesquicentennial? After all, one could argue that the Civil War centennial’s footprint is not all that different … but one would like to know in assessing something exactly what’s being assessed.

And so I ask you: how would you go about assessing the impact of the sesquicentennial? What would you study? What would you count … if anything?

 

7 thoughts on “Assessing the Sesequicentennial’s Impact

  1. Donald R. Shaffer March 11, 2014 / 5:26 pm

    The state commissions were devastated by Great Recession. Before relocating to Arizona, I was a member of Iowa’s Civil War sesquicentennial commission. We met exactly once and then basically the legislature yanked our funding and we never met again. Since then to the best of my knowledge, Iowa’s commission has been defunct,

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 11, 2014 / 5:44 pm

      Arizona at one point planned something, but it went nowhere.

  2. Brian K March 11, 2014 / 9:57 pm

    I think the Daily Show’s evisceration of Napolitano tonight justified the entire sesquicentennial.

  3. John Foskett March 12, 2014 / 7:39 am

    Theory: Apple/the Internet and the Recession killed the notion of celebrating this in any manner which remotely replicates how the Centennial was handled. There’s plenty out there which is available electronically and the publishing business certainly went full steam ahead but otherwise it’s been pretty much invisible.

  4. Bob Nelson March 12, 2014 / 9:36 am

    As for the Sesquicentennial, it wouldn’t be difficult to do a random survey. Randomly select a few town or cities, choose every 100th or 300th name (or whatever magic number the statistics’ folks might suggest) from the phone book and have grad students make the calls. You don’t need a whole lot of data to generate some hypotheses. “Did you know that 2011 through 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War?” If the response is “No,” or worse, “What was the Civil War?” then you’re done. If the answer is “Yes” then you could do some follow-up questions — “Where did you get your information about the Sesquicentennial?” — “What books did you read?” — “Did anything you learned change you mind about the Civil War?” — & etc.

    Obviously such would not be possible for the Centennial. Another issue regarding some kind of survey might be, “What difference would it make anyhow?”

    As for assertions that the Centennial was so much better, that doesn’t jive with my recollections. During that period I had two history classes in HS (1960-61 and 1961-62) and two in college around 1963 or 1964. I don’t remember any emphasis on the Centennial or the war for that matter. If my teachers did so, it did not strike a chord with me and I never got interested in the CW until I saw the Ken Burns’ series in 1990 and began researching a couple of old guns in my collection (one turned out to be a Remington “New Model” Army).

    As for Michigan, we actually did quite a bit during the Sesquicentennial. The governor put the Michigan Historical Commission in charge and among other things they had “Michigan” wreaths placed at historic sites in the South, worked toward getting a Michigan monument at Antietam, sent a small delegation to the Gettysburg event, commission members spoke at some twenty events in 2013 alone, dedicated a Michigan monument on the Monterey Pass battlefield in Pennsylvania, helped sponsor a couple of reenactment events in the state and more.

    • John Foskett March 13, 2014 / 10:25 am

      Just to be clear, I’m not asserting that the Centennial was “so much better”. I’m asserting that it was more prominent in the public’s awareness, in all likelihood due in part to the presence of far fewer competing distractions. I recall it personally only as a small kid but I know that in my grade school we did a lot of things – study in class, plays, etc. – focused on the ACW. I also recall public commemorations where I grew up.

  5. Paul Taylor March 13, 2014 / 7:32 pm

    Personally, I would tend to agree with Gary Gallagher’s sentiments. While Kevin Levin may be right as far as local events go, it seems to me that their impact is just that — local. As far as statewide or national commemorations go, it just doesn’t feel like there’s been much emphasis or effort put forth, at least in the big picture. With state (and federal) finances crippled by the recession, it was certainly easy to say no to large scale commemorations or events, which I think many politicos were grateful for, as that meant not having to deal with the inevitable racial issues Gallagher mentions. I also sense the general public’s interest in the Civil War has started to wane a bit, as compared to the 1990s following the Burns series and “Gettysburg.” Just look at the demographics of your typical ACW roundtable or the ever-shrinking shelf space allotted to Civil War books at your local B&N or other large bookstore.

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