Friday, April 8, 2011

Expanding Civil War commemoration

Thursday night’s Public Plenary on “The Coming of the Civil War Sesquicentennial and Public History” was a fascinating look at the contested history and memory of the Civil War. As Michael Allen, from Ft. Sumter, National Monument put it, “the Civil War is deep in the psyche of Americans” and as such, it is important that we discuss why and how to commemorate the war. The panel discussed an array of issues surrounding Civil War commemoration including: how to discuss the cause of the war, the home front and the divisions and bonds that existed in communities throughout the war, how to bring together various communities to tell these stories and finally, the history of battlefield preservation.

This was a fascinating discussion and the questions from the audience shed light on even more possible ways to look at the war and more audiences to reach out to. Most intriguing, someone asked about the possibility of reaching out to new immigrants to the United States and how to make this “their story” as well. These panels and the discussions that result from them show the conscious effort that many historic sites and museums are making to include the voices and experiences of all who were affected by the war: black, white, men, women and children. In addition, there is an effort to reach all Americans through commemoration activities, making it clear that the Civil War and its legacy is relevant to all Americans.

One area that is less discussed and was not covered by the panel was commemoration in places that are not traditionally associated with the war, such as the West. While places like California played a significant role in the lead up to the war and raised money and troops for the war, it is generally forgotten in narratives of the war. Part of this of course, does have to do with the fact that it is so geographically removed from the battlefields. Those of us in the West should make an effort to ensure that our role in the war is not forgotten. Hopefully as commemoration events begin this weekend, the war will be remembered as a truly national event.

1 comment:

  1. Well done Michelle. I especially appreciate your insight on commemmoration in the West. Enjoy the rest of the conference. - SEB