Beyond the 150th: “Find excited, enthusiastic students who are willing to work hard”

Earlier this month, Gettysburg College, the NPS, and the Gettysburg Foundation held a three-day conference called “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th.” We’ve asked several folks who attended the conference to share their thoughts as emerging historians who’ll literally be on the front line of post-sesquicentennial Civil War interpretation. We’ll pass along their reflections over the next few days.

We’re pleased to have Emma Murphy start our series. Emma is a sophomore at Gettysburg College, a fellow at the Civil War Institute, and a Brian C. Pohanka Fellow.

The stereotypical Spring Break consist of warm states and sunny beaches with friends, yet I found an opportunity on my Spring Break to engage hundreds of intellectual minds at the Civil War Institute’s March conference: “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th.”

A panel I attended on Friday afternoon addressed Middle Tennessee State University partnerships and Center for Historic Preservation. Cheri Szcodronski, from the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill, showed the success of her preservation of Grand Junction, Tennessee.  While I listened to her story of historical success, I realized many of the panelists’ projects and partnerships mainly focused on the graduate program of the university. Here I was, a sophomore at Gettysburg College, enjoying the fruits of the college’s successful partnerships with the Gettysburg Foundation and the Gettysburg National Military Park, who both provided funding and programing for the conference. I began to see how blessed I was to have access to a close relationship with the Civil War Institute, allowing me access to many opportunities, such as the Brian C. Pohanka Fellowship to sponsor internships with various Civil War parks. All of these opportunities are born out of an undergraduate institution, and they enjoy great success.

When partnerships with graduate programs and historic preservation are the only ones, does this suggest that it takes a dissertation to care and to achieve change?

I brought this up to the panelists, questioning whether larger universities struggle to have connections with historical sites. Universities with 20,000+ students have more difficulties starting these programs compared to a private liberal arts college, like Gettysburg College, with less than 5,000 students. Why is this?

Funding was a sore spot for this panel, riding on the heels of the government sequester. With the National Park Service’s cuts, how can these partnerships be sustained? This question could not get a solid answer, from either the audience or panelists. No one wants to feel like they have wasted their money, so how can these partnerships gain value in the minds of the general public?

One way is to branch these partnerships out to undergraduate programs. Jumping in at the undergraduate level gives young students opportunity to grow into successful projects that could lead into a solid base for graduate school. With this success comes a high chance of support, either financial or manpower.

But how do we even start? One way, I believe, is to find excited, enthusiastic students who are willing to work—and work hard. That is where the future of not only preservation and partnerships will succeed, but with the study of Civil War history as well.

Let’s get started.

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