In Memory of the Cal U Civil War Roundtable

The first roundtable I ever spoke to was a great little group based at the California University of Pennsylvania. I wound through the mountains of southwest PA, following parts of the old National Road (with a side stop at Fort Necessity for the first time!), until I finally reached the small town of California on the banks of the Monongahela River. My co-conspirator, Kris White, was an alum of the university, which he called “The Harvard on the Mon.” Walt Klorczyk, genial and hospitable, brought me to Cal U to talk about “The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson.” He brought me back last year to give the same talk again.

I’m a nostalgist, and as the common saying goes, “You always remember your first,” so I’ve always thought fondly of the Cal U Civil War Roundtable. I’ve made friends there, too, like ECW fans John and Char Stanley.

So, imagine my shock this week when I learned that the roundtable has shuttered its doors forever.

“I’m sorry to say that our roundtable is permanently closed,” Walt told me when I emailed him to ask if the news was true. “Due to the virus, the university has closed all activities on campus. Our roundtable is on campus, and we are funded by the university’s history department, which has been reorganized, leaving us unfunded.” With all the future uncertainties, he added, “the university decided to call it quits.”

Founded in September of 2006, the Cal U CWRT had a strong 13-year run. “It has been a great experience running the roundtable and getting to know great Civil War speakers,” Walt admitted.

The Cal U roundtable’s circumstances might’ve been unique because of their university affiliation—but maybe not. In this strange time of COVID-19, a lot of roundtables are facing unique pressures. Many are trying all sorts of things to adapt; some are making it work, others are struggling.

The Civil War Roundtable Congress has been working to help roundtables, particularly those that are having trouble. They have a ton of resources, they offer peer mentoring and guidance on best-practices, and they’ve been gathering a lot of information so roundtables can make data-driven decisions. All roundtables are different, but a lot of them still face the same challenges—the CWRT Congress wants to help. (Visit their website for more info).

I want to give a shout-out to Walt Klorczyk for the great work he did bringing the story of the Civil War to southwest PA. He put in a lot of effort for a long time, and I really respect what he did for that community.

“I will miss seeing and talking to all the speakers that came to our roundtable,” he told me. “But we will always remember and cherish the memories  and the great speakers and the people that attended the roundtable.”

30 Responses to In Memory of the Cal U Civil War Roundtable

  1. Chris,
    Thanks for the mention. Both Char and I were very disappointed to learn of the closure of the roundtable. We have seen a many great speakers, and the roundtable has always been well attended. Thanks also to Walt and his helpers in making a great roundtable experience.

    1. It was nice to have your friendly faces in the audience!

      Yes, kudos to Walt for the great work he and his crew did.

  2. I am absolutely terrified that this may happen to my local RT as well. I’ve just been placed on the leadership team and have jumped into the discussion whether to discontinue meetings until Covid is “over”. I’m fearful if the trends continue, we may never reopen again. It breaks my heart that so many RTs are suffering this way. I’m going to pass on that CWRT Congress link. Hopefully, we’ll all find a way through this without having to sacrifice even more.

    1. I would encourage you to reach out to the Congress directly, too, since you’re on the leadership team. Ask for Mike Movius. Tell him I sent you.

  3. Some have suggested there is a Faustina interface between revisionists and
    Pandemic fear. Justook at the subject, “The last days if Stonwall Jackskn”.
    The twisted logic seems to be:”We can’t have groups of people risking exposure
    to Covid- 19, all for the sake of learning about a traitorous general.
    Along with tearing down Confederate statues. they can claim that CWRT
    Is a health risk.

  4. I believe all pre-Covid19 social interactions will cease until we have available a safe and effective vaccine. Since most Round Table members are elderly, and since the Covid19 virus has been so deadly in that population, stopping all RT meetings is the medically correct thing to do.

    Medicine has conquered Small Pox and Polio……and Medicine will conquer this disease , given time.

    Let’s be patient and adapt for the time being.I know that the Chambersburg Civil War group is presenting a zoom conference, on infantry, in October.

    I know that WW2TV is presenting talks with on-locale personal ( I know the is WW 2..but it is a meeting none the less). WW2TV presentations are done by Paul Woodadge, an excellent Normandy tour guide, and have been well received by the people who study WW 2.

    Smithsonian Associates also has some conferences you can view, with a membership.

    1. We did our own virtual conference for ECW as a way to adapt to COVID. Was it ideal? No, but we still managed to have a good time, and our viewers have seemed to really appreciate the content and effort.

      1. chris, it was great. my wife, brother, and i all watched , we ordered pizza, had some adult beverages. almost as good as being there. just missed seeing friends we have made. in fact, if you remember Ted and Ann Marie Roman, my wife and i called them (the weekend we would have been in Fredricksburg) and talked for about an hour.

  5. I don’t see these cancellations as a conspiracy nor do I consider them permanent. Besides the Civil War, my “other interest” is collecting and operating toy trains. Train collectors are in the same age demographic as a lot of folks with an interest in the Civil War and train shows and related gatherings have all pretty much been cancelled till a vaccine becomes widely available.

    1. The notion that this is due to some sort of nefarious “conspiracy” is ridiculous. Like it or not, CWRT groups routinely have a significant number of members who fit the “higher risk” category for Covid-19. Many also meet in settings where the recommended precaution of social distancing is pretty much impossible. That’s true of a couple of CWRT groups to which I’ve given presentations.

      1. Yet I’ve heard more than once the conspiracy theory floated around. I think such conspiracies are balderdash. These are just hard times, and strange times, all the way around.

  6. Does not surprise me the Univ. was involved . Seems to be the trend of late .with history,political correctness and learning . at SOME ( Univ. of Va , Duke, Univ .Buffalo , and Harvard to name a few ) schools of higher education .

    1. I doubt very much that there is any conspiracy to cancel CWRT matings. If there is a conspiracy, it has to involve libraries ( were some RT meetings are held) and the hotel industry…where more RT meetings are held.

      Meetings that have a dinner before the speaker(s), will have to find away to accommodate the buffet line. I imagine they will have waiters dish out the entries instead of all members handling the silver-ware.

    2. I doubt it’s a P.C. thing so much as a budget reality. A lot of universities and colleges are facing tighter budgets because of a significant drop in room and board fees (because students got sent home for half of last semester), cash from some athletic programs, and other revenue sources. The resulting budget cuts have affected all sorts of programs, all across the board.

      1. Point well taken Chris .Yet some of the actions taken and words spoken on some not all campus is politically and not history motivated , I never used the word conspiracy in any of my comments . That was injected by a reply .

  7. Our RT in the Hampton Roads region of VA resumed meetings last month after a 4 month hiatus. We wear masks and space seats per guidance. Our members seem pleased to have the meetings back. Undoubtedly some are passing on them which is fine, of course, but most are more interested in resuming at least some normal activities in their lives. Fellow ECW follower and frequent commenter Doug Pauley and I are both board members and will follow up with the Congress for insights. I believe our past president and ECW Chief Historian Chris Kolakowski has attended their meetings in the past.

  8. Eric Wittenberg will be giving a presentation via Zoom, on John Buford at Gettysburg, sponsored by the Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce.

    In this time of uncertainty, Zoom does allow for conferences to be held.

  9. Let me add my two cents worth.

    One project I supervise is the organization of a whole variety of presentations for immigrants and their families. These take place in churches, mosques, and community centers from Albany to Brooklyn, to Long Island in New York State. I also organize large meetings of immigrant organizations from more than half of New York State.

    When COVID hit we thought that these types of meetings were doomed. They were, but we quickly shifted to various online platforms for our meetings. We use google hangouts for small groups of 5-30, Zoom for groups of up to 100, and facebook live for “lectures.” We assumed no one would come since our audience is not always tech savvy.

    We moved to fully online on March 18, after having almost never done member or community presentations online before. A lot of problems at first, but by April we had become super effective and we are now getting larger audiences and better participation than at our old live meetings.

    Here are some advantages of online meetings:

    1. You don’t need to get a room-A lot of groups find that negotiating with a school or library for a room is time consuming and costs money. None of this is a problem in the online world. You just schedule a meeting and the platform (google, zoom) sends out the invites.
    2. You can still hold your regular monthly meeting on its regular date, or not-If you want to schedule your meeting for the third Wednesday of every month you can still do that. But lets say that you have a speaker who can only make on Thursday nights. You can change the meeting time without worrying that you won’t have a room.
    3. You members who are away on business or vacation, or who retire and move away, can still participate-Not geographical limits on who can be there.
    4. You can record your meetings without having to have video cameras-Many platforms allow you to press a record button and capture the whole event, or maybe just the featured speaker. You can post these on your web site or share them via email or social media.
    5. Most platforms have at the services that a group of fewer than 100 people can use for free.
    6. Easy for us to get expert speakers-Since a speaker does not have to travel to give a presentation, it is much easier to get an expert on to the meeting. In the past, to give 1 hour talk in the Hudson Valley, a speaker would typically spend two hours of travelling. Now they just hop on and hop off.

    1. Part 2 on CWRT online

      The Downside:

      1. You are not meeting in-person, so some social interaction is lost.
      2. The free versions of the platforms sometimes have limits as to how many people can be on and how long the meeting can last.
      3. Recorded meetings can be stored, but their is typically a limit as to how many free meetings you can store.

      1. Part 3:
        We assumed at my immigrant organization that our non-tech savvy audiences would have a lot of trouble using the online meeting platforms, and they did for about two weeks. After that, everyone seemed to have familiarized themselves with the process. My team and I also went from Zero to Sixty pretty fast. In moderating the meetings, we went from clunky to mastery in about three or four meetings. Now we are effortlessly doing break-out sessions, showing videos and slides during meetings, conducting polls, the whole works. And since our audiences, many of whom never participated in an online meeting before March, are also attending meetings online from other entities, we find that they are becoming as expert as we are.

        CWRT and other history groups need not worry about their demise if the pandemic persists. I am 62 with little computer literacy and I learned to move my meetings on-line. You can too. Your elderly members are already using these platforms to talk to their quarantined kids and grand kids. Don’t sell yourselves short.

  10. I was sadden by the news that Cal. U of Pa. shut down its CWRT, I was on their e-mail list, but I
    was never able to attend one of their meetings, I used to live and work in NYC. I wished my my undergraduate college, Plattsburgh State, had a CWRT, it would have a great forum to for students learn more about the ACW and history as a profession (I was a History Major), plus meeting other students and members of the college community.

    Hopefully this pandemic dissipate sooner rather later, but I’m not optimistic about how fast the CWRT movement rebounds. I belonged to two CW Round Tables and attended an occasional meeting of a third. But I have noticed that all three of them have loss membership before the pandemic hit.

    My new and current CWRT, hasn’t meet since February, and will start online meeting next month. Of course I will log on to the virtual meetings, but it’s not same. Maybe this is an opportunity for CWRTs to refocus on the future and mission.

  11. Ed Flanagan, this is an honest question (in which I will use two terms that became inserted into the discussion – “conspiracy” and “PC”): If memberships dwindle, and CWRT’s continue
    avoiding in-person meetings, will you feel better knowing it was for economic reasons; or something completely unrelated to anything PC or some conspiracy?

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