(Part five in a series)
To conclude our “Civil War Back-to-School” series, we head to the banks of the Potomac River, not far from Antietam Creek and Antietam National Battlefield—apropos for today—to hear from Dr. James J. Broomall. Jim is the Ray and Madeline Johnston Endowed Chair in American History and Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and director of the university’s George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War.
I distinctly remember in mid-March 2020 receiving an email that marked the first of many cancellations. COVID-19 has, and will continue, to impact our collective and personal lives in manifold ways. I write today from my basement, which has been refashioned into a rather comfortable office. I am fortunate. Books surround me. I am drinking a warm cup of coffee. And I continue to work more-or-less unabated.
This academic semester marks something new for Shepherd University (Shepherdstown, WV) where I serve as an associate professor in the History Department. We are mostly teaching hybrid classes, which means we meet both synchronously and asynchronously on-line and in-person. For me, I am trying to remain flexible because my students operate under a host of different circumstances. Thus, I’m meeting some in-person while transmitting lectures through Zoom real-time (the recorded lecture is then made available to all students). The format allows those on-line and in-person students to shape content, participate in discussions, and create some semblance of community.
I also serve as the director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War. One of our busiest spring and summer schedules was upended entirely as we either cancelled or postponed all events. My assistant, Catherine Oliver, and I took stock of the field, talked with colleagues, and rolled out a robust spring/summer schedule composed primarily of live-stream programs uploaded both to our Facebook and YouTube pages. We featured public historians, academic historians, and Shepherd undergraduates. Beyond Civil War-era topics, programming included a variety of subjects including practicing history during a pandemic, historic cocktails, “loyalism” during the American Revolution, and the 1918 influenza epidemic. Catherine and I are now planning for the Fall/Winter of 2020 and creating more panel discussions, live-stream programs from battlefields and historic sites, and student-centered on-line events.
Despite this period of uncertainty, and even crisis, academic and public historians have come together to deliver programs and educate audiences. I remain inspired by my colleagues’ efforts and found my evenings filled by amazing programs throughout much of the summer. Even apart, we remain together.