For this month’s installment of our new My ECW Story series we have Dan ‘Van Zant’ Welch. You can find Dan in the classroom in the tundra of Northeast Ohio, or hashing history on the fields of Gettysburg. His work ethic is second to none, and he’s often the proverbial tide lifting our little ECW boat.
ECW: Tell us about yourself…where are you from? What do you do? How the heck did you become interested in the Civil War?
DW: I am a proud native of Youngstown, Ohio. Although my home and work are in Youngstown, for several months every year my home is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During the school year I am a primary and secondary public school teacher just outside of Youngstown, and during the summer months a seasonal National Park Service park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park. My interest in the Civil War began with a family trip to Gettysburg when I was five. Its been a passion of mine ever since.
ECW: You’re an old head here at ECW. How did you find out about Emerging Civil War? How did you get your foot in the door?
DW: I found out about ECW in several ways. My first interaction with ECW was with Chris Mackowski and Kris White. In my position with the Gettysburg Foundation during the Civil War 150th cycle I was in charge of their yearly summer speaking series. I had booked both of them based on my reading of their outstanding earlier books. From there, Chris M. came and visited me several months later at Gettysburg and pitched me the idea of writing a Gettysburg campaign book for the ECW series, which was later was published as “The Last Road North.” While all this was going on, my friend Rob Orrison, already involved in ECW, ‘voluntold’ me I would be manning the registration table at the ECW Symposium later that August. From there, the rest is history.
ECW: What was your first article for Emerging Civil War, and what made you want to contribute? Can you even remember that far back?
DW: Ha! Sometimes trying to remember what I ate for dinner the night before takes a lot of wrangling from my ole brain! I was spending a lot of time researching Antietam at the time and came across a surgeon that not only worked in the hospitals after Antietam, but also witnessed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. So, I did a real-time series of the weeks and days leading up to that fateful night based on the diary and letters of the surgeon 150 years later. I’m still proud of that series. One day I would like to go back and expand upon it with more information about the surgeon that I have since dug up over the intervening years.
ECW: We all wear many hats around here. What are your day-to-day/week-to-week duties with Emerging Civil War?
DW: Well, over the years I’ve had a lot of duties with ECW. From being in charge of the Weekender and Preservation series, to Symposium Co-Chair, Symposium Coordinator, Secretary of the ECW Board, and several other roles. Most recently I have been the co-editor of the new 10th Anniversary ECW series, coming out this summer. The first two volumes focus on Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Tullahoma. You will not want to miss picking these up!
ECW: What do you find most fulfilling about your work with Emerging Civil War?
DW: The best part is working with many colleagues on various projects. ECW allows me to talk Civil War shop with like-minded folks and learn from experts on different aspects of the war.
ECW: For several years you served as co-chair and coordinator of the ECW Symposium. How many symposiums have you attended? Why would you encourage everyone to attend a symposium?
DW: I’ve been to every ECW Symposium except the very first one. You will not find a symposium anywhere else with this amount of presentations and battlefield tours for the price. You are getting access to some of the best emerging historians of Civil War history out there today, the ability to ask questions and network, and tour various battlefields with experts on those fields. It’s a weekend you can’t get anywhere else.
ECW: How has your involvement with ECW made a difference in your Civil War career? Has ECW furthered your interest, or opened up any new avenues of research/writing/work for you?
DW: ECW has made a big impact on my Civil War career. It has afforded me numerous opportunities to deliver presentations, write, publish, and learn from so many great colleagues. It has also allowed me to dig into topics I never thought I would, thereby expanding my knowledge of the Civil War era.
ECW: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to become involved in Public History or Civil War History?
DW: Network, build your CV, and write, write, write. The more writing you do, the better you get. Be passionate. And, “Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold.” That’s why it’s important to be passionate in this field. You can make a comfortable salary, but you won’t get rich in History. You need to believe in the hard work you will do and the story you will be telling.
ECW: Has your work in Public History as a seasonal NPS Ranger impacted your approach to the study of History? Conversely, how has your work with ECW impacted your approach to the public interface of History?
DW: Thus far, my NPS career has broadened my study of history. It’s not good enough to just know the story of your own site, you need to have broad knowledge and see the connective threads of the story. Being an expert on three days in July 1863 is not good enough unless you also understand the events of what lead to this moment in history and how they played out. ECW has broadened my appreciation of untraditional publishing mechanisms not found in academia, such as social media and blogging.
ECW: We can’t even keep up with how many irons you have in the fire. What are you working on now?
DW: Well, in addition to the two ECW 10th anniversary volumes, I am currently working on several other works, ranging on topics from Antietam to Civil War books, a regimental history, summer of 1862 to the summer of 1864, and several others. I hope to have all of these projects wrapped up by the end of this year, with their releases starting this summer and moving throughout the next year.
ECW: Civil War History, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cleveland Browns. You can only have one. Tell us why it’s the Cleveland Browns…
DW: Although my love of the Browns is deep, stretching back to seeing games at Municipal Stadium following my early childhood hero Bernie Kosar, music fuels the soul, particularly during long drives to research repositories and writing. There is nothing better than the lyrics of Ronnie Van Zant and the incredible musicians that were behind him. After staying at his childhood home, and sleeping in his childhood bedroom last year, I hope to visit Gillsburg, Mississippi this year to finish the incredible story that was his life.
Dan, the only good Van Zant is a Townes Van Zandt. Join us next month as we sit down with our Managing Editor, Sarah Kay Bierle!
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