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A ",field_main_title:"good place to focus on the human cost and agony: the interpretation of violence and trauma at Gettysburg National Military Park

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This thesis examines the evolution of the interpretation of the battle of Gettysburg, as well as how the analysis and presentation of the battle by multiple stakeholders have affected the

This thesis examines the evolution of the interpretation of the battle of Gettysburg, as well as how the analysis and presentation of the battle by multiple stakeholders have affected the public's understanding of the violence of the engagement and subsequently its understanding of the war's repercussions. While multiple components of the visitor experience are examined throughout this thesis, the majority of analysis focuses on the interpretive wayside signs that dot the landscape throughout the Gettysburg National Military Park. These wayside signs are the creation of the Park Service, and while they are not strictly interpretive in nature, they remain an extremely visible component of the visitor's park experience. As such, they are an important reflection of the interpretive priorities of the Park Service, an agency which is likely the dominant public history entity shaping understanding of the American Civil War. Memory at Gettysburg in the first decades after the battle largely sought to focus on celebratory accounts of the clash that praised the valor of all white combatants as a means of bringing about resolution between the two sides. By focusing on triumphant memories of martial valor in a conflict fought over ambiguous reasons, veterans and the public at large neglected unsettling and difficult conversations. These avoided discussions primarily concerned what the war had really accomplished aside from preserving the Union, as white Americans appeared unwilling to confront the war's abolitionist legacy. Additionally, they avoided discussion of the horrific levels of violence that the war had truly required of its combatants. Reconciliationist memories of the conflict that did not discuss the violence and trauma of combat were thus incorporated into early interpretations of Civil War battlefields, and continued to hinder understanding of the true savagery of combat into the present. This thesis focuses on the presence (or lack thereof) of violence and trauma in the wayside interpretive signage at Gettysburg, and argues that a more active interpretation of the war's remarkably violent and traumatic legacies can assist in dislodging a faulty legacy of reconciliationist remembrance that continues to permeate public memory of the Civil War.

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  • 2013