Celebrate the Civil War Historians
Ever wondered what was happening on this day in history? Ever wanted to be living someplace other than here, maybe someplace where issues could be openly fought against?
A few months ago, I wandered into my neighborhood Starbucks, desperate for an escape from the usual economic and political news. Much to my surprise, the Washington Post offered a new feature on its front page: “A House Divided” is a daily blog offering news and views about the American Civil War. Interviews with re-enactors soldiering through Fort Sumter’s fall despite the Federal government’s near-shutdown on the same day, thoughtful essays and funny videos, legal decisions by tribal courts – this blog brings an era’s passions and their impact to life.
It’s also a wonderful refuge from today's storms. I promptly hunted for more places like it.
The New York Times offers a similar blog, Disunion. “One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.” In addition to the newspaper page and website, it has a Facebook page.
Not surprisingly, the History Channel has put together a fantastic website on the Civil War. There’s an overview, plus links to related articles including study guides. Short videos are offered, as well as more in-depth videos. It also has a “On this day in history…” feature, which truly brings the hurry-and-wait nature of that war, like all wars, to life.
The History Channel translated their expertise into a Civil War iPad app. It includes maps, excerpts from the major diaries – and a game! Me, the major non-gamer in the house, finds myself checking in daily, just so I can get the latest news and grab a few more points. It’s insane: you’d think I actually lived back then, the way I’m desperate to learn what happened to each diarist.
The National Park Service also gathered together a fabulous store of Civil War information, comparing then and now for each day. Plus they sponsor a fictional Civil War reporter on Twitter, whose tweets offer both gossip and facts.
Many – most, all? – of the states which participated in the war have also put together their own commemorative sites. All of them focus on their own land and ancestors’ involvement, of course. Virginia and Ohio, for example, have strengthened their Civil War remembrance sites for the sesquicentennial. Virginia’s coverage includes a calendar of events, a "then and now" feature, and the Encyclopedia Virginiana (which emphasizes Virginia during the Civil War). Ohio’s site offers articles, forums, and teaching pages, plus a timeline.
It’s an absolute den of delights out there. It promises to improve too, as the store of Victorian and wartime details builds.
Dare I imagine what other bonbons will appear in three years when the bicentennial – and reenactment – of Waterloo arrives? Or the centennial of World War One begins in Europe?
My deepest thanks to all the historians who created these websites and gave us so many hours of pleasure!
What websites or research books have made you totally forget today’s world? What event do you wish somebody would thoroughly explore?