Preservation News: Conference on Preservation & Monuments

Oftentimes we think of preservation in the sense of saving battlefield land or preserving an important artifact or archival material. However, perhaps we can also see preservation of markers or monuments as important task.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation recently hosted an event to further the discussion of Confederate markers and monuments on Civil War battleground.

In July 2018, the history conference titled “Confederate Icons: History Memory and the Future of Our Past” focused exclusively on an aspect of preservation and followed the release of a statement in 2017 of this foundation’s official stance on markers or monuments on battlefields. (Read it here.)

The conference drew over 200 attendees and was broadcast live on American History TV (C-SPAN). Hosted at James Madison University, the foundation hosted speakers James I. “Bud” Robertson, Jr., Caroline E. Janney, Christy S. Coleman, John M. Coski, and Kevin M. Walker to present historical perspective and ideas for the futures.

Curious about the presentations? The discussions can be found here in the C-SPAN archive.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation continues to take forward steps in preservation and seeks conversation about controversial topics to better understand the situations and solutions. This conference was one example of their work in this area of preservation, historical interpretation, and ideas for the future.

Preservation News: Victories Announced By Central Virginia Battlefield Trust

Earlier this week, Central Virginia Battlefield Trust joyfully announced four new preservation successes! Here are the details:

1. “Parcel 1” At Fredericksburg Battlefield

Artillery lunette occupied by the Norfolk Artillery during the battle of Fredericksburg December 13, 1862.

2. “Parcel 2” at The Crossroads

Civil War Trust’s 300 plus acre Chancellorsville-Wilderness Crossroads project, CVBT providing a $50,000 contribution to seed its pool of matching funds.

3. “Parcel 3” at Wilderness Battlefield

Hill-Ewell Drive is the principal route through the national park in the Wilderness battlefield. To that end CVBT has begun an initiative to acquire vacant lots at the end of residential cul de sacs, thereby expanding the de facto buffer between the most-traveled thoroughfares of the park and the modern structures that threaten their historic integrity.

4. The Kinney Tract on Chancellorsville Battlefield

The David B. Kinney tract is situated at the intersection of Plank Road and Orange Plank Road, directly across Plank Road from the Hawkins Farm and a stone’s throw from Wilderness Church. It is very near the midpoint of the XI Corps defensive position. XI Corps troops prepared their line along the south side of Plank Road, facing south into the drainage of Lewis Run. The XI Corps headquarters of Major General Oliver Otis Howard was nearby at Dowdall’s Tavern. This 1.1 acre corner parcel adds to our ongoing effort to stitch together the parts of the battlefield on the south side of Plank Road.

Below the Rappahannock River in central Virginia lies some of the most fought-over terrain in America. Between 1861 and 1864 the warring armies of the Civil War bitterly and repeatedly contested these lands. As the midpoint between the Union and Confederate capitols this region was not just strategically important, it was an obsession. Through four major military campaigns and countless skirmishes and small engagements men struggled and died here, for their homes, their beliefs, for the ideals they wanted their country to stand for.

It is the mission of Central Virginia Battlefields Trust to preserve these historic landscapes, these places where so many men of North and South sacrificed, where many gave — in the words of Abraham Lincoln – “the last full measure of devotion.”

Exploring Fredericksburg’s History & Biography

CVBT Journalsby ECW Correspondent Katherine Duffek

Imagine the history of a city, neatly lined up on a bookshelf. Every year, more and more of that history gets published and added to the shelf. That’s what you would see if you walked into the office of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT). For fifteen years now, CVBT has been adding one volume of their Fredericksburg History and Biography journal per year to their bookshelf of history. With each volume, they’re giving readers more and more information about the battlefields around Fredericksburg, Virginia. 

“Having a written record that helps tell the stories of the lands we’re helping to protect is a way to make sure people understand why these lands are important,” said CVBT executive director Elizabeth Heffernan. “The journal has allowed us to preserve history in a different way,” she added, which is the preservation group’s ultimate goal.

The journal was originally started in 2002 as a CVBT membership benefit and, to date, 16 volumes have been published. “While our major emphasis has been the Civil War, the journal has really explored a lot of different areas of history,” says Heffernan. Not only do the different volumes of the journal tell stories of what the soldiers went through during the war, but they also tell stories of what the everyday civilians experienced in Fredericksburg.

The journal also includes articles from beyond the Civil War-era, too.

CVBT President Tom Van Winkle has been overseeing the journal for years now. “Basically, it’s stories and articles that you won’t find anywhere else,” he said. “We have a lot of primary information from people that lived here, and we know what exactly happened.”

This journal can teach anyone, even Civil War experts, something new about Fredericksburg at the time. They hold everything that a Civil War lover would want: primary resources, stories and photographs, diary entries from civilians, minutes from town meetings, detailed timelines, information about the economy at the time—it’s all there. Plus, it’s all written by local authors—people from the community and National Park Service—which adds a personalized touch.

The contents for each issue of the journal are posted online. By visiting CVBT’s webpage, and then clicking on the covers of each journal, its table of contents will appear. Individual volumes of the journal are available for only $6.00.

It is so fortunate that CVBT has given people access to this ever-expanding bookshelf of history.

Preservation News: The Stone Bridge Project at Manassas National Battlefield

Today is the anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run, and it’s a great time to highlight some preservation work completed earlier this year on an important landmark on Manassas National Battlefield. The Stone Bridge spans the Bull Run stream, and in 2017-2018, it received needed restoration.

Why is the bridge location important? Is this the actually bridge from 1861? What did the recent restoration project accomplish? Read on and start planning your visit…

On July 21, 1861, Union artillery located near Stone Bridge fired, beginning the first large-scale battle of the war. The bridge helps researchers and battlefielders find the “first shot” positions on this battle ground.

The original Stone Bridge – constructed around 1825 – remained intact through the first battle, but in 1862, Confederates wrecked it. That same year Union engineers built a wood bridge over the ruins, intending their new construction for temporary use. In the 1880’s, a bridge of stone was built on the original location and actively used by vehicles until the early 20th Century. This 1880’s Stone Bridge stands today and was the structure needing restoration.

1940 view of the historic Stone Bridge NPS Photo

As the decades past, Stone Bridge’s center pier suffered from erosion and the cement coating underneath the bridge was damaged. Damaged and missing stones also needed replacement. According to the National Park Service, the recent preservation work on Stone Bridge included stabilizing the foundation, repairing historic stone masonry, and repaving the surface. Contemporary methods and materials were used, but the historic bridge’s look has stayed the same.

Earlier this year, the restoration work was completed, and now Stone Bridge stands guard over the waters of Bull Run, silently and grandly marking an important location of “firsts” on this first large battlefield.

If you’d like to visit Stone Bridge, it is located off Highway 29 and is Stop 12 on the battlefield tour maps provided by the Park Service.

Historic Stone Bridge over a body of water during summer. (NPS website – credited Shenandoah Sanchez)

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: A Recap and a Thank You

Phil Caskey at TI Touchdown

American Battlefield Trust 2006 Teacher of the Year, Phil Caskey, shares his jubilant mood about the Teacher Institute.

With the American Battlefield Trust’s 2018 Teacher Institute now in the books for a week, and my own dispatches finally exhausted, I want to offer one final thank-you to the Trust for allowing me and Emerging Civil War to participate.

I wish I could have had the time to report on more of the conference. Participants had nearly twenty workshops and programs to choose from, and many of them ran concurrently. I couldn’t be in three places at once, especially when I was presenting. I also had to choose between the Civil War and the Revolutionary War tours on Saturday (and since I was leading the Rev War tour, I kinda had to choose that one!). 

The best part about the event is that it’s free for teachers. They have to pay their own way to get there—although a limited number of scholarships help subsidize that travel for some people—and the Trust takes care of the rest, courtesy of generous donations. If you consider how many students 200 teachers have the opportunity to influence, you quickly begin to understand how those donations represent an important investment in our future by encouraging historical literacy.

Most of all, it was inspiring to see so many teachers willing to travel from all across the country, giving up part of their summer vacation, because they’re so passionate about their jobs, their students, and the field of history.

Garry and Group at TI

Garry Adelman (second from left), the mastermind behind the Trust’s education efforts, talks with Teacher Institute attendees.

ECW was privileged to be one of the Trust’s partner organizations for the event, and Dan Davis, Phill Greenwalt, Dan Welch, and I were all delighted to be there. We’d like to offer a special shout-out to our ECW colleague, Kris White, the Trust’s education manager, who organized the event, and to Garry Adelman, the Trust’s education director, for his boundless energy in support of Civil War education.

I encourage all teachers to consider attending next year’s Teacher Institute, which will be held in July in Raleigh, North Carolina. The T.I. is an exceptional experience, well worth the time and travel.

In case you missed any of my dispatches from this year, here’s a recap:

The Valley Forge Summer of the American Battlefield Trust

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: The American Way of War

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Garry Adelman’s Photo Extravaganza!

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Dan Welch’s Music Lesson

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Independence Forever!

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Where’s “Waldo”

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Rethinking George Washington with Phill Greenwalt

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Teaching Through Turning Points with Kris White

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: The Men Who Invented the Constitution

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Helping Teachers Teach History More Effectively

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Helping Teachers Teach History More Effectively

Lesh.jpg“What do historians do?” Bruce Lesh asks the room full of social studies teachers.

The teachers offer answers: Solve problems. Research. Write. Argue.

“In that discussion, we leave out the only thing we do in the classroom,” Lesh points out. In the list of responses, no one says “Memorize information.”

Research shows that students want to mimic, in their social studies classrooms, the things historians do. “They understand that history is about information, but they want to be able to explore that information,” Lesh says. They want context. They want a reason. 

Instead, history education overemphasizes memorization, and memorization “doesn’t lead to achievement or student engagement,” Lesh says.

Teaching Just Facts

If I could take one presentation from the 2018 American Battlefield Trust’s Teacher Institute and ship it around to every Civil War Roundtable in the country—and every school board and every state department of education—it would be Bruce Lesh’s Friday morning talk, “‘It’s not what or how much we teach, but how we teach it that matters’: Confronting the Legacy of History Instruction.”

Lesh is a former social studies teacher who now works in education policy at the state level in Maryland. In 2008, the Organization of American Historians recognized him as the pre-collegiate Teacher of the Year; in 2013 was named Maryland Secondary Social Studies Teacher of the Year.

Lesh’s brilliant talk struck to the heart of a problem I hear all the time when I’m on the road talking to Civil War groups. So many buffs worry that students today don’t seem to know history very well.

Lesh started with that very point. He shared a news story that lamented a poor level of historical literacy among students. What year do you think that’s from, he asked. While it sounded like something from a contemporary publication, it came from a 1917 report that tested 1500 Texas students to determine their sense of history.

“We’re used to hearing this particular story,” Lesh says, “that students are bad at history…. This is the kind of narrative that’s promoted by people like David McCullough who go before Congress to testify about the lamentable state of historical literacy.”

The narrative is there, he says. We’ve heard it all the time. “It’s become popular to bash teachers,” he adds. “Teachers get the blame.”

The narrative, though, is wrong.

Golden Age of Facts“The good news is that there’s not a single piece of data that shows students knowledge of history is in decline,” says Lesh. The bad news: “Students’ knowledge of history is consistently low.” In other words, it didn’t just suddenly get bad—it’s always been bad.

When he began teaching, he taught the way he had been taught. “And my students looked like they were at a visit to the dentist’s without any Novocain,” he admitted. The problem, he discovered through his own experience and through subsequent research, is that teachers get trapped “in a system that perpetuated a low level of proficiency.”

“We teach history the same way in 2018 that we taught it in 1890,” he says. “And in 1890 there was no electricity. There was no VCR. There was no one-to-one.” The biggest change: “We no longer have students recite by memory speeches.”

Essentially, “the mode of history instruction has not changed.” And if that mode of instruction resulted in poor achievement in 1917, it isn’t going to get any better by 2018. “Assessment and accountability has reinforced this persistent instruction and use of a single source,” he says, referring to the 70-90 percent of teachers who use a textbook as their single source of information in their classrooms.

Lesh lamented the increased culture of testing in schools. He pointed to Virginia’s assessment program, the Standards of Learning—or “SOLs,” as they’re called for short. He invites the teachers in the room to consider that acronym for just a moment. “Is it any wonder?” he asks as everyone gets the joke (which he doesn’t explicitly say, so I will: “Shit Out of Luck”).

Virginia’s SOLs feature 300 statements of “essential content” students need to know. Facts to memorize. As a result, he says, “I see more teachers looking at history as an exercise in trivia—the SOLs reinforce that.”

“Outside this room, people don’t love our discipline,” Lesh warns. He cites research that asked respondents to describe the field of history in one word.

“History is boring!”—that was the single most frequent description, and negative descriptions significantly outweighed positive ones. The other negative responses were simply synonyms for “boring.”

A complicating factor in the field now is that many students can opt to take online courses. The number one course they choose to take online are history courses—an alarming development to Lesh because, he says, it means, “Our practices are not meeting the needs and demands of students.”

So, he asks the teachers in the room, if methodology and student outcomes are the problem, what’s the solution?

Students don’t like being given an answer. They don’t like being given the facts.

They like to have something to figure out.

And isn’t that what historians do? This is when he asks the room full of teachers to explain the main job functions of a historian.

After developing the job description list, Lesh synthesizes the information:

  • Historians ask questions that frame a problem for them to research.
  • Historians gather and ask questions of a variety of sources.
  • Historians develop, defend, and revise interpretations.
  • Historians argue in their books and through their publications.

“Questions are powerful tools,” he says.

Discipline-Based InstructionA question can help students organize and remember information. It can better facilitate engagement and retention.

Curiosity releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps improve attention and remembering.

For teachers required to teach information—like the SOLs—figure out what the question was that someone asked which then led them to add the “required fact” to the list.

In his research, Lesh has found a recurrent theme from students, who say, “I want to do something in history class.”

Lesh suggests creating a history lab that puts students in a situation where they have to take a disciplinary approach to history instruction. They can do what historians do and, in doing so, learn the material they’re required to learn in a way that boosts achievement and retention.

But, he offers a cautionary note, too. “I don’t sell this as a silver bullet,” he warns. “It’s not going to help you when a kid comes to school hungry. When a kid comes to school once every couple of weeks. But it is a way to get them to eat their vegetables and get them to know what they need to know.”