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"From Gettysburg's Shadow"
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Leaving a Legacy for Future Generations ...

Alexander K. Harding

Villanova University / Master's Program 

Introduction to Public History (HIS 8702)

14 April 2015

Interview Review Paper

From Gettysburg’s Shadow:

Passionate Preservationists and the Hunterstown Historical Society

 

The town and battlefield of Gettysburg is a historical gem of Adams County,

 

Pennsylvania. Through various federal, state and local organizations, like the Gettysburg

 

National Military Park (GNMP), Pennsylvania Civil War Trails (PCWT) and the Adams County

 

Historical Society (ACHS), its historical sites are well protected and interpreted for future

 

generations. But not all historical sites in Adams County are given the same kind of attention that

 

Gettysburg receives from different preservation organizations. Laurie Harding, former president

 

of the Hunterstown Historical Society (HHS) and current administrative director at Historic

 

Gettysburg-Adams County (HGAC), says sometimes “it takes a village” to accomplish great

 

tasks, when larger forces are working against you.[1] In the “village” of Hunterstown, a group of

 

concerned citizens, under the leadership of Harding, came together to form HHS and help protect

 

its history from the historical vacuum of Gettysburg. Their efforts demonstrate that non-

 

academically trained historians can be good practitioners of public history too.

 

The meaning of public history is as diverse as the historians who practice it. On the

 

National Council on Public History’s (NCPH) blog History@Work, public history is defined as

 

“…the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world.”[2] While NCPH

 

board members describe it as “a movement, methodology, and approach that promotes the

 

collaborative study and practice of history; its practitioners embrace a mission to make their

 

special insights accessible and useful to the public.”[3] Harding says, “[p]ublic history, for us

 

[HHS], would be the ‘highlighting’ of a certain historical happening and sharing it with others.”[4]

 

With these varying notions of what public history means to different people, it becomes no

 

surprise that “[p]ublic historians come in all shapes and sizes.”

 

They call themselves historical consultants, museum professionals, government historians, archivists, oral historians, cultural resource managers, curators, film and media producers, historical interpreters, historic preservationists, policy advisers, local historians, and community activists, among many other job descriptions. All share an interest and commitment to making history relevant and useful in the public sphere.[5]

 

In many cases, practitioners of public history are not academically trained in the field, but that

 

does not mean that they cannot offer much needed skills and expertise to help preserve our

 

endangered cultural heritage from generational neglect.

 

Love for one’s own cultural heritage is sometimes what prevents history from becoming

 

lost in the past. As David Thelen and Roy Rosenzweig argue in their book The Presence of the

 

Past, “…although people may have negative associations with the term ‘history,’ they embrace

 

‘the past,’ which they define in highly personal and familiar terms.”[6] Those who “embrace ‘the

 

past,’” like Harding and the HHS, they do so out of a commitment to intimate histories. For

 

Harding, it was her love for Civil War history and living on a historical farm that inspired her to

 

help found HHS with her husband, Roger.

 

Roger and I are co-founders of [HHS]. We have also served in all aspects of our board and membership and attended all public meetings pertinent to our town’s history and preservation. [But] [t]here was no formal training to prepare us for what we encountered when we moved to Gettysburg/Hunterstown, PA, except for a love of [C]ivil [W]ar history. My husband’s great-great grandfather, Sylvester Hower, fought here. We purchased this [C]ivil [W]ar farm in November of 2001, knowing that the Battle of Hunterstown took place here on July 2nd, 1863. However, what we did not know then, was the impact this battle had on the outcome of the Gettysburg Campaign.[7]

 

The successes of the HHS will show that passionate and non-academically public historians, like

 

Harding, are the only bulwark, in many instances, that stands in the way of history being

 

forgotten by time.

 

The sustainability of historical institutions, like the HHS, determines the fate of our

 

cultural resources. At the turn of the twenty-first century, our cultural resources (such as historic

 

sites) are under a tremendous socio-economic strain. As James Vaughan, vice president for

 

Stewardship of Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), points out

 

in his journal article “The Call for a National Conversation,” “many of America’s historic sites

 

are experiencing declining attendance, financial instability, and poor stewardship, and they are

 

increasingly viewed by their communities as irrelevant and unresponsive to the societal changes

 

around them.” This socio-economic strain has intensified with the Great Recession (as all levels

 

of government have scaled back on their budgets, particularly the funding of the arts and

 

humanities).[8]

 

Besides the socio-economic strain on our cultural resources, institutional practices at

 

historic sites have also played a part in their potential unsustainable future. Within the National

 

Park Service (NPS), for example, the public historians who are academically trained and post to

 

be the preservationists of our cultural resources are usually staffed in administrative positions,

 

like the Chief Historian’s office, which have no direct part in the preservation of our national

 

treasures. The preservation and interpretation of NPS historic sites, like Independence Hall and

 

the Gettysburg Battlefield, is left, for the most part, to poorly trained and overworked non-

 

academic public historians, such as the iconic park rangers.[9] If it was not for some of these

 

dedicated non-academic public historians, Ethan Carr says, “many vital archives, stories, and

 

artifacts would have been permanently lost.”[10] Non-academic public historians are essential,

 

when academically trained public historians are unable to care for our cultural resources.

 

The preservation efforts of the HHS are a testament to the work accomplished by non-

 

academically public historians, particularly when cultural resources management agencies, like

 

the NPS, are unable or unwilling to protect and interpret our historic sites. While Harding

 

contends “that Gettysburg, and the powers that be, will continue to overshadow [Hunterstown]

 

and its contribution to the history of the United States of America,” the HHS leaves “a rich

 

legacy” to our posterity. The HHS’s “legacy” is extensive:

  • Through their work with local and state officials, the entire town of Hunterstown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Through their work with GNMP superintendents and park rangers, they were able to have the perimeters of the Hunterstown Battlefield mapped by the Global Positioning System (GPS). The Battle of Hunterstown was officially added by the NPS to the Gettysburg Campaign in 2006.

  • They reached out to Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guides to conduct battlefield tours in Hunterstown. Tours of the battlefield have been conducted by Michael Vallone.

  • Hunterstown has been added to both the PCWT and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground projects.

  • Through their work with HGAC, had two Civil War field hospital signs placed at the Jacob Grass Hotel and Great Conewago Presbyterian Church in Hunterstown.

  • Through their work with Michigan Wolverine reenactors (whose ancestors had fought at Hunterstown), raised money for the design and purchase of a monument dedicated to Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer (their ancestors’ commander) on the 145th anniversary of the battle.

  • The Battle of Hunterstown has been added by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee to the annual Civil War reenactment held at Gettysburg, during the first week of July.

  • Every July, from 2003-2013, the Hardings held various events that commemorated the battle, which was partly fought on their farm.

These are just some of the many accomplishments that the HHS has achieved in a ten year

 

period.[11]

 

In a time of socio-economic uncertainty for both historic sites and museums, a passionate

 

citizenry, like Harding and the HHS, is needed more than ever to help preserve our precarious

 

cultural resources. Within its 2007 study “Family Visitation at Museums,” the audience-research

 

firm Reach Advisors reports that “[h]istory museums and historic sites showed the lowest

 

popularity among the eight types of museums measured in this survey, with only 31% visiting

 

historic sites and 23% visiting history museums. Additionally, for all demographic groups,

 

history museums are the least popular.”[12] As Marianne Babal argues in her journal article

 

“Sticky History,” “[p]ast disaffection between the historical profession and their public audience

 

has created a disconnect between history as told by historians and the public who feel real

 

affinity for the past.”

 

Perhaps historians need to make history more ‘sticky’ to achieve a greater appreciation and understanding of the importance of history in society. Ideas that endure, or ‘stick,’ effectively convey core messages and concepts, and often contain unexpected elements, commanding the audience’s attention and exciting their imagination. Information sticks when it offers elements people can relate to in their own experience. Sticky concepts are credible, and are often conveyed through stories. Lastly, they are emotional, delivering the message of why this is important.[13]

 

The best way to reconnect historians with their audiences is by making them more part of the

historical narrative, such as the HHS has done with all their initiatives. Harding says,

 

“[e]verthing we have attempted to do here in Hunterstown has always included and valued

 

visitor involvement.”

 

We could not have made the contributions to [its] history singlehandedly. It was the work of [the] many, and we will always be grateful to them.[14]

 

The accomplishments achieved by the HHS (as aforementioned already) attests to this

 

participatory culture in Hunterstown.

 

From its shadow, Hunterstown has overcome the historical vacuum that Gettysburg has

 

in Adams County. Even though the HHS “disbanded” after the 150th anniversary of the battle (as

 

villagers/board members had moved away and their local historian, Linda Cleveland, had

 

retired), Harding still continues with her preservation work in Hunterstown. Through her website

 

www.hunterstown1863.com, she continues to educate people about the village’s history.

 

Authors, artists, historians, tours and visitors still come every year to see the historic sites and

 

talk to the people of Hunterstown. Ed Bearss, former Chief Historian of NPS and “consummate”

 

tour guide, “who brings ‘history alive to visitors of all knowledge levels, revealing encyclopedic

 

stores of memory and enormous personal energy, but always with rich and colorful anecdotes,”

 

for instance, continues to bring the Civil War Institute to the village every year.[15] The HHS is no

 

longer a formal presence in the village, but its work and the persistent passion of its former

 

leader is yet felt in every corner of Hunterstown and beyond.

 

                                              



[1] Laurie Harding, e-mail message to Alexander Harding, March 30, 2015.

[2] “What Is Public History?,” National Council on Public History, accessed January 13, 2015, http://ncph.org/cms/

what-is-public-history/.

[3] Cathy Stanton, “‘What Is Public History?’ Redux,” Public History News 27 (2007); which is cited in Robert Weible, “Defining Public History: Is It Possible? Is It Necessary?,” American Historical Association, accessed January 13, 2015, http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2008/ defining-public-history-is-it-possible-is-it-necessary.   

[4] Harding, e-mail message. 

[5] “What Is Public History?.”

[6] David Thelen and Roy Rosenzweig, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); which is cited in Benjamin Filene, “Passionate Histories: ‘Outsider’ History-Makers and What They Teach Us,” The Public Historian 34 (2012): 12.

[7] Harding, e-mail message. Troy Harman, a GNMP ranger and historian, says, “[t]he significance of this action [Battle of Hunterstown] far exceeds the fight itself, and the ramifications were greater than many realize.” If it was not for this cavalry engagement at Hunterstown, between Union General George Armstrong Custer’s and Confederate General Wade Hampton’s cavalrymen, the Army of the Potomac's “main position” at Culp’s Hill would have been outflanked by the Army of Northern Virginia. It prevented a major defeat of Union forces on Northern soil and possibly a negotiated peace between Washington and Richmond. For the “Battle History” of Hunterstown, see http://www.hunterstown1863.com/id20.html.          

[8] James Vaughan, “Introduction: The Call for a National Conversation,” Forum Journal 22 (2008); which is cited in Filene, “Passionate Histories,” 13-4.

[9] For an overview of the lack of “professionally qualified historical expertise” in the NPS, see Organization of American Historians for the National Park Service; Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Marla R. Miller, Gary B. Nash and David Thelen, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service (Bloomington, IN: Organization of American Historians, 2011), 67-75.

[10] Ethan Carr, personal narrative for State of History team, 2010; which is cited in Organization of American Historians, Imperiled Promise, 68. 

[11] Harding, e-mail message. 

[12] Museum Audience Insight, “Family Visitation at Museums, Part II: Historic Sites and History Museums,” http://reachadvisors.typepad.com/museum_audience_insight/2007/10/august-e-news-f.html; which is cited in Filene, “Passionate Histories,” 13.

[13] Marianne Babal, “Sticky History: Connecting Historians with the Public,” The Public Historian 32 (2010): 80.

[14] Harding, e-mail message.

[15] Ibid.

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