When Worlds Collide: A Public Historian at the CWI Conference

By Shannon Moeck

NOTE: Applications to participate in the 2015 Public Historian Scholarship Program are due March 15.

As a Park Ranger for Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP, a major component of my job is to interpret the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  Over the years of employment and through my personal research, I have developed a quality overview understanding of the fall 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  The next phase in my career development is to broaden my understanding and delve deeper into the experience of the war, both inside and outside the Valley.  In 2013, I attended the Future of Civil War History conference hosted by Gettysburg College.  That was the first conference I ever attended and it was one of the best professional experiences I have had to date.  My personal takeaway was enormous.  The opportunity to hear speakers such as Peter Carmichael, David Blight, and Troy Harman was incredible.  Peter Carmichael drove home the significance of interpreting those who were wounded or died on the battlefield.  From his words I began incorporating that message in my programs.  From the conference I developed friendships and professional relationships with attendees.

Having won the scholarship for the 2014 CWI conference afforded me the opportunity to build on the experience I had at the 2013 Conference. Being awarded the Public Historian Scholarship to attend the 2014 CWI conference presented a wide array of panels focusing on 1864 during the Civil War; those panels helped me pursue the objective of a deeper insight and understanding of the Civil War. Working at a small park with a limited staff does not give me a lot of chances to talk to a wide variety of people with diverse backgrounds about the complexities of the Civil War. This conference filled that void and gave me the ability to have meaningful conversations with a diverse group of public historians, educators, students, and history enthusiasts.  This conference helped me gain deeper understanding of the Civil War in 1864. All of the above provided a direct and positive impact not only on how I interpret the Civil War, but also expanded my perspective and understanding of the many operations that occurred in 1864. I brought these lessons back to work where I continue the dialogue with my colleagues, volunteers, and the visiting public.

Attendees at the 2014 CWI Summer Conference. Photo credit to the author.
Attendees at the 2014 CWI Summer Conference. Photo credit to the author.

The diversity of the subject matter was illuminating.  A prime example was the talk given by Ari Kelman, about the massacre of Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek in 1864.  Attending Megan Kate Nelson’s lecture “Ruins of Revenge: The Burning of Chambersburg” gave further insight about Jubal A. Early’s role in the Shenandoah Valley. Kevin Levin’s lecture, “The Battle of the Crater in Memory” also provided me with a great understanding of the Richmond Confederate perspective with their assumptions of Early’s success on his raid to Washington, D.C.  We also had choices for two field trips; I chose John Hennesey’s “Fredericksburg: A City of Hospitals and a Community at War”at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which gave me great insight about a slavery program I was developing.  The second field trip was to the Gettysburg battlefield and I chose the tour led by Charlie Fennell.

Again, as I had experienced at the 2013 conference, the ability to network with people outside of the lecture halls allowed more friendships and professional relationships to develop.  One of those meetings has turned into an opportunity to detail for the Andersonville sesquicentennial in September.

Having won the scholarship I was also given the opportunity to mentor two of the Pohanka interns.  I was lucky enough to have been matched with Emma Murphy and Tyler Leard.  It was a great opportunity to discuss their educational and career objectives.

This scholarship provided an experience that greatly benefited my own personal growth, as well as the National Park Service and the people I serve and I recommend anyone with an interest in the public history field to apply for it.


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