Looking Ahead to the 2018 Pohanka Internship Program

By Ryan Bilger ’19

This summer, 21 Gettysburg College students will head to the front lines of public history through the Brian C. Pohanka Internship Program. From Andersonville National Historic Site to Minute Man National Historical Park, these interns will carry forward the legacy of the late Brian C. Pohanka, while also developing their own skills in the field of public history. Brian Pohanka was an avid student of the Civil War who shared his love of the past through presenting and reenacting, as some of the interns who bear his name will do this summer. They will work at some of the sites most dear to him, including Gettysburg National Military Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, and Richmond National Battlefield Park.

To preview this summer’s experiences, I reached out to three of the 2018 Pohanka interns, each with different backgrounds and positions this summer. I asked them about what they expect to be doing at their sites, what they think they will gain from the experience, and how it will fit into their plans for the future.

Laurel Wilson ‘19

Site: Special Collections & College Archives at Gettysburg College’s Musselman Library

Majors/Minors: History and studio art/Civil War Era Studies and public history

Past Pohanka Experience: Antietam National Battlefield, 2017

What will you be doing this summer?

Work in archival research, processing, and digitizing materials, including creating a finding aid for a collection and transcribing Vertical File Manuscript materials

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I hope to gain valuable archival skills and to learn how Special Collections takes care of it’s amazing collection of historical artifacts and other resources. I am also excited to have the opportunity to work with the artifacts and manuscripts directly, as it is not something that everyone gets to do every day.”

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“I hope to go into some kind of curatorial or archival work in the future, so the experience that I will gain from working in Special Collections will definitely be incredibly valuable for that. This internship will provide me with a basis of knowledge to continue building upon in the future, which is incredibly exciting.”

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The author giving a walking tour of Henry Hill at Manassas National Battlefield Park last summer. Photo by Cathy Bilger.

Jared Barna ‘20

Site: Manassas National Battlefield Park

Major: History

What will you be doing this summer?

Working to orient visitors to the battlefield, through interpretive tour programs and answering questions at the Visitor Center desk.

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I will gain knowledge about how to engage individuals with major questions about history and become a better public orator.”

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“This internship will help me decide as to whether I wish to work in the park service full time or if I want to become a high school history teacher.”

Cameron Sauers ‘21

Site: Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park

Major: History

What will you be doing this summer?

Develop and deliver educational programs and activities to K-12 students and families at Harpers Ferry

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I think Harpers Ferry will give me the chance to see how the public, especially young people, interact with our nation’s history.” The long and varied history of the site will also help in these observations.

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“I have a desire to either work in the NPS system or continue on to graduate school. I would love to be able to teach students at the high school or college level.”

 

As for myself, I will be returning to the Pohanka program for my second summer as an intern, this year at Antietam National Battlefield. I expect that my duties will also include orienting visitors to the Antietam battlefield through programs and work at the front desk. I hope to continue refining my skills as a public historian and interpreter, and to bring the history of Antietam to the general public in an interesting and engaging way. This fits into my future goals of working in public history, whether in the National Park Service or at another historic site or museum.

This summer is shaping up to be an exciting one for the 2018 Brian C. Pohanka interns! Stay tuned throughout the summer, as we’ll be posting reflection pieces from the interns on their individual experiences!

Now Quite Certain: Uncovering the Unexpected History of Harpers Ferry

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Annika Jensen ’18

If my experience in Harpers Ferry this summer had a thesis statement, it would be this: there is so much more than John Brown.

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Photo courtesy of Annika Jensen.

Going into my first day of work in the education department I had a tightly-wrapped set of expectations regarding not only the nature of the place in which I was now living but my own skills as an interpreter as well as a teacher; I was just as convinced that Harpers Ferry was a town trapped in the history of the Civil War as I was that I was no good with kids. I had read about Jackson’s position in the town and Sheridan’s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, but I could not admit to knowing much more than that. Continue reading “Now Quite Certain: Uncovering the Unexpected History of Harpers Ferry”

Changemakers: Harpers Ferry History Prompts Social Awareness

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Annika Jensen ’18

The day after the mass shooting at the Orlando gay nightclub Pulse was a Monday, and I was thoroughly unable to process my emotions or ponder the repercussions of the massacre upon walking into work that morning. I oscillated between bewilderment, grief, hopelessness, anger. My heart was tender. I chose silence as a defense mechanism.

In the midst of a traumatic year of violence, a year of being roused early many mornings by my phone buzzing with news updates about another terrorist attack or another shooting, this event had affected me the most profoundly, striking me full of emotion and affecting my day-to-day life more so than any other tragedy in the previous months. I fumbled through the motions of getting dressed, making my coffee, brushing my teeth in a state of overwhelm. I carried an emptiness when I led the day’s student group, about twenty campers exploring nearby parks and battlefields, across the B&O Railroad Bridge into lower town, and while my supervisor was getting them oriented with park rules and guidelines I felt I was in mourning.

Photo by the author
Photo by the author

Continue reading “Changemakers: Harpers Ferry History Prompts Social Awareness”

Embracing the Origins of the Civil War at Harpers Ferry

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Marisa Shultz ‘17

The National Park Service, as Pitcaithley described in “A Cosmic Threat,” once avoided discussing the causes of the American Civil War. This attitude stems from two places: the feelings of reconciliation in the wake of the war and the attitudes of previous owners of battlefield land. As Blight described in Race and Reunion, after the American Civil War, Northerners and Southerners quickly reconciled by excluding, physically and otherwise, the newly freed population. This prevented the growth of the freed slaves’ narratives, and allowed the “Lost Cause” ideology to take root and spread rampantly. The “Lost Cause” ideology propagated that the Southern states went to war because of issues over states’ rights, thus eliminating the question of slavery – that prominent Confederates, such as Alexander Stephens had once held in such regard – from the common narrative. As Pitcaithley demonstrates with the Yellowstone campfire story, tradition and narrative thrive and obfuscate even when a more accurate alternative is offered, and thus the “Lost Cause” and similar ideologies permeated America’s collective unconscious and became “the truth.” With this being the case, for quite some time the Park Service avoided the question overall due to its controversial nature.

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Continue reading “Embracing the Origins of the Civil War at Harpers Ferry”

Holding the High Ground at Harpers Ferry

By Andrew Vannucci ‘15

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Dwight Pitcaithley’s article, “A Cosmic Threat: The National Park Service Addresses the Causes of the American Civil War,” discusses the evolution of interpretation at Civil War parks that has moved toward a more complete, nuanced telling of Civil War history and the backlash against it. Before recent changes in NPS policy, most parks focused their interpretation solely on the military elements of their story. Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans interpreted this as appropriate deference towards honoring the men that fought in these battles. They saw moves toward setting battles in the context of social history (i.e., slavery) at these parks as taking attention away from and detracting from the sacrifices made by Confederate soldiers.

A memorial dedicated in 1931 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor the memory of Heyward Shepherd, a free African American, and the first person to die in connection with John Brown’s Raid. Photo credit Andrew Vannucci.
A memorial dedicated in 1931 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor the memory of Heyward Shepherd, a free African American, and the first person to die in connection with John Brown’s Raid. Photo credit Andrew Vannucci.

There is no doubt that military history is the essential component in programming at battlefield sites. Often, the most significant story to be told at battlefield sites is about the battle that took place there, the men who fought there and the men who died there. Hearing these stories and honoring veterans is important, but without setting these battles within a greater historical context battles loses their meaning in the bigger picture of American history. The preservation of an accurate historical memory and understanding of the war and the preservation of the physical sites themselves are equally important tasks. Pitcaithley’s article makes clear that Lost Cause influences contributed to the avoidance of this broader picture for a long time, but current programming at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park reveals just how substantial the transformations of recent years have been. Continue reading “Holding the High Ground at Harpers Ferry”

Making History Relatable

By Alexandria Andrioli ‘18

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Since beginning my internship at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, I have learned that interpretation is immensely important. It is not just about spouting out facts, dates, and figures at members of the general public who will probably never remember half of the stuff you tell them. National parks are about taking important and interesting material and making it relatable to the lives of the visitors that come to the park on a daily basis. Although Civil War emphatics deeply appreciate meticulous information, the average visitor wants more than just cold, hard facts. He/she wants to take something more meaningful away from his/her time spent at the park and this is where interpretation is key.

Dwight Pitcaithley addresses the idea of interpretation and the deeper meanings behind the significance of national parks (especially battlefield parks) in his work “A Cosmic Threat: The National Park Service Addresses the Causes of the Civil War.” In this essay, Pitcaithley explores the history of interpretation at NPS battlefield parks. When battlefields were first being preserved, their purpose was “to understand the military actions which took place there and to remember the men who fought there.” As Pitcaithley puts it, battlefields were to be “explained in detail” like “a chess game of war.” This idea was widely accepted, especially among the Civil War veterans who had fought these battles, because it sped up reconciliation between the men of the Blue and the Gray armies. Avoiding sensitive subjects that could easily reopen old wounds and focusing on common experiences shared between comrades and enemies alike was too tempting to resist. So naturally, parks that memorialized the battles and the soldiers of the Union and Confederacy did the same. “Any interpretation of the war, any mention of the war’s causes, or any mention of slavery” was dodged like the plague. Continue reading “Making History Relatable”

One Town, Many Histories

By Meghan Eaton ‘18

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

The National Park System is made up of over 474 parks, ranging from heritage sites and historical parks to historical trails, memorials, monuments, and the list goes on. There are many layers of history and many different stories present at each National Park, and it is important that each park’s whole story is shared with its visitors. In 1998, thanks to the “Holding the High Ground” initiative, Civil War battlefield parks began to make a concerted effort to broaden their interpretation to highlight social, economic, and cultural issues related to the war. This effort was undertaken in order to help visitors understand the Civil War in a broader context than just from a military prospective.

The Heyward Shepard Monument is the most controversial monument in the park. Erected in the 1930s by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, it provides a Lost Cause perspective on John Brown's raid. Photo credit Meghan Eaton.
The Heyward Shepard Monument is the most controversial monument in the park. Erected in the 1930s by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, it provides a Lost Cause perspective on John Brown’s raid. Photo credit Meghan Eaton.

Civil War battlefields have been preserved since the 1890s. With early battlefield parks established so close to the end of the war, their interpretation focused mainly on military history and steered clear of the causes of the war. Yet over the past fifteen years, this way of thinking has changed dramatically. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, for example, focuses on interpreting and teaching the park’s history in many different lights. The park has six main historical themes: John Brown, Industry, Civil War, Natural Resources, Civil Rights, and Transportation. Although the town of Harpers Ferry switched hands eight times between 1861-1864, the site also has over 300 years of history that is interpreted just as much as its Civil War history. Continue reading “One Town, Many Histories”

Pohanka Reflection: Matt LaRoche on Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

By Matthew LaRoche ‘17

This post is part of a series on the experiences of our Pohanka Interns at various historic sites working on the front lines of history as interpreters and curators. Dr. Jill Titus explains the questions our students are engaging with here. 

Visitors to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park try to see, feel, and understand the lost world of the past in a number of ways. I experience most of these interactions through our Congressional Youth Leadership Conference (CYLC) programs. These are courses designed to get fifth-graders from around the country to interact with the idea of leadership through the medium of Harpers Ferry’s history. But the emotional and intellectual connections highlighted in Rosenzweig and Thelen’s article are not made only by young visitors. All our visitors walk away having made some sort of connection between themselves and the previous generations whose lives gave rise to the current world – and themselves, of course.

LaRoche

Continue reading “Pohanka Reflection: Matt LaRoche on Harpers Ferry National Historical Park”

Apprehension and Excitement: My Summer at Harpers Ferry

By Blair Mitchell ’16

Before the start of my internship at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, I only had vague ideas of what it was like to be a teacher. My thoughts were mostly along the lines of, “yeah, I could teach”. However, abstract thoughts rarely prepare you for the real thing. My vision of flawlessly teaching 30 middle-schoolers about history inevitably did not line up with reality, leaving room for doubt to creep in. At first it seemed daunting to be in charge of so many students and lead them through the history of Harpers Ferry. But as I observed and taught more I realized how much fun it was, in addition to being challenging.

Blair at HF
Blair at Harpers Ferry NHP

The best thing about my Mondays and Tuesdays working with middle school students from around the country is having the opportunity to teach them new things and possibly leave an everlasting mark on them. But this potential for success and failure is what made me so apprehensive about teaching in the first place.  For most of the children that I teach, this is the first time they have ever learned about John Brown, and this both excites and scares me. On one hand, it is exciting because I have the chance to inspire a child to become a historian, but on the other hand they could lose interest and label all history as “boring”. I have always been aware of the power teachers hold in regard to the interests and futures of their students, and this summer that responsibility has fallen to me. Even though I only have my students for a day, I still believe that just one day can make a huge impact. Continue reading “Apprehension and Excitement: My Summer at Harpers Ferry”