Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2018 CWI conferenceabout their talks. Today we are speaking with A. Wilson Greene. Mr.
Greene recently retired from a 44-year career in public history. He spent sixteen years in the National Park Service, served as the first director of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (now the Civil War Trust), and was the founding director of Pamplin Historical Park & the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, where he worked for 22 years. Greene holds a Masters degree in History. He is the author of numerous articles in scholarly and popular publications and six books, including his latest: A Campaign of Giants: The Battles for Petersburg, Volume 1, From the Crossing of the James to the Battle of the Crater (UNC Press, forthcoming).
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 Luke Frigon ‘18
In his piece “Reassessing the ‘Sankofa Symbol’ in New York’s African Burial Ground,” Erik Seeman draws two main conclusions: 1) early African Americans burial practices were substantially influenced by Anglo culture, and that 2) the Sankofa Symbol has a much more in depth and varied history and meaning than it’s taken for at face value. The first of these two statements is one that seems obvious when Seeman presents us with the facts. He tells us that most of the remains exhumed at New York’s African Burial Ground were buried exactly like their white counterparts. 352 of 384 were buried in coffins, 393 of 419 were buried in a single internment, 367 of 365 were buried with their head facing West, and 269 of 269 were buried lying face up. This is exactly how virtually all New Yorkers were buried at the time. Along with this, a vast majority of the African burials were done so without grave goods (pipes, ornaments, jewelry, cufflinks, etc.), mirroring Euro-American practices.
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.
On the morning of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Opening Assaults at Petersburg, I carefully watched all that was happening. While there was plenty going on – children’s activities, cannon demonstrations and a camp of re-enactors – one tent seemed to constantly have a steady stream of visitors who all spent a significant amount of time there before moving on. The tent that was so popular was the archeology one. Visitors put on clean white gloves and examined bits of pottery, fragments of metal and dropped bullets neatly organized in trays indicating the area in which each was found. As an intern in Resource Management, the department which predominately deals with the preservation and conservation of the park’s cultural and natural resources, I, of course, am partial to archeology, but what was it that was entrancing all these visitors? So I got to thinking about why I love my own job.
Studies by historians Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelan indicate that many of us prefer a history which is directly pertinent to us, one we can grasp, and therefore humanize within a framework we are already familiar with: the stories of our families, the history of our communities and our own personal past. When we lack that sort of direct connection, artifacts can help build it for us. By sketching out a familiar context they can bring a story which may seem impossible to imagine close to us.
Upon finding out that I would represent Gettysburg College as a Brian C. Pohanka Intern at Petersburg National Battlefield, I was ecstatic though a little wary. The Petersburg Campaign was one on which I had never truly focused. I had heard of the Crater, the battles of White Oak Road and Five Forks, but I did not fully understand the scope and magnitude of the campaign. However, as a student whose passion is the experience of the common soldier, I quickly realized what a perfect fit the Petersburg Campaign is for my interests.