Monday, October 29, 2012

Symposiuming: Preface

This past weekend, Stones River National Battlefield hosted its semi-annual symposium. This year's symposium's title "The Legacy of Stones River: Why the Battle Matters 150 Years Later," hinted that the event would seriously provoke thought about the idea of legacy and meaning. I went because I love that place, I did immense amount of research on some of the legacies, I love that place, I like seeing how historic sites address the question of "meaning," and I wanted to see what the symposium would include. Also, I love that place. Knowing my former advisor, Dwight Pitcaithley, would be speaking only sweetened the deal.

I had been to several of the symposiums over the past few years (in fact, I was the ranger who gave the ranger programs at the symposium over five years ago). But my experiences have always been working the symposiums. I helped set up the places, I helped direct traffic, I ensured technology worked. This was the first event hosted by the battlefield that I attended and technically had no responsibilities (I ended up volunteering to take photos, otherwise, I was a total participant).

If I want to be honest about my role as participant, however, I will admit that I knew of some of its planning from when I worked there over a year ago and know everybody involved with the planning (so I didn't walk into this program as most of the attendees did). I am also particularly versed in the battle's history, the memory of the battle in Civil War history, and the history of the landscape around the battlefield. The majority of the attendees (some who came from New Jersey, California, and Texas just to attend the symposium) would not have that sort of background.

The event itself ran smoothly, was well-received by those in attendance, and provided quality content for attendees. What I want to do, however is poke around a little at what we (historians, historic sites, event planners, etc.) can do better. What went especially well? What can use improvement? How well did we address the ideas of "legacy" and "meaning?" How much of the content "matters" during this sesquicentennial anniversary year of the American Civil War?

Over the next few days, I will take some time to provide my own assessment of the symposium. These will be from my own perspective as an attendee, as a historian trained to work with the public, and as an interpreter. C-SPAN filmed the presentations and I assume that means at some point in the future, you will be able to watch some of the content, too. In the meantime, you'll just have to bear with me as I attempt to sort out ideas about a two-day event in a verbose fashion.

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