Wednesday, July 21, 2010

2010 CWPT Teacher Institute

As the saying goes...time flies when you're having fun. The past week has been history heaven for me. After hosting what proved to be a great teacher conference at the Kentucky Historical Society last Thursday, I found my way to Hagerstown, Maryland for the 2o10 Civil War Preservation Trust's Teacher Institute. As always, the CWPT put on a great show.

The Institute kicked off with lunch on Friday, which included a wonderful talk by the always inspiring Dr. James I. "Bud" Robertson. Friday afternoon offered participants three sessions. The sessions I attended were: "The Power of Objects...Making Connections to the Past," presented by Dr. Sharon Shaffer from the Smithsonian Institute; "Teaching the Civil War Using Local Experience," by Timothy H. Smith; and "Exploding the Myths and Facts about Gettysburg" by George Khoury. The sessions offered good information and also some new ideas to share with our teachers here in Kentucky.

Friday evening's dinner featured a talk by Dr. Peter Carmichael, who is the new Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. Dr. Carmichael brought up some interesting points to think about and offered some suggestions on how to help students make connections to history. I was happy to get the opportunity to meet Dr. Carmichael after his talk and had him sign my copy of his book The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War and Reunion.

Saturday was the field trip day of the institute and it came bright and early with breakfast and a 7:15 a.m. boarding of the bus for a ride to Gettysburg. My group's first stop was to the new visitor center and museum. Although I had visited the new center back in October, I saw a number of things this time that I had previously missed. Of special interest was a temporary exhibit on Lincoln statues. The film that they show at the center is simply amazing. I was hoping to find a copy of it in the museum store, but unfortunately didn't. Not only is it narrated by the incomparable Morgan Freeman, it does a superb job of summing up the war and the Battle of Gettysburg in just a few minutes, and so with such vivid images that one can't help but be impressed...and emotionally moved.

After a nice box lunch we headed to the tour portion of the trip. Depending on what bus you were assigned, you received a different tour of the battlefield. Some toured Little Round Top or Pickett's Charge, but my group toured Devil's Den. We were fortunate to have licensed battlefield guide and CWPT's new Director of Eduction and History Gary Adelman as our guide. When it comes to Devil's Den, Gary has literally "written the book."

During our tour we explored those rocks from top to bottom and inside and out. I especially enjoyed seeing the famous historic photographs taken on this part of the field and then comparing those images to what we saw right before us. Some of the images were especially gruesome. One soldier killed beside the large rock below, which was near Plum Run, had a huge hole in the side of his head where he had been shot and fell dead.

We also learned about the famous "Sharpshooter" photograph (pictured below) and how the soldier and rifle in that image had been moved from another part of the battlefield. We heard that the myth that photographers often staged or moved dead soldiers to make their photographs more interesting is not true; apparently this image was a rare incident.

Table rock, (pictured below) was to me, the most impressive rock formation in the Devil's Den
area. This huge hunk of stone looks like it could slide right off at any time, but apparently has not moved in years. One can only wonder what the soldiers thought when they first saw it that day in the fighting.

After a short visit to the Gettysburg Soldier's Cemetery it was back on the bus and back to Hagerstown. Saturday evening's dinner featured a panel discussion with teachers Eric Miller and Kevin Levin, professor Dr. James Beeghley and CWPT's Director of Internet Strategy and Development, Rob Shenk on using Web 2.0 technology in the classroom to help create student interest in learning about the Civil War.
Sunday offered three great sessions before lunch. The first was a very informative question and answer session with CWPT staff members Gary Adelman and Nick Redding. The second session was an interesting "deconstruction" talk by Ranger Charles Teague on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and the third was a "Crash Course on Creating Videos, by CWPT's Rob Shenk. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for lunch and Jeff Sharrah's talk, as I had to catch a flight back home.
After just hosting an event that had only about a quarter of the participants that this teacher institute had, I understand all too well the hard work and planning that goes into an event such as this. The staff at CWPT deserves high praise for this hugely successful event. I encourage all history teachers and educators to look into attending what will certainly be another wonderful institute in 2011 in Franklin, Tennessee.

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