Should a Battlefield Visit be a More Solemn Occasion?

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View from the Angle at Gettysburg…looking across the field at Seminary Ridge.

Tourists in cars, tourists in buses, tourists on Segways, tourists with selfie sticks, tourists yelling, arguing, dropping garbage. This is the typical scene at the most visited section of the Gettysburg battlefield: The Bloody Angle. Much of Gettysburg takes on a carnival atmosphere. The town itself is tuned almost entirely to the tourist industry – and the associated tourist revelry spills out to the surrounding fields of battle in ways that are – shall we say…less than dignified.

As a historian who studies memory, commemoration, and historical interpretation, I find battlefield tourism fascinating. Especially these days as the commemorative landscape is in a clear state of flux. But I can’t help but wonder if tourists more often than not miss the point.

You know that spot where where you are yelling at your kids? Yes, that one…thousands of people were killed there. And the ground was dedicated to honor the fallen. Perhaps death on that scale is too abstract for most to really fathom. Perhaps we are too far removed from the event.

Perhaps.

But I think it would be a good idea for everyone to take a minute away from shouting and selfies to reflect on what actually happened there. Let’s stop and think for a moment about those who fought, killed, and struggled for their lives…and maybe then we can understand why they did it.

With compliments,

Keith

6 thoughts on “Should a Battlefield Visit be a More Solemn Occasion?”

  1. “But I think it would be a good idea for everyone to take a minute away from shouting and selfies to reflect on what actually happened there. Let’s stop and think for a moment about those who fought, killed, and struggled for their lives…and maybe then we can understand why they did it.”

    “…aye, there’s the rub…” The people reading this blog are the ones that already understand the point you’re making. I love Gettysburg ! Of the times I’ve been there only 2 were actually planned for the summer. That was back in the late 80’s. The rest were in the spring or fall. Those visits just happen to coincide with school being in session. The most peaceful and reflective times are early morning and early evening. A sprinkle of fireflies after dark is amazing.The arrival of a tour bus is reason enough for departing to another section of the park. Next trip down is planned for early November. You wouldn’t be heading back for another book signing……?

    PS Spellcheck questioned the word “selfies”. Go figure !! 🙂

  2. Of course, most folks aren’t as in tune with the historical events, and sometimes kids need to be yelled at. I guess I’m just happy they’re there and they brought their kids, and maybe their kids will gain an interest that turns into a lifelong interest.

  3. Good post. I think the same thing down here in Georgia at Kennesaw Mountain, which is a heavily visited park but not so much for the history as for the hiking/running trails. Oh, and the actually battlefields in Atlanta….well we’ve got a long ways to go here to recognize what are now parking lots where men bled and died. But back to the issue. Is this something the NPS can push more? Signage denoting an area as not only a battlefield area but an area of reflection and reverence? Is this more an American thing and not just Civil War? I haven’t been to the World Trade site but I would be curious to see the environment there. But I agree, these are sacred grounds where the nation’s principles were tested and resolved, where men died in staggering numbers. These lands are hallowed ground and should be observed as such.

    1. I think your suggestion about signage is a good idea and worthy of pursuing. I wonder who one might talk to in order to get the conversation going.
      Regarding the World Trade Center site – a commenter on this post on my FB page noted that the same kind of atmosphere exists there, which seems to me odd indeed.

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