Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War begins at the American National Archives in Washington

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The above photograph is part of a new exhibition at the American National Archives commemorating the American Civil war and shows a racially integrated Union naval crew aboard a ship probably the Mendota. The American Civil War is an event which is considered to have been as key to the development of the United States as the American Revolution. As such, it is an event that has attracted a huge amount of interest from historians, history students, documentary makers and of course the general population. This has led to an outpour and huge consumption of books on the war, reconstruction, slavery and Lincoln and this will no doubt continue over the next few years as commemoration steps up a gear. On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil war a new exhibition at the American National Archives, called ‘Discovering the Civil War’, which brings together online 6,000 digitized records has sought out new ways of analysing, interpreting and viewing the civil war. While the material is not new it is welcome. The archive hopes that it will encourage visitors to ‘take a fresh look at the Civil War through little-known stories, seldom-seen documents, and unusual perspectives; consider and ask questions about the evidence; listen to a wide variety of voices; and make up your own mind about the struggle that tore apart these United States.’ The availability of so much of this material online is commendable and encouraging. The site is well worth a look offering a good example of how exhibits can be appreciated by those who can visit a location directly. It is geared towards a broad audience and with personal accounts of soldiers on both sides of the war, photographs which depict ‘camp life, routines, war preparations, the moments just prior to battle, and the aftermath of battle’,  as well as a section entitled ‘Teachable texts from the National Archives at New York City’ this is an excellent teaching resource. The exhibition falls into two sections; the first ‘Beginnings’ opened 30 April while the second section ‘Consequences’ opens 10 November.  The New York Times reviews the first section of the exhibit here.

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