Civil War planners talk about timing for 150th

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If you want to get students interested in history, take advantage of the technology they've grown up with.

Professor Lesley Gordon said she has used Ken Burns's Civil War documentaries and WQED's "The War that Made America," which covers the French and Indian War, in her history classes at the University of Akron. "I wouldn't have thought of iPods,' she said.

Using Web sites and pod casts as teaching tools was one of the ideas discussed at a meeting yesterday to start planning Pennsylvania's 150th, or "sesquicentennial," commemoration of the Civil War.

The morning session drew about two dozen people to the Sen. John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. "These are the hearty souls, not deterred by snow or sleet," center President Andrew Masich joked.

Mr. Masich led the discussion that looked at how and when events from the Civil War era should be remembered.

The 100th commemoration of the War Between the States gave short shrift to such topics as slavery and the role of women, he said. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is making sure those subjects get the coverage this time, he said.

A weekend storm kept Linda Shopes, the commission's director for "Telling Pennsylvania's Civil War Stories," in Harrisburg. She sent a statement, however, outlining the four key themes of the state's "New Narratives" project. They are "Slavery and Freedom," "The War's Impact on Local Communities," "Women and the Home Front" and "Commemoration and Memory."

Topics discussed yesterday included when commemorative activities should begin. While the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, S.C., on April 12, 1861, its roots and causes went back many years.

Sam Black, curator of the Heinz Center's African-American collection, argued for an event as early as 2008, which marks the 200th anniversary of U.S. abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.

Others proposed 2009, which will mark the 150th anniversary of John Brown's Raid at Harper's Ferry. Mr. Brown and a small group of abolitionists attacked a U.S. arsenal in what is now West Virginia, seeking to spark and arm a slave rebellion. Mr. Brown was captured by federal troops led by Robert E. Lee, convicted of treason and hanged.

Yesterday's session was the first of three planned for Western Pennsylvania. A second meeting is scheduled for May 19 at Allegheny College in Meadville. A third session will be held in Washington County at a date and location yet to be chosen.

A state-wide "sesquicentennial" planning meeting will be held of in Harrisburg April 20-21.

"We hope that these conversations will continue," said Ann A. Fortescue, the Heinz Center's director of education. "We are asking people to send information to us and to share it with other organizations."

The Heinz Center is affiliated with 120 historical societies and associations throughout Western Pennsylvania.

"I think it is wonderful that we are being asked for our opinions," Ms. Gordon said. "I'm impressed with the ideas." An associate professor of history at Akron, she lives in Economy.

The main Web site for the History Center is Ideas and proposals for Civil War commemorations can be sent to Ms. Fortescue at

Len Barcousky can be reached at or 724-772-0184.


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