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Students with Abe Lincoln

With Marietta College’s second annual Experiential Education Day approaching on October 2, the History Department recently showcased its Public History minor with an immersive trip to Gettysburg National Military Park.

Five students in Dr. Brandon Downing’s “Civil War Memory and Commemoration” course learned how monuments, statues, and cemeteries shape public views of the past. Since most Americans don’t take history classes after middle school, historic sites and public historians become their resources.

To prepare, students researched Union and Confederate monuments at Gettysburg. They developed narratives that were factual, engaging, and educational. The students who made the trip were Katie Lively ’25 (New Matamoras, Ohio), Tyson Riggs ’25 (Marietta, Ohio), Liam Sherman ’25 (Chicago, Illinois), Landon Thompson ’26 (Marietta, Ohio), and Arwen Waite ’25 (New Berlin, Pennsylvania).

On location, students presented their research next to chosen monuments, directly on the battlefield. As Downing explains, “They told compelling stories by personalizing people, events, and meanings. Well-told stories make emotional and cognitive connections to history, inspiring listeners to learn more.”

Students also learned about controversies surrounding commemoration, and their responsibility as historians to build trust and avoid extremes. Instead, they are taught to rely on research and training for thoughtful storytelling.

The trip wasn’t all work, though. Students also toured the museum, met Abe Lincoln, explored the battlefield with a licensed guide, and viewed the animated “Battle of Gettysburg” Cyclorama — a popular form of entertainment in the 1800s before the advent of the motion picture.

By developing skills in research, narrative, and on-site interpretation, Marietta’s budding historians gained hands-on Public History experience at a seminal Civil War site. As Downing said, “They brought history to life while preparing for careers illuminating the past.”