'On A Great Battlefield': The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933 – 2009
Type of Degreedissertation
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Since July 1863 historians have written a great deal on the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, but have devoted little attention to the history of the battlefield itself. In the decades since the sound of artillery and muskets silenced and the soldiers retreated from the field, the Gettysburg battlefield has become a place of commemoration, veneration, celebration, and controversy. It is a site unlike any other on American soil. This dissertation provides an innovative perspective on the Civil War and Gettysburg historiography by examining how the National Park Service (NPS) has administered the battlefield from its acquisition of the site in August 1933 through 2009. Underlying the National Park Service’s expansive history are variables of management philosophies, land acquisition, planning initiatives, competing notions of privatization and commercialism, and evolving interpretive efforts. Between August 1933 and October 2009 ten superintendents have administered the Gettysburg National Military Park. This inevitable change in management has resulted in an ever-evolving battlefield. Superintendent’s backgrounds, whether as landscape architects, government bureaucrats, or historians, consistently shape their vision for the battlefield. Additionally, several landmark eras became evident, all dramatically changing the management, interpretation, and memory of the battlefield. Those four eras are the Great Depression period, 1933-1940; World War II, 1941-1945; the MISSION 66 and Civil War Centennial years, 1955 to 1955; and the fifteen years of John Latschar’s administration, 1994 to 2009. Notwithstanding the degree of change at the battlefield, however, many variables remained constant. Management decisions made by the National Park Service receive America’s close securitization because of Gettysburg’s prominent place within American History and the sensationalism of the site. Controversy and heated debates underscore each administration. Additionally, throughout the twentieth century the battlefield has been used as a landscape of patriotic expression, which was seen most evidently during World War II. This dissertation examines the successes and failures of the National Park Service at Gettysburg. In its simplest form the Gettysburg battlefield is a memorial landscape to war. Yet to many Americans Gettysburg is more than a battlefield; it is a place of patriotic expression, of public display, and a place of veneration.