S. Waite Rawls III, President and CEO of the Museum of the Confederacy, explains what the museum has planned for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in Virginia.
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MOC tour guide on the step of the Virginia Capitol
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Library research at the Museum of the Confederacy
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Architect Carlton Abbott's rendering of the MOC-Appomattox site.
This is my fourth and last (at least for now) in a series of articles about the coming of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. I have addressed why it should matter to us 21st century Virginians, how Lincoln’s call for troops pushed Virginia into a war, and what Virginians did to prepare for that war. I will now talk about what we are doing now at the Museum of the Confederacy to prepare for a greater level of national interest during the Sesquicentennial.
Like most other museums, we place the word “education” prominently in our mission statement. Like most museums, we have an education department that develops and offers on-site programs and curriculum materials that teach American history using our collections.
But “education” in a museum is much more than just educating the hordes of school children that descend upon us in the fall and spring. Our Board of Directors is filled with education professionals, including the former Chairmen of the Board of Trustees of Virginia Military Institute, the College of William & Mary, and the Universities of Virginia, Alabama, and Richmond. Four more of them have “Professor” as their title, and the President of the University of Richmond chairs the board committee, which oversees our educational mission. We take this mission very seriously.
We perform this mission in three ways: research, exhibits and programs. The research is ongoing. Harvard President Drew Faust, a native Virginian and past Museum consultant, calls us “a treasure trove” for researchers; and we see nothing but increased interest over the next four years. We plan to open two new exhibits during 2011 in Richmond, including one on the home front, an area of greatly increased interest because of its inherent diversity. And we plan to open a new museum site in Appomattox in 2012—the largest, most important effort in the nation during the anniversary.
New programming is the area where we can really make an impact in the short term. One of our staff members will be delivering a series of talks in Australia to kick off that country’s observance of the American Civil War Sesquicentennial. In Richmond, we will have a special program each month, covering the widest range of topics. In Appomattox, well before we open, we will also have a monthly program for locals and visitors. We are planning two programs apiece in Fredericksburg and Hampton Roads—both future sites for the Museum of the Confederacy. That’s 28 programs scheduled for next year alone, but we won’t stop there. Last year, we made 39 separate presentations, lectures, or programs to off-site groups—local historical societies, heritage groups, or service organizations, like the Rotary or Kiwanis—across the country. I expect that we will top that number in the first year of the Sesquicentennial, as our national attention turns to the crucible of the Civil War.
The Museum’s always busy staff of 19 will be even busier during the Sesquicentennial, but the mission is critical. Perhaps no period of American history is more important than the Civil War; and perhaps no chapter of American history is less understood or more misunderstood than the Confederacy and Virginia’s critical role in the Confederacy.
If you want to learn more, come in for a visit. And take a look at our schedule of events—it’s full of opportunities.