The Park Service Strikes Back

Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latschar isn’t taking all the uproar over the new Museum and Visitor Center lying down.  Check out his thoughtful response to the critics, to which Kevin Levin refers over at his Civil War Memory blog.

Latschar’s remarks underscore the importance of audience and aims.  A visitor center at a major site like Gettysburg can’t cater solely to hardcore experts.  To do so would be a dereliction of duty.  I think it’s perfectly valid to question whether or not the NPS achieved its goal of educating the average visitor, but to question whether that goal itself its valid misses the point of museum exhibits and of historic sites in general.

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5 Comments

Filed under Civil War, Museums and Historic Sites

5 responses to “The Park Service Strikes Back

  1. Great blog! Just found it and am thoroughly enjoying it. If you’d like, check out my blog at http://www.tipstorian.blogspot.com and let me know what you think

  2. mlynchhistory

    Thanks for the kind words! It’s good to know that the Civil War crowd is represented on the West Coast. I’ve added your site to my blogroll.

    Michael Lynch

  3. Sean Dail

    Michael,

    If catering solely to the hardcore experts would be a dereliction of the NPS’s duty, then is it not also dereliction to ignore the hardcore fans and cater solely to the masses who may have only a passing interest in the battlefield and won’t spend their lifetimes supporting the Park?

    That is what it seems to me that the new VC does. There is little there for serious students of the war, and much for folks who don’t think twice about paying $8 for a 22-minute film and actually spend significant amounts of money in the museum store on the crap that it sells.

    It seems to me that either extreme is a travesty, and that is what we have: a monument to marketing to the masses – unfortunately, this marketing is aimed to make gaudy tourist bucks off the sacrifices made on the battlefield, and I find that reprehensible.

  4. mlynchhistory

    I agree that the NPS should avoid both extremes, but I think the new facility still has something to offer students of the war. I’m not a Civil War scholar by any means, but I did do some graduate-level study on the topic and started my career developing interpetation at a Lincoln site, and I didn’t find the exhibits to be dumbed-down. In fact, I got a real kick out of seeing some of the artifacts, and I’d been handling Civil War museum collections since I was a college intern.

    Again, though, I’d agree with you on some of your criticisms of gift shop items, both at Gettysburg and at many other museums.

    Michael Lynch

  5. sauer kraut

    Looks like Latscher gets to escape unscathed. But he ain’t gonna collect no 240k salary working in the hidee-closet.

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