The original, honest-to-goodness Electric Map is up for grabs at a government auction site (with a tip of the hat to Brooks Simpson).
Need the perfect gift for that Civil War buff who has everything? Look no more. He’ll be the envy of all his fellow CWRT members. Oh, Bob, I heard your kids bought you another Kunstler print. Here, step into the living room for a minute and I’ll show you what the wife picked up for my birthday.
But wait, there’s more! During the holiday season, the Electric Map doubles as a festive lawn decoration! With a simple bulb reconfiguration, Longstreet’s July 2 attack on the Union left transforms into two elves dancing atop the words JOY TO THE WORLD.
All joking aside, think about this for a minute. On several occasions we’ve noted how an individual’s personal memories sometimes intersect with collective historical memory. When you’ve been visiting a site for many years and it’s become the locus for many fond recollections, you come to regard it as much for its personal nostalgic value as for its objective historical significance.
Now, consider how the Disney parks cater to hardcore fans. Some Disney rides stay in operation for decades, acquire enthusiastic followings, and become venerable institutions in their own right. A few years ago, the folks at the Mouse introduced a line of commemorative pins which contain tiny pieces of the actual attractions themselves, removed during refurbishment or when a ride is dismantled. They’re like little pop culture reliquaries.
Thus Disney enthusiasts get to have a tangible connection to something that’s dear to them, and the parks make a little money. Maybe historic sites are missing out on the nostalgic market. The uproar over the Electric Map and the Cyclorama building indicate that we’re a pretty sentimental bunch.
A couple of days ago I posted about a news item that Eric Wittenberg mentioned on his blog. To recap, the folks at Gettysburg National Military Park are thinking about reviving the Electric Map in the form of a film presentation.
Critics of the map said that it was too big and too antiquated, and I agree. But I can also sympathize with those who miss seeing the battle play out in three dimensions, and I think that basic approach remains the best way to demonstrate the troop movements for visitors. Given that fact, and all the uproar, I wondered in my post (as I’ve wondered before) why the NPS didn’t utilize fiber optic technology to create a smaller, modernized, smoother version of the Electric Map for the twenty-first century, such as the one at Cowpens National Battlefield.
I should’ve thought of this before I published that post, but I decided to see if I could find an online video of the Cowpens map, so those of you who haven’t been there could see what I was talking about. To my surprise, I found one.
The ex-museum guy in me gets all giddy over this sort of thing. This baby is remarkably compact, located inside a tiny auditorium with a few benches. There’s a separate map above it that depicts the overall strategic situation in the Revolutionary South, although in this clip it’s replaced with illustrations.
Now imagine one of these in the new visitor center at Gettysburg, along with a fiber optic wall map to show the invasion of Pennsylvania and Lee’s retreat back into Virginia. I think it’d be pretty sweet, and visitors could still get that three-dimensional orientation that the Electric Map provided—without the bulk and noise.
Eric Wittenberg draws our attention to an interesting news item from Gettysburg. They’re throwing around the idea of bringing back some version of the Electric Map in a conventional, movie-theater format.
I’m not sure what they’ve got in mind, but the news item makes an implication that has me scratching my head: “The Electric Map was disassembled earlier this year and placed in storage, where it remains today. But before it was taken apart, the Electric Map presentation was filmed, Park Superintendent John Latschar said Thursday. The film is being edited, he said.”
Did I get that right? Are they thinking about just running a film of the Electric Map running through its paces? If that’s the case, I’ll pass.
Maybe they’re planning to put together a new, original film that will basically be a two-dimensional, onscreen animated map. That’s not a bad idea, but it won’t really accomplish anything that hasn’t already been done with the shorter tactical films in the battle galleries. The only advantage would be that visitors could see the entire battle as a whole, as they did before.
As much as I love the new exhibits, I still can’t figure out why they didn’t replace the Electric Map with a smaller, fiber optic version similar to the one at Cowpens. The decision to demolish the old map seemed to have a lot to do with its unwieldy size and outdated technology; the approach at Cowpens would have eliminated both of these problems. Anyway, we’ll see what they’ve got in the works.