It is Gettysburg week in my Pennsylvania History course. I am devoting class on Tuesday and Thursday to the story and commemoration of the battle. I spent a good chunk of the day yesterday with Jim Weeks’s Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and An American Shrine. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Weeks was a Pennsylvania historian who left us too early. (He passed away in 2005).
Weeks makes five major arguments about post-1863 Gettysburg:
1. Gettysburg did not become a “shrine by popular will.” It was promoted that way.
2. Gettysburg was never at odds with the marketplace.
3. African Americans have “ignored Gettysburg” because they had never been part of the commemoration
4. The idea that some features of Gettysburg (avenues and monuments) “transcended” the marketplace while others (observation towers and trolleys) “desacralized” the site is not true.
5. The present-era at Gettysburg, defined by “heritage” and “authenticity,” is merely “the latest in a series of transformations driven by cultural, economic, and social change….”