Commonplace Book #83

Gettysburg provides an opportunity to pin faith in the sacred to a tangible place, whose borders the faithful assume they are defending against the barbarians of commercialism. Yet we only have to reflect on how Gettysburg has been experienced to begin to see the situation differently.  The making of Gettysburg transpired as the nation underwent dramatic change in an industrializing America.  Within little over three decades after the battle, the United States became the world’s greatest industrial power and soon turned the corner from producer to a consumer nation . A new commercial culture penetrated the heart of American life, combining merchandising with intangibles such as holidays, religion, and national purpose.  The unfolding of this commercial culture paradoxically created sacred space to escape it.  Like Christmas or civic celebrations, it was precisely Gettysburg’s perceived transcendence of the marketplace that both enhanced and masked its position as a commodity.  In other words, the making of Gettysburg into an icon did not simply happen because a great Civil War battle had been fought there.  Rather, a commercial web often entwined with ritualistic activity packaged it for a consuming public and continually repackaged it for new generations.  Its chief producers in the marketplace have not been not only entrepreneurs, but those organizations dedicated to perpetuating the battle’s memory, including federal, state, and local government, Civil War veterans, reenactors, and preservation groups.  To achieve its central position in American culture, Gettysburg had to be brought within the cultural hub of American life, the marketplace.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine, 7-8.