Letter from the President
Can you say "sesquicentennial"?
By Paul A. Levengood, President and Chief Executive Officer
It's a tongue twister, to be sure. But hard as it may be to pronounce, we at the VHS have been hard at work preparing to mark the sesquicentennial—or 150th anniversary—of the Civil War. I am delighted to report that An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia, our massive, state-of-the-art exhibition, is now on display in our galleries through the end of this year—and then on the road across the state until 2015. The exhibition, which took us three years to develop and includes more than 200 artifacts and seventeen audio-visual stations, was made possible by a number of generous funders, led by the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Commission and other supporters recognized that educational opportunities abound in this anniversary. And they also agreed that there is no better place than Virginia to understand the destructive and bloody conflict our nation experienced between 1861 and 1865.
To describe An American Turning Point we have been using the phrase "It's not your grandfather's Civil War exhibition." This is a shorthand way of saying that in addition to the stories you may expect—those of military and political leaders—we have included ordinary men and women, white and black, whose experiences bear witness to the dramatic events of the war. So in addition to names like Robert E. Lee and J. E. B. Stuart, a visit to An American Turning Point will acquaint you with Siah Carter and Elizabeth Munford. Our catchphrase also alludes to the amount of interactive technology included in the exhibition. Visitors can diagnose common Civil War illnesses, track their ancestor's military unit across Virginia, or even assume the role of an enslaved African American fleeing to Union lines in hopes of freedom.
Our approach seems to be working. Since we opened the exhibition on February 4, attendance has been gratifyingly robust. And the number of people making the trek to the VHS speaks to the public's unending fascination with our nation's bloodiest conflict.
I can attribute my own interest in the Civil War to my grandfather, who took me to battlefields and gave me The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War at a young age. I know that even though he did not live to see this exhibition, he would have enjoyed it. It may not be your grandfather's Civil War exhibition, but I hope that all generations will find in it compelling stories and an understanding of how the momentous events of 150 years ago profoundly shaped us as a people.
Posted May 2011
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