Each fall semester, the Civil War Era Studies program brings a group of undergraduate students to Gettysburg College, where they are immersed in the study of the American Civil War. From living in a 19th-century mansion to treading the battlefields where America’s fate was decided, The Gettysburg Semester students enjoy a unique experience. As part of the program, they generally take four courses: Interpretation of the Civil War, Field Experience in Civil War Era Studies, and two courses of their choosing. Many students elect to forgo a fourth course and substitute it with a public history internship. In the past, we have had students intern at Gettysburg National Military Park, Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Adams County Historical Society, and the Shriver House Museum. Such hands-on internships and interdisciplinary study help to reveal a multifaceted history and shed light on the men and women who lived it.
Below is a testimonial from Phillip Brown, a veteran of the Gettysburg Semester 2011 who is currently a seasonal park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park.
On July 1, 1863, the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia collided on the outskirts of the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. The collision would quickly evolve into the largest battle of the American Civil War and ultimately cost both sides over 50,000 casualties. In the opening hours of the engagement, elements of the Union Eleventh Corps and the Confederate Second Corps smashed into one another on the campus of Pennsylvania College. Today, that very same institution exists under the name Gettysburg College, and it remains an institution devoted to offering high quality education to students from across the country in a wide range of programs. Given its rich history, it is only fitting that Gettysburg College also boasts an academic department devoted entirely to Civil War Era Studies.
The Civil War Era Studies department, which is run by Dr. Allen C. Guelzo, is much like any other academic department on campus but for one unique feature—it allows students to travel from other colleges and universities to come and be immersed in the Civil War for one semester. In essence, this experience stands as a sort of in-country “study abroad” program, and it is called The Gettysburg Semester. Every fall semester, a select group of students from around the country is privileged to spend time exploring the environs surrounding the hallowed ground of Gettysburg and many other Civil War sites.
I have been interested in the American Civil War in one capacity or another since I was about four years old. If it wasn’t films such as Glory, Gone with the Wind, or Gettysburg, I found myself in Civil War themed coloring books, children’s novels, or Time-Life series books on the Civil War. While growing up, I tried as hard as I could to be a veritable sponge of all things Civil War, and I soon realized I wanted to spend my entire life doing something involving the Civil War. After visiting numerous battlefields and other National Parks, I decided in the sixth grade that a career in the National Park Service would be my primary career goal.
When I began looking at colleges and universities in 2007, Gettysburg College caught my attention, but as a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, I decided to stay closer to home and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, I still wanted the Gettysburg experience, and The Gettysburg Semester afforded me that opportunity. After applying and being accepted into the program, I became a member of the fall 2011 Gettysburg Semester cohort.
Upon arriving in Gettysburg, the first thing that struck me about the program was the living situation. The Gettysburg Semester students are housed in the Appleford Inn, a historic bed and breakfast that dates back to 1867 and which is almost exclusively reserved for Civil War Era Studies minors and history majors. Living in a house full of like-minded people afforded some excellent friendships and professional connections as well. I also found the formal courses that come along with the Gettysburg Semester extremely engaging, and Field Experience in the American Civil War was among my favorites. It is a two part course. On Thursdays, students meet in the classroom, and lectures are given on the military aspects of the war. On Fridays, students take to the field and spend the entire day exploring the battlefields that were discussed in the Thursday lectures. There are few other opportunities like The Gettysburg Semester that allow students to study events at the actual locations where they took place like.
While completing my coursework for The Gettysburg Semester, I had the opportunity to take on an internship with the National Park Service at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. This is one of the major benefits of The Gettysburg Semester. Gettysburg College has a great relationship with the National Park Service, and this relationship has yielded internships to many Gettysburg Semester students seeking careers in the Park Service. This was one of the features that really attracted me to the program. At Harpers Ferry, I worked in the Education Department and helped students from across the country connect with their nation’s history and enjoy their national park. It was through my experiences at Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg College that I have begun my journey in a career with the National Park Service. Before the semester ended, I received the opportunity to become a Seasonal Park Ranger with Gettysburg National Military Park.
Without my experiences in the Gettysburg Semester and the opportunities the Civil War Era Studies department afforded me, I would have likely never had the opportunity to intern at Harpers Ferry NHP or work at Gettysburg NMP. I would encourage any undergraduate student who is serious about gaining more academic experience in the Civil War to take a look at The Gettysburg Semester being offered at Gettysburg College.
The Semester program is offered every fall with applications being due for next year’s program on March 1, 2013. To learn more about the program visit The Gettysburg Semester Website as well as The Gettysburg Semester Facebook Page. If you would like to speak personally with me to learn more about my experiences in the program, feel free to contact the Civil War Era Studies office at Gettysburg College.
Gettysburg Semester ‘11
I have known others, including one of my graduate school colleagues at UVA, who enrolled in the Gettysburg Semester and they have all told me that is was a rewarding experience indeed. You can find information and applications HERE.