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Middle Tennessee State University

One Place Through Time: Interpreting Individuals at Stones River National Battlefield

A pilot project submitted in partial fulfillment of the course HIST 7993: Current Issues in Public History Practice: INTEGRATING SCHOLARSHIP INTO CULTURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT THROUGH PRACTICE AND PARTNERSHIPS

By: Kristen Baldwin Deathridge Katherine Merzbacher

Murfreesboro, TN 4 June 2010

One Place Through Time: Interpreting Individuals at Stones River National Battlefield In the time that we spent at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, one thing that struck both of us was the successful development of the National Park Services One Place Through Time interpretive strategy. The National Park Service and their partners at Fort Vancouver have done this in several ways, but one exhibit in particular stood out, Growing up at Fort Vancouver. In our previous class project in the Public History Seminar we both noted that the National Park Service at Stones River National Battlefield is also moving in this interpretive direction by interpreting the community at Cemetery which sprung up after the Battle. Like the landscape of Fort Vancouver, the Stones River National Battlefield landscape has a long history replete with a multitude of different group and individual stories, making this a viable interpretive option for an exhibit at Stones River. In particular, we were inspired by an exhibit that is located in the Counting House at Fort Vancouver, Growing up at Fort Vancouver. Upon entering the Counting House, one walks down a hallway and is met by a panel that discusses the forthcoming interpretation of the individual lives of three children who resided in and around Fort Vancouver: the daughter of one of the officers of the Hudsons Bay Company that built the fort, the son of one of the fur traders who lived in the village outside of the fort, and a girl who traveled to the area along the Oregon Trail. This introductory panel explains to visitors the importance of locating information in both 1

the historical and archaeological records. After reading this introductory wall panel, the visitor proceeds down the hallway and enters a room that contains large exhibit panels. These six panels interpret the lives of each individual child as supported by information found in both historical and archeological records. There are two panels for each child, one that discusses what we can learn from the historical record and one that shows what information can be uncovered with archaeology and how each source can answer questions about the lives of past individuals. The panels also include interactive visual components including encased artifacts that are attached to the panels, as well as smaller flip-up question and answer panels. This interpretive strategy will work well at Stones River because both Fort Vancouver and Stones River are landscapes that have a long history of occupation by multiple groups of people over the course of time. The landscape of Fort Vancouver was occupied by Native American peoples, The Hudsons Bay Company, the Company Village, the Oregon Trail, the United States Army, and the National Park Service. At Stones River National Battlefield, the landscape was occupied by Native Americans, including those en route on the Trail of Tears, pre-Civil War planters, all of those involved in the Civil War--including Confederate soldiers, Contraband Camp detainees, Union occupying soldiers, and Members of the Unites States Colored Troops--residents of the post-Civil War Cemetery community, and the National Park Service. In particular, interpreting Native Americans and their experience on the Trail of Tears 2

would serve to fulfill a recent mandate to the National Park Service at Stones River. We also believe that it could serve as a bridge to some parts of the local community if more exhibit space at Stones River were used to discuss the Cemetery community and the history of the National Park Service both in the nation and on that property specifically. We created a mock introductory panel to demonstrate one way that this interpretive strategy could be employed at Stones River. The exhibit could be titled One Place Through Time: Life at Stones River. This panel will serve a similar function as the Fort Vancouver introductory hallway panel, orienting visitors to the fact that many different groups of people occupied the Stones River landscape. This panel will also teach visitors about the importance of interpreting history through information that is found in the historical and archeological record. Visitors will learn basic information about some of the different groups of people that experienced life at Stones River, as well as understand that the historical and archeological records are really inseparable, and work together to inform historians of the lives of past people. In addition, the final version of this panel could include some examples of those individuals and groups of people that experienced life at Stones River. We created a second panel to demonstrate that, like Fort Vancouver, individual exhibit panels can be created at Stones River to interpret the life experiences of those who lived on the battlefield landscape. The National Park Service already knows a great deal of information about William Holland, a former slave, member of the United 3

States Colored Troops, and resident of the Cemetery community. A panel could be made for him immediately. Some groups that lived at Stones River might be able to be represented by an individual, like the sample panel that we made about William Holland. For other groups that are underrepresented in the historical and archeological record, like those Native Americans who came through the Stones River Battlefield landscape on the Trail of Tears, a panel interpreting the story of the group will be necessary. We recommend creating one panel to interpret the story of each group that experienced life at Stones River. If there is enough information about an individual that could be used to represent the group, this might be a more dynamic and personal form of interpretation, but all groups should be represented. This exhibit could take the form of actual panels in the visitors center at Stones River National Battlefield, but it could also be placed on the Parks website in order to fulfill the mandate to interpret the landscape as one place through time. Though we recognize there are financial restrictions, we recommend further archaeological investigations at Stones River in order to further the interpretation of the various stories of groups and individuals who lived at Stones River. This project could start immediately and grow in time. It could also be a way to involve different communities with the Battlefield Park by including them as stakeholders in the creation of some of these panels. For example, the Park could ask for and incorporate ideas from the Native American community as they interpret the Trail of Tears. As more information is 4

discovered in the historical and archeological record about the people who experienced life on the Stones River landscape, these stories can be incorporated both in smaller exhibits or a binder in the room containing this exhibit, as well as on the web. This pilot project is but one example of the way that our experience at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site inspires us to implement successful interpretive strategies at our own local historic places.