The Home Front

The Home Front

Every year, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society hosts a Symposium on a specific topic of American history. The event is free and open to the public, and accomplished academics and authors give lectures on their own research before answering questions from the audience. This year's Symposium, titled "Congress, the Home Front, and the Civil War," examined domestic issues during the Civil War--basically everything going on in America from 1861-1865 that wasn't the war--and was held last Friday, on May 3.

 

I've spent the past several months keeping track of the guest list for the event, making fliers advertising the Symposium, and creating a program for the actual day, so I was very excited to see what it would be like. One of the most interesting parts was just watching the attendees. Someone from USCHS called it "like a reunion for these people," and she was right; it was just a giant gathering of history enthusiasts from all around the D.C. area. Many of them see each other just a few times a year for these events and are just so excited to hear lectures about the Civil War--although based on the questions from the audience, I got the impression that most of them already knew just about everything there is to know.

 

Prior to this semester, I hadn't realized how many details have to be in place for these type of events to come together. USCHS also sponsors one or two book signing lectures every month, inviting an author to give a short talk on her book related to the history of Washington or Congress. You know, those giant signs that say "U.S. Capitol Historical Society" and the awkwardly lanky tripods that they sit on don't just apparate into place all on their own. They're usually carried in by some equally awkwardly lanky-feeling intern who isn't quite sure if she's been snapping the legs into place in a guaranteed accident-free manner for the past three months. Appreciate the placement of those signs.

 

During the Symposium, the speakers lectured on the American economy during the war; the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862 (which set the stage for the hundreds of public universities the U.S. has today); the reconstruction of the U.S. Capitol dome (remember that cool scene in Lincoln where you see the dome as only half-built? turns out that's slightly anachronistic--the movies takes place at the end of 1864/the beginning of 1865, and the dome was basically completed by 1863); and the process of emancipation within Washington D.C. As someone who's much more interested in social history than military history, I really enjoyed listening to the speakers discuss the greater impact the war had on daily American life.

 

In the middle of the day, I went out to lunch with people from the lecture and all of the speakers, which was a great ~networking~ experience. But actually, it was pretty cool; I sat across from Professors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Carleton College in Minnesota and talked to them about their experiences teaching (one at a very, very big school and one at a very, very small school). The academic world is pretty small--as soon as I said I was from Dickinson, one of the speakers asked if I knew Matt Pinsker, one of our history professors!

 

Since the other interns and I finished the 1816 calendar several weeks ago, helping organize the Symposium has been my only other ongoing project. Now that it's over, I only have a few days left at my internship during which I'll be writing more blog posts for USCHS history blog...and making mental lists of all the packing to be done and the non-perishable food in my fridge to be eaten by move-out day on Saturday morning.

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