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Students Get to Explain Gettysburg History for Juniata Civil War Course

(Posted October 7, 2013)

Jim Tuten, in brown hat, right, has his students clamber over a fence on the Gettysburg Battlefield as part of his field trip for the class Civil War and Reconstgruction.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- It's always hard to animate the historical events that happened decades ago, particularly in this age of instant information, but Juniata College historian Jim Tuten has come up with a unique twist to make the events of the battle of Gettysburg relevant to students. He's asking his students to teach the battle.

Nine Juniata students will prepare and deliver lectures on turning points in the most critical battle in the Civil War on the 150th anniversary of the battle as part of Tuten's history course "Civil War and Reconstruction," taught every fall semester. The students will be doing these lectures not in a classroom but on the battlefield itself. Tuten and his class will visit the Gettysburg National Historic Battlefield on a field trip Monday, Oct. 14.

"I think being on the spot where great events occurred evokes for students what I call 'historical imagination' -- the students can empathize across time by being in the same place history has happened," says Tuten, who has taught the course since 1999. "Most of us in the department were taught (and tend to teach) as social historians. We rarely deal with military matters and one thing I wanted to do was make Gettysburg and the field trip the focal point of the course."

Tuten tries to make sure all sides of the war are addressed when each talk ends. He often adds a few insights of historical memory after each talk ends. "I have a lot of fun teaching this course because I'm Southern and 90 percent of the students are not," says the native of South Carolina. "It allows me to get them to think differently about the war, and maybe even provoke them in some ways."

The field trip is fun for the students but there also are moments of somber reflection, particularly as they hear of desperate battles like the audacious bayonet charge of the 20th Maine at Little Round Top or the hand-to hand fighting as Pickett's soldiers reached Cemetery Ridge.
The students are asked to create lectures on nine topics or turning points in the battle, breaking it down into nine presentations.

"I think being on the spot where great events occurred evokes for students what I call 'historical imagination' -- the students can empathize across time by being in the same place history has happened."
Jim Tuten, associate professor of history


--McPherson's Ridge: The railroad cut where Union soldiers attacked Confederate forces coming to Gettysburg to confiscate supplies.

--The Peach Orchard: The withering fire and the folly of two Confederate charges mark this moment on the second day of the battle.

--Lee's Strategy: An overview of the decisions and battles that led to Lee's orders at Gettysburg.
--Pickett's Charge: The doomed charge by the Confederate Army on the third day.

--General George Meade: An overview of the decisions made by the commander of the Union Army at Gettysburg.

--Devils Den: An explanation of the bloodiest fighting of the battle.
--Little Round Top: A narrative of the heroics of the 20th Maine and Col. Joshua Chamberlain.

--The Angle/Highwater Mark of the Confederacy: Where the final attack of the Confederate forces were turned away.

--The Gettysburg Address.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.