Alexander K. Harding
Villanova University / Master's Program
to Public History (HIS 8702)
14 April 2015
Interview Review Paper
Preservationists and the Hunterstown Historical Society
The town and battlefield of Gettysburg is a historical gem of
Pennsylvania. Through various federal, state and local organizations, like the Gettysburg
National Military Park (GNMP), Pennsylvania Civil War Trails
(PCWT) and the Adams County
Historical Society (ACHS), its historical sites are well protected and interpreted for future
generations. But not all historical sites in Adams County are
given the same kind of attention that
Gettysburg receives from different preservation organizations. Laurie Harding, former president
of the Hunterstown Historical Society
(HHS) and current administrative director at Historic
Gettysburg-Adams County (HGAC), says sometimes “it takes a village” to accomplish great
tasks, when larger forces are working
against you. In the “village” of Hunterstown, a group of
concerned citizens, under the leadership of Harding, came together to form HHS and help protect
its history from the historical vacuum
of Gettysburg. Their efforts demonstrate that non-
academically trained historians can be good practitioners of public history too.
The meaning of public history is as diverse as
the historians who practice it. On the
National Council on Public History’s (NCPH) blog History@Work, public history is
many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world.” While NCPH
describe it as “a movement, methodology, and approach that promotes the
collaborative study and practice of history; its practitioners embrace a mission to make
special insights accessible
and useful to the public.” Harding says, “[p]ublic history, for us
[HHS], would be the ‘highlighting’ of a certain historical happening and sharing it with others.”
With these varying notions
of what public history means to different people, it becomes no
surprise that “[p]ublic historians come in all shapes and sizes.”
They call themselves historical
consultants, museum professionals, government historians, archivists, oral historians, cultural resource managers, curators,
film and media producers, historical interpreters, historic preservationists, policy advisers, local historians, and community
activists, among many other job descriptions. All share an interest and commitment to making history relevant and useful in
the public sphere.
In many cases, practitioners
of public history are not academically trained in the field, but that
does not mean that they cannot offer much needed skills and expertise to help preserve
endangered cultural heritage
from generational neglect.
Love for one’s own cultural heritage is sometimes what prevents history from becoming
lost in the past. As David
Thelen and Roy Rosenzweig argue in their book The Presence of the
Past, “…although people may have negative associations with the term ‘history,’ they
which they define in highly personal and familiar terms.” Those who “embrace ‘the
past,’” like Harding and the HHS, they do so out of a commitment to intimate histories. For
Harding, it was her love for Civil
War history and living on a historical farm that inspired her to
help found HHS with her husband, Roger.
Roger and I are co-founders of [HHS]. We have also served in all aspects of our board
and membership and attended all public meetings pertinent to our town’s history and preservation. [But] [t]here was
no formal training to prepare us for what we encountered when we moved to Gettysburg/Hunterstown, PA, except for a love of
[C]ivil [W]ar history. My husband’s great-great grandfather, Sylvester Hower, fought here. We purchased this [C]ivil
[W]ar farm in November of 2001, knowing that the Battle of Hunterstown took place here on July 2nd, 1863. However, what we did not know then, was the impact this battle had on the outcome of the Gettysburg Campaign.
The successes of the HHS
will show that passionate and non-academically public historians, like
Harding, are the only bulwark, in many instances, that stands in the way of history being
forgotten by time.
The sustainability of
historical institutions, like the HHS, determines the fate of our
cultural resources. At the turn of the twenty-first century, our cultural resources (such
under a tremendous socio-economic strain. As James Vaughan, vice president for
Stewardship of Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), points
in his journal article “The
Call for a National Conversation,” “many of America’s historic sites
are experiencing declining attendance, financial instability,
and poor stewardship, and they are
increasingly viewed by their communities as irrelevant and unresponsive to the societal changes
around them.” This socio-economic strain has intensified
with the Great Recession (as all levels
of government have scaled back on their budgets, particularly the funding of the arts and
Besides the socio-economic
strain on our cultural resources, institutional practices at
historic sites have also played a part in their potential unsustainable future. Within
(NPS), for example, the public historians who are academically trained and post to
be the preservationists of our cultural resources are usually
staffed in administrative positions,
like the Chief Historian’s office, which have no direct part in the preservation of our national
treasures. The preservation and interpretation
of NPS historic sites, like Independence Hall and
the Gettysburg Battlefield, is left, for the most part, to poorly trained and overworked non-
academic public historians, such
as the iconic park rangers. If it was not for some of these
dedicated non-academic public historians, Ethan Carr says, “many vital archives, stories, and
artifacts would have been permanently
lost.” Non-academic public historians are essential,
when academically trained public historians are unable to care for our cultural resources.
The preservation efforts
of the HHS are a testament to the work accomplished by non-
academically public historians, particularly when cultural resources management agencies,
the NPS, are unable or unwilling
to protect and interpret our historic sites. While Harding
contends “that Gettysburg, and the powers that be, will continue to overshadow [Hunterstown]
and its contribution to the history
of the United States of America,” the HHS leaves “a rich
legacy” to our posterity. The HHS’s “legacy” is extensive:
Through their work with local
and state officials, the entire town of Hunterstown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
work with GNMP superintendents and park rangers, they were able to have the perimeters of the Hunterstown Battlefield mapped
by the Global Positioning System (GPS). The Battle of Hunterstown was officially added by the NPS to the Gettysburg Campaign
They reached out to Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guides to conduct battlefield tours in Hunterstown. Tours of the
battlefield have been conducted by Michael Vallone.
Hunterstown has been added to both the PCWT and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground projects.
work with HGAC, had two Civil War field hospital signs placed at the Jacob Grass Hotel and Great Conewago Presbyterian Church
Through their work with Michigan Wolverine reenactors (whose ancestors had fought at Hunterstown), raised
money for the design and purchase of a monument dedicated to Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer (their ancestors’
commander) on the 145th anniversary of the battle.
The Battle of Hunterstown has been added by the Gettysburg
Anniversary Committee to the annual Civil War reenactment held at Gettysburg, during the first week of July.
from 2003-2013, the Hardings held various events that commemorated the battle, which was partly fought on their farm.
These are just some of the many accomplishments that the HHS has achieved in a ten
In a time of socio-economic
uncertainty for both historic sites and museums, a passionate
citizenry, like Harding and the HHS, is needed more than ever to help preserve our precarious
cultural resources. Within
its 2007 study “Family Visitation at Museums,” the audience-research
firm Reach Advisors reports that “[h]istory museums and historic sites showed the
popularity among the eight
types of museums measured in this survey, with only 31% visiting
historic sites and 23% visiting history museums. Additionally, for all demographic groups,
history museums are the
least popular.” As Marianne Babal argues in her journal article
“Sticky History,” “[p]ast disaffection between the historical profession and their public
has created a disconnect
between history as told by historians and the public who feel real
affinity for the past.”
Perhaps historians need to make history more ‘sticky’ to achieve a greater
appreciation and understanding of the importance of history in society. Ideas that endure, or ‘stick,’ effectively
convey core messages and concepts, and often contain unexpected elements, commanding the audience’s attention and exciting
their imagination. Information sticks when it offers elements people can relate to in their own experience. Sticky concepts
are credible, and are often conveyed through stories. Lastly, they are emotional, delivering the message of why this is important.
The best way to reconnect
historians with their audiences is by making them more part of the
narrative, such as the HHS has done with all their initiatives. Harding says,
“[e]verthing we have attempted to do here in Hunterstown has always included and
We could not have made the contributions
to [its] history singlehandedly. It was the work of [the] many, and we will always be grateful to them.
The accomplishments achieved
by the HHS (as aforementioned already) attests to this
participatory culture in Hunterstown.
From its shadow, Hunterstown has overcome the historical vacuum that Gettysburg has
in Adams County. Even though
the HHS “disbanded” after the 150th anniversary of the battle (as
villagers/board members had moved away and their local historian,
Linda Cleveland, had
Harding still continues with her preservation work in Hunterstown. Through her website
www.hunterstown1863.com, she continues to educate people about
the village’s history.
Authors, artists, historians, tours and visitors still come every year to see the historic sites and
talk to the people of Hunterstown.
Ed Bearss, former Chief Historian of NPS and “consummate”
tour guide, “who brings ‘history alive to visitors of all knowledge levels,
memory and enormous personal energy, but always with rich and colorful anecdotes,”
for instance, continues to bring the Civil War Institute to
the village every year. The HHS is no
formal presence in the village, but its work and the persistent passion of its former
leader is yet felt in every corner of Hunterstown and beyond.
 Laurie Harding, e-mail message to Alexander Harding, March
 “What Is Public History?,” National Council
on Public History, accessed January 13, 2015, http://ncph.org/cms/
 Cathy Stanton, “‘What Is Public History?’
Redux,” Public History News 27 (2007); which is cited in Robert Weible, “Defining Public History: Is
It Possible? Is It Necessary?,” American Historical Association, accessed January 13, 2015, http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2008/
 Harding, e-mail message.
 “What Is Public History?.”
 David Thelen and Roy Rosenzweig, The Presence of the
Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); which is cited in Benjamin
Filene, “Passionate Histories: ‘Outsider’ History-Makers and What They Teach Us,” The Public Historian
34 (2012): 12.
 Harding, e-mail message. Troy Harman, a GNMP ranger and
historian, says, “[t]he significance of this action [Battle of Hunterstown] far exceeds the fight itself, and the ramifications
were greater than many realize.” If it was not for this cavalry engagement at Hunterstown, between Union General George
Armstrong Custer’s and Confederate General Wade Hampton’s cavalrymen, the Army of the Potomac's “main position”
at Culp’s Hill would have been outflanked by the Army of Northern Virginia. It prevented a major defeat of Union forces
on Northern soil and possibly a negotiated peace between Washington and Richmond. For the “Battle History” of
Hunterstown, see http://www.hunterstown1863.com/id20.html.
 James Vaughan, “Introduction: The Call for a National
Conversation,” Forum Journal 22 (2008); which is cited in Filene, “Passionate Histories,” 13-4.
 For an overview of the lack of “professionally qualified
historical expertise” in the NPS, see Organization of American Historians for the National Park Service; Anne Mitchell
Whisnant, Marla R. Miller, Gary B. Nash and David Thelen, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park
Service (Bloomington, IN: Organization of American Historians, 2011), 67-75.
 Ethan Carr, personal narrative for State of History team,
2010; which is cited in Organization of American Historians, Imperiled Promise, 68.
 Harding, e-mail message.
 Museum Audience Insight, “Family Visitation at Museums,
Part II: Historic Sites and History Museums,” http://reachadvisors.typepad.com/museum_audience_insight/2007/10/august-e-news-f.html;
which is cited in Filene, “Passionate Histories,” 13.
 Marianne Babal, “Sticky History: Connecting Historians
with the Public,” The Public Historian 32 (2010): 80.
 Harding, e-mail message.