Essay on the Gettysburg National Military Park

"History is shaped by context and inherently leaves marks on the land. The landscape sets the scene for significant moments in our past and like the stories themselves, outlive us for generations. These stages become history; vital parts of our culture both now and for our future. They transform over time as the natural environment is ever shifting and changing. In the United States, it is custom practice to landmark significant historic places by memorializing the stage. This act impedes the natural process and preserves a moment in time; creating a living diorama. These preserved stages within landscapes become significant tools for knowledge and a tangible narrative we revisit.

A prime example of a memorialized stage is The Gettysburg National Military Park designated in 1895. Since designation, the park has become an enduring resource for understanding how the landscape affected the outcome of the American Civil War. When forces convened at Gettysburg in 1863, they fought through open agricultural fields, orchards, ridges, and outcrops. This was a time when muskets, bayonets, and mobile cannons were the latest in modern warfare technology; contact was close and battlefield tactics prevailed.

In the 150 years since the Battle of Gettysburg, many crucial landscape features have changed due to natural succession. By the late 20th century, the setting had dramatically transformed; it was difficult to understand how the battles unfolded due to shifts in the landscape. While dominant features were still apparent, meadows had succeeded into woodland, orchards had been removed, and new structures had been erected in the viewsheds. It is evident that landscapes are not timeless, and like ourselves, change with age.

The National Park Service recognizes the value of this park as a living diorama and in 2000 began efforts to rehabilitate the landscape of the Battle of Gettysburg. These efforts included the removal of non-historic trees in the line of fire, the replanting of historic orchards, and the removal of obstructing structures. The landscape today now paints a clearer picture of the historic events for the public to experience.

The value of The Gettysburg National Military Park is not as a natural, transformative landscape, but as a living diorama that can be successfully understood and shared. In the future it is guaranteed that the landscape will change again, and this might become an ongoing process of rediscovery. This landscape is a storyteller, and when preserved as a landmark, helps us remember the past."


Project Team:
Henry Moll



Essay, Publication