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Remembrance in Rauner

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Students curate Civil War exhibition

Walt Whitman, poet and observer of the American Civil War, claimed in Specimen Days, "the real war will never get into the books."

civilwarNicole LaBombard '09, David Schmidt '09, Professor Colleen Boggs, Virginia Deaton '09, and Special Collections Librarian Jay Satterfield (l-r) examine Civil War materials for an exhibition opening Feb. 3 in Rauner Library. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Students in "The Civil War in Literature," taught by Associate Professor of English Colleen Boggs, stepped away from "the books" during fall term to explore primary sources from the era held in Rauner Special Collections Library. Starting Feb. 3, documents from "the real war" are on view in the library, in an exhibition curated by three of Boggs's students. "Memorial Poems: Civil War Literature in Context" runs through March.

Boggs's students each submitted an exhibition proposal as an assignment. The class chose three, from Virginia Deaton '09, Nicole LaBombard '09, and David Schmidt '09, to be displayed in Rauner. "Each display case is centered around a poem that the class studied, and puts it in context," says Boggs, "and each is going to raise a question for the viewer.

"The poem 'The Empty Sleeve' imagines a wounded soldier coming home from the war," Boggs explains. "It piqued Deaton's interest in examining scenes of the homecoming and the war's aftermath."

The case designed by Deaton, an art history major, displays items including the 1865 diary of A.S. Wheeler, a native of Orford, N.H., and Memorial Poems: A Collection of Choice Gems of Poetry, Appropriate for Grand Army Gatherings. She also chose a copy of the Aug. 26, 1865, issue of Harper's Weekly and a letter from the Department of Treasury announcing the mourning protocol for President Lincoln.

novelsDime novels were a popular form of fiction during the Civil War era. This post-war example centers on themes of cultural healing and unity.
"Nicole LaBombard became interested in the private dimensions of this great public event," recalls Boggs. LaBombard, an English major, filled her exhibition case with letters from soldiers' siblings. Letters "tend to be more informal and honest, especially from the younger sisters and brothers," LaBombard says. "I have a brother and sister myself, and these letters have a certain openness and innocence that I could relate to."

Schmidt, a history major and linguistics minor, looks at how the war affected Dartmouth.  His case includes a letter from William Greene, a father concerned with his son's education, to Dartmouth President Asa Smith (Class of 1830), and a hand-written copy of the speech given by General William Tecumseh Sherman at Commencement in 1866.

Rauner staff welcome student involvement and encourage class projects, including exhibitions. "I love working with the students," says Jay Satterfield, Rauner special collections librarian. "They bring fresh perspectives to the collections."

Deaton, a self-described Civil War buff, adds, "Putting the exhibition together was a great way to end the class, and I feel so lucky to have this opportunity." Boggs will teach this course again in spring term 2010.


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Last Updated: 1/29/09