When students study the Battle of Gettysburg, they often learn just the dull facts and figures: "This many people were killed, and Lincoln gave his address here," says Scott Harwig, supervisory historian at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Aiming to enliven history with a more-human element, the park is gearing up for a live satellite broadcast from the Pennsylvania battlefield to schools across the United States. On May 3, a still-growing number of fourth- through eighth-graders will travel back in time to the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.
Each student will assume the identity of a soldier who fought, learn his reason for fighting, follow his campaign route for the month preceding the broadcast, and discover his fate after the broadcast.
"We want children to understand each side of the Civil War, and that it involved real people with real sacrifices," says Barbara Sanders, education director at the park.
Plentiful online resources from the park's Web site (www.nps.gov/gett) include copies of personal papers from both sides of the conflict, descriptions of army drill exercises for students to reenact, and a recipe for hardtack. Confederate and Union soldiers subsisted on those flour cakes during the long walks between camps.
On May 3, the students will also have the opportunity to ask questions on-air to park officials, and to write and publish online Civil War journals from the perspectives of their individual soldiers.
The park hopes to hold the broadcast annually, presenting different aspects of the Civil War and Gettysburg to students.
"What interests me most is that tens of thousands of students who never see the park, and think of it as some foreign place, will get the chance to experience it," says Mr. Harwig.
To participate in the program, schools may have to partner with other schools in their area that have satellite-hookup capabilities, or they may need to request that their local cable-access station carry the broadcast.
For more information, check the park's Web site or call (717) 334-1124 ext. 420.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society