Perspectives

History professor leads public tour of Chickamauga National Military Park

Keith Hebert talking with tour guest

On Saturday Sept. 14, Keith S. Hébert, associate professor of history and Public History Program Officer in the College of Liberal Arts, led 45 members of the Bartow History Museum (Cartersville, Georgia) on a one-day guided tour of the Chickamauga National Military Park in northwest Georgia.

The tour was planned to coincide with the National Park Service’s commemoration of the Civil War battle’s 166th anniversary. Auburn University’s public history program seeks to create opportunities for public conversations of scholarly research among broad audiences.  

“History continues to hold meaning among Americans,” Hébert said, “but many scholars have shied away from engaging with public audiences for a variety of reasons. Commemorations and guided tours give scholars like me a chance to encourage the public to think more critically about the past and to question long-held beliefs. Nothing could be more important for the future of American public discourse than building bridges between academia and public audiences.”  
  
Battlefield tours have long been popular among public audiences. However, the information presented on those tours has changed a lot in the past 25 years as public historians and organizations, such as the National Park Service, have incorporated more diverse topics into those presentations.  Acorrding to Hébert, park visitors no longer receive “great white man” histories that overly celebrate the actions of generals and politicians. Instead, they hear equally important tales about everyday soldiers trying to cope with the physical and mental hardships of combat.  

“Americans are more aware today of the mental and physical strain that military service takes on our veterans,” Hébert said. “Few, however, think about how soldiers 150 plus years ago also suffered from similar trials.”  

Today, battlefield tours incorporate the kind of innovative historical research that is being conducted by Auburn University historians. Research that examines the impact that weather and climate can have on a battle or the roles of black enslaved laborers and women (groups older interpretations usually ignored).  

“Everything that I have learned in my years of research and classroom instruction that does not come in handy on these tours,” Hébert said.  

Auburn University’s public history program also plays a valuable role in providing expertise and resources for local history museums such as the Bartow History Museum.  

“Our museum shares the same goals that Dr. Hébert’s teaches in his public history classroom,” commented Trey Gaines, museum director.  "Public programs such as this raise awareness of the museum’s activities and help promote additional interest in other cultural resources in local communities."  Plus, as one tour member stated, “History is more fun when it is being delivered by enthusiastic guides who really know the material and want to know what we think about this topic.”  

In addition to helping lead tours and delivering other public programs, Auburn University’s public history program, in collaboration with the Special Collections & Archives at Ralph B. Draughon Library, have assisted the museum with the development of a digital archives that provides public access to one of their most valuable collections: the P.M.B. Young Civil War Era Letters. 

Auburn University’s public history program is engaged in numerous outreach and research activities across the region on topics ranging from American Indian culture to preserving sites associated with the Modern Civil Rights Movement.  

For more information about the program’s activities, contact Dr. Keith S. Hébert at heberks@auburn.edu      
 

Last Updated: September 20, 2019