by Carla Thomas McGinnis, Project Manager, National Civil War Project
It has been almost two years since we publically launched the National Civil War Project (NWCP). Thinking about the production of Our War, a commissioned piece for the project, I find myself reflecting on all that has been accomplished so far. Wow! How significant this project has been!
I am surprised by how much working on the National Civil War Project has dramatically changed my relationship with the Civil War. Growing up in the north I did not live near battle sites or drive on streets named after notable Civil War leaders. I did not see confederate flags on display or bumper stickers that said, “If at first you don’t secede, try, try again.” After living in Virginia and working in DC for some time, I’ve seen how different things are in this part of the country. I have gained a new perspective and learned so many things about our history.
I learned from the historians I met through my work, that a popular Georgetown store, that sells the latest trends in clothing, is built atop what used to be a slave auction site. Working with the city of Alexandria, which recently held a dedication ceremony for the Freedmen and Contraband Cemetery Memorial site, I discovered that a plot of land where a gas station and office building once stood, the physical remains of hundreds of African American men, women, and children are buried. They came to Alexandria in search of safety and freedom during the Civil War. As I learn more and more, I realize the legacy of the Civil War is reverberating around us in many ways that go unnoticed. The National Civil War Project has been the impetus for my awakening and the expansion of my awareness.
Just as working with this project has changed me, I know that it has changed many others. This project has introduced many artists and scholars to one another. It has helped create new and otherwise unlikely collaborations between people who may have never have worked together. It has allowed opportunities for artists to work in spaces they’ve never worked before – they moved out of the theater onto a university campus, they left the classroom and found themselves on a stage. I know that this has helped many of the participants to expand their thinking, expose them to new, meaningful feedback and, in the end, transform or elevate their work to a new level.
One of the most important outcomes of the project has been the new work created because of it. New curricula, original theatrical pieces made even more provocative and unique through the collaborations that have sourced it.
Our War is an excellent example of the project’s generative nature. This theatrical event is a collection of diverse perspectives on the Civil War and I am excited for the potential that it holds. It is helping spread expansive ideas about the Civil War to new audiences. I know one of the intentions for creating this collection is to share it around the country and inspire others to write their own monologues about the Civil War. One need not move and live amid the former battlefields of the Civil War to begin to wrestle with the war’s implications. Our War and the NCWP is making it possible for us all to do that wherever we are.