The “Sesquicentennial App”

Springfield-Greene County Library’s Ambitious Digitization Projects
By Brian Grubbs; Hallowed Ground Magazine, Summer 2011

Sesquicentennial Sparks Reenactments. Reenactors recreate the action of the Arkansas Pulaski Light Battery during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. (Photo by Steve Ross,

Over the next four years, historical sites across the United States will unveil their latest attractions exploring the American Civil War. As one of these invested entities, the Springfield-Greene County Library will try to anticipate its visitors’ needs and expectations, while knowing that these change over time. The one constant throughout the entire process, however, is the need to create a lasting experience that truly impacts the individual.

The Civil War’s centennial saw the publication of Bruce Catton’s The Centennial History of the Civil War. The trilogy chronicled military, social and political aspects of the war, providing both new enthusiasts and seasoned veterans with a fresh understanding of the conflict. Battlefield foundations and national park sites also published centennial booklets to augment the visitors’ experience.

But times have changed. In addition to a plethora of reenactments, living history programs, book discussions and hands-on activities covering all aspects of the war, the sesquicentennial is sure to bring a much wider application of technology to support the more traditional remembrance events.

This “Sesquicentennial App” is not a singular application that can be downloaded to a smartphone, but rather a movement by historical agencies across the country to apply technology to enhance the visitor experience and make the country’s history relevant and engaging to the next generation of historians, caregivers and donors. The Civil War Trust’s exciting Battle Apps — GPS-enabled tours that give visitors to a select and growing number of sites a “virtual guide” in their pocket — are but one example of this growing trend.

Missouri’s Springfield-Greene County Library District is proud to be at the vanguard of this movement. In 2009, the library unveiled the Community & Conflict digitization project, which explores the war’s impact on both soldiers and civilians in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. The effort is made possible by a Library Services and Technology Act Digital Imaging Grant funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and coordinated by the Missouri State Library.

Map of Attack
Map of Attack. One of many artifacts made readily available through the digitization project. (WICR #30060 National Park Service)

The digital archive, available online at, consists of documents, photographs and artifacts from 19 museums, archives and libraries from across the Midwest. Each document has been scanned and fully transcribed, allowing individuals to complete keyword searches across more than 6,000 pages of primary source material from the battlefields and the home front. It’s an outstanding tool for researchers — as well as for parents or teachers looking to bring history alive for young people by allowing them to explore the thoughts and emotions of those who lived at the time. And advancing mobile technology makes these resources available nearly anywhere at any time.

The project partners seek to expand the understanding of the Civil War in the Trans- Mississippi Theater by providing wider access to their historical collections and promoting schol­arship. Through this collaborative effort, these organizations are able to provide a richer picture of the war and its lasting legacies in the region.

But efforts don’t stop there: in the summer of 2011, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, in partnership with the Springfield-Greene County Library District, will launch an interactive virtual museum for the entire Trans-Mississippi Theater. This exciting project, called The Trans- Mississippi Virtual Museum and Digital Photo Archive, is funded by a Challenge Cost Share Grant from the National Park Service and a donation from the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation.

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield houses one of the nation’s largest collections of Trans- Mississippi Theater artifacts (learn more about these extensive holdings here), and this virtual museum will make more than 250 of them digitally available to Civil War aficiona­dos around the world. The digital galleries will cover the roots of the Civil War and the war years featuring specific sections on guerrilla warfare, medicine, naval warfare, the role of women and the experiences of Native American, African-American and German-American soldiers. Visitors will be able to listen to songs sung by soldiers from the region, hear readings of letters and memoirs and spin select artifacts 360° on their computer. The virtual museum allows visitors to interact with the collection in ways not possible in the Park’s physical museum.

Springfield Missouri

Springfield, Missouri during the Civil War. Military encampments were a feature of everyday life. (WICR #30802, National Park Service)

Wilson’s Creek will also place more than 500 images from its photographic collection online in 2011 for researchers to search and browse. This collection will become the core of a regional photographic archive for the Trans-Mississippi Theater, as images from other museums, archives and private collections will eventually be added to the database. Visitors will be able to see the faces of the men who fought in the war and the women who endured hardships at home.

The ultimate goal of each of these projects is to expand the public’s awareness and knowledge of the Civil War. While the scanned documents, photographed artifacts and computer-generated maps facilitate this mission, they can never replace the physical objects or national battle­fields. These digital surrogates must be used to spark the interest and passion in the next gen­eration as we prepare them to assume responsi­bility for our nation’s treasures.

About the Author

Brian Grubbs is the Director of the Community & Conflict Project at the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Brian received his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Truman State University and a Master’s Degree in Museums Studies from the University of Kansas.

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