I have been to Gettysburg each of the past four summers and what I find endlessly compelling is the number of approaches one can take to studying the events that took place there.  Obviously there is the military aspect of the battle itself.  Then there is how the battle fits into the larger scheme of the war.  Next comes the history of the park as a place of memory and forgetting.  To me, the myths and meanings of the battle—and of the war itself—are the most interesting.  The uses and misuses of personal narrative (by the veterans) and of history (by everyone who comes after) are especially compelling now during the sesquicentennial, when so many of our assumptions about the war are under scrutiny.  Another aspect of Gettysburg that is often overlooked is its art.  Gettysburg holds one of the largest collections of outdoor sculpture in the world.  Artistically they have a great deal to tell us.  And of course there is the Cyclorama.  Later this month Gettysburg National Military Park will host the 2011 International Panorama Conference.

Detail of Franz Roubaud’s Battle of Borodino panorama/Moscow Poklonnaya Hill museum

Panoramas (or cyclormas, as they are called here in the United States) were a popular entertainment in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  Before the advent of moving images they offered viewers a chance to experience an event multidimensionally, all for a mere dime, franc, or ruble.  Like historical movies, panoramas were not always true to real life. Nonetheless, they are beautiful works of art to be appreciated for their own merits.  This is only the third time the conference is being held in the United States.  Should you be in Gettysburg September 14-17, here are the details.