The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in American history. In the space of a few short years more than 600,000 people were killed and millions left injured. One of the most notable and influential battles in the war took place in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania between July 1 and 3, 1863. The battle was largely accidental, yet it has become steeped in American mythology.
At issue in this battle, and indeed in this war, was the future the United States – still a young country coming to terms with its revolutionary origins and with the meaning of the ideas and ideals upon which it had been founded, particularly the belief that “all men are created equal” as held by the Federalists and disputed by the Confederacy. The subject of slavery and what it meant to be human became a heated topic that ran like a wild fire through the halls of Washington, the taverns of the young republic, supper tables, and church halls. No one was untouched by slavery.
Today, more than 150 years after this historic and devastating battle, the name Gettysburg is associated almost inextricably in the minds of Americans with the battlefields now turned into sacred ground, as well as Abraham Lincoln’s famous address and with the key achievements of his presidency, including the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), his call for “a new birth of freedom” and his assertion that what was at stake in this conflict was the very survival of democracy in the republic.
Gettysburg, then, was a battlefield on which the direction and nature of the nation was shaped and determined in a fundamental way. This was a battlefield of transformation in the most profound sense. Lincoln’s call to arms, as manifested through his “Gettysburg Address,” echoes through time, demanding that later generations never forget those who died on the bloody fields of Gettysburg during those hot days in early July.
This conference calls us to consider the battlefield of Gettysburg and to reflect on its transformational impact in the broadest terms. Weaponry and warfare were forever changed in the course of the Civil War, but they so did the words and arguments made by our leaders. Moreover, some of the innovative technologies that it helped engender – in communications, medicine, photography, transportation, and so on – likewise changed the social and political fabric of the nation and helped to alter the way in which the United States came to define itself in art, citizenship, literature, poetry, and religion. The Civil War generally, and Gettysburg in particular, changed everything utterly and irrevocably.
This conference likewise calls us to consider other battlefields that have transformed the world in which we live – be they physical battlefields like Gettysburg or other fields of battle, where ideas and ideals have come into conflict and where the outcomes have been consequential in the deepest and most genuine sense. Whether it’s the battlefields on which ethical problems of stem cell research is fought, the debates over illegal immigration, the war on terror, civil liberties, censorship, or race, which in the wake of Ferguson has shown us that it is still a battle being fought in the twenty-first century, the battles continue.
Therefore, we invite you to explore pivotal occasions of change and transformation and to reflect on the art, business, culture, politics, science or technology that have or may yet prompt change – as well as to reflect on what the implications of such change have been or may be in the future.
Let the conversation begin!