Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Author Events - Civil War historian Ed Bearss

Smithsonian Magazine celebrated its 35th year in 2005 with an issue that profiled "35 Who Made A Difference." The Authors, Artists & Friends lecture series will feature a second member of those thirty-five illustrious difference makers. One of those people, John Dobson, the father of sidewalk astronomy and the designer of a portable mount that supports his large, inexpensive telescopes, and perhaps astronomy's greatest cheerleader, spoke at the Library in January. Our next lecture will feature historian Ed Bearss (pronounced bars) on Monday, April 16, to help kick off National Library Week.

After serving in the Marines and earning degrees at Georgetown and Indiana universities, Bearss joined the National Park Service (where he is now chief historian emeritus) and devoted himself to the study of the American past, particularly the struggle between the blue and the gray. When he compares contemporary America to the 1860s, his allegiance is clear, as he stated in Smithsonian Magazine (November 2005), "We're in an age of Teflon people now. People then were more original, more individual."

Yet when he has to, Bearss can stand squarely in the present, as he has proved rather often of late, enmeshed in one 21st-century battle after another—over the suburban development that has threatened to engulf Civil War battlefields.

At Gettysburg, for instance, an "idyllic vista is broken by a water tower that went up a few years ago, part of a new industrial park. Just to the right of it, investors want to build a casino with 3,000 slot machines. He remembers visiting Manassas in 1941, when it was a sleepy rural area; now, when he leads bus tours there, they often end up stalled in shopping center traffic. At Petersburg in the early 1960s, he saw where an 1864 fort was bulldozed to make way for a mall; now the mall itself is nearly derelict. 'The development is advancing more irresistibly than Grant's army did on Richmond," Bearss grumbles.'" (Smithsonian Magazine, November 2005)

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