In Memories of War, Thomas A. Chambers recounts America’s rediscovery of its early national history through the rise of battlefield tourism in the first half of the nineteenth century. Travelers in this period, Chambers finds, wanted more than recitations of regimental movements when they visited battlefields; they desired experiences that evoked strong emotions and leant meaning to the bleached bones and decaying fortifications of a past age. Chambers traces this impulse through efforts to commemorate Braddock’s Field and Ticonderoga, the cultivated landscapes masking the violent past of the Hudson River valley, the overgrown ramparts of Southern war sites, and the scenic vistas at War of 1812 battlefields along the Niagara River. Describing a progression from neglect to the Romantic embrace of the landscape and then to ritualized remembrance, Chambers brings his narrative up to the beginning of the Civil War, during and after which the memorialization of such sites became routine, assuming significant political and cultural power in the American imagination.
Thomas A. Chambers is Professor of History at Niagara University. He is the author of Drinking the Waters: Creating an American Leisure Class at Nineteenth Century Mineral Springs.
Years later, with the centennial of the war only magnifying this paradox, Rubin decided to go back Over There to see if he could, at last, resolve it. For months he followed the trail of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front, finding trenches, tunnels, bunkers, century-old graffiti and ubiquitous artifacts. But he also found an abiding fondness for America and Americans, and a colorful corps of local after-hours historians and archeologists who tirelessly explore these sites and preserve the memories they embody while patiently waiting for Americans to return and reclaim their own history and heritage. None of whom seemed to mind that his French needed work.
Based on his wildly popular New York Times series, Back Over There is a timely journey, in turns reverent and iconoclastic but always fascinating, through a place where the past and present are never really separated.