April 27, 2020
Walt Whitman once wrote that, “Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors . . . of the Secession war; and it is best they should not—the real war will never get in the books.”
Although the painful, real stories of the Civil War and its grisly impacts may not have been accurately captured by authors – today’s guest, Jake Wynn, the Director of Interpretation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, is dedicated to telling those stories – and highlighting the grave sacrifices and incredible compassion displayed during that era.
As we confront a medical crisis in our own time, we sat down with Jake to learn about epidemics, disease, and health during the Civil War – and what lessons there might be for our own time.
Jake Wynn is the Director of Interpretation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum. He is a 2015 graduate of Hood College in Frederick, MD. He writes independently about Pennsylvania history at Wynning History and the Pennsylvania in the Civil War blog.
From the Preservation Maryland Studios and the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.
Walt Whitman once wrote, “Future years will never know the seeping hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors of the secession war, and it is best they should not. The real war will never get in the books.” Although the painful, real stories of the Civil War and its grisly impacts may not have been accurately captured by authors, today’s guest, Jake Wynn, the director of interpretation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, is dedicated to telling those stories and highlighting the grave sacrifices and incredible compassion displayed during that era. As we confront a medical crisis in our own time, we sat down with Jake to learn about epidemics, disease, and health during the Civil War, and what lessons there might be there for our own time.
Before we start this week’s episode, I really want to thank you for listening, and I want to ask for your help. PreserveCast is powered by Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit organization that depends on member contributions to fund its work. This podcast receives no government support and currently has not major funder support. Its budget is entirely dependent on listener contributions. I’m hoping you’ll consider making a quick gift to help support this podcast, which is bringing important preservation stories to thousands of listeners around the country. Think of us as your preservation Netflix. Any amount helps, and you can make a quick online donation by going to preservecast.org and clicking the donate now button in the upper-right hand corner. We greatly appreciate it. Now, let’s get preserving.
Jake Wynn is the director of interpretation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum. He’s a 2015 graduate of Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and he writes independently about Pennsylvania history at Winning History and the Pennsylvania in the Civil War blog.
Jake, it’s a pleasure to have you with us here today on PreserveCast, and you, I have to say, pretty exciting, are our first return guest to PreserveCast, so you joined us all the way back on episode 12, and I’m sure that all loyal listeners of PreserveCast remember that episode and your answers very fondly. So we can dispense with the normal questions and really dive into the subject today where we want to talk about the Civil War, health, and medicine. So it’s great to have you with us here today, Jake.
Thank you so much for having me back on, Nick. I too remember fondly our first interview and really looking forward to talking to you again.
So what a lot of people think about the Civil War and casualties and losses– I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people lost over the course of the Civil War– we think bullets, bayonets. But what’s the reality? As the director of interpretation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, what’s the actual reality of how people died in the Civil War?
Yeah. So there is definitely a kind of associated with a lot of Civil War medical care and the realities of Civil War medicine. One of them is that these battlefields were really the deadliest places for soldiers. While Civil War battlefields were absolutely horrific, hellish, terrible places, with men being literally torn apart– amputation was going to be the most common surgeries performed in the war because of all of the bullets flying around– the real deadly place during the war was actually the army camp and these communities that are ravaged by disease, whether they be army or civilian that is actually where most of those who died during the conflict anywhere between– estimates put between 620,000 and 1 million people died during the civil war. Two-thirds of them die not of being struck by bullets but by disease. Diseases like typhoid fever, smallpox, dysentery. They ravaged these communities at the time of war. And that’s really the lasting legacy of civil war medicine is that the diseases that ravaged America at that time and their medical understanding at the time didn’t really have many solutions for those problems.
And is that why there’s so many deaths from disease is that there’s no germ theory so they just kind of let it go or is it just a lack of hygiene? What makes the army camp so dangerous?
It’s a little bit of all of that. So there is a lack of understanding. A lack of medical knowledge at the time about what caused disease. There’s some theories that began to change the idea of Miasmas and the idea of that era that foul smells could have– could be resulting in the spread of disease. So they are having an understanding that it seems like certain environments may be more likely to spread disease. Things like swamps, if there is sewage in the area. They did have an understanding that that could have something to do with the prevalence of disease. But there was very little that they could do to treat disease. There was still at the time a fundamental lack of understanding about what caused disease.
But the other side of it is that the sanitation aspect, what happens when you get large numbers of people together living in unhygienic environments, with poor sanitation, with the tainted water sources. And if you have 100,000 in that army relying on a few water sources the water and also are going to have to go to the bathroom somewhere, that’s going to result in the spread of many of these diseases that ravage these camps. And this isn’t just a problem for those living in the 1860s. I mean when you look at conflict zones around the world today in the 21st century and you see some of these same diseases. You’ll see things like typhoid. You see things like dysentery, diarrhea. You will see things like cholera even spreading in the 21st Century in these kind of environments. And so that’s a big challenge that healthcare providers faced in the 1860s. It was a true healthcare crisis because there was so many people that needed care and so little infrastructure to actually help them.
And just out of curiosity, were there vaccines? Was there vaccination going on in the army?
Yeah, so there are vaccines that were around at the time of the 1860s. Most famously, of course, is smallpox which was the most feared– arguably the most feared disease between the union and confederate army during the war just because they understood how quickly it would spread through crowded places like an army camp and the damage that it could do. But smallpox is one of those diseases that was a little bit better understood and they understood too, medical practitioners at the time knew that you could vaccinate. That goes back to the 18th century in America. And so they were vaccinating soldiers during the war against smallpox. So that’s one of the rare diseases that there actually was some measures that they could take to mitigate some of the deadly consequences of a disease like smallpox.
Yeah, and it means speaking of diseases and obviously we’re living through a pretty incredible time right now with a really aggressive pandemic coronavirus Covid-19. You’ve talked about the specific things that happened during the war were there any major outbreaks of disease during the war on the level of what we’re dealing with now whether they be in armies and cities? Did civil war Americans have to deal with something similar to this?
So nothing on the global scale of what we’re experiencing right now. During the civil war, there were many epidemics of diseases and many of them were fairly isolated to individual communities. And especially communities ravaged by war whether there was destruction of pre-existing infrastructure or infrastructure was just overwhelmed. CDC localized outbreaks. So you’d see things like typhoid fever spreading in the city of Washington in the first winter of the war and that spread from the army camps into Washington. So then results in the death of the son of the United States president. So you see that happening, yellow fever epidemics along the coast of the Carolinas in 1862. That happens and causes a refugee crisis and people flee the cities along the Carolina coast and head to the interior of the Carolinas. You see outbreaks of smallpox amongst communities that were not inoculated against it. Many soldiers experienced inoculation against smallpox but populations of refugees specifically black refugees escaping from slavery, lines were put into crowded camps with very little done to prevent the spread of smallpox. And so we see outbreaks of smallpox in those communities. And they ravaged those refugee communities. But there’s nothing that is– no outbreak of disease, no pandemic that occurs during the civil war years. There’s not a major outbreak of Influenza or of any other disease that spreads across the world and goes through America.
And isn’t that sort of a function of the fact that you just couldn’t travel that quick. So the idea that something breaks out in China, it’s unlikely to end up in Washington D.C. in three months because the scope of travel in the world then was such that you might not even be able to make it from China to Washington D.C. in three months. So let alone sort of infect the world the way that modern travel has allowed for that to happen?
Oh, actually I’ll push a little bit against that because there was a capability. There’s lots of talk about globalism today. I mean, it was a globalized world even in the 1860s. Travels all around the world, yes, as you said it was slower but right the end of the civil war– after the civil war ended you see the turn of one of the most notorious pandemics of the 19th Century. In 1865 and 1866 there is an outbreak of power that is going to spread around the world and the cause of suffering in areas around the globe including in isolated spots here in the United States. And this actually comes on– there were multiple waves of cholera as of the 19th Century that did spread around the world. And one of the things that I think is most interesting that they learned out of this civil war. I mean, there was a changing in medical knowledge around power and specifically in the 1850s in England. Maybe some of your listeners are familiar with Dr. John Snow, not from Game of Thrones, but his work in London in the 1850s created understanding of how power was spread. But in 1865 and 1866 a lot of the lessons learned about medication during the civil war and its importance it has actually helped to mitigate some of the results of the 1865-66 pandemic of cholera. The disease could spread around the world at that time with surprising rapidity considering the nature of transportation at the time. But those diseases could be spread. And we’re experiencing now, it’s really a matter of luck and of circumstance that we’ll see whether or not a disease will go from being a local, isolated situation to–if the circumstances are just right, and it’s spread and mutation happens in just the right way, you can see something spread like wildfire all around the world.
Well, it’s interesting. I mean, you don’t think of the 1860s as a global world. But certainly, you’re right. There is global trade. And I should’ve asked you, just for people who are listening, who are not 19th-century medicine fanatics and historians, that is– maybe tell a little bit about cholera. What is cholera? What does it cause? What would it be like if you had cholera?
Yeah, cholera is particularly feared, spread by contaminated water. If you think about living in the 19th century, and you had the rise of cities, almost megacities at the time. And there’s very little infrastructure to get clean water to people. Sewage gets into drinking water sources. And cholera is a disease that will spread that way. It gets into your gut and causes a very painful, very painful death. And it was much feared as a result. And so that was a disease that ravaged all over the globe just because of the nature of that travel. And people could carry it for long way before succumbing into the symptoms of cholera and allow for it to spread around the world. And cholera is still something that is present today in conflict zones, in areas of the world, places like Yemen, places like Syria, where you see armed conflict going on, destruction of pre-existing infrastructure, you do see outbreaks of that still happening today, but with a much better understanding of how to mitigate cholera, how to deal with it once outbreak. So you’re not going to see another pandemic outbreak of cholera today because we understand it in a way that we don’t understand the new, fast-moving disease like COVID-19.
Right. And the other ones that you mentioned, I mean, smallpox, I think, people are familiar with just because it’s similar I guess in some ways to chickenpox. I mean at least, it’s a pox in that sense. And then yellow fever, malaria, those things, those are insect-borne illnesses which until the early 20th century, still reared their head in the United States. And they still happen around the globe. They’re just not as frequent– they’re certainly not something we’re familiar with here in the United States anymore.
Yeah. That is one of the big challenges that 19th-century military medical practitioners faced during the civil war. They did have some tools against malaria specifically. There was an understanding of the use of quinine, both as a preventative, and the use in treatment of malaria did have some success. And so they did have access to that. They did understand the importance of that. But they didn’t understand how malaria and yellow fever, how they were actually spread. They didn’t necessarily make the connection to the mosquito. But they did make the connection to swampy areas with higher temperatures and a lot of standing water. They did make those connections. But you’re right. It’s not until the 20th century that they’re really able to do efforts to really mitigate those illnesses and really tackle them, so much so that we don’t really see them anymore in the United States, which is interesting too that the last time that we were dealing with a pandemic. Now the last real scare in the United States was around Zika, which was an insect-based disease. So even as we see some diseases, new ones can pop up, so that’s important for us to recognize.
Right. And malaria, as you were saying, is similar, and if I remember correctly, was there not a– there was a big malaria issue in 1862 in the Peninsula campaign, as the Union Army is approaching Richmond. And I think several– if I remember it correctly, and this I’m, kind of, going back into my foggy recesses here, but I think that there were several generals who even came down with malaria at that point. Trying to, kind of, slog their way through the swamps on the Peninsula of The Arch on the James.
Yes, and you would see that there’s interesting scholarship about some of the diseases that were being spread during that particular campaign.
My favorite is what exactly is Chikungunya fever, which is named for one of the rivers that the Union Army was operating on in their attacks towards Richmond in the spring of 62. Yes, I mean that was a real danger. Malaria was something that it’s not only by its soldiers, but also by civilians into Washington, with one of those renowned places for the spread of malaria; it is because of the nature of, kind of, how the water moves in and around the City of Washington. There’s some more marshy areas that were perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes, so malaria does become an issue in the City of Washington, as it does, and anywhere that armies operate in swampy of marshy areas throughout the war-zone.
So the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, your employer, gives a lot of attention, and its interpretation to medical advances. I mean, I think a lot of people think of the Civil War and they think, “Oh, barbaric.” And if you visit the museum in Frederick, Maryland, you get a real sense that there was some barbarism, but there was quite a bit of compassion, and a lot of really good medicine being practiced as well. And the plans that were established during the war, we feel their impact to this day in terms of the way the military deals with disease, and wounds, and casualties. So are you seeing anything in our pandemic response which you can, kind of, trace back to Civil War roots?
Yes, there are many examples of this. I think one is– the first one is, kind of, more controversial, and that would be, kind of, the lack of preparedness [laughter].
Not exactly a proud legacy of the Civil War, but yes, keep going about our lack of preparedness.
Yes, so lack of preparedness is like– we knew this was coming, a pandemic, and it’d be only a matter of time. And you can trace that back, decades, that there was a knowledge in the House community. Those that were making policy around public health, and it was an understanding that there was something like this that was going to happen. And yet we see that there was a very slow response once the pandemic arrived on our shores to actually deal with the consequences of what this disease could do. And there was an evolution and an understanding that the fatality rates of COVID-19– the consequences of this global spread of a pandemic disease, which we haven’t seen to this level in a century. But going back to this war, the first year of the conflict, for both Union and Confederate forces, there is a lack of understanding of how quickly this war would escalate. And the battles continued to become far deadlier, and the medical departments of both armies had failed to live up to the need that was there. They failed to grow. They failed to adapt to and evolve to the battlefield situation that they were facing, and as a result, casualty numbers, and those who die, haven’t been wounded, are less that of a battle field for days. There’s no organization of ambulance systems. There’s very little organization of field hospitals. The medical practitioners themselves are operating in the dark, and they had never seen gunshot wounds before. Had never organized an Army camp. So in the first year of the Civil War, it had lack of preparation, that lack of preparedness, and that lack of ability to evolve to the situation that the Army stays in that these two sides face in the Civil War from a medical perspective leads to a lot of suffering and death that– I don’t want to say it was totally preventable, but they could have mitigated somehow there’s losses. They could have cut down on some of the losses. And I think there’s some lessons there for us to that.
Yeah. Well, I was just going to say, too. I mean, sort of the unpreparedness. I hate to say it, but that’s almost like a hallmark of American history. We don’t ever really seem to be prepared. I mean, we sort of throw ourselves into it once it happens, but I mean, you look at like the run up to World War II, we weren’t really prepared. The United States Army was a shadow of what it needed to be. I mean, it seems like every crisis that we get ourselves into, because the nation so forward in future facing, that we don’t really want to plan for the worst-case scenario, it seems like. And we get ourselves into these things over and over again. It almost like it repeats itself if only they would study history.
Yeah. If they would, they would’ve seen some of these patterns, and I can– to a more hopeful message, and that is those adaptations made during the civil war, do planned proceeds of modern emergency medicine as we know it today. And so you see for the first time in the United States the use of organized ambulance systems, basically creating the same systems that we use today, first date on the battlefield or at the scene of an accident or in case of disease with telemedicine figuring out what patients are suffering and then making the decision going back through. It’s a field-tracking patients’ first aid, to build hospitals, emergency hospitals established on the battlefield, and having at each [inaudible] people who are there and whose responsibility, whose job is to assess the patient, to look at their legal needs and then make the first decisions about the first decisions what care that kind of injury or wound might require before sending them onto the next station in the system.
And so those fundamentals of emergency medicine that we sort of take for granted today. We’ll established because of the chaos in the civil war. And so what we are experiencing right now and looking at the situations in some of those areas, the so-called hotspots, you’re seeing a lot of this evolution and adaptation as being required. You’re seeing establishment of emergency field hospitals in Central Park. You’re seeing the attachment of extra beds to pre-existing medical facilities to take on a surge of patients. You’re seeing decisions made, Unfortunately, triage decisions being made who gets a ventilator, who doesn’t get a ventilator, trying to mitigate those losses. These are things that we know about a civil war for the first time, and we’re seeing them being adapted again. And ultimately, what that means is we are adapting to the situation. There is a heritage issue that, I think, we’ll look back upon and try to study and understand what mistakes were made. But right now, as we’re in the heat of the crisis, we are very much in the same place where doctors were in the 1862 and 1863 as adapting to the situations that they’re facing on the battlefield and trying to save as many lives as we can. And we can derive a lot of lessons from that and the importances of leadership, the importance of putting aside bickering for the better good. And to put these resources together and to take down this challenge that we have in some of the hotspots to try to mitigate those losses, try go prevent as they’re saying about the flattening the curve. We want to flatten the curve. That’s what we are trying to do today. We can look back at the civil war and see some of the inspiration for the symptoms that are being made today because in some ways, we are facing a very similar, national knowledge, in a way that we haven’t faced any in quite a long time.
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, for those familiar with Civil or Madison, or for those who aren’t, Dr. Johnson Letterman, in the Army of the Potomac, certainly had a big hand in a lot of what you’re describing. And I know the museum goes into great detail. And boy, it would be interesting to get his take on what he’s seeing right now. And what he thinks of [laughter] of what he put in place, over 150 years ago now.
I think he would recognize. I think he would recognize–
I think he would.
–the change that he was being forced to take. Being put in place now, I think. Some of the systemics, I think, the systems that he helped organize, he would recognize doing this right now.
Yeah, which is pretty impressive that almost 150– over 150, nearly 160 years later, still feeling the impact of that work. Let’s take a quick break here, and then, when we come back, let’s talk about masks, about the impact of the war, and let’s also talk about what you guys are doing at the museum to hold things together, as we struggle through this crisis. And we’ll do that right here on PreserveCast.
100 years ago in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was signed into law and officially granted 20 million American women the right to vote. This mass expansion of voting rights was the result of generations of intense activism, known as the Women’s Suffrage Movement, that has had a lasting legacy on the continued fight for equality in America. In recognition of the struggles and achievements of a once disenfranchised majority, PreserveCast is honored to share remarkable stories of suffragists within each episode this year. Beyond The Ballet is supported by Preservation Maryland, Gallagher of Ilias and Jones, Attorneys at Law, and the Maryland Historical Trust. To learn more about influential women, past and present, or to donate, please visit BallotAndBeyond.org. This week on Ballot and Beyond, we’ll learn about Mary Bartlett-Dixon, a skilled nurse and leading suffragist from the Maryland Eastern Shore. Read by Casey Relm, the primary researcher of Maryland’s historic context statement, on the state’s suffrage legacy.
Mary Bartlett-Dixon, nurse, and suffragist. Maryland’s Suffrage Movement drew women from all corners of the state. Mary Bartlett-Dixon, of Easton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, was a leader in the Suffrage Movement and in her chosen field of nursing. Dixon graduated with the 1903 class of the John’s Hopkins School of Nursing. She quickly made an impact in medicine, helping to establish the Emergency Hospital of Easton in 1906. An institution today known as the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton. Mary Bartlett-Dixon connected nursing with advocacy for women’s rights. Writing a letter to the editor of the American Journal of Nursing in 1908. That criticized the journal’s neutrality on women’s suffrage. She was a leader in the Talbot County Chapter of the Just Government League, one of Maryland’s largest and most active suffrage organizations, wrote regularly for the Maryland Suffrage News, and edited a regular column for the Baltimore Sun entitled, “What the Suffragists Are Doing.”
In 1913, Dixon was one of just a handful of women who met with President Woodrow Wilson, shortly after his inauguration to ask him to support a constitutional amendment in franchising women. Which President Wilson chose not to do. When Wilson was re-elected in 1916, suffragists took their fight to his doorstep. In January of 1917, the National Women’s’ Party began a daily picket of the White House. Holding banners with messages such as, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for their liberty?” These silent sentinels were the first people to ever picket the White House. Suffragists has pioneered an enduring form of political activism. Mary Bartlett Dixon defended the Silent Sentinels in the face of widespread public condemnation. She wrote to the Baltimore Sun on January 24th, 1917 that, “The Silent Sentinels are not annoying the President. He realizes they are gentle reminders of his inconsistency. It is unthinkable that President Wilson can proclaim to the world his belief in the American principle of equal rights for all and continue to exclude in his great leadership equal rights for all the women of the United States.”
The White House pickets became even more unpopular when the US entered World War One in April of 1917, after which their actions were seen as treasonous, as well as simply distasteful. In the summer of 1917, police began arresting and imprisoning these protesters. Maryland women, who were in such close geographic proximity to the capital, played a key role in these demonstrations. Mary Bartlett Dixon joined the White House pickets and was arrested with 40 other women on November 10th, 1917. Several Marylanders were imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse. There, guards subjected the suffragettes to brutal physical treatment and extended solitary confinement. When the women were denied status as political prisoners, they went on hunger strike and some were eventually violently force-fed. This widely publicized abuse helped shift public opinion in favor of the suffragettes.
In January of 1918, President Wilson finally felt sufficiently pressured to declare his support for a federal women’s suffrage amendment. This began the process that would lead to ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Mary Bartlett Dixon’s persistent activism and engagement with the public through her writing helped shape the course of Maryland’s suffrage movement. After ratification, she founded the Talbot County League of Women Voters and continued to engage with medical and charitable causes throughout her life.
This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. Today we are joined by Jake Wynn of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. We’ve been talking about all things Civil War. Health, history, and the legacy of the war and the impact we’re still feeling today during this global pandemic. And one of the things that we’re seeing right now, Jake, that I’m sure you’re seeing and maybe you even have one yourself, is that there’s sort of been this homespun movement to sew masks and individuals all across the country are doing it. Any Civil War parallels in that? Are you getting any Civil War feels when you see everyone doing this and engaging in this activity?
Absolutely. This is something that I think all through our nation’s history and all through history, you see us falling back on the same kinds of activities that are very human. And we want to all do something to help in situations like this. And to go back to the Civil War, yeah absolutely, you see homespun efforts, you see efforts on the home front, both North and South, to give their soldiers some measure of comfort, whether that means making them clothing, sewing clothing, sewing mittens, hats for the wintertime. But the universal is making medical equipment. Making bandages, making gowns for hospitals. You see that happening on the home front during the Civil War, both by individuals and also by larger groups and organizations. Local and state relief agencies that were established during the war, organizations that are a bit larger, like the Sanitary Commission or the Christian Commission. They’re doing a lot of that same work that we are doing today, that people are coming together and trying to make things like masks today, coming together to try to do their part to have some impact on this large-scale crisis that we are all facing. People want to participate and want to try to step in and have a helping hand there for those in need.
Yeah, and it’s funny because it’s something where you feel like you can do something physical and real in the midst of something that is so global and seems so impossible to have an impact on. It’s like, “Well, at least I can do this. I can make a mask.” “I can roll a bandage,” if you’re in the civil war. Or I can make a gown or socks or something like that. So yeah, I mean I think you’re right, it has civil war parallels. It just has sort of human parallels where we’re doing what we normally do. So look, the civil war was, at least from my perspective, I imagine probably from yours as well, was the defining moment of the 19th century, certainly for the United States. And some are beginning to argue that this pandemic could be a defining moment for the 20th century. Maybe not the defining moment because we’ve got another 80 years to live through of this century, but certainly a defining moment. And given that you’re a historian of the civil war, what do you hope for out of this moment? What’s the positive that came from the civil war? What could be positive that comes from this?
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would think that– I agree with you completely, I think that the civil war is the defining moment of the 19th century in the United States. I think this is going to be– only time will tell how much impact that our current coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic will have, both on this country and around the world. I think all suggestions right now is where it’s hard to say when you’re living through the moment how impactful in the scale and the scope of history that moment will be. It definitely feels like this is kind of an epic changing situation that we are all facing, not only with the health crisis but also with an economic crisis that is coming fast on its heels. I do think that this is going to be one of those before and after moments where there was life in the world before coronavirus and there’s going to be life in the world after coronavirus. And I think that it’s only going to– it’s going to take a long time for the consequences of this to play out for us to fully understand what exactly this meant for our nation and for the world. And that is something that those living through the 1860s would understand. I think there’s a great moment for us right now to kind of reflect on the past, to look at these moments of national struggle, of crisis and see what people faced at that time and what living through an event like the civil war would have been like. The uncertainty that you have. The feelings of despair. The feelings of having moments of joy amid this crisis. I think we now, looking back, can understand a little bit more what it was like to live through those experiences. So, as a historian, that’s kind of how I feel about living through our current moment and looking back at the past. I would say I’ve been advocating for this both through the museum and also in my public history work outside the museum, and that is that we are living through one of these epic moments in history that we don’t fully grasp how important it is yet, but it is important. And I’ve been encouraging people to keep a journal, keep a diary, keep notes of about what you’re experiencing, what your everyday life is like because that is going to be of incredible historical interest for future historians.
Yeah. Absolutely. If you want to be published 150 years from now make sure you keep a journal just like everyone did 150 years ago. Particularly in this sort of ephemeral digital world where everything is so fleeting. If you actually write something down, you actually may end up in a book 200 years from now. If there are books. We don’t know. We’ll see [laughter].
So before we go, this is always enlightening. Hopefully, you can be a “threepete” guest at some point. We can talk about something else. Hopefully not as dire as another pandemic but maybe we’ll have you back. But before we go, tell us about what the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is doing during this downturn and how are you keeping the lights on and still educating and making sure that the museum comes out of this?
It’s really hard, Nick. It’s a really difficult situation. I do think because we’re a medical museum, I do think that there was a kind of an understanding fairly early on about what we could be facing as the momentum of this pandemic kind of built at the end of January and then into February. And we started to make some plans about if we face a situation like we’re facing now which was utterly unprecedented. I’ll be honest, in planning for it in mid to late February it felt a little kooky. I felt a little like a doomsday prepper while getting things and thinking about what the consequences of the coronavirus could be. But around late February or early March, we kind of came to a plan that if, for whatever reason, we were going to be forced to be closed to the public because of this public health issue, this crisis, that we would essentially one day flip the switch and go to an online museum.
And so we’ve been over the last five years that I’ve been at the museum, we’ve been– really put an important focus on our social media networks and using those as educational tools, not just for fun. Not just for updates about what’s going on at the museum, but to educate. And so that actually gave us a good jumping-off point. Once we were forced to be closed because of the virus spreading in the United States, we were able to essentially one day just throw the switch and start doing live streams, just start doing more video content and to really emphasize our social media network as a place, not only to educate but also to communicate with our audiences. And we’ve gotten great feedback from doing this and also found it’s not the same as admissions coming through the door but have been able to continue to grow our membership numbers as well. We’re a member-supported organization. And so that’s what I’ve been encouraging folks to do. If you like our content, you like what we’re doing on social media, you like these efforts to have an interactive Facebook Live Q&A, it’s important to even a small donation or become a sustaining member. That means a lot to us. So I’ll encourage your listeners too.
If you want to learn more go to civilwarmed.org. You can support us there. We have a membership page and a donate page. And you can also find all of our online educational resources. So yeah. It’s been a weird couple of weeks coming up on couple of months now, but we’re fighting on.
Fantastic. And I think you guys are doing a great job and really making the work that you do and the story that you tell relevant to the moment which is the most, I think, that a museum could hope for. So yeah. I would encourage people, go to civilwarmed.org, and become a member. Don’t be cheap. Go get on there and become a member and support a museum that’s doing good work out there. Well, Jake, it’s been a pleasure to speak with you. Please be well. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And look forward to talking with you and seeing you in person when this all comes to pass.
Yeah. Thank you so much, Nick, for having me back on PreserveCast. I really enjoyed this conversation. And yeah, I hope it won’t take another pandemic to get me back on the podcast.
Fantastic. Talk to you soon.
Thanks for listening to PreserveCast. To dig deeper into this episode show, notes, and all previous episodes visit preservecast.org. You can also find us online at Facebook and Twitter at PreserveCast. This program was supported by the Historic Preservation Education Foundation. PreserveCast is produced by Preservation Maryland and Baltimore City. Thanks again for your support and remember to keep preserving
Jake Wynn joined PreserveCast in 2017 for a conversation with host Nick Redding about the National Museum of Civil War Medicine’s strong digital outreach strategies. You can list to that past episode and all archived episodes on our website, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.