Lecture platform revisits Civil War sesquicentennial for Week Three 2013

As the United States continues its sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, Chautauqua in Week Three 2013, titled “America, 1863,” will examine its legacy in the context of a pivotal year in the country’s history.

“We keyed in on 1863 specifically, not just because it’s 150 years later, but because it’s a year in which the leaders of the Union showed optimism for the future of United States,” said Sherra Babcock, director of Chautauqua’s Department of Education and Youth Services. “They were planning for the long-term — creating land-grant universities and new governmental organizations, expanding the railroad system — in the middle of a war, when it wasn’t clear if there would even be a country when the war was over.”

Babcock’s point was echoed by Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, in remarks from his July 5 conversation with retired “PBS News­Hour” anchor Jim Lehrer on the Amphitheater stage.

“(President Lincoln and Congress) didn’t stop to worry about whether there was going to be a country. They wanted to provide for its future,” Cicerone said. “And then in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, they created our National Academy of Sciences to provide some of the infrastructure that the country would need to be guided by science.”

1863 saw some of the most transformational events in U.S. history: Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1; battles at Vicksburg, Miss., and Gettysburg, Pa., turned the war in the Union’s favor; and Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address.

The lecture committee is also interested in spending a day or two of lectures exploring the culture of that time period, Babcock said, with emphasis on the arts and how people lived their everyday lives.

There are no confirmations for “America, 1863” yet, Babcock said, but invitations are already sent. Week Three in 2013 is July 7–13.