The University’s vastness allows it to be a multifaceted place that conjures various types of imagery. For many, the most recognizable locations on campus are the Big House, the Law Quad, and the Diag — rather than, say, the Walgreen Drama Center or Duderstadt Center on North Campus. This understandable generalization is similar to people’s preconceived notions of the Civil War, a conflict that typically features the North and South. These extrapolations are put to the test at the Bentley Historical Library’s exhibit “Rally Round the Flag,” which runs through June 30.
Rally Round the Flag
Through June 30
Bentley Historical Library
Tucked at the very tip of North Campus rests the Bentley Historical Library, which contains the official archives of the University and documents about the history of the state of Michigan. The library has an impressive collection specifically on the state’s ties to the Civil War — a shift from the more frequently reported states on the Atlantic coast.
When the call to “Rally ’round the flag boys” was originally issued, the state of Michigan sent almost 90,000 military-affiliated people — both men and women — to battle for the Union. Tens of thousands of those brave ladies and gentlemen never made it back to the Midwest.
In commemoration of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial this year, the Bentley Library asked School of Information graduate student Matthew Adair to curate documents on the topic. In addition, Adair is working on an online database for this project so that these documents can be easily viewed even after the exhibit ends.
“I don’t want to single out Michigan of having some sort of pivotal role because all of the states provided soldiers,” Adair said. “But Michigan played a significant role in the war.”
Adair was quite ambitious when collecting materials for the exhibit as he examined the many facets of Michigan’s involvement in the Civil War.
“I tried to do a little bit of high-flying, I guess, from exploring brief and significant causes of the war to the actual breaking out of war and what was happening in Michigan,” Adair said. “(I looked) a little bit at solider life and what it was like training for war.”
Karen Jania, the division head of reference at Bentley, explained that Michigan soldiers fought in some major Civil War battles, including Gettysburg. As a result, there has been strong interest in the topic, which has led to the growing of the library’s supplies — now comprising more than 400 collections of documents and artifacts recalling Michigan’s involvement in the war.
While exploring these collections, Matthew Adair was most interested in the life for the low-ranking average solider.
“Everyone forgets about the average soldier during the Civil War,” Adair said.
Adair’s exhibit uses familiar objects such as newspapers, journals and photographs to create the stories of individuals at war. These objects also convey a sense of humanity and a reminder that war often produces personal anecdotes that are close to home. University students should be able to connect to the idiosyncratic messages from this war and how each person’s story matters.