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Gamers Take on the Civil War by David Silkenat

As historians and teachers, we are often keenly aware of how movies and television influence what students think about the Civil War and about history more broadly. In recent years, historians have weighed in on the virtues and distortions of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave. Some productions have actively sought Civil War historians’ input into their depiction of the past, including Gary Ross’s Free State of Jonesand PBS’s Mercy Street.[1] While academic commentary on Civil War era television and film has become commonplace, few historians have examined another venue in which students and the broader public encounter the Civil War: in video games.

Over the past thirty years, more than two dozen Civil War games have been made. With the exceptions of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! (1997) and Antietam! (1999), most of these games have not been particularly successful. A new game, released in July 2017, looks like it will replace Meier’s work as the most popular Civil War game ever. Produced by a small Ukrainian design team, Ultimate General: Civil War has already received glowing reviews from the video game press and appears on the way to becoming a best seller. On Steam, a popular game purchase site, it had a 9/10 rating, with more than 1,500 reviews.[2]

Ultimate General: Civil War promotional image of a battlefield. Courtesy of Game Labs LLC.
Ultimate General: Civil War promotional image of a battlefield. Courtesy of Game Labs LLC.

Ultimate General: Civil War is, in gamer terminology, a real-time strategy (RTS) game, a popular genre that involves moving units around a map to defeat opponents and secure resources and locations. The use of “real-time” distinguishes the genre from turn-based strategy games like Civilization or (for luddites) chess. Some readers might object to the use of the term “strategy,” as UG:CW, like most RTS games, is devoted almost entirely to battlefield tactics rather than larger questions of military strategy. As is typical of the genre, UG:CW allows players to build different kinds of units (infantry, skirmishers, cavalry, artillery) and equip these units with a range of weapons. Players can choose either to fight individual battles or, in campaign mode, fight the entire war, building an army along the way.

 

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Call for Applications - Postdoctoral Scholar: History, Richards Civil War Era Center/Africana Research Center

PSU# 73737 - Postdoctoral Scholar, History

Richards Civil War Era Center/Africana Research Center, Pennsylvania State University – University Park, Pennsylvania

The Richards Civil War Era Center and the Africana Research Center invite applications for a one-year postdoctoral scholar in African-American history, beginning July 1, 2018. All research interests spanning the origins of slavery through the Civil Rights movement will receive favorable consideration. Proposals that mesh with the Richards Center’s interests in slavery, abolition, and emancipation, as well as comparative or Atlantic history, are especially welcome. During their residency, the scholar will have no teaching or administrative responsibilities. He or she will be matched with a mentor, attend professional development sessions and other relevant events, and will be expected to take an active part in Penn State’s community of Africana researchers. The scholar also will invite two senior scholars to campus to read and comment on the scholar’s project.  Successful applicants must have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. within the previous four academic years. Salary/benefit package is competitive. To be considered for this position, submit complete application packets including a cover letter describing your research and goals for the scholarship year, a curriculum vita (6 page maximum), and a writing sample of no more than 30 double-spaced pages. Review of materials will begin November 15, 2017 and continue until the position has been filled. Three letters of reference should be addressed to the attention of the ESSS Selection Committee and submitted as email attachments to richardscenter@psu.edu.  Please direct questions about the process via e-mail to richardscenter@psu.edu.  Apply online at https://psu.jobs/job/73737

CAMPUS SECURITY CRIME STATISTICS: For more about safety at Penn State, and to review the Annual Security Report which contains information about crime statistics and other safety and security matters, please go to http://www.police.psu.edu/clery/, which will also provide you with detail on how to request a hard copy of the Annual Security Report.

Penn State is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer, and is committed to providing employment opportunities to all qualified applicants without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or protected veteran status. 

Congratulations to Evan Rothera!

Congratulations to Evan Rothera who received his PhD on Saturday!  Good luck Dr. Rothera!

The Richards Center would like to welcome Rick Daily to Penn State!

Rick graduated from the University of Redlands, Johnston Center, with a degree in Inspiring Happiness: The Social Psychology of Race, Gender, Sexuality and the Arts to Better Understand Humanity in 2011. After working in Admissions at Soka University of America for 6 years, he will be joining Penn State's dual-title History and African American Studies PhD program this Fall. He plans to study 19th and 20th century US History, and intersections of race, gender and sexuality. Rick will be bringing his extensive collection of bow ties, California smile and quick wit across the country to Penn State!

The Richards Center would like to welcome Kellianne King to Penn State!

Kellianne graduated from The George Washington University in 2014 with a degree in History. She is joining Penn State's dual title PhD program in History and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies this fall. Her areas of interest include the 19th and 20th century United States, social reform, and the intersections between gender, sexuality and psychiatry.

Teaching with Statistics: A Case Study by Joseph Glatthaar

My great friend Kevin Lambert at California State University, Fullerton says, “Nothing is more humanistic than numbers.” They bring order and precision to our lives, offer definitive and powerful evidence for us, and determine outcomes and decisions on the most difficult and emotionally wrenching issues.

Although the work of historians is an evidence-based profession, most historians are reticent to use evidence from social sciences and sciences, especially statistics. In our quest to better understand the human condition, we draw theories from the fields of humanities, social sciences, and sciences, yet most of our evidence comes from the humanities. Too many historians are completely intimidated by numbers and refuse to embrace them, while others understandably find quantitative studies either tedious reading or insensitive to the joys, hardships, and brutality of the past. But the truth is that numbers and statistical evidence help to enrich and accentuate more humanistic evidence. The question is not only how historians can learn to embrace quantitative evidence, but also, how can we teach this to our students?

The goal in my recent article, “A Tale of Two Armies: The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac and Their Cultures,” published in the September 2016 issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era, is to expose readers to the value of combining qualitative and quantitative evidence.[1] I have certainly utilized more conventional sources, such as personal letters, diaries, and official correspondence. More importantly, I use statistics based on a kind of random sample (technically, a stratified cluster sample) to explain how the culture of the Army of Northern Virginia played an important role in its defeat and how the culture of the Army of the Potomac lay at the heart of its success. On my university webpage I have placed simple-to-follow charts in a PDF that are based on the statistical studies from the article, and also some statistical charts from my book Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee, so that individuals may use them for instruction purposes.[2] The statistical charts not only provide interesting information about military service, but they also give background information on the soldiers who constituted these armies. Such statistics can be an engaging way to help students understand the experiences of common soldiers whose lives might otherwise remain closed to us, and to help them understand aggregate trends within each army.

There are some key themes uncovered in my research that can be used in the classroom to help students reconsider myths that no longer hold true. For instance, the statistical evidence indicates that nearly half of all soldiers in the two armies (taken from my sample of 1,400 total men) were not heads of households.[3]

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.