Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What's in a Name?

As you may have heard, the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park has a new name - the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. Read Director* Scott Harris' commentary on the name change:

Since 1967, the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park has told the story of the battle that occurred here on May 15, 1864, with special emphasis on the role of the Virginia Military Institute Cadets.  We also describe how that battle and the war generally impacted the Bushong family (whose farm was at the center of the fighting) and other residents of the Shenandoah Valley.  The other major part of our interpretation is the overview of military activity in the state during the entire war, using exhibits originally created for the Civil War Centennial Center in Richmond from 1961 to 1965. 

Adoption of the name “Virginia Museum of the Civil War” places our overall interpretation of the war at the forefront, while retaining the Battle of New Market and Bushong/Shenandoah Valley aspects of our mission.  With the Sesquicentennial upon us, many travelers will (hopefully!) be coming to the Commonwealth for Civil War heritage tourism experiences.  It is our hope that the “brand” embodied in the Virginia Museum of the Civil War will resonate with these travelers.  The broader vision of the museum will also facilitate additional exhibits and programming in the future, which will be developed as resources allow.

What VMI has done with the New Market name isn’t a new concept.  In Virginia alone, I can think of a few relevant examples of institutions that have (or are) undergoing transitions in their names, usually to broaden their appeal and build awareness.  The Roanoke Transportation Museum became the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  The National Museum of the Marine Corps consolidated two former museums, the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington and the Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum in Quantico.  Jamestown Festival Park became Jamestown Settlement, and the other two Jamestown locations operated by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia have also seen revisions.  I seem to recall that the Yorktown Victory center was once going to be the Museum of the American Revolution, though variations of that name are being used in several locations. 

Among Civil War sites, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society’s “Confederate Museum” adopted its current name, the Museum of the Confederacy, in 1970.  Pamplin Park Civil War Site (opened in 1994) evolved into Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.  In 2000, the Tredegar National Civil War Center opened in Richmond, but was later designated the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.

The list goes on.  For kicks, I Googled “museum name changes” and got over 49,000,000 hits—though I think there may be a few repeats!

Getting back to New Market, there will be considerable overlap in use of both “Virginia Museum of the Civil War” and “New Market Battlefield State Historical Park” for some time.  The latter name currently appears in many publications, signs, and online resources.  Over time, the new name will assume greater prominence.  However this evolution proceeds, the primary goals will be the same—to help visitors understand the rich legacies of Virginia in the Civil War, including the Battle of New Market and the Shenandoah Valley.

*Scott Harris is leaving the Virginia Museum of the Civil War in July to assume directorship of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. Best of luck to Scott and both museums as they make leadership transitions!

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