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Reviewed by Susan Hamburger
By Jim Weeks
Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 2003

The word “Gettysburg” evokes many images — the battle, the town, the film. In his seminal book Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 2003, $29.95) Jim Weeks explores the commercialization of the Gettysburg battlefield from the days immediately following that first week of July 1863 through the “Heritage Gettysburg” phase of the early 21st century.

He comments that “Not only has Gettysburg been commercially packaged since 1863 but the shrine owes its iconic status to the marketplace.” The intertwining of the battlefield and the tourism market has moved through several phases: from genteel patriotic uplift, monument contemplation, road excursions and automobile quick-stop touring to heritage tourism. Each generation remade Gettysburg National Battlefield Park into its own image of what the fighting ground should mean. It is this fluidity that defines Gettysburg as an “ongoing project with no final meaning, an American shrine in a continuous state of becoming.”

Within the context of how to market Gettysburg as the quintessential Civil War shrine — one that would appeal to all classes, races, ages and patriotic bents — the movers and shakers behind the park strove to bring visitors to town. The juxtaposition of hucksterism and reverence, while sometimes at odds in the minds of the memorialists, has served to keep Gettysburg alive and viable as a multifaceted tourist attraction for more than 140 years.

Weeks, who recently became editor of Civil War Times, writes about each phase in Gettysburg’s evolution, from the bloody carnage picked over by relic hunters to the restoration of the landscape back to the way it appeared the day before the war. He explores the relationship between the town and the battlefield, and discusses the national context surrounding Gettysburg.

While the book takes a scholarly approach to the marketing of Gettysburg, it is a work essential to understanding the changes the land and people have undergone while keeping the idea of Gettysburg as an icon firmly planted in the minds of most Americans. The 28 black-and-white photographs and drawings depict the battlefield throughout its history and visually enhance the textual descriptions. This is a welcome addition to the literature on Gettysburg, and recommended reading for the serious student of the battle’s aftermath.