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Student pursues passion for the Civil War at summer internship

Messiah College student Elizabeth MotichThis past summer, senior humanities/history major Elizabeth Motich had the opportunity to travel back in time to the year 1863 through an internship at the Gettysburg National Park. During this time, the nation found itself in the midst of perhaps the most violent and utterly tragic time in national history—the American Civil War. Through this internship, Motich encountered distant Civil War history brought back to life through the small, yet significant, town of Gettysburg. One hundred fifty years ago, this town marked the site for the most significant and tragic battle of the Civil War, resulting in a tremendous amount of soldier causalities and great civilian unease. In fact, on the solemn morning of July 4, 1863, civilians of this town awoke to find the bodies of thousands of soldiers, either dead or wounded scattered across the town acting as a somber token of the previous night’s events. Residents quickly assumed the roles of nurses and grave diggers as homes became hospitals and fields became cemeteries.

A passion for 19th century American history, and specifically for the Civil War, is what ultimately led Motich to pursue an internship at the Gettysburg National Park. This past summer, the Gettysburg Foundation and Gettysburg National Military Park celebrated the 150th  anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg—a remarkable experience that the Dillsburg native won’t soon forget. According to Motich, the National Commemoration of the Civil War drew thousands of visitors, setting all-time park records for the largest crowd.  As Motich said, “It was incredible to feel like a part of history while teaching it.”

Motich’s “typical” day was far from the norm.  As a park ranger intern, two of her main responsibilities included writing, researching, and delivering a 45-60 minute program about the battle and guiding walking tours through the National Cemetery. Motich found this part of the internship most rewarding as she was able to tell the tragic and powerful stories of soldiers, nurses and civilians. Occasionally, Motich even portrayed different historical figures in costume, making their stories all the more tangible.  First, she had the opportunity to portray the wife of David Wills, who is most famously known as the main figure responsible for the creation of the national cemetery. Motich also portrayed Tillie Pierce, a young girl at the time of battle who quickly assumed the duties of a nurse.  Looking back on her time assuming these roles, she stated, “I enjoyed being with the public and watching them connect with history by seeing the tears in their eyes and knowing then that a connection was made.”

In addition to her duties as a program guide, Motich also had the opportunity to work with two children’s programs, typically drawing ages 5-12.  The first program, called “Join the Army,” invited children to “enlist” in the army and have a taste of soldier life during the Civil War. The second program, “Hands on History Carts,” offered children the chance to handle replica Civil War artifacts and dress up in costumes.

Although the internship provided an enjoyable learning experience, it wasn’t without its challenges. According to Motich, long shifts posed the greatest challenge throughout the anniversary period as it wasn’t uncommon to work 12-13 hours at a time. Even still, Motich noted that it was an “incredible effort by all” and didn’t take away from the overall experience.

Looking back, Motich considered how her Messiah coursework greatly prepared her for this kind of internship: “Through my Messiah courses, I gained the general knowledge and tools to practice history. This internship required a solid foundation. You can ‘do’ history in a classroom or you can translate that knowledge into a real world experience.” By pursuing her passion for history through this internship, Motich was able to gain experience, learn more and, most importantly, connect with the public in a meaningful way.

Story by Jess Kern `15. Photograph by Megan Dobinson `16.

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