Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Atlanta symposium examines innovations that shaped, were shaped by the Civil War

For Prof. Seymour E. “Sy” Goodman, it’s as if the stars have aligned to make possible a Georgia Tech symposium on technology and the Civil War.

After all, the university’s formal name, the Georgia Institute of Technology, indicates the depth of interest in logistics, innovation and processes that made the operation of huge armies possible during the bloody, four-year conflict.

The campus itself was a terrifying no man’s land as Federal and Confederate sharpshooters and artillerymen faced off in the weeks before Atlanta fell to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman in early September 1864.

Then, throw in the fact that the Atlanta Campaign occurred 150 years ago this spring and summer.

A flyer advertising the April 12 symposium at the Student Center Theatre features a familiar photo of the Ponder House, a residence east of what is now Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. It was an inviting target for Union cannons.

“That photo was taken from roughly where I am standing now,” Goodman told the Picket during a phone conversation Monday about the event, which includes discussions of field operations, photography, medical technologies and the care and preservation of technology.

The public is invited to the 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday symposium, which includes a free lunch and concludes with a walking tour -- led by Charlie Crawford of the Georgia Battlefields Association -- that will describe the campus in 1864. Pre-registration is encouraged.

Goodman, professor of international affairs and computing, jointly, at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the College of Computing, is among those making presentations.

Sy Goodman
“This is a childhood thing that if I don’t get back to it now I won’t,” he said, referring to growing up in Chicago and learning about Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and others.

The professor teaches “Military History of the Civil War,” which covers aspects of what he terms the first major war of the industrial era.

Railroads, telegraphs and large ships were the signs of a massive mobilization of people and economies to fight.

David Wynn Vaughan, who has a nationally recognized collection of photographs of Confederate soldiers, is among the speakers, along with Shauna Devine, who will discuss the growing use of medical photography to aid physicians.

Goodman talked about the importance of photography. Images of the dead brought the war to people’s doorsteps.

“We were the first war where a large fraction of the population … was literate. We are the first war where mass printing was available,” he said. “Photography is one of the technologies that did not exist with Napoleon."

Hundreds of thousands of photographs were taken in studios of soldiers or in the field – although technology and mobility issues made “action” photography virtually non-existent.

Perhaps cameras could have been placed in balloons or in other high vantage points to make surveillance images.

But there were always technological limitations. For example, making photos of map overlays proved too much of a challenge.

“Most of this didn’t work, but it was part of the spectrum of things peoples tried,” Goodman said.

“(Photography) did affect the way people behaved, but not so much in a direct operational sense. People got photos of themselves, carried photos of wives and their children.”

Goodman, in his opening talk, will provide an overview of technology in the Civil War. Other speakers include:

-- Ken Johnston, National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, "Inventing a New Navy"

-- Gordon Jones, senior military historian, Atlanta History Center.

-- Mary-Elizabeth Ellard, Georgia Battlefields Association, "A Sorrowful War: Veterinary Medicine During the War of the Rebellion" 

Library of Congress

Exhibits at the symposium will include Vaughan’s photos and material from the Atlanta History Center and the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga.

An afternoon panel discussion will cover curation of Civil War technology and artifacts.

“In this session, Dr. Jones will discuss how to introduce audiences to interchangeable parts, ready-made clothing, or other aspects of the Industrial Revolution that formed prime ingredients in the Civil War and very much influenced its outcome.”

Goodman spends a good deal of his time researching and lecturing on computer networks, privacy and cyberattacks. But he points out the information technologies existed during the Civil War: The telegraph, Morse Code, signal corps, telescopes, photographs and the printing press.

It’s important to understand the complexities of the war machines of the Civil War, Goodman said.

“You look at these maps and battles and strategic movements and you see all these arrows. The question is: What happened to make those arrows possible?”

• More information, registration for event

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