Public History

Collections Project Proposal

7th Ohio Regiment Scouts on Upton’s Hill, Virginia June 17, 1861. Artist – Alfred Waud

Mapping the Civil War in Arlington: Upton’s Hill, is an Online Media Collection Project (OMCP) that will provide local historians, researchers, and students, access to primary sources from the Civil War. These primary sources will include photographs, drawings, maps, letters, public records, as well as historic newspaper articles related to Arlington.  In addition, there will be photographs of Civil War artifacts, and links to other media collections. 

The OMCP will centralize access to disparate archives and collections of Arlington related Civil War records, using a popular digital collection management platform called “Omeka.” The availability and accessibility of these Civil War era primary sources will promote a larger and more collaborative interpretation of Arlington’s role during the conflict.  The project will also encourage new research and discoveries that will highlight the social, political, and cultural history of the people living in Arlington.  “Mapping” will also document the stories of Confederate and Union regiments, as well as those of individual soldiers that came from all over the country to fight and die in Arlington.

The Online Media Collection Project will be developed in several phases.  These include:

  • Prototype development phase, using the Omeka application and only targeting the local history of Arlington’s “Upton’s Hill.”
  • Buildout Phase, recruiting local historian support and volunteers to help with inputting and building out the site.
  • Evaluation phase, conducting site usability studies and capturing feedback
  • Going public with the OMCP

Historical Context:

“Mapping” is a prototype project that demonstrates the value of centralizing access to online collections for the purpose of promoting public history. During the first six months of the Civil War Arlington was at the epicenter between two large armies. While the first Battle of Bull Run/Manassas did not occur until July 21, 1861, the months preceding and following the battle were witness to almost daily contact between northern and southern troops. These small military engagements often took place along the Arlington and Falls Church border.  No where was this more evident than Upton’s Hill. The hill’s summit, rising 410 feet about sea level, and overlooks, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, and Washington, D.C. Its strategic location made it an important military objective.  During the war dozens of regiments from both sides camped there, and eventually the Union Army built a fort there.

160 years later, Arlington County residents know very little about the Civil War, and even less about Upton’s hill’s local history. Overshadowed by the major battles that were to take place in 1862 and beyond, the military conflict in Arlington is a forgotten period of US history that is worthy of retrospect. The major combatants of both sides, including William T. Sherman, George B. McClellan, James Longstreet, and Jeb Stuart all lived and fought in and around Arlington in 1861. For a brief period of time the Confederates seriously considered invading Arlington. While Arlington’s Historical Society has published a few articles about Civil War, the scope and scale of what occurred on Upton’s Hill during the war remains unknown. However, this is dramatically changing due to the fact that the Civil War was well documented and photographed. As a result, there is a wide availability of digital collections that provide access to primary source material. These collections, including letters, diaries, drawings, regimental histories, and photographs, include many records associated with Upton’s Hill.  These collections are helping local historians “rediscover” Arlington’s Civil War history.  Not surprisingly, the introduction of these “new” primary resources, is somewhat disruptive, and challenging the status quo of decades old scholarship.

The initial focus of the prototype project will be on the Union regimental camps located on Upton’s Hill. Some of the project’s historical questions will include:

  • What do the collection’s primary sources reveal about how these soldiers lived, and what was their war experiences?
  •  What was the impact of the war on local residents?  How did they react?
  • What new local historical interpretations can be discovered?

An expanded project would include more geospatial details of fort locations, local military engagements, and other topographical features, like bridges, hills, and roads. Finally, the project also has the potential to personalize the war by permitting researchers and students to identify individual units and soldiers and track their real-life stories.

Digital Technologies

The Online Media Collection Project will leverage the Omeka application as its web publishing platform for sharing the project’s digital collections and exhibits.  One of the goals of this project is to demonstrate the viability and sustainability of developing an online collection.  Omeka provides the flexibility to start small, with the focus only on Upton’s Hill.  But the platform can scale later on to include a wider and more in-depth collection of Arlington’s local Civil War history. An initial challenge will be developing an information hierarchy that reflects the available primary source material, and how to present it in a user-friendly way.  The built-in themes and interfaces provided by Omeka will provide some assistance in establishing this framework.

The OMCP should promote historic research collaboration by providing the means for the site’s users to publish primary source recommendations, questions, and comments.  This will help in the discovery phase.  The project will encourage engagement and scholarly discussion regarding collection items, their authenticity, and applicability.  Omeka has some additional plug-ins that may need to be added later on in order to provide this capability. 


April 12th, 2021 is the 160th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.  As a result, there is going to be a renewed interest in the Civil War and local history in Arlington. The project will be designed for several key personas.  These include local historians, teachers, students, and history buffs.  The primary audience will be on local historians.  The secondary audience will be for teachers.  In regard to local historians, the site is intended to become an important source of validating historical authenticity and presenting new discoveries.  It will provide a venue for sharing knowledge and collection sources.  For teachers, the site will include lesson plans and activities targeted for Arlington students.  These activities will promote local history and discovery of important Civil War sites, including Upton’s Hill.

Finally, the project will attract a lot of attention from Civil War history buffs.  Stories about Arlington and the war will be new to many in this audience.  However, since during the Civil War regiments from over 15 states camped in the county, there may be a greater national interest. One benefit of seeking a wider audience is the potential for new and undiscovered primary sources.  These history buffs could be the “wisdom of the crowd” and their engagement could fill in some missing historical references and add to new interpretations.

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