In preparing for their Civil War sesquicentennial, the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) board decided to move beyond simply commemorating the conflict. Instead, the organization wanted to create a dialogue about the war’s meaning while communicating to the audience how decisions made 150 years ago still affect life in Kentucky today.
Torn Within and Threatened Without: Kentuckians in the Civil War Era is a mobile exhibition housed in a traveling semi-trailer. The exhibit examines the Civil War through the choices of eight Kentuckians in an immersive graphic novel format. In a touch-screen interactive, visitors are presented with a historically documented problem each person faced and are given the choice to decide for themselves how to shape Kentucky’s future. They are shown potential paths of action, learn about the potential benefits and consequences to each choice, and, ultimately, decide how to act.
Behind the scenes videos, bibliographies, lesson plans, supplemental primary sources, and a 24-page comic book provide teachers and students with tools to analyze the war and better understand the process of creating historical content. Two short videos also introduce students to the creative processes behind the exhibition’s comic art and historical research. In these videos, the project team discusses selecting characters to feature, working within the limits of archival evidence, and developing a dynamic picture of the past. These videos show students that history is not automatically known, but is researched, interpreted, and communicated through the processes of research and scholarship.
Although it uses a graphic novel format, the exhibit’s content rests on solid scholarship. The exhibition team conducted research as part of the development process and each color image created for the exhibition is based on textual, visual, and physical evidence. Many of the weapons, tools, and clothing depicted are drawn from the Society’s 2,000+ Civil War artifacts. Torn Within’s graphic novel format allowed the project team to recreate pivotal moments in Kentucky’s Civil War history in interactive and historically accurate ways that engages all audiences.