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Exploring Civil War History

Students studying history at UVA have the opportunity to experience Civil War battlefields in person as part of classes taught by Nau Center for Civil War History Director Gary Gallagher.

Mitch Powers

On Oct. 16, the University celebrated the opening of the new John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History with a ceremony on the South Lawn.

“The Nau Center will bring the University’s unique strengths to bear on the study of the era of the American Civil War,” says director Gary W. Gallagher, a prominent Civil War scholar and UVA professor of history. He notes that between faculty, holdings in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, and partnerships with National Park Service sites and other historical organizations, UVA is particularly well positioned to foster robust exploration of the Civil War and its lasting historical impact.

The center is named for UVA alumnus and outgoing Board of Visitors member John L. Nau III (Col ’68) and is part of a recent $13 million gift to the University from Nau and his wife, Bobbie.

Nau’s own interest in the Civil War stems from family trips to battlefields and his study of history at UVA. He has amassed an impressive collection of Civil War memorabilia, and from 2001 to 2005 led the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He established this center at his alma mater to promote scholarship of the mid-19th century, a period of division and reuniting crucial to the understanding of American history.

Both Gallagher and Elizabeth Varon, the center’s associate director and a professor of American history at UVA, say that the Nau Center’s first year will be a busy one, with plans to initiate two digital humanities projects, place students in internships and award the inaugural Bobbie and John Nau book prize. The center will also host two conferences, one dedicated to iconic texts written by Civil War-era figures, and another, in collaboration with Richmond’s American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, on the aftermath of the war.

The center’s endowments will support lectures, research, digital history projects and other activities that benefit undergraduate students, doctoral and postdoctoral students, and the public audience interested in this period of American history.