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History project becomes display with National Park Service

At Morehead State learning extends well beyond the classroom, giving students the opportunity to collaborate with faculty in their chosen field. Dr. Adrian Mandzy, associate professor of history, just completed an ambitious project with the help of several MSU students. This work has become a permanent public display at the National Park Service in Virginia.

Over the last five years, 46 students from Morehead State University’s public history program have worked with Mandzy studying the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia. Fought on July 30, 1864, the Battle of the Crater was one of the most important military engagements of the American Civil War. Mandzy started the project in 2014 and in the spring of the following year, six students worked with the National Parks Service and took part in a metal detecting survey of the battlefield to determine the condition of the cultural resources connected with the engagement and to see how far Union troops advanced during the battle.

In total, 776 artifacts were recovered during the week-long survey. Over the next three years under Mandzy’s supervision, public history students cleaned, measured, weighed and analyzed these artifacts at the Camden-Carroll Library. Their fieldwork determined that enough remains of the battlefield to create a National Register Nomination. However, to learn how far Union troops advanced, four students – Anthony Albrecht of Hebron, Nathaniel Baker of Pikeville, Christopher Linneman of Burlington and Daniel A. Meritt of Morehead – worked with Mandzy to build a physical 3D scale model of the topography of the battlefield. The location of each recovered Civil War artifact was then plotted on the model, allowing for identification of several areas of combat. This information, coupled with the existing historical documents, allowed for the recreation of the events of July 30, 1864, and provided an unparalleled understanding of the past.

Mandzy said having students become so heavily involved in a public history research project of this scale only benefits them in the long run.

“They’ve gotten a really good insight into the careers of public history and what all is involved in one of these projects,” he said. “It was a lot of work, but I think for the students, it was worth it.”

The results of this research were presented last year at the 10th Biennial Fields of Conflict Conference, an international conference devoted to battlefield archaeology, held at the Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, Connecticut. The scholars and members of the National Park Service (NPS) who viewed the 3D model were extremely impressed and Julia Steele, director of the Petersburg Battlefield National Park, asked Mandzy donate the map to the park. The 3D model created by students from Morehead State University’s public history program will now become a part of America’s historical record. 

“We got a little more information that nobody was able to get out there before,” Mandzy said. “I think we have a better understanding because of our research project of what happened there.”

For more information on MSU’s public history program, contact the Department of History, Philosophy, Politics, Global Studies and Legal Studies at 606-783-2655, email or visit
Photo: MSU students Nathaniel Baker, Christopher Linneman, Anthony Albrecht, along with Dr. Adrian Mandzy, associate professor of history, presenting their public history project on The Battle of Crater at the 10th Biennial Fields of Conflict Conference.