Sometimes you instinctively do the right things from the start and then eventually realize what you have done was really important. So it is with BGES’s latest project, The BGES Video Archives.
In October 1994 we assembled an all-star team at the Holiday Inn at the Richmond Airport to do a one-day symposium of lectures preceding the APCWS’s Annual Conference hosted by Wilson Greene and tours led by Ed Bearss, Dan Beattie, and Greene. My father wondering what in the world my mom had donated $5,000 for came along to see if this was another harebrained scheme. He brought along a video camera and a bunch of 8-mm tapes. The faculty, which included Archer Jones, Terry Jones, Joe Glaathaar, Mike Andrus, Louis Manarin, Mike Litterst, and Ed Bearss, filled the day with high-level scholarship. Dad was sufficiently impressed to tag along to Vicksburg, where we had scored a conference on the Vicksburg Campaign at the Edison Walthall Hotel in the downtown with daily sessions in the historic House Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum featured in many woodcarvings. The programs went on and, for more than 14 years until 2008, Dad recorded everything.
The result was literally thousands of hours of video—admittedly, not Hollywood edited or produced, but like the events themselves inclusive and filled with great content. When Dad retired in 2010, he had an impressive tape library that he had transferred first to VHS and then ultimately DVDs. He made more than 200 DVDS, each six-plus hours of content. His documentation was impeccable as was his categorization, and so when the retirement came, he provided all the tapes and DVDs for the Headquarters in Chatham. For more than a dozen years they sat in the guest room available to anyone one who happened to come visit the HQ and who stayed. Of particular interest were 69 disks containing more than 350 lectures from over 100 Civil War scholars and historians dating back to 1994.
With the COVID restrictions, we began looking for means to bring educational content to our membership, and the Board of Directors suggested we start booking historians for Zoom lectures. Loving the idea, we believed we could get a jump-start by converting the DVDs to digital form and posting them to YouTube. Well, YouTube restrictions and space limitations forced us to Plan B. Estimating that we had more than 1 terrabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of videos in the lecture series only, we turned to our friend Karen Needles at Documents on Wheels, and she knew exactly what we needed to do. We had to convert the files to MP4 files and then we needed a new storage medium. We are working that. We also need an extension to our website software known as MemberPress and someone to manage it. The vault of the archive will be behind a password-protected door that active BGES members can access.
We have engaged Karen to handle the conversions. The initial estimate was $40,000 to place the 350 lectures online; however, as Karen mastered the techniques, a four-hour per lecture estimate dropped to just over two hours; thus each lecture should cost us just over $50 to convert. Our estimate has been downsized to $20,000 to $25,000, and the estimated completion date will be the later part of the summer of 2021. We expect to begin posting videos by the end of October and should have the vault set up before Thanksgiving. Karen is moving right along, and over 100 lectures from 48 historians have been converted thus far over the first six weeks. We think the conversion will take another two to three months.
We have started fundraising for the project, and the first installment payment has been made to Karen. We owe a monthly minimum of $1,000 plus expenses until it is paid in full. We have conducted a Birthday Fundraiser for Len that has produced $1,520 (101% of our goal!). We have also started an email fundraiser that has raised $3,900 thus far. Our initial target is $14,000. We will push through the balance needed later this year or early next year.
If you have not seen the four sample full-length videos, they are temporarily posted to the BGES’s YouTube channel and you can click below to watch Ed Bearss on Stuart’s Ride around McClellan (October 1994; 61 minutes); Bud Robertson on Stonewall Jackson (1996; 64 minutes); the VMI Glee Club concert at the Hall of Valor for BGES (1996; 24 minutes); and my lecture on Sherman and Military Subordination to Civilian Leadership (2006; 50 minutes).
We need your support and invite you to donate. Click here to link to the BGES donation page. You can sponsor a lecture for $50—all donations are welcomed. You will find incentives for larger gifts if you are able. If none of the options work for you or you would like to mail in your gift or otherwise need to discuss it, call me at 434-250-9921 or email me at bgesexecutivedirector@yahoo.
These lectures are open to all to watch for free while we are conducting this fundraiser. Once that is completed, the lead lectures will be returned to the vault for the exclusive use of the active BGES membership. The lectures are very good and are merely the tease for the other 350-plus that are being processed. It is a project that marks the legacy of the BGES since 1994 and will bring our scholarship to all who are supporters many of whom can no longer do Civil War tours in the field. If all goes well, we will eventually start putting the field tours online as well, which involves another 150 DVDs and perhaps 1,000 hours.
Take a look and come back to make your gift—we still need to raise nearly $9,000 over the next two months. The reward is free access to all members and supporters who qualify. Many of these historians can no longer be heard. It is a project worthy of the organization that produced it. Enjoy and let us hear from you.