Last night historian Mark Snell and director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War presented a talk to the Charlottesville CWRT. I first met Mark a little over a year ago in Charleston, South Carolina at the annual meeting of the Society for Military Historians. Mark chaired a session that I was on. Last night’s topic was not what was advertised, but Mark decided that the topic would create a more interactive session. After all that was one of the original goals of the roundtables.
Mark began his talk in a way that I am all too familiar with. He suggested that this topic "might upset some of you." And in an effort to head off the all too common attack that memory is a creation of liberal college professors, Mark made it a point to reveal his Republican sympathies. He also dealt with the other silly charge of revisionism by suggesting that history is a process of revision. It’s a sad commentary that historians must preface their remarks in front of a popular audience in such a way. Unfortunately, that’s where we are. We’ve allowed academic discourse to become overly politicized rather than deal with individual arguments on their own merits. Mark did a first-rate job presenting the material. He kept the discussion light, which probably kept the majority on board through the various topics. Mark touched on the evolution of reconciliation and the displacement of African Americans and emancipation, the development of National Military Parks, and the construction of monuments. In addressing more recent controversies such as the Confederate battle flag, NPS revisions, and monument construction (or destruction) Mark remained focused on both sides of the debate rather than alienate the audience. All in all it was an interesting talk.
It’s always nice to see the topic of memory presented to a popular audience. For me it’s not simply a dry analytical debate, but an issue that hits at the core of how we remember our national past and define what it means to be an American.