Rediscovering Civil War Roundtables

Last night I gave a talk to the Charlottesville Civil War Roundtable and I had a great time.  Somewhere around 50 people showed up and I tried my best not to disappoint.  Most Roundtable attendees are not familiar with the subject of Civil War memory so it is always a gamble in terms of whether they will respond enthusiastically.  I encouraged the audience to ask questions during the talk rather than at the end.  A roundtable discussion ought to be interactive; there is nothing worse than having to sit and listen to someone read a paper. I can read the paper on my own if you are willing to make a copy.  I used 20 slides, including both popular images of the battlefield and a number of documents that I’ve collected during the research process, as a way to frame the talk.  I touched on various aspects of memory as it relates to the battle, including the postwar career of William Mahone and the disappearance of U.S.C.T.’s from public accounts of the battle.

A number of people came up to me to say thank you for the talk.  I was surprised by how many people admitted that they never thought about Civil War interpretation as a process that evolves over time.   Given that most Civil War enthusiasts are interested in straight-forward battle accounts or hagiographic sketches this is not surprising.  On one level the process should seem obvious if we reflect on how each of us constructs self-narratives.  I actually began the evening with a brief reflection on this connection.  We constantly reshape or reinterpret narratives about our lives.  I can think of a number of traumatic moments in my life and I am very confident that how I understood the event at the time is very different from how I now conceptualize it.  These reinterpretations are as much a function of where the interpreter is at the time as it is about the event in question.  In that sense each of us is a work of history that is continually being revised.  Given this observation it should come as no surprise that groups and even nations navigate through a similar psychological process. 

The largest numbers of people are over 60 years of age so you can easily measure how well you are doing by how many are sleeping.  I can honestly report that only a few people dosed off.  I hope to have the opportunity to speak with more Roundtables in the near future.  By the way, I’ve been asked to take part in a three-day conference on Civil War memory that will be open to the public and involve both lectures and tours.  Details forthcoming soon.  Now if I can only wake up and get ready for classes…

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

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