If you love Civil War history than Philadelphia's Union League was the place to be this past weekend for the first biennial meeting of the Society of Civil War Historians. There were about 225 people registered for the conference. The Union League was an ideal place to hold the first meeting given its significance to the Northern war effort and its role in fostering patriotism and in raising regiments in the Philadelphia area. The building is decorated with an incredible amount of artwork, including statues and paintings as well as a 20,000 volume library. Just about every high-ranking Union general can be found as well as a massive 1841 portrait of George Washington by Thomas Sully. My personal favorites were two naval paintings, one of the battle between the Monitor and Merrimac and the other between the Alabama and Kearsage done by Xanthus Smith.
The sessions were wide-ranging and most ended with insightful commentary and questions from the audience. The opening session by Mark Neely on nationalism was quite good as well as the roundtable on Michael Fellman's Inside War. I particularly enjoyed Jeff McClurken's paper on the role of Baptist churches in Pittsylvania County and Danville after the war in rebuilding their local communities as well as Jim Broomall's paper on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia. It was nice to see that my conclusions on the same subject are not too far off. The highlight of the conference was a panel on public history with John Coski, Dana Shoaf, John Hennessy, and Paul Reber. I am not going to comment on the individual presentations since I plan to blog much of what was discussed in the near future. Finally, the plenary session on the state of Civil War military history with Gary Gallagher, Joan Waugh, Joe Glatthaar, and Carol Reardon was quite interesting. Each panelist took about 10-15 minutes to discuss his/her own approach to writing military history along with the question of what constitutes Civil War military history. I will also comment on aspects of this session at some point.
I couldn't have been more pleased with my session on teaching. [You can read my presentation here.] The session was scheduled for the final time slot on Tuesday afternoon so I was a bit concerned that there wouldn't be anyone in attendance apart from my wife and parents. Thankfully, we had a pretty good turnout and the questions which followed allowed all of us on the panel to discuss a number of issues related to the teaching of history. I am going to do what I can to push the SCWH to build on this first step. This could include a few more session on teaching at the next meeting at the University of Richmond in 2010 or perhaps even a workshop for area teachers. When I was asked last summer by Gary Gallagher to put this session together I immediately thought of including Jim Percoco. His talk on Lincoln statues and how he utilizes them in class was quite impressive and gave me a great deal to think about as I put together my own course on Civil War Memory. I also appreciate Ron Maggianno for his insightful comments and Andrew Slap for chairing the session. The best part was having my parents in the audience. They were visibly "proud of their little boy."
Finally, I got to meet some wonderful people and touch base with some old friends. I even met a few of my readers, including one very prominent member of the Civil War community. Before the opening session he introduced me to his wife and she looked at me and said, "my husband spends more time with you than with me." Now, I don't want to be responsible for any failed marriages (LOL) but I can't think of a better endorsement. Fellow blogger Harry Smeltzer was also in attendance; he's a pretty cool dude. As with any conference, the best part was the after hours get-togethers that usually include a few cocktails.
I have nothing but praise for the organizers of this conference, especially William Blair who spent all three days running from session to session and taking care of logistics. For those of you who have a serious interest in Civil War history I encourage you to consider attending the 2010 meeting in Richmond. In contrast with most academic conferences this is not a stuffy affair and you just might find yourself chatting with Ken Noe, eating breakfast with Michael Fellman or laughing over a cocktail with Peter Carmichael. It was a real whoot.