I doubt that there are 2,000 people in attendance, but this is still a significant turnout. The panelists from the two morning sessions are now taking questions from the audience. I’ve met a number of blog readers and had a chance to talk with Andrew Dupstadt (Civil War Navy Blog) who is here with a contingent from North Carolina who are organizing their sesquicentennial. Both sessions have been informative and the verdict of the participants thus far suggests that the format is working. A wide range of issues have been raised to give the audience a sense of the state of the Union in 1859.
No surprise that this is an overwhelmingly white audience and if I were to guess the average age is somewhere in the mid-50s. Well, it is a workday. The overall tone is markedly different from that of the centennial. I had a chance to talk with David Blight about this contrast during the last break. Panelists have analyzed its importance with a certain comfort and ease that would have been unheard of just a few decades ago. Walter Johnson just referenced the fact that a few slaveholders were, in fact, black. There is no celebratory tone in this hallway. This is an audience that has come to learn about American history in all of its complexity. Given the constant Online banter that emanate from certain quarters about disengaged scholars I can only wish that you were sitting here today. I am looking at eight of the top scholars engaging and arena full of people. What a treat.
I can’t think of a better way of opening Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial.