Today was one of those days I live for as a teacher. Over the course of this past year I’ve been working on an independent study that focuses on how the Civil War has been remembered and commemorated here in Charlottesville, Virginia with Joseph Wolf, who is one of my students. We met on a weekly basis to discuss various secondary sources that included books by David Blight, Kirk Savage, Thomas Brown, David Goldfield, John Neff, and Gary Gallagher, to name just a few. In addition, Joseph and I explored the roles of the local chapters of the SCV and UDC and read through a number of their publications. Joseph’s main focus was to analyze the equestrian statues at Lee and Jackson parks along with our two soldier monuments, located at the courthouse and Confederate cemetery at the University of Virginia.
As part of his project Joseph presented his research today during lunchtime to a packed classroom of teachers and students. He did a fabulous job of explaining the role of Charlottesville during the Civil War, the evolution of the Lost Cause, and the conditions that led to the four monuments. Best of all, Joseph did an outstanding job of analyzing the monuments for the audience as well as fielding their questions. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with this student. As a sophomore Joseph took my elective on Lincoln and as a junior he took my survey course in American history along with my elective courses on the Civil War and Civil War memory.
I have to say, however, that as much as I enjoyed sharing my passion for the Civil War with this student the subject matter is secondary compared with the interpretive skills that were learned and the seriousness that comes with an appreciation of the complexity of the past. It was a pleasure to be able to sit their with everyone else and watch Joseph as he educated the audience. He was in command.
Joseph has decided to continue his education at the University of South Carolina where he will major in history. Luckily for Joseph, Thomas Brown teaches in the History Department. It’s safe to say that Joseph will graduate high school with an understanding of the Civil War that rivals, if not surpasses, students who are about to graduate from college. I wish Joseph all the best in his future endeavors. Keep an eye out for this kid.
[Image: Unveiling of Jackson Statue at Jackson Park in Charlottesville, Virginia]