The Future of Civil War History

I am very excited to share what promises to be one of the most educational and entertaining conferences to come down the pike in quite some time.  From March 14-16, 2013 the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College will host a three-day conference titled, “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th.”  Peter Carmichael somehow managed to wrangle up roughly 100 historians of all stripes for a wide variety of formal presentations, panels, working groups and field experiences.  The goal is to “facilitate discussions between panelists and the audience about how the historical community can make the Civil War past more engaging, more accessible, and more usable to public audiences as we look beyond the 150th commemorations and to the future of Civil War history.”

Please take some time to browse through the conference website.  There are plenty of opportunities to get involved, including a number of very interesting working groups that will commence in preparation for the conference.  I strongly encourage those of you who teach history, work in some capacity in public history or are just deeply interested in the Civil War era to register soon since spaces are limited.

I am super excited for this event.  It’s a chance to spend time in one of my favorite places and best of all I get to participate.  I am a panelist for a session on how to engage museum audiences and students around issues of Civil War memory and I will be chairing another session on interpreting USCTs at Civil War sites.

See you in Gettysburg.

4 comments… add one

  • Gregg Jones Aug 29, 2012

    This does sound interesting and as a goal it appears to be good too. With that said, I have a lot of dread. For the last 150 years we more authors and artists encapsulated the history of the Civil War. Two things some come to mind. First history is written by the victors. As a Native American, I have witnessed the first total revision of how the West was won. Prior to 1960 most media portrayed the Native American as a villain and an obstinate group that preferred to halt civilization’s progress. Since 1960 we have witnessed the show and shine of the noble savage. So it is with the way Civil War history is portrayed. It suffers its own sever repercussions from revisionists. Second, we look at the people of the 19th Century with the eyes and concepts of the 21st Century. Remember how the people of the 16th Century were the last who saw the world as flat. Some of us today think that they were “stupid” and naïve. I know many of the younger generation feel that way towards the Americans that lived before, during and after the Civil War.

    So how can we really look to the future in the next 150 years and expect that Civil War History will be portrayed accurately? We are a different people and sadly so many of us have no family link to any American history. So much of us are so disenfranchised from the Civil War and with the school system disarmed and toothless due to political correctness insures that any accurate portrayal of the Civil War is all but impossible.

    I wish them all the best on this venture.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 29, 2012

      Gregg, – Thanks for the comment.

      First history is written by the victors.

      We throw this around with so little care. In the case of the Civil War it’s not only overly simplistic, it is patently false.

      Since 1960 we have witnessed the show and shine of the noble savage. So it is with the way Civil War history is portrayed. It suffers its own sever repercussions from revisionists.

      Perhaps you can cite specific examples from the historiography to help flesh out the point you are trying to make. As it stands I don’t understand.

    • Jonathan Dresner Aug 29, 2012

      Remember how the people of the 16th Century were the last who saw the world as flat.

      No, that’s a myth. Flat-earthers are a modern development. Greeks knew the world was round, probably they were the first. But Indian and Chinese astronomers and geometers certainly knew it well before Columbus got the distance to China wrong.

  • Mark Douglas Aug 31, 2012

    Did someone say McPherson should be sued for slander?

    Funny. If anything, McPherson works very hard not to offend,. He tries so hard to flatter the South’s “bravery” and sense of “honor”. Before he can reveal one tiny fact that proves embarrassing for the South’s version of events, he has to write three or four paragraphs of flattery. Then, and only then, does he dare say anything, and then he has to phrase it as artfully as he can.

    For example, when he mentions the capture of Jefferson Davis, he frames it as ” according to Northern newspapers” Davis wore a dress and acted cowardly. Then he immediately inserts that Davis claimed it was just an errant shawl. McPhereson well knows the evidence from Davis’s own wife and a confederate soldier who show Davis was literally in three female garments, not just one errant shawl. McPhereson knows those source material as well as anyone, but he does not want to alienate his Southern “friends”.

    Anything stronger of course would make Davis devotees fighting mad. But there were quite a few people who were there that said Davis was wearing female garments and running away from his children in their moment of need, including a Southern soldier who apologized for being part of it. And according to his own wife’s amazing letter, where she went into detail about the three separate female garments Davis wore, including her sentence “I called out it’s my mother”.

    As for history is written by the victors, nothing could be more backwards regarding the lead up to the Civil War. As Shelby Foote said, the South was preoccupied for generations about the war, because they lost, and hundreds, if not thousands, of books were written nearly devoid of any embarrassing fact — like the Southern Ultimatums — but they were written in almost the opposite of what Southern newspapers and documents at the time said.

    If you want the truth about the South’s actions and motivations, there simply is no better place to find it than Southern newspapers and documents from 1858-1861. Southern leaders were quite clear what their motivations were, at the time. Southern documents were quite clear too. Strange indeed that so little is made of these Southern newspapers and Southern speeches, that came from Southern leaders at the time.

    Did these men, writing and speaking at the time, not know what their motivations were? Was Davis wrong? Was Toombs mistaken? Was Alexander Stephens delusional? Were the newspaper editors , who seemed to be bragging about their demands, trying to make the South look bad?

    I suggest the Southern leaders spoke the truth in 1858-1861. WHy would they all lie? Why would they all make up stuff? They pretty well shouted out their motivations from the rooftops,. They were not equivical or vague. And they said what their demands were. The spread of slavery. No ifs, no ands, no buts.

    YOu want to learn the truth about the Confederacy, it’s not that hard to do. Read Southern newspapers from 1858-1861. Is there some reason you can’t or wont?

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