Without a doubt my favorite Civil War site over the past few years has been The New York Time’s Disunion column edited by Clay Risen. Clay has done a fabulous job of publishing thought-provoking essays by scholars and non-scholars alike that both entertain and educate. The essays cover a broad range of topics and even touch on subjects that typically fall under the radar. Since its debut in 2010 I have had three essays published. The first addressed the controversy surrounding a Virginia history texbook and a passage about black Confederates followed by an essay on how I use battlefields to teach. My most recent column explored the relationship between a Confederate officer and his camp servant.
In May the first volume of essays that cover the period between Fort Sumter and Emancipation will be published and I am happy to report that it will include my most recent essay. I’ve also been asked to write an essay that will discuss how the book can be used in the history classroom.
Early on I thought that at some point a book of essays might be published. As a collection they provide a wonderful introduction to the period. I think it’s safe to say that publication also reflects concerns about the permanence of the site itself. We can assume that the column will run through to the end of the sesquicentennial in 2015, but the ultimate fate of the content is anyone’s guess. This is something that all of us in the blogosphere, who have accumulated content need to consider.
Over the past few years the essays have become a staple for my Civil War class. Their relatively short length makes them accessible for students and many of the essays take students beyond the standard accounts in their textbooks. In many cases you get the current thinking about specific subjects without having to talk historiography. Best of all they make for great conversation starters. Recently, one of my colleagues used my camp servant essay to take students beyond the well-engrained assumptions about the master-slave relationship. Finally, as someone who emphasizes critical writing skills many of the authors provide very useful models for how to structure an essay.