Historians Help a Nation Understand Charleston and Civil War Memory
Last week I attended the Civil War Institute’s annual conference at Gettysburg College. At the end of the first evening Peter Carmichael sat down for a conversation with James McPherson. Pete chose to open with questions about the recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina and about its implications for how we think about the Civil War and our nation’s long painful history of race. I don’t know if McPherson was entirely comfortable with the questions and I certainly didn’t anticipate such a move on Pete’s part, but I couldn’t be more pleased that he did. It is one of the things that makes CWI such a unique experience.
Pete understands that historians have an obligation to weigh in during moments of national crisis, especially when those moments are tangled up in our collective past. The conversation served as a reminder that when it comes to our civil war it is often difficult to delineate between the present and the past. And even when we can pinpoint that past, coming to terms with its complexity can be a daunting task. In the wake of the Charleston shootings Americans sought out some of our best historians to help untangle the past from the present and provide some sense of meaning.
Here are a few references that helped me do just that over the past week.