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.

David Blight, “Clementa Pinckney, A Martyr of Reconciliation,” the Atlantic, June 22, 2015.

Jelani Cobb, “The Confederacy’s Final Retreat,” The New Yorker, July 6, 2015.

Eric Foner, “The Historical Roots of Dylann Roof’s Racism,” The Nation, June 25, 2015.

Glenda Gilmore, “It’s Not the Old South That Died This Week. It Was the New South,” History News Network, June 26, 2015.

Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts, “Take Down the Confederate Flags, But Not the Monuments,” the Atlantic, June 25, 2015.

Bruce Levine, “The Confederate Flag Was Always Racist,” Politico, June 27, 2015.

Gordon Rhea, “The Confederacy’s Legacy: Should Any of It Stand,” CNN, June 25, 2015.

Finally, the UNC Press blog has a wonderful list of podcasts, blog posts and articles from… you guessed it… UNC Press authors. It also includes a link to the extensive list of primary and secondary sources collected on twitter with the hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus. Check it out.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Feel free to include commentary that helped you to make sense of the last week in the comments section below.

2 thoughts on “Historians Help a Nation Understand Charleston and Civil War Memory

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.