Why Did a Video about the Civil War and Slavery Go Viral?
Yesterday I posted a video of a West Point history professor briefly discussing the central role that slavery played in the coming of the Civil War. While I suggested that there is nothing surprising in this video, Professor Ty Seidule does address a number of widely misunderstood topics related to the central issue such as why non-slaveholding whites supported the Confederacy.
The video appeared following a column by Steven Metz, director of research at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, in which he calls for the U.S. military to ‘Disavow the glorification of Confederate symbolism.’ Professor Seidule is interviewed in this article, which likely explains the statement I highlighted in yesterday’s post about the U.S. army’s role in defeating the Confederacy.
While it may be an exaggeration to say that the video has gone viral since it was posted yesterday, it has appeared on a consistent basis on all of my social media channels by individuals with varying political backgrounds. What might explain this? Here are a few thoughts.
First, the video packs a good deal of information in just under six minutes and it does so with a creative use of graphics and highlighted narrative. Most importantly, the video undercuts in a number of ways the tendency to reduce history to politics. For many the argument that slavery was the central cause of the war is nothing more than revisionist history articulated by liberal professors at elite institutions.
That the historian in question is a West Point instructor and in uniform and not the stereotypical professor forces the viewer to consider the argument rather than simply dismissing the individual in question. The general public tends not to think of the military as a liberal institution. Finally, the video was produced by and posted to Prager University’s YouTube page. Prager is known for their 5-minute videos that offer a conservative perspective on a wide range of subjects. News of the video has been picked up by Salon, Daily Kos, and the Acton Institute.
The video can’t do everything in six minutes, but it does encapsulate the best historical research of the past few decades even as it challenges popular interpretations in certain conservative circles that highlight everything but slavery.