The Civil War Institute Embraces Reconstruction 150th
Good news for those of you who will not be in attendance. C-SPAN just informed me that they will be broadcasting LIVE on June 18 and will tape sessions on Friday (6/17) & Sunday (6/19) for future airings.
In a little less than two weeks I will drive to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the Civil War Institute’s annual conference. This will be my fourth year as a member of the faculty and as always I am super excited. For the past five years the conference theme tracked the Civil War sesquicentennial. Compared to the conferences overseen by Gabor Boritt, which tended to focus narrowly on military topics, Peter Carmichael – who came on board as the institute’s director back in 2010 – has pushed participants to consider the war within a much broader context.
That vision led Pete back in 2012 to propose a conference devoted solely to Reconstruction the memory of the Civil War. I suspect that many of us wondered whether such a focus could be pulled off given the history of the Institute. The other issue question was how to integrate site tours, which are a staple of these gatherings. Recently the CWI staff announced that this year’s conference is SOLD OUT. You heard that right. Somewhere around 400 people paid good money to spend five days thinking about Reconstruction.
Even if I wasn’t invited this year as a member of the faculty I would have paid my way. The schedule and list of participants is that good. This is an opportunity to interact with some of the top scholars in the field, who have helped to re-shape how we think about the history of Reconstruction, both as a period of time and geographic boundaries. I will be as much a student as anyone else in that room.
Of course, I hope I am able to leave participants with a few new questions and insights to ponder. At first glance my talk on black Confederates may not seem directly connected to the conference theme on Reconstruction, but the focus will be on how defeated Confederates and white Southerners framed the history of their former camp slaves as part of the Lost Cause and later into their public ceremonies commemorating the war. It will also briefly explore how former camp slaves sometimes utilized their public roles at these events for their own personal advantage. This is material that I am still working on as part of the larger book project.
Quick Update On Black Confederates Book: I am hoping to be able to make a big announcement about publication in early July so stay tuned.
My break-out session talk on Confederate General William Mahone will introduce students to an unlikely architect of Reconstruction in Virginia that took place after 1877, which is typically cited as the official end of this period of U.S. history. Finally, I will work with the scholarship students on the history and memory of the Confederate flag, which I always enjoy as part of my time at CWI.
The most important thing about this conference is that it is happening at all. It is my hope that the enthusiasm expressed and eagerness of participants to sign up for this conference will lead other institutions to hold events that cover this crucial period in American history. Arguably, our current debates about the public display about Confederate iconography and our sometimes tortuous debates about race today are about Reconstruction and its legacy.
I applaud Pete and the rest of the staff for taking on this subject. See you in Gettysburg.