The Civil War Institute Embraces Reconstruction 150th

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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.

30 comments add yours

  1. I’m a bit disappointed that the full conference is sold out, I would enjoy to hearing you and Ed Ayers speak. But the weekend option looks really good. I’m going to decide later in the day if I can make it. Thanks for letting us know about it.

    • It looks like you can still register for part-time slots. In the past C-SPAN has filmed some of the sessions, but I have not yet heard whether they will be in attendance this year.

      • Thank you, Peter. I have registered for the weekend session. I’m looking forward to hearing your panel discussion Saturday evening.

          • I’m sure I won’t, Kevin. I’ve read excellent books by 6 of the weekend participants and one of the participants is an ex-professor of mine (and he is going to get a scolding for not telling me about this!). I’ll look for you to say hello and thanks again for letting me know about the conference.

  2. This year’s CWI will certainly have a different flavor, that’s for sure. Working my way through Foner now, hope to be done with it before the conference. I’m a little surprised that it’s sold out. Heard a very few grumblings last year from some the decades long attendees about the topic. Looking forward to seeing you.

    • Heard a very few grumblings last year from some the decades long attendees about the topic.

      CWI staff has done a superb job of reaching out to a much wider audience over the past few years, which I think explains the year’s attendance. See you in a few weeks.

  3. Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but wasn’t Prof. James Downs, a conference participant, one of those who has publicly and enthusiastically defended Prof. John Stauffer’s foray into the subject of black Confederate soldiers?

  4. The fact that the CWI has chosen to take on Reconstruction as their focus this year elevates them as a scholarly institution, in my eyes. To ignore Reconstruction would be to prematurely end the Sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War and not tell the complete story of the CW. Bravo to them for taking a risk and reaping the reward of a sold-out gig. Wishing I could be there. Maybe next year.

    • Indeed; Reconstruction is a key example of war as politics by other means, and having CWI make it the focus of a conference and (presumably) proceedings is both scholarly and welcome. The ending of hostilities in a conventional war and the aftermath growing into an insurgency focused on political, rather than battlefield, objectives, is always worth study, but it is particularly timely at this point in history.

      Would also enjoy attending; other responsibilities will prevent that, however.

      Will there be a set of proceedings coming from this conference, Kevin?

        • Thanks – I have Slavery, Resistance, Freedom edited by Boritt and Hancock, which stemmed from the 2006 conference on AA history. Useful work, with pieces from authors ranging from the editors to Ira Berlin, John Hope Franklin, Eric Foner, etc.

          Hoping for something similar from this upcoming event.

  5. Joshua:
    Of course I share your sentiments about continuing the Sesquicentennial to include Reconstruction. I am very excited about what we have put together this year. Let me add that the success of any conference should be based upon the intellectual content and accessibility of the subject matter.–not just the numbers. To be sure I am thrilled by the response, but not entirely surprised. The CWI attendees are passionate l about the history of the Civil War era. If you are able to attend, you will see how they engage the faculty in break-out sessions and dine-ins. CWI tries to create a learning environment that gets everyone involved.

    The speaker line-up for 2017 is in place, and CWI will offer a wide range of topics, and hear from historians at all stages of their careers. Next year we will have talks on Nat Turner, a comparison of the CW to WWI, Braxton Bragg and William T. Sherman, and an interview with Harold Holzer. And the battlefield tours will be led byCarol Reardon, Greg Mertz, and Eric Wittenberg, and others. We also have a number of first-time authors who will be on board. I hope you will be able to join us at some point.
    Pete

    • Eric Wittenberg? Really? That alone is huge incentive! Actually, I have been pining over this program since last year; I love the full-on saturation of the day-in-day-out agenda. Intense. Since I will not already have a (first time) trip to Gettysburg in the hopper for next year, CWI will take first priority in my furthering of CW education. Again, I appreciate that the CWI went outside of the box, disregarded the allure of conventional popularity, and avail us what we need: a complete education of the Civil War.

        • Based on everything that I have read on the blogs of those who have participated, the enthusiasm of the faculty, and the synopsis: I could not agree with you more, Mr. Levin.

          Note to self: Make your own dam coffee in the morning and start saving $200 a month for CWI.

          • Shoshana:

            You don’t need to save 200 a month–a $100 a month should be plenty. We are a bargain at CWI.

            • Whew. Thanks, Mr. C. I can now cancel the Intervention & Rehab: coffee intake now cut by 50% (as opposed to Cold Turkey)

              • Oh, save the 200 per month. While the CWI price for the program, food, and lodging is a bargain you will be buying books. And once you’ve had the CWI experience you will be hooked. My first one was in 2012 and I’ve been going every year since.

              • Thank you for the advice. Perhaps by next year I will have perfected the art of making coffee, too.

  6. For anybody unable to attend, typically I audio-record most of the talks that I attend at the conference.

    Can’t wait to get back there next week for this year’s (it’ll be my 5th since my graduation from Gettysburg, where I had worked for Dr. Boritt). I’ve been looking forward to the Reconstruction conference for a long time, since I spend so much time in teaching about its importance in my US History courses; I need some new depth and angles. Plus, it’s always great to get back to the alma mater and see Dr. Carmichael again (especially now that he helped arrange what will likely be my first publication outside of a journal for which I am an editor).

    The willingness and eagerness of the CWI Conference faculty to interact with us lowly attendees is one of the many things that sets the CWI Summer Conference apart.

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