David Blight recently convened a panel at Yale University to discuss the impact of the Charleston shootings on our Civil War memory. It takes a little time for the pace of this discussion to pick up, but it is well worth your time. Panelists include Edward Ball, Yale; Jelani Cobb, University of Connecticut; Glenda Gilmore, Yale; Jonathan Holloway, Yale; Vesla Weaver, Yale.
My good friend, John Hennessy, has a way of encapsulating in just a few sentences what typically takes me months to articulate on this blog. John added his voiceto a post I wrote on the role of public historians in the current debate about the public display of Confederate iconography:
The dog has bitten its tail, and it hurts.
Historians have worked hard to help Americans see and understand the past more clearly. Now that Americans by and large do, some of them want to obliterate the symbols of the history that historians have labored so hard to help them understand.
Most of us in this business have espoused, loudly, that people should accept the complexities of the past.
Sometimes, though, we as historians have a hard time accepting the complexities of the present.
The complicated landscape in which historians work–subject to changing values, newly empowered voices, and shifting political and societal winds–means that some people, some sites, some communities, some states, and perhaps even some government entities will choose not to view these icons and sites as historical tools of learning, but as present sources of pain and discord.
Indeed, despite historians’ best efforts, the larger part of the milieu that will determine the fate Confederate icons resides not in the past but in that complicated present, which we as historians can little hope to influence.
The messy, boisterous marketplace of the American mind will figure this out. In the meantime, public historians ought to continue doing what we do, recognizing the limits of what we can do–that sometimes the history of things like the windows at St. Pauls is not all that matters. Sometimes, to some eyes, the present matters more.
This week Ashley Luskey added her voice to the discussion about the public display of Confederate iconography. Ashley focuses specifically on the debate within Richmond’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church about what to do with its beautiful Tiffany windows, which honor Confederate leaders and their Lost Cause. The essay is well worth your time. Ashley does an excellent job of laying out the wartime history of the church, its connection to Confederate leaders during the war and its role during the postwar period in memorializing their actions.
Like other public historians Ashley worries about the implications of removing these windows for our collective memory of the war and history generally as well as our ability to address contemporary problems such as race. Ashley also makes a compelling case for the importance of place in interpreting the windows rather than removal to a museum or other educational setting. Continue reading “St. Paul’s Episcopal and the Limits of Public History”→
Crowdfunding campaigns have not been kind to Civil War movie productions. The producers for the Civil War mini-series “To Appomattox” attempted a Kickstarter campaign, but was met with little interest and even Ron Maxwell failed in his attempt to fund a project that would bring famous works of historical fiction to life. Smaller productions have met with a similar fate.