Gods and Generals for My Wife

I’ve always had trouble explaining to my wife this nation’s fascination with the Civil War. I am hoping this will help.

5 comments

Preserving Civil War Memory at Gettysburg College

Calling all digital historians and archivists: If after reading this you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments section.  I will make sure they get passed on to the right people.  Thanks.

Imagine signing on as the Systems and Emerging Technologies Librarian and being told that the library recently purchased two blogs.  For Zach Coble of Gettysburg College the question now is what to do with Civil War Memory and Keith Harris’s Cosmic America.

This is an exciting project for Gettysburg College.  Although the Library of Congress is also archiving this site it’s nice to know that it will made available at Gettysburg as well.  I’ve suggested before that I think we have to begin to shift our understanding of historical memory in the digital/web2.o world.  Blogs and other social media tools have democratized the sharing of history  further than anyone could have imagined just a few short years ago and it also has made it possible for a much wider demographic to share their own understanding of the Civil War and its legacy.  As a result the categories that frame our understanding of the evolution of Civil War memory will need to be revised if not discarded entirely to make sense of the sesquicentennial years.  It is my hope that this site will function as a unique window into the world of Civil War memory at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

It looks like they found just the right person to take the lead on this project:.

It’s exciting to explore new forms of scholarship, but we’re not exactly sure what to do with the blogs. Although the blogs are currently active they will not always be, so we must determine how we want to preserve them. Since none of us are experts in digital preservation, we are trying to understand at a conceptual level how best to approach this project.

This initiative has required us to think of larger issues concerning the library’s role in digital curation. Should libraries even try to preserve blogs and other digital content? Are we equipped, in terms of technology and staffing, to take on this kind of work? Can’t we rely on the big names in the field like the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive to take care of this?

As an employee of a cultural institution, I’m biased to believe that libraries (as well as archives, museums, and others) have a responsibility to preserve cultural content as it fits within the mission, goals, and collection development policy of the organization. I also believe that institutions need to take responsibility and work to inform themselves so they can properly care for the digital materials in their own collections.

The agreement that I signed includes other resources (digital and hard copy) as well, but any discussion of that will have to wait until we sort out some of the details.  I will be sure to provide additional updates as this project evolves.

5 comments

Lest We Forget

This video is part of a series on the Civil War in Arkansas.  It focuses specifically on commemorative activities and monuments to the Civil War dead in that state.

1 comment

Everything is Bigger in Texas

Even the number of black Confederate soldiers.  How many?  Norris White Jr. speculates that 50,000 men “served” in the Confederate army from Texas, though he has only “documented” 7,500.  Mr. Norris came across evidence of these black Confederates while working on an M.A. thesis on Buffalo soldiers in the history department at Stephen F. Austin University.  Along the way we get the same tired and confused statements that reveal very little, if any, understanding of the broader historiography and an inability to acknowledge crucial distinctions.

This is embarrassing on a number of levels.  The article itself is poorly written.  The history department at Stephen F. Austin is referenced in a way that I suspect it would correct if it had the opportunity, and Mr. Norris is clearly misinformed about the subject of how blacks were utilized for the Confederate war effort.  Let’s take a closer look.

“Their voices have been omitted from the pages of history,” White said.

This is simply not true.  There is an incredibly rich body of scholarship that explores the various roles performed by blacks in the Confederate army.

Much attention has been given in movies such as “Glory” and in books and articles written by prominent U.S. military and Civil War era historians to the exploits and heroics of black soldiers serving in the Union forces, White said, but he added that “very little observance, if any, has been given to their counterparts in the Confederate Army.”

This is a common claim made by folks who become fixated on black Confederates.  The United States army utilized black soldiers so there must have been a “counterpart” in the Confederate army as well.  What is lost in this move are the salient differences between the debates in the United States and Confederacy that led to their use as soldiers – in 1863 for the former and in the final weeks of the war in 1865 for the latter.  Even more to the point, it fails to acknowledge in any way the place of slavery in the Confederacy.

He found that black Texans served in the Confederate Army in many diverse capacities, such as infantrymen on the battlefield, personal body servants, teamsters or laborers.

This is where Mr. Norris and many others reveal their inadequacies as serious historians.  I have no idea how many black “infantrymen” or black enlisted soldiers were discovered, but body servants, teamsters, and laborers did not “serve” as soldiers.  These distinctions are absolutely crucial if one is to have any hope of making sense of this subject and it is completely lost on Mr. Norris.

Primary sources, White said, are “100 percent irrefutable evidence — letters, diaries, pension applications, photographs, newspaper accounts, county commission records and other evidence that give primary insight” that blacks were in the Confederate Army.  For example, White found a Texas historical marker in Wise County that states Randolph Vesey was a respected Negro citizen and homeowner who served during the Civil War as body servant and voluntary battle aid to General W.L. Cabel of the Confederate Army.

First, I am not sure how the discovery of a marker is the kind of example that you want to highlight after supposedly traveling “30,000” miles across the state searching through archives.  Randolph Vesey was surely not  a “counterpart” to any USCT.  One was free, the other enslaved.  That a graduate student in history will complete his studies not understanding this fundamental point is truly disturbing.

What I find sad is that even after all of this supposed research conducted by Mr. Norris, all we get here are the same old claims that are commonly found to have been cut and pasted from one black Confederate website to another.  There is nothing new here or anything that points to any serious thinking about this topic.  In fact, there is nothing in this article that you haven’t read hundreds of times in similar articles and countless websites.

How is it that all these people are making the very same discovery couched in the very same language?

24 comments

Battlefield Preservation or Destruction at Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg

Update: The above image of the proposed trails was made available by John Spangler of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.

Here is a story that should concern all of you about the integrity of the Gettysburg battlefield.  The Lutheran Seminary had embarked upon the construction of a historic trail that looks to threaten some of the most important ground from the fighting on July 1, 1863.  Behind the scenes some preservation groups have expressed reservations, but this story needs to go public and the Civil War community needs to make the Seminary folks aware that their plans for the future are intrusive and a threat to the historic resource that they are committed to protect.  The Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation held a public information session a few days ago only after the project had commenced and damage had been done to the landscape.  From what I am hearing the panel was unable to address how they reconciled the destruction of the land with their preservation mission.  Their plans also include the construction of trails on the western face of Seminary Ridge.  The Lutheran Seminary cannot simply fall back on the position that this is private property since this project has been partly funded by federal funds.

I don’t know all the details, but at the least the SRHPF should be able to answer questions from those people worried about preservation about how this project will impact the physical landscape of the battlefield.  Below are a few pictures that were sent to me that show some of the construction (or destruction) that has already taken place.  Let’s get the word out.

17 comments