A Hate Crime Against Confederate Descendants

Rally at Ole Miss in 1962

Rally against integration at Ole Miss in 1962

A couple of days ago an unfortunate incident occurred at the University of Mississippi. Apparently, two men placed a noose and a 2003 Georgia State flag on the James Meredith statue. Most of you know that the design of this particular version of the Georgia flag includes the popular Confederate battle emblem. While it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions about the perpetrators, most people see this as a hate crime directed specifically against the black student body and the broader African-American community.

At least one individual, however, has taken a more inclusive view as to who should rightfully be offended. No need to provide names or links this time.

It was a hate crime. A planned one perhaps, maybe almost certainly so, but a hate crime none-the-less. The crime was against those who saw it and were offended, and equally a hate crime against all Confederate descendants who honor that symbol and their ancestry. This act denigrated us all.

Here are students at Ole Miss protesting the presence of the Confederate flag on campus so as to allow James Meredith to register for classes. Yes, sometimes memory trumps history.

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From the State Flag to Your Car’s Exhaust

Georgia Vanity Plate

It’s one of those stories that fires up interest groups on both sides of the Confederate flag debate as well as the mainstream media, which can’t get enough of it. I completely understand why some in Georgia take offense to this particular vanity plate, but it should be remembered that this is a revision of a plate that is already in circulation. Here’s the thing, according to the story:

The state sold a total of 439 of the earlier version in the last two years. There are 35 orders already for the new tag, according to the Revenue Department.

That basically means that the vast majority of Georgians can probably go their entire lives without seeing one of these plates on the back of a car. In other words, there really is no reason to get upset. In fact, Georgians should be reminded that this divisive symbol was once part of their state flag dating back to 1956. We all know what it was meant to symbolize. Now it can only be found next to a car’s exhaust.

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Three Cheers for the Ivory Tower

I am still trying to figure out what is behind Nicholas Kristoff’s Sunday Op-ed in the New York Times in which he castigated academics for not embracing their responsibilities as public intellectuals. Kristoff is disappointed that not more academics have embraced social media as a means to engage the general public about important issues that otherwise would only see the light of day in obscure academic journals. Others have already pointed out that even a quick glance at his own newspaper would dispell him of such an absurd claim. There is nothing more that I can add to the discussion. [click to continue…]

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@HistoryinPics Does It Better Than You

@historyinpics followersI first came across the controversy surrounding the highly successful @HistoryinPics Twitter account after reading Alex Madrigal at the Atlantic. What’s all the fuss? Two teenagers have leveraged a Twitter account based entirely on images from history to the tune of roughly $50,000. In a matter of a few months they’ve attracted over 1 million followers. In a guest post at the National Council of Public History’s blog, Jason Steinhauer weighs in on a host of issues that he finds problematic.  Unfortunately, Steinhauer pretty much misses the mark.

They spot trends on social media, exploit them to gain massive followings, then monetize the traffic. It’s a business model, not an attempt at serious research.

And therein lies the discomfort: while museums, archives, and libraries worldwide are starved for funding, fighting for relevancy, and arguing daily for the value of serious historical research, two teenagers come along, grab a bunch of old images without permission, throw them up online without context, and suddenly they are social media superstars. Is that “right”? Does that contribute to the public good? Are we jealous?

The last question may be a bit jarring, but I believe we may feel a tinge of jealousy—and I write that knowing it causes me discomfort to think so. When any of us—academic and public historians alike—posts to social media, we want followers to click, or “engage.” We want people to interact with our collections and ideas, to learn, and to be excited. Why else would we post? Public history organizations have invested resources and commissioned studies in order to attain the level of engagement these teenagers reached in two months. The duo have cracked the code—but cheated in the process, by relying on other people’s work and embellishing it for effect. While we detest their methods, it’s permissible to admit we would accept their results if they were achieved differently.

It’s hard not to see the academic elitism in this comment, but just below is a naivete about how social media works. There is a sense of entitlement at work here and a defensiveness surrounding who has the right to share history on the Internet. I commend Steinhauer’s emphasis on wanting to encourage learning and meaningful online interaction, but that has absolutely no value until you are able to sell it. No, “Playing for the click on social media is not a sin”; in fact, it is the only thing that matters. If you use social media to build an audience or highlight a product than you are engaged in marketing. Some institutions and individuals happen to be better at it than others, but ultimately the click is what matters. [click to continue…]

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Remembering the Men of the H.L. Hunley

Today is the 150th anniversary of the loss of the Confederate submarine, H.L. Hunley.

H.L. Hunley

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