Marching Through Georgia

One of the book projects that I’ve been anticipating for some time now is Anne Sara Rubin’s study of Sherman’s March in historical memory. The book will be accompanied by an innovative digital history project called Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory, which she is developing with Kelley Bell. The interactive maps allow users to trace Sherman’s march along a historical map as well as a fictional map that includes places mentioned in books and movies such as Gone With the Wind. The video above (and I suspect others) explores the popularity of Henry Clay Work’s song, “Marching Through Georgia” in the North and around the world. It’s really well done. I can’t think of a better example of the use of technology to enhance the traditional monograph format.

(video uploaded to YouTube on June 11, 2013)

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Talking Lincoln in Civil War History

civil war historyToday I arrived home to find the new issue of Civil War History (September 2013). This most recent issue includes a roundtable discussion that I participated in about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Participants included Catherine Clinton, Allen Guelzo John Neff, Megan Kate Nelson, and Matthew Pinsker. We discussed a range of issues from how well the movie stacks up to recent scholarship to how it might be used in the classroom. Thanks to book-review editor, Brian Craig Miller for inviting me to participate. This is my first time appearing in the pages of CWH apart from a couple of book reviews I wrote a few years ago. It’s a huge honor for me to be included among such a stellar group of scholars.

The last roundtable was eventually made available for free online and I suspect this one will eventually be be posted as well. Of course, I will pass it along at that point.

Postscript: Welcome historian Timothy Orr to the blogosphere. Tim is a dynamite historian, who teaches at Old Dominion University. You can find his blog at Tales From the Army of the Potomac.

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Envisioning Black Soldiers, Not Black Citizens

General Patrick Cleburne’s plan to arm slaves is often highlighted as an enlightened vision of racial progress in the Confederacy, which proves that slavery was incidental to the formation and maintenance of the Confederate nation. As David T. Gleeson explains in his new book, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America (University of North Carolina Press, 2013), it’s a bit more complicated.

Cleburne may have been naive about the possibility of emancipation, but not in the importance of slave labor to the Confederacy. Cleburne’s vision was for black soldiers, not black citizens in the Confederacy. On the contrary, their “emancipation” was to be a limited one. While family relationships would be legalized, “wise legislation” would be needed to “compel [former slaves]. . . to labor for a living.” Somewhat ironically, Cleburne drew on the Irish experience he had fled from, concluding in one letter that “writing a man ‘free’ does not make him so, as the history of the Irish laborer shows.” Cleburne understood clearly then that the subordination of blacks would be a key element of the independent Confederacy that he continued to fight for with such gusto. Through his proposal, he believed that “we can control the negroes. . . and they will still be our laborers as much as they now are; and, to all intents and purposes will be our servants, at less cost than now.” To let the North win and the Confederacy be destroyed would, instead, lead to the dreaded racial “equality and amalgamation.” (p. 96)

That’s a pretty straightforward explanation of Cleburne’s proposal, but it got me thinking.

Just how different was the plan to enlist black soldiers in the United States army? Of course the crucial distinction is that freedom in the North was guaranteed by 1865 for all African Americans while Cleburne’s proposal called for a very limited emancipation. However, while African Americans clearly viewed military service as a stepping stone toward increased civil rights, it was certainly far from the majority view in the United States. Certainly, many white Northerners entertained some of the apocalyptic visions of their Southern neighbors regarding the political and social consequences of emancipation. There was nothing inevitable about the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments and we know the sad story of their enforcement throughout much of the country by the end of the nineteenth century.

Just as Cleburne hoped that the Confederacy would be able to maintain a strict racial hierarchy indefinitely even through the disruption caused by military service, it could be argued that much of the history of this country during the postwar period, in part, was a struggle to come to terms with the tension between emancipation/military service and a very deep commitment to white supremacy. Just a thought.

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Seth Godin and Tom Peters on Blogging

I came across this short video yesterday of Seth Godin and Tom Peters expounding on the virtues of blogging. It perfectly sums up why I continue to find it to be such a powerful medium and I couldn’t agree more with Tom Peters’s summation of how it has changed his life. This November will mark my eighth year as a blogger and I am not in the least bit tired. The decision to start a blog back in 2005 was the single best career move I’ve ever made.

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Ha Jin, “The Past”

The new school year is right around the corner. Today we started our first history department meeting with the poetry of Ha Jin, which beautifully reflects how we shape and are shaped by the past.

I have supposed my past is a part of myself
As my shadow appears whenever I’m in the sun
the past cannot be thrown off and its weight
must be borne, or I will become another man.

But I saw someone wall in his past into a garden
whose produce is always in fashion.
If you enter his property without permission
he will welcome you with a watchdog or a gun

I saw someone set up his past as a harbor.
Wherever it sails, his boat is safe–
if a storm comes, he can always head for home.
His voyage is the adventure of a kite.

I saw someone drop his past like trash.
He buried it and shed it altogether.
He has shown me that without the past
one can also move ahead and get somewhere.

Like a shroud my past surrounds me,
but I will cut it and stitch it,
to make good shoes with it,
shoes that fit my feet.

I am definitely going to use this on the first day of classes. All the best to those of you anticipating a return to the classroom.

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