Somehow I am going to find a way next year to use Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant essay on reparations in both my U.S. History survey and Civil War courses. My classes covers a good chunk of the history discussed in the essay. It’s not that I expect or even want my students to agree with Coates’s conclusions; in fact, part of the goal of any lesson would be for students to critically analyze the connections made between claim and evidence. Even more important than the argument itself, I want my students to experience what I believe to be one of the best examples of what it means to struggle with the past and why history ultimately matters. Continue reading
In a few weeks I will be heading to Gettysburg College for the annual Civil War Institute. Some of the most memorable experiences are spent on the battlefield walking with guides that have thought deeply about how to interpret historic landscapes. There is a short list of historians and guides who have mastered the ability to leave visitors with a meaningful and even transformative experience. Continue reading
The consequences of 250 years of enslavement, of war upon black families and black people, were profound. Like homeownership today, slave ownership was aspirational, attracting not just those who owned slaves but those who wished to. Much as homeowners today might discuss the addition of a patio or the painting of a living room, slaveholders traded tips on the best methods for breeding workers, exacting labor, and doling out punishment. Just as a homeowner today might subscribe to a magazine like This Old House, slaveholders had journals such as De Bow’s Review, which recommended the best practices for wringing profits from slaves. By the dawn of the Civil War, the enslavement of black America was thought to be so foundational to the country that those who sought to end it were branded heretics worthy of death. Imagine what would happen if a president today came out in favor of taking all American homes from their owners: the reaction might well be violent.
I am not surprised to read that family members, residents of New York City and others are upset with the contents being sold at the 9-11 Memorial and Museum’s gift shop. As someone who lost a close family member in the South Tower of the World Trade Center I get it. Reports on this controversy are quick to point out that “Ground Zero” is not the only site of death and violence whose museums include gift shops, but they overlook one key factor. Continue reading