The first year teaching at any school is all about acclimation to the culture.  For someone who grew up Jewish, was Bar Mitvahed, but then lost all interest it’s been quite an adventure this past year teaching at a Jewish academy.  The emphasis on Judaic Studies and the celebration of holidays feels both foreign and familiar to me.  My students have been incredibly helpful and patient as I try to figure out my comfort zone at school events and with my own questions about the meaning that they find in Judaism.  My colleagues in the History Department have also been incredibly supportive.  It’s a very talented department.  Our meetings are filled with discussions about historiography, pedagogy, current events, etc.  I’ve thought more about what I do in the classroom this year alone than throughout my entire teaching career.

The biggest challenge by far has been working within the constraints of the calendar.  Each class meets three days a week instead of the usual four.  On top of that we have off for every Jewish holiday.  Some of you know what that means for the months of September and October.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the down time, but it raises a number of questions about how I go forward in structuring my classes next year, which in addition to my American history survey will also include a course in Modern Europe as well as my Civil War Memory/Holocaust course.

This hasn’t been easy given that the last course I taught before moving to Boston was AP US History.  The issue here is not even about where to cut back as much as it is trying to figure out what exactly is essential to an American history survey course that has so little time.  The good thing is that there is no pressure from the department to be comprehensive.  The emphasis is placed on imparting critical reading and writing skills.  But I do have to think long and hard about what content I want to cover in this class.

I really need to think out of the box.  I’ve thought about a thematic approach, but I tend to worry about those broad perspectives on history that seem to have so little grounding in the proper context.  My preference is to pick a couple of case studies and have students dig down in the time allotted.  Perhaps each one can represent a different approach to the study of history. For instance, we can examine the role of biography, social history, gender, etc.

As you can see things are pretty much up in the air.  I am open to any suggestions

On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville and we are already being subjected to a steady stream of interpretive flights of fancy surrounding the significance of Stonewall Jackson’s death.

Although it was not evident at the time, some historians believe Jackson’s death began the ruin of the Confederacy. The Southern disaster at Gettysburg two months later only confirmed the start of the eclipse.  “The road to Appomattox [where the war ended] began on [that] Saturday night” at Chancellorsville, James I. Robertson Jr., Jackson’s best biographer, has said. “With his death, the southern confederacy began to die as well.”

“It was just a tragedy for the South,” Robertson said in an interview, “the greatest personal loss that the South suffered in that war . . . a horrible blow.”  Civil War scholar Robert K. Krick said: “It’s hard to imagine the war going the way it did with Jackson present.”

I guess it should come as no surprise that Robertson and Krick are leading the way.  Upcoming editorials will likely wax poetic about Jackson’s flank attack on May 2 and his final hours at Guinea Station and ignore or run rough shod over the fighting that took place the following day, which was significantly more important.  We do love our stories.

Virginia Flaggers

The founder of the Virginia Flaggers holds up the flag of a failed rebellion against the United States as she chats with a gentleman at a political event for prospective candidates in Wakefield, Virginia next to a poster accusing Lincoln of treason. It doesn’t get any better than this, folks.

Blandford Cemetery

Update: Just received a private email stating that I am “incapable of feeling anything but hate for Confederate soldiers.” As always, thanks for taking the time to comment.

This weekend I was in Petersburg, where I gave a talk to a group of educators as part of teachers conference sponsored by the Civil War Trust.  I had a great time. It’s always nice to be able to catch up with my good friend, Garry Adelman, and meet new teachers.  Yesterday morning I had a chance to walk the Crater battlefield, where I got to see the incredible new view shed from the Crater back toward the guns at Fort Morton and the staging area for the battle.  After that, I headed on over to Blandford Cemetery for a quiet stroll.

I am a sucker for Blandford.  It’s not the cemetery’s importance to the battle or the fact that I can identify many of the names on the markers or even the beautiful Tiffany Windows in the church that I find so impressive.  When I walk through the arch to the Confederate section I am truly moved by what I see.  It’s a bit deceptive, especially if you have already visited the Confederate section at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.  Blandford doesn’t have the grandeur or sophistication of Hollywood and that is probably why I prefer this place.  You won’t find a pyramid at Blandford.  In fact, there are relatively few markers in the Confederate section, but it doesn’t take long to realize that those markers outline row upon row of unidentified Confederate soldiers buried by their respective states.  This section of the cemetery is a testament to the profound sense of grief and loss experienced by the community in the years following the war.  So many young men buried without any identification and far from home.  The monument to the unknown Confederate is perfectly positioned at the top of the ridge overlooking these men.  How can you not be touched on a deeply emotional level? [click to continue…]