Over the weekend I heard a distinguished and recently retired Civil War historian lament the state of history education today. It’s not the first time that I have had to sit through such a doomsday scenario, but I don’t mind admitting that it was just a bit more painful given that it took place in front of a room full of history teachers.
Our students know nothing about American history and our political leaders are not much better. At one point this speaker suggested that our elected leaders ought to take a history test as a prerequisite for political office. The comment received a hearty round of applause from the audience. The situation is apparently so dire that this speaker actually compared our current situation with America in the 1850s. [click to continue…]
Thanks to the Civil War Trust for hosting another incredible teacher institute in Richmond, Virginia. While this is my 5th year with the Trust it’s been a couple of years since my last visit. I especially enjoyed the chance to catch up with old friends and spend time with some of the most passionate teachers you will find in classrooms from across the country.
It was also a chance to return to my former home. I had a chance to do some research at the Virginia Historical Society and Library of Virginia and spend a few hours at the Museum of the Confederacy/American Civil War Museum. [click to continue…]
Update: I cobbled together my thoughts on this topic for The Daily Beast.
They have already been sighted at the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the Flight 93 National Memorial and even the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. No, this is not a new wave of young history buffs, but phone wielding kids (and adults) playing Pokemon Go. Read this before proceeding any further if you have no idea what I am talking about. Don’t worry. I had to look it up as well. [click to continue…]
The new movie, The Free State of Jones, does a number of things to challenge the Lost Cause narrative of the American Civil War. It not only places slavery at the center of the story, but it also destroys the popular idea that white Southerners were united in their cause for independence. I suspect that for many people who saw the movie the Civil War is best understood as a ‘rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.’ While such a label may capture the class and race dynamics of Jones County, Mississippi it is not at all clear as to the extent to which it explains the rest of the Confederate South.
What follows ought not to be interpreted as a criticism of the movie. I have long stated that it is a mistake to critique movies as works of historical scholarship. I maintain that Free State of Jones does a very good job of portraying life in one small county during the war and into Reconstruction.
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Like many of you I have gone through the full range of emotions over the past few days in response to the shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, St. Paul, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas. The violence and multiple narratives that we have now grown use to hearing in response to these incidents fits easily into a long history of racial violence and misunderstanding. It’s easy to slide into the feeling of disillusionment, but at the risk of sounding cliche, I still believe that when it comes to this thorny issue, the moral arc bends in the direction of justice and increased understanding. I have to believe it. [click to continue…]