Hello University of Wisconsin

Update: I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that the class in question is being taught by Steve Kantrowitz. Professor Kantrowitz is the author of More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889, which was my pick as the best history book of 2012. The book is of particular interest to me given that it focuses on the black community here in Boston.

For the past few days a group of students from the University of Wisconsin has been scouring my posts on black Confederates.  I think it’s safe to say that collectively they have read every post on the subject.  I don’t know much at all about why they have been assigned my blog or what they are getting out of it beyond a few tweets from one of the students.  If I am not mistaken one of the students left a comment on an old post.

As an educator this makes my day.

Hey guys.  Please let me know if you have any questions about anything related to the relevant history, the public debate, and the role of the Internet in spreading this myth.  I am more than happy to talk with your class via Skype if interested.  As a historian, blogger, and educator I would love to know what you are getting out of this exercise.  Good luck.

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Brad Paisley Meet Leslie Barris

So, in addition to having trouble accessing my blog yesterday the news feed that I use to track stories related to Civil War memory is clogged with articles about the Brad Paisley – LL Cool J controversy.  I’m not sure which is worse.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about the song other than that the music and lyrics are both the work of amateurs.  To be honest, it seems to be much to do about nothing.

On the other hand, I got nothing but props for Leslie Harris of Orange, Texas who asked the city council to consider resolutions and ordinances that would block a planned Confederate veterans memorial that includes a flag just off the interstate.  Harris argues that, in fact, this is not a veterans memorial, but a Confederate flag memorial.  She also offers some comments about the appropriateness of publicly acknowledging Confederate History Month and in the process reminds the audience that white Southern attitudes about the Confederate past are complex.

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Boston’s Civil War Memory or Lost Cause

Abolitionists

The other day I briefly noted my surprise by how little the war was being discussed in a conference devoted to Massachusetts and the Civil War.  What I am struck by now looking back on the three days of talks at the MHS is the overwhelming emphasis on Boston’s abolitionist community.  That should not come as a surprise given the location of the conference and the place of the abolitionists in local memory.  I learned quite a bit about them and I accumulated a nice list of books and article from the papers, which were wisely precirculated.

By the end of the conference the abolitionists’ agenda had emerged as the dominant narrative of the Civil War.  In fact, if this conference can be defined as reflecting a Civil War memory it would have to be that of the abolitionists themselves and their agenda beginning in the antebellum period through the war and into the era of Reconstruction.  It was so palpable that even our understanding of the war’s meaning and the success or failure of Reconstruction had little chance of being critically examined without Garrison, Douglass, and the rest of the gang looking over our shoulders.  There was little consideration of the importance of Union, as recently analyzed by Gary Gallagher in his new book, The Union War>, nor was there much of an attempt to distinguish between the goal of ending slavery and the question of civil rights.  The war had been reduced to an agenda with racial equality as its ultimate goal.  In short, it was all or nothing. [click to continue…]

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Common-place Marks Civil War Sesquicentennial

Megan Kate Nelson, Kevin LevinIn between the final day’s sessions yesterday at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Megan Kate Nelson and I met over lunch and cocktails to talk a little business.  Over the next few months we will be co-editing a special issue of Common-place on the Civil War Sesquicentennial and Civil War memory.  The issue is slated for publication in early 2014.  As it stands our approach will be regional with a particular focus on what is currently happening on the ground at various sites, which is broadly construed.  We are trying to cast as wide a net as possible with as many different voices and perspectives as possible.  The nice thing about working with Common-place is that we have a great deal of flexibility both in terms of the number of essays we commission and their length. [click to continue…]

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Three Days of Talks and Not a Shot Fired

This weekend I am attending a conference hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society called “Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion.”  Last night John Stauffer gave the keynote address on abolitionism in the Bay State and today I attended three panels.  The range of topics discussed is really quite impressive.  I especially enjoyed Jim Downs’s discussion of the health challenges faced by newly freed slaves during the war as well as his thoughts about how all of this challenges our triumphalist narrative of the Civil War.  I also enjoyed Katy Meir’s analysis of the U. S. Sanitary Commission and Megan Kate Nelson’s paper on soldiers as tourists.  [Stay tuned for an announcement regarding a project that Megan and I will begin working on together in the very near future.]

Tomorrow we will finish up with three more panels, including two that include papers on historical memory by Barbara Gannon and Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai.  What is striking, however, is that this conference does not include one paper on military history.  An outsider attending this conference would have little sense that this event included four years of horrific violence. There is little sense that the men from Massachusetts ever fired a shot in the Civil War.  Of course, I am not the first person to make this observation about the place of military history in academia, but it is quite striking nevertheless.  The closest we get to a Civil War general is George McClellan’s 1863 visit to Boston.  I certainly don’t mean in any way to diminish the quality of the presentations that I’ve heard over the past two days.  As I said, I’ve learned quite a bit and I suspect that we will see many of these papers published at some point.

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