Our standard narrative of Reconstruction goes something like this: After the war the southern states were forced to re-write their state constitutions to conform to the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. In many of these states these changes were imposed by occupying federal armies. Between 1865 and 1877 African Americans enjoyed a brief window of civil rights and political privileges that would not be seen again until the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s. The Compromise of 1877 left the southern states once again in control of their own futures and quickly instated a series of Jim Crow laws that left their African American population disfranchised and reduced to second class citizens. In short, the black population was abandoned by the federal government. This narrative has become so deeply embedded in our collective memory (at least in our textbooks) that we tend to assume that the end of Reconstruction led inevitably to Jim Crow.
Description: A hundred and fifty years ago the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. It was a war that was to result in the deaths of perhaps three quarters of a million people. Yet the United States in 1861 was the world’s first modern democratic nation — a place in which virtually all white men could vote and in which mass political parties vied for votes in noisy and hotly contested elections. What was the relationship between the coming of the war and this kind of democratic politics? Contrary to the assumptions of International Relations specialists who have posited that democracies do not go to war with one another, was this a war made more likely, and, once it started, more bloody, by the principles and practice of popular sovereignty?
Yesterday I spent the day in Virginia Beach working with a group of 4th and 5th grade teachers on how to teach the Civil War. I was joined by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, who lectured during the morning session on the war through emancipation and I followed up with an overview of how to use Civil War monuments in the classroom. The workshop was funded by the Teaching American History program, which as many of you know was recently cut by the federal government. We spend so much time in this country focusing on bad teachers and other problems with public education that we completely ignore the incredible wealth of talent that we have in the classroom. Here was a program that directly benefited thousands of history teachers throughout the country and it cost next to nothing. We constantly complain about how little our kids know about American history, but when push comes to shove we do so little to combat it by supporting the very people who are working on the front lines in your neighborhood classrooms.
No other academic press series has taught me more about the Civil War era over the past twelve years than Gary Gallagher’s Civil War America, which is published by the University of North Carolina Press. He managed to bring together some of the most talented historians, many of who studied under Gallagher at either Penn State or University of Virginia. While it’s been a great run it looks like Gallagher is transitioning out of the position of editor of the series and handing the reins over to a new generation of Civil War scholars. I’ve known about this for quite some time, but was asked to hold off on announcing it until the change was made public.
The books that are now coming out include Peter Carmichael, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, and Caroline Janney as series editors. All three studied under Gallagher at UVA and all three have published their dissertations in the series (see here, here, and here). It’s fair to say that their scholarship, as well as many other books in the series, reflect Gallagher’s interest in the war in the East (Virginia) and the limits of Confederate nationalism and challenge to the “Lack of Will Thesis”. Taken together the three books referenced above explore Confederate nationalism on the home front, in the Army of Northern Virginia, and among women both during and after the war. I am looking forward to seeing how this new team moves forward. Will they continue to build on the themes that Gallagher has emphasized or will they move in a different direction?
Whatever they decide to do I have every reason to believe that the quality of the work published will remain consistent. I’ve worked with Aaron on two projects and Peter is the editor for the series that I will be published in at the University Press of Kentucky. Both have been a pleasure to work with. I wish all three the best with what I believe is the top academic Civil War series.