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Clean Up This Damn Mess

LeeIt’s another one of those slow days here at Civil War Memory, but I didn’t want Robert E. Lee’s birthday to pass without showing due respect.  With that in mind I thought we would once again try our hands at giving this print a caption.  This is a truly bizarre print.  I assume that in addition to Lee and Longstreet we are looking at John Bell Hood and A.P.Hill.  It looks like Hill’s horse is eating blood-stained grass.  What’s Lee complaining about?  Even Traveller looks upset with Longstreet.  I will leave the rest to you.

OK Ken, what do you got for us?

And if you are looking for something to listen to this Saturday evening, here is a nice discussion between Peter Carmichael, Allen Guelzo, and James McPherson.

Searching for Real Black Confederates in The Civil War Monitor

Civil War MonitorWell, that is at least the working title of an essay that will appear in the next issue of The Civil War Monitor. I just finished with the final edits and I am really happy with the final version.  As far as I know there is nothing out there in a popular publication that deals with this tough topic.  I do my best to bring some light to the relationship between slaveowners and their camp servants at war.  It’s an incredibly frustrating and challenging topic and I don’t claim to have provided the last word.  More than anything else, what I hope it does is raise questions and challenge assumptions on all sides – assumptions that almost always tell us more about the present as opposed to the past.

With that in mind, I hope my fellow high school history teachers will think about picking up a copy for their classrooms.  I think the essay will work well in getting students to think critically about the slave-master dynamic and related issues related to the war generally.

It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Terry Johnston and his editorial team.  They did a great job pushing back with questions that helped to improve both the narrative and analysis.  It clearly reflects their commitment to put out a first-rate magazine that is both a pleasure to read and thought provoking.

Do yourself a favor and get a subscription today.

Christian McWhirter on Taking Lincoln and Django Seriously

django-unchained-poster-e1357542813658.jpegI’ve been thinking about the gulf between the public’s response to Spielberg’s Lincoln and Tarrantino’s Django Unchained and the overall commentary coming from professional historians and other public intellectuals.  I’ve commented on this before, but this morning I was pleased to read Christian McWhirter’s review of both movies in The Civil War Monitor.  Actually, it’s not really a review as much as it is a commentary on the value of the movies, which he believes has been overlooked by the academic community.  I couldn’t agree more.  Here are a few passages from McWhirter’s review that stood out for me.

Dismissing Lincoln is to effectively dismiss its vast audience, much of which is surely hungry for precisely the sort of information and interpretation we can provide.

I saw both films in packed theaters and the response to each was overwhelmingly loud and positive. This sort of reaction demonstrates that audience members were emotionally, and I suspect also intellectually, engaged. We cannot dismiss these movies because they do not adhere to the same rigorous standards we apply to historical monographs and documentaries. Instead of fearing the massive reach of bad films, we need to appreciate the potential for good films to help us educate the public and overturn resilient historical myths. Lincoln and Django Unchained will do more to change popular perceptions of American history than they will misinform or confuse. So, relax, enjoy, and ride this train as far as it will take us.

It’s safe to say that these movies will do more to influence popular perceptions of the Civil War and slavery than all the books published in the past twenty years combined.  Unlike others, I fully embrace this fact.  Much of the commentary about these films does little more than highlight individual historians’ current research projects and tells us very little about the films themselves.  It’s not that I have a problem with pointing out shortcomings in historical content, but that they fail to acknowledge why these films are so popular with so many people from a broad range of backgrounds.  Christian hits the nail on the head when he references the emotional and intellectual engagement of their audiences.  We haven’t seriously explored this as of yet.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how I am going to use these movies in the classroom – assuming that I can use Django at all.  Beyond the classroom I do hope that public historians are also thinking about how they can take advantage of this wave of enthusiasm.  It’s a unique opportunity that could not have come at a better time.  We are smack in the middle of the sesquicentennial having just commemorated the 150th anniversary of emancipation.  The issues and subject matter raised by these two films are incredibly controversial and fraught will all kinds of landmines.  Just getting people to think about them is a challenge and, yet, that is exactly what millions of Americans are doing.  What more could we ask for?

All of us in the historical community should give Spielberg and Tarrantino a big Thank You.

Buy Remembering the Battle of the Crater Direct From the Author

Update: Thanks again everyone. Sold a total of 10 copies on the first day.

CraterYou can now purchase my book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, directly from me for the low price of $25 plus $3.00 shipping.  Just click the “Buy Now” button below and you will be taken to my PayPal site.  Please use the Contact Form if you would like a signature and inscription.  The University Press of Kentucky prices the book at $35 plus shipping and handling, so I hope that this discounted price for a signed first edition makes the purchase more appealing.   This is what I sell the book for at talks, workshops, etc.

“In this stunning and well-researched book, Kevin Levin catches the new waves of the study of memory, black soldiers, and the darker underside of the Civil War as well as anyone has. That horrible day at the Crater in Petersburg, its brutal racial facts and legacies, all tangled in the weeds of Confederate Lost Cause lore, have never been exposed like this. Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.”

David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

I know there are some of you out there who simply can’t afford a hardcover book even at a discounted price.  You will be happy to know that the book will eventually be published in paperback.  Unfortunately, I have no time frame for its release.