The Classroom Calls

Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond

A year ago this month I learned that my wife and I would be moving to Boston at the end of the school year.  Rather than scramble to secure a teaching position I decided to take the year off and think carefully about my next move.  That decision has helped to clarify a number of things concerning my passion for history.

I imagined a year of engrossed study and research in my home library as well as in various archives in the Boston area and to a certain extent that is exactly what happened.  I put the finishing touches on my Crater study and completed a number of smaller projects.  Best of all I was able to sketch out a new research project on the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry that will help to connect me even more so to the rich history that now surrounds me.

As much as I’ve enjoyed this opportunity, however, what I’ve come to appreciate is the extent to which my love for history has been shaped and nurtured through my interaction with others.  That became painfully clear to me back in September as I sat on the sidelines for the first time in 15 years at the beginning of a new school year.  I miss the excitement of the classroom and the chance not only to share what I know, but to learn and grow from my students and colleagues.  The structure of the school calendar gave me focus as well as a profound sense of purpose that solitary study simply cannot match.  I am willing to wager that I was more productive all around during the school season than I have been since moving this past July.  That’s OK as I learned that I am in no way burned out from teaching.  The fire is still there.

As the hiring season gets underway for the next school year I feel confident that I will find the right position in one of the many private schools in the Boston area.  While I’ve got the classroom front pretty much covered, I ask that those of you who live in the area to keep your eyes peeled for anything else that you think I should check out.  I am interested broadly in history education so a position in a historical society, museum or other historical institution will be given serious consideration.  Feel free to leave a comment or you can use the contact form.

What matters is that I have the opportunity to work with others.

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Why We Need History Education: Black Confederate Edition

It should come as no surprise that Representative Benton is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  This past weekend an SCV camp in South Carolina honored a slave for his “service” to the Confederacy.  Unfortunately, his personal history has no significance or meaning beyond the vague references that support the SCV’s narrow and self-serving slave narrative.  Henry Craig,

  • went to war with his master.
  • rescued his master on the battlefield and brought him home safely.
  • remained on the family’s property until the day he died.

Where have we heard this one before?

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William Mahone and the Readjusters to the Rescue

Illustration of a White Member of the Readjuster Party Cajoling a Black Man to Vote

Looks like the Virginia General Assembly has been busy with resolutions about the Civil War era.  Last week I shared Sen. Henry Marsh’s resolution that would set aside a day to honor Abraham Lincoln and today I bring to you another resolution sponsored by Marsh that would honor black Virginians, who served in state government during Reconstruction.  The Senate committee approved the resolution and incorporated it by voice vote into SJR 13 Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868, recognizing African American representatives. The committee substitute was ordered printed and the resolution will now advance to the floor of the Senate.  I assume that for many Virginians this resolution makes more sense than one meant to honor Lincoln.  I tend to agree, but this resolution distorts a crucial moment in the state’s history.

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.

Click to continue

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Did Democracy Cause the American Civil War?

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?

Talk was presented by Dr. Adam Smith of University College, London.

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Acquisitions, 02/02

A number of you have emailed me about the possibility of purchasing signed copies of Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.  I just agreed to do a book signing at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago on July 28.  You should be able to secure a signed copy through their Virtual Book Signing program.  I am also hoping to coordinate with the Pritzker Military Library while I am in town.

Andrew Fleche, The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

Brian Jordan, UNHOLY SABBATH: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862 (Savas-Beatie, 2012).

Wesley Moody, Demon of the Lost Cause: Sherman and Civil War History (University of Missouri Press, 2011).

Sydney Nathans, To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker (Harvard University Press, 2012).

Carol Reardon, With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

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