New Editorial Team at UNC Press’s Civil War America

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.

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The Anatomy of Lincoln Day in Virginia

Lincoln's Civil War Class at Tredegar (2009)

I highly recommend heading over to Richard Williams’s Old Virginia Blog for a thoughtful commentary on the Lincoln Day resolution.  Richard points out what he sees as an inconsistency between how Governor Robert McDonnell’s Confederate History Day proclamation was received and Sen. Marsh’s Lincoln resolution.  Let’s be clear that this story has yet to hit the mainstream news so I must assume that Richard is responding to the debate over the past week on this blog.  From OVB:

But this proclamation also leaves out quite a bit of President Lincoln’s legacy. In light of all the negative hoopla last year over McDonnell’s Confederate History proclamation, I’m having difficulty reconciling all the celebration over this proclamation, with all the hysterical objections we heard over the Confederate History proclamation. It just doesn’t add up. Am I the only one who sees the inconsistencies here?

Richard goes on to suggest a number of things about Lincoln’s racial outlook that ought to be remembered to determine whether he, in fact, deserves such an honor.  They include references to colonization, the Emancipation Proclamation, the fugitive slave act, the Corwin Amendment, and a “fondness” for black minstrel shows and the “N” word.  Some of these points are more relevant than others, but that is up to each individual to decide.  Of course, I could come up with another short list that would tip the balance back in favor of Lincoln.  The bigger problem, however, is with the nature of these resolutions and their tendency to pluck out specific acts from any historical context.  In both Marsh’s resolution and Richard’s post we get no sense of Lincoln’s evolution in regard to his racial outlook nor do we understand his role at the time of the act.  The Lincoln of 1865 that is contemplating a limited suffrage for African Americans is not the Lincoln of 1850 or even 1862.

The bigger point for Richard is whether the resolution includes “the whole story.”

Personally, I don’t have a big problem with giving Lincoln his day – as long as the record includes the whole story, as was demanded for Confederate History month. We do want to be consistent and objective, don’t we?

This is a curious point given that no monument or commemoration includes the whole story; rather, it includes the story that an individual or community has a desire or need to remember.  In the case of Governor McDonnell’s Confederate History Month proclamation enough Virginians voiced their concerns that it had ignored a salient aspect of Confederate history.  This was enough to bring about a retraction and later a proclamation setting aside April as Civil War History in Virginia Month.  The other problem for Gov. McDonnell’s original proclamation was that it was framed as reflecting a “shared history” for all Virginians.  That was seen as problematic, especially among African Americans.

The verdict is still out on whether the Lincoln proclamation both includes the right historical references and whether it speaks to the preferred memory of the past and values of enough Virginians.  There is no objective answer to this question.  It depends entirely on who chooses to get involved and speak out through our democratic system.  As I’ve said before, I am just happy that we now live at a time when all Virginians can take part in these discussions.

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White Southerners Embrace Lincoln

This post is a few years old, but given the recent discussion about a possible Lincoln Day in Virginia I thought it was worth re-posting.

I highly recommend Barry Schwartz’s new book, Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America (University of Chicago Press, 2009). There is an interesting section on the image of Lincoln during the Depression, which is a moment where, according to Schwartz his reputation had peaked only to decline following WWII. Schwartz not only surveys popular or institutional representations of Lincoln, but also tries to uncover the views of ordinary Americans. One of the more interesting sections is his analysis of how white Southerners viewed Lincoln from the turn of the twentieth century through the New Deal. Along the way, Schwartz mentions Thomas Dixon, D.W. Griffith, and Mary R.S. Andrews and a host of lesser-known writers.

I learned that on February 12, 1928, the Virginia House of Delegates rose for the first time in respect for Lincoln’s memory and adjourned “in honor of…the martyred President of the United States, whose death was a distinct blow to the South, resulting in a national calamity.” Not surprisingly, a number of public figures, including Lyon G. Tyler (son of of the president) and Reverend Giles B. Cook (Lee’s staff) offered a request to “to Repeal the Resolution of respect for Abraham Lincoln, the Barbarian…” and an eleven-page resolution. At least one newspaper editor encouraged its readers to “put aside old animosities.”

Click to continue

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Virginia’s Lincoln

On Tuesday I will be working with a group of k-12 history teachers in Virginia on how they can introduce the subject of historical memory in their classrooms.  The news that Virginia may set aside a day to honor Abraham Lincoln could not have come at a better time and I plan on offering some suggestions on how teachers and students can get involved.

This morning I came across the state’s Lincoln bicentennial commission website and it includes some very helpful links on their work as well as sources on Lincoln’s deep Virginia roots.  There is a section for teachers, students as well as other helpful resources that can be used in the classroom.  My suggestion to history teachers in Virginia is to find a way to integrate this issue into their classrooms as a culminating activity.  The sesquicentennial is a unique opportunity to involve students in the act of commemoration based on their understanding of this crucial period.

Have students debate the resolution in its present form.  Should Virginia commemorate President Abraham Lincoln with his own day?  Present the results to the rest of the student body.  Better yet, contact your local state representative and have him/her visit the class to receive the results.  Have students write their own resolutions as individuals or in small groups to reflect the challenges of committee work.  Students who disagree with the resolution can offer a counter-resolution that supports their preferred candidate.

Don’t just study history, shape it!

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Should Virginians Give Lincoln His Day?

The news that the Virginia General Assembly is considering setting aside a day to honor Abraham Lincoln has certainly triggered some emotional responses.  That is not surprising, but let’s not deceive ourselves in thinking that this is a question with an answer.  How we approach this question will be determined by a host of factors, but this has little to do with what matters.

Whether Lincoln deserves a day in Virginia will be determined by whether the sponsors of the bill can gain enough support in Richmond and ultimately among the general public.  This is not about political correctness , but about political persuasion.  In other words, whoever makes the best case within the marketplace of commemorative visions and can rally sufficient support will prevail.  In the context of the public sphere how we as a community commemorate and remember our past has always proceeded along these lines.   One of the comments on the previous post pointed out that the sponsor of the resolution is both a Democrat and African American.  I suggested that it is irrelevant given that Democrats and African Americans have just as much a right as anyone to propose such commemorative events.  Perhaps if the sponsor had chosen to honor an ex-Confederate general there would have been no need to bring up politics and race.  I don’t know.

What gives me comfort is that unlike the formative period of Civil War commemorations we now live at a time when these questions can be discussed and debated by both black and white Virginians.  After all, it is a shared history.

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