Above you will find a short video of Professor Geiger discussing his new book. Geiger will accept his award and give a talk at the SCWH dinner, which takes place as part of the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association. It’s always a good time.
Over the past three days I’ve come across two references that place Robert K. Krick, squarely in the camp of Southern historians. The reference is meant not simply to denote field of interest but a “pro-South” or “pro-Confederate” bias. As many of you know Krick worked for 31 years as the chief historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. These claims are made with apparently no attempt at verification; it’s as if his body of scholarship speaks for itself in terms of his place of birth. Of course, Krick is not native to the South; rather he was born and raised in California. Before proceeding let’s be clear that Krick’s work on the Army of Northern Virginia is essential reading for any Civil War enthusiast. In short, few people know more about Lee’s army than Krick.
It’s not easy having to face the constant taunting and hate-filled messages, which suggest that I am somehow “anti-Southern” or out to attack Southern history and culture. Even after moving to the beautiful city of Boston much of what I love to read about relates to the rich history of the American South. Right now I am in the middle of Adam Arenson’s new study of St. Louis, The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War (Harvard University Press, 2011).
So, just in case you doubt my commitment I am displaying the following banner for the remainder of the day. I am confident that I am following the rules governing its display:
Permission is not granted to use these badges on blogs or websites that would bring dishonor to the South, or to Southerners and their history, heritage and culture, or to use them in any other dishonorable manner.
Of course, I know my regular readers have not lost faith that I’ve lost my way, but I guess this has created some amount of self-doubt.
If I were heading back into the classroom to teach my course on the Civil War and historical memory I would begin by showing this video from the Virginia Historical Society’s exhibit, An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia. If you haven’t seen it you are missing one of the more innovative exhibits to emerge early on for the Civil War 150th. The choice of Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation of the “Star Spangled Banner” is the perfect accompaniment for this collage of images that covers both the short- and long-term consequences of the Civil War.
Teachers can use this video to explore how images, text, and music come together to form a historical narrative. Encourage students to critique the video by pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Which images are out of place or missing? What other musical choices could be utilized as well as choice of text?
Earlier today I spent some time with an Associated Press writer discussing connections between Civil War remembrance and the upcoming anniversary of 9-11. I tried to outline some of the shifts that have taken place in our collective memory of the Civil War and suggested that our national memory of 9-11 will likely follow these patterns. We are still early on in that initial stage of historical memory where narratives emphasize heroism and tend to be shaped by those who have a personal connection to the event itself. In this case I’ve suggested that it is the families of 9-11 victims that will continue to exercise a great deal of influence on how the rest of us remember and commemorate that day. As we move further from the tragedy of that day, however, we will become more removed and more likely to assume a more “objective” perspective – one that carefully considers both causes and consequences. That will take some time and probably will not blossom for another generation. It is inevitable
That heroic/moral narrative continues to linger 150 years after the Civil War among folks who imagine themselves as caretakers of a distant past, but I would suggest that in a few short years its most visual incarnations will be even more of a rare occurrence. This last generation that continues to preserve its ceremonial symbols were reared on the Civil War Centennial, but there is no indication that the sesquicentennial will leave us with the same level of enthusiasm. This generation is the last one to have any direct connection with the veterans themselves. You can also see this impending shift in the profile of Civil War Roundtables. I suspect that most of them will be a distant memory in the not too distant future unless there is a major influx of younger blood into leadership positions. This shift is taking place in both the North and South.
There is no need to pronounce judgment on this or dwell on what will be lost or gained by such a change. What will continue to dissipate is the tendency among some to see the war as lacking closure. I suspect that the Civil War will continue to exercise a strong hold on our imaginations.
The 150th anniversary of one of the most fascinating Civil War battles is fast approaching. Learn about what happened on that bloody day and how the battle has been remembered. Get your signed and discounted copy direct from the author.
"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, Yale University