Confederate Monuments and the Limits of Public History

If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend heading over to the Civil Discourse blog and reading Ashley Whitehead Luskey’s excellent essay on the ongoing controversy surrounding Confederate iconography. It is the most thorough essay that I have read to date and has helped me to continue to clarify my own thinking about this thorny issue. Ashley calls on public historians, “to convey to the broader public the unique professional skills, knowledge, and perspective that we possess on these topics and how such expertise can be put to work in their favor, if they choose to engage us in their discussions and decision-making.” [click to continue…]

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Hillary Clinton on Lincoln, the Civil War and Reconstruction

Last night at the Democratic Town Hall Meeting in Iowa Hillary Clinton offered up a reminder of why a solid grasp of Reconstruction is essential to our understanding of American history. While the 150th anniversary of the Civil War received a great deal of attention from historic sites, museums and a host of educational institutions, very little is being done to commemorate Reconstruction. [click to continue…]

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Mercy Street/Episode 2, “The Haversack”

Last night episode 2 of Mercy Street aired. The main characters continue to be developed and you probably now have a better sense of the main themes that are now coming into clearer view as well as the trajectory of the overall narrative.

What do you think so far? What do you like about the series and what has left you scratching your head?

Missed the first episode?

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Mercy Street: A Reading List

Thought I would put together a short reading list for those of you watching Mercy Street. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Rather, it offers a few suggestions to help get you started. Feel free to add further suggestions in the comments section below.

George Kundahl’s Alexandria Goes To War: Beyond Robert E. Lee offers a fairly comprehensive look at the city that serves as the setting for the show, but it does not delve much into the African-American experience. [click to continue…]

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How “Finding Your Roots” Manipulates the Past

Last night I caught part of Season 3 of Finding Your Roots, which included an episode about Keenen Ivory Wayans. The recent controversy involving Henry Louis Gates and Ben Affleck left me wondering if any substantial changes would be made to the show. It didn’t take long to answer.

FYR is pretty good at “finding” people, but at times they do an absolutely horrendous job of interpreting what they find. A case in point is Gates’s interaction with Wayans in locating and interpreting the life of Ben, an ancestor, who was the slave of South Carolina Governor John L. Manning. [click to continue…]

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Arrived at “Mercy Street”

Mercy StreetLast night PBS aired the first episode of its Civil War drama, Mercy Street. As some of you know I had a chance to preview the first season (6 episodes).  You can also read it at History News Network, but I should warn you that it covers the entire season. I don’t think by reading you will ruin your own viewing experience, but there are a few minor spoilers.

My evaluation of the show does not get bogged down in dialog. Yes, you will find some of your standard cliches and, at times, some of the dialog will leave you wincing. It’s inevitable in this kind of production.

I was much more interested in how the show directs our thinking about the war in all of its complexity. It is here that I believe Mercy Street excels, but don’t take my word for it. Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

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