Library of Congress to Archive Civil War Memory

This morning I received the following email address from the Library of Congress.  I have a great deal of control over the content of this site because it is self-hosted, but what happens after I am no longer around?  Well, it looks like interested readers will have permanent access to the content of this site for a very long time and that makes me very happy.  I love the idea of this site being saved as a point of entry on how the Civil War was remembered at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The United States Library of Congress has selected your website for inclusion in the historic collection of Internet materials related to the American Civil War Sesquicentennial.  The Library of Congress preserves the Nation’s cultural artifacts and provides enduring access to them. The Library’s traditional functions, acquiring, cataloging, preserving and serving collection materials of historical importance to the Congress and the American people to foster education and scholarship, extend to digital materials, including websites.

We request your permission to collect your website and add it to the Library’s research collections. In order to properly archive this URL, and potentially other URLs of interest on your site, we would appreciate your permission to archive both this URL and other portions of your site. With your permission, the Library of Congress or its agent will engage in the collection of content from your website at regular intervals over time and make this collection available to researchers both at Library facilities and, by special arrangement, to scholarly research institutions.  In addition, the Library hopes that you share its vision of preserving Internet materials and permitting researchers from across the world to access them.

Our Web Archives are important because they contribute to the historical record, capturing information that could otherwise be lost. With the growing role of the Web as an influential medium, records of historic events could be considered incomplete without materials that were “born digital” and never printed on paper. For more information about these Web Archive collections, please visit our website.

[I will provide more information as it becomes available.]

George Rable on “The Civil War As a Political Crisis”

Few Civil War historians have been more prolific over as large a segment of the historical landscape than George Rable of the University of Alabama.  I’ve read most of his books and I always find that my understanding of the period deepens as a result.  Rable is one of those historians that makes you smarter after having read one of his books.  My two favorites are The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics (Civil War America) and Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which in my mind is one of the most innovative Civil War campaign studies ever written.  His most recent book is, God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era), which I am thoroughly enjoying.

If you are not familiar with Rable’s scholarship this is the perfect place to start.

“When You Eliminate the Black Confederate…”

It’s one of those quotes that sticks out like a sore thumb on many black Confederate websites: “When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.”  The only problem is that if you search for this quote Online you run into any number of problems not the least of which is authorship.  Let’s take a quick tour.

  • The quote was posted today at the Southern Heritage Preservation Facebook Page and attributed to Robert E. Lee in 1864.  Carl Roden responded with a correction: “Actually it wasn’t Robert E. Lee who said that, it was historian, Erwin L. Jordan, Jr. who did good work on telling the story of Black Confederates and their service…its still a good quote none the less.”
  • Over at the 37th Texas website the quote is attributed to Dr. Leonard Haynes, an African-American professor at Southern University.
  • The Southern American of Color also attributes the quote to Professor Haynes.
  • Finally, no surprise that Calvin E. Johnson also utilizes the quote over at Edgerton’s site and attributes it to Haynes.

An Online search for the quote will yield page after page of websites that apparently have cut and pasted the passage.  Most of them attribute the quote to Professor Haynes.  What you will not find, however, is a single reference to the source of the quote.  There are no references to any publications on the subject or even a speech in which he may have made the claim.  The claim of authorship seems to be based on nothing more than that has been cut and pasted countless times.  If you are looking for an example of why an uneducated search on the Internet is so dangerous look no further.

So, who is Leonard Haynes?  Start with this biography of the man [and here].  He earned a Ph.D in higher education and served in the Department of Education during both Bush administrations.   Dr. Haynes sounds like an interesting guy, but I can find nothing that points to a single publication or presentation on the subject.  Is there any evidence that he has ever written anything about the Civil War let alone the subject of black Confederates?

Hey kids, if you don’t know how to search and assess Online sources then stay away.

Where Do You Teach Civil War History?

Yesterday I spent about an hour on the phone talking with a writer at Education Week about the teaching of Civil War history during the sesquicentennial.  We talked about a wide range of issues, but at one point I was asked if I can discern any noticeable difference between the teaching of this history in the North v. South.  I’ve been asked this question before and I always struggle to answer it.  For one I’ve only taught history in the state of Virginia and most of the teachers that I’ve interacted with through various workshops also teach here.  That said, Virginia is instructive given its location in the South and its close association with all things Civil War/Lost Cause.

A cursory glance at recent events in Virginia suggests that not only has it moved away from anything resembling Mildred Rutherford’s vision of the history classroom, it has taken a national lead in introducing students to a Civil War narrative that is very much in line with recent scholarship.  That said, I have no doubt that there are still pockets of resistance, but I suspect that much of it is generational in nature.  I’ve seen this in various workshops over the past few years.  Younger teachers have little difficulty with some of the tough questions of Civil War history related to race and slavery, but teachers reared on a more traditional narrative tend to be suspicious.  The important point, however, is that I don’t believe we can plot such resistance along regional lines given recent demographic shifts.

What do you think?

Heritage v. History (Redux)

The heritage syndrome, if I may call it that, almost seems to be a predictable but certainly a non-conspiratorial response–an impulse to remember what is attractive or flattering and to ignore all the rest.  Heritage is composed of those aspects of history that we cherish and affirm.  As an alternative to history, heritage accentuates the positive but sifts away what is problematic.  One consequence is that the very pervasiveness of heritage as a phenomenon produces a beguiling sense of serenity about the well-being of history–that is, a false consciousness that historical knowledge and understanding are alive and well in the United States.

Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory, p. 626

To understand something historically is to be aware of its complexity, to have sufficient detachment to see it from multiple perspectives, to accept the ambiguities, including moral ambiguities, of protagonists’ motives and behavior.

Peter Novick, That Noble Dream