Acquisitions, 02/11

As excited as I am about moving to Boston I am dreading having to pack up my library.  I am seriously considering gutting a sizable chunk of it.  It will be painful, but necessary.  Here is a video I did a few years back on my Civil War library.  Anyway, I haven’t bought too many books over the past months.  Just about everything listed below was mailed to me by the publisher directly.

Judkin Browning, Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina(University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Louis Masur, The Civil War: A Concise History(Oxford University Press, 2011).

Sean A. Scott, A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War(Oxford University Press, 2011).

Jane Schultz, ed., This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton(Oxford University Press, 2011).

David Silkenat, Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina(University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Peter H. Wood, Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War (Nathan I Huggins Lectures)(Harvard University Press, 2010).

Susannah J. Ural ed., Civil War Citizens(New York University Press, 2010).

Readers Digest, Untold Secrets of the Civil War[Reviewing for Civil War History]

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Standing Up For Teachers

Update: Chris Wehner has responded to my post in the comments section below. He takes issue with just about every point I made, but I stand by what I’ve written. What troubles me most about Wehner’s post is the claim that the work of Howard Zinn and the Social Justice movement somehow explains what is going on in Wisconsin. Wehner makes no attempt to address this claim with any substantive evidence. On the lighter side, many of you will be interested in his new Civil War blog.

I haven’t said anything about the ongoing teachers strike in Wisconsin, in large part, because I am not a member of a union and the reasons for the strike have little to do with the focus of this blog.  On the other hand, I make it a point to highlight the good work that my colleagues are doing in history classrooms across the country.  We have enough bad press out there.  It is with this in mind that I read Chris Wehner’s disgraceful editorial in which he summarily dismisses every last teacher taking part in this strike with one swift back of the hand.

Before proceeding let me state that I am not suggesting that one has to agree with the goals of the protest or even acknowledge the rights of labor and collective bargaining.  My guess is that if I knew everything going on behind the scenes there are aspects of the protest that I would disagree with as well.  All in all, this seems to be as much about politics as it does about managing a budget.  There is blame on both sides.

The new civility on display in Madison, Wisconsin has given me as a teacher pause. As a teacher I have to be held to the utmost level of integrity, do I not? I spend 8 hours a day with other people’s children; often more time than the parents do. I encourage students to work hard, be honest, and disciplined. As a history teacher I point to the nature of our democracy where majority rules, and that elections are to be taken serious as they indeed, as our esteemed President noted, “have consequences.” Yet in Wisconsin teachers have decided to use what is a teachable moment, and demonstrate that lying, banter, and at times, incivility should be used when one does not get what one wants…. You want to protest, do it after school or on the weekends. Want to organize peacefully, fine.

Apart from one quote Wehner makes absolutely no attempt to explain this rampant “lying” and “incivility” which supposedly characterizes the protesters.  On what grounds does Wehner condemn every single teacher who has picked up a sign or spent the evening in the capitol building?  He leaves absolutely no room for the possibility that many of these folks are honest and hardworking people, who are doing something that they truly believe is worth fighting for – for themselves and even for their schools and students.  Again, I am not suggesting that you must agree with their goals, but why must they all be condemned?  Even more outrageous is the suggestion that these teachers should conduct their protests after school hours and on weekends.  Is there anything in the history of labors’ struggle that would suggest that an after hours/weekend walkout ever worked?  What version of U.S. history is Wehner teaching?  Finally, since when did an election negate the right of citizens to engage in peaceful protest?  Isn’t this part of the “nature of democracy”?

According to Wehner, however, the real source of the trouble behind this protest is the boogeyman of social justice.

But none of this should be surprising when we look at how educators are taught today and how they are encouraged to be exemplars of Social Justice and to teach for Social Change.  Today’s teacher unions and educators in America, in public schools, are failing their students and for multiple reasons; some of which have nothing to do with the teachers. But some aspects of this failure have to do with bad teachers and ones that have agendas. Take the literature that is being promoted by the late Howard Zinn and other radicals. In some Universities and Colleges we are producing activists and not educators, and this explains what is happening in Wisconsin. Those who willing[ly] lied, took phony sick notes from unscrupulous doctors, and railed against the democratic system, are sending students the wrong message and setting the wrong example.

We’ve heard it all before from Wehner and others.  The late Howard Zinn and radicals in higher education are corrupting our young teachers and turning them into social radicals “and this explains what is happening in Wisconsin.”  This is as outrageous and irresponsible a claim that I can imagine in this context.  Once again, Wehner provides next to nothing to support his claim apart from one quote and references to emails that he has received from various organizations that are engaged in this enterprise.

Even if you believe that these teachers are “setting the wrong example” why do we have to bring in the issue of Social Justice?  Are we really to believe that the majority of k-12 teachers from every subject area are motivated by the Social Justice agenda?  Are we also to assume that the other civic employees, who have joined the teachers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are also driven by this as well.  Wehner turns individuals into robots without any thought on the matter.  He takes a reasonable disagreement over whether these people have the right to strike and be away from their classrooms and dismisses them without any serious attempt to understand their motivation.

It goes without saying that our education system has some serious problems, some of them are the result of the influence of unions and poor teaching.  However, for every bad apple in our school districts I can point to many more, who are honest, hard working, and struggling to help their students with very little financial support.  What ultimately troubles me about Wehner’s editorial, as well as other things he has written on his blog about the teaching profession, is that he seems to be completely unaware of this.  He would have us believe that teachers are engaged in a plot to turn our students into revolutionaries and overthrow everything that is sacred about America.  It’s as if teachers are to be feared.

I don’t know how anyone in this profession can operate with this mindset.

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“What Shall Be Done With Them?”

On Friday I posted a couple of newspaper notices on the subject of black Confederates from Vicki Betts.  Here is one more from a Memphis newspaper for your consideration.

MEMPHIS DAILY APPEAL [MEMPHIS, TN], May 14, 1861, p. 3, c. 2

Our Free Colored Men–What Shall Be Done With Them?–Editors Appeal:  The proposition of the committee of safety, to enlist companies of our free colored men, is not relished by our citizens generally; and the question comes up, “what must be done with them?”  Let me suggest to that committee that they confer with Major-General Pillow as to the policy of placing four or five of our free negroes in each company from Memphis, for cooking, washing, etc.  That is their post, one of inferiority, not of citizen soldiers.  They understand that sort of work better than any boys who are called to do battle.  Let them be made useful in that way.

Common Sense.

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Civil War Memory Needs a New Tagline

UNC Press (2009)

One of my readers reminded me the other day that I am soon going to need a new tagline for Civil War Memory.  He suggested that I make it a contest, which I think is a great idea.  As you know the latter part of, “Reflections of a Civil War Historian and High School History Teacher,” will cease to apply (at least temporarily) come this summer.  So, what should it be?  The contest will be open through next Friday.  My only request is that contestants must be members of the Civil War Memory Facebook Page.  The winner will receive a copy of Aaron Sheehan Dean’s, Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).  Feel free to be as creative as you like.

Thanks for your help.

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The Mythology of the Mythology of Lincoln

Update: Here is a transcript of a debate between Harry V. Jaffa and Thomas DiLorenzo from 2002, which was sponsored by The Independent Institute.  Brooks Simpson has also written up a thoughtful response to this post.

I just finished watching Judge Napolotino’s interview with Thomas DiLorenzo and Thomas Woods on FOX News about the so-called mythology surrounding Abraham Lincoln.  The three raced through all of the talking points that are now part of the standard debunking of Lincoln’s greatness.  We are told that Lincoln was a racist [as was just about every mid-19th century white American], that he arrested thousands of political opponents [Have you read anything by Mark Neely?], and that he inaugurated a modern nation state that violated the Founders goal of establishing limited constitutional government [Relative to what?].  All of this is presented to the general public as if these arguments are somehow new.  They seem to be completely unaware of the rich Lincoln scholarship that has revised much of what we know about our 16th president.

While those of us familiar with this Lincoln scholarship might enjoy a good laugh, we would do well to keep in mind that DiLorenzo and Woods are probably influencing the general public more through their publications and activism than all of the recent scholarly studies combined.  There are a number of reasons for this, but I suspect that part of it can be traced to the unwillingness of museums, historical societies, and professional conference organizers to engage these folks in legitimate scholarly discourse.  The upshot has been the creation of a self-contained group of writers, who reaffirm one another’s legitimacy by appearing on the same television shows and spewing the same rhetoric.

I am reminded of an essay that Daniel Feller, editor of the Andrew Jackson Papers at the University of Tennessee, published in Reviews in American History in which he reviewed three popular “counter-orthodoxy” books, including DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln.

If collegial accolades could settle historical debate, the new orthodoxy conveyed in [David Blight’s] Race and Reunion would have swept all competitors from the field. Yet a counter-orthodoxy not only survives, but thrives. By the measure of book sales, it even prevails. It flourishes not only among the neo-Confederates described by [Tony] Horwitz, but in an alternative world of scholarship, a world rarely encountered by subscribers to this journal [RAH]. The works of this other narrative are taught in college courses (though not necessarily in the best-known colleges) and endorsed by university professors (though not always professors of history). The authors are not cranks in re-enactor garb, but public intellectuals with academic credentials and claims to scholarly detachment.

The popularity of these books reminds us that academics live in a cocoon, which we mistake at our peril for the world.  It is a comfortable cocoon, filled with people and ideas we feel at ease with. But outside that cocoon, convictions are being shaped that will affect us all. The inclination to ignore ersatz scholarship and go about our business is strong, for the costs of engaging are high. But if we believe what we say we do – that knowing history is important, for such knowledge has consequences – then the costs of neglect may be higher.

Of course, this is a much bigger issue than anything I can present in a blog post.  What I will say, however, is that it would be nice to see DiLorenzo and Woods have to present these arguments among historians who have actually published scholarly studies about Lincoln.  Let’s see how well their arguments hold up.  Of course, first, they have to be engaged.:

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