The Heart of the Confederacy

I am quite curious to see what the turnout will be this weekend in Montgomery, Alabama for the sesquicentennial commemoration of Jefferson Davis’s oath of office. According to Thomas Strain Jr. of Tanner, a member of the national board of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, “We are trying to present a historical account of what happened 150 years ago.” They are hoping to have hundreds of reenactors march up Dexter Ave. toward the state Capitol. Strain doesn’t perceive this reenactment to be at all controversial. Fortunately, Mr. Strain doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t controversial. This commemoration cannot simply mark a discrete moment in the past independently of the events that took place in that city in more recent years. In this case that includes a history of civil rights protest by the very citizens of Montgomery – descendants of people that would have remained enslaved had the Confederate experiment in rebellion been successful. Because of this, Saturday’s commemoration will look nothing like the Montgomery of 1937 and that is something that we should all be thankful for.

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Black Confederates In a 7th Grade Classroom (After-Action Report)

A few days ago I mentioned that I was in contact with a 7th grade history teacher in Boston, who wanted to introduce the subject of black Confederates as part of a unit on the Civil War.  Well, today the instructor reported back with a detailed overview of the lesson.  I think it’s a wonderful example of how this subject, along with the related issue of media literacy, can be introduced at the middle school level.  A number of school districts in Virginia have had difficulty addressing the recent scandal involving the 4th grade history textbook that included false claims about the service of slaves in the Confederate army. This need not be the case.  In fact, it’s a golden opportunity to address some of the fundamental misconceptions of the war as well as the veracity of the sources of these claims.  Here is an example of a teacher making a difference.

Again, Kevin, I owe you tremendous thanks for your guidance on this topic; your suggestion to follow the UVA lead on “Retouching History” along with your own coverage of the websites purporting to educate the online community about Black Confederates were invaluable. Here’s a detailed overview of what we’ve been up to:

1) For homework last Thursday, I asked kids to conduct some research into the topic of Blacks fighting for the Confederacy. In case you want to see how I framed the question, here’s the text of the email I sent them:

During the flag project, Heather sent a representative of the Sons of Confederate Veterans an email asking for his perspective on the Confederate flag. In Mr. Barrow’s response, he mentioned that one way to show that the flag is not necessarily a symbol of slavery is to consider that Blacks actually fought for the Confederacy; if this was the case, he reasoned, how could the cause of the South been to preserve slavery?

This presents an interesting opportunity. Let’s figure out if he is correct in his statement that large numbers of Blacks fought for (not against) the South.  Your homework, then, is to conduct about a half an hour of research into the topic of Blacks fighting for the South.

[click to continue…]

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The Journey Continues

For the past ten years I have lived and worked in the beautiful state of Virginia.  Unfortunately, that time will be coming to an end this summer as my wife and I transition to a new life in Boston.  This is somewhat of an unexpected move.  We’ve been talking about moving for a couple of years now, but with a wonderful career opportunity having been offered to my wife, that timetable has been pushed forward.  Both of us love the city of Boston.  It’s a big move for both of us and it is not going to be easy to leave Virginia.

We moved to Virginia in 2000 and I have enjoyed every minute of it.  I’ve been lucky enough to work at a school that has nurtured me both as a teacher and as a historian.  My school encouraged me to go back to school for a second M.A. degree and has always encouraged and supported my teaching and writing projects outside of school.  How many people can honestly say that their place of employment allows them to do what they truly love.  My students continue to bring me great joy, but the toughest part of this move will be leaving my colleagues.  They are an inspiration to me and serve as role models for what it means to live the life of a teacher and adviser.

It goes without saying that I am also going to miss the rich history that Virginia offers.  Most of my friendships were made through a shared passion for the study and teaching of Virginia history.  It’s worth repeating that it is this history that has defined my sense of home and place.  It may sound a bit corny, but I also feel like I am leaving a list of long-departed “friends” that have helped me to better understand where I fit into this rich narrative called American history.

So, what’s next?  When I first learned that we would be moving I scrambled to secure a new teaching position.  I still love the classroom.  About a week ago it occurred to me that this may not be the best decision.  Boston has plenty of excellent private schools, but it also has a vibrant public history scene.  One of the things that I’ve enjoyed over the past few years is the opportunity to work with history teachers and historic sites.  With this in mind I’ve decided to take some time to get a sense of what I might do to allow me to continue to work in the area of history education/public history.  Over the past week I’ve talked with a couple of people in the Boston area and I am optimistic that I will be able to put my work as an educator, historian, and social media advocate to good use.  I couldn’t be more excited about what lies in store for me.  For those of you who live and work in the area please feel free to offer any relevant advice that you think might help me to achieve these ends.  I am open to anything and everything.

I am also going to enjoy some free time to complete a number of writing projects, including the black Confederate book.  The research is going well and I am confident that the right book will not only help to move the discussion forward, but will sell well.  The most exciting part of the move is the chance to sink my teeth into the history of Massachusetts.  I am most passionate about the history that surrounds me so I have no doubt that within a short period of time I will come to embrace the history in the same way that I did Virginia’s history.   I’ve thought about writing a memory study of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  There is plenty of material on the history leading up to its dedication in 1897, but very little on the twentieth century.  Oh, and I hear they have a great deal of Revolutionary War history up there as well. :)

What does this mean for Civil War Memory?  I think this is a wonderful opportunity to expand the focus of this blog.  I am looking forward to exploring how the Civil War is remembered and commemorated in New England, which, I suspect, will broaden my readership and advance the overall mission of this site.  And, yes, you can expect some commentary concerning that other period in American history that some claim to be important.

The most difficult part of this move is going to be the challenge of rooting for Boston sports teams given that I am a life long Philly fan.  I tried to root for the Celtics on Saturday against the Miami Heat.  The challenge was made easier because they were playing the Heat, but I anticipate future difficulties.  My wife wondered why Boston had two basketball teams.  I had to explain that one was a baseball team.  Yes, there are going to be a number of challenges involved in this move.

As always, thanks to all of you for your continued support.

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A Different Kind of Reconciliation

One of the more difficult aspects of blogging for me has been the maintenance of Online relationships.  I’ve never had much patience in dealing with problematic scenarios and my tendency has always been to find a way to distance myself from certain individuals as quickly as possible.  This usually involves ceasing any and all contact both on the blog and via email.  We have the potential to get so emotionally worked up and words on a screen seem like an inadequate way of addressing it so why bother.  In all honesty, in five years I haven’t gotten much better at it.

Long time readers are no strangers to occasional spats that I’ve had with fellow blogger, Michael Aubrecht.  At times it went way beyond what was appropriate and a few times it became very personal.  These are not interactions that I am not proud of, but I would like to think that I learned important lessons as a result.  I haven’t thought about it in quite some time, but today Michael left the following comment on Brooks Simpson’s recent post about me.

It’s no secret that Kevin and I have had our share of differences over the years, and at times, they have been of a personal and vitriol nature. Both of us are guilty in this regard and I myself have fanned the flames on more than one occasion. Frankly, there are still many issues that we do not agree upon, although I believe that there are many others that we do. Regardless of our past, I vehemently agree that Kevin’s blog has made a big impact on the CW blogosphere while bringing many important issues to light, such as the Black Confederate myth. I myself have posted on this subject with the same frustration that Kevin has. In my declining health, I find myself needing less conflict in both my professional and personal life, especially conflict that serves no greater purpose. Perhaps even Kevin Levin and I can come to terms and express a mutual respect for one another. That would show everyone on all sides of the argument that the blogosphere is not only a place where historical opinions and truths can be shared with the masses, but also a domain where stubborn historians can find a way to work toward a common goal. That goal of course is the proper preservation and presentation of our Nation’s precious history. As we begin to acknowledge the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial, we must celebrate the reunification of our country. If our forefathers could find a way to come together after four years of horrific fighting, why the hell can’t we find a way to get along too…eh Kevin?

I think Michael is right.  It’s time to move on and put the past behind us.  More importantly, I want to wish Michael a speedy recovery.  I’ve known for a few weeks that Michael’s health was in decline.  This is an opportunity to break through the silliness to what matters.

Get well soon, Michael.

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The Seven Days Ballad

YouTube is probably the most popular social networking tool currently being utilized in history classrooms across the country.  The vast majority of them are simply put, horrible.  They reflect very little understanding of the medium by the student as well as their teachers.  In my view it’s the clearest example of what is wrong with the way history teachers utilize social media in the classroom.  While there has clearly been a push to embrace these tools over the past few years, many teachers have not thought enough about how they enhance students’ understanding of the past as well as the analytical skills involved.  Once in a while, however, a video stands out.  In this case two students offer a visual representation of the Seven Days Battles accompanied by a little ballad.  It’s clever and fun.

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