Richard Dreyfuss’s Opus

The other day I thought about Richard Dreyfuss and wondered what he’s been up to since his visit to my school last year.  You may remember that I was less than impressed with his method of engaging students as well as his overall message [and here].  Well, it looks like he finally has a website up, but if you take some time to explore its contents you will notice that it is void of any curricular materials or much of anything at all to assist teachers and students in the teaching of civics.  From what I can tell Dreyfuss has done little more than continue his whirlwind tour of America’s classrooms where he has impressed upon students the importance of understanding the Constitution and the importance of rational debate.  Who would disagree with that?

This past week Dreyfuss was honored with the 2010 Empire State Archives and History Award.  I don’t know anything about this award, but it seems to me that this is a sign of what’s wrong with our society and education.  As much as I applaud Dreyfuss for bringing attention to this issue there are people who work day after day in the trenches teaching this material.  Organizations promoting the teaching of civics are a dime a dozen and there are already more than enough curricular materials for the classroom. Can someone please tell me what Mr. Dreyfuss has done to deserve an award?  We give these people awards as a quick fix rather than taking the time to acknowledge the deeper problems within our education system.

In the meantime may I suggest that Mr. Dreyfuss find a more appropriate outfit to wear in the classroom.  Some of us consider ourselves to be professionals when we walk into our classrooms.

Teaching Limited v. Hard War

Update: The debate went extremely well.  Both groups did an excellent job of articulating their respective positions and pointing out what they perceived to be shortcomings in the other.  I had to remind them that, in the end, they were on the same team.  That is what I find so interesting here.  In the same theater of operations you have very different approaches being employed, which gives students a window into the evolution of the war as a whole.

My Civil War class is now focused on the crucial summer of 1862.  Students now have a solid grasp of the major campaigns along the river systems out west as well as in the crucial military theater of Virginia through mid-July 1862.  We’ve spent a good deal of time examining the evolution of war during this period through a careful reading of Chandra Manning’s study of Civil War soldiers and slavery as well as the push by certain commanders in the field to broaden the scope of the war.  It’s impossible to keep a discussion of slavery out of the picture, but I am trying to hold off on a discussion of the First and Second Confiscation Acts, the actions of Fremont and Butler as well as Lincoln’s announcement of a preliminary emancipation proclamation until next week.  It’s not a perfect plan, but it does follow Brooks Simpson’s approach in his short introductory text, which students are reading.

Today students will debate the merits of a limited v. and expanded or hard war approach through a reading of two documents.  The plan is to divide the class in half with one group reading General George McClellan’s famous Harrison’s Landing letter to Lincoln of July 7, 1862 and General John Pope’s General Orders No. 5, 7, 11, and 13.  Students will be expected to debate the scope of warfare outlined in these documents based on the information known at the time.  In other words, Lee’s army is still outside of Richmond and Lincoln has not issued a proclamation.

Assessing Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army at the SHA

I just booked my room and registered for this year’s meeting of the Southern Historical Association, which meets in Charlotte, North Carolina from November 4-7. It’s by far my favorite conference of the year as it comes at just the point when I can use a couple of days away from school and it gives me a chance to catch up with good friends.  Perhaps I will even be able to check in with the publisher to get an update on my Crater manuscript.  The panels are always interesting but I am especially looking forward to one on Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army.  I’ve blogged about it here at Civil War Memory over the past year and I can’t say enough good things about it.  Not only is it an excellent synthesis of recent scholarship, but Glatthaar’s analysis of key topics such as slavery, morale, discipline, religion and even black Confederates make this volume indispensable.  An independent study with one of my students has given me the opportunity to go through it again.

POINTS OF DEPARTURE: REFLECTIONS ON JOSEPH A. GLATTHAAR’S GENERAL LEE’S ARMY

Presiding: John Coski, Museum of the Confederacy

General Lee’s Army and General Lee: How Does Glatthaar Fit into a Contentious Historiography on the Rebel Chieftain? — Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia

The High-Water Mark of Social History: The Methodology of Glatthaar’s “General Lee’s Army” — Peter S. Carmichael, Gettysburg College

“They Are One in Reality & All of the Country”: Blending Battlefront and Home Front — Jacqueline Glass Campbell, Francis Marion University

Author’s Response: Joseph A. Glatthaar, University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill

Distorting the History to Celebrate the Soldier or Heritage Not Hate

The Tea Party movement has given us a number of colorful candidates this election cycle.  Now we can add to the list one Rich Iott, the Republican nominee for Congress from Ohio’s 9th District.  It turns out that Mr. Iott enjoys wearing Waffen SS uniforms as a one-time member of a Nazi reenactment group.  Of course, Mr. Iott claims no sympathy with the Nazi cause apart from a respect for “a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things.”  I’m not sure what those incredible thing included, but let’s leave that for now.

What I find interesting is the description found on the group’s website explaining why members chose to portray men in the Wiking Division.  Iott and others seem to believe that there is something historically and – by extension morally – significant about the unit’s service on the Eastern Front against the Russian Army:

Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a “New and Free Europe”, free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement. Regardless, thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free.

Of course, historians of World War II take issue with such a characterization as unhistorical and overly romantic.  Hmm…I think I’ve seen this before:

Asked whether his participation in a Nazi re-enactor’s group might not upset voters, particularly Jewish voters, Iott said he hoped it would not: “They have to take it in context. There’s reenactors out there who do everything. You couldn’t do Civil War re-enacting if somebody didn’t play the role of the Confederates. [This] is something that’s definitely way in the past. … [I hope voters] take it in context and see it for what it is, an interest in World War II history. And that’s strictly all.”

It’s interesting to reflect on another example where the history is distorted so as to allow for the commemoration, celebration, or reenactment of the lives of soldiers without having to confront the tough moral questions.