Teachers, Technology, and Gettysburg (Part 1)

[Part 2 and Part 3]

Tomorrow I head out for the Civil War Preservation Trust’s 2010 Teacher Institute in Hagerstown, Maryland.  The conference doesn’t begin until Friday, but since the good people at the CWPT put me up in the hotel beginning on Thursday I decided to make a day of it in Gettysburg.  I’m looking forward to the conference, which includes a number of interesting workshops as well as keynote talks by Bud Robertson, Peter Carmichael (filling in for Gary Gallagher) and Jeff Shaara.  My responsibilities are minimal.  On Saturday evening I am taking part in a roundtable discussion on the role of technology/web2.0 in the classroom.  I am joining Jim Beeghley and Eric Miller with Robert Shenk moderating.  I have five minutes to share some thoughts before the audience has an opportunity to question all of the panel members.  In preparation for the session I thought it might be helpful to write up a few thoughts.

What is the role and place of technology in our history classrooms?  This may seem like an obvious question, but unfortunately, not enough people in our field are exploring it with the level of importance it deserves.  I am constantly being asked if I use this or that in my classroom as if we are dealing with a continual wave of fads that come and go.  My response is always the same: Why should I be using a specific program?  To answer that question we need to first understand our goals as history teachers.  I teach a specific subject and there are various methods and tools that can be used in that process; technology is but one of them.  The teaching of history involves both a content and skills component.  My overall goal is to teach students how to think critically about the past as well as their place within that broader narrative.  This involves both the analysis of primary and secondary sources as well as the development of their own understanding of the past through some type of presentation.  So, there is both an emphasis on how students process information as well as how it is shared with a broader community.  Every piece of web technology that I use in my classroom somehow fits into this overall goal.

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Douglas Southall Freeman Visits the Crater

I have culled a number of helpful sources from Google Books.  Today I am sharing a wonderful image of Douglas Southall Freeman that was taken from a Life magazine article published in May 1940.  The article takes the reader to various places from the Petersburg Campaign, including the Crater and follows Freeman as he attempts to make sense of the growing conflict in Europe and its likely outcome based on his understanding of the Civil War.  It’s an interesting piece and the photographs are wonderful.  The article begins with that famous photograph of Freeman saluting the Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond.

I believe that the photograph of the remains of the Crater was taken facing north.  The modern day trail follows the far side to the left and behind the Confederate position.  If you look closely you can see the South Carolina marker in the rear and to the right behind the tree.  I should mention that Freeman’s fascination with the Civil War began at the Crater.  In 1903 he attended the famous Crater reenactment with his father, who served in the 41st Virginia Infantry.  After watching the veterans of Mahone’s Virginia brigade march by the young Freeman pledged to his father that he would tell their story.  Another great find.

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“[H]e Had a Great Reverence for the Constituiton”

Every once in a while I tune into the Glenn Beck Show.  In a media world where conversations/interviews are much too short, Beck at least tries to dig into specific topics during his hour-long show.  I especially enjoy his Friday show, which in recent weeks has been devoted to historical topics.  History for Beck is part of his broader political-cultural world view that sees fascism, communism, atheism and every other -ism at America’s doorstep.  I am actually fascinated by his ability to weave a complex web that makes perfect sense if you accept just a few of his assumptions.  In the end, Beck is doing exactly what Father Charles Coughlin would do if he had access to the same media.  According to Beck America has been on this road since the Progressive Era.  I don’t claim to understand his particular historical outlook, but as far as I can tell every American president in the twentieth century, including Eisenhower and Nixon have contributed to this dastardly turn.  Well, whatever…enough with that.

This past Friday, Beck focused on the Progressive Period once again with particular attention on the racism of Woodrow Wilson and Margaret Sanger and a reappraisal of the “Robber Barons.”  Beck was joined by Burton Folsom Jr. and Larry Schweikart.  Neither is a serious historian and Schweikart is a complete hack.  You may remember a recent post of mine which critiqued a FOX interview with Schweikart, who made some ridiculous claims about the state of history textbooks.  [See here, here, and here]  At one point during the interview the subject of Abraham Lincoln came up along with the subject of slavery and the Confederacy:

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Ebony Magazine Remembers USCTs

One of the richest sources for a black counter-memory of the Civil War is Ebony magazine.  Throughout the Civil War Centennial in the 1960s and beyond the magazine published articles that addressed the crucial role that African Americans played in Union victory.   No topic received more attention than USCTs.  You can view old issues through Google Books and it has proven to be incredibly helpful as I write about how black Americans remembered the battle of the Crater during this period.

One particular article written by Lerone Bennett Jr., (October 1975) about the battle of Chaffin’s Farm caught my attention.  In addition to Bennett’s text there are five sketches by Orville A. Hurt that add quite a bit of depth to the essay. You can find Hurt’s illustrations in multiple issues of the magazine.

Hurt’s illustrations emphasize the bravery and manliness of USCTs as well as the sacrifice made on the battlefield.  The image above is by far the most powerful.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a stark image of a black soldier plunging his bayonet through a Confederate officer before the movie Glory.

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Sharing the Crater With Loved Ones

A friend of mine is currently working in an archive in South Carolina and came across a reference to the Crater from a soldier who served in the 18th South Carolina Infantry:

The Negro troops were slaughtered without mercy, we not allowing them to surrender, they huddled together in the pit formed by the explosion and our men deliberately capped down on them and beat out their brains and bayoneted them until worn out with exhaustion.  We took the other prisoners, a number however were shot or hung after brought to the rear- this may seem cruel and heartless to those at home but let them come to  VA and see the sights we have seen and they will no longer say so.  Kill, kill every negro soldier is my motto.

I have files and files of Confederate accounts that reflect this mindset, but what I find so interesting about this particular account is the explicit reference to the home front.  It is tempting to speculate as to the “sights” that this particular soldier is referring to, but it seems reasonable to suggest that it was specifically the presence of black men with guns that so impressed him.  It must have been a challenge for soldiers to depict the sight of large numbers of black men with guns to loved ones back home, especially in South Carolina.

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