"Field of Lost Shoes" at New Market Battlefield
In December 2008 I was honored to deliver the keynote address for the National Park Service’s annual commemoration of the battle of Fredericksburg. I used the opportunity to reflect on how I utilize battlefields to connect my students to American history. Last year I decided to revise it to reflect the various places that I took students during my time in Virginia. Taken together these trips remain my most memorable and enjoyable teaching experiences. Thanks to Clay Risen of the New York Times for agreeing to publish it in their Disunion column. This is my second essay in the series.
Stepping onto the bus in the early morning hours with my students in central Virginia, bound for one of the area’s Civil War battlefields, is still my favorite day of the year. It allows us to imagine ourselves as part of a larger community, one extending far back into the past. In those moments, in those still-dewy fields, the distance between the present and past collapses. I suspect it’s the same reason that bring hundreds of thousands of people each year to Fredericksburg, Manassas, Richmond, Petersburg and the Shenandoah Valley: We want, we feel compelled even, to understand what happened, why it happened and what it means that it happened.
Read the rest of the essay.
This morning I voted online for the next president of The Society of Civil War Historians. I’ve been a member for a few years now and even had the opportunity to address the organization back in 2008. The SCWH recently established a new book prize, a new journal, as well as a biennial conference. I think these are all positive steps, but nothing here reaches beyond the traditional activities of an academic organization.
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, but it is worth remembering that we are in the middle of the sesquicentennial. I remember hearing rumblings from various folks in the SCWH at the first biennial meeting in Philadelphia that the organization would be active throughout the commemoration of the 150th. So far, I’ve heard nothing. It’s disappointing especially given the fact that so many members are engaged in a wide range of activities that involve the education of the general public. I have no doubt that given the talent in the SCWH that it can take the lead on any number of projects. Perhaps a partnership/collaboration with another organization is the way to go.
I wish the online ballots included vision statements from the candidates rather than the standard brief resumes that pretty much blend into one another. They are all top notch scholars. I am much more interested in the direction they want to steer the organization and whether they believe that this direction includes anything to mark the sesquicentennial and public education.
I will continue to look forward to each issue of the journal as well as the next conference, but it seems to me that this organization is capable of doing more, especially NOW.
Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond
A year ago this month I learned that my wife and I would be moving to Boston at the end of the school year. Rather than scramble to secure a teaching position I decided to take the year off and think carefully about my next move. That decision has helped to clarify a number of things concerning my passion for history.
I imagined a year of engrossed study and research in my home library as well as in various archives in the Boston area and to a certain extent that is exactly what happened. I put the finishing touches on my Crater study and completed a number of smaller projects. Best of all I was able to sketch out a new research project on the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry that will help to connect me even more so to the rich history that now surrounds me.
As much as I’ve enjoyed this opportunity, however, what I’ve come to appreciate is the extent to which my love for history has been shaped and nurtured through my interaction with others. That became painfully clear to me back in September as I sat on the sidelines for the first time in 15 years at the beginning of a new school year. I miss the excitement of the classroom and the chance not only to share what I know, but to learn and grow from my students and colleagues. The structure of the school calendar gave me focus as well as a profound sense of purpose that solitary study simply cannot match. I am willing to wager that I was more productive all around during the school season than I have been since moving this past July. That’s OK as I learned that I am in no way burned out from teaching. The fire is still there.
As the hiring season gets underway for the next school year I feel confident that I will find the right position in one of the many private schools in the Boston area. While I’ve got the classroom front pretty much covered, I ask that those of you who live in the area to keep your eyes peeled for anything else that you think I should check out. I am interested broadly in history education so a position in a historical society, museum or other historical institution will be given serious consideration. Feel free to leave a comment or you can use the contact form.
What matters is that I have the opportunity to work with others.