The Split Personality of Ken Burns’s “The Civil War”

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On September 7 PBS will broadcast Ken Burns’s The Civil War on what will be the 25th anniversary of its release. Burns hopes that the re-packaging of the series in ultra high-definition will attract a new crowd. We shall see.

Recently, Burns was interviewed  about the anniversary of the series on CBS’s Face the Nation. He was asked about recent polls that continue to point to the percentage of Americans who do not identify slavery as the central cause of the war or its role in shaping the war’s outcome. Burns points to movies such as Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind as continuing to shape our memory of the war and the antebellum period. Certainly these movies influenced the viewing public at some point, but it’s difficult to believe that they remain relevant.

Burns would do well to look more closely at his own documentary for a better sense of why Americans continue to struggle to fully grasp the centrality of slavery to the Civil War. [click to continue…]

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Discussing Confederate Iconography at Annual Meeting of AASLH

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Although it was organized last minute, I thought some of you would like to know that I will be co-moderating a discussion on the ongoing controversy surrounding Confederate iconography at the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in Louisville, Kentucky next month. The other moderator for this discussion will be Bob Beatty, who is the chief operating officer for the AASLH. A few years ago I took part in an AASLH roundtable discussion on the Civil War sesquicentennial and had a wonderful time. [click to continue…]

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Do the Archives Matter in the Digital Age?

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I am in the process of finalizing my syllabus for the research seminar that I will be teaching his fall at the American Antiquarian Society. You can read the course description here. I finalized the reading list, which will include the following titles:

The seminar is designed to give students the opportunity to research a topic using the rich collections of the AAS. [click to continue…]

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What a Slave Census Can Tell Us

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Thought I would end the work week with a little crowd-sourcing related to my Silas Chandler biography. Right now I am analyzing the journey from Virginia to northeast Mississippi that was made by Gilderoy “Roy” Chandler and Louisa Garner, along with fourteen slaves in 1839. One of those slaves was Silas. I am relying a great deal on secondary sources such as Joan Cashin’s A Family Venture: Men and Women on the Southern Frontier and Charles Sydnor’s helpful, but dated book, Slavery in Mississippi to fill in some of the unknowns. [click to continue…]

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Sons of Confederate Veterans Kicked Out of Lee Chapel

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This week the Stonewall Brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans learned that they will not be allowed to use the Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University for their annual celebration of Lee-Jackson Day. A spokesman for the school made it very clear as to why:

Hosting the program is no longer an appropriate use of Lee Chapel, W&L spokesmen Brian Eckert said, in light of the “distortion, misstatements and inflammatory language” the school has endured from members of the organization upset with its decision last year to remove Confederate flags from part of the chapel.

“The persistent name-calling, vilification and uncivil attacks in messages to the university, letters to the editors of local newspapers and social media postings have persuaded us that our original intent to make the chapel available would not be appropriate,” Eckert said. “We simply are not going to allow our own facilities to be used as a place from which those attacks can be made.”

[click to continue…]

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