The Next Interpretive Challenge

This morning I read Jim Loewen’s brief report of his recent visit to Richmond to attend the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History.  He was struck by the changes to its public history landscape, both in the form of new monuments and introduction of tours that broaden the historical narrative to include individuals and groups that have for too long been left out.  Who would disagree?  I’ve been making this point for some time now.  In fact, I think it’s such an obvious point that I would suggest that public historians and educators have won the battle to reinterpret the Civil War era in a way that broadens and deepens our understanding along racial and gender lines. Of course, public historians and educators have not won the battle alone; in fact, their role may be secondary compared to the kinds of political shifts that have taken place since the end of the 1960s that have brought a myriad of voices into the public sector that reinforced the need for an interpretive shift.

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A Manuscript Gets a Cover

Even with all the work I’ve put into this project over the past few years, it’s funny how seeing the cover for the first time can finally make its impending publication a reality.  I absolutely love the cover and I hope you do as well.  The book is still slated for a spring 2012 release and I expect that it will be available for pre-order some time soon.  Thanks to all the wonderful people at the University Press of Kentucky for their continued enthusiasm and support.  Click here for more information about the book.


Saturday Night Live Interprets Camp Servants

Somehow I missed this recent SNL skit about the Civil War.  It’s kind of funny and even offers an interpretation of how camp servants ended up in some of those wartime and postwar images. 🙂  Enjoy.


On the Black Confederate Front

Why African Americans will never accept the black Confederate myth: “If, for example, one managed to change the curriculum in all the schools so that Negroes learned more about themselves and their real contributions to this culture, you would be liberating not only Negroes, you’d be liberating white people who know nothing about their own history. And the reason is that if you are compelled to lie about one aspect of anybody’s history, you must lie about it all. If you have to lie about my real role here, if you have to pretend that I hoed all that cotton just because I loved you, then you have done something to yourself. You are mad.” — James Baldwin, “A Talk to Teachers” (1963)

Here are a couple of updates that I thought you might find interesting.  The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star published my response to a recent editorial by Calvin Crollier and Kevin Crowder.  The paper decided to title it, “Black Confederate Soldiers? In Your Dreams“, which I thought was kind of funny.  In a little over a week I will travel to Richmond to take part in the annual meeting of the Association For the Study of African American Life and History.  I will take part in a panel organized by Emmanuel Dabney, titled “Black Confederates in the Civil War: History, Myth, Memory, and Make-Believe”, which will also include Ervin Jordan and Jaime Martinez.  I recently learned that C-SPAN will cover the conference so there is a chance that you may be able to catch this at some point.  This should be a lively session.

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Where Have You Gone, Bruce Catton?

Tomorrow my wife and I are going to head over to Cambridge to the Harvard Bookstore to hear a talk by David Blight.  I tend not to take my wife to hear Blight as she has what I would say is an unhealthy attraction to his voice.  Hopefully, she will be able to exercise sufficient self control.  Blight is going to talk about his new book, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era, which explores the writings of Robert Penn Warren, Bruce Catton, Edmund Wilson, and James Baldwin.  Each of these writers struggled to come to terms with America’s collective memory of the Civil War during the civil rights era.  Like much of everything else Blight has written the book is well worth your time.

One of the things I find interesting is the lack of a prominent Civil War historian or literary figure, who occupies the same space as did Penn Warren, Catton, Wilson, and Baldwin.  In terms of historians of that era I would also include Allan Nevins and Douglass Southall Freeman, though he died in 1953.  Perhaps you disagree, but if so, I would be curious to know who you think fills those roles and speaks for our generation’s memory of the war.  If you agree with me, I would also like to hear why.