The Civil War Trust is asking members and others to sign a “Citizens’ Petition in Support of War Memorial Preservation,” which will eventually be sent to Congressional leaders. I will not be signing it. It is certainly not because I don’t support the spirit of the petition. Let me explain.
The petition asks the public to reduce all American wars and all soldiers as worthy of continued honor. All soldiers, including Confederates , according to CWT ought to be remembered as “young soldiers who defended freedom.” How we remember the freedoms that Confederates fought so hard to achieve is exactly what is currently being debated. It is a legitimate debate/discussion that relates directly to the meaning attached to many Civil War monuments from Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis to the standard soldier monument on the courthouse lawn. [click to continue…]
With the official end of summer upon us I decided to go back and list in chronological order all of the posts I have written about the ongoing debate about Confederate iconography going back to June. I’ve been reviewing much of what I have written in preparation for a panel discussion that I will join in just a couple of weeks at the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in Louisville. Participants include Bob Beatty, Dina Bailey, Steve Murray, W. Todd Groce and Eric Emerson. It promises to be an engaging discussion.
The other reason for going back is to try to make sense of what I’ve said and to see what threads, if any, can be discerned throughout. This brings me to an important point about blogging. Individual posts are very much time sensitive. They are opportunities to try out ideas and to see where things go. I’ve been pushed in different directions over the summer in response to various developments, many of which took me by surprise. In other words, you should expect that my thinking is going to evolve over time. Blogging is much more jazz improvisation than a carefully composed concerto. [click to continue…]
On August 19 Judge Martin Clark removed Stuart’s portrait from Patrick County, Virginia’s Circuit Court courtroom. Yesterday he offered a lengthy explanation for his actions and is well worth reading. On a side note, if I were teaching my Civil War memory class this year my students would be reading and discussing this document. It raises a number of relevant questions about the intersection of history, public memory and justice. [click to continue…]
For much of my teaching career I have worked to achieve some level of gender equity in the books and articles that I assign my students to read. This has been especially the case in the many elective classes that I have taught on the Civil War era. My overall goal has been to challenge both the tendency to see the Civil War as a masculine subject and the historians and enthusiasts that it attracts as overwhelmingly male. This goes far in tearing down some of the barriers that prevent female students from fully embracing the subject as their own and one that is worthy of serious study.
It should come as no surprise that this outlook helped to shape the reading list for my research seminar at the AAS, which begins next week. Of the six books that I ordered three are authored by women. This past spring Joseph Adelman reflected on similar concerns regarding his reading list for a course on the American Revolution, only he took it a step further. He wondered whether the reading list for an entire undergraduate course on the Revolution could be filled with books by female authors. I didn’t find the results particularly shocking, but it was certainly worth the effort if only to visualize it for the sake of discussion. [click to continue…]
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…]
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…]