While other states are still in the beginning stages of organizing sesquicentennial commissions Virginia is getting ready to host a major event on Wednesday, April 29 at the University of Richmond’s Robins Center. This is the first of a series of Signature Conferences that will be held throughout the sesquicentennial. This first conference is titled, “America on the Eve of the Civil War” and will include four sessions, which will place participants in a position where they must take stock of the nation following John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry and anticipate its consequences as a presidential election loomes on the horizon. The participants make up a who’s who list of Civil War historians. They include, among others, David Blight, Gary Gallagher, Manisha Sinha, Nelson Lankford, Charles Dew, and Ed Ayers. Well over 1,700 people are registered to date, coming from all over Virginia plus 23 other states. Registration is still open, though I urge you to reserve a seat now as it looks like it will eventually sell out.
I will be live blogging throughout the day. In fact, I will be located in a special section with the rest of the media – should be a blast. In addition to blogging, I will be hosting a luncheon for educators, the goal being to give teachers a chance to network and discuss the session topics. I do hope that additional states can muster the political will and organize commemorative committees to better our understanding of this crucial period in American history. For now, sit back and watch as Virginia sets the standard.
Update: The Q&A sections of the panels will include questions submitted electronically. It looks like you will be able to submit a question to me through the blog that I can relay to the Question Manager. I will provide more details as we get closer to the conference.
Imake my acting debut this year in our school’s student production of “The History Boys.” I’ve been given the role of headmaster. The story is set in a private school in England in the mid-1980s and follows a small group of history pupils who are preparing for their entrance exams for admission to Oxford and Cambridge. The boys must navigate through the contrasting teaching styles of Irwin, Hector, and Ms. Lintott as well as their contrasting views on the lessons of literature and history. Along the way the students work to come to terms with their own sexuality as well as the intentions and deceitfulness of the faculty. One of my favorite moments in the film takes place as the boys are preparing for their college interviews. In frustration, Ms. Lintott shares her own gendered interpretation of the lessons of history and the “ineptitude” of men. She is followed by Rudge who reduces the complexity of the past down to the simple thought that history is “one fucking thing after another.”
I am thoroughly enjoying my introduction to the world of acting. In fact, it is exhilarating!
Iam sorry to have missed yesterday’s meeting of the newest chapter of the League of the South, which has been organized in Anniston, Alabama. The John C. Calhoun Chapter held their first meeting yesterday at the local Western Sizzlin’ where the organization’s national president, Michael Hill, railed against the abuses of the federal goverment. I can’t stop laughing as I imagine Hill addressing an audience that is continually making its way to the buffet bar to load up on as much bad steak as possible for $5.95. To be honest, I am not so much interested in what was said as I am in the total cholesterol level of the group.
The Alabama Legislature has passed a resolution honoring black lawmakers who served during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War. The resolution by Democratic Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery says black Alabama residents played an integral part in the Legislature from 1868 to 1878. At the height of Reconstruction in 1874, there were 33 blacks in the Legislature. Holmes’ resolution received final approval Thursday when the House went along with changes made by the Senate. The resolution now goes to Gov. Bob Riley for his approval. The resolution calls for the names of the black lawmakers to be placed on plaques located in the rotunda of the state Capitol, on the grounds outside the Capitol and inside the entrance to the Alabama Statehouse.
Today one of the truly gifted historians died at the age of 94. John Hope Franklin, however, was always more than a historian. He understood that the present and the past are closely interwoven and that the study of history is always the first step to addressing present injustices. Duke University has set up a webpage to commemorate the life of John Hope Franklin.
My wife and I were lucky enough to meet Dr. Franklin last summer at a slave family reunion at Montpelier. Simply put, Dr. Franklin is one of my intellectual heroes. His career embodies a strong commitment to racial justice through activism and scholarship. It would be more accurate to say that his scholarship is in fact a form of activism, and at 94 he was still going strong. I especially enjoyed listening to him discuss why it is so important to tell the story of slavery as part of American history and the perils of ignoring or forgetting the past. I like to think that my own research on Civil War memory is in a way a form of activism. I to believe that it is important for a nation to confront its collective past in all of its richness, which includes both moments of great achievement as well as disappointment. And I am convinced that one can keep this moral goal in mind without it impinging or threatening the integrity of scholarship. The highlight of the day was having the chance to talk with him in person. I truly felt like I was talking with one of the great Americans of the twentieth century and I don’t mind saying that I was just a little star struck.
All I can say is, thank you Dr. Franklin. We will miss you.