Civil War Memory Class Goes Digital

The new school year is off and running and after having met with all my classes on the first day I couldn’t be more pleased with my group of students.  This trimester I am teaching two sections of Civil War history, which include roughly 9 students in each class.  They seem eager to get started and somehow we already managed to touch on the question of what caused the Civil War.  Today I will hand out a few documents and ask them to debate the question of whether the Civil War was inevitable.

Most of these students will go on to take my course on Civil War memory next trimester.  I had a wonderful experience with both sections of this class last year.  We covered a great deal of material between both primary and secondary sources and we capped it off with a memorable trip to Richmond.  This year I’ve decided to approach the course from a completely different angle.  I plan on having both sections create a website that will explore Civil War memory here in Charlottesville. The major sites in the city and county include the soldier statue on Courthouse Square, the soldiers cemetery at the University of Virginia, and Lee and Jackson parks, which are located just off of the downtown mall.  The course will include background readings in a few essential secondary sources and students will have access to archival material at UVA and the local historical society.

I am still debating the kind of platform that will be used for the project, but at this point I am leaning toward Moodle.  It isn’t the sexiest site, but it can easily accommodate the wide range of social media tools that will be included in this project.  Luckily, I have a few students who are competent with HTML and CSS.

Students will create videos and upload them to Vimeo and/or YouTube as well as podcasts.  They will also create their own radio show using blogtalkradio and interview area historians on the significance of the sites.  Photographs can easily be uploaded and described on Flickr and PowerPoint presentations can be narrated and uploaded to the Web using Slideshare.  I am also playing with the idea of a blog component that will allow students to reflect on the entire process throughout the trimester.  A companion page on Facebook may be useful and during our visits to the site students will be able to use Twitter.

I am learing that the biggest hazard in utilizing social media is not having a clear sense of its purpose and how it fits into a department’s broader philosophy.  This is a discussion that I hope to continue throughout the year in my department meetings.  To me, it speaks to the sharp transition from students simply consuming what they hear in class and read in books to producing their own interpretation for broad public consumption.  This project will put students in a position of having to think critically, not simply about what they are learning, but how to present it to others.

Let me know what you think.

Battlefield Preservation, WalMart, and Me

I think all of you are well aware that I greatly appreciate the time you take out of your day to comment on my posts.  In many cases you spend a significant amount of time to insure that your comments are clear and to the point.  By far my favorite comments are those that challenge me to rethink specific issues or to work harder to clarify my position.  In response to yesterday’s post on the Wilderness and WalMart, however, I can’t tell whether my readers are having difficulty following my thinking on this issue over time or my commitment to battlefield preservation itself.  I am getting the sense that it more of the latter.

It’s difficult to know what more I could say to satisfy some of you.  If I woke up yesterday morning and had posted a simple condemnation of WalMart, like everyone else in the Civil War blogosphere, all would be fine, but because I fail to toe the party line there is a lingering doubt.  Dimitri Rotov’s recent post also deviates from the standard line of thought, but I don’t doubt for a minute his commitment to preserving our Civil War battlefields.

Let me remind all of you of a few things that have apparently been so easily forgotten.  From the beginning of the life of this blog I have maintained a strong commitment to the mission of the National Park Service.  While others condemned Gettysburg Superintendent, John Latschar for every problem under the sun, I made it a point to remind my readers of his commitment to restoring some of the battlefield’s most important view sheds.  In addition, I can’t think of anyone else in the blogosphere or elsewhere for that matter who has gone further in supporting the NPS’s commitment to properly interpreting Civil War battlefields.  This past December I was asked by Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Superintendent, John Hennessy, to deliver the keynote address for the 146th anniversary of the battle.  In my talk I discussed the importance of these battlefields to our civic life as well as their importance as educational tools.  Every year I bring students to one of Virginia’s battlefields.  All of them walk away with a unique and invaluable perspective and a few of them are truly moved by what they experienced.  Finally, I signed the CWPT’s petition that was sent to WalMart back in October.  What more can I say about my position on battlefield preservation?

May I be so bold as to suggest that compared to many of you who are having difficulty with my position, I’ve done much more to insure the continued life of these important historic sites.

Walmart Wins

smileyI can’t say that I am surprised by the decision to give Walmart permission to build a store just off of the Wilderness battlefield along Rt. 3 in Orange County.  As I’ve said before, this is a preservation battle that was lost a long time ago.  It was a decision to be made by the residents of Orange County and they made it.  Nothing was rushed, all sides were heard, and it looks like the decision of the board of supervisors reflected the will of the people living in the community.  Let’s hope that organizations such as the Civil War Preservation Trust have learned some valuable lessons and move on.

John Stauffer Responds

Thanks to Prof. Stauffer for taking the time to write up such a thorough response to the recent criticisms of The State of Jones that can be found here and elsewhere.  I would much rather move on from this controversy, but given the circumstances outlined at the beginning of his response I thought it was only fair to post it.

I rarely read blogs, and this summer I’ve had difficulty keeping up with the Internet:  my wife gave birth to a boy, we’ve been without shower and kitchen owing to a house addition, and I’ve had to finish two 10,000 word essays on deadline.  Sally Jenkins and I welcome debate, as we emphasized, and the fact that I was unaware of your tacit expectation that I should read and post responses on your blog should not be interpreted as a refusal to engage in public and scholarly conversation.

You may be right in suggesting that “the blogosphere is now shaping” academic debates and historiography.  After all, the past forty years have witnessed an extraordinary democratization in academia, with scholars of the highest order having richly diverse institutional affiliations, from high schools, newspapers, and magazines to museums, educational institutes, the film industry, and colleges and universities of all ranks.  The Internet, which has revolutionized access to archives and other repositories of knowledge, has accelerated the democratization.  My hunch is that blogs will contribute to this process. In any event, let me try to address the major criticisms of “The State of Jones”

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