“The History Boys”

the_history_boysLast night I made my acting debut in the Tony Award winning play, “The History Boys.”  It’s the story of a small group of pupils in a British school who are being groomed for admission to Oxford and Cambridge.  The story follows this small group as they navigate through two very different teaching philosophies as well as their own sexuality.  Those of you who have seen the movie are aware of the mature content and may even be surprised that a high school has allowed it to be performed at all.  I am proud to say that I work in a school that strives to address controversial material in a mature and educational manner.  Needless to say, the weeks rehearsing have been challenging given the dialog between student and teacher, though in the end I think we’ve all learned something from one another about this thing called education.

Two scenes in particular stand out to me given my interest in historical memory.  The first takes place in a full classroom and the second between a teacher and student:

Scene 1

Scripps: But it’s all true.

Irwin: What has that got to do with it?  What has that got to do with anything?  Let’s go back to 1914 and I’ll put you a different case.  Try this for size.  Germany does not want war and if there is an arms race it is Britain who is leading it.  Though there’s no reason why we should want war.  Nothing in it for us.  Better stand back and let Germany and Russia fight it out while we take the imperial pickings.  These are facts.  Why do we not care to acknowledge them?  The cattle, the body count.  We still don’t like to admit the war was even partly our fault because so many of our people died.  A photograph on every mantelpiece.  And all this mourning has veiled the truth.  It’s not so much lest we forget, as lest we remember.  Because you should realise that so far as the Cenotaph and the Last Post and all that stuff is concerned, there’s no better way of forgetting something that by commemorating it.

Scene 2

Posner: Hodge?

Hector: Mmm – the important thing is that he has a name.  Say Hardy is writing about the Zulu Wars or later the Boer War possibly, these were the first campaigns when soldiers…or common soldiers…were commemorated, the names of the dead recorded and inscribed on war memorials.  Before this, soldiers…private soldiers anyway, were all unknown soldiers, and so far from being revered there was a firm in the nineteenth century, in Yorkshire of course, which swept up their bones from the battlefield of Europe in order to grind them into fertiliser.  So, thrown into a common grave though he may be, he is still Hodge the drummer boy.  Lost boy though he is on the other side of the world, he still has a name.


Ebay’s Civil War

[Hat Tip to Mark Snell. There is still time to register for Mark's summer seminar on Race and Ethnicity in the Civil War.]


Michael Burlingame on Abraham Lincoln

Of course, most of you know that Burlingame recently published his massive 2-volume study of Abraham Lincoln.  This talk was recorded at Illinois College on March 26, 2009.  Click through the video to get the rest of his talk.  In part 3 Burlingame suggests that Lincoln was assassinated by John W. Booth as a result of his suggestion that some blacks should be given the right to vote.  He goes on to suggest that Lincoln’s assassiantion should be understood as part of a larger narrative that includes Martin L. King, Medgar Evers, Michael Schwermer and other civil rights advocates.  I think he is right about the first point, but I’m not sure I buy the second.  Regardless, Burlingame is one of the more thoughtful Lincoln scholars and you are sure to learn something.


Southern Senators in 1951


From Life


Session 4 “Predictions for the Election of 1860″

Elizabeth Varon, Nelson Lankford, Jean Baker, Daniel Crofts

Context: The stability of a two-party system rested on shaky ground surrounding the nature of sovereignty.  This gave rise to fears of secession and disunion that continued to escalate through the 1850s.  By the mid-1850s the Whig Party became isolated over the issue of slavery – to survive they would have had to come out as a pro-slavery party.  Whigs suffered from the loss of notable leaders (Webster and Clay) and they also lose some of their economic issues.  Once they lose that focus they are unable to maintain their structure on a national level.  The Democrats were the dominant national party, though the Buchanan Administration had been discredited owing to the prez’s weakness.  The Whigs also suffered from the influx in new immigrants who aligned themselves to the Democratic Party – promised to treat them civilly for political purposes.  This led to the formation of the American or Know-Nothing Party which focused on the dangers of immigration and the threat to national identity.  By 1856 the Democratic Party appeared to be the party of the future.  The Dems controlled both the House and the Senate as well as the Supreme Court.  They have everything going their way.  The problem is that the Party pledged itself to protect slavery.  Kansas-Nebraska, however, presented a number of problems because the various factions in the party failed to support it.  The leading Democrat in Illinois ended up in direct conflict with Buchanan.

This opened up an opportunity for a new political party.  Republican Party benefited from the caning of Charles Sumner, which occured a few weeks before their convention. – Preston Brooks helped to create the Republican Party.   The pervasiveness of conspiracies may have also benefited the early Republican Party given its assumptions about the ultimate goals of slaveowners.  The Republican Party in 1856 looked to ending the control of the federal government by slaveowners.  The 1856 election gave Republicans a great deal to be hopeful about.  Republicans built a consensus around what they took to be a bloodless policy: they want to simply stop the spread of slavery west.  They were committed to no longer making concessions to slaveholders.  This non-expansion of slavery was heavily charged for slaveholders who believed that slavery could be utilized along a wide spectrum of landscapes.

Dred Scott: The decision was complicated in terms of who signed which part of it.  Taney and the majority came down on the same side in ruling that he could not sue since he was not a citizen – blacks had no rights that whites had to support.  This meant that free blacks could be sent back into slavery.  For Republicans the sticking point was that Congress had no power to legislate on slavery and worked to support that there was a conspiracy.  Republicans would have assumed tight control of the federal government which they needed to counteract.  By Dred Scott the Republican Party had secured itslef as a solid regional party.  Northern states command 170 electoral votes, however, Republicans must defend themselves from charges that they want to steer the nation down the road to emancipation.

Abraham Lincoln emerged out of a series of debates with Douglass.  Republican managers targeted three states in the 1860 election; one of them was Illinois.  John Brown’s raid prevented Upper South residual Whigs from communicating with Republicans.

Democrats need to hold on to states won in 1856.  Jean Baker thinks that Dems should have nominated a northern Democrat.  In 1857 Jefferson Davis argued that the Dems would never win unless they run a northerner like Franklin Pierce.  He have been able to save Penn. Their biggest problem is that the most popular Dem was hated in the South.  However, if you don’t nominate him they were likely not to hold the necessary states.

Republicans needed to deal successfully with the legacy of Brown and the image of an “Irrepressile Conflict”.  Republicans need to present themselves as a conservative party.

Predictions: It can only be answered regionally.  There is a middle group of states that are uncertain, but interested in the possibilities of a border state confederacy (KY, MO, DE – Va is the big player). People in the South will vote Democrat.  If Republicans win Ill, IN, and PA they win.  Seward was still the front-runner.  It’s not clear that Lincoln will be the nominee though Lincoln is working hard to correct this by giving speeches and waiting in the wings.

Sorry for the poor summary but my hands are tired and I am exhausted. :)