“Clinging” to Jim Limber

The latest issue of North and South has a hilarious little story about Jim Limber and the Davis family written by Chuck Lyons. Check out some of these references

“Jim was soon treated as a part of the Davis family, a precious part.”

“Joe’ s death led the Davises’ to cling strongly to little Jim.”

Wonderful stuff Chuck – whoever you are.

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A History Lesson Gone Wrong

All good history teachers work to bring the past alive for their students. Yes, it wreaks of cliche, but there is a grain of truth in the attempt to broaden our students’ perspective, to help them to see themselves as part of a broader narrative. In working toward this end we introduce students to a wide range of experiences from traditional primary sources to the sights and smells of the past. Some of the most meaningful lessons are those that provide an opportunity for students to make a personal connection with the past and that connection is often couched in emotion. This is not easy to do, and I don’t mind admitting that I tend to steer clear of these types of lessons, not because of any skepticism regarding the value of emotional identification, but owing to its potential to become a distraction from the historical reference itself. At the same time I believe that the history classroom can be an ideal setting in which students can exercise their other-regarding emotions such as empathy and sympathy. Again, my concern is that it be done carefully and with an understanding that up to a certain age students are self-centered and self-conscious.

With this in mind consider the lesson plan of Haverstraw Middle School teacher, Eileen Bernstein, who, in an attempt to teach the horrors of the slave trade chose to bind the hands and feet of her students and have them crouch under their desks. Her goal was to impress upon them the cramped quarters of a slave ship. As you can imagine some of the parents were very upset with the teacher’s decision after their children came home visibly upset. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information to gauge how the teacher used this simulation in class. How did she hope to translate the emotion of the simulation where hands and feet are tied and turn it into a history lesson? What questions were the children being asked to consider?

Now I don’t teach middle school-aged kids, but it seems to me that given their emotional maturity it is going to be difficult for the teacher to redirect that emotion from self to other. In other words, how is it possible to get the student to look beyond his/her own feelings and anxiety to consider something historical or remote? Perhaps it is possible as in the famous case of the teacher who, in an attempt to demonstrate the hideousness of racism, divided her class to give the students a sense of what it is like to be discriminated against. However, even if the psychological leap is possible in such a situation, does this simulation have anything at all to do with the life of a slave? Does this in any way assist children in recreating in their minds the reality of the “Middle Passage”?

The teacher in question has apologized for causing any problems with her students, but refuses to apologize for using the simulation in class. I’m just waiting for the next story where the teacher asks her Jewish students to simulate “Sophie’s Choice” upon entering a mock Concentration Camp.

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Fredericksburg’s Newest Museum Opens Tomorrow

Tonight my wife and I will be driving to Fredericksburg for a “Gala Reception” in celebration of the grand opening of the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center. The museum opens tomorrow and includes a a schedule of talks and other activities throughout the day. Our good friend Sara Poore, who is the director of education for the museum, has been working tirelessly over the past year to get the program up and running as well as the exhibits. We are looking forward to helping her and the rest of the staff celebrate this joyous occasion. The weather should be nice this weekend so if you live in the Fredericksburg area make sure you pay the museum a visit.

Click here for a news item in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star.

Note: Next week I will be back in Fredericksburg to deliver the keynote address for the NPS’s commemoration of the battle of Fredericksburg.

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2008 Peter Seaborg Award

This year I was asked to serve as a judge for the 2008 Peter Seaborg Award, which is given yearly by The George Tyler Moore Center For the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University. You can assume, based on the other finalists for the award, that the committee’s decision was not easy. It goes without saying that all of these books are must reads for the serious student of the Civil War. Congratulations to Professor Morgan and the other finalists. From the official announcement:

Dr. Jo-Ann Morgan, Associate Professor at Western Illinois University, received the award for her book entitled Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture. Published by University of Missouri Press, Morgan’s work reveals how prints and paintings of Uncle Tom and other characters in the novel shaped public perceptions and how this visual culture offered the country a means of both representing and reinventing its slave past. Morgan is currently working on a journal article, “Topsy and Eva: Race, Place, and the Bipolarity of Black and White in Images of Children,” as part of a larger book project on the representation of African American women in the 19th century.

Other finalists for the Peter Seaborg Award were: Beleaguered Winchester: A Virginia Community at War 1861-1865 written by Richard R. Duncan and published by Louisiana State University Press; Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility written by Jason Philips and published by University of Georgia Press; The Road to Disunion: Volume II, Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 written by William H. Freehling and published by Oxford University Press; and Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign written by Scott C. Patchan and published by University of Nebraska Press.

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VMI Will March in Inaugural Parade

One of my readers has informed me that the Virginia Military Institute’s entire Corps of cadets will march in Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.  Why is this significant?  The Corps, along with Thomas J. Jackson were present at the execution of John Brown in 1859.  Most notably, the Corps took part in the Battle of New Market in 1864, in a war whose purpose was the perpetuation of slavery and white supremacy.  Even as other military schools transitioned to admitting African Americans into their programs, VMI remained steadfast in refusing to do so until 1968.  Perhaps it’s just another sign of how far we’ve come as a nation.

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Civil War – Part 2 (idiotic, but entertaining)

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Visit Pamplin Park (by reservation only)

Effective January 2, 2009, Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Dinwiddie County will be open by reservation only.  Guests wishing to visit the Park may do so by making a reservation forty-eight hours in advance.  Admission fees for non-members will be $100 for a group of up to ten people, and $10 per adult for groups of more than ten.  Park members may make reservations twenty-four hours in advance with no minimum numbers and no admission fee.

Read the rest of the story here.

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Thanks Dixie Outfitters

Today in the Civil War Memory course we discussed the introduction of Brown’s The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration.  To start the class I shared a very recent news story out of Huntsville, Arkansas.  The proprietors of the Faubus Hotel decided to raise a Confederate flag in response to Barack Obama’s recent victory.  I could conceivably teach the entire course by having my students follow news items related to the Civil War and modern politics/culture.  Luckily, only a few students had to be reminded of Orval Faubus’s importance to the story, which added another layer to our interpretation. 

Brown’s introduction covers the various stages of memory and commemoration, including a brief outline of the Lost Cause.  We looked at a number of images that reflect the emphasis on states rights as opposed to slavery/race when addressing the cause of the war and the Confederacy generally.  I also showed the class postwar images of important Confederate leaders to point out the importance of understanding Confederate defeat as simply the result of overwhelming numbers and resources.  In emphasizing the popularity and pervasiveness of the Lost Cause I used the “Mission Statement” found on the Dixie Outfitters website.  A few students noticed immediately the badge in the upper left stating, “Preserving Southern Heritage Since 1861” and wondered why they chose such a late date given that the history of the South goes back well into the 17th century.  That made me feel pretty good.  There is a “short history lesson”, which reads as follows:

Just as the War for American Independence of 1776, the War for Southern Independence of 1861 was fought over “taxation without representation.” The North was constantly trying to raise taxes on Southerners through high tariffs on imported goods in order to protect the inefficient big businesses in the North. These big businesses could not compete with manufactured goods from England and France with whom the South traded cotton. The South did not have factories and had to import most finished products. 

The Industrial Revolution allowed England and France to produce and ship across the Atlantic products that were cheaper than the products of Northern manufacturers.  When Lincoln was elected President, he and the U.S. Congress immediately passed the Morrill Tariff (the highest import tax in U.S. history), more than doubling the import tax rate from 20% to 47%. This tax served to bankrupt many Southerners. Though the Southern states represented only about 30% of the U.S. population, they paid 80% of the tariffs collected. Oppressive taxes, denial of the states’ rights to govern their states, and an unrepresentative federal government pushed the Southern states to legally withdraw from the Union.   Since the Southerners had escaped the tax by withdrawing from the Union, the only way the North could collect this oppressive tax was to invade the Confederate States and force them at gunpoint back into the Union.   It was to collect this import tax to satisfy his Northern industrialist supporters that Abraham Lincoln invaded our South. Slavery was not the issue. Lincoln’s war cost the lives of 600,000 Americans.


The truth about the Confederate Flag is that it has nothing to do with racism or hate. The Civil War was not fought over slavery or racism. 
We at Dixie Outfitters are trying to tell the real truth via our art and products in regards to the Confederate Flag. We hope to educate people about the Confederate Flag and stop the divisiveness caused by ignorance and emotion.

 

A number of my students who have taken U.S. History and/or my course on the Civil War were dumfounded by this interpretation of the war.  They asked where the discussion of slavery was to be found, while another student made the connection betwen history and contemporary politics and the concern with big government.  One student asked if they sold anything with the image of a black individual, so we looked but couldn’t find anything apart from some wonderful images of H.K. Edgerton.  We will come back to H.K. at a later date for a more thorough analysis of how he fits into our broader narrative of the war.  I don’t mind saying that a few jaws dropped when they saw him in full gray uniform along with his Confederate flag.  From there we briefly explored the “Legends of the Confederacy” products and discussed the importance of Lee, Jackson, Forrest and other notable Confederate heroes.  Obviously, we have much more to do in understanding the formation and evolution of memory as it relates to a whole host of issues, but it’s encouraging as a teacher to be able to take advantage of so many different types of sources. 

By the way, at the end of the class one of my students asked, “So, if Dixie Outfitters believes the “Confederate flag has nothing to do with racism”, than how do they explain the incident at the Faubus hotel?”  My response: “Welcome to the world of Civil War Memory.  See you tomorrow.

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