Last month I shared a brief update concerning my book manuscript on the history and memory of Confederate camp servants and black Confederates. At the time I was weighing the strengths and weaknesses of different narrative forms. As it stood the narrative lacked focus not in the sense that the evidence was not organized, but that the lives and experiences of camp servants remained inaccessible to the reader. Readers meet a large number of camp servants/slaves during the war and in the postwar period, but they are almost all snippets of rich lives shared in passing by their owners and others. I want readers to be able to identify with an individual.
As I mentioned in that earlier post the one exception is Silas Chandler. Having experimented with different narrative approaches to highlighting his life and memory throughout the manuscript I decided to start over and write a cultural biography of Silas. This change is not something that I joyfully embraced so late in the process, especially because I have never written such a book, but I am beginning to see the benefits of doing so. [click to continue…]
The most common image of Americans asserting their pride in Confederate heritage over the past few weeks has been a parade of pick-up trucks decked out in flags. Some of these groups appear to have intentionally chosen routes through predominantly African American neighborhoods. We are told that these gatherings have nothing to do with race: Heritage, Not Hate.
We’ve been here before. The vehicles have changed, but not much else. [click to continue…]
You may remember a few months ago a story that I covered concerning two North Carolina high school students, who were photographed waving Confederate flags while on a class trip to Gettysburg. I offered my thoughts in a series of posts that included why my own students were cautioned about purchasing flags in the gift shop during a tour that I led this past March. And I even invited the father of one of the two North Carolina students to share his perspective.
From the beginning my concerns came down to the need on the part of all parties involved, especially educators, to think carefully about how they utilize Confederate flags in the classroom and in public. The photograph of the two girls that was innocently uploaded to social media caused a great deal of misunderstanding and mistrust in their own community, which I suspect the local school board is still dealing with. [click to continue…]
Yesterday’s post about my good friend John Hennessy left me wondering what, if anything, has taken place or is being planned in museums, historical societies and other institutions to help their communities make sense of the relevant history behind our ongoing and very emotional discussion about Civil War memory.
It’s an opportune moment for public historians, who focus on the Civil War Era and the history of race relations. Folks who have never thought about the American Civil War are giving it a good deal of thought. No doubt, some of that reflection is based on bad history. [click to continue…]
There is no public historian that I respect more than John Hennessy, who is currently the National Park Service’s chief historian at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. John has led the way in pushing the boundaries of battlefield interpretation and our broader national discussion over the course of the Civil War sesquicentennial. As Brooks Simpson put it in a recent post, John “is one of the jewels of the National Park Service.”
It would be easy to lay low over the last few weeks given the strong emotions exhibited by so many over the public display of the Confederate battle flag and the place of Civil War monuments on our many commemorative landscapes, but if ever we needed the NPS to educate and challenge the general public and foster constructive debate it is now. [click to continue…]