Earlier this week Oxford University Press sent me a review copy of Mark Smith’s new book, The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War. It’s a short book so I decided to jump right in and although I enjoyed Listening to Nineteenth-Century America, this one fell short in places. Each chapter is organized around a different sense: “The Sounds of Secession,” “Eyeing Bull Run,” and “Cornelia Hancock’s Sense of Smell” and so on.
There is certainly the potential for gaining a new understanding of important subjects during the war through a cultural analysis of changing sensory patterns. For example, Smith does a very good job of analyzing both the content and rising level of noise in Charleston leading up to and through Lincoln’s election and the secession vote. He explores how these changing patterns may have influenced slaves, the concerns of slaveowners and even Major Robert Anderson and his men as he planned their move from Fort Moultrie to Sumter. The strongest chapter focuses on the impact of Grant’s siege of Vicksburg on the quantity and type of food available to Southern civilians trapped in the town. Smith makes some very perceptive points about the sharp contrast between the menus in town restaurants and the overall diet of civilians before the war with what they were forced to eat during the siege and the threat such a drastic change posed to the community’s social and racial hierarchy, not to mention their own sense of self-identity. [click to continue…]
I’ve been following the story out of Colorado surrounding the Board of Education’s concerns about the revised AP United States History curriculum. Earlier today and following protests by both teachers and students the board backed off from any plans to challenge the curriculum in the classroom. From the beginning it was clear that the position of the board had little to do with history education, but, rather, a perception that the revised curriculum does not deliver a narrative that frames our history around the concept of American Exceptionalism. As I suggested before, it is likely that most of the critics of the new curriculum have not read it or even the version of the course it supplants. [click to continue…]
There are three narratives that have come to define our Civil War sesquicentennial. They include the story of the black Union soldier, along with emancipation, as the dominant narrative as well as the rise of the Civil War in the West and guerrilla warfare. The last one has to be the steady retreat of Confederate symbols such as the flag and other references in public places. You can’t review the news without coming across an article and it is happening at a steady pace from Virginia to Mississippi. [click to continue…]
The question of whether the Confederate Battle flag should remain on the grounds of the state capital is now a campaign issue. Well, it’s always been an issue since it was removed from atop the State House in 2000. Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Vincent Sheheen, is running on a platform that includes the permanent removal of the flag. [click to continue…]
The creator of this video claims to be putting his minor in history to good use by sharing what the Civil War was really about. I think you know what this is code for. I will try to find out where his minor in history was completed, though I am fairly confident that no one I know will be embarrassed. The one point that does resonate with me having read Edward Baptist’s new book comes at the 3:25 mark when it is claimed that the elimination of slavery was a “deep blow to private property and free enterprise.” Southern slaveholders would have certainly agreed with that claim.
By the way, you don’t really need to watch this video.
[Uploaded to YouTube on September 29, 2014]