I had high hopes for Dixie Dawn. I’ve been following this blog for a few weeks and while it has attracted a large number of comments on the standard issues that energize the neo-Confederate base it looks like it has run its course. I was holding out on the possibility that Dixie would actually read one of the books cited in a recent post. Unfortunately, it looks like its not going to happen. Instead we continue to get emotional rants about a besieged South, silly stories about black Confederates, and vague references to the Confederate flag. Given the number of posts about the flag perhaps she could have read John Coski’s The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Harvard University Press, 2006) or she could have read Bruce Levine’s Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2006) in connection with the stories of black Confederates. And why is it that every post and internet site on this topic utilizes the very same images?
Honestly, I was holding out for the best.
My two AP sections are at the end of the day and on Mondays I teach all my classes. Today the two classes discussed a short selection from Eugene Genovese’s seminal work, Roll, Jordan, Roll. This is not the first time that I’ve used Genovese, but I am always surprised by how much the students actually enjoy reading it. Anyone familiar with it knows that Genovese’s interpretation is highly analytical and at times difficult to follow. Today was no exception, but we did manage to make some sense of it. A number of my students were deeply engaged in the discussion. I started off by asking what picture of slavery Genovese may have been responding to in the years leading up to the publication of the book in 1974. They nailed it by referring to both the "Moon and Magnolias" version of slavery as benign as well as the idea that slavery can simply be characterized as brutal along the lines of a Concentration Camp. One of my students actually referred to Concentration Camps and this allowed me to set up a bit of historiography between the work of Phillips and Dunning along with Stanley Elkins. They seem to think that Genovese was shooting for something in between which I think is quite impressive.
It was slow going at times, but they picked up on the broad interpretive structure that explains – according to Genovese – how the respective identities of slaves and slaveowners depended on one another. They thought that was kind of interesting though not all agreed that the paternalism of the slaveowner explained everything. A couple students argued that his explanation was too broad, that it did not do justice to time nor space. Though they didn’t couch it in these terms a couple students concluded that Genovese’s analysis did not do justice to the various regions of the South. Others thought that he was too broad and did not connect his analysis closely enough to shifts over time. I think they picked up on this from Foner’s textbook. Either way their teacher is very pleased that they are thinking critically.
As much as I enjoy talking about this stuff, two classes in a row of Genovese is incredibly draining.
I came home from the SHA with an armful of cheap books, one of which was a collection of postwar letters by John S. Mosby. Mosby’s letters are a real gem; he resisted the Lost Cause tenets that assumed the infallibility of Lee and denied the central role that slavery played as a cause of secession. In a letter dated January 21, 1910 Mosby wrote the following:
You know [William] Mahone rode a mule up to heaven one night & returned before daybreak but nobody but a prophet could do that. (p. 97)
Peter A. Brown, who edited the collection, acknowledges in a footnote that he cannot explain the reference. Any idea?
I am back home and relaxing after three days in Richmond for the SHA. While I am not a big fan of academic conferences I can honestly say that I had a wonderful time in Richmond. The SHA is a relatively small conference, which makes it much more of a relaxing experience. There is more time to catch up with friends and do a little social networking. The Society for Civil War Historians annual banquet dinner and panel on Thursday was a blast. The panel featured John Coski, A. Wilson Greene, and Alex Wise and their focus was on the challenges of public history in the Richmond area. John’s talk was the most engaging as he examined the difficulties now facing the Museum of the Confederacy. Next year’s meeting will take place in New Orleans. I will be speaking at the dinner banquet along with Mark Grimsley and Anne Sarah Rubin, and the panel will address issues related to the Civil War in cyberspace. This is the first time since Hurricane Katrina that the SHA will return to the city.
After the banquet a bunch of us made our way to a bar where we spent the next few hours. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with a few of my friends who left just a bit too early. You will be happy to know, however that it was a small group of bloggers that closed the place down. I had a great time chatting with Mark Grimsley, Rebecca Goetz (Historianess – a.k.a. Pepper’s Mom) and Ralph Luker (Cliopatria). All three remind me that not all academics are boring intellectuals; conversations with such people truly make the conference experience worthwhile. I also met fellow bloggers Andrew Duppstadt (Civil War Navy) and Chris Graham (Whig Hill). Finally, I had a nice talk with Dana Shoaf, editor of Civil War Times Illustrated, and I agreed to write a few articles that pull material out of my current research projects –a real nice guy.
I did take in two sessions. The first examined Unionism in the South. Victoria Bynum’s and Barton Myers’s papers were quite good. Congratulations to Barton who is finishing up his dissertation at the University of Georgia, but just signed a book deal with LSU to have his M.A. thesis published–that’s right, his M.A. thesis! This morning I went to an excellent session on postwar tourism in the South and the Lost Cause, which is a topic that I am exploring in my Crater manuscript.
Last night I drove over to the University of Richmond for a party for former graduate students and Freeman Professors. [The picture at the top is with my M.A. thesis advisor Robert Kenzer and the one to the left includes J(left to right) John Deal (Library of Virginia and editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography and Jason Phillips, author of the new book DieHard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (Univ. of Georgia Press, 2007)]. It was great to be able to catch up with classmates and former professors including Daniel Sutherland.
The city of Richmond itself is one big construction site. It will be very interesting to see what comes of all this work in a few years. Unfortunately, I didn’t take too many photos. I did get up early Friday morning to take a few photos of Capitol Square.
Today I am off to Richmond for the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time. Tonight I will attend the banquet dinner for the Society of Civil War Historians and tomorrow I will take in a full day of panels. Tomorrow evening I will spend a few hours at a the University of Richmond for a reunion of former graduate students and Freeman Professors. While I am not the biggest fan of academic conferences I do enjoy having the opportunity to catch up with old friends and now fellow bloggers. The best part, of course, is the exhibition hall which includes just about every publisher of American history–and yes, great discounts. I am bringing my laptop; if the hotel has wifi you can anticipate a few updates and even some photos.