Where To Study The Civil War In Graduate School

I recently received an email from someone who stumbled onto my blog while looking for places to study the Civil War in graduate school.  Here is the email:

I stumbled on your blog while doing some of my research on grad schools.  Since you seem to have your ear to the ground regarding Civil War academia, I was wondering if you know which grad schools have the best reputations for study of Civil War, have the best Civil War scholars, etc.  I’ve already assembled a list of some of the schools, based in part from input I’ve received from guys like Gallagher, Robertson, and Davis, but I’d appreciate any information you might have. Thanks for your time.

Since I don’t really "have my ear to the ground" on this one I thought it might be worthwhile to appeal to some of my readers for help, especially those of you who teach the Civil War on the college level.  still, I might take a crack at this one.  First, I would think of the Civil War broadly and look at departments that have a strong concentration in Nineteenth-Century and/or Southern History.  Obviously, the University of Virginia would be an ideal place to go given that Ed Ayers, Gary Gallagher, Michael Holt, Julian Bond, and Grace Hale all teach in the department.  In addition, there is the Center For Digital History and the Carter G. Woodson InstituteRice University has a strong concentration in Southern History, including John Boles who edits the Journal Of Southern History.  If I were going to graduate school I would seriously consider the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Joe Glatthar, Jacquelyn D. Hall and Fitz Brundage cover a wide range of issues that connect to the Civil War.  The University of North Carolina at Greensboro now has a Ph.D program in United States History and there is a strong concentration in the Nineteenth-Century, including Charles Bolton, Peter Carmichael, and Loren Schweninger among others.  Penn State University has Carol Reardon, Mark Neely and William Blair on its faculty along with the George and Anne Richards Civil War Center.  Finally, Ohio State University includes both Mark Grimsley and Joan Cashin.  There is also a strong concentration in African-American history.

That’s just a few that I could think of off the top of my head.  Perhaps Emory University, Arizona State University, University of Georgia as well as Harvard University should be considered.  Anyone else want to offer their advice?

The 1964 Crater Reenactment That Wasn’t

I haven’t commented in quite some time on my on-going Crater manuscript. The project is close to completion as I am trying to knock out the last chapter which covers the period from roughly 1940 to the present.  By 1940 the Crater – now under supervision by the National Park Service -  was being interpreted as it had been going back to the turn of the century.  The broad outline of the battle focused on strictly military aspects of the battle, including the role of Mahone and his Virginia brigade.  Apart from references to Stephen Elliott’s South Carolina brigade which bore the brunt of the initial explosion other Confederate units were only being briefly referenced.  More importantly, the presence of United States Colored Troops was almost entirely ignored as well as the broader issues of race and emancipation, which by this time had been supplanted by themes of national reunion and reconciliation.  All of this was reinforced in the public eye as a result of two well-attended reenactments that took place on the battlefield in Petersburg in 1903 and 1937. [I've placed a number of related articles on my website, including most recently, "The Battle of the Crater, National Reunion, and the Creation of the Petersburg National Military Park: 1864-1937" which appeared recently in the Virginia Social Science Journal (2005): 13-27.]

Between 1940 and 1960 the Park Service worked to improve access to the Crater and to provide interpretive markers as well as a recorded narrative that would outline the battle as visitors walked the grounds.  High-ranking military officers such as Dwight D. Eisenhower as well as others from such countries as Germany, England, and France walked the battlefield during the postwar years.  Very few African Americans visited Petersburg or any other Civil War battlefield during this period.  By the mid-twentieth century the purging of any reference to emancipation and black participation in the war had been completed.  More importantly, Jim Crow legislation had not only divided the races into separate schools, it kept African Americans from challenging a battle narrative that was geared to whites only.  Federal institutions such as the National Park Service was staffed by whites and the interpretation of the battle that was inherited from the turn of the century was defined by an agenda set by white Southerners or by a shared set of values among white Americans generally that promoted nationalism. 

The challenge to this agenda began during the Civil Rights Movement and continued into the 1970′s.  Without going into too much detail, by challenging the racial hierarchy of much of the country African Americans began the long process of becoming more involved in state and national politics which in turn presented a challenge to the way the public remembered its past.  More immediate to the 1960′s, however, the Civil Rights Movement interrupted white America’s celebration of the Civil War Centennial.  While events in 1961 such as the reenactment of First Manassas proved successful, by 1963 interest was waning.  I need to do more research on what was going on in Petersburg as community leaders began planning a reenactment to commemorate the Crater in late 1963- early 1964.  What I do know is that plans were scrapped and in its place a simple stone marker was unveiled on the battlefield in a quiet ceremony on July 30, 1964.

The most sustained challenge to the way the Crater was being interpreted took place in the 1970′s.  Not until the 1970’s did blacks command sufficient political power necessary to demand a more inclusive historical memory of the South. In 1978 a research team from Howard University led by Joseph E. Harris issued a report on the status of both black soldiers and slaves in the Park’s interpretive guides and other programs. Not surprisingly, the committee recommended substantial additions from the acknowledgment of individual black regiments to the addition of reading material for tourists to the hiring of black interpreters. Consultation with interpreters revealed that “little information was presented concerning black personnel since few visitors are aware of their services during the battles.” And when told that upon request information was made available it “was never stated what information was given to the visitors.” Black students at Virginia State University who were interviewed considered the primary function of the PNMP to be the “maintaining or glorifying the image of the Confederacy.” The teams final report “recommended that park officials not only incorporate the achievement of black personnel in their capacities as soldiers and laborers but that personnel are trained to present details concerning the black presence in greater Petersburg.”

I am going to bring the story up to the present with a discussion of Cold Mountain and the possibilities of interpretive revisions given the National Park Service’s recent steps to broaden the way its battlefields are interpreted

Civil War Sesquicentennial Project

A few days ago I received the program for the upcoming Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association which will be held in Atlanta this year.  In addition to the roundtable discussion on Civil War soldiers that I will be joining there are a number of sessions on the war and related topics.  One of those sessions is titled, "Planning for the Civil War Sesquicentennial" which will take place on Sunday, January 7 from 11:00-1:00pm.  This roundtable will be headed by Rick Beard who is in charge of the CWS Project; he was recently named new director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which is located in Springfield, Illinois.  Other panelists include Robert J. Cook of Sheffield University, Gordon L. Jones of the Atlanta History Center and Carroll Van West, who works with the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.  I assume that they are all involved in the project in some capacity.  There is no website for the project.  My guess is that this session will begin the discussion of how to go about organizing events and other related projects.

Commentary on Civil War Sesquicentennial can be found here and here.


I have a very clear memory of my first experience in the classroom while a graduate student in the Philosophy Department at the University of Maryland.  If I remember correctly, the department needed someone at the last minute to take over an introductory course that met once a week from 7-9:45pm. For some reason I agreed to do it.  No one prepped me for the class or offered any suggestions as to how to begin.  This was nothing less than a case of being thrown to the wolves.  I remember walking into the room, placing my bag on the desk, looking out at a class of roughly 20 and walking straight out.  My heart was beating uncontrollably and I was beginning to sweat.  I decided to take a walk around the building to gather my thoughts and relax – to whatever extent possible.  On the way back I bought a soda and decided to walk in and just start the class with a question.  I don’t remember the question I asked, but once that first student raised her hand the class was on its way.  We were talking, sharing ideas, and I was absolutely hooked.  There were chalkboards on every side of the room and I had students jot down some of their thoughts so the class would have them as reference points.  By the end all three were completely filled.  I forgot to give the class a break mid-way through and even forgot to introduce myself before I dismissed the class at 9:45.  If I walked in without any sense of what I was doing or who I was as a teacher I walked back to my apartment convinced that I wanted to teach. 

At the time I was only in my second year (1993) of graduate school.  I never really thought about teaching as a career.  My father worked for 35 years as a high school teacher and he loved his job, especially the students.  He awoke early and was in school by 6am.  He never suggested teaching as a career;  however, it is now clear to me that having a parent with such a positive experience in the field made it easier to conceive of the possibility of a teaching career.  By the way, my father has proved to be one of my closest confidants in all things teaching.  I can share both the positives and negatives and he knows immediately what I am talking about.  His advice has proved to be incredibly valuable over the years.  Since 1993 I’ve spent just about every year in the classroom at both the college/community college and high school level.  Before moving to Charlottesville I spent 2 years teaching philosophy to some of the brightest high school students I’ve ever come across at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science in Mobile, Alabama.  I taught an introductory level course and a range of upper-level electives, including Metaphysics (not the bullshit variety that you find in your Self-Help and Spiritual sections of the bookstore), Cognitive Science, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion.  The readings for the electives were straight out of graduate level courses and I often found myself asking the students to explain ideas and theories to me. We attracted the brightest students from around the state and was by far the most intense teaching experience of my career.  In addition to ASMS I taught part-time in the Philosophy Department at Spring Hill College

I’ve been in my present position for six years and have enjoyed every minute of it. Teaching has given me a way to spend most of my waking hours thinking about subjects that I am passionate about and interacting with energetic young adults.

As difficult as it is to admit, for the first time this year I am beginning to feel tired.  This is not to suggest that I am no longer enjoying my job; in fact, it is the enjoyment and energy I put in that is the concern.  I teach 4 classes a day and by 2:30-3:00pm I am emotionally drained.  At night I replay in my mind what happened in class, my conversations with individual students and the rest of the faculty.  I often dream about my classes,  which can be incredibly depressing especially if you experience it right before waking in the morning.  In the past I’ve had difficulty talking with former or active teachers who claim to be "burned-out."  Now please understand that I am not burned-out, but I do have a more empathetic grasp of what is being referred to when referenced.  The most difficult part of all of this is dealing with the feelings of guilt that I am even questioning what has been such a personally rewarding career. 

I have no intention of leaving the field in the next few years, but I am already beginning to think about possible alternatives to the classroom.  My wife is currently working on her Ph.D in Neuroscience at the University of Virginia and expects to be finished within 2-3 years.  I’ve already decided that her job prospects will dictate where we move and we hope to end up closer to a more urban setting such as Chicago, Boston, New York, or Washington.  This opens up a number of possibilities for me.  There is no guarantee that I will be able to find a teaching job and it might be an opportune time to explore other lines of work.  I could easily see myself working in a museum or historical society doing a wide range off things, including educational outreach.  To that end I am going to try to set up some kind of summer internship in a museum or historical society where I can gain a better sense of what goes on behind the scenes.  I am excited about what doors, if any, this may open.  Please feel free to offer any suggestions/advice as I am all ears.

MOC: Southern Support In A Historical Context

Yesterday I briefly commented on my surprise surrounding the apparent lack of support for the Museum of the Confederacy by Southern Heritage organizations during as the  museum struggles with low attendance and financial problems.  Donald Thompson shared this newspaper article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 1936:

The fact that no Southern heritage groups have gone on fund raising missions for the Museum of the Confederacy won’t be surprising after reading this excerpt from the February 16th, 1936 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

40 Years Ago The Confederate Museum Opened
In Four Decades, Records Show That Many More Northerners Than Southerners Have Paid Homage at This Shrine of Shrines
By Ross Wells

Down from the North–the feet of thousands of pilgrims have worn a well-defined path to the White House of the Confederacy.

Up from the South–scarcely a twig has been broken or a blade bent in the trek to this greatest of all Southern shines as compared with the flow from Yankee-land.

This "Believe It or Not" condition has been observed casually through the years, but it remained for the close scrutiny of the register, made for the observance of the fortieth anniversary of the dedication of the Confederate Museum by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, custodian of the historic building and collection, which occurs next Saturday, to reveal in all its startling clarity the fact that of the average 13,000 visitors annually to the Clay and 12th Street building, a large majority come from north of the Mason and Dixon line.

Nina Silber provides the best analysis of Northern visitation to Southern battlefields following the war and other sites, which lasted into the twentieth-century.  If I remember correctly, Silber argues that that as the North continued to develop economically many grew attached to this idealized image of the Old South, which culminated in the movie Gone With the Wind.  With more Northerners taking vacations by the mid-20th century perhaps there should be no surprise that they outnumbered their Southern friends at the MOC.  Hey Sarah, what do you think?