In Thinking About My Recent Post

in which Stonewall Jackson is referred to as a "champion of enslaved black men and women" I stumbled on another question: Are there any other slaveowners that can be classified along the same lines?  More specifically, are there any other slaveowners who introduced religion to their slaves that can be classified as such or is Jackson the only one?

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A Very Special Visit: William W. Freehling

Today students in my Lincoln course were treated to a visit by William W. Freehling.   [Shame on you if you haven’t yet read his second volume of Road to Disunion.] Professor Freehling joined us to discuss one of his own articles on Virginia’s “reluctant” decision to secede from the Union.  The article in question was published a few years ago in North and South magazine which means that it has a solid scholarly foundation and is accessible to a wide audience.  I assigned the article to my students because I wanted them to have a deeper understanding of how white southerners in different parts of the South responded to Lincoln’s election in November of 1860 and, in the case of Virginia, his decision to reinforce Fort Sumter and subsequent decision to call for 75,000 soldiers.  We have a tendency to think of the South as monolithic which obscures the fact that white southerners were anything but unified in their response to the events between the presidential election and Lincoln’s call for soldiers to put “down the rebellion.”

Professor Freehling steered the class through a number of questions addressed in the article and asked students to think and respond to his own questions.  If there was any nervousness among the students it quickly dissipated as a result of Professor Freehling’s sharp wit and sincere curiosity about their understanding of the issues.  Those students that I’ve had a chance to talk to had nothing but praise for Professor Freehling.  They learned a great deal and had a good time interacting with him.  I want my students to meet people who work in the field of history and to think of the life of the mind as a viable career choice.

One of the goals I’ve been working towards in my elective courses is in finding ways to bridge this artificial divide between the way history is taught in high schools as opposed to an upper-level history course on the college level.  On college campuses instructors expect students to come to grips with the analytical process of historical argumentation and the ways in which interpretations evolve over time (historiography).  High school history is still stuck in the rut of the textbook approach, which views the subject as a collection of facts that need to be memorized.  The textbook reinforces a static view of the past that is neatly divided into little sections and sub-sections with their own little headings.

I have a feeling that a few dinner conversations will touch on today’s class.

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“The Great Champion of Enslaved Black Men and Women”

Who you might ask is "the great champion of enslaved black men and women"?  Well, according to a soon-to-be-released documentary the answer is Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.  That’s right, a slaveowner is being given this honor.  Check out the trailer here.  Isn’t it interesting that the people who support this interpretation are the very same people who whine on and on about evil revisionist historians.  What does it say about people who are willing to twist our understanding of basic other-regarding concepts all for the purpose of preserving some silly/overly simplistic view of the past?  Don’t you think that one of the first conditions necessary to make the short list of such a category is that you don’t happen to own any slaves?  We could go on and ask what else is necessary, but that seems to be a reasonable starting point.

The narrator at one point admits that his attraction to Jackson is based on the fact that "you can’t pin this guy down…he is such a surprise."  Now that’s some serious historical analysis.  Wake me up when this nightmare is over.

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Where’s the Beef? Ken Burns’s “The War”

WarI watched just about all of last night’s opening segment of Ken Burns’s The War and have to say that I am a little disappointed and doubt that the rest of the series will hold my attention.  What struck me as a glaring oversight was the absence of any internal debate within the country about war before the attack at Pearl Harbor.  Where was Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee?  It’s surprising because Burns addressed the long- and short-term causes of the Civil War even if the interpretation was at times convoluted.  Apart from a few short clips of Axis aggression there is no sense of what the war is about beyond those interviewed who attempt to convey some sense of immediacy to what is transpiring far away.  There has to be some balance between the localized perspective of participants from around the country and a more sophisticated (however difficult it may be to convey in a documentary) understanding of world affairs. 

At times I felt I was watching the film version of "The Greatest Generation".  Perhaps the concern is that the introduction of political debate will minimize the theme of sacrifice and heroism that Burns so clearly hopes to convey.  Yes, Burns does address the racial divide and it will be interesting to see how this theme is followed through the war and beyond.  After all, the "Greatest Generation" was also the generation that expected black Americans to return to the status quo following Japan’s surrender in 1945.   

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Where’s the Beef? Ken Burns’s “The War”

WarI watched just about all of last night’s opening segment of Ken Burns’s The War and have to say that I am a little disappointed and doubt that the rest of the series will hold my attention.  What struck me as a glaring oversight was the absence of any internal debate within the country about war before the attack at Pearl Harbor.  Where was Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee?  It’s surprising because Burns addressed the long- and short-term causes of the Civil War even if the interpretation was at times convoluted.  Apart from a few short clips of Axis aggression there is no sense of what the war is about beyond those interviewed who attempt to convey some sense of immediacy to what is transpiring far away.  There has to be some balance between the localized perspective of participants from around the country and a more sophisticated (however difficult it may be to convey in a documentary) understanding of world affairs. 

At times I felt I was watching the film version of "The Greatest Generation".  Perhaps the concern is that the introduction of political debate will minimize the theme of sacrifice and heroism that Burns so clearly hopes to convey.  Yes, Burns does address the racial divide and it will be interesting to see how this theme is followed through the war and beyond.  After all, the "Greatest Generation" was also the generation that expected black Americans to return to the status quo following Japan’s surrender in 1945.   

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