One of the sessions that I attended at last week’s SHA was a roundtable on Civil War Memory and the Sesquicentennial. It was an excellent panel consisting of Gaines Foster, Suzanna Lee, John Neff, and Robert Cook. The presentations were short which left plenty of time for conversation. The question of how to attract African Americans to sesquicentennial celebrations received a great deal of attention from a number of the panelists, especially Prof. Cook, whose study of the Civil War Centennial highlights the extent to which this particular group was ignored. Prof. Cook suggested that what is needed this time around is a much more inclusive commemoration that does justice to the “Emancipationist Legacy” of the conflict. Well, who would disagree with that? Here in Virginia we’ve already held one major conference on the eve of the Civil War. Panelists touched on questions of race and slavery throughout the various sessions and future conferences will focus even more on the end of slavery in Virginia and its aftermath. There will be no shortage of talk about slavery, race, the home front and every other subject under the sun.
This is the second in my series of “Best of” posts that will be shared throughout November in recognition of the four-year anniversary of this blog. The following post appeared on March 23, 2006 and is titled “Why the Civil War Matters”. This post was formally presented at my school as part of the 2006 Virginia Festival of the Book and is one of my favorite pieces of writing.
Americans were exuberant in 1961 at the prospect of the upcoming Civil War Centennial celebrations. It was a chance to unfurl Confederate battle flags and ponder the character and heroism of such iconic figures as Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Families could watch as re-enactors brought to life memorable battles such as First Manassas and Gettysburg where lessons could be taught about the common bonds of bravery and patriotism that animated the men on both sides. There would be no enemies on the battlefields of the 1960’s.
The following post originally appeared on December 12, 2005
Being Ed Ayers
In the most recent issue of North and South there is a very interesting exchange between Ed Ayers and a letter to the editor in the Crossfire section. The writer responded to Ayers’s article, “What Caused the Civil War” which appeared in a previous issue (Vol. 8, #5); the article is essentially a reprint from his most recent book of essays titled, What Caused the Civil War: Reflections on the South and Southern History. I think Ayers is one of the more talented historians writing today. I’ve read through his Pulitzer-Prize nominated book, The Promise of the New South so many times that it has a rubber band around it to keep it together. The only other book in my library in that condition is Plato’s Republic. More recently Ayers won the Bancroft Prize for In the Presence of Mine Enemies which is based on his Valley of the Shadow project out of the University of Virginia.
It looks like Gary Casteel’s statue of Jefferson Davis holding hands with his biological son and “adopted” son, Jim Limber, has found a new home at Beauvoir. You may remember that this statue was commissioned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in hopes that it would be placed next to the Lincoln statue at the Tredegar Iron Works. That deal fell through and left the organization scrambling for alternative sites. At one point they even asked the state of Mississippi to accept it.
Since the SCV meant to “educate” the public about Jefferson Davis and race relations during the Civil War with this statue, it is hard not to see this new home as reflecting nothing less than a complete and utter public relations failure. The reason the statue ended up here has nothing to do with political correctness or any other catch-phrase that is currently en vogue. It has to do with the fact that the statue has little to do with solid history and has everything to do with the current SCV propaganda machine which would have the general public see the Confederacy as part of some sort of civil rights movement. I’ve written quite a bit about this particular story over the past year if interested.
Iam in the process of finalizing my elective for the next trimester, which begins after we return from Thanksgiving break. It’s a course that I am calling Civil War Memory. Last year I taught it as a straightforward readings course and this year the plan was to use it as a platform for doing some digital history. Unfortunately, I am nowhere near to being ready to teach this kind of course. I simply don’t feel comfortable enough with some of the technology necessary to make this a successful course. Hopefully I can implement it next year. This leaves me with the question of how to structure this year’s course. As successful as last year’s version of the course was, I prefer to stay away from a readings course. So, I am planning on teaching a course that emphasizes Civil War memory and popular culture through film. This way, I can still utilize the books that have been ordered, especially Blight’s Race and Reunion, along with selections from recent books by Gary Gallagher and Brian Wills.