One of the museums that I visited last week was the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. I didn’t have many expectations going in, but overall I enjoyed my visit and I learned a great deal. What stood out more than anything else was a number of explicit references to recent violence. Executive Director, George Wunderlich, addressed our group by drawing direct connections between developments in medicine and care of the wounded with the recent terrorist attack here in Boston. Even more surprising were the references made by our museum guide to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the exhibit.
It was the first time that any such reference was made during our ten-day trip from Nashville to D.C.
During our final debriefing of the trip I asked the teachers to think about how we teach our civil war. Here was a war that affected an entire nation and in ways that few could have anticipated in 1861. We talked extensively throughout the trip about the life of the Civil War soldier, the home front, the horrors of battle, the political aspects of war, and they ways in which individuals and the nation worked to properly commemorate the war. Again, it was a war that few could ignore and yet over the past ten years our students and much of the country have been able to comfortably ignore two wars. Continue reading
While I was in Gettysburg this past June for the CWI I took a few minutes to record a Civil War Trust Civil War in4 video with Garry Adelman on Civil War memory. I was way over-prepared and incredibly nervous. Let’s just say that I found it very difficult to whittle down this vast subject into a four minute segment, but somehow the editors managed to create some level of coherence out of the full recording.
Thanks so much to Garry for giving me my shot at stardom. I hope this serves as a useful introduction for teachers who are looking to introduce the subject to their middle school and high school classrooms. Finally, you need not worry as I promise not to quite my day job.
One of my favorite places to take students in Charlottesville was the University of Virginia’s Confederate Cemetery. It was a short walk and it allowed me to talk about wartime hospitals as well as postwar mourning and the evolution of the Lost Cause. I encouraged my students to look at and think about the headstones and to pick up trash. The men were buried in long trenches and when the cemetery was dedicated there were no individual headstones. That gradually changed and in recent years the local SCV has organized to order new markers from the federal government. The project continues, in part, with the financial support of the federal government. It’s a program that I contributed to on more than once occasion while in Charlottesville. Continue reading
Photo courtesy of National Park Service
What follows is a guest post from my good friend, Garry Adelman, who shares his thoughts about last week’s Gettysburg commemoration.
I had been looking forward to the Gettysburg 150th commemoration for years. I knew—all Civil War people knew–it would be a big deal. Some could not wait to go; some treated it like the plague. That is Gettysburg. Fascination with the place, and resentment about its status as the Civil War Mecca of sorts, date back to the war itself as Gettysburg increasingly took its place as the war’s best-known battlefield.
Being obsessed with Gettysburg, I try my best to take a historian’s look at the place I love—I don’t call it the most important battle in, or the turning point of, the Civil War. Pickett’s Charge was not the biggest, bloodiest, or most consequential attack of the war. But nonetheless, almost like a cliché, the Gettysburg Battlefield remains my favorite place—and not just among battlefields. It is my favorite place of any sort. So, I was all but certain to have a great week. And I did. Thing is, it was much, much more enjoyable, meaningful, cool and enlightening than I ever expected. In an adult life full of great Civil War experiences across the country, the Gettysburg 150 week topped them all. I am giddy as I write about it. Continue reading
The book of essays pulled from the New York Times’s Disunion column has been out for a couple of weeks now. It’s a pretty hefty volume that includes over 100 essays on the period between 1861 and the beginning of 1863. My only complaint is that the table of contents does not list individual essays, which makes it difficult to locate specific topics. Included is my recent piece on the relationship between John Winsmith and his camp servant Spencer. I was also asked to contribute an essay specifically for the book on how it might be used in the classroom. That essay will be included in the e-book version, which is being marketed specifically to history teachers. You can read the essay for yourself below, but it goes without saying that I highly recommend it, especially if you teach American history and/or the Civil War.
If your high school history class was anything like mine, your instructor relied almost entirely on an unwieldy textbook, with an even more unwieldy narrative – written as if intended to alienate as many students as possible from the serious study of the past. Historical understanding involved little more than the memorization of facts, employed in an essay that closely reflected the textbook and your instructor’s lecture.
Step into a history classroom today, and much of what you see and hear will surprise you. Instructors have access to a wealth of primary and secondary sources, along with new digital tools, all of which have fundamentally changed what it means to study history. Continue reading