I came across this short video today that focuses on a new historical marker on Sherman’s March that was recently unveiled in Savannah, Georgia. For those of you in the classroom who may be pressed for time this video can be used to introduce your students to some of the basic questions surrounding Civil War memory. The video begins with Todd Groce of the Georgia Historical Society, who introduces the marker and the story behind General William T. Sherman’s meeting with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and twenty African Americans who were asked for their advice about what ought to be done for the newly freed slaves. It then cuts to Mayor Otis Johnson, who reads an account of how the black delegation, including Garrison Frazier responded.
Students can reflect on a number of questions surrounding the connection between race and politics and how the general public remembers its past:
Why is it important for your community to remember its past?
What kinds of events are memorialized in your community?
Do your monuments and other public historic spaces reflect the racial/ethnic profile of your community?
To what extent does the racial/ethnic profile of local government determine who and what is remembered?
There is an interesting camera angle that shows both the new historical marker and what I assume is a Confederate monument in the background. Remind your students that the overwhelming number of monuments that can be found throughout the South were erected between roughly 1880 and 1940 and at a time when African Americans could not vote or run for office. The dramatic shift in how local communities remember their past has taken place since the civil rights movement of the 1960s and could only happen as a result of increased voting rights for African Americans and their ability to run for public office.
What other questions might be brought up in your classroom?
If I were heading back into the classroom to teach my course on the Civil War and historical memory I would begin by showing this video from the Virginia Historical Society’s exhibit, An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia. If you haven’t seen it you are missing one of the more innovative exhibits to emerge early on for the Civil War 150th. The choice of Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation of the “Star Spangled Banner” is the perfect accompaniment for this collage of images that covers both the short- and long-term consequences of the Civil War.
Teachers can use this video to explore how images, text, and music come together to form a historical narrative. Encourage students to critique the video by pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Which images are out of place or missing? What other musical choices could be utilized as well as choice of text?
Yesterday Brooks Simpson offered a brief reflection on why he spends time at Civil War battlefields. He also asks of his readers why they visit these places. Back in 2008 I was invited to give the keynote address at the National Park Services’s [FSNMP] annual commemoration in Fredericksburg. I took the opportunity to share why I bring my students to Civil War battlefields.
Stepping onto the bus in the early morning hours with my students, bound for one of the areas Civil War battlefields, is still my favorite day of the year. For me, it is an opportunity to reconnect with a history that has given my life meaning in so many ways. It’s also a chance to introduce this history to my students, many of whom have never set foot on a Civil War battlefield. Visits to battlefields such as Fredericksburg provide a venue in which to discuss what is only an abstraction in the classroom and offer students and the rest of us a chance to acknowledge a story that is much larger and more remote compared to our individual lives and yet relevant in profound ways.
Today I am teaching my final class on the American Civil War at the St. Anne’s – Belfield School. It’s not going to be a memorable class by any stretch of the imagination; we’ve been looking at film for much of the trimester and today we need to wrap up the last scene of Shirley Temple’s “The Littlest Rebel.” That said, I am feeling a little sad and just a bit sentimental. I count myself as one of the lucky ones in that for the past 7 years I’ve been able to offer a high school level course on a subject that I spend so much time with outside of class. No, it doesn’t really seem like a job at all. I have had some wonderful students over the past few years and a couple of them even went on to study Civil War history in college. Let’s face it, if you can’t excite high school students with the Civil War you really have no business being in a classroom.
More importantly, my personal interest in the subject allowed me to get to know my students that much better. And in the end that’s what it is all about. As important as the content is in its own right, what we are doing as teachers is reaching out and making connections with our students. The subject is the backdrop on which we work. At the same time and to a great extent over the past ten years I’ve measured my personal growth based on the quality of my teaching and the connections that it has allowed me to make. I am surely going to need that again at some point.
Thanks to all my students, who have helped me to better understand THE most important event in American history.
This week I will be working with a group of 4th and 5th grade teachers as part of a Teaching American History workshop on the Civil War and historical memory. This time around I am teamed up with historian, W. Fitzhugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina, who will take care of the morning session with a lecture that provides an overview of some of the major themes of postwar narratives of the Civil War. My job is to provide teachers with a foundation of content and skills that can inform the way they teach history.
I have a two-hour slot in which to work so my plan is to divide the time between two activities. During the first hour I am going to introduce the group to documents related to the recent debate in Virginia surrounding Confederate History Month. No doubt most of these teachers will be familiar with the controversy, but this activity should give them a chance to think further about many of the points made in Brundage’s opening lecture. I recently completed a lesson in my Civil War Memory class in which we analyzed the very same documents; the lesson concluded with students writing their own proclamation. The results were quite interesting and perhaps at some point I will share a few excerpts.
The next lesson will explore the question of who won the Civil War through a close reading of a collection of primary sources. I teach the Civil War and Reconstruction as part of the same unit and I try to provide as smooth a transition between the two as possible. In other words, I want my students to see the period following 1865 as an extension of a war that raised fundamental questions about the place of African Americans within this nation. In doing so, we move beyond the overly simplistic image of Appomattox as a symbol of reunion and even reconciliation. The challenge of how the nation would be reconstructed raises the obvious question of whose vision of reconstruction would prevail and within what particular time frame. I ask my students to think about these questions to reinforce the importance of acknowledging perspective and the open-ended nature of certain historical questions. Here is a taste of the kinds of documents that we will explore together. Continue reading “Teaching Who Won the Civil War”→