Category Archives: Public History

The Next Interpretive Challenge

This morning I read Jim Loewen’s brief report of his recent visit to Richmond to attend the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History.  He was struck by the changes to its public history landscape, both in the form of new monuments and introduction of tours that broaden the historical narrative to include individuals and groups that have for too long been left out.  Who would disagree?  I’ve been making this point for some time now.  In fact, I think it’s such an obvious point that I would suggest that public historians and educators have won the battle to reinterpret the Civil War era in a way that broadens and deepens our understanding along racial and gender lines. Of course, public historians and educators have not won the battle alone; in fact, their role may be secondary compared to the kinds of political shifts that have taken place since the end of the 1960s that have brought a myriad of voices into the public sector that reinforced the need for an interpretive shift.

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Calling Out Edward Sebesta and Calling On James Loewen

Museum of the Confederacy's Fish

Update: James Loewen responds…well…sort of.

Since Edward Sebesta recently came up in a previous post I decided to check out his blog earlier today.  Some of you may remember that not too long ago Sebesta publicly declared that he would not accept an award from the Museum of the Confederacy for his co-edited book with James Loewen, titled The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, which had been submitted by their publisher for the Jefferson Davis Award.  Why?  According to Sebesta, the MOC’s mission is to further the”Neo-Confederate” agenda.  By accepting their award Sebesta believes that he would be legitimizing the museum as a legitimate historical institution.  Yes, this is quite bizarre, but it gets even better.  At the time Sebesta promised that he would explain his stance in a more detailed essay, which is exactly what I came across at his blog today.  The post includes a link to a 4-part essay that was published at the Black Commentator. I am going to leave it to you to read through as I simply do not have the patience to do it.  It is an incredibly incoherent rant and as far as I can tell there is no indication that Sebesta has ever visited the MOC or talked with its museum staff.

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Gettysburg on History—Love It, Hate It, Here it Comes Again.

The following guest post is from Garry Adelman.  Garry is the author, co-author or editor of more than 30 Civil War books and articles including his latest work, Manassas Battlefields Then & Now. He has been a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg for 16 years. He is vice president of the Center for Civil War Photography and works full time as Director of History and Education for the Civil War Trust.

With the History Channel’s Gettysburg show scheduled to re-air on Wednesday August 31, I thought Civil War Memory the perfect place to post an insider’s perspective about the creation, production and reactions to the docudrama. Thanks to my friend Kevin for allowing me to be a guest blogger.

I first became involved in the project at its outset in June 2010. History asked the Civil War Trust for help with its proposed Gettysburg docudrama, but: they did not want to try to include the entire battle; they did not want to focus on the usual characters and; they wanted to make it highly personal. I was tapped for the job. I said I would help in any way I could and added that my personal goal was to help them make “something that didn’t suck.”

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Virginia Historical Society Interprets the Civil War’s Aftermath

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?

What do you think of this video?

The Greying of Civil War Memory

Earlier today I spent some time with an Associated Press writer discussing connections between Civil War remembrance and the upcoming anniversary of 9-11.  I tried to outline some of the shifts that have taken place in our collective memory of the Civil War and suggested that our national memory of 9-11 will likely follow these patterns.  We are still early on in that initial stage of historical memory where narratives emphasize heroism and tend to be shaped by those who have a personal connection to the event itself.  In this case I’ve suggested that it is the families of 9-11 victims that will continue to exercise a great deal of influence on how the rest of us remember and commemorate that day.  As we move further from the tragedy of that day, however, we will become more removed and more likely to assume a more “objective” perspective – one that carefully considers both causes and consequences.  That will take some time and probably will not blossom for another generation.  It is inevitable

That heroic/moral narrative continues to linger 150 years after the Civil War among folks who imagine themselves as caretakers of a distant past, but I would suggest that in a few short years its most visual incarnations will be even more of a rare occurrence.  This last generation that continues to preserve its ceremonial symbols were reared on the Civil War Centennial, but there is no indication that the sesquicentennial will leave us with the same level of enthusiasm.  This generation is the last one to have any direct connection with the veterans themselves.  You can also see this impending shift in the profile of Civil War Roundtables.  I suspect that most of them will be a distant memory in the not too distant future unless there is a major influx of younger blood into leadership positions.  This shift is taking place in both the North and South.

There is no need to pronounce judgment on this or dwell on what will be lost or gained by such a change.  What will continue to dissipate is the tendency among some to see the war as lacking closure.  I suspect that the Civil War will continue to exercise a strong hold on our imaginations.